It took a while—most of its members have been fighting like ferrets in a sack on Twitter through two general elections—but Britain’s Labour party has finally noticed the working class deserted it.
It’s hard to remember Tony Blair’s early promises, but his failure to turn Labour, which he led from 1994 to 2007, into a party that can adapt to the world changing around it may turn out to be his biggest mistake.
Labour’s institutional structure, a rigid, labyrinthine bureaucracy housing a symbolic coalition of trade unions, the “activists” of the hard left, and a parliamentary party, has always been a problem.
There was no golden age where this structure operated for the benefit of the workers it fetishizes and disenfranchises. This is true Labour and it is dysfunctional. When Labour is in power it prevents trade unions functioning, out of power it prevents the parliamentary party functioning. A layer of gilded youth promoted swiftly into top positions provided a hermetic seal, lately acting as a social media buffer between these institutions and the people they are supposed to serve.
The consequence of a rigid institutional structure and this culture of of mutual loathing is a political party that can’t see the world in which it exists, never mind how it has changed around them.
Everyone is waiting for current hard-left leader Jeremy Corbyn to resign, but once the protective seal provided by the Labour left is gone, Labour will be laid bare, with all its dysfunction exposed.
The U.K. has the most complex and educated working class in its history and Labour has never had to interact with us. For a start we will we need:
An apology for allowing the hard left chaos that took over the party in 1983 and 2016. Thatcherism and Brexit are too high a price for elite youths and middle aged lefties to play out their faux socialist fantasies.
Labour didn’t notice the economics it was tied to dying with the financial crisis; it didn’t notice the significance of the media landscape it enjoyed disappearing. Tories and Labour were committed to the same cuts for the same reasons—Labour could never deliver these, and the cuts would only ever have caused crisis.
So we will need an approach to policy that demonstrates an understanding of the relationship between your economics, your social policy and legislation and an understanding of how institutions actually function. Identity politics plus market orthodoxy is over. We need this to address the the problems created by dead economics and austerity.
The party must foster a functioning parliamentary party with members who know their role is to earn votes. It is for Labour to prove their worth, not the electorate.
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And while we’re at it, Labour must nurture functioning trade unions. Social care, our benefits system and our child protection system evolved through social change and direct democracy. Those institutions need trade unions more than student societies at Oxford and Cambridge need a shortcut to media and politics.
Labour activists need to leave direct democracy alone unless they are invited if the only thing they can offer is preventing discussion that doesn't involve the Labour left. The elite Labour left as mediator for discussion of tackling inequality is a nonsense.
The bulk of the party’s sympathetic media coverage is produced by “progressive” journalists confident in the rights ordained by the Labour constitution, elite universities, and the word “left.”
So we need editors at left-leaning publications to commission journalism and comment by sceptics not sycophants, and an immediate end to the articles penned by elite male progressives about a working class they imagine they would like to represent.
Labour need to do what Blair promised in 1997. We need a political party fit for 21st century economy and society, and trade unions who understand what their members do. We’ll get both eventually, but there are no guarantees the Labour brand will be on either.
Lisa Muggeridge writes about inequality, social policy and U.K. politics.
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