Some time has passed since the election of Donald Trump and I have found myself reflecting on things; not just on another massive defeat for progressive politics, but on the reaction. It is a reaction that typifies how out of touch the left really are; a reaction that sums up the facts in part and only offers half-solutions. It angers me because it is the same reaction that followed the vote on Brexit and the general election defeats in 2010 and 2015. Neil Kinnock described it best in his 1985 speech to Labour party conference:
I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far-fetched resolutions. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, outdated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs
It is not just a small element on our side that has this dogmatic position, but it is almost a mainstream view that we have stopped listening to the voters – and they have respond by not voting for us. It is no secret that large numbers in the United Kingdom are concerned about immigration, Britain’s rapidly changing culture and an economy that just does not work.
The biggest failure of the centre-left has to be in failing to listen to the concerns over immigration and Britain’s rapidly changing culture. For the most part, the public understands and accepts that we have to have some form of immigration but have issues with the amount, the way it is spread around the UK and that it has rapidly increased over a short period of time.
To be frank, they are right – when you walk around in Boston, Peterborough and other areas in Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, you can see this in effect. It is almost as you have two different places within one place – a pure divide. For many this is unacceptable – we on the left have to listen to this and provide pragmatic policy; policy that gives local councils more power and funding to help integration along with better spending on resources. The government must have better regional planning for resettlement and population distribution.
This rapid increase of population, along with a globalization-led restructuring of the economy, has left many behind. They see opportunity slipping through their fingers, contently rejected and stuck in a rut – in a modern society this is just unacceptable. This is due to a rapid development in industries and skills and education retraining has not kept up to match. A generation of men and women that have spent the last 20+ years in industry are now without the competencies to meet today’s job market – but, more importantly, have little to no way of changing this. This is compounded by poor business practice; it is simply easier to hire a foreign (or well-off) individual than it is to train a local person. Labour has to push a new range of ideas around this such as new further education facilities – new courses for retraining and additional training – open to all, from all ages, free at point of use. It will have to be paid for by a tax on companies who have poor reinvestment in people (reforming amendments to the way companies report finance to open this to public knowledge). This will not just benefit a small bunch of people from one band but from a range.
Looking deeper into the education system – while education has changed to mean people are more open and flexible – you still have to wonder, why is it producing people without the skills for today’s market? The problem is not what is delivered; it is what is being delivered. What has to happen is a complete renewal of what and how we teach. We, as political types on the left, have spent too much time trying to do this from the top down. This can no longer happen. If businesses feel people are coming out the system with the wrong skills, get them involved; if teachers feel the subject they are teaching and how it is taught is wrong, get them involved; bring the exam boards onboard. What a Labour government should be doing is creating a new board in the department of education to bring all these actors together to form the new generation of education – one that can face up to the technical revolution that is occurring. Massive reform of local education has to occur alongside this; Local education authority boards need to be reopened, but extended to include the local actors and become more like a hybrid of Ofsted and UCAS.
These policies are not inward looking and anti-internationalist at all – stronger controls over immigration will benefit the countries of origin. A massive population shift of highly skilled workers out of a country (a so called brain-drain) is fundamentally a bad thing for that country. It leads to lowering of standards and opportunities for those who stay, thanks to a shortfall of inward investment. To actively invest in British people and raise local skills, you need to reduce the need to bring in foreign workers and hence by using market forces you do not drain out one area for another. This means you can improve this area too – a total internationalist policy.
I will be totally honest, I passionately believe in an open-door immigration policy with complete free market ideals. This, however, is not a policy that commands public support. I live in a fairly leafy part of the world and I am educated to undergrad level – globalisation has not really had an impact on me, so I have to better understand the impact it has had on others. This means getting out, talking to voters and meeting them halfway and developing policy with these conversations in mind. Politics in its current climate is in a strange place – the left has become stuck in a complete dogmatic, closed mindset over free movement and the right over closed borders. Clearly there is space for a clear pragmatic third way argument – one that takes the tough choices that are both needed and that the public understand – unless the left tackles this head on, we will be finished.
Daniel Mayhew is candidate in the general members section in the Progress strategy board elections. He tweets @MrMayhemBsc