Too much soul-searching, not enough action
The 2015 Conservative election victory, the Brexit vote and now Trump’s victory, have all been painful for the left. We need a plan of action, and we need to execute it soon, but we seem to be stuck in a process of soul-searching which is slowing us down.
There is a lot of inward-looking strategic discussion going on in the circles I’m following. Did we do enough? Could we have been nicer people? How do we change our message? And so on. The fact is, I don’t think it matters what message we put across or how we do it. We can be nice as pie, we can capitulate to the populist narrative, or we can stand around screaming insults; none of them will win us votes with a media stacked so heavily in favour of the right-wing orthodoxy.
Blind opinion polling shows that Labour & Green policies are hugely popular. People want public rail, public energy, a strong NHS, action on climate change. In general, people want to live in a tolerant and friendly country that works for everyone. But left-wing policies simply aren’t reflected by the narrative that most people are consuming via the media.
People choose their own media, of course, but for the most part they believe the narrative it provides them with to be truthful. In about three quarters of all newspapers that narrative consists of: “The left are in power, they are elite, and everything they are doing is bad. You should despise them”. It’s not true, but so dominant is this narrative that most people have come to believe it. Try engaging with people online, or on the doorstep, who voted for Brexit, who support Trump, who support the Tories, and you’ll see that this narrative is effective and widely-believed.
Walk into any newsagents and the majority of newspapers on offer backed the Conservatives in one way or another at the last election. No amount of tweaking our message, our policies, or our core values is going to change that. The narrative reaching the public will still be the same.
What we have to do is stop looking inward (which we seem to do almost constantly) and develop an actual strategy for getting the truth to people. To let people know that those of us on the left are not sneering media elites, but their friends, sons, daughters and neighbours. We are struggling to get by just like they are. We need to make and promote our own independent media, distribute a constant stream of leaflets, mobilise our massive party memberships to engage with people on the doorstep. We need to run as many local community engagement programs as possible (food drives, litter picks, pop-up shops). Challenge the mainstream narrative by actually talking to our fellow citizens one-to-one.
If the Labour Party now has 600,000 members, why haven’t I seen a single one of them knocking on doors where I live? Why haven’t I seen a single pop-up shop? Why aren’t they advertising charity drives on every single lamppost in my area? Labour and the Greens should be mobilising everyone they possibly can to get out on the street every weekend to do something good for our communities. Pumping out slogans on social media for a few weeks before every public vote is not enough, we need to build a local following by getting out there and doing something great.
You don’t win elections by sitting around soul-searching. Our policies are popular enough already. Our main goal should be to get out there, challenge the false media narrative, and show the people of Britain that we can make a positive difference to their lives.
Good advice. In my own area (safe Tory seat in Kent) the Lib Dems make (some) headway in local government by being very active at grassroots level. A new young Tory is standing in a council by-election on the “local” ticket with barely a mention of her party affiliation. This sort of stuff takes years but if you get a reputation for local activism it can overcome people’s prejudices fed by national media. I’m starting at the bottom – I’ve joined the Parish Council!