Labour – dodging the issues that matter

“Red rose” by akamarpreet is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Labour Party has launched a national consultation on policy which runs until 19 July.  As one of those consulted, Eric Gates responds by switching the focus to the important issues the document omits rather than what it covers.

Dear Sir Keir,

You asked for my thoughts on a number of topics in the recent consultation on Labour Party policy. Please excuse me if I depart from the specific areas that the consultation covers. If Labour is ever to achieve power again, there are more fundamental problems that need to be solved first.

Electoral reform

I am not clear how Labour plans to respond to the loss of its former dominant position in Scotland and without a majority of seats in Scotland, Labour must beat the Conservatives in England and Wales. On present form, that seems to be a tall order. In the 2019 election the Conservatives polled over 10 per cent more votes than Labour and the ‘first past the post’ (FPTP) system amplified this difference to produce a landslide result. Labour and Liberal Democrats together polled almost exactly the same percentage of votes as the Conservatives, but, since this resulted in a division of the “left of centre” vote, both were severely punished.  My own local constituency is a classic example where a Conservative MP remains immovable because the opposition parties create just this kind of split.

On simple arithmetic, without a seismic change in fortunes, the left of centre parties are likely to remain in powerless opposition as long as they compete for the non-Conservative vote. If you want power, the only way to achieve it in the foreseeable future is through an alliance of the left of centre parties.

A centre-left alliance

The price of an alliance with the LibDems and Greens is likely to be a commitment to the abolition of FPTP. Proportional representation (PR) comes in many flavours, and, in fairness, it would be important to set out clearly what variety of PR was on the table. We would not want a repeat of the Brexit vote for a pig in a poke. We would need to see PR not just as a route to power but leading to a more representative form of democracy than our current ‘winner takes all’ arrangement. We need to accept that it is likely to result in a significantly different political landscape in which both major parties will change. It is likely to create a larger number of fringe parties but a reasonable range of consensus among those in the centre ground.

It may be difficult to agree an electoral pact in Scotland but an alliance with the SNP is likely to be essential to form a government with a working majority. Your negotiating position with the SNP will be stronger now than after an election in which the SNP may hold the balance of power and can play kingmaker. Bringing the SNP on board would inevitably require clarity in relation to independence. We need to make a positive case for a different relationship between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland which puts the partners in the union on a more equal footing. Full federal structures exist elsewhere (Germany, the US) and a UK model could include devolution of almost everything short of defence and foreign policy.

 A move to rejoin the Single Market and Customs Union would avoid the spectre of customs posts along Hadrian’s Wall. Taken together with a radical solution that offers extensive powers, but falls short of complete separation, this might defuse the momentum for full Scottish independence. It might also reset the relationship on a constructive basis.  

Constitutional reform

As a lawyer and parliamentarian, you will understand better than most the need for further constitutional reforms. We need a written constitution that does not rely on unwritten rules that are observed by gentlemen. There is growing evidence that some of our politicians may not be gentlemen. When was the last time that Johnson responded at Prime Minister’s Questions without lying – sorry, being economical with the truth?  In fact, having worked in central government under prime ministers from Heath to Cameron, I cannot recall a period when corruption and cronyism were so blatant. We must have genuine independence of the judiciary and independent oversight of political behaviour – with teeth. 


So far I have not mentioned the European elephant in the room. I understand the difficulty of the issue but I would like to see Labour address the concerns of the very large number of pro-Europeans like me who currently feel politically abandoned.  I am afraid that it may take our European neighbours a little while to recover from the Brexit experience. Even if we can re-establish democratic principles and recover from our pariah status as a nation that ignores its international obligations, we shall certainly be on probation for a while. I hope that I live long enough to see us – whether as the United Kingdom or as England, Scotland and Wales separately – regain our place in the mainstream of European life.

As a first step, maintaining alignment with EU standards will help to enable a return to the single market in due course. Emphasis on the benefits of EU membership, rather than using the EU as a whipping boy for Westminster’s failings, would help.  And demonstration of a co-operative, rather than a confrontational attitude to our European neighbours would bring benefit. In short, we need a greater degree of geographic and cultural realism than the current government displays.

I have worked in both Germany and the US and three years in America convinced me that my values and culture were European. I understand that I have had Brexit done to me and that the consequences are happening all around us. However, this only makes me angry at the opportunities that are lost for my grandchildren, the families that are being broken, the disregard for peace in Northern Ireland, the standards that we are losing and so much more. While these are swept under the carpet by your party, I feel politically homeless. I doubt that I am alone.

Whatever else you may do about Brexit, please do not ask me to embrace it!

I hope that this helps.