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The future for Labour is female

Many of the brightest prospects of Labour’s new generation are women.

The “Blair’s babes” label might have jarred but the election of 101 women as Labour MPs in 1997 hinted that things could only get better for female parliamentarians; in 1992, there had been 60 but five years later the number doubled. Now, 147 seats (23 per cent) are held by women. Eighty-six of these female MPs belong to Labour; just 48 Tories and seven Liberal Democrats are women. Ed Miliband might have a very male back-room team but he has a chance to redress the balance with a shadow cabinet reshuffle. The “class of 2010” is regarded as a particularly strong year, and here we profile some of the brightest, along with a 2005 entrant, Kerry McCarthy. Rachel Reeves (page 34) and Stella Creasy (page 39) are also part of the 2010 intake. 
 
Lisa Nandy
Shadow children’s minister
 
The way Lisa Nandy tells it, it all happened at breakneck speed: her decision to stand as an MP in 2010 was followed mere weeks later by her selection in Wigan and then victory in the election. After years of working in the charity sector – first for Centrepoint, then for the Children’s Society – she was motivated by an increasing frustration with central government and a desire to change things from the inside.
 
Arriving at Westminster as one of a large cohort of first-time MPs, Nandy, who was 30 years old at the time, was assigned first Gordon Brown and then Alistair Darling as a mentor before taking up the position of parliamentary private secretary to the then shadow minister for the Olympics, Tessa Jowell, in autumn 2010. Though she admits that politically she has little in common with the veteran Blairite, she took a valuable lesson from their time working together: in Westminster, it is vital to make friends on the way up, or there will be nobody willing to catch you when you fall down.
 
Not that Nandy is expected to be on her way down any time soon. As an MP who considers herself to be on the left of most of the Parliamentary Labour Party and who came to parliament mainly to ask awkward questions about children’s issues, she found the call from Ed Miliband to join his frontbench team after Peter Hain’s resignation last year something of a surprise.
 
Now, as shadow children’s minister, she is frequently to be found in the Commons chamber running rings around her Conservative opposite number, the cobbling heir Edward Timpson. A reluctant inhabitant of the Westminster bubble, Nandy is unlikely to have the makings of a parliamentary lifer. Yet she is running for re-election in Wigan in 2015, so, for now, we get to watch how high she can rise.
 
Liz Kendall
Shadow minister for care and older people
 
In Westminster’s tribal culture, it is not always helpful to be admired by the enemy. Liz Kendall is an opposition frontbencher whom Tories find it easy to praise (at least in private), though no one doubts her Labour credentials. She has a reputation for considered and evidence-driven debate that wins quiet appreciation on both sides of the Commons.
 
It helps that she has a background as a wonk, having worked at the Institute for Public Policy Research, a leading centre-left ideas factory, and the King’s Fund, a highly respected authority on health policy. It was that expertise that justified her rapid elevation – she attends the shadow cabinet as Andy Burnham’s deputy and is tipped for further promotion. Kendall has been instrumental in developing the idea of “whole-person care”, an ambitious Labour plan to reconfigure health and social care services, marshalling limited resources to focus on preventative measures and giving people more control over their own treatment.
 
In a series of thoughtful (and inevitably under-reported) speeches, Kendall has highlighted the severe, long-term pressures that an ageing population puts on budgets, quite aside from the fiscal squeeze mandated by the financial crisis. She is one of the few Labour MPs who do not flinch from addressing the painful choices that lie ahead in managing the health service through austerity. She has, for instance, warned against kneejerk opposition protests at every ward and hospital closure, when sometimes those closures might represent reasonable rationalisation. In internal debates, she has provided salutary reminders that Labour needs something more to say about the National Health Service than simply: “We love it; the Tories want to destroy it” (although that message will doubtless figure prominently in the party’s next election campaign).
 
Kendall’s pragmatism should not be mistaken for a lack of radicalism. It comes from a determination to make sure Labour wins power with a mandate to undertake difficult but vital reforms – and thereby stands a better chance of staying in power for longer. She knows about the practical challenges of government, having served as a special adviser to Patricia Hewitt in the Department of Health and Harriet Harman in what was then the Department of Social Security. It may not be the most original route to the parliamentary front bench – think tanks and special adviser roles – but Kendall is no stickler for Westminster’s clubby protocols. Friends say she is sometimes exasperated by the bloke-heavy, stuffy, public-school atmosphere in the Commons.
 
She had not been in parliament long after her election in 2010 when she got into trouble for posting a photograph of the State Opening of Parliament on Twitter – and then tweeting about the reaction. It was an unintentional breach of the rules, but something about the episode suggested she might have an appetite for stealthy subversion of the established way of doing things.
 
Gloria De Piero
Shadow minister for crime prevention
 
Last year, Gloria De Piero set out to discover why politicians are so hated by the public. She asked a “jazzercise” class in Billericay, Essex, a mothers’ meeting in Manchester, a residents’ association in Deptford, London, a bingo club in Derbyshire, warehouse workers in her Nottinghamshire constituency and golfers in Yorkshire. They all came back with the same answer: politicians aren’t “like us”.
 
De Piero found that the expenses story had “cut through” to the public – people saw MPs as insulated, privileged and used to a level of wealth and job security that was out of reach for most voters. They were turned off by politicians shouting at each other. PMQs was “like Jeremy Kyle with posh people”, one of them said.
 
The 40-year-old Ashfield MP duly wrote a report for Ed Miliband and claimed not to be too downcast by her findings. “We have a particular responsibility in the Labour Party – we’re the ‘people’s party’, for goodness sake – but do we look and sound like Britain? I don’t think so,” she told the Independent. “If I could do a tiny little bit for getting normal people into parliament and if I lost my seat, then I would say: ‘Well, Gloria, you know, you did a little bit.’”
 
De Piero is acutely conscious that her time in parliament could be short. She was elected in Geoff Hoon’s old seat, Ashfield, in 2010 with the slimmest of majorities – 192. The swing to the Lib Dems was 17.2 per cent, the second-largest in the election.
 
After three years in parliament and two substantial junior posts – first as shadow minister for culture and media and now a role in the Labour Home Office team under Yvette Cooper – she will at least go into the next election without the negative media coverage that dogged her in 2010. “Glamorous former GMTV presenter” were the words most commonly applied to her campaign and there were numerous stories about local activists being disgruntled by her selection.
 
Perhaps as a result, she kept a low profile as a new MP, refusing to capitalise on her formidable television skills to become a “media performer”. That has led to the impression that she is more clubbable than her peers in the 2010 cohort Stella Creasy and Chuka Umunna, though it has also meant that she has largely failed to distinguish herself from the pack. She is clearly determined to be taken seriously in her constituency: her Twitter account hosts a blameless collection of doorstep campaigning photos and her most recent local newspaper column addressed the problem of potholes on Brynsmoor Road.
 
There are many in Labour who would like to see her pushed forward, as the PLP is hardly awash with northern, working-class, stateeducated and telegenic women. Yet perhaps she prefers to spend her downtime at home with her husband (the former Guardian journalist James Robinson, author of The Larry Diaries, a spoof memoir by David Cameron’s cat) than touring the TV studios.
 
Luciana Berger
Shadow minister for climate change
 
Luciana Berger, who was born in London, began her parliamentary career in a flurry of controversy, amid complaints that she had been “parachuted” into her Liverpool Wavertree constituency to the detriment of local candidates.
 
Yet Berger has gained respect for her work as an MP and was praised last year by the Conservative MP Rob Wilson in Total Politics magazine as a “grafter” who is “serious about her politics, her causes and her constituency”. As the shadow minister for climate change, Berger has criticised the Prime Minister for not living up to his early promises about “green” government and she has linked environmental causes – sometimes seen as a middle-class preoccupation – to issues affecting people’s everyday lives, such as rising fuel costs.
 
Writing for the New Statesman’s politics blog in August, she identified a need to “break the dominance of the energy giants” and called for “a tough new regulator with the power to force energy companies to pass on savings to consumers”.
 
In 2012, Berger made a short film, Breadline Britain, to highlight the explosion in numbers of people forced to use food banks following the financial crisis.
 
Her professional experience includes a stint as a management consultant in the City. She has been active in politics since she joined Labour as a student, and she spent three years as the director of Labour Friends of Israel. And her pedigree goes even further back: her greatuncle Manny Shinwell was a Labour MP who served as a minister in the Ramsay MacDonald and Clement Attlee governments.
 
Rushanara Ali
Shadow international development minister
 
On the dismal night of the 2010 general election, Rushanara Ali provided one of the few high points for the Labour Party. After George Galloway ousted Oona King, her former boss, in Bethnal Green and Bow in 2005, Ali reclaimed the East End seat for the party and turned a Respect majority of 823 into a Labour majority of 11,574. In doing so, she became Britain’s first MP of Bangladeshi origin and one of three Muslim women to enter the Commons (the other two are Shabana Mahmood, the MP for Birmingham Ladywood, and Yasmin Qureshi of Bolton South-East).
 
Ali, 38, grew up in Tower Hamlets after immigrating from Bangladesh at the age of seven and read philosophy, politics and economics at St John’s College, Oxford. In 2010, she spoke of how she had become radicalised by the “greed is good” mantra of the 1980s and by the mass homelessness and unemployment that the Tories viewed as a “price worth paying” for reducing inflation.
 
She began her career working as a research assistant for the Labour luminary Michael Young, the author of the party’s 1945 manifesto (one of her most cherished possessions is his annotated version) and of The Rise of the Meritocracy. She was later a research fellow at Labour’s intellectual boot camp – the Institute for Public Policy Research – and in the community cohesion unit at the Home Office. Her potential was quickly recognised by Ed Miliband, who appointed her as shadow international development minister in his first reshuffle in 2010.
 
Because of the bipartisan consensus on foreign aid, Ali has had fewer opportunities than some of her Labour colleagues to land blows on the coalition, but she led the fightback against the Ukip MEP Godfrey Bloom this summer after he criticised British assistance to “bongo bongo land”, demanding that Nigel Farage take action if he is “serious about getting rid of racism and intolerance in his party”. She has also won media attention for her campaign against the plan by Barclays to close a large number of the bank accounts kept by remittance companies.
 
Miliband’s desire to promote what he has called “the new generation” makes it likely that Ali will soon join her fellow 2010-ers Rachel Reeves and Chuka Umunna in the shadow cabinet.
 
Kerry McCarthy
Shadow Foreign Office minister
 
Labour’s “Twitter tsar”, Kerry McCarthy, has a fiery relationship with social media. After falling into a pothole in Burma in March this year, she observed on Twitter: “I knew it! Twitter more interested in me falling down hole than me spending historic day with ASSK [Aung San Suu Kyi].” In 2010, police cautioned her for reporting the numbers of postal votes cast per party in her constituency, Bristol East, and she provoked further scandal when she broadcast her thoughts about a “lager-drinking oaf” who was sitting next to her on a train.
 
Beyond the news stories, however, the 48-year-old former solicitor is a financial expert and a staunch defender of Gordon Brown’s exchequership. She began a doctorate exploring Labour links with the City and then worked as a lawyer in the banking sector, specialising in financial markets law and cross-border transactions.
 
Elected as the MP for Bristol East in 2005 through an all-female shortlist, she rose to the Treasury select committee, where she focused on the mechanics of globalisation and the IMF – experience she brought to bear as private secretary to Douglas Alexander during his time as secretary of state for international development. McCarthy supported Ed Balls’s unsuccessful bid for the leadership and, reshuffled by Miliband to shadow Foreign Office minister in 2011, she has extended her work to cover human rights, migration, the drugs trade and the End Child Poverty campaign, in which she is a leading figure.
 
McCarthy once put the case for veganism to parliament and she was often seen campaigning with Brian May and others against Defra’s badger cull in the south-west. She continues to blog and tweet about her daily work and was the first MP to give a speech in parliament with the aid of an iPad.
 
Writers: Rafael Behr, Caroline Crampton, George Eaton, Helen Lewis, Sophie McBain, Kate Mossman

This article first appeared in the 23 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Can Miliband speak for England?

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Chuka Umunna calls for "solidarity" among Labour MPs, whoever is voted leader

The full text of shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna's speech to Policy Network on election-winning ideas for Labour's future, and the weaknesses of the New Labour project.

There has never been an easy time to be a social democrat (or “democratic socialist” as we sometimes call ourselves in Britain). Whereas the right can demonise the poor and extol the virtues of the market, and the hard left can demonise the market and extol the role of the state, our position of constraining the domination of markets and reforming the state is, by definition, more complex.

It is nonetheless the case that social democracy has a historic responsibility, in every generation, to renew democracy and preserve a civic culture. This is achieved not through soundbites and slogans, but through the hard-headed development of a progressive politics that reconciles liberty and democracy, new comers and locals to our communities, business and workers, in a common life that preserves security, prosperity and peace.  This historic mission is all the more urgent now and my determination that we succeed has grown not weakened since our election defeat last May.

But, in order to be heard, it is necessary to make balanced and reasonable argument that both animates and inspires our movement, and which is popular and plausible with the people.  The first is pre-requisite to the second; and there is no choice to be made between your party’s fundamental principles and electability. They are mutually dependent - you cannot do one without the other.

We are in the midst of choosing a new leader and it is clear to anyone who has watched the UK Labour Party leadership election this summer that amongst a significant number there is a profound rage against Third Way politics – as pursued by the likes of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Gerhard Schröder and others - as a rejection of our fundamental values.

In the UK there is a view that New Labour accepted an uncritical accommodation with global capital that widened inequality, weakened organised labour and we were too close to the US Republicans and too far from the European left.

I do not believe this is fair, not least because we rescued many of our public services from the scrap heap when we came to office in 1997 and there were very significant achievements  we should celebrate.  New Labour renewed our National Health Service in a fundamental way; we built new schools and improved existing ones; we set up new children’s centres all over the country; we brought in a National Minimum Wage; we worked with others to bring peace to Northern Ireland; we introduced civil partnerships.  Just some of our achievements.

However, though we may take issue with the critique, I do not think we can simply dismiss out of hand those who hold critical views of New Labour. Like any government, the New Labour administration made mistakes - it could and should have achieved more, and done more to challenge the Right’s assumptions about the world. In the end, it is not unreasonable to be ambitious for what your party in government can achieve in building greater equality, liberty, democracy and sustainability. It is far better we acknowledge, not reject, this ambition for a better world, as we seek to forge a new politics of the common good fit for the future.

Realising our values in office has been disrupted by globalisation and the surge of technological forces that are displacing and reshaping industry after industry.

Some argue that globalisation as an ideological construct of the right. But we must recognise that we live in an increasingly integrated world in which markets have led to an unprecedented participation of excluded people in prosperity, a rise in living standards for hundreds of millions  of people and a literacy unprecedented in human history – this is particularly so in emerging economies like my father’s native Nigeria. And the internet has led to a level of accountability that has disturbed elites.

Yet, this has been combined with a concentration of ownership that needs to be challenged, of a subordination of politics that requires creative rather than reactive thinking, and these global forces have exacerbated inequalities as well as helped reduce poverty.

So it is important that we understand the sheer scale and impact of new technologies. At the moment we are engaged in a debate about Uber and its threat to one of the last vestiges of vocational labour markets left in London, those of the black taxi cabs and their attainment of 'The Knowledge'. But the reality is that within the next decade there will be the emergence of driverless cars so we have to intensify our exploration of how to support people in a knowledge economy and the realities of lifelong learning, as well as lifelong teaching. As people live longer we will have to think about how to engage them constructively in work and teaching in new ways.

Once again, I'm addressing all of this, Social Democracy requires a balanced view that domesticates the destructive energy of capital while recognising its creative energy, that recognises the need for new skills rather than simply the protection of old ones. A Social Democracy that recognises that internationalism requires co-operation between states and not a zero sum game that protectionism would encourage.

Above all, Social Democratic politics must recognise the importance of place, of the resources to be found in the local through which the pressures of globalisation can be mediated and shaped. Our job is to shape the future and neither to accept it as a passive fate nor to indulge the fantasy that we can dominate it but to work with the grain of change in order to renew our tradition, recognising the creativity of the workforce, the benefits of democracy and the importance of building a common life.  Sources of value are to be found in local traditions and institutions.

This also requires a recognition that though demonstration and protest are important,; but relationships and conversations are a far more effective way of building a movement for political change.

One of the huge weaknesses of New Labour was in its reliance on mobilisation from the centre rather than organising. It therefore allowed itself to be characterised as an elite project with wide popular support but it did not build a base for its support within the party across the country, and it did not develop leaders from the communities it represented. It was strong on policy but weak on strengthening democratic politics, particularly Labour politics.

Over half a million people are now members, supporters or affiliated supporters of our party, with hundreds of thousands joining in the last few weeks. Some have joined in order to thwart the pursuit of Labour values but many more have joined to further the pursuit of those values, including lots of young people. At a time when so many are walking away from centre left parties across the Western world and many young people do not vote let alone join a party, this is surely something to celebrate.

So it is vital that we now embrace our new joiners and harness the energy they can bring to renewing Labour’s connection with the people. First, we must help as many them as possible to become doorstep activists for our politics. Second, I have long argued UK Labour should campaign and organise not only to win elections but to affect tangible change through local community campaigns. We brought Arnie Graf, the Chicago community organiser who mentored President Obama in his early years, over from the U.S. to help teach us how to community organise more effectively. We should bring Arnie back over to finish the job and help empower our new joiners to be the change they want to see in every community – we need to build on the links they have with local groups and organisations.

I mentioned at the beginning that in every generation Social Democracy is besieged from left and right but the achievements of each generation are defined by the strength of a complex political tradition that strengthens solidarity through protecting democracy and liberty, a role for the state and the market and seeks to shape the future through an inclusive politics. Solidarity is key which is why we must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office.

Yes, these are troubled times for social democrats. All over Europe there is a sense among our traditional voters that we are remote and do not share their concerns or represent their interests or values.  There is surge of support for populist right wing parties from Denmark to France, of more left wing parties in Greece and Spain and in Britain too. There is renewal of imperial politics in Russia, the murderous and abhorrent regime of ISIL in the Middle East, volatility in the Chinese economy and in Europe a flow of immigration that causes fear and anxiety.

But, the task of Social Democracy in our time is to fashion a politics of hope that can bring together divided populations around justice, peace and prosperity so that we can govern ourselves democratically. We have seen worse than this and weathered the storm. I am looking forward, with great optimism to be being part of a generation that renews our relevance and popularity in the years to come.

Chuka Umunna is the shadow business secretary and the Labour MP for Streatham.