When UNISON gave its backing to Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner back in early January, nobody could have foreseen how our country, society and public services would change in just three short months.
Public service workers are working tirelessly – in hospitals, but also in care homes, refuse trucks, police stations and call centres – to ensure that the rest of us can stay safely indoors.
The deadly impact of Covid-19 is having an impact upon everyone and changed everyday life in the most fundamental of ways. Yet the reasons that UNISON backed Keir and Angela haven’t changed – in fact, they are proven even more significant in this most difficult of times.
I’m so pleased that Keir Starmer will now lead our great party at this time of unprecedented turmoil. The task our new leader faces would always have been great, but now it is historic. Yet the qualities he embodies – public service, respect and trust – have never been more important.
Keir’s story is one of service, duty and dedication to doing what he believes is right, with values rooted in socialist principles. When this son of a toolmaker and a nurse – the first person in his family to go to university – became a barrister, he could have used his skills and talents purely for his own benefit.
Instead, he dedicated himself to standing up for those fighting injustice. Fighting the infamous McLibel case, bringing successful legal challenges against the death penalty in the Caribbean and advocating on behalf of the Lawrence family.
If Keir, a person of principle with a track record to match, was the stand-out candidate at the outset of this race, then that is even truer today. These leadership qualities will be essential at a time of national crisis, and UNISON will be right behind him, as Labour both works with government and holds ministers to account.
I know that he will ensure the voices and concerns of public service workers are at the heart of the national conversation. Both during the pandemic and as the country rebuilds afterwards.
Now the entire labour movement needs to come together, united behind our new leader – as I know his new deputy will. UNISON backed Keir and Angela because they were the right people for the job, but also because it’s clear they have all the ingredients for a winning team.
Angela Rayner’s rise to deputy leader is a tremendous moment for UNISON and the party. Angie – as she will always be known to us in UNISON – is truly one of our own, a care worker who became a union rep, and then an MP.
The importance of having someone with Angela’s experience – a public service worker who knows how much care workers need protective equipment because they are her friends and neighbours – as part of Labour’s leadership team at this critical time cannot be understated.
I know she’ll excel in her new role as she has throughout her meteoric rise. I know there are those who have underestimated her, but she has proven time and time again that she has the skills and experience to play a massive role in the future of our party.
Just as importantly, I know that Angie will never forget where she has come from. She is grounded in her deep roots in our movement and her community, and her story is an inspiration to millions.
Now, with a new team in place, after difficult election defeats, political turmoil, factionalism and years of internal rancour, Labour has an opportunity – and an obligation – to unite behind a new leader.
Real, lasting change – for the care worker, the nurse, the cleaner – only ever happens when Labour wins the trust of the British people. I know our party has elected the right leader to meet that challenge.