Exclusive: David Miliband boosted by fresh endorsement

David Lammy, chair of Ken Livingstone’s mayoral campaign and influential black MP who nominated Dian

David Miliband today receives a significant boost to his campaign for the Labour leadership with the endorsement of the influential black MP David Lammy.

Lammy, MP for Tottenham, is highly respected by London's ethnic-minority communities and about a third of all Labour Party members are based in and around the capital city. Lammy was also recently appointed by Ken Livingstone as chair of the former mayor's campaign for re-election in London.

In what sources say will be David Miliband's final major endorsement, Lammy will introduce the former foreign secretary to a congregation of about 200 black people at the Freedom's Arc church in Tottenham, north London, at 7pm this evening. Presiding over the service and event will be Pastor Nims Obunge, who is responsible for London's main anti-knife-crime initiative.

Lammy nominated Diane Abbott so she could become the first black figure to stand for a British political party leadership, but -- like Jon Cruddas, who also nominated Abbott -- has decided to back David Miliband for the job of leader itself. Miliband's supporters this morning said that support from the two MPs underlines the idea of their man as a "unity candidate" who can appeal to white working-class people as well as ethnic minorities.

Writing exclusively for newstatesman.com, Lammy argues that David Miliband has the "vision" to change the Labour Party and lead it to victory. Lammy refers to the need for Labour to avoid its "comfort zone" -- the now-controversial expression over which the Miliband brothers are battling, with Ed Miliband claiming that it is the "New Labour comfort zone" that must be shed. A source close to Lammy says he is friends with both David and Ed Miliband and has spoken to them during the campaign but, in the end, decided -- like Douglas Alexander -- to opt for David.

Lammy compares Miliband's campaign with that of Barack Obama, who mobilised his volunteer force to help in US communities. "Already [Miliband] has trained 1,000 community organisers as part of his campaign. In time, they will help communities speak with one voice about the things that matter to them," Lammy says.

He explains: "I nominated Diane Abbott because I wanted that debate to have as many voices as possible. Three months on, we have reached decision time. The question is which of the candidates can forge a credible and inspiring new project for the left . . . David offers a vision of people enjoying politics again, feeling proud to be in the Labour Party."

The former education minister goes on: "David offers the hope of a genuinely new political project. This means more than a shopping list of promises to different interest groups. Such a politics can appeal, but never stands the test of time. Instead, David promises a new direction."

Lammy offers his own critique of New Labour in government, especially on civil liberties and the economy, and adds: "David offers change because he understands that a new economic model doesn't just mean more regulation of the banks; it means a market economy built on the values of mutuality, reciprocity and local decision-making. He gets that people should be able to make decisions together as citizens, not just be treated as consumers."

He concludes: "For this vision alone I would support David. But there is one more vital thing that he will change: our habit of retreating in a comfort zone in opposition -- and staying there while the Tories do great damage to our country's social fabric. The people who depend on us cannot afford us to do this again. They need us to hold the government to account and to provide a credible and exciting alternative. In David Miliband we have one. I, for one, will be voting for him."

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.