Richard Burgon: Why I support our party leader

Richard Burgon

The attempt to remove the leader of the Labour Party without an election by trying to force him to resign has shocked, saddened and angered many Labour Party members – including members who didn’t vote for Jeremy Corbyn last year. These feelings were heightened further when, after that plan failed, an attempt was then made to undemocratically deny Labour members the just and fair opportunity to vote for the leader of the Labour Party in the leadership election.

Labour Party members tell me they feel they have been treated with disrespect by people for whom they gave up their spare time for to help into parliament. And members feel that attempts to retrospectively reduce the size of the electorate in the leadership election are unfair and driven by a desire to fix the outcome.

Manufacturing a leadership row has been a needless distraction that has let the Conservatives off the hook. Regardless of who Labour MPs wanted Labour members to elect as the leader last year, Labour MPs have a responsibility to carry on working to hold a failing Conservative Government to account. We can’t go on strike from standing up for the people and communities we were elected to represent. I’m particularly proud of my Labour colleagues who – despite enormous pressure – have stepped up to the plate by uniting for Labour on the front bench. I’m also particularly proud of Labour MPs who – even though they supported different candidates in last year’s leadership election – have stood up for democracy and for respecting the rights of Labour Party members.

People will not be surprised that I will be supporting the Labour Party leader in the leadership election. I believe we need to keep the Labour Party leader to ensure that Labour goes forward, not back. I respect Labour MPs who, in this contest, will be taking a different view from me. The Labour Party has always been a coalition of socialists, social democrats and trade unionists. But I believe the Parliamentary Labour Party owes it to members, constituents and the country to now re-unite in taking the fight to the government. It’s time for Labour MPs to calm down, take a deep breath and take on the Conservatives and play a full role in dealing with the huge challenges arising from Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

The Labour Party national executive committee meeting on 12 July was a narrow escape for our Party. If the NEC decision had been to prevent members from being able to cast their vote for the leader of the Labour Party in a leadership election brought by a challenger, then I believe 12 July would have gone down in history as a dark day for Labour Party democracy. I believe that it would have precipitated a formal split in the Labour Party in the country. And no socialist or social democrat in our party wants to see a split.

A publicly divided and inward-looking Parliamentary Labour Party doesn’t help the people and communities that the Labour Party was created to represent. I’m sad to say that those who initiated and orchestrated recent events aimed at removing the leader of the Labour Party have hurt Labour in the polls and undermined the great work of Labour councillors and Labour volunteers the length and breadth of the country. They have also given a gift to the Conservative Government. This wasn’t necessary. There was nothing inevitable about it. This was a choice.

My choice is to support our party leader. He has delivered a membership expected to hit 600,000 – up from 180,000 at the general election. Victories across the UK. An apology to the people of Iraq, the British people and the families of our armed forces for the decision to invade. A track-record leaving no doubt that under his leadership Labour will continue to be an anti-austerity party. An ongoing demonstration that he has the extraordinary strength and determination required to withstand the pressure from an establishment which wants to block real change. The potential to lead the most positively reforming Labour government since that of Clement Attlee. For these reasons, and others, my choice is to support the leader of the Labour Party.

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