We must celebrate all that unites us as we choose a new leader

The contests for Labour’s next leader and deputy leader begin today – the largest and most democratic leadership elections of any political party in Britain. The process begins with candidates seeking nominations from MPs and MEPs, with those receiving a minimum of 22 nominations going forward to seek supporting nominations from CLPs and affiliated organisations, and the result announced at a special conference on April 4th.

Since the general election was called, tens of thousands of people have joined the Labour Party, with more joining every day. 7,000 joined over the last weekend alone. This is fantastic news, and it brings our total membership to close to 560,000 – which means we’re well on our way to having the largest membership ever in our history.

New joiners are motivated by many different reasons, including a desire to take part in the election, and we will do all we can to encourage them to become fully engaged in every aspect of our great party – and at all levels.

Because let’s not beat around the bush: we’ve got a huge job to do of rebuilding trust and showing that our party can deliver real change. Our task means reaching out to people in every community, in all regions and nations, and listening seriously to their concerns.

It also means being inclusive and welcoming to all new members, as well as working hard to encourage everyone to unify behind our new leader, whoever that may be. I have supported every elected leader over four decades of my own membership and have always believed it is vital to present a united front if we are to convince voters to take us seriously.

That includes us doing more to ensure that all members understand and share our values of treating everyone with dignity and respect – as highlighted in the members’ pledge that people sign up to when joining Labour – and continuing to take action against anyone who engages in abuse of any kind.

But above all, I hope our members will see what lies ahead as a springboard; as an opportunity to recognise our differences but also to celebrate all that unites us. I believe we all joined Labour because we believe passionately in equality, justice and in a fairer society for everyone where we care for and support all those who are vulnerable or in need.

Our greatest strength should be our unity of purpose, but we have to be honest and recognise that unity has been sadly lacking in recent times. Whilst it is clear that that there were a number of reasons why we lost the last election, not least because of a country divided on Brexit, it is also completely understandable that voters may be singularly unimpressed by a party that appears to be at war with itself.

So let’s come together and give genuine support to whoever is elected as our next leader. With Labour being a broad, and hopefully tolerant, church, we will never elect a leader who has complete support from every member, but they will have a democratic mandate to lead and they deserve our support.

Finally, I want to pay tribute to Jeremy Corbyn. He has had the toughest tenure of any Labour leader in my lifetime. He faced merciless attacks and criticism from all sides, including from the most hostile media I’ve ever witnessed, and as research has shown, most of it unfair and without foundation. Despite this, he has maintained dignity and always stuck to his principles, refusing to engage in personal attacks, regardless of whatever has been thrown at him.

Under his leadership our party has been transformed into a mass membership organisation. And under his leadership, he has moved not just our party but the political discourse, to the left. Candidates for the leadership have acknowledged this and rejected moving back to what has been described as a ‘wishy-washy centrism’. We should all recognise and be grateful for what he has brought to our party, and the legacy he leaves of a changed party and a changed political narrative. I am proud to have worked with him.

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