Labour must learn from defeat if it is to win again | Letters

Readers take issue with an article by Lorna Finlayson which backed Rebecca Long-Bailey to become the next Labour leader

Lorna Finlayson believes that becoming more rightwing is not the best way for Labour to become electable again (Electability does not mean an inevitable tack to the right, Journal, 3 February), but does not present any convincing alternative way forward.

Leftwing policies may be popular with the public, but this was clearly not enough for Labour to be elected in December. There is no evidence, either, that choosing a leader like Rebecca Long-Bailey will do anything to improve Labour’s chances. It is clear, whatever his supporters say, that Jeremy Corbyn was a key factor in persuading traditional Labour voters to desert the party, and though giving him “10 out of 10” for his performance may show commendable loyalty, it has probably already scuppered her chances of being viewed as a better alternative.

As unpalatable as it may be, the December election result has shown beyond doubt that elections are won by playing the game, not by showing integrity and honesty, or even having the best policies. An electorate that is disenchanted with politics is easy prey to simplistic slogans and publicity stunts. While there is undeniably a strong rightwing bias in the print media, simply complaining about this will get us nowhere. It is the world we live in, and the party has to find a way of dealing with it.

Tony Blair was good at playing the game, and was able to win three elections as a result. Unfortunately this was at the cost of sacrificing too much of Labour’s core values for many of us to stomach. Perhaps a better example is Harold Wilson, the only other Labour leader apart from Attlee (in the exceptional conditions of postwar Britain) to win elections convincingly. As well as being a successful performer in the media, he also managed to maintain a balance between the left and the right of the party, something that arguably no leader has managed since.
Steve Bamford

• Lorna Finlayson argues in support of Rebecca Long-Bailey, and in continuing the cause for leftwing policies. But surely liberal democracies rely on a political pendulum which is sustained by reaction, not subtraction. No political party has a monopoly on virtue or competence. If the electorate were to buy into this, we would be living in a one-party state.

When the pendulum swung back towards Labour in 1997 it was on the back of a manifesto that promised: “Some things the Conservatives got right. We will not change them.”

Within a few years the Tories reacted, by setting out their own “aims and values”, in recognition of the success of Labour’s own clear and concise expression of “the principles”.

From 2010 the Tories have pursued their own principles of “compassionate conservatism”. Of course, translating principles into deliverable policies does not come easy. However, our three main political parties, when in power, have all explicitly signed up to the core principle that “social justice” is best delivered by the proceeds of wealth creation.

The precise strategies will obviously vary, either through experimentation, or in response to unforeseen global trends. But ultimately the electorate will judge performance, as it is they who control the pendulum.

If any party seeks to swing its own extreme pendulum, purely in the belief of its moral superiority and historic values, it will need to demonstrate extraordinary powers of persuasion when “the people’s trust” is the final arbiter.
Mike Allott
Chandler’s Ford, Hampshire

• As a recent subscriber to the Guardian, I have to thank many of the contributors to the Journal for helping to preserve my sanity, following the general election and Brexit. Sadly, Lorna Finlayson isn’t one of them. Her piece proposes Rebecca Long-Bailey as the answer. She is only the answer if the question is “Which of the leadership candidates is most likely to guarantee another election defeat for the Labour party?”
Rod Price
Mollington, Oxfordshire

• Labour’s ostrich tendency, which blames calamitous defeat on Brexit, the capitalist press and an insufficiently “woke” electorate, evidently has an adherent in Lorna Finlayson. Labour’s policies may have been popular “in isolation”, but the party leadership had clearly forgotten what Nye Bevan used to say about socialism and the “language of priorities”. People vote for a party that clearly knows not only its preferred destination but how it is going to get there.
Dr Colin J Smith
West Kirby, Wirral

• Lorna Finlayson claims “there is no evidence that Labour lost the election because of its leftwing policies”, but nowhere in her article does she offer an explanation of that outcome or any suggestions as to how the party can do much better next time. To adopt a modified version of her own conclusion, while Labour remains unable to address the reasons for its devastating defeat, the Tories have little to fear!
Jeremy Beecham
Labour, House of Lords

• I join Fiona Millar (Education, 4 February) in despairing that there appear to be many in the Labour party, including sadly some MPs, who want to forget, distance themselves from or even trash the many achievements of the Labour government of 1997-2010. Shades of Monty Python and “What did the Romans ever do for us?” Those of us who endured the Thatcher years, and the years since 2010, should not need to remind people of the progress that was made, but it seems we must do so. Otherwise we play into the hands of those who will happily portray Labour as a party not fit to govern.
Michael Sanderson
Elsecar, South Yorkshire

• Join the debate – email

• Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit

• Do you have a photo you’d like to share with Guardian readers? Click here to upload it and we’ll publish the best submissions in the letters spread of our print edition


The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Unconventional wisdom on Labour ‘heartlands’ | Letters
Letters: Ian Wrigglesworth discusses the awkward fact that there is a substantial Tory vote in the north, Roger Backhouse advocates Old Lefties for Labour to win back the pensioner vote, Robert Leach says Labour should take a tip from the late former MP Jack Dunnett, and Dr Alyson Hall Yandoli proposes a new way of testing the leadership hopefuls


13, Jan, 2020 @5:42 PM

Article image
The next Labour leader and what party members want | Letters
Letters: The party must get behind Jeremy Corbyn’s successor, writes Chris Morris, while Magi Young hopes for someone who can unite and motivate members up and down the country. Plus Shaun Soper and Brian Wilson on whether the leader should appeal most to members or the wider electorate


10, Jan, 2020 @5:18 PM

Article image
Battle for the Labour party’s soul continues | Letters
Letters: Readers respond to Dawn Foster’s article challenging Tom Watson to leave the party and Matthew d’Ancona’s piece claiming Labour is not interested in taking the centre ground


11, Jul, 2019 @5:23 PM

Article image
No oath of loyalty to Labour leaders | Letters
Letters from David Winnick, Keith Flett and Priscilla Alderson


14, Sep, 2018 @4:06 PM

Article image
Standing up for Labour’s left wing | Letters
Letters: Keith Flett and John Heawood write in defence of Rebecca Long-Bailey and the left, while Graham Foster isn’t so sure


05, Feb, 2020 @6:40 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on the Labour leadership: a deep and wide debate | Editorial
Editorial: Lisa Nandy is almost certain to be on the ballot for members to choose the next Labour leader. She offers a change not just of speed, but of direction for the party


21, Jan, 2020 @6:29 PM

Article image
Labour’s continued inaction on Brexit | Letters
Letters: Guardian readers respond to John Harris’s piece on Labour’s collusion in leaving the EU


20, Nov, 2018 @6:09 PM

Article image
A Labour leader who can represent working-class interests | Letters
Letters: Lisa Nandy is the candidate best able to engage and listen to voters, says Giles Oakley, while Peter McKenna believes the party has become too middle-class. Plus letters from Les Bright, Geoff Debelle, Simon Warne and Ian Sinclair


24, Jan, 2020 @5:34 PM

Article image
Will Labour unite, or have one hell of a scrap? | Letters
Letters: Guardian readers share their views on the Labour leadership contest and the future of the party


08, Jan, 2020 @6:16 PM

Article image
Rebecca Long-Bailey’s leadership pitch is far from perfect | Letters
Letters: Readers respond to an article by the Labour leadership contender Rebecca Long-Bailey


17, Jan, 2020 @6:01 PM