General election 2019: Rebuilding Labour

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We had a general election, and the country decided to return a Tory majority of at least 76 – the Conservative Party’s biggest victory since 1987. There is one constituency left to declare, the Tory-Lib Dem battle of St Ives, which doesn’t concern Labour. Compared to the 364 seats won by the Tories, Labour has secured just 203. It has been a devastating night for Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour candidates who have lost and every activist who worked so hard during this campaign. It has been a terrible one for the Liberal Democrats, too, whose leader has lost her seat to the SNP. Most importantly, the 2019 general election is a horror for this country, which has been ravaged by austerity and will now be subject to five more years – if not another decade – of Tory rule. We are set to be governed by a man with no respect for us, and by an administration intent on shamelessly rigging the game in its own favour.

Labour gained one seat: Remain-voting Putney in south London, which local councillor Fleur Anderson will now represent. Labour lost 59 seats. That includes frontbenchers Sue Hayman, Jenny Chapman, Gordon Marsden, Danielle Rowley, Lesley Laird, Karen Lee and – perhaps most notably of all – Laura Pidcock, who had been tipped as a Labour leadership or deputy leadership candidate. We will no longer be seeing Dennis Skinner on the green benches either, nor Caroline Flint, Mary Creagh, Ruth Smeeth, Gareth Snell… the list goes on. Despite the huge campaign support they received and hard work put in, Ali Milani wasn’t able to oust Boris Johnson and Faiza Shaheen missed out in Chingford by just over 1,000 votes. One of the most upsetting losses of the night was Kensington, where Emma Dent Coad lost by just 150 votes. A quick note of thanks to The Observer for recommending a tactical Lib Dem vote there.

Both the Labour and Conservative parliamentary parties are set to be reshaped. Labour had a number of retirement and defection seats that will bring in fresh faces to parliament. Among those newly elected are many young and BAME women, such as Sarah Owen, Taiwo Owatemi, Feryal Clark, Olivia Blake, Bell Ribeiro-Addy and Charlotte Nichols. Among the new Conservative MPs are Sally-Ann Hart in Hastings, who is under investigation for homophobia and antisemitism and Islamophobia, and Lee Anderson in Ashfield. Yes, the man who was in that unbelievable Michael Crick video. The one who backed forced labour camps, and who is also being investigated for antisemitism. I can only imagine what other delights have been offered to us by the party that restored the whip to Charlie Elphicke for a key vote in parliament.

The conversation within Labour has moved swiftly onto the party’s future leadership and direction, of course. Jeremy Corbyn has confirmed that he will not lead the party into another election, but does want to stay on during a “period of reflection”. It looks like Labour MPs and the Jewish Labour Movement are preparing to hasten his departure if possible. Meanwhile, members are busy scrutinising the reasons behind the terrible results. Is Jeremy Corbyn’s personal unpopularity to blame? Or was Labour’s overly Remain-sympathetic Brexit position at fault? We must get beyond this simplistic conversation. The truth is a bit more complicated, and requires a lot more honesty from people in every faction.

Who can we expect to put their names forward for the leadership? Keir Starmer, who delivered a very serious speech at his count, is one. Becky Long-Bailey is another, though she is good friends with Angela Rayner and it seems likely they would each go for a different role as both leader and deputy will be available to choose from. Emily Thornberry is always thought to be interested. Jess Phillips has already said she would “take a role in rebuilding” if trusted to do so. Lisa Nandy survived in Leave-voting Wigan, and gave a speech that strongly suggested she would be making moves soon. Yvette Cooper’s classic non-denial denial might be indicative of something, too.

Throughout the next few days, weeks and months, I would first ask that you try to remember one thing: nothing can move forward in a positive, sustainable way without honesty and an assumption of good faith. Do not accuse others of not wanting to win elections – every member of this party was desperate to kick the Tories out, and a huge amount of work went into that campaign. There is no point pretending that another referendum could have been agreed by the last parliament either. I don’t mean to sound like the “I have a lot of feelings” one in Mean Girls. But to heal, we need not to prioritise our anger with each other but to start listening to what voters have just told us.

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