The policy scope of the current Labour leadership contest is a tribute to how far our party has travelled under Jeremy Corbyn. The two main candidates vying for its leadership – Keir Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey – are promoting his radical economic policies, and the debate has fundamentally shifted since Jeremy won in 2015.
Take our rail industry, which is the mainstay for my union, TSSA. Our union has only one pre-condition for a candidate to qualify for our nomination towards a Labour Party position, and it is this: our support is dependent on candidates wholeheartedly backing public ownership of our railways.
This seems such a modest ask in 2020. But it wasn’t always so. In 2010, our union backed Diane Abbott for leader. Was it because she was the most left-wing, socialist voice? Because she was the only woman or BAME candidate? All of those were important factors, but she was also the only one who met our number one priority. None of the others – David Miliband, Ed Balls, Andy Burnham, and even ‘Red Ed’ Miliband – not a single one of them could say they wholeheartedly backed public ownership of our railways. Diane was the only one who did. And so we nominated Diane.
Fast forward to 2020, and we have candidates falling over themselves to explain why they are so enthusiastically supportive of rail being in public ownership. Every single one of the candidates put their commitment in writing. From Keir, we had: “the case for bringing the railways back into public ownership is unarguable and I will continue to make it”. Rebecca told us that investment in rail was “crucial” and that she wanted to see “a fully integrated public transport network linking up rail and bus services”. Music to our ears! Lisa Nandy wrote to us saying she “fully support[s] the renationalisation of our rail network”, while Emily declared her “wholehearted backing [of] public ownership of rail”.
In the deputy race, again all candidates put in black and white their commitment to public ownership of rail. “I’m fully supportive of backing public ownership of rail,” said Richard Burgon and Rosena Allin-Khan. Angela Rayner gave us some credit by saying “because of TSSA’s work, public ownership of our rail and transport system is seen as common sense”. Thanks, we’ll take that. Ian Murray and Dawn Butler, too, said “the only way forward is public ownership”.
Right across the Labour spectrum – and the political spectrum as a whole – that argument has been fought and won, with a majority of the public backing public ownership of our railways. We’ve long said it’s the best and only way to achieve an integrated, efficient transport network that keeps fares down and improves services across the board. But it took the support for progressive policy development under Jeremy’s leadership to get the rest of our party on board.
How many other policies, once considered controversial or too radical, have now become the mainstream? From education to regional investment, gone are the days of ‘austerity-light’ policy “solutions”. It was Jeremy as Labour leader who declared the climate emergency in parliament that our union so passionately campaigns on. And it was Jeremy’s shadow cabinet that spoke out against the hostile environment under the Tories.
As we go forward in this election campaign, there are many reasons to be cheerful and to be hopeful. But the progressive, socialist policies that were developed under Jeremy’s stewardship and that we know are so popular with the public must not be abandoned. Whether it’s public ownership of our railways, the Green New Deal, free school meals or abolishing tuition fees, these are things we wouldn’t have without Jeremy.
Our members have chosen two excellent candidates to nominate in the Labour leadership election: Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner. We’ll be encouraging our members to vote them through, and give their second preferences to Rebecca and Rosena. Onwards for public ownership of our railways under a Keir Starmer-led Labour government.