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New Labour 2.0

20 January 2022
Public Affairs

By Tom Haynes

If I had a pound for every time I have read a statement claiming that “this is the most difficult day of Johnson’s premiership”, it would have been a pretty fruitful start to the new year. The same cannot be said for the Prime Minister who has seen a conveyor belt of scandals come his way resulting in calls for his resignation from all corners of his party, a public schism with his colleagues in Scotland and, most dramatically of all, the first defection of a Conservative MP to Labour since 2007. 

Perhaps the most surprising thing for Christian Wakeford is that his defection has done a remarkably good job at focussing the mind within Conservative ranks. The Conservative Party has always been a broad church and at times there is more that divides it than unites. However, the one thing that never fails to unite the party is a common enemy, and Wakeford has risen to the occasion wonderfully. 

While the fate of the current Prime Minister continues to play out and we all wait patiently for the report of Sue Gray, increasing attention is being given to how the Labour Party is managing the crisis. For a long time now, Labour has not been seen by the public as a credible opposition, with the Conservative label of “Captain Hindsight” seeming to stick, and being jeered during his own conference speech, impacting Sir Keir Starmer’s attempts to be seen as the next British Prime Minister. However, more and more people are starting to look again at Labour as a serious contender for government. 

The Labour Party Conference in September was a bit of a false start for the great reset within the party, but the first signs of something new was his November reshuffle and the establishment of the team he wants to take into the next general election. We saw the promotion of Yvette Cooper back to the front bench as Shadow Home Secretary, a well-regarded and experienced former Minster who has proven herself as the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee and is a call back to Labour’s more electable days. Internal moves saw big hitter David Lammy shadowing the FCDO and Lisa Nandy move to mirror the Levelling Up brief. While this latter move could be seen as a demotion for Nandy, this new department is a big priority for the Government with Gove at the helm. He is a reliable performer for the Government and is strong at the despatch box, and Labour needed someone who is able to hold their own when they go toe to toe on these issues. Perhaps most importantly of all was who was out, and Cat Smith’s departure saw the last bastions of Corbyn’s socialist wing gone, taking Labour back to a centre ground footing. 

In terms of policy, we have started to see Labour produce alternative policy to show what a Labour Government might look like. At the start of the month, Sir Keir set out his blueprint for Government - the Contract with the British People - and today Rachel Reeves delivered a timely intervention in Bury South – the now Labour-held seat of Christian Wakeford. She set out the refreshed Labour approach to the economy and made it clear that this Labour Party is pro-business. 

The current polls put Labour around 10 points ahead of the Conservatives, but they will know that these gains in the polls need to be earnt and not just gained off the back of the Conservatives’ own mess. It feels like this is the direction that Labour is moving in, and to come full circle, if they can convince Conservative MPs like Wakeford to come into the fold of this reformed Labour, there is every chance they can bring their historic supporters back onside at the next election. The real test will be whether this lead translates in the polls during May’s set of local elections.