Clive Lewis speech, 10 Jan: full text and highlights

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Highlights

Today Clive Lewis MP set out his vision for how the Labour Party can win the next election, at a landmark speech at the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, London.

In a speech entitled “Transform to Win”, the Norwich MP set out a radical series of changes he believes the Labour Party needs to make if it wants to win at the next election.

He said:
“I’m standing for leader because I want to completely transform and democratise the Labour party’s culture, organisation and programme, so it’s in tune with both our socialist values and the fast-changing context of the 21st Century.

“We have to accept that democracy is in crisis, that we face a climate catastrophe, and we epoch-defining possibilities and challenges from the tech revolution.

“We can’t have more of the same. The Labour party needs to modernise, or it will die.”

“I’m fed up with the top-down style of politics, where real debate and discussion in our party is stifled because of sectarianism and tribalism. We can’t grow as a party, if we’re afraid of having difficult discussions.”

“I’m standing because I see a party in crisis and democracy in crisis and unless we start addressing some fundamental issues, a few tweaks of policy here, or a slight change of leader there, aren’t going to bring the real change that this country urgently needs.”

On society and the new challenges we face
“Our society is going through one of its big periodic revolutions – and it’s based around technology. Just as electrification drove the industrial revolution that created the original Labour Party, the digital revolution is changing our lives in equally profound ways – and it will either give life to a new Labour Party – or it will see us destroyed – if we don’t see its danger and opportunities.”

“Labour Councils know this, Preston to Barking and Dagenham. They are there, on the ground, trying new and different ways of working. The Preston Model, which I find massively inspiring, was born out of the necessity of fighting austerity. Now, as the council becomes more confident in its success, it is looking for ways to apply new digital technologies, like using drones from its aerospace industry for the civic good. This is the kind of innovation that the Labour party needs to be drawing upon.”

“As people use the new technologies to find new ways of collaborating and working together, so, too, do they create new potential sources of power”

On the Labour Party
“We need to learn to collaborate with other parties and social movements. We need to realise and to admit that we don’t have the monopoly on all the answers, and that we are stronger if we can confidently work with others.”

“This means stop being a top-down party machine, and start devolving power in our party away from Head Office to the regions and the constituencies. We need to become a formidable force in all our communities, but that cannot be done by diktat from Southside.”

“That’s why I believe electoral reform is the litmus test of Labour’s survival – not as a test of purity but for the need for collaboration. A winner takes all politics just doesn’t allow us to deal he complexities of the world as it increasingly is.”

On Constitutional Reform
“We must come out in favour of proportional representation – not only because it is the fairest way to elect a Parliament, but also because it will put into practice our fundamental belief in the value of collaboration and cooperation.”

“We must abolish the House of Lords and move towards an elected second chamber. How can the public have faith in politics when people like Zac Goldsmith can lose their seat in a democratic election one week, get put in the House of Lords the week after, and be back in cabinet. It’s a public scandal and just demonstrates the crisis in our democracy.”

“This is why I back a Constitutional Convention to rewrite the rules of how we do democracy to bring it into the 21st century and if I lead the Labour Party, we will support and give legislative time for the outcomes of such an assembly.”

“And I don’t want this to be a talking shop. I want a Convention to bring people together, from all parts of the country and across the political divide, and start to draw up a written constitution for the United Kingdom. This must be a constitution that is written from the bottom up, to give people control over the type of country they would like to live in.”


Full text of the speech

Morning everyone and thanks for coming here today, to the Black Cultural Archives, in Windrush Square, the heart of Brixton.

This building documents not only the important history of the black community, but also the history of an important section of the working class in Britain.

My Dad was part of that history, being one of the Windrush Generation, who came to the UK from Grenada, one of the last bastions of the British Empire.

My Dad was a socialist and a trade unionist, who, alongside my English granddad worked in a food processing factory in Northampton and educated me on the central tenants of my values – solidarity, equality, justice and socialism.

Some of you might be thinking why have I come here, to Brixton, to launch my leadership election campaign.

Well, I’m here, because these are also the Labour heartlands and we can’t ignore that in this leadership election.

The Labour heartlands aren’t some fantasy geographical location of the past, they are all over the United Kingdom, in every community, every town and every city where people are struggling for a better life.

We, as a party, must not segregate our communities and pit them against each other, that’s what the Tories have been doing for years.

Rather, it is our job, to look at the very structures of our democracy and our economy and see how we can improve them so they serve the needs of all our diverse communities.

Migration and diversity

Today, as we stand on a precipice of leaving the European Union, we have to ask ourselves what kind of country do we want to be?

Are we a country that is open, inclusive and tolerant? A country that listens to all its communities, and believes in building bridges between them?

A country where power is not concentrated in a few hands at the top, but spread across society?

Or are we a country that is isolationist, intolerant and inward-looking. That frames its policies and role in the world through the filter of xenophobia. Where power is held and jealously guarded by a tiny elite.

We know, today, that actually we are a bit of all of this.

This place, Brixton, reminds us of our one of our greatest strengths. Our diversity. Brixton represents one of the biggest influx of migrants to the UK and this is something we should all be proud of. It’s something I am proud of.

Real leadership is about fighting for what you believe in. It’s about championing causes because they are morally and ethically right.

I’m proud to launch my campaign here, as, if elected leader, one of my priorities would be to champion the economic and cultural case for migration.

In fact, I’m standing for leader because I think the Labour party has for too long shied away from defending the good in the country we are, and setting out a vision for the country we could be.

The road back to government may be long, but unless we can set out a compelling vision for life in 21st century Britain, and how Labour can answer the challenges of the 21st century, we won’t be taking the first steps towards it.

The road back to government

We are at a pivotal moment for the Labour Party after our latest devastating defeat in December.

On the surface, Labour lost in December many reasons – Brexit, leadership, trust, perceived competence, the vilification of a the media that is a given for any Labour leader today – but I want to pay tribute to all the people, party members and not, who campaigned for Labour, argued for Labour, voted Labour. Thank you – your hard work and dedication made a real difference.

But, we have to be honest about the fact that we now face a determined and sophisticated political enemy in the Conservative Party. They have learned the lessons of the last few years, and will seek to shore up their new support. We have to be prepared for new and dangerous arguments from them about how the government should intervene in the economy – and for some old and dreadful arguments that pander to racism, whilst drifting us towards authoritarian.

This means we will need every bit of guile, energy and determination, both as a party and a movement, to not only take them on, but to beat them. But we have also to think strategically, to draw up a plan to recover from this loss and return to government.

To do this, we can’t just look at the loss of this last election. We also lost in 2017, 2015 and 2010. Indeed, when we won victories in the 2000s, we were already planting the seeds of future losses. Just look at the fact we lost 4m votes between 1997 and 2005 – we won more votes, in fact, in 2010 than in the election 15 years before.

And when we won in the 1960s and 1970s, those governments drifted in office, knocked off course and failing the high hopes placed in them.

It is no real comfort to hear these statistics, but we are not alone. Parties like Labour have been struggling the world over – sometimes in office but never with the ability to transform their societies, and increasingly marginalized. The German SPD, the French socialists, Pasok in Greece – none are the force they once were and many obliterated. There is a crisis in social democracy the world over.

So, let’s be clear, the challenge the Labour Party faces today isn’t just because it lost the last election, or the 3 before that. It’s the fact that in the last century its rarely been an election-winning party.

We’ve only won 8 out of 28 elections in the last century. To me, this says that there must be a fundamental flaw in what we are doing. I’m standing, so that we can talk about some home truths.

Looking ahead

We now have an opportunity for the labour movement to reflect on what went wrong, but also, importantly, to look forward and ask ourselves how on earth we will win the next election for the millions of people in this country who need a Labour government.

This moment is not just an opportunity for those standing for the leadership to put forward their vision, but also for all parts of our movement to engage in the discussion and debate together and the way we do this is critical.

I’m personally fed up with the top-down style of politics, where real debate and discussion in our party is stifled because of sectarianism and tribalism. We can’t grow as a party, if we’re afraid of having difficult discussions.

And that’s why I’m standing because I see a party in crisis and democracy in crisis and unless we start addressing some fundamental issues, a few tweaks of policy here, or a slight change of leader there, aren’t going to bring the real change that this country urgently needs.

If I look at the seats we lost, in the places where Labour was trusted for decades to speak for working class communities, I don’t think simply trying more of the same will work. The problems are too deep and the loss of trust too large for a few policy or messaging changes to deliver the shift we need.

We as a party fell victim the distrust of all politicians and the Westminster elite that the Conservatives weaponized very effectively during the campaign. We have to win back people’s trust.

How we do that, isn’t about just nodding along with whatever people say. Leadership, for me, is about leading – and that means trying to win the arguments. But it means having the humility to know that we cannot descend on parts of the country during an election campaign alone, with a manifesto like tablets of stone, and tell people what we think is best for them.

This is why I’ve long been a proponent of a Progressive Alliance – not just because I worry that Labour can’t win alone, but because we need to view point of Greens, Liberals and and others to meet the huge challenges before us.

There is an urgency to this. We need to get stuck in, right now, to the process of rebuilding trust. But to do that means having some humility, and having a long, hard look at how we work, our internal culture, and our political strategy.

Today I want to use this opportunity to touch on the only question that really matters in the Labour leader election : why does Labour keep losing and how it can win?

What winning means

I’ll begin by exploring what we mean by ‘win’. Because winning has to mean more than securing a majority in the House of Commons so that we occupy the state.

Being in office is not enough. Labour has been in office and done good things. But it has rarely been in power. It has rarely had the capacity to transform our country.

We did this once in 1945. We need to understand why and how we can do it 75 years later.

And I want to deal briefly here with New Labour, which won three elections and did many good things – but it did so by bending too far towards free markets, storing up many of the problems we face now.

New Labour bent itself out of shape because it felt the party was historically too weak and its adversaries too strong to do anything else. Stepping away from our values in order to get into office is not winning power.

We can compare this to Jeremy Corbyn, who rightly refused to bend his principles and stood out as a genuine alternative to the dominance of free markets, but lost twice. Having the right policies, a strong moral compass, and a much-enlarged party and movement are also not enough.

I want to win. I want a Labour government that is not just in office but that has the power to address the massive challenges we face today: climate change, inequality, and the economic and social transformations being wrought by new technology. I want a Labour government that works to build a fairer, more equal, more sustainable and more democratic society.

We won like this only once before in our history, in 1945. But the world that made Labour strong in 1945 – a world of big factories, strong trade unions, solid labour movement institutions – has long gone.

Today, we live instead in a world of where manufacturing is employs just one in ten, private sector union membership has crumbled, and the institutions that helped glue working class communities together have withered.

These fundamental features of our society are why New Labour felt it could do little but accommodate to global free markets – despite all the good it did – because its didn’t have the strength to do anything else. It is why Corbynism, while it refused to buckle, couldn’t win with the right polices or a bigger and energized membership.

Propped up by our first past the post electoral system, Labour can remain the biggest centre-left force in Britain – it can win cities and might occasionally be in office – but it will never be in power because too much is weighted against it if it tries to win with the current model.

It won’t matter how much we professionalise, or say we are going to listen to communities, or sharpen our messaging. The fundamental features of our society are skewed against a centralized Labour Party winning and then changing society in the way it could win in 1945.

The positive

So that’s the gloomy picture – one of weakness and drift. Of clutching at straws. Relying on individuals. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

Now let me tell where optimism and hope comes from – where do we find the light?

Well, we find it all around us – here and now – we find it in our communities, workplaces, public services, across sectors as diverse as care, renewables.

Our society is going through one of its big periodic revolutions – and its based around technology. Just as electrification drove the industrial revolution that created the original Labour Party, the digital revolution is changing our lives in equally profound ways – and it will either give life to a new Labour Party – or it will see us destroyed – if we don’t see its danger and opportunities.

Technology can connect us and bring us together as never before. Or, as we have seen, it can be used to divide us and turn us against one another.

What is at stake here is a huge political battle over the use of digital technology: does it enable a culture of compassion, or of ruthless competition?

The ideal of a good society was society was never be imposed from above – by leaders who do things for us and to us. The truly good society can only be created by us and for us.

People know this – and it is why in the spaces between the remote state and the free market, people are using technology and the human instinct to collaborate to do good. People are no longer waiting for politicians to change their lives and societies for them – they are getting on and doing it themselves.

Labour Councils know this from, Preston to Barking and Dagenham. They are there, on the ground, trying new and different ways of working. The Preston Model, which I find massively inspiring, was born out of the necessity of fighting austerity. Now, as the council becomes more confident in its success, it is looking for ways to apply new digital technologies, like using drones from its aerospace industry for the civic good. This is the kind of innovation that the Labour party needs to be drawing upon.

There are three critical insights we can draw from this analysis of technology and society that can show us how Labour might win power again.

The first is that it is a story based in the reality of life today. If we start from where we are now, we can lay out a path for where we want to get to.

Second, it starts to tell us how we might combat climate change. It’s not just in the big picture demands for investment spending, but the smaller changes – locally-owned renewables, smart grids, remote working.

Third, it can tell us where the power to change the world can be found. Not only in the trade unions, or at the ballot box, but right across our society. As people use the new technologies to find new ways of collaborating and working together, so, too, do they create new potential sources of power.

And we will need that power. Inequality, here and globally, is worsening as the super-rich hoard more and more of the world’s wealth, whilst digital technology has so far concentrated more and more power in a very few hands. The far right and the racists are emboldened, and on the march. And too many make too much money from continuing to pollute and despoil our planet to want to change.

To take on these challenges we will need a government not afraid to stand up to them – and with the capacity to act against them. For Labour to not only win office, but be able to act in office on its principles, it needs to make three fundamental changes.

First, the party has to find new ways to organize. The Labour Party can’t just be there at election time – we need community organizing, and local branches that can act as hubs for their community – whether by providing political education, or cultural events, or providing practical assistance to fight austerity.

Second, it we need to learn to collaborate with other parties and social movements. We need to realise and to admit that we don’t have the monopoly on all the answers, and that we are stronger if we can confidently work with others.

Third, it will mean stop being a top-down party machine, and start devolving power in our party away from Head Office to the regions and the constituencies. We need to become a formidable force in all our communities, but that cannot be done by diktat from Southside.

And we need to practice what we preach. I want to show that we are sincere and committed about creating a more equal and more democratic society. We have asked others to stick to pay ratio – it is time Labour did the same. No staff member, no matter how senior, should be paid more than five times the poorest.

Policy

It’s why I believe electoral reform is the litmus test of Labour’s survival – not as a test of purity but for the need for collaboration. A winner takes all politics just doesn’t allow us to deal he complexities of the world as it increasingly is.

We must come out in favour of proportional representation – not only because it is the fairest way to elect a Parliament, but also because it will put into practice our fundamental belief in the value of collaboration and cooperation.

We must abolish the House of Lords and move towards an elected second chamber. How can the public have faith in politics when people like Zac Goldsmith can lose their seat in a democratic election one week, get put in the House of Lords the week after and be back in cabinet. It’s a scandal and just demonstrates the crisis in our democracy.

This is why I back a Constitutional Convention to rewrite the rules of how we do democracy to bring it into the 21st century and if I lead the Labour Party, we will support and give legislative time for the outcomes of such an assembly.

And I don’t want this to be a talking shop. I want a Convention to bring people together, from all parts of the country and across the political divide, and start to draw up a written constitution for the United Kingdom. This must be a constitution that is written from the bottom up, to give people control over the type of country they would like to live in.

The constitutional question is unavoidable, and we should stop sticking our head in the and trying to avoid it. In Scotland, I have every sympathy with those who think the best route out of neoliberalism is independence. It wouldn’t be my preference as I believe we need the maximum possible devolution of powers in a federal United Kingdom (including in England) and not more separation and more borders. But we as a party should not be opposing legitimate demands for a second independence referendum. We can’t call ourselves democrats if we ignore the message Scottish voters are sending us.

This Sunday I will release a manifesto with more of these policy ideas about how we modernize our country for our increasingly networked society. I want to build on and sharpen the offer we made in the 2019 general election. We need big ideas to overcome the enormity of the challenge ahead of us.

Conclusion

In short, I’m standing for leader because I want to completely transform and democratise the Labour party’s culture, organisation and programme, so it’s in tune with both our socialist values and the fast-changing context of the 21st Century.

We have to accept that democracy is in crisis, that we face a climate catastrophe, and we epoch-defining possibilities and challenges from the tech revolution.

We have to get real about the issues that we face and the learn the lessons not just of the last 4 general election defeats but of 40 years of failed neo-liberal policies that have left many parts of our country behind.

We can’t have more of the same. The Labour party needs to modernise, or it will die.

I believe I can unite the party around this and develop a style of collaborative leadership that is relevant to this century, not the last one.

This means organising from the grassroots up and not having an autocratic party machine that dictates from the top-down.

And I’m standing in this leadership election to lead this fight.