“I think the British have the distinction above all other nations of being able to put new wine into old bottles without bursting them.”
The wise words of the Labour Party’s best ever leader Clement Attlee, whom the NHS was created under in 1948 and the man who brought the country together so impressively after the unprecedented atrocity of World War Two (1939-45).
During the most brutal war in history where 60 million died, Britain and her empire pulled together under a coalition cabinet led by Winston Churchill, and together with the United States they defeat the expansionist forces of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
Part of that cabinet was Attlee himself, who served as Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs.
Attlee was not only a man who respected the people and community above all, he was a man who respected the opposition party. And when the new Labour leader is elected on Saturday, that too is something they must do as the country seeks to pull through its toughest time since the Second World War.
Like the rest of Europe, the UK currently finds itself in a state of lockdown due to the spread of COVID-19 around the world since the virus developed in China in December.
In March, the virus made its way to the UK and as a new month is now upon us it will be perhaps the country’s toughest month in recent times as a collective nation.
Boris Johnson declared ‘war’ on the coronavirus on St Patrick’s Day, signifying that a wartime effort was required from all its people as the nation pulls together to try and beat the deadly disease.
In World War Two, Britain’s armed forces, largely commanded by the Prime Minister, fought on the frontline to prevent the country falling into the grasp of the Nazis. Today, NHS staff represent the frontline in the fight against COVID-19.
Donald Trump also warned yesterday of a “painful two weeks ahead” in the US, who will play an important role if COVID-19 is to be defeated. A truly United Kingdom and western world is required now more than ever before.
SCORCHED EARTH PLANS
It’s something the UK would have never achieved while Labour were under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn – Labour’s worst performing leader in an election since 1935 and someone who in political terms tried to put new wine into an old bottle.
The new wine was socialism, and the old bottle was the Labour Party. Despite his best attempts, Corbyn didn’t quite burst the bottle, but it’s fair to say he emptied it.
The bottle needs refilling with new wine again, and the man most likely tasked with this will be Sir Keir Starmer who is expected to be appointed to succeed Corbyn. Running against Starmer will be Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey, and each leader offers Labour something different moving forward.
Starmer believes the Labour Party needs to “rebuild fast,” but in doing so shouldn’t “lose sight of our values or retreat from the radicalism of the past few years.”
He’s going to pour the new wine into the bottle quickly, and though he’s far from a Blair supporter his reported scorched earth plans to rid the party of Corbyn’s closest supporters within the shadow cabinet signal a move that will shift Labour back to the centre.
After all, what choice do they have after socialism was so overwhelmingly rejected in December?
Nandy also doesn’t support Corbyn, and if she is victorious she is likely to go back to the drawing board with her main focus being winning Labour back their northern heartlands they lost under Corbyn.
Long-Bailey, meanwhile, rated Corbyn’s Labour leadership “10 out of 10” back in January and she’s someone who will look to continue the current Labour line of outdated Marxism in the hope it will gather more momentum for future elections.
Appointing Long-Bailey would be disastrous on all levels, and a continuation of Corbynism in any form will lead Labour’s young electorate to become even more caught up in their echo chamber of Twitter where they have created a fake world because they couldn’t gain the support they needed in the real world.
If one put a tenner on Labour to win the election on December 12 based on what they’ve seen trending on Twitter in the weeks building up to it, they would be somewhat forgiven. But it’s the hope that would have killed them when the inevitable election result of the biggest Tory majority since 1987 happened as Johnson won by a staggering 80 seats.
With regards to Starmer and Nandy, it’s all well and good reforming but they must find a new way to launch their policies in the uncertain world we live in today where the spread of coronavirus is still going on and one where social media gives a false picture. Interacting with the world on a more realistic level has to be the first aim.
Blair’s ‘New Labour’ campaign of 1997 breathed new life into the Labour Party, who went into the doldrums in the 1980s after the ‘Winter of Discontent’ under James Callaghan in 1978/79. They wouldn’t lead the country for 18 years until Blair was elected in 1997.
During those 18 years, Labour tried to reform, namely under the stewardship of Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock. But neither of them could put the new wine Attlee spoke of into the old bottle. Blair, however, proved he could and it helped him win three elections in 1997, 2001 and 2005.
Blair’s hat-trick of election wins in the 1990s and 2000s meant he achieved what Margaret Thatcher achieved for the Conservatives in the 1970s and 1980s as both ran for over a decade.
For the new leader of the Labour Party, the focus must be rebuilding with new values. Essential to these new values has to be a firm stance on both Brexit and immigration – two issues Corbyn didn’t have a policy on because he was too busy focusing on getting retweets by consistently protesting about Johnson and Trump as well as offering free handouts that simply didn’t exist. That’s not how to win an election in any era.
What new values Labour will offer are up in the air, but right now there’s too much division in the party and that division is unlikely to be brought to an equilibrium that satisfies all in the party by the time of the next election in 2024.
Therefore, when Labour do elect their new leader on Saturday, the focus for that new leader should realistically be winning the 2029 election and breaking up nearly two decades of Tory rule as Blair did in 1997.
If they want that, the man they must look to for inspiration is Attlee, and the man they must forget about is Corbyn.
Of course, times have changed since Attlee’s post World War Two government, but the origins of his 1946 election win came during the Second World War when he proved able to co-operate with the Conservative Party efficiently under Churchill.
Unlike Corbyn, he proved to most of the electorate that he was able to run the country if he ever needed to when he was leader of the opposition under a Conservative government.
The first task of the new Labour leader, most likely Starmer, is to co-operate efficiently with Johnson in these difficult times as leader of the opposition.
If they can do this, they will be respected and taken seriously as opposition again, which has to be the short-term goal. If they can’t do this, they will simply maintain their current Twitter electorate- which won’t win them any future elections.
To change this, the new wine has to be put into the old bottle carefully and all elements along with every last little trace of Corbynism must be eradicated completely if they’re to stand any chance of gaining more voters.
So, could Johnson and Starmer really become the modern day Churchill and Attlee? Let’s hope so.