A “worked-out path to power” – Rebecca Long-Bailey’s full speech

Rebecca Long-Bailey

Below is the full text of Rebecca Long-Bailey’s speech on Labour’s path to power delivered at a campaign event in Salford this morning.

Welcome to the people’s republic of Salford and the fabulous Lowry theatre. I’m so pleased you’ve joined me here on my home turf. This building we’re in, here in the redeveloped Salford docks, is named after one of this region’s great artists, L.S. Lowry. He was born down the road in Stretford and later lived here in Salford at a time of great change 130 years ago. Lowry dedicated himself to painting Salford’s industrial life. He was absorbed by it; proud of our city and what we produced.

And we should be proud of our history too. Working people – those born here and those, like my parents, who came here – built this country. We struggled, worked hard often in difficult circumstances to make better lives for ourselves, our families, and our communities.

This struggle to realise our hopes and aspirations was never easy. Occasionally there were setbacks. Obstacles were placed in the way. Take Peterloo, the massacre that took place in what’s now St Peter’s Square just down the road in central Manchester. There, in 1819, we stood in our tens of thousands, working people from all around Lancashire, demanding the vote – a peaceful, democratic revolution – and were met by violence and death.

Later here in Salford in 1931, amidst the great depression, almost one third of the adult population in Salford were unemployed and conditions were grim. People marched to the town Hall in Bexley Square, protesting against the removal of the winter coal allowance and cuts to unemployment benefits. They demanded a better life and they were met with fierce violence.

Despite the brutality and the oppression, we didn’t stop aspiring for a better life for ourselves and our communities. We knew then, and it remains true now, that those who exercise power cede nothing without a fight. In December the march to advance working people suffered another setback. I was devastated watching the results come in across the Red Wall. I was angry. But at that most terrible moment, I knew we would come back.

We’ve mourned. We got angry. We’ve bargained. We’ve gone through all the stages of grief these past two months. And now it’s time to look to the future. I’ve learned so much from Jeremy, John and Diane. They helped our party and our movement rediscover its heart and soul. We owe them so much and I thank them for their huge efforts. History will be much kinder to them than today’s media consensus and we mustn’t retreat from that politics.

But they have done their bit and it is time for a new generation to take us forward. And I, for one, am ready to take up the mantle of socialist leadership.

It’s time to set our sights on a new horizon and plot our path to power. To do that, we must learn the important lessons of the defeat, know our enemy and understand the challenges ahead. I’ve already spoken about why we lost the election: an incoherent message, a breakdown in trust with voters in our heartlands because we were more interested in winning games in parliament than listening to them, and not being robust enough when we were attacked.

We should have been better. But we must know our enemy too. We’ll lose again if we fight yesterday’s battles on today’s terrain. The next election will not be defined by Brexit. But Boris Johnson and his advisors still want to convince voters that they are not traditional Tories, with Johnson acting the part of anti-politician. And they will claim Labour is part of a failed establishment.

The very idea might seem like a bad joke. Boris Johnson, a millionaire Prime Minister, whose persona was crafted on the playing fields of Eton and in the debauchery of the Bullingdon Club, and whose party is literally funded by billionaires, pretending to be on the side of the people.

Equally, you might think it impossible for our party, forged one hundred years ago in our industrial communities through struggle against a vicious ruling class, to be seen as just another part of the establishment. But that is how politics was represented in the last election.

In this leadership election, our party needs to exercise the greatest care in who we choose to lead us. Because the British Establishment wants to put us into a box. A box that separates us from the people our party was built to represent. Well I will not be put in that box and won’t allow our party to be either.

Yes, we have to be credible to regain trust with voters but I’m not interested in the definition of credibility used by the media and chattering classes. The only credibility I’m interested in winning is that of the people.

I want to show you that I am the person best able to lead our party. I know who I am and no one can represent me as a product of the elite.

I spent my formative childhood years round here. It’s a wonderful place with incredible working class institutions that we built for ourselves. We had pride and a strong sense of community – but you didn’t dream of becoming an MP, let alone prime minister. But it’s precisely that background which I believe qualifies me to lead our party.

When I grew up, the future looked bleak. Job losses. Shops closing. High streets run down. So people like me tried to escape the insecure lives our parents had. We tried to educate ourselves, to give ourselves choices. But I’ve felt what it’s like to have obstacles placed in the way of your hopes and aspirations – and those of your community.

I know what it’s like to be told you will never get there, that you don’t have the right background or the right CV. We all think that if we work hard and play by the rules we should expect to have a comfortable life. But that isn’t true for millions of people: anxiety about the future is growing faster than the hope that each generation will do better than the last.

We’re blocked off from aspiration, all the while we’ve been told that we live in a meritocracy. We’ve all heard the mantras. Work hard and you’ll get on. But it’s just not true.

I worked hard and I’ve done well. But it was sheer luck. People no less clever and no less hard working don’t enjoy good lives. If we lived in a world where how hard you worked or how clever you are translated into success, we wouldn’t be on our 20th prime minister who went to the same school.

No child from my schools ever went on to become Prime Minister. But I am going to change that. And when I get to Downing Street, I will never forget who I am, what made me, and that I am there to help deliver the hopes, dreams, and expectations of millions of others who grew up like me.

Because I know that for too many people, pay is too low, work is too insecure, bills are too high, housing is too expensive, too few jobs are rewarding and many feel they won’t get the ones that are if they don’t go to university and take on massive debts. Living standards aren’t going up year on year and the next generation isn’t set to have a better life than the last.

Our hope for a better future for our children is being stifled. And it’s being stifled at exactly the time when we need to think and act big to face down the crises that confront our people. Big polluters are heating our planet to dangerous levels; a very small group of the very wealthiest people, helped by the politicians in their pockets, have hijacked our democracy for their own ends, and the result is a slow and unproductive economy which can’t be rescued by new technology alone. This is no time to be timid. And our climate strikers out today are not being timid.

But though people have a deep desire for serious political and economic change, they don’t see how it can be achieved. That’s part of why we lost the election: we couldn’t marry our ambitious programme with voters’ fundamental lack of trust.

But retreating from popular policies that provide answers to the crises facing our country is no route to victory. Shrinking from our ambitions to better our children’s lives won’t make us more credible. Triangulation hasn’t worked for social democratic parties across Europe and it won’t work here.

To give people hope that change is possible, we have to forge a path to power. Not just for the Labour Party, but for the people of this country. In his introduction to the 1997 manifesto, Tony Blair wrote that our party was the “political arm of the British people”. That is what we must become. I believe I can chart the course to get us there.

Now, I have great respect and admiration for the other candidates. I know we’ll all play a massive role in the next chapter of our party’s history. Emily is experienced and assured but I haven’t heard her plan to win the next election. Lisa has laid out a solid analysis of why we lost – and I agree with much of it – but I’ve not heard from her yet what the answer is.

Keir is rigorous and detailed at the dispatch box. He helped us win a lot of votes in parliament last year. But we didn’t win the election – and that was partly to do with Brexit and partly because too many voters thought we looked like just another bunch of politicians in Westminster.

It’s not my style to blow my own trumpet, but after six weeks of this campaign, I think I’m the only candidate that has a worked-out path to power. It has four key elements.

The first step is to empower our movement. We aren’t just a different team of politicians in Westminster, alternating power with the Tories. Our party was born out of a movement in communities like mine and many of those we lost in the election.

To win again, we need to look and sound like it. And it’s our members and our trade unions, on the front line in workplaces and communities, who will make that a reality.

That’s why under my leadership, Labour will back workers in every dispute and strike against unfair and exploitative employers. And we’ll launch a mass trade union membership drive, supporting hundreds of thousands of young activists who have been inspired by our party to become active trade unionists in their workplaces. We will fight any Conservative threats to further restrict our trade unions and continue to fight for trade union freedoms and stronger employment rights that end insecurity and improve pay.

Labour’s members don’t just pay to keep it going; they are our greatest organising asset. But let’s face it: the pace of change to empower members has been too slow. We need to trust and support them. That means helping them organise: to raise up popular demands, in their workplaces and in their communities.

But if we ask our members to do more, then we need to give something back. And you know what’s the least we can give? Open selections. The chance for members to choose who represents their party, their efforts, on behalf of their community. I’ve heard the line about wanting to deselect Tory MPs, not Labour ones. But this isn’t about that. It’s about creating a party full of motivated, engaged members who can then sweep those Tory MPs away.

So I say this to my colleagues in parliament who might be worried about a more democratic party. Let’s not be timid. Let’s nurture our talent and bring people into every role in the party. Let’s find our AOCs.

We have leaders in every community. Let’s help them find their voice and their place in our movement, be that as an activist, an organiser, or even a candidate. Imagine we could have a member right now, who’s part of an anti-fracking campaign, in a town like Blackpool, which now has two Tory MPs. We could provide her with political education and encourage her to join a union.

At work, she’ll help get her co-workers involved in the union and build up trust with them by standing up to a bullying manager. She’ll also talk about fracking and our green industrial revolution in her union branch and about the labour movement to her fellow climate activists. Come the next election, she’ll have helped win her co-workers and anti-fracking communities over to Labour – strengthening both movements to help us force through decisive change once in government. Remember, power cedes nothing without a fight.

But it’s not enough just to empower our movement, we also have to challenge the Tories’ power bases too. So we’ll support our members to organise to take on the big polluters, the bad bosses, the dodgy landlords and the tax dodgers, who all support Tory rule, giving them the organising tools to make a difference in their communities right now.

And my leadership will be far more robust with the media. Journalists have a vital role to play in our society. We should respect their work – and look to ways to free them from government or corporate influence. But let’s be honest: large sections of the media represent vested interests. Much of the press is owned by billionaires, so it’s no surprise they support the Tories and monster Labour.

I’ll not only call that out, I have a plan to deal with it. I will ridicule the most absurd smears and lies. We won’t just rebut factual errors in stories, but provide a counter-narrative about deliberate media efforts to hold back aspirational socialism.

But a credible and effective communications strategy extends beyond just being more combative and self-confident. It must also be more creative. So I’ll set up a dedicated creative digital communications unit in the party, producing viral content that can both get around media hostility and speak directly to voters.

If we can empower our movement and effectively communicate, then we can stir up a democratic revolution in our country.

And we need no less than a democratic revolution; serious, lasting change won’t happen without it. To win again, Labour must become a force capable of uniting the majority in our country to bring one about. The people’s path to power is our path to power.

I will always champion the idea that democracy takes power away from the offshore bank account and places it on the ballot paper. But Westminster feels as distant to many people as Brussels. We need a democratic revolution to break the hold of Westminster and the City over our politics, and show people that they can and will have the power to achieve what they want to achieve.

Six of the ten poorest regions in northern Europe are in the UK because for too long the fate of our regions has been in the hands of people who only visit them for a photo op in a high vis jacket. So power needs to be closer to people geographically, with meaningful new powers and funding devolved to local level to grow local economies, invest in communities and build council homes.

We spoke about the economy in the general election, but we didn’t have anything to say to people who’d lost trust with democracy. And after the Iraq war, the expenses scandal and the austerity lie that we’re all in it together, who can blame them? So to follow our path to power, we will champion a democratic revolution. And just the first step would be scrapping the House of Lords and creating an elected Senate representing our regions and nations, to scrutinise how every law impacts inequality, the environment and our people’s wellbeing.

A democratic revolution can deliver a seismic shock to British politics, to prise it open at all levels to the people – their knowledge, their skills, and their demands. That way, we can show people how change can happen, with power closer and more open to them, with big money and other corrupting interests forced out of politics.

But we also have to tell a credible story of how we will help people improve their lives. And we have to recognise after a defeat like we’ve just suffered, we haven’t communicated effectively. People are right to dream of a better life for themselves, their family, their community and their class. That doesn’t mean that we support the lucky few to climb the ladder alone. It means we help everyone realise their hopes and dreams.

My socialism isn’t just a moral socialism – an outrage at the injustice done to others. It’s the socialism of the majority, where everyone can live better lives together. I believe building that majority for change is a socialism that wins.

So our path to power requires us to speak an everyday language to people simply going about their normal lives. We have to understand that people want a better life for their children – that’s aspiration – but we can only secure that together – that’s socialism. As a party, we should be proud of people’s successes and hard work and speak to their hopes and dreams.

The language of aspirational socialism gives us something powerful to say to all of our heartlands, in all their diversity, from Blyth to Brixton, and beyond.

We can build that majority for change through common sense, collective solutions to mainstream Britain’s problems. We can all advance together – from the tenant weighed down by bills, rent and debts, to the dad struggling to afford Christmas presents for the kids, to the small businesswoman fighting for funding for her firm, to the doctor or teacher worried about their patients and students suffering a decade of cuts.

So let’s stand together against this Conservative government and argue for the credible solutions that help us advance together: rent controls and more council homes, public ownership to lower bills, better wages and job security, investment for all our cities, towns and villages, and expanding public services, fully returned to the people’s hands where they belong.

So far, I’ve told you about different elements of our path to power: empowering our movement to strengthen our party, stirring up a democratic revolution to show how change is possible, and aspirational socialism to build a majority to demand and benefit from that change. But we’re still missing an element that both concretely improves lives in our communities and offers a national project of renewal.

I believe that mission is sitting right under our noses. Many of the challenges facing our country can be met together, turning crisis into opportunity through a green industrial revolution that tackles the climate crisis, delivers social justice and repowers our economy at the same time.

The green industrial revolution could have been for us what the NHS was to the 1945 Labour government, our huge, era defining project. And it still can be. In fact, it must.

Because our green industrial revolution can bring people together. It unites young people, who want to fight for our planet’s survival, with workers in every community, from the largest cities, to our nations, towns and villages, who will see new green jobs and lower bills, and the whole country proud to be world leaders in combating the climate crisis.

I’m proud to say that I led the development of our green industrial revolution policies, working with energy experts, businesses, engineers, activists, trade unions and members of the community in town hall after town hall. I’ve seen first hand how the green industrial revolution can unite and mobilise people.

But we have to tell a concrete, detailed story in every constituency of what this change could mean and how it’s the people in that community who will be driving and delivering that change. The green industrial revolution will never take off if it’s something done to people rather than done with them.

Let’s take the example of Falmouth. If you don’t know it, Falmouth is a lovely town on the south Cornish coast. It’s part of the Truro and Falmouth constituency that used to be a Tory-Lib Dem marginal but now we’re in a strong second place. We targeted the seat in the general election, looking to take it off the Tories. We were right to. It’s not just towns in the Red Wall that have been held back and need aspirational socialism. We need to win right across the country.

Our green industrial revolution would have transformed Falmouth’s fortunes – but we didn’t get that message out. Alongside local businesses, the community and energy experts, we developed plans to expand Falmouth’s historic docks, which are a big part of the town’s identity. We worked out how we’d use public investment to crowd in private capital to create marine technology jobs and floating offshore wind.

We should have given our activists in the town a detailed vision to sell on the doorstep. The new, high skill, high tech jobs wouldn’t just benefit those working in the docks. Those extra salaries would be spent supporting local businesses, helping revive the high street. The whole town could be renewed, and through the docks that help define its identity and give it pride and purpose.

That way, we could show in every community how our green industrial revolution will be the cornerstone of a new economy that sees your living standards rise each year again, powered by clean energy, high tech, private and public enterprise, a strong, democratic state and expanding, high quality and universal services. That’s an exciting, credible, aspirational socialist project that we can build a majority for change around in constituencies all across the country.

To deliver our path to power, we need both details and big vision. I do both. I’m a details person. I work hard. I don’t slack off. I suppose that’s the benefit of being a working class woman, always having to work twice as hard to show you’re just as good, in fact better, than an upper-middle class man. So yes, I do think it’s time our party had a woman leader.

It also means I know our people. I know what drives us forward. Vision isn’t just about big picture thinking and intellect, it’s also about a feeling, having a sense for the hopes and dreams of our people. That’s why I know I can win back areas we lost and new ones we failed to win.

But to develop a compelling vision, you also need a solid sense of direction. I have that. I’ve always known what my politics are. I’m a socialist who’s aspirational for my family and my community.

I suppose that’s really why I’m standing to be leader. Yes, I’ve got a path to power and I want Labour to follow it to win. But I also want to give our movement confidence in our aspirational socialist values. That they are not only relevant to the challenges facing our country but central to the solutions to them.

I was worried after the election defeat that we might suffer a loss of confidence and step back from our principles and our ambitions. We don’t have to take that road. In fact, that way leads to further defeat.

I remember going to my first CLP meeting after the 2010 election defeat. I went with my mum to keep her company, not really thinking I’d throw myself into politics. But at that meeting I heard the loss of confidence in some of our members. I heard the retreat. I remember being horrified when one member spoke about how we should means-test meals in hospitals. I wasn’t just shocked because it’s a bad policy, but because it was a losing strategy.

We won’t defeat the Tories without offering a self-confident alternative, that builds a majority for change, rooted in our aspirational socialist values.

So, I know if you desperately wanted a Labour government, the general election was devastating. I wouldn’t blame you for looking for an easy option to win next time. Give up on something here, be less forthright there and we can win, you might hope.

But believe me, the path of despair is also the path to defeat. My plan – based on aspirational socialism, a green industrial revolution, empowering our movement and a democratic revolution – is our path back to power.

When we win the next general election, I want you to be able to say that you stared defeat in the face last time. You felt the pain. But you picked yourself up and were part of a new path to power than runs through social justice, delivering a new, green economy, uniting our people, and empowering them to realise their hopes, dreams and aspirations.

Because not only can we do that, it’s the best way to win. So, let’s empower our movement to show that big change is possible through a democratic revolution that delivers aspirational socialism and a green industrial revolution. That’s our path to power. Let’s take it together.

More from LabourList


We provide our content free, but providing daily Labour news, comment and analysis costs money. Small monthly donations from readers like you keep us going. To those already donating: thank you.

If you can afford it, can you join our supporters giving £10 a month?

And if you’re not already reading the best daily round-up of Labour news, analysis and comment…