There’s no getting away from the need to learn the lessons of last Thursday’s elections. As the dust settles, it’s clear that sitting governments in Wales, Scotland and England received a boost and there are undoubtedly other significant factors at play – the vaccine bounce has helped the Tories in England, and former Brexit party voters were decisive in many of Labour’s losses.
There was good news too, though. The Welsh Labour government was handed a renewed, increased mandate. Across England, of the 13 mayoral elections, Labour won 11, including two gains in the former Tory strongholds of West of England and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
As a party, we must learn from both our challenges and successes to turn this situation around, so that people feel we speak for them again, and trust us with their votes. That is the lesson from places like Wales, where the first minister, Mark Drakeford, set out policies that will transform people’s lives – like a pay rise for care workers and a guarantee of work, education or training for all under-25s. That is the lesson from Greater Manchester, where Andy Burnham showed the difference that Labour makes in power: he connected with people and showed that he was on their side.
Politics is not about the language of parliament or party processes. We need to show those who have lost faith what we stand for that we are on their side and that we will stand up for them.
We will show the difference between Labour and the Tories when it comes to the economy. That means jobs, opportunities, pay and rights at work. This is not about tweaking a failing system, but changing it so that it works for working people. As a starting principle this means a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work and good, well-paid jobs in every community.
Over the past few decades, in large parts of the country, the jobs that you can raise a family on and that provide a sense of identity and dignity have been replaced by insecure, zero-hours and agency work that offer only poverty wages and the exploitation and mistreatment of workers to squeeze out every last penny of profit. Labour is, and always will be, the party of workers and our trade union movement. For us, the future of work will mean shifting the balance back towards working people, ending fire and rehire and building an economy out of this crisis that works for everyone, not just Tory donors or the health secretary’s pub landlord.
The recent scandals are not just about ministers’ mates. They go directly back to the bigger scandal of taxpayers’ cash wasted by outsourcing. So the difference between Labour and the Tories is also about our public services being run by the public sector – and in the public interest.
That difference means investing tens of billions of pounds into green industries to meet our climate obligations at the same time as delivering good, well-paid jobs and bringing industry back to the communities that Margaret Thatcher tried to destroy – and that were hammered again by a decade of austerity.
It means homes that people can actually afford to live in, not investment opportunities for landlords that sit empty while thousands of children are homeless.
But this is just not just about policies. We have got to change how the Labour party operates, how it talks and how it relates to the people and communities that we seek to serve and represent. For too long, the people we are here to represent have felt that we are distant from them and their lives. I know this is the case because it’s my mates that I grew up with – and who are working minimum wage jobs – that we need to speak to and speak for again.
For too long we have given off an air of talking down to people and telling people what they need, or even what they should want or what they should think. There has been too much of Labour doing things for people and communities, and not enough doing things with people and communities. Working-class people don’t want a handout or someone telling us what we should think. We want the opportunities to do it for ourselves.
The Labour party was founded to represent and win power for working-class people. Our country has changed and our economy has changed, but that founding purpose has not changed. It’s only because of Labour and our trade union movement that I’ve gone from no GCSEs and a minimum-wage job to where I am today. So it is my responsibility now to make sure that we learn lessons and reconnect with the people and the places that we are here to fight for – and to make sure they know that we speak for them and that we are on their side.