Darwin’s Law, that it's the species that best adapts to change that will survive, is as true of political parties as it is of the natural world. That is the main reason we see such turmoil in our politics right now: they simply haven’t adapted quickly enough to change.
The second factor, and this is crucial, is that people need good information to be able to make the decisions that best suits them. There is very rarely a right or wrong choice, just one which suits the individual taking them. Because of vested interests in society, people were lied to during the referendum campaign. The scale of the lies on the Vote Leave side were an order of magnitude higher than the exaggerations and scare-mongering of the Remain side and so, quite rightly, they will have the most difficult job of reconciling themselves with a public who may turn on them. When Cornwall realises that no Conservative government will want to replace the money the EU spent there, when Sunderland realises that investment decisions at the Nissan plant will be impacted by changes in the UK’s relationship with the single market, when Stoke realises that the UK ceramics industry is best suited, short and medium term, to remaining in the EU people are going to be angry that they were lied to, and rightly so.
That, however, does not mean the decision was wrong. It just means we need to adapt to it. We’ve moved to values based politics, where people care that you are competent, able to do something, and then vote in line with your values. To do so they need to know what those values are, including some concrete examples. Or policies, to use an old fashioned word.
For someone like me, a Labour member, that means by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone. That value should be sweeping all before it right now. That value applies to the UK as much as the EU, both of whose futures are at stake. However, if the Conservatives’ famous adaptability comes through while Labour is still working out who and what it is then they will triumph in an election which will not wait until 2020.
All Labour needs to do is start a national conversation, led by its values and people will flock to it. People are crying out for leadership, solidarity, compassion. The next election will be what it always is: a vote for the party that looks the most competent firstly, but then secondly the one whose values most capture the zeitgeist. The mood of the nation should be about standing together: the four countries of the UK as well as the 27 of the EU because we are better together.
But we do need change too. Managed change is much preferable to a sudden shock, particularly for those who have least. The Article 50 trigger is not one to relish. Labour has all the trump cards: it stands for change, togetherness, compassion in a harsh world and the UK and EU as entities. The leadership battle is an irrelevance – Labour just needs to do something! Corbyn will either get with it or fade away. Start a national conversation about how we save Britain and the EU. Make things better in accordance with its values. I’ll even throw in the slogan they could use: better together. Make sure we link the angst and isolation that people are rightly feeling with a political movement and national conversation led by Labour. And one against narrow nationalism – English or Scottish.
The referendum vote was a vote for change – that is not wrong. Change will come. But political parties must harness it positively and manage it well and in that, we definitely are better together. The Conservatives got us into this mess because of the lies they told – economy and nation safe with them? Don’t make me laugh! They placed personal and party interest over the common good and this unholy mess is the result.
If Labour remembers its values: common endeavour and compassion and uses these to drive a national conversation about who we are and why we are all better together, then it will win the next election.