After a bleak winter, this spring it’s time to rebuild hope.
Last month I watched brilliant friends and colleagues lose their seats, many in towns like mine. We stood for the people struggling in poverty or just outside it, for the people who want to live in a more decent society, for working-class communities in all our towns and cities – but we failed to earn enough of their votes. I never want to live that nightmare again.
That’s why Rebecca Long-Bailey has my vote for Labour leader. She built much of what we got right over the last four years, and has a sensitive understanding of what went wrong, forged in a spirit of genuine inquiry not point-scoring.
She has waited to announce until after we are rested from the break, as ever with a thoughtfulness and caution that does not stop her striking decisively when needed. During that time I was humbled by friends and comrades showing their support for me, and I’m now asking them to get behind Rebecca. She is every bit the passionate socialist that I am, but very much on her own terms. Any commentator claiming she is controlled by anyone other than herself has clearly never spent five minutes with her.
As a child of the Thatcher era, Rebecca knows how difficult it is for people to believe in a different way of life. The Tories and those they work for have spent decades attacking the structures in our society that cared for people and allowed communities to live well together. They have extended callous profiteering into every corner of our lives; our healthcare, our homes, our working conditions, our communities.
We did not do enough to explain how we could do things differently, why it would work, and how it would directly benefit specific communities. People in towns like mine have heard lots of political promises, and still have boarded-up shops and crumbling infrastructure. They can’t see the wealth locked up at the top so it isn’t easy to see where the money will come from. And they can’t easily trust a party who has let them down before and often isn’t present in their day-to-day life.
Some think this is an argument for curbing our aspirations. But endless compromise has not worked for social democrats across the West. And taking back power from those who have stripped the decency from our economy and society is not just an ideological wish, it is necessary if this country is to meet the future intact.
At home we have a social crisis of low pay, food banks and neglected people and places at home. Globally we have an exploitative, unstable financial system at risk of collapse. A resurgent far-right is preying on neglected communities, stoking racial hatred and fuelling the likes of Trump, Bolsonaro and Orban. Climate change is here and burning down people’s homes. And the crisis in Iran points to a fracturing world order.
These are challenges that we can both protect this country from and assist others in solving. But this requires significant realignment of our institutions and our economy – who runs them, who they work for and how they work. We have to restore a new sense of national purpose, realising potential in every corner of the country. The wealthiest, desperate to protect a system which benefits them, will not allow this to happen easily. We have seen the way the party has been viciously attacked for daring to suggest things could be different.
Rebecca Long-Bailey knows these grand challenges intimately. She has developed detailed plans for a green industrial revolution that would restore decent jobs, pride and power to communities while enabling Britain to lead the world in safeguarding our environment. She has formed these plans in community halls and boardrooms, never compromising on her ideals but always listening and persuading, with a socialism that is from the heart but also strategic and practical.
Rebecca doesn’t just write policy. She talks about it in a way that reflects growing up in a working-class community like Salford with proud traditions of solidarity, mutual aid and compassion which even now in a time of Tory austerity is helping to lay the foundations of a new municipal socialism. She knows how to argue for change in a way that makes sense in the places we lost, that is both realistic and inspiring.
Labour doesn’t need to “represent” working-class communities, it needs to be formed by working-class communities from Hackney to Hartlepool, from Durham to Dundee. This is a job involving long term workplace, community and party organising. We need a leader who understands ideas and understands people, too.
Following an election where 51 out of the 54 lost English Labour seats voted Leave and the Conservatives won a decisive majority on promising to “get Brexit done” and little else, we also need someone who has been pragmatic on Brexit and can move to talking about the kind of society we want to live in afterwards. At the same time we need a proud anti-racist and internationalist who knows the working-class comes from many backgrounds and will never use Brexit as an excuse to drag us to the right on issues like immigration.
People are crying out for change. A deep sense of anger and dissatisfaction with how our politics and our system is failing to empower or provide for people is manifesting itself in upsets across the political spectrum, as different as the vote for Brexit, the strengthening of Scottish nationalism and the 2017 surge around Jeremy Corbyn. That desire for answers can be harnessed by a plan to ensure human flourishing, not shareholder value, drives our priorities. We must not abandon our ideas because we lost, but learn and adapt as you would improve any prototype.
The traditional rules of politics are out the window. The Tories’ majority is significant but brittle and built around a Brexit deal which will not fulfil the trust placed in it. We can bring them down in the next election but we have to come together and relentlessly prepare. Rebecca Long-Bailey has set out a bold pitch to unite our heartlands, rebuild our presence in communities and paint a vision of how we can and must build a more decent society ready to the face the future. Dedicating ourselves to another campaign so soon after the election will be tiring – but worth every minute.
She has my firm support and deserves yours. Together we can do this.