In the north of England and in places like Lambeth, Labour actually managed a net gain of councillors in the recent elections. This shows how local issues and campaigning can make a huge difference. From Walsall to Wigan, Southampton to Wolverhampton, Birmingham to Preston, the Tories failed to gain any seats (even lost some). In Manchester, Newcastle and Liverpool, the Tories once again failed to win any seats. Hardly a revival for the Tories.
The Tories under Cameron only did 2% better than Howard did in terms of percentage of the vote in these elections. This is probably not enough for the Tories to win the next general election outright. Saying this, Labour has to win a lot of votes back if it is going to win the next general election itself. How do we go about doing this?
Getting rid of Blair will not be a miracle cure, in fact the evidence suggests that an early departure of Blair could actually make things worse for Labour. A lot of the voters we lost were middle class swing voters in the South East. The sort of 'middle England' voters that Blair not Brown appeals to most.
Saying that, the uncertainty and disunity in the party cannot be allowed to continue. We all know this old chestnut has been our biggest bugbear in the past and it was initially successfully banished by new Labour discipline.
No, what is really losing Labour votes is not Blair, it is disillusionment with policy. Some of this disillusionment is unfair, but some of it is perfectly reasonable. For instance;
People are happy there is huge extra investment in the NHS but confused as to why there are currently thousands of redundancies happening. PFI and internal competition doesn't seem to be very good value for money.
The bureaucratic incompetence at DEFRA and the Home Office are inexcusable, although this belief amongst some of the public that criminality and immigrants are linked is pure racism. Anyone who voted BNP should be ashamed of themselves, there is no excuse.
People don't see the need for more faith schools (or even any). Handing over control of our schools to evangelists and businessman that we later find out haven't even paid in full the miserly £2m that gives them this control.
Why promote super-casinos that no-one wants?
These are questions that need to be addressed if we are to win back votes.
Labour needs to combat better the lies of the press and explain to people how good the Labour record is. The vast improvement in healthcare, education, transport and other infrastructure. A third of children and most pensioners removed from poverty, free bus travel and tv licences, annual fuel payments, guaranteed weekly minimum for pensioners etc. The climate change levy, the minimum wage (£3.60 to £5.35 this October - increased above the rise in earnings).
The working tax credits. As much as I would criticise this bureaucratic and inefficient attempt at a citizen's income, it does at least provide something approaching a livable wage for the poorest workers even if it doesn't really address the financial disincentive to work of the benefits trap.
All these things would be taken away by a Tory government and winter crises in the NHS and poorly resourced state education would return as tax cuts for the rich would become priority. Much as the fraudulent Cameron and his chaffeur driven shoes tries to improve his image, there is little appetite for a return to the Thatcherism he promises.
Gordon Brown's aim of state education matching the per-capita spend of the private sector is a noble aim. It is the sort of eye catching popular policy that the Tories will never even attempt to match. This is how we will win back votes.
Blair is Labour's most successful leader and he deserves to be allowed to leave gracefully on November 27th 2008. This still allows 6/18 months to prepare for a 2009/10 election for whichever Labour leader follows him. Until that day, we need unity. Blair is a great leader, he must be allowed to leave when the political situation has improved and not forced out like Thatcher was.