where exactly are the opposition?

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A pandemic is always going to be a tricky time for a party of opposition as, during a crisis of such magnitude, it’s perfectly understandable that the population/electorate should value and expect a more supportive, bipartisan approach. Factor in, for our own opposition party, that 2019 witnessed their worst general election showing in almost a century and, on the day their new leader was formally appointed, BoJo was admitted to hospital and subsequently almost died of coronavirus. What small amount of public attention was available vanished overnight and has yet to fully return.

Having said that, Labour hasn’t been great at banging its own drum. When the Tories cut foreign aid, Labour keep shtum. When Ken Clarke derides the proposed royal yacht as “silly populist nonsense”, Labour fail to cheer him from the rigging. When Nigel Farage calls the RNLI a “taxi service for immigrants”, Labour is painfully slow to say otherwise. When Priti Patel derides England’s footballers’ taking of the knee as “gesture politics”, Labour fail to tackle her. When Johnson continues to blatantly lie about Brexit’s regulatory divergence necessitating a border somewhere on Northern Ireland, Labour’s response is muted.

Furthermore, the fact that the two parties are converging on a new economic consensus – that big government is back, that public and private sectors must work seamlessly together, and that public debt is nothing to worry about – has curtailed Labour’s room for manoeuvre even more. Ripping-up Thatcher’s economic rulebook, Rishi has borrowed heavily to fund unprecedented subsidies whilst Boris declares himself champion of the green and unrepresented.

But why the relative silence and apparently cowed approach? Because the party appears desperate not to offend socially conservative ‘red wall’ voters in its former heartlands, and Keir Starmer believes he needs to win these people back by emphasising family values and traditional patriotism. This fatally compromises any more meaningful messages and consequently, few people know what Labour stands for. And what’s more, Keir’s wrong. These voters are a lost cause.

The factors that draw voters to conservatism – marriage, family, home-ownership, jingoism, organised religion – are all in decline in the UK. Those encouraging social liberalism – singledom, urban-living, diversity, inclusion, positive immigration – are on the rise. It remains true that the older a population becomes more right-leaning is its stance but this process is being much delayed in today’s society. It’s going to sound callous but these voters are pegging-it far quicker than they’re being replaced.

Labour, and their obviously capable, forensic, diligent leader, need to confidently present a clear alternative to conservatism to a younger more contemporary, forward-thinking audience. If they choose to opt for an easy-life they’re going to be nothing more than Conservative-lite and almost an irrelevance. Ultimately, it’s a combination of values, vision and policies that will define Labour and determine both its success and longevity. Laudable actions of late include pledges to maintain the £20 uplift in Universal Credit and end the public sector pay-freeze but this is not enough. For my  two-penneth, the party needs to convert a social-wide belief in equality of opportunity, access and outcome by building policies around effective and progressive wealth, property and asset taxation. To do so in a positive, green, socially-liberal, anti-isolationist manner will see people return in their droves. Yes, Labour’s future lies in its own hands but more importantly it lies with the under fifties and they should target them unapologetically.