Social media disconnecting Labour from wider public, says Tristram Hunt

Tristram Hunt

The left’s use of social media is emboldening group mentalities and disconnecting activists from the views of the wider electorate, Tristram Hunt will say in a major speech urging Labour to remember its role as a party of government and not street protest.

Hunt, one of the moderates in the group of former shadow cabinet members that declined to join Jeremy Corbyn’s frontbench, also rejected claims in David Cameron’s Tory conference speech that the Tories were now the voice of the centre ground and social reform.

“This week we have watched, with our face pressed against the glass, not only a Tory victory parade at their conference in Manchester, but also the sight of them manoeuvring for succession and laying the foundations for their next election campaign too,” the former shadow education secretary will say at the University of Sheffield on Friday.

Highlighting the attacks on tax credits, trade union rights and Sure Start centres, he will warn: “Our country cannot afford to have Labour left on the street outside, protesting about the decisions of the powerful within.”

Hunt will say Corbyn’s leadership represents an opportunity for Labour due to the new energy, growing membership and intellectual renewal, but also a threat if the party is lured into a position of “perennial demonstration and the thrill of being the relentless outsider”. Labour has a duty to form a government, he will say, but it will only be trusted to do so if the party listens to the “real and not the imagined concerns of people’s lives”.

He will argue that since 2010, the party has distanced itself from voters concerns. “Labour has marched decisively away from the views of voters on issues that are fundamental to our electoral prospects: immigration, personal financial interest, welfare, public services, and business.”

Warning against “algorithm politics” where activists gravitate only to views that confirm their own, he will say: “If social media were politicising the many as well as radicalising the few; were it significantly growing the number of people engaged in politics in the first place, rather than confirming pre-held bias, then Ed Miliband might now be sitting in 10 Downing Street.”

“What people say to each other on the internet – and social media in particular – rewards strong, polarising opinions and primary coloured politics.

“Far from broadening the mind through access to the greatest library human beings have ever created, people’s experience of the internet is increasingly a narrow online world where anyone who puts their heads above the parapet can be the target of an anonymised digital mob.”

Hunt, one of the defeated party modernisers attempting to map out a new agenda, will call for a contributory welfare system, an affirmation of the English left identity and new thinking on what forms of corporate governance finance and ownership might suit the digital age.

“When the British chancellor flies to Beijing to offer government securities to Chinese investors to support the French state in building a UK nuclear power station, our economic model is bust,” he will say. “On housing, asset inflation, pension and mortgage policies for the self-employed, land tax rates and even basic income guarantees, there are so many radical options to explore.”

Hunt will likely cause anger among more leftwing MPs by sticking to his belief that the party cannot just defend the status quo on welfare, saying in the run-up to the election that Labour “gave the impression we were against every and any new idea on welfare. We offended the British people’s sense of fairness by appearing to oppose the benefits cap – but we didn’t have any new ideas.

“More important than ever in an age of mass migration, as a sense of unfairness about welfare contributes to resentment towards new arrivals, the rule should be: You pay more in. You get more out.

“If you have a strong record of work, you should receive more help and protection for your home when you fall on hard times. Because right across the world countries with an entitlement based system such as ours are gripped by diminishing social support for the welfare state.”

He urges the party to embrace city region devolution, saying he finds it infuriating that a form of government first championed by Labour had been stolen by chancellor George Osborne as the centre piece of his conference speech. He will urge the party not to retreat back to statism, saying: “We must shelve our timidity, match Osborne’s offer and go beyond it by giving city and country regions the power to vary local taxes, including business rates from a baseline which takes account of regional disparities of wealth.”

He will also press the party to support the family saying it is “the most powerful institution for early child and, as such, long-term wellbeing and achievement”. Although he criticises the abolition of the old income based child poverty target, he argues the party “needs to go beyond a belief that child poverty can be solved largely or even entirely through material redistribution”.

“We need institutions that tackle inequality at source – by raising parents’ opportunities to work, children’s opportunities to learn and families’ opportunities to plan their time together.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Patrick Wintour Political editor, for theguardian.com on Thursday 8th October 2015 19.14 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010