R.E.S.P.E.C.T. (find out what it means for Labour.)

He’s less glamourous. He’s certainly quieter. But last month, a new voice gave Aretha a run for her money by calling for a little r-e-s-p-e-c-t. The people of Germany listened. Olaf Scholz, Germany’s new Social Democrat Chancellor and leader of a new governing coalition, defied expectations with his methodical and managerial approach to win power in Germany’s recent federal elections under the banner of RESPEKT FÜR DICH, KOMPETENZ FÜR DEUTSCHLAND.

Translated as ‘Respect for you’, it was a signal that progressives were on the side of people – people who have very different backgrounds, different ideas of their lives, and different aspirations for the future. It was perfectly pitched for a divided electorate that until recently had punished out-of-touch – disrespectful – progressives in the ballot box. There are lessons for the Labour Party in the UK.

Labour’s challenge is to win over these ‘very different’ people under one unifying banner. Olaf Scholz showed this could be achieved through respect for people’s positions, coupled with persuasion and leadership.

This offers an alternative to the election-losing prevailing political discourses of the left in recent years. Paternalism – that politicians have a better idea of what works for people than the people themselves – and populism, which creates dividing lines and plays into an ‘us vs them.’

From 2010, Labour’s essence has been an unsuccessful combination of both “p’s” with a tone that oscillated between the (sometimes justifiably) angry and (somewhat unfortunately) browbeating.

The “Respect” paradigm diverges from the traditional progressive focus on meritocracy and the role played by ‘education, education, education’ as a tool for social advancement. Particularly when the ‘educated’ become the ‘patronisers’ looking down on those who don’t share the same beliefs. This is an argument further elucidated in Michael Sandel’s critique of meritocracy, The Tyranny of Merit.

This is all very personal to me. On the one hand I’m one of these self-professed ‘woke-liberals’. A gay graduate city worker living in North London, desperate to see a fairer, cleaner, greener society. But then again, I’m the first in my family to go to university. And according to recent polling by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a minority amongst many British Hindu voters who in recent years have turned away from the Labour party.

Indeed, polling from the Institute for Global Change shows that Labour has lost 11 million former voters. Perhaps ‘Respect’ can help us to reconnect and reflect with those who left, whilst helping us to keep pushing for the changes we want to see in society. As a Tory government struggles to move beyond the flagrant disrespect of a succession of covered up parties, there is an election-winning strategy for Labour in ‘Respect’.

It would start with the rallying cry of Keir Starmer. That Labour respects the voter and ordinary working people. And then it should run through Labour’s policy agenda:

On the economy, we must respect that politicians are servants of the taxpayers and should focus on regaining trust on managing the public finances. But we shouldn’t be afraid to embrace bold ideas of economic reform which modernise how our economy functions.

On patriotism, we must respect people’s pride in Britain’s past and future achievements, as a leading nation of tolerance and democracy. But we must not be afraid to challenge aspects of our history, particularly the legacy of colonialism, to carve a better future.

On immigration, we must respect that people can felt threatened by migration and voted for Brexit to control it. But we must also respect the benefits migration can bring, and advocate for a fair and humane migration system that is not a slave to arbitrary caps.

On the climate, we must respect that not everyone may have the inclination or means to pay the price for climate change – both at a micro and macro level. But we must convince voters that the decisions individuals, businesses and governments make have the power to influence global change.

And on the culture wars, we must respect that many people feel quizzical about how the debates around LGBT and race-related issues are progressing. But we must feel empowered to keep fighting for inclusion and against injustice, winning over hearts and minds and always ending discrimination.

This is a shift from the highfalutin days of Labour. It may be difficult for many Labour members to read. But to win, a renewed respect for voters, a narrative of competence, and a tone of optimism are all needed. Only when we speak to the whole country, focus less on who we aren’t, and more on who we are, can we bring people together.

We just need a little Respect.

For more on Germany and lessons for British progressives see a recording of our recent event The SPD’s victory in Germany: What does it mean for the centre-left across Europe?

About Rishi Patel

Rishi Patel is Practice Lead at Global Counsel and on the exectuive of the Labour Foreign Policy Group (LFPG). He tweets at @rishi175.