The lost soul of Labour and the way back

If Labour wants to reconnect with people, it must champion regional devolution, writes David Montgomery

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer talks to locals while on a walkabout in Hull during campaigning for the local and PCC elections (Photo by Owen Humphreys - Pool /Getty Images)

As a young Daily Mirror reporter I was dispatched to the then Knowsley constituency near Liverpool in February 1974 to do the PR for the Labour candidate in that month’s election.

There were no doubters. Labour was about the working people who struggled. It was the Tories and the rich wot got the pleasure, so went the anthem.

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For my paper there was no attempt at objectivity. The Labour Party was in its soul, in every reporter’s soul and in every reader’s soul.

Tony Blair at the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool in 1996. (Photo by Steve Eason/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

That soul is lost (along with my old paper’s circulation) after almost half a century of Labour’s internal doctrinal wars that are as meaningless to the electorate as the squabbles between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks in 1917.

The interlude of Tony Blair was just that - a pause in the bickering. His dedication, passion and charisma rose above party divisions. It was Blair’s inspiration, hard work and oratory, contrasting with the bluster of Boris, that won over the electorate. Even today, like him or not, the nation still listens when Tony Blair has something - well thought through as it is - to say.

Since Blair and Gordon Brown Labour has gone back to conducting a conversation with itself and not the country.

It refuses to recognise how life in Britain has changed - mostly for the better - so how can the party possibly have a vision and thus regain its soul?

The current Government appears to mean well in spreading wealth more equally.

For Labour to make a comeback it not only has to reform itself - it also has to formulate a programme that goes way beyond what the Conservative public school elite could ever contemplate.

This means a rebirth - the creation of a new soul of the nation.

Constitutional reform and a federal UK must be at the heart of what might be called Big Labour, Big Britain.

A modest proposal for a future Labour manifesto might include:

- Genuine devolution - political, creative and cultural - effectively self government in every region. Labour should acknowledge that it is no longer the working class - it is now the enterprising class, striving as only they can for their local communities.

- Creation of federal style capitals in the regions, running the key services including healthcare and policing without the ‘assistance’ of every type of governmental, commercial, cultural - and indeed, media - institution based in London.

- Drastic downsizing of the national Parliament whose macro responsibilities would be narrowed to fairly administering the nation’s finances, foreign affairs and defence.

- Replacing the House of Lords with an elected second chamber consisting of candidates who are not career politicians but qualify having contributed through a successful career and offer themselves for public service.

- Reform of the honours system to recognise public service with simple initials, scrapping the hierarchical titles like Lord and Sir, Dame and Baroness.

But can Labour wrench itself away from bitter reminiscing about Fidel Corbyn and Tory Blair and make a fresh start with this, or any, sort of vision.

Boris, who has perhaps too much charisma and understands enough about the real Britain - England anyway, as he has proved a bit limited on Scotland and Northern Ireland - will be hard to beat.

However, he and the Conservatives have an in-built attachment to tradition and the status quo and instinctively will want to keep power at the centre.

Labour should heed those transforming regions, towns and cities around the country with local enterprising communities fighting to win investment and rejuvenate themselves.

It only has to look at one of its own, Andy Burnham in Manchester, to get the idea.

The lesson is go big on regional devolution, go small on central government. It would be a start.

Labour could even bring back the slogan Power to the People.

David Montgomery is chairman and editor-in-chief of JPIMedia.

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