Labour needs to win back its disaffected voters – and the leaked manifesto looks set to do just that

This article was first published in The Independent on 11 May 2017

Canvassing in May has become a ritual of the political cycle in my role as a Labour MEP, but this year was different. We were campaigning for a new position, the West Midland’s first ever Metro Mayor. And though the region has been a Labour fortress, there were ominous signs that Tory invaders were at the gate. The Conservative candidate’s massive £1m campaign spend dwarfed that of our Labour candidate, Siôn Simon. The greater name recognition this gave Andy Street ultimately paid off. In the end, Labour lost by an excruciating 3,766 votes.

Of course, Labour’s loss was not just down to money. And, as with any surprise defeat, it is worthwhile taking some time to reflect on the deeper reasons. In hindsight, the 2015 Ukip voters – who had previously voted Labour – were decisive. Knocking on doors, I found that there were more swing voters than ever. One woman was voting Conservative in the mayoral election, but said she would vote for the incumbent Labour MP in the general election – because he had fixed the pot holes in her road. Another woman, in her 40s, told me “My Dad was a lifelong Tory and my whole life I’ve been the same, but now I’m not sure who I will vote for.” Politics is becoming less tribal, as positions become more divided.

But how can we win back our heartlands? Why did disaffected voters who once voted Labour and then switched to Ukip this year turn Tory for the first time? And how can Labour win back its status as the natural home of those who have been left behind?

We need to address people’s legitimate concerns. On the doorstep, the most common complaints of my constituents are about opportunities for their kids. The young ones can’t get into their first choice schools and the old ones can’t get jobs. It may be easy to blame immigration for these issues – as the right does with unachievable immigration figure caps – but it is false. I foresee that if the Conservatives win purely through the personal popularity of “Team Theresa” – with no examination of people’s real problems – there will be a backlash. This could push us even further back from the progress we have made in these past decades.

There has been a lot said about Labour’s leaked draft manifesto, but if you look at the content, it actually goes further in addressing the inequalities that underlie our society than any other in recent memory. If the leak is accurate, Labour will create a new National Education Service that will end tuition fees and deliver all kinds of non-university training. This will give British workers the new skills to compete in a global market place. Properly funding our NHS remains the one policy that unites the British electorate. And ending zero hours contracts will be a relief to many of my constituents who have told me the awful effect it has on their social and family lives. This positive, bold agenda is the solution for the deep inequalities that still exist in the UK.

As we saw in France – where a rookie 39-year-old obliterated the country’s two main political parties – hope can still beat fear. Voters who are suffering from the effects of globalisation and, just as importantly, the long-term impact of de-industrialisation, are not only winnable with the politics of division. Macron demonstrated that a broad coalition of voters can still be built on optimism. It is more evidence that people from across the world are discarding entrenched political loyalties. In a recent meeting of Socialist and Democrat MEPs, my colleagues were clear: We must learn from En Marche’s clear vision for the future, but not become it. A colleague said it right: “We must not be a pale replica of right-wing parties. We need a bold agenda for a renewed socialism.” Looking at Labour’s leaked manifesto, we have scored the latter.

We need to address people’s legitimate concerns. On the doorstep, the most common complaints of my constituents are about opportunities for their kids. The young ones can’t get into their first choice schools and the old ones can’t get jobs. It may be easy to blame immigration for these issues – as the right does with unachievable immigration figure caps – but it is false. I foresee that if the Conservatives win purely through the personal popularity of “Team Theresa” – with no examination of people’s real problems – there will be a backlash. This could push us even further back from the progress we have made in these past decades.

There has been a lot said about Labour’s leaked draft manifesto, but if you look at the content, it actually goes further in addressing the inequalities that underlie our society than any other in recent memory. If the leak is accurate, Labour will create a new National Education Service that will end tuition fees and deliver all kinds of non-university training. This will give British workers the new skills to compete in a global market place. Properly funding our NHS remains the one policy that unites the British electorate. And ending zero hours contracts will be a relief to many of my constituents who have told me the awful effect it has on their social and family lives. This positive, bold agenda is the solution for the deep inequalities that still exist in the UK.

As we saw in France – where a rookie 39-year-old obliterated the country’s two main political parties – hope can still beat fear. Voters who are suffering from the effects of globalisation and, just as importantly, the long-term impact of de-industrialisation, are not only winnable with the politics of division. Macron demonstrated that a broad coalition of voters can still be built on optimism. It is more evidence that people from across the world are discarding entrenched political loyalties. In a recent meeting of Socialist and Democrat MEPs, my colleagues were clear: We must learn from En Marche’s clear vision for the future, but not become it. A colleague said it right: “We must not be a pale replica of right-wing parties. We need a bold agenda for a renewed socialism.” Looking at Labour’s leaked manifesto, we have scored the latter.