Ex-minister compares Labour front bench to robots

Merchandise on sale during the second day of the Labour Party conference in Brighton. Photo: Jonatha

Merchandise on sale during the second day of the Labour Party conference in Brighton. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire - Credit: PA

People would have been forgiven for thinking the Labour front bench were robots, a former Labour minister has said.

Liam Byrne, launched a scathing attack on the party's election campaign, claiming it had nothing to say to older voters.

The Treasury minister under the last Labour government was speaking at the launch of a new report looking at how the party can win more seats in England.

The MPs behind the taskforce said they wanted to travel down the coast to find out why they had failed to make gains in seaside towns.

Great Yarmouth and Waveney were both held by the party until 2010, but Nic Dakin, MP for Scunthorpe, said: 'We didn't resonate with their lives. We had a cracking candidate and everything was right there [Great Yarmouth] but when the sea comes in terms of the electoral wave, Canute can't stop the sea, nor can a really good candidate.'

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Robots on the bench

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At the event at the Brighton conference, Mr Byrne made a dig at senior Labour MPs when he was setting out how his party could modernise its message.

'Over the next 20 years it is forecast that 10 million jobs will be taken over by computers and robots,' he said.

'Some would be forgiven for thinking that has already happened to the Labour front bench. What we didn't have enough of over the last four or five years was that inspiration, that sense of political sizzle that we offered when we won.'

He said that one of his inspirations had been Harold Wilson's 1974 speech where he had started with a blank piece of paper and knocked out an 'incredible speech' with the phrase the 'white heat of technological revolution.'

He said coastal towns like Brighton had been able to turbo charge its digital economy because of its good transport and infrastructure links and its university.

But said that unless towns like Great Yarmouth had the infrastructure it was 'incredibly hard' to foster new jobs.

'My sneaking suspicion is that voters in coastal town who didn't support Labour didn't feel very optimistic about the future, they felt quite pessimistic and didn't see where the new jobs were coming from.'

Bad brand damage

The report into why Labour failed to win votes – Red Shift – concluded that the Labour brand had been 'really badly damaged'.

'People don't know who we stand for anymore. People want us to be authentic, they want us to be true to our values and clear,' said Mr Byrne.

'People felt the last five years was technocratic, it was managerial, it split.'

'It left people cold and confused about who it was we stood for.'

He also said Labour should embrace the politics of English identity.'

'We have to accept people had misgivings about the deficit, people had misgivings about Iraq, they had misgivings about immigration, but actually we must not let those issues cloud the great things we did in office. Maybe we only got 70pc of it right, but in politics and in Government that is a hell of an achievement. We have to clarify and agree how we clarify our record.

'We have got to tell a different story and make a different offer to older voters. At the next election the majority of voters are going likely to be over the age of 55 for the first time. The Tory majority amongst the over 65s today is two million. It is bigger than their overall majority over Labour.'

He also said Labour had to appeal to families in a 'new build estate'.

'People with a car or two on the drive, people who have holidays, we had nothing to say people doing well.'

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