Discussion: Is Labour Dead?

downfall cover


This week we published Downfall: Is Labour dead and how can radical hope be rebuilt? (PDF).

It argues that 2015 was not like any other defeat. There are no safe places to go to, no easy answers and no comforting new leaders. There is only hard thinking in a process that must confront the party’s economic, political and cultural demons. Whilst outside of Labour, progressive and radical politics is flourishing. Therefore the task for Labour is to ensure that these initiatives become a sum greater than their parts.

What are your thoughts on Labour’s predicament? Do you agree on the analysis set out in Downfall? How does Labour become an open tribe? How can radical hope be rebuilt? How can the Labour Party connect with the emerging social and cultural forces? Let us know your thoughts below.

22 thoughts on “Discussion: Is Labour Dead?

  1. The short answer is yes
    I have been saying this for a long time. Like Cassandra I was ignored because I was not telling people what they wanted to hear.
    I look forward to the discussion about Labour’s ‘future’

  2. Is a party a living thing, you have to be alive to be dead surely. The labour party is a collection of people be they MP’s or members or voters the people are alive, the party is the vessel they are all in, so can labour be alive or dead.

    The ideology of socialism is dead that is for sure socialism is now not even considered, what we have now is a Progress group living from within the labour movement and the left the socialist are way to weak to defend it.

    Scotland has another left leaning party now and the people have decided to go with that group then stay within the right wing Progress group.

    Is the idea of a labour movement of the left dead, god yes it’s been dead long before Blair.

    A two party democracy both being to the right says more about the mess this country is in.

  3. no labour isnt dead its had a battering through circumstances. The SNP
    thrived after no vote they tapped onto the anger the vote caused. UKIP took votes as no wants a real debate on immigration we must have one. Pensioners either voted Tory or UKIP young voters flocked to labour. Now the left must stop in fighting and gather all left thinkers to Labour. We are the largest political party dont throw that away. The next leader must be a firebrand anti austerity challenge the defecit lies and reach out to everyone. As for owen n brand their bleating must cease inless they put up or shut up

  4. (I think) Labour lost mainly because of two major reasons;

    1. Not handling the arising issues of the 2008 crash – & even now (after their winning a majority) the conservatives are continuing to talk of still “clearing up the mess” & that every time Labour is in government they create deficits. And Labour, again, is taking it ‘laying down’!?

    2. The “SNP fear”!
    Even I, a Labour supporter was fearful of the possibility of having to rely on SNP had Laboured been the largest party.

    I do not have a clue how in future that could be handled; it is scaring that it might have become a permanent phenomenon!

  5. The Party is not quite dead – and it did return from the abyss of 1931 to win in 1945 on the most radical programme. But things look very bad.
    In my view the party can only win by regenerating from the base (which is what happened during WWII). And it can only regenerate from the base if it is democratic, which currently it is not (or hardly). So that’s the warning. Democratise or die.

    I am not optimistic about the political scene in the UK, but there is at least more hope than for a long time of a realignment of the ‘left’. But this is unlikely as things stand to encompass the Labour Party. Not unless it changes drastically. The leadership contest shows what a miserable state we are in.

    So the Labour Party is not quite dead, but it may if not very careful be finished as a progressive force and risks being left behind by other democratic forces on the left that are arising fairly spontaneously up and down the country.

    If the unions decide to withdraw from the party and put their lot in with these new forces (and who could blame them), then the party is finished effectively, and I will be gone from the Party too!

  6. I don’t know about dead ( pretty poorly yes, but some Blair alike will ressurect the party in the interests of getting elected) however Labour has become irrelevant – with its middle class concerns about aspiration and its middle class values: to people in poverty, on low wages, people facing increasingly draconian housing policies; communities having to listen to liberal apologists for right wing immigration rhetoric…… Labour has paved the way for the current status quo, yet expects the people it has betrayed to vote for its election marketing strategy.

  7. I have not read the whole document, but here are my preliminary thoughts.

    Labour is not dead. 232 MPs and 200 000 party members is not death but it is a very disappointing position.

    I think some more fundamental questions need to be asked. Can Labour or any other political party or group deliver an equitable, environmentally responsible society? If not, what are the alternatives? If we can articulate alternatives, how would we ever get anyone to listen to us?

    Thinking of the contribution of the Blairites, 2015 was the most New Labour campaign of all campaigns. In fact, we were doing something more than distancing ourselves from “Old Labour”, we were actually aping the Tories with a “One Nation” slogan. During the 2010-2015 Parliament said very little. Not even party members knew what we stood for.

    I supported Ed Miliband in 2010 because I believed the New Labour project to be dead. It seemed to me that far from burying it, he continued it, taking it to higher level that accelerated our decline. The problem of the New Labour Project was that it exchenged policies for votes. We hoped that by ditching unpopular policies such as unilateral nuclear disarmanent and public ownership (both of which I agree with), we would be popular. Ultimately we were left with no policies at all and I think the general public rejected us, in part, because we were shallow.

    We have also been slow to recognise the shallowness of New Labour. We actually lost most of our support between 1997 and 2001. In those elections we polled 45 and 42 per cent of the votes cast but only 31 and 24 per cent of the total electorate. In 2015 we scraped 21 per cent of the total electorate, so our problems are more deep rooted than we realise. I will write again soon.

  8. The Labour Party has been dead to everyone but its MPs and executive for a while now. I was an active member for 30+ years until November of last year. I joined the Greens because they have principles and policies that Labour insist on ignoring especially Nuclear disarmament, union representation and rights, social justice, austerity and domination of the poor and disadvantaged.
    There really is no hope for Labour when they don’t even listen to their own membership let alone the public. Policy and objectives are always top-down rather than bottom-up.
    Take a leaf out of the Green Party and stop thinking that you have a right to represent the left of centre when all you want is to get elected by whatever means and throwing everything you used to believe in away.

  9. Neil,
    I think the tone and the focus of your piece is spot on. This is exactly the debate and new direction we need.
    Whilst you set out the social movement, network connections and cultural aspects of renewal well we need also to consider what our approach should be to the old thorny issues of the role of the state, redistribution and the balance between choice, rights and obligations.

    I think this is all possible with the approach you outline but we shouldn’t let these themes be left for later.

    Best wishes

  10. … and to answer your question maybe Labour isn’t dead (yet) but I think I am. Forty years of hurt and all that…..
    Something to give me hope and energy again will be very welcome.

  11. 6 ways to radical hope:

    1. Stay positive
    2. Learn the lessons
    3. Flatten the party hierarchy
    4. Establish a ‘Labour Alliance’
    5. Grow the local
    6. Engage in practical morality

  12. An excellent article and how refreshing. Some good honest, straight forward talking about what the problems are. What a refreshing contrast from the current leadership contest. I agree with the author that the labour party are fatally wounded and unless they get things right this time, labour will endure the same fate as the liberal democrats at there general election and if the current leadership contest is anything to go back then that is exactly what is going to happen. One of the most fundamental failures of new labour in the last parliament has been that they have offered no decisive alternative to the conservatives blinded commitment to austerity measures. Cruxifying the poor, disabled and most vulnerable in society while insane bankers renumeration and bonuses continued, as did our tax gap continue to rise, should have been easy to object and offer alternatives to, but labour failed.

    Pages could be written about the labour party’s woes and it is important for it to examine all of this before it can move forward. I believe that labour can be revived however, all is not yet lost. One new candidate has entered the leadership contest and that is Jeremy Corbyn. A very fair and committed man who stands by his beliefs, Jeremy is not his party leaders, or anyone else’s for that matter puppet. He is an exemplary MP and many others could learn from his example. Unfortunately though, I fear that he will not be given a chance as there is too much opposition to his kind of politics with the party. But he is a candidate and there is always hope, to which I will be clinging onto for deal life until the final decision.

    I believe in a completely new kind of politics that does not restrict or categorise people or party’s into left or right. A kind of politics where power and decision making is passed to the people. Where we have elected representatives in both houses of parliament, who are truly accountable to their constituents. Politicians, banks and corporations would be equal before the law and those who break the law would be prosecuted in a court of law, just as when ordinary people break the law. Like the author I believe in proportional representation at elections which would end both majority governments and our current two part system. I believe in policies that work for the benefit of all citizens of Britain and an economy that works for everyones benefit. Equally tax policies should be fairer and more progressive, where the contribution made by everyone is according to their ability to pay. We should have a national health service that is built on it’s founding principles of free at the point of need, regardless of ability to pay. Our eduction system should be world class and focused on educating and stimulating the minds of our young people, as well as preparing them for the real world, rather than profits for greedy private corporations.

    As future leader of the labour party, Jeremy Corbyn would deliver such a system. In my opinion, this is how the labour party could be revived and would become the party of the 99% of British people. I fully admit, this would be a huge leap for any party, but for the party that does support such radical change in our political system the rewards will be great. .
    A golden egg opportunity currently exists for the labour party and unless it embraces his opportunity with both hands, I fear the labour party will be dead.

  13. a friend of mine is appearing in “The Hook” at the northampton royal/derngate theatre.
    arthur miller illustrates the sharp and gleaming hook that impales
    compromisers,criminals and ruthless capitalists combined against
    the people.

  14. Looking at whom is standing at the election of the leadership boy Progress and Blair lot are returning. Labour with a Progress heart is not labour, they talk about one nation and Disraeli, not Atlee or even Bevin says it all really. Corbyn does not stand a chance.

  15. I would like the party to confront the issues such as homelessness and tax dodging and much better employment rights for the masses with the membership and with the unions and perhaps talking to pressure groups such as Shelter and the Child Poverty Action Group.
    At the moment there are some who seem to be frightened about talking about taxing the wealthy and public ownership while ignoring the fact that schools,libraries,hospitals and health centres are under some form of public ownership.
    Also do not ignore the fact that Britain is fast becoming a billionaires retreat while those having to go the food banks is now over a million.

  16. Until Labourrealise that being pale boy sTories is not what is required they will be dead in the water and quite rightly so.Labour’s place is to represent the 90 plus percent who did not go to private schools or Oxbridge.They have failed miserably to do so.

  17. I agree with some of Lawson’s points but think he is radically wrong on some others. One very important one is his assertion that people today constitute their identies through consumption not work. That is not what empirical sociological research says at all. When people are asked or observed in their daily lives work remains central to their sense of self. Do not confuse media representation with lived experience.

    Second, when you write about the death of Labour or organize events try to reach outside the London experience. Labour in the NE of England is a zombie, a walking corpse possessed by an alien spirit, just as it was in Scotland. There is however no coherent political alternative here despite some good efforts from some but not all of the Greens. Perhaps get Grahame Morris to be somebody who speaks at events – a working class man who lives in and represents what is still sort of a Labour heartland in terms of votes but where all the basic social institutions of Labour are in free fall.

  18. Hi,
    I attended the meeting last night in the H of C Committee room 10.
    I didn’t have the opportunity to speak so thought I might submit an email.
    Labour as a party in my opinion is finished and is what many call ‘Tory lite’. Once upon a time it was a party with a manifesto with defined socialist policies such as clause 4…the common ownership of the means of production and distribution, nationalisation and so on. Blair got rid of all that as we all know to our cost, along with 5 wars and the the destabilization of the middle east from which he has made a personal fortune of £100 million to date! His chancellor, Gordon Brown, during that tenure ship period allowed the city to loot as long as he got a share in small taxation from them and never enforced the FSA rulings (the light touch he called it) which could have alleviated the crash of 2008. Oh and not forgetting the directive from the USA neo cons to sell off for a pittance, the nation’s gold reserves to salvage an American bank.
    There was too all the Labour leadership before that sold out to the establishment with golden handshakes in return, such as Kinnock, (EU commissioners job on a huge salary and pension and got his family jobs in the same undemocratic institution as a thank you for containing the rebellious UK working class) Then there was Dennis Healy selling out to the IMF cutting the public sector finances on their orders when there was plenty of money in the sovereign government coffers, as evidence from that time now shows.
    There was Hugh Gatskill and George Brown who voted to maintain nuclear weapons in their anti Soviet pro US policies allowing Polaris missiles in the UK.
    No wonder there is no Labour party left in Scotland. They have the damned weapon on their territory and would be first target in a possible nuclear war. This seems all the more likely as the insane US neo cons create hegemonic problems globally to feed their military industrial industry sales and anti Russian hysteria in the Ukraine which I may add was initiated by the US spending $5 billion on instigating a coup to overthrow a legitimate government who refused to sign up to EU terms. Check the hacked conversation of US Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador in Kiev planning who should be in control in Ukraine.
    And Labour’s foreign policy was party to all this kind of thing in Afghanistan and Iraq and now part of the current anti Russian/ Chinese emergence in the global market place.
    For a nation that had an empire and is no longer anything in the world both the nation and Labour should get politically and diplomatically smarter and reconsider its place instead of regressing into some feudal mentality with Labour’s leadership selling out to the Tory establishment with its gongs and stupid honers with the likes of John Prescott playing crochet and sitting in the establishment House of Lords. The Tories believe in defending their right wing class. Unless Labour and its leadership believe in Socialism and defending the working class and reintroducing socialist polices such as clause 4 and so on and not trying to administer capitalism, then Labour is dead.
    Clem Alford

  19. Missing the Elephants!

    Downfall – Neal Lawson: what a disappointment. It does not merely move the deck-chairs, it has an interesting analysis of why the deck chairs were put there in 1997 and 1945. Like living in some sort of flat earth discworld he missed the elephants.

    The brilliance of the English ruling elite is that they have separated out the development and dissemination of political ideas from the political parties. They set the agenda through ownership of the press and an array of think tanks totally controlling the circulation of political ideas, even the BBC is an anathema to them; “get rid” said Cameron. The Guardian does reflect a limited range of views and has Polly Toynbee but the biggest democratic organisations in the UK: the Trade Unions, the Coop and the political parties have nothing. They have to exist in an environment that is manicured by the rich, the large corporations and the big companies disseminating their poisonous ideas unchallenged. Within their landscape of political ideas the political parties scrabble around to find a niche with enough votes in it and in the right constituencies to open up the prospect of winning an electoral majority.

    So what about the leadership of the Labour Party? One route is the one taken by Blair to serve the political elite of capitalism and remove a stone in their shoe thereby gaining significant media support –Murdoch- to get elected. Blair removed clause 4. Now in 2015 the only remaining stone would be the Labour Party links with the Trades Unions. Campaigning to water down those links would get significant press support but would steer Labour into a land where power might eventually be within reach through utter tory incompetence and corruption.

    To create a Good Society needs political action beyond bringing out the vote every 5 years. A Labour Party where every branch, ward and constituency campaigns on issues that affect working people, undermine their aspirations and are grossly unfair such as the zero hours contracts, the bedroom tax, not noticing employers who fail to pay the minimum wage or allowing the banks and big corporations to run rings around our tax system.

    Since the elections that matter are national, the campaigns must be national. Campaigns on a national basis would build the imperative for their own media and change the landscape an aim which is slightly easier now with the new media. The new media distant as it is should be a collective of all those interested with a board representing the democratic organisations and their ideas but more importantly with the need to win readers and connect with ordinary people and their lives. The tory press can do it in their interests. It is not impossible. It is high time to reverse the onward drive of this exploitation free for all and put people from the working class into the driving seat. The first step is a programme of national campaigns involving all. Just because the election was lost doesn’t mean the battles cannot be fought and some of them even won. Such action will change the landscape but I don’t think any of the candidates can see outside the Westminster bubble but perhaps they can be persuaded that there is a world outside that can change how Westminster works.

  20. Political leaders should consider themselves as gardeners, trying to produce the best conditions for their people to thrive. Consumerism is a blight: a disease that requires people to occupy themseves in producing and buying trivia, while the important requirements for strong and healthy growth are neglected: good shelter, food, warmth and companionship.

  21. I think Jeremy Corbyn has shown that radical hope can be rebuilt has he not? but the party seem hell bent on ignoring this fact in my mind. And as a woman he deals with issues that are important to me as priorties – NHS and education

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