Now Is The Time For Labour To Deepen its Policy and to Take the Campaign To a Different Level

So, the deal with the DUP has been done. The deal buys May and Tories time although just how much time will remain to be seen. It seems designed to last for two years by which point Tory optimists hope that a decent Brexit deal has been finalised. However, as always, political events do not aways go to plan and it is quite possible that this government will not last to the end of the negotiation period.

Corbyn is right to continue to make the case that Labour is ready to form a government at any time. At Glastonbury it is reported that he told organiser Michael Eavis that he could be Prime Minister within six months. This is not just a fanciful boast. The conference season will be a major test for May. If she continues to make the wrong choices, continues to appear wooden and inhumane and — critically — continues to be a subject for ridicule then the end could be quick.

In such a climate Labour’s biggest problem may well be the temptation to sit back and rely on its current campaign strategy and manifesto. At the moment both strategy and manifesto look to be effective but time always changes the context in which both must sit. The more that Corbyn is seen as a credible Prime Minister, indeed as the likely next Prime Minister, the bigger the challenge he faces in fleshing out the manifesto and in beginning to address detail.

Take one of the issues that devastated the Tory campaign plan, social care. The electorate was spooked by the Tory manifesto programme and singularly unimpressed by a series of subsequent U-Turns. Everyone in this country knows we face major challenges in this area. If we are not yet thinking personally about our own social care we will have parents and grandparents who, today, face the future with a great deal of uncertainty and fear. As we get closer to becoming a Party of government it will not bee enough for us to simply talk about more cash, we will have to spell out how and where we will make our investments. It might be acceptable — in a political campaign — to simply call for a new Social Care Service but it is clear that we might form the next government the health and social care sectors will look for more detail and will expect to be able to enter into a real dialogue with the opposition about the future.

It would be wrong to expect the Labour Front Bench to have a fully formed solution to the Social Care crisis in its back pocket, but there is much it can do ramp up the intensity of the campaign and to begin to drill down and to nail key policy dilemmas.

It became clear during the campaign that the Tories were to use an autumn Green Paper to accelerate their own plans for the future of social care and, seemingly, to begin to distance itself from Andrew Dilnot’s 2011 report. This Green Paper commitment has survived the cull of Queen’s Speech although he government’s expectations of it may be more modest. For Labour the autumn consultation will be a great opportunity to not only raise the stakes for the government but to cement and build new partnerships both within and beyond Parliament.

Corbyn should build his attack around some key principles, all of which will be uncomfortable for the Tories.

Firstly, Labour should be insisting that this debate be one that searches for a greater degree of political consensus. Dilnot’s report needed to be followed by a genuine attempt to build consensus across the political spectrum. All Party talks did begin but were quickly closed down amidst the policies of austerity. The spirit of cooperation must be revisited. It would be a crime if such a key policy was to be simply determined by a minority government backed-up by a bunch of Northern Ireland political opportunists.

Secondly, this is an issue so important that in this modern age it cannot simply be left to Westminster politicians. If there is to be a consultation process in the autumn it should be the start of a process rather than something definitive. It could map out mechanisms for wider engagement and discussion, perhaps through some form of commission. It should lay down timescales for political decisions, progress and potential systemic change.

For Corbyn, such an attack can further underline his credentials for being a leader of the country rather than simply the Leader of the Labour Party.

There are many reasons for broadening the debate. Much work is being done by academics and by social care commissioners and providers. New models of cooperation between commissioners (local government and health) and the institutional investors who create and maintain services are being mooted. The social care crisis of skill development, workforce development and recruitment are being better understood. Few of those engaged in this world are confident that their input into the debate will be secured and their ideas properly explored.

If Corbyn deepens his campaign in this he way he will also find that there will be a significant impact on Westminster politics, though it will present new challenges as well as new opportunities.

A more open approach to the issue should set out to make the best use of Parliamentary expertise across the Board. In Norman Lamb the Lib Dems have one of the most knowledgeable and respected politicians in the field. Tory Stephen Dorrell, though he stood down as an MP in 2015, has spent much time looking at the issues of social care both through Select Committees and work in the outside world. Cameron’s Minister of Health Alistair Burt is another who has spent much time pondering these issues not only as a Minister but as a Select Committee Chair. And back on Labour’s side on of the key players nationally is Andy Burnham now the Mayor of Greater Manchester who now has the responsibility for bringing health and social care together in one of our major conurbations. These — and many others — will have a major role to play in building a new and last social care system.

Corbyn should one of the biggest issues of our age, and one of the greatest failures of the election campaign, to genuinely illustrate how a new form of politics could work.

One of Corbyn’s problems so far has been a failure to develop a proper policy debate within the Labour Party let alone outside in the wider world. The longer this Tory government manages to survive so the context of debates will change. We should all be aware that unexpected events can challenge ourselves as much as they can derail the government. Deepening to policy content of our campaign will help edge against the unexpected.

Ultimately, a move to a deeper and broader campaign may be critical in securing the success of a Corbyn-led government which may well have to govern without an overall majority or without a comfortable majority. Potential allies across the political spectrum wonder whether Team Corbyn can ever break free of their closed world. Developing a deeper policy dimension to the day-to-day political campaign will build confidence in Corbyn as a potential Leader of a wider progressive left.

Some will, of course, prefer to stay on the current course and to pin their hopes completely on a ‘one last heave’ mentality. It is worth constantly reflecting on the political realities of 2017. Despite running a fine and effective campaign Labour gained only 30 seats. At the next General Election Labour needs to win over 60 new seats simply to have a majority of 1. A comfortable majority of 40 or so seats will require Labour to win 100 seats at the next election.

In preparing for the future Corbyn can only gain by deepening his campaigning in this way. Social Care is but one key issue and, of course, there are others that would benefit from a similar approach.

In today’s world — in 2017 — the big issues cannot simply be left to Westminster. If we deepen our policy making,as a campaign tool, we are more likely to convince an ever-skeptical electorate that Labour is theParty to deal with the big issues. Back in Westminster such an approach is likely to convince others that Corbyn would be a serious partner in power, if indeed it comes to that.

Andy Howell

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