In the same way New Labour was both a reasonable reaction to what had gone before and a revolution in its own right, the 5 Million Votes analysis must now be just as well informed by our past, as responsive to our present and as mindful of our future.
It must not be a way of fighting stupid, pointless and ridiculously bitter internal Labour Party battles, but of researching ways in which the party can return to power while offering the country the radical changes we believe are needed to our failing systems and institutions.
This isn’t about “getting our party back” but about getting our party back into government, then getting our country back on track.
Labour need to analyse properly what we do and do not know about the voters we have lost and the potential voters we have gained and stand to gain. I’d like to know what there is to know. What can be tested and what can be better understood.
Here are some things I think we know already:
Some of the voters we have lost have found new places to give their votes.
If we assume that the rise of votes for the other parties indicates that these votes have transferred directly, we can make a very broad assumption that one-fifth of them have gone to the Tories and one-third to the Liberal Democrats.
Some have gone to smaller parties. But it also looks like nearly half of Labour’s lost voters may no longer vote at all.
We have no idea what they want; how to bring them back to the conversation; how to get them to vote Labour once more.
Can Labour make an offer big enough to bring them back?
It’s morally right that we try to expand take up of democracy as much as possible, and while it will be a difficult course of action, I think it could also hold significant benefits for us.
After all, there’s a reason the Tories are bringing in so many measures to make it considerably harder to vote and considerably more likely that voters will become disenfranchised, and believe me, it’s not because they’re worried about voter fraud!
5 Million Votes can’t simply be a reaction to Blairism. But I do want to talk for a moment about what moving on from New Labour really means to me; to show why it isn’t as scary as it sounds to some and to sound a warning about chucking the baby out with the bathwater.
I fear that everyone with an opinion about New Labour for good or for ill have allowed certain myths to concrete themselves into our dialogue and our understanding of where Labour has gone right and wrong over the last 20 years.
Some - for example, Mehdi Hasan of the Huffington Post - refuse to credit New Labour and the changes to our party with delivering any part of our landslide win in 1997, citing polls taken under John Smith in 1994 with the final tally of votes in 1997. To me that’s unsound.
We know that mid-term polls can be misleading. That’s why no one is taking our current poll lead as anything other than an encouraging sign. And that may be putting it too strongly.
We know to our bitter cost that polling in 1992 was wrong. With the greatest respect in the world to the memory of John Smith, to downplay Tony Blair’s part in building the coalition of voters that we are now looking at rebuilding does not seem to be based on the evidence of the effect of Blair and Labour’s actions then, but on the emotional reaction to disappointment following mistakes that were made later on.
On the other hand, there are those who deny that the formula that had worked so well from 1994 had run its course by 2005. The basic response of “but he won three elections” denies the electoral reality.
We won the third election because the landslide (which we owe to Blair) and the continued success that followed our first term gave us enough buffer zone to suffer a loss of votes and seats that would cripple a Party under normal circumstance. We suffered terribly in 2005, losing 47 seats and winning with just over 35% of the vote. Like the Tories in 2010, We didn’t win that election, so much as not lose it.
The final myth that needs busting is the idea that New Labour was a philosophy aimed persistently and almost solely at the aspirant middle classes. It’s certainly true that New Labour repositioned the Party to be more appealing to these voters and very successfully too as we won leafy suburban seats in Herfordshire and Essex.
But the 1997 manifesto had a commitment to a minimum wage; something which spoke directly to the pockets of D and E class voters. Something about which a huge fuss was made from the usual suspects in the business community to whom New Labour is frequently accused of being too close.
The 2001 manifesto and campaign centred on a promise to raise National Insurance to pay for public services. Neither those who continue to carry the New Labour torch, nor those who seek to move on from it should forget that New Labour’s big tent started with a big promise to the core vote. One which we proudly delivered.
By 2005, we had turned stale, we had become managers rather than leaders and we had got some key things disastrously wrong. We had started to believe our own hype and that of our critics that we won by focusing on the centre ground and forgot that that was never strictly true.
A mobilisation strategy is hard. Above all it requires a sense of optimism. A belief that under the Labour Party things will and can get better. We need to inspire the British version of Obama’s HOPE narrative. We do indeed – as Anthony Painter put it on LabourList – need a grand design.
But it must be foundations that shore us up with every part of our coalition of voters. Like the minimum wage balanced the spending freeze in 1997, so must we have an answer to what will balance the necessary spending restraints forced upon us in 2015. Perhaps flesh on the bones of Ed’s pledge that no one will be in work and in poverty could be that balance.
I don’t believe a mobilisation strategy is the only way to Labour victory in 2015. There are other routes and it would be false of me to claim this as the one true way. But I do believe it could hold the potential to a sustainable victory and a successful left-of-centre Government. Something I believe all parts of the Labour family should consider worthy of investigation.