It is now a month since our catastrophic defeat in the general election. Last week, we began to see the true reality of a Johnson majority government as all opposition amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill fell. Devastatingly, the amendment proposed by my colleague Thangam Debbonaire and sponsored by myself and others to restore the rights of unaccompanied child refugees was rejected by the Government and Conservative MPs.
As I said in December in an email to members of my constituency party, I am proud to have stood on our transformational policy programmes in 2017 and 2019. Taken individually, our plans for this country were popular. But at this election too many people, including those who had supported the Labour Party all their lives, felt we could not be trusted to deliver them. We presented them with a shopping list, not a vision for Government. They saw us focusing on our own factional in-fighting, rather than on the country. They delivered us a message through the ballot box, which should not and cannot be ignored.
We have now lost four consecutive general elections. Let’s be clear: you cannot change the world from opposition. The challenge for those candidates who put themselves forward to positions of leadership in the Labour Party is to unite our factions and build an electoral coalition that secures a majority for a truly transformative Labour government.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve listened carefully to those seeking support in this election. I’ve watched their videos, read their articles, heard them speak at the PLP hustings, and spoken to several of them one-to-one. I am overwhelmed by the breadth of talent we have to choose from. I am impressed by Rebecca’s steadfast commitment to the Green Industrial Revolution, by Lisa’s astute analysis of our electoral collapse in towns across the country and by Emily’s tenacious Commons performances against Johnson as Foreign Secretary.
To truly reflect, members must be able to have the widest possible debate about the future of our party. That’s why today I have decided to nominate Emily Thornberry to make sure she is on the ballot paper. I’ve no qualms in doing so: if elected, I’ve no doubt that Emily would make excellent leader, as would the other candidates in this contest.
Despite this, for me, one candidate stands out. I believe Keir Starmer is the best candidate to lead the Labour Party. I have been impressed by his record on the Frontbench, from his insightful and detail driven opposition to the Government’s endless Brexit legislation and his tireless scrutiny of a string of Brexit Secretaries at the despatch box. In his life before Parliament, Keir’s record defending trades unionists and activists like the Wapping strikers and the McLibel defendants shows his commitment to progressive causes over thirty years. I was particularly moved to hear from Doreen Lawrence about Keir’s support of the Lawrence family following the racist murder of her son Stephen.
As a party, our political and media operation must be improved. Keir has been a strong media performer, expertly navigating frankly ludicrous press questions. He has already begun to assemble an impressive campaign team – including Jeremy’s former Chief of Staff Simon Fletcher. These are the seeds of a Leader’s office that can take the fight to the Tories.
Having spoken to fellow parliamentarians, members and voters, I can already begin to see him forming a broad coalition across the party in a way we haven’t seen in recent years. He is the candidate who can end the factional nonsense we have been forced to endure since 2015.
Taken together, Keir is the best placed candidate to lead us towards a Labour government in 2024. I am pleased to give him my support and my vote.
The role of Deputy Leader is a strange one. They must simultaneously be the right hand of the Leader but in private an honest critic, deriving their own mandate directly from members. They must be our Campaigner-in-Chief, passionately taking the fight to the Tories in the media and on the doorstep. They must be a shop steward, representing half a million members, hundreds of party staff and two hundred Parliamentarians in the Shadow Cabinet and at NEC.
Several talented colleagues have thrown their hat in the ring for this contest. As with the candidates for leader, I have listened to all of them, and spoken to the candidates one-to-one. After some reflection, I have decided to support my friend and Greater Manchester colleague Angela Rayner.
Angela is a great example of how trades unions can bring working class activists into the House of Commons. I first met Angela when she was a Unison rep. Back then, she was known across the North West as a vigorous and passionate defender of the rights of her thousands of members at Stockport council, just as she became the champion of her constituents in Ashton as Member of Parliament and for our nation’s children as Shadow Secretary of State for Education. Her passion and humour, her political judgement, and her commitment to taking our Party into Government is unrivalled. I am proud to support her.
The leadership contest now moves to the next stage. Unions, affiliates and constituency parties will have the opportunity to make nominations. You will no doubt hear more about this process in the coming weeks from the constituency officers.
Whoever is chosen to lead our Party, please be assured they will have my full support.