“The Labour Party is on the road to Downing Street” – Mahmood’s speech

Shabana Mahmood

Below is the full text of the speech delivered to the Labour Party conference by national campaign coordinator Shabana Mahmood in Liverpool today.

Good afternoon, conference. As your national campaign coordinator, it is my great pleasure to report that, after a decade of defeat, decline and embarrassment at the ballot box – the Labour Party is back on its feet.

Keir appointed me over a year ago, and I know how lucky I am to have this fantastic job. It has taken me all over the country – from Scotland to the south coast, from Wales to Wakefield. But I have to let you into a little secret, conference. No matter where I go there are always two constants.

The first is that this job is completely incompatible with any kind of diet! It’s been catastrophic for my waistline, something I’m sure my predecessors will attest to! You’ll all be familiar with the campaign diet, which is now my daily reality. The long days, late nights and trips around the country mean that healthy eating is now basically out of the window.

The problems with food don’t end there. I had lunch recently with a very senior Labour figure, and we were discussing the massive electoral challenges facing our party. Our debate was punctuated with his offering of food from the prepared spread – different breads and cheeses, all very nice. The stumbling block was his repeated offer of the ham that he’d bought which, as a Muslim, is obviously a total no go! It was all very embarrassing and I was desperate not to cause any offence. Conference, I am willing to sacrifice my waistline for the general election but not so much my place in heaven.

Second, and I want to say this as delicately as I can, anyone who wants a seat in parliament seems rather adept at tracking me down to lobby me. No matter where I go, in every part of the country they seem to have a special GPS and beat a path to my door. In fact, I’ve been lobbied for various seats three times in the ladies’ loo already this morning. So anyone planning to grab five minutes with me over the next few days be warned: I have no shame in taking the credit for anyone’s future success wherever I can but I have to level with you, I actually have no power over who gets selected.

But conference, those are small prices to pay for such an important role. And in this role my priority is getting the party ready for a general election. This has mostly been about the organisation, our party machine. And I want to say a special word of thanks to my deputy, Conor McGinn, for the work he’s done and the difference he’s made over the last year

Winning in May’s local elections was a key milestone. Our machine has been fine-tuned. This was evident both in May and in the by-elections we have contested over the last year. We have seen significant progress, not least in those so-called ‘Red Wall’ seats. Based on this year’s results, we’d be winning back seats we lost in 2019 and more besides. We’re competitive in seats we thought were out of reach, certainly in the short term.

And the significance of Labour’s victory in the Wakefield by-election cannot be downplayed. We exceeded expectations in a seat that illustrated the crushing move away from Labour in 2019. Winning back a seat like Wakefield is a huge deal. Our majority was the highest we have ever had in that seat. So a massive well done to the whole team and in particular Simon Lightwood – our newest MP.

Voters in Wakefield backed a confident, renewed Labour Party that proved it had the ideas and drive to appeal to working people. We were side by side with local people in Wakefield, taking on the issues that mattered to them. And we offered a clear choice between a failing government and a Labour Party that has listened since the 2019 general election and changed itself to acknowledge the bruising lessons we were taught.

I am very pleased that we are winning and you should be too. You – and our activists across the party and across the country – are winning. The work you do matters; you are the beating heart of our party. You secured our results in May. And you delivered over two million conversations with voters – the most in any election campaign since our records began! I applaud the time and effort you give, and I thank you for it. You have set a high standard and I want to maintain it.

My hope is that, one year from now, I will stand here and report to you on how we won a general election. May’s results have us winning in Copeland, Great Grimsby, Hartlepool, Plymouth Moor View, Stevenage, Thurrock, West Bromwich East, West Bromwich West, Workington and Worcester. Fantastic. An absolutely fantastic position to be in. But conference, do you know what? That isn’t good enough.

Those results would only give us 291 seats in parliament. We would be the biggest party, sure. But that’s not good enough for me – and I know that is not good enough for you. It certainly isn’t good enough for the British people. I want a majority Labour government. We want a majority Labour government. Conference, Britain needs a majority Labour government.

After our defeat in 2019, that looked impossible. But it is possible. We have done it before, and we can do it again. And all over the world, centre-left parties are winning. Now, we’re going to talk about Labour’s road to Downing Street. To do that, I’m delighted to have with us, all the way from a stunning general election victory in May, Paul Erickson – national secretary of the Australian Labor Party.

But before I talk to Paul, we’re going play a little video about the last time we came into government from opposition with a stunning Labour landslide. Conference, we can do this. We have done it before and we can do it again. The road to Downing Street runs through all those seats I mentioned earlier, but if we want a Labour majority then we must also pass through Dudley, Blackpool and Uxbridge. And there’s no Labour majority without wins in Scotland and in Wales.

We are selecting the candidates for each of these contests – and we have some of those fantastic candidates here with us today. They’re in the front row, so I’d like them to stand up, turn around so you can see them all – and conference please show your support for our brilliant candidates and future MPs. Thank you all of you and to all the candidates who couldn’t be here today.

Conference, these are the people who we need to get elected to deliver a Labour government. They are the people we need to get behind if we are going to reach Downing Street. The road we must travel is long and there are many obstacles. No matter how finely tuned our party machine is, the organisation can’t outrun the politics. The politics has to set the pace. It is the politics that will win us the next election. Our organisation will not be found wanting, but only the politics can build the coalition we need to win.

And this impacts on all of you because I need you to get uncomfortable. If we are going to build that coalition then we have to talk and listen to the voters who aren’t with us yet. There is no ideological one-size-fits-all. We must have uncomfortable conversations. We won’t build that coalition without talking, without discomfort, and we won’t build it without compromise. That is a dynamic process. Every conversation teaches us something about where we are going, and how far we still have to go. But I know you can do it. When the general election comes, we will be ready.

Now, you met our new army of trainee organisers earlier – they will reinforce our superb staff team providing a solid foundation for our campaign. Not just for the election before us but for many elections to come. You’ve met our candidates, the standard bearers in every seat. And we have you – the party’s most important asset. The people who deliver the leaflets, slog the streets and notch up millions of conversations with voters!

The Tories can fool themselves as much as they want and they can bask in the false light of their latest leader. They need to know this – we are coming for them. The public is not fooled. Whether that’s in Ashfield, in South Thanet, in Carmarthen or in Inverclyde. The Labour Party is on the road to Downing Street. Thank you conference. See you on that road!

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