As you will know I have been a little critical of the Labour Party since its defeat in May and the subsequent leadership election process. I was initially struck at the lack of inspiration offered during the process and the personal attacks on the candidates by ‘close friends and the their supporters.’ In any broad church party it is vital that we can disagree on policy solutions to the problems the country faces without resorting to insult.
At the start of the process I set out my desire to see a pretty open and honest debate about why we lost and what was needed to get us back into power in 2020. Clearly the maths are not good so it would take some inspirational leadership to achieve that goal. I had welcomed the involvement on Jeremy Corbyn in the process because I felt it was important that the Left of the party had not felt squeezed out because the PLP wouldn’t allow a left candidate to be on the ballot paper. In fact If I had still been an MP I would probably have been one of those MPs to lend Jeremy my nomination to get him onto the ballot paper, but not to vote for him as leader!
My measurement for the leadership is firstly about who is best to re-unite our party such a after a bruising loss. This in itself is a difficult job and neither Jeremy Corbyn or Liz Kendall can achieve this. They represent the two wings of the party that drive the others mad! The victory of either of these candidates would split Labour down the middle for a decade. The only winners in these circumstances are the Tories. When we were in government it was almost hilarious to watch the Tories between 1997 and about 2008 really not understand what had happened.
The election of Corbyn would probably see Labour shore up support amongst the Left, some Greens and a chunk of non-voters – but with about 15-20% of the electorate at a general election. I am probably quite close to Corbyn on many of his policy positions, but I recognised years ago to win elections you need to convince voters of your policy and values positions. The problem is not just that Corbyn could never win an election for us in our current electoral system, but that his supporters are such zealots that they have lost touch with the reality of winning elections. In fact they seem to hate the idea that any non ideological purity can even be tolerated. I joined the party in 1983. I have seen this all before and it is slightly depressing to hear the arguments all over again. I respect their position that there are people inspired by the message of anti austerity and socialist populism. But I can assure them we will be a radical pressure group – not a party preparing for government. The maths just don’t add up.
I realised as a candidate and an MP in classic middle England seat of Loughborough that the British people are quite compassionate but not ready to vote in large numbers for an ostensibly socialist manifesto. They are prepared to support a left leaning social Democratic Party when it can get its act together. I think Liz Kendall has understood this in this debate. It saddens me when anybody in our party is called a Tory and traitor for simply recognising where the electorate are and where Labour needs to meet them. Whoever wins the election needs to listen to both Corbyn and Kendall on how to win the voters they believe they can attract. Because for Labour that is the struggle ahead. Go win back Sottish voters on the left whilst winning back those who voted Tory again in 2015 in middle England and seats like my old Loughborough.
If we want to win again we can’t simply pile up votes in the North and fail to win seats like Loughborough where my 2005 6500 majority is now a 9000 Tory majority. The next leader needs to be reassuring our core vote, and at the same time demonstrating they understand the hopes and aspirations of middle england. They need to come and listen to the supper parties of Quorn as well as take on board the disaffection of our traditional vote in Shepshed. It is only by building a coalition of support can we hope to win. Floating voters are not evil people. Yes they are far more interested in their own personal circumstances and financial position, but we shouldn’t despise them for this as it some times appears we do.
So with the need to face all these challenges at the same time this is why I will be backing my old friend and colleague Andy Burnham for the leadership of the Party, and hopefully to be our future Prime Minister.
I have been fortunate to know Andy since he worked in DCMS with me when I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Ministerial Team and Kate Hoey the Sports Minister. I encouraged Andy to go for the Leigh seat when it became available. I followed every step of his progress as I thought Andy was a similar character to me. He was of course sporty, but also despite being more involved in the Party than me he was not so deeply involved that he would put a policy conference ahead of a crucial Everton game… a key test of normality for me amongst my parliamentary colleagues.
Andy was far more successful at Westminster than I could have hoped for in those early days. Of course he is certainly still not the finished product yet.. as I am sure because of his modest approach he would be first to admit. But I believe he can achieve the delicate balance and speak to various parts of the country whilst maintaining his authenticity as an individual.
He can unite the party in a way that I know won’t be achieved by Corbyn or Kendall. I have also always admired the steady and confident approach of Yvette Cooper and know she would do a good job if elected, but for me Andy Burnham offers more at this crucial time. I know Andy will be mature enough to listen to the hope that Corbyn has generated, and embrace the sense Kendall has spoken about what it takes to win in Middle England.
As you know I didn’t rush to this decision. It was hard to come off the fence because the decision was never about how do I like most, or who I do I agree with ideologically. Having spent time reflecting, listening and analysing I believe it is now time for the Party to unite behind Andy Burnham and to start the job of opposing this Tory government who have the slenderest of majorities but are acting as though they won the popular vote across our country. They have got away with way too much whilst we have been inward looking during this campaign. Once again Andy Burnham has shown the fight and passion in the last parliament to make sure the Tories don’t get away with governing unopposed!