Leading Labour

Most people in Labour still feel shattered by December’s defeat. And many of us find the current leadership’s determination not to accept their responsibility for that defeat to be exasperating, frustrating and infuriating. But whatever the reasons for that defeat, most of the people I know want to move on. But to move on having learnt the right lessons from that defeat and not simply accepting the easy excuses – this wasn’t about Blair. It was a rejection of Corbyn. Time to come to terms with that reality.

But anyway. The UK leadership election gives us the opportunity to reflect on what we need to do to win back the trust of the British people. And Labour faces some historic choices. And this is where learning the lessons of December is crucial. I never want to put our members and supporters in the same position again. We need a leader with whom people can feel an empathy and a confidence together with a policy programme that is rooted in our values, inspiring, believable – and deliverable

For me I will be voting for Lisa Nandy as my first preference with Keir Starmer as my clear second preference. As deputy leader I will be voting for Rosenna Allin-Khan. 

For me – like many others – the decision came down to a straight choice between Lisa Nandy and Keir Starmer. I like Keir and I recognise that he is respected across the party with a lifetime of radical politics and campaigning under his belt. I also believe that he can reach out and appeal to people throughout the UK and establish clear compelling policy initiatives. But so is Lisa and so can Lisa. And for me Lisa is the more radical and the more authentic voice who can speak to the real experiences of the people I represent in Blaenau Gwent. I disagreed with her over Brexit but it’s time to move on and put those divisions behind us. 

My experience of government tells me that policies and principles are fine. As are speeches and resolutions. But without power we are impotent. And again most Labour members that I know see and feel and witness the damage that the Tories are doing to people in our communities. I spoke to the people running the food bank in Nantyglo last week and they told me again how many more people are seeking help than ever before. Those people need a UK Labour Government more than they need self-righteous genuflecting in front of the latest sacred cow.

So what do we need from our new leader?

Firstly to regain people’s trust. It was not only Jeremy Corbyn that was roundly rejected in December but also our manifesto and the direction that the party has taken in recent years. Put simply. People looked at us and did not like what they saw. They saw a party unable and sometimes unwilling to deal with bullying, abuse and antisemitism with a manifesto where spending commitments were made in every sentence and speech. And as a consequence the people who are forced to budget hard every day and every week did not trust us with their family’s futures and livelihoods. 

And in rebuilding that trust we need to demonstrate that we understand the lives of the people we represent. Lisa talks about bus services and town centres. So do the people I represent in Blaenau Gwent. Decent jobs and services. But also the experience of how we live our lives. And this understanding is crucial if the people who walked away from us last month are to return to Labour in the future.

I believe that Lisa can reach out and speak for and to the people that want to vote Labour. She can rebuild that trust by speaking clearly and not in the language of Westminster (Or Cardiff Bay) and with a strong focus on the quality of work and quality of life issues which go to the roots of people’s frustration with politics over past years. A return to business as usual means a return to Tory UK Governments. We need a leader who is able to build a coalition for change and coalition for a different sort of politics.

But this trust needs to be rooted in substance and not just a superficial facade of change. We need a radical programme for government. And a radicalism rooted in changing our futures and not simply a tired, dull and clichéd parroting of the totem poles of leftist prejudice over the last forty years. And perhaps one of the most important elements of this new radicalism is a fundamental and historic change in the economy of the UK. We need to redistribute the wealth that we create in the UK and we need rebalance the economic and spending decisions that all too often benefit only London and the south east of England. For us in Wales it means making common cause with similar communities in different parts of the UK where wealth needs to be shared more fairly. And quite simply in this defining policy choice I trust Lisa to deliver. 

At the same time one of the clear challenges that faces Labour is to reinvent the UK. Much is made of the future choices facing northern English towns and cities alongside the future of Scotland and Northern Ireland. The hard reality is that unless we embrace home rule for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland alongside significant and substantial redistribution of political power in England then there won’t be a UK left to worry about. These programmes of political and economic reform need to be at the heart of our renewal of Labour. And I welcome the commitment of every candidate to this federal or confederal future.

And finally I also believe that it is time that Labour elects a woman as our leader. I supported this position last year in our own leadership election in Wales. Despite everything that the party has achieved in recent years we will not be taken seriously on equality if we cannot bring ourselves to actually support a woman and elect her as our leader. 

All of this is urgent for Welsh Labour. Next year we will be electing the new Senedd. The UK general election alongside the latest opinion polls have given us a clear warning of the challenge we face. And no-one should pretend that the UK leadership will not matter next May.

So what about the deputy leadership? I regret that this election is taking place at the same time as the leadership election. A consequence of this timing is that the essential role of the deputy leader is diminished and the election receives far less attention and consideration. 

I will support Rosenna Allin-Khan. In reality my choice was between her, Angela Rayner and Ian Murray. I was greatly tempted to support Ian Murphy because our UK leadership does need to understand that the UK is more than England. But I felt that Rosenna has not only a compelling personal story but a reach and a radical, incisive and instinctive political insight which has impressed in this campaign. Her clarity, her vision and her ability to speak and inspire is something which will help us campaign and win. So I will vote for her.