I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t involved in the Labour Party. I grew up in a Labour family – campaigning is what we did. Like so many committed members, I’ve often put politics before family and friends.
I love the Labour Party. Not in a nostalgic way, but because I know without reservation that if we want the kind of society where each person can become the very best that they are capable of becoming, it is only a Labour government that can deliver that.
I stood to be the Labour MP in my home constituency in 2010 and 2015 – I know all too well that if you don’t win, there is very little you can do to help people. Protest is no substitute for power. I’ve never spoken out publicly against a Labour Party leader. Not because I lack conviction or courage, or because I have always agreed with Party policy, but because I know what happens to divided political parties and I know who our real enemy is.
I didn’t vote for Jeremy Corbyn (or for that matter Tony Blair or Ed Miliband), but in the democratic process followed by the Party he was elected and in my book he deserved my full support. And he got it.
However, I know with certainty, that to beat the Tories whenever the next General Election comes, we have to harness all of the talents in our Party and wider movement. When hundreds of activists joined me on the streets of Pudsey last year, we didn’t ask each other where we stood in the Party’s broad church – we just got on and worked together to try and beat the Tories. United by common values and for a common purpose.
Very sadly, we seem a long way from that now.
Our politics and our Party are filled with venom. Threats to MPs, to their staff, to members who dare to express a contrary view. This is not what we in the Labour Party are about. This is not the common endeavour which is so fundamental to our values. And what’s more, this is not how we win – the politics of intimidation and fear is inevitably self-defeating.
It seems now that there is to be a contest for the Labour leadership, and so it must be right that we take time to reflect on the challenges ahead.
As a country we face very difficult challenges – people are crying out for strong leadership and a realisable vision of hope for the future – and as a Party if we do not find a way to unite all of our talents we betray the millions of people who now more than ever, desperately need a Labour government.
The EU referendum campaign, largely fought without a positive vision and perhaps aptly summarised by some as “project fear vs project hate”, has left deep divisions which can only be healed over time and by mature leadership.
Whilst the immediate shock of Brexit is starting to subside, it will surely soon become obvious that there will be less external investment in the UK, there will be fewer jobs, and we will have less influence. To counteract these impacts of Brexit, we in Labour have to be central to making a positive and progressive case for an outward looking UK, still willing to fully engage to meet challenges that know no borders – climate change, tax injustice, trade, inequality and in the shadow of the awful events at Ataturk airport, the growing threat of terrorism.
Living in a northern city is different to living in north London and for too long we as a party have chosen not to hear the voices of those whose main concern is the impact of immigration. The referendum campaign allowed thinly veiled racism to be heard on the national stage and this has had immediate consequences with a sharp increase in racially motivated abuse and attacks. We need a leader who can speak to and for all sections of our society, but who at the same time will stand firm against those in politics whose views should have no traction in a modern, open and progressive Country.
Whoever the Tories pick as their leader, we know that their response to Brexit will be deeper cuts in public spending. Whatever any of them say in their pitch for leadership, we know they will not move away from social Darwinism, and will continue to leave millions without hope and opportunity.
If we do not get our act together now, and put ourselves in a position where we can win again then we betray all those who have fought for Labour in the past, and those who need a Labour government in the future.
The responsibility for discrediting and defeating the Tories is ours and ours alone. We must have a leader who is willing and able to lead us in that fight, someone who can continue with the right policies and ideas, but who can put them across effectively and clearly.
I hope and pray that the Party I love, for the sake of those we exist to help, will elect a leader who has the ability to remind people how futures are built.
Jamie Hanley is a trade union solicitor and was Parliamentary candidate for Pudsey 2010 and 2015.