Infrastructure, Industry and Internationalism: The Three Things Labour Needs To Win In 2024
By Will Barber Taylor
The Labour Party has not won a General Election since 2005. It is 15 years since Labour won a general election and ten years since it has been in office. These are the stark realities that face the Labour Party currently. It is unfortunate that these facts are seemingly overlooked so often and not drummed relentlessly into the minds and hearts of Labour Party members and Labour Party MPs. Instead, what do we see most people in the Labour Party discussing?
Corrosive, deuterating and degrading abuse and slurs. The sort of sickening racism that has no place in the Labour Party or any political party. The kind of gnawing horrific hurtful hubristic bigotry that is all too often seen and heard by people throughout the Labour Party. We must not only confront this type of abuse but repudiate it in the strongest possible terms. We must not only apologise to the Jewish community but ensure that the perpetrators are consigned to the icy wilderness that would suit their venomous dispositions.
This piece is however not about that. It is about the three I s that Labour needs to focus on in order to create a winning coalition for the next general election. These areas get to the heart of what fundamentally concerns voters and needs to be addressed, not simply in the manifesto but also in the way the Labour Party communicates with the press and public alike.
As the assorted coronavirus debacles of earlier this year have reminded everyone, the infrastructure of Britain is creaking under the weight of overuse and under support. Yet the issue is not simply money — if the Labour Party makes the issue simply about money then the Conservative Party’s retort will inevitably be “Well we have invested x billion into this particular area…” and after that most people will lose interest. It has been a bat and ball game that has continually worked in their favour for the past ten years.
It is clear that it is not simply the amount of money spent that is the issue but how and where the money is spent. To attempt to itemise each spending proposal and where the money has gone may work as a detailed rebuttal of the Conservative Party’s policy to be published in a broadsheet but it won’t work in a PPB, on the doorstep or at PMQs. The fundamental economic and social argument to make about infrastructure is responsibility.
For anyone that knows me, they will know that my continual refrain, and one that most of those who know me will be surely bored of it this — government is there to govern. The Conservatives can argue for as long as they like that they are responsible or that they govern but the truth is hollow.
They have given up responsibility for prisons to ineffective private contractors; they have given up responsibility of the roads to underfunded councils and inertia; they have given up responsibility of schools and universities during the coronavirus pandemic to councils, school governors, chancellors and whoever they can and will shift the blame onto.
This is where the Labour Party should and can hit the Tories — the responsibility for infrastructure is there. Money is vitally important, but it is not the be all and end all. It is where the money is needed — where the money can be used to improve infrastructure to a world class standard that facilitates people to reach their full potential and protects them when they need it.
We must say to the public that we will be responsible — that we will ensure that prisons work, that schools work and that roads work. That we will do all in our power to improve them and not pass the buck again and again and again. The lifeblood of this country is not built on tempered and scurrilous attempts to pretend we are acting. It is based on action.
We must act reasonably and responsibly to make target investment promises that cut through to specific battle ground constituencies — if a constituency swapped hands because its Maternity Unit was shut down or its local council did not properly repair the main road in and out of the town or village or area then we must make the argument that we will rebuild this infrastructure. It is the targeted, specific nature of spending that will help Labour.
We cannot continually end up in a bidding war for the public’s approval because inevitably millions of voters will say “Well, they’re the government, they know how to finance things — you are saying you’ll spend more but where will it come from?” The economic argument is crucial to convincing voters to support Labour.
Similarly, infrastructure projects must make sense and not be ignoble carbuncles. Similarly, if we wish to make Green Industries as a part of this country as far as possible then we have to look at changes to our everyday lives. Not simply investment in electric cars — the government have failed so far, for example, to map out where they will be installing electric charging points nationwide — but looking at alternative forms of transportation. Britain is an island and one that has benefited from using its natural waterways. If these waterways were properly used, rather than allowing them to decay and become relics of the past they could be used to help cement a greener future by alleviating traffic on the roads.
Whilst infrastructure is vitally important it must go hand in hand with the second I
The continual collapse of British manufacturing and industry has been a problem that has bothered Britain since the end of the Second World War. Unlike the Americans, whose industry gained the benefit of “war trade” but none of the devastating consequences of continual bombing, we faced increased demand for supply without the capacity to meet that demand.
After the war and subsequently with the changing of relations between communist countries and the US, our fortunes changed again. Margaret Thatcher’s attempt to revitalise the economy by selling off British assets, closing other forms of industry and placing a great deal of emphasis on the City of London seemed to work at the time for some people. Yet, it left deep scars on Britain’s ability to compete on the world stage financially and we are still seeing the impact of her actions today as the economy buckles itself to feel the full force of Brexit and the Coronavirus Pandemic.
There have been two broad responses to this — to double down on globalisation or to hark back to the days of heavy industry. Both are ultimately flawed. Globalisation has of course brought benefits to many people — there are people in work today who wouldn’t be without access to the globalised economy.
Similarly, there are many people who have become unemployed because heavy good manufacturing has moved to overseas locations to be done cheaply. The often cheap material produced, such as Chinese steel which has flooded the UK market, has caused many people particularly on the right to hark back to the days of heavy industry and argue that those industries can be revived.
Given the cheaper alternatives, businesses and governments are unless pressed unlikely to choose local over cheaper. We saw this with the woeful response by the government to COVID 19 — they chose to important cheaper PPE because of the cost and Britain’s inability to manufacture enough PPE domestically.
The best option is surely to do both? Yet there hasn’t been a clear way to navigate a rebuilding of domestic industry and globalism that doesn’t seem to slight one faction or the other. To round this circle, some basic and specific truths must be accepted by all:
1) Globalism isn’t going to be brought down anytime soon. The system of international trade will not end simply because there are objections to it.
2) We cannot, in terms of quantity, outproduce nations like China or India. It isn’t possible not only for population and geographical reasons but also for basic and vitally important safeguards for working conditions.
3) To do our best to improve the lives of people in Britain we must rethink our relationship to both industry and the global economic community, especially as the ramifications of Brexit sink in.
The Labour Party’s argument regarding industry come the next election must therefore be based in how it can engage people with those points and demonstrate its industrial agenda will be the one that voters have to support. As I mentioned in regard to infrastructure, spending and costing is important but the government will generally have the advantage on us over it.
Therefore, I argue that the Labour Party must focus not just on localised businesses but the tension between them and global ones by doing all it can to protect local businesses. Support packages aren’t enough — these businesses will often need government advice and help that may be difficult to obtain just by a quick Google search.
Labour should advocate that all local businesses that employ at minimum 50 employees should have their own Government Business Contact. This would of course involve thousands of people and to some degree help those who have found themselves recently unemployed by Coronavirus and perhaps want to try a different career or are looking for a new career path. The GBC would help with any queries the business owner or owners have and serve as a means of direct communication between the government and businesses.
The same offer should be given to Trade Unions. For too long the approach has been to keep Trade Unions are arms’ length and this is the wrong approach. We have to work together with the unions on engaging in making positive and decisive change to British industry.
A way to make this decisive change is to commit to a certain percentage of British infrastructure projects being made with British made goods. Whilst some may argue this is a nationalistic, isolationist approach this is inaccurate — if we want to promote British steel then we have to actually use it. The same can apply to any other British made products that have been overlooked by the government.
A Labour Government can and should commit to making use of British made goods alongside those created by international partners. In the wake of Brexit and COVID 19 we need to work alongside the rest of the world not simply for our own sake but for the betterment of humanity as well.
Internationalism may not be as in vogue in the UK as perhaps it once was but a Labour Party and a Labour Leader that are recognised on the world stage must be a central part of the argument for why people should vote Labour at the next General Election. To govern is not simply to govern in the UK but to maintain Britain’s place in the international world. Whilst Brexit has certainly damaged Britain’s reputation it has not stopped foreign leaders, investors and students from engaging with the UK. There is no doubt that Brexit will cause economic damage to the UK. The issue however is one that Labour cannot really go back on or deny that it has happened.
Therefore to present itself as a party that can govern in Britain and engage abroad will not just help the Labour Party to resonate with world leaders and foreign businesses that it would need to work with if it is to win the next election but also with the public. Defence of the UK has often been seen as a traditionally Tory area and for Labour to succeed it must convince voters that Labour can be trusted to not only deal with international bodies in terms of business but also in regards to defence — that Britain will be safe from any potential attack under a Labour government.
These three areas — infrastructure, industry and internationalism are the key areas that Labour has to focus on for the next general election. Whilst it is still four years away, four years can go quickly, and the party must be prepared for the inevitable fight for government. Coming from one of the worst defeats in the party’s history, it is difficult for Labour to form the next government but it is far from impossible. If Labour focuses on these three areas than it is sure to be on the path towards victory.