James Alexander: Labour must learn to win again – and choose Yvette Cooper

WHEN the General Election exit poll was published, I looked around at the shocked and glum faces at Labour HQ. It takes some special skill to go backwards on our 2010 defeat, but Labour has learned to lose again.

We thought Labour’s lowest ebb was the election of five years ago, but we were wrong. Since then events in Scotland, and the Labour leadership election, have done nothing to improve our reputation as a stable and fiscally responsible party of Government. If council by-elections are anything to go by, we have gone backwards still further.

When a party loses an election, its members feel rejected and hurt. Activists, candidates and professional staff begin to think with their hearts rather than their heads. I know this is how I felt and following our defeat in 2010.

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This clouded my decision over who I gave my vote to in the subsequent leadership election and the party and I cannot afford to make that same mistake again.

We need a leader that is electable and to be electable we need someone who can provide stable government with fiscal responsibility.

The decision to allow non-party members to sign up as “registered supporters” of the party and inviting them take part in the leadership election is laudable attempt at securing credibility, but it is not working. The idea was that an American-style primary would produce a winner who was more in tune with the public than just the rank and file party base. It was meant as a failsafe to ensure the next Labour leader has an electability which was lacking on May 7. Instead the Labour Party has been infiltrated by different left groups.

In York alone, hundreds have recently signed up as full members or registered supporters since the election. Some I can only describe as political mercenaries and professional agitators. Some have moved between parties such as the Greens, SWP and even the Liberal Democrats.

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While there are some fantastic new members and supporters, many are sadly dragging the party further away from being elected again. Some speak of how they know the centre ground is where elections are won, but as the centre has moved too far to the right, Labour should go further to the left and that Labour should become more of a street-based protest group on the outside of mainstream politics than an inside party of Government.

I cannot and will not agree. I didn’t join a protest group; I joined a great political party worthy of government. I have devoted all of my adult life to the Labour movement and I am proud of having implemented Labour values in action, rather than just protest. Winning an election allowed us to introduce the Living Wage in York. I have earned my stripes and the Labour party belongs to many, not a new wave of entryists who are happy to rubbish Labour’s achievements when in office and who may have actively campaigned against Labour.

I fear for the party’s future if Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader. I fear if his politics could be accommodated by another successful candidate. Even if he doesn’t win, much of the damage is done. Many have compared the last General Election to 1992, but I fear it was more like 1983 with the “Ed Stone” being the hardest suicide note in history.

We are in for a period of turbulence and introspection.

I hope the party doesn’t split, but history says otherwise. But where are the National Labour Party and the SDP?

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Sadly for Labour and for working people in this country, history tends to repeat itself and we have to learn the same lessons over and over again. As far back as the early 1930s the Labour party turned on itself because Ramsey MacDonald had to be fiscally responsible with the welfare budget – sound familiar? He was chastised for being seduced by power into betraying his class. But power is what can deliver for working people. It was power that helped Labour establish the NHS and it was power that that allowed Labour to introduce the minimum wage. It is Labour in power that could have abolished the bedroom tax and it is power that can deliver for working people again – not banners and street rallies.

People often forget there are only three people who have ever led Labour to a majority election victory; Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and Tony Blair. Winning is a privilege for Labour both learned and earned – it is not inevitable. And while Labour turns inwards we let the Thatcherites, headed by David Cameron and George Osborne, dominate the political landscape and move 
public perception even further away 
from what Labour has to capture for election victory. This is the legacy of the far-left.

The Labour party needs to be wise and think with its head and not just its heart when electing its next leader. This is why I will be voting for Yvette Cooper.

James Alexander stood down as leader of City of York Council in December. He is writing in a personal capacity.