Labour needs to be more than the party of social justice

Since the General Election there has been much debate about what the future holds for the Labour Party. Deep conversations are taking place about what the Labour Party now stands for and what they believe in and whether they need to take stock and re-assess their principles and ethos. Yvette Cooper, a prospective party leader, led calls at the weekend imploring fellow leadership candidates not to simply swallow the Conservative manifesto but to present something different.

One heart and soul issue which always seems to crop up when Labour loses an election, or even when it wins for that matter, is the emphasis Labour places on social justice. Miliband when in charge of the Labour Party talked a great deal about social inequality and his desire to see it reduced or even erased. This was in stark contradiction to the “New Labour Party” led by Tony Blair and was one of the major differences between Miliband and New Labour. It should always be a Labour Party priority to defend and protect the most marginalized and vulnerable in society and they should not be ashamed of that.

However, in the modern age, it is no longer enough to simply be the party of social justice. Whilst this may appeal to their core vote, it doesn’t extend beyond this, and if Labour wants to win a General Election and return to power then they have to expand their policy repertoire. They need to talk of business and aspiration and also show they understand the concerns voters have about their economic competence. Their performance at this election and to some extent in 2010 shows that Labour cannot win on a social justice agenda alone.

The Labour Party has to be more in tune with the times and learn the lessons from previous elections which mean they have to broaden their appeal and emphasise areas which they may not have traditionally talked about. It is a fallacy to say that Labour cannot do both. The reality is that if Labour fail to do both then they are in real danger of becoming an irrelevance. Labour cannot survive by just being the party of social justice, but neither can they survive if they fail to remain its champion.  They must find a way to balance these aims if they wish to become successful again.

Article by Mike Hough

Photograph – Centre for Social Justice

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