There are three very good people in the contest for the Labour leadership. I believe that none of them will seek to turn our party back to where we were before Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and they all understand that now is certainly not the time to try. But there is only one choice. And for my union, that choice is Rebecca Long-Bailey.
Labour must use this time of Tory rule to reconnect with its natural supporters, while maintaining its strong electoral coalition in London and other big cities. Becky is undoubtedly the best placed of the three to lead that challenge, to unite our party and to take forward a message that can build a red bridge between the metropolitan areas, where so many young professionals have been drawn to Labour, and our industrial heartlands in the Midlands and the North – the towns and cities that are still traditional Labour areas but which we lost at the general election.
She has already demonstrated a determination to bridge the gap between the Remain view than dominates among the party leadership and membership, and the support for Leave held by so many Labour voters in the red wall constituencies that fell.
I am in no doubt that Becky is not only extremely capable, but courageous, too. Her pioneering of the Green Industrial Revolution, so crucial to tackling our climate emergency and investing in our manufacturing industries and decent jobs, along with her unequivocal championing of Labour’s popular policies, including a £10 minimum wage, abolishing zero hours contracts, regional investment banks and the public ownership plans, in a way that really speaks to our communities, is testimony to that.
But she will have her own priorities and do things her own way. As Labour’s first female leader, she can connect our party with wider sections of the electorate. I’m certain that she will approach the way in which Labour has always been seen as the party of the low-paid and the vulnerable differently.
For the fact is that the majority of the population doesn’t fall into that category. There are vast numbers of people with average or even well-paid jobs, living in reasonable or good homes, who still aspire to a better Britain, and certainly for their children. Becky is able to talk to them, develop strong policies for them, just as well as those more vulnerable families who Labour has so firmly stood up for. When she talks of aspirational socialism, for me, this is what she means. It’s continuity socialism defined by who Rebecca Long-Bailey is.
Loyalty is important, too. It’s important for my union, for Labour members and, in my experience, for ordinary people. Becky is the only one vying for party members’ votes who stood firm during the shameful 2016 PLP coup against Corbyn.
Labour has come a long way in the last four years – a long way towards becoming the democratic socialist party the country needs and the majority of its members want. We know those who, throughout the years of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, wanted a return to the old days of New Labour, now see this leadership election as a chance to turn back the clock.
So let’s not forget that under Corbyn, Labour recruited around 400,000 new members to become the largest political party in Britain and the biggest socialist party in Europe. It expressed the desire of millions of British people for an end to austerity and for fundamental change in our society, taking Labour’s share of the vote from 30% in 2015 to 40% just two years later, an unprecedented achievement.
Yes, the general election was a disaster. A setback of monumental proportions after all our advances. And yes, I believe it was largely down to Brexit, in not only creating a divided party and a fundamental disconnect between Labour and our heartlands, which I feared it would, but in fuelling the perception of a weak leader.
That’s why we need to remind people what our party stood for, the achievements of the last four years, why young people gravitated to it and that there’s still a cause to fight for. Which is why I urge members not to sit on their hands, nor be deflected by the siren voices of our enemies both inside and outside of the Labour Party. But ultimately it’s up to Becky to show that she can inject the magic back into our party. And if she can do that, then she will win.