Here's what you could have won. Photo:Getty
Show Hide image

Harriet Harman: "When it comes to elections the public are the boss. We do not question their decision. We heed it."

Harriet Harman has given a speech laying out the party's plans and approach to the leadership election. 

I'd like to welcome you all here this morning. 

I have to begin by saying the last thing we wanted was to be where we are now. 

Being interim leader was not the job I wanted to be doing today.

I wanted Ed Miliband to be our Prime Minister and for us to be in Government.

We’re bitterly disappointed to have lost so many Labour MPs - in England, Wales and Scotland.

I want to pay tribute to Ed Miliband. He is a thoroughly decent and principled man who threw himself into the leadership unstintingly and he could not have worked harder or been more committed.

I would like to pay tribute to Jim Murphy. He stepped up in Scotland at an intensely difficult time and he faced that challenge with energy and determination.

And I want to pay tribute too, to all the thousands of party members and supporters who worked so hard and to all the party staff who put their heart and soul into their work.

The party is still very raw, very upset and we are still all trying to process emotionally and intellectually what happened on May 7.

We lost. And we lost badly. There is no getting away from that. And it came as a shock.

We thought we had a fighting chance of forming the next Government and the 10pm exit poll was a body blow none of us will ever forget.

It took me back to 1992.  Now we see that election as a stepping stone to victory in 1997.  But that wasn't how it looked then.  Then, as now, we thought we could win. Then, as now, the polls fuelled that thinking and they were horribly wrong. Then, as now, we fought a good campaign under a leader with many fine qualities. The defeat was all the more painful because then as now, minutes before the exit poll landed, we thought we were heading into government.  

Late afternoon on election day in 1992, I popped up to Transport House, Smith Square, which was our HQ. Tory HQ was in Smith Square too and who should I see wandering around on his own but the Prime Minister - John Major. He looked like a beaten man. But he wasn't beaten - we were. 

Something else about then. People said we were finished. Not just opponents and commentators. Many of our own activists thought that too. And so did many of our MPs.

It was incredibly bleak.  At our campaign after-party in Milbank I just couldn't stop thinking of what lay ahead for my constituents and I couldn't stop crying.  Later, I remember being in our One Parliament Street offices with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.  Tony - who'd before he became an MP had been a highly successful barrister and had three young children said –and he was only half-jokingly – “What on earth is the point in being a wasted political generation? We’re never going to be in government again and we could do something more useful - and a lot easier - outside politics.” We all stayed and we stayed to fight.

I don’t need to remind you what happened five short years later. We won a truly stunning victory, the first of three, a massive majority that enabled us to do so much to make this a better country.

Let me be clear, I am not saying that we are in the same circumstances we found ourselves in after 1992. That was then, this is now, and it’s a very different era. But some things are always necessary for our party do well.

A strong and charismatic leader in touch with the values of the majority.

A talented and largely united team.

Values and policies that speak to people's concerns and choices.

A big picture message about change and how to meet the challenges of the time.

Local connections which give people confidence in Labour and demonstrate we are on their side.

And, from defeat then, all of that emerged.

It was not obvious at the time when the pain was raw.  There were shocks, setbacks and rows and even the death of our leader.

But on May 1 1997, five years after we were said to be finished, five years after many of us thought we were finished, we were back and Tony Blair was prime minister with a three figure majority.

I remind you of all this, not to say we should be New Labour, Old Labour, Blairite, Brownite, Blue Labour or even Pink Labour. These labels are unhelpful in what is a different era.

I remind you of what it was like then to raise your hopes that great victory can follow shocking defeat. But also to remind you that when we are honest with ourselves about our failures, and above all honest with the public about our failures, then we have shown that we can come back and we can win. We can win in 2020 if we are honest with ourselves and with the public and if we make the right decisions. If we take the right approach now, we will lay the foundations for our fightback and our next win.

How did last Friday morning feel for us? Terrible. But did you notice something else? Did you notice the seeming lack of any real joy or delight among the public that David Cameron was back?

This is not to re-run the arguments of the campaign. It is simply to say that it was not so much that he won but that we lost.

That is painful to admit. But true. So we should admit it.

We fought a good campaign. But not good enough.

We won over new support. But not enough.

We had some good ideas and some good policies which I am certain would have made this a better country than the one we will see between now and 2020.

But none of it was enough. When the undecideds finally decided they decided they did not want us in power.


We need to learn the lessons of what went wrong. There is lots of conjecture; lots of personal anecdotes; lots of commentary from people including those who are now wise after the event.

We need a forensic, honest examination of what happened which looks at and understands the results, looks at the statistics and the all the science, and hears from our party, our candidates who won and who lost but above all, the public.

I am in the process of commissioning this important work and will have to more to say on it when the details are finalised.

But there is one lesson we can and must heed right away. When it comes to elections the public are the boss. We do not question their decision. We heed it.


In modern politics so much of the attention and responsibility is on the leader and Ed took responsibility.

And now we must choose a new leader now and get the right leader, the best leader, the one who can lead us forward from September 12th so that every month, every year we are making progress to a General Election victory the country will, we believe, need more than ever.

But this defeat is also an opportunity to have a much deeper and more fundamental debate about our future than we had when Gordon took over from Tony and when Ed took over from Gordon.

The party must get the right leader. But the party must also take stock of much more than the captain on the bridge. This is also about the direction in which we steer. And that too must be a big part of the debate on which we have now embarked. 

As interim Leader, my role in the leadership election is to make sure the process is clear and the rules are followed and I will stay absolutely neutral.

But there is one thought I want to insert firmly into the process right now. I want to insert it into the minds of candidates, but above all into the minds of MPs who will choose the field of candidates, and of members and supporters who will choose the leader from that field.

As we conduct this debate, as we elect our leader and deputy leader, we must have the public in the forefront of our minds. We must let the public in.

Into our minds and into the process as we make the decisions about who is our next leader and how we go forward.  So we are going to start that with how we do the leadership elections.  When I stood for the leadership it was a cosy contest in front of people who - like us - love politics and love Labour. Very different from the rest of the country! 

We asked ourselves - who do we like?  That was the wrong question.  We should have asked - as we made our choice - who does the country like.  Who knows, if we had done that perhaps Labour would have chosen Alan Johnson rather than me!

Now, we have already fundamentally and radically changed the way we elect our leader and deputy leader – indeed that is an important part of Ed Miliband’s legacy.

We will allow people who are not party members or who are not affiliated supporters through a trade union or Labour linked organisation like the Fabian society to have a vote. Anyone – providing they are on the electoral register – can become a registered supporter, pay £3 and have a vote to decide our next leader. This is the first time a political party in this country has opened up its leadership contest in this way and I think there will be a real appetite for it out there. Already we have had over 30,000 people join us as full party members since May 7th but this is a new and innovative way of letting the public in on an important decision. And we have changed the rules so that it means one person has one vote regardless whether they are an MP, a Shadow Cabinet member, a trade unionist or a registered supporter – everyone’s vote is equal, as it should be.

But that in my view is not enough. We have to make the whole process more public facing.

If I think back to 2010 leadership election I remember a comradely and well organised debate. I remember hustings that were packed with party members keen to hear what the various contenders had to say.

We have to get to the heart of why we lost and making the right decisions about how we win. We should not be afraid of differences. We should thrash them out.

And nor should we be afraid of letting the public in to see those arguments. Because if there is one thought that should drive the thinking as we elect a new leadership team it is this - which of them has the best qualities and leadership skills most likely to win over the support of the public?

Not the politically obsessed public, the people like us, but the people who most of the time are busy getting on with their lives, not thinking about politics.

That’s why our hustings have got to be different.

I want the members and supporters who elect our new leader to see not just how the candidates react and relate to the party faithful but to see how they react and relate to those we need to win over.

We need robust, tough, televised hustings which involve the public.

We have begun talks with broadcasters about how we make these happen. We are very open and keen to make this work. As interim leader, I have one principle here - let the public in.

And we cannot just hold hustings in our Labour heartlands, we have to go to areas where we didn’t win. Because ultimately we are electing the team that we think can lead not just the party but lead the country. And that must be our guiding thought.  Last time our hustings - in front of Labour members - were in cities where Labour won.  We must have those hustings now in towns and suburbs where Labour lost.

We have to go back and ask local people from those areas to be brutally honest about what they think of us and what they want from us.

We need to see this process as one that is not merely electing a new leader and deputy leader. But one that is helping to rebuild old connections and fashion new connections with a public that rejected us North and South.

So I want to see leadership hustings where members bring non-members. Where someone who voted Labour brings along someone who voted Tory or SNP or didn't vote at all.

We will use the setback to build membership. More than 30,000 people have joined Labour as members since May 7.  That is a small silver lining. There are thousands of people who are so motivated by the disappointment of defeat, they want to get involved, want to do more. Let's turn 30,000 into 60,000 and let's turn 60,000 into 100,000.

And let's welcome them, not by saying this is when we have meetings and this is how we do them and that is how it has always worked. But how do you want to be involved?  Online or in person? How much do you want to be involved? And fitting it around your work and your family not the other way round so that these new members help us on our way on the journey back from defeat?


We can't be the government we wanted to be.  We applied but we didn't get that job.  But we have a different one. 

We are the Opposition and that is a very important job which we will do to the best of our ability and with all the commitment and energy we brought to the election campaign and would have brought to government. 

The Tories got elected but they must be held to account - on the NHS, on jobs, on living standards, on fairness. 

We have 232 Labour MPs and that is what we will do. 

We are strengthened in that task by the injection of new blood in the PLP - one in 5 of our MPs our new with 53 Labour MPs elected for the first time - from every region of England and from Wales. 

That task of Opposition is for all of us - including and particularly the leadership candidates. 

Our leadership candidates will be dissecting our defeat and setting out a vision for the future.  But I want to see them showing that they can successfully challenge the government now. 

That is, after all, what they are going to have to do if they win.  So let's see them do it. 


These are dark days for the Labour party. We are all still bruised by our failure on May 7th and we are still coping with the aftermath.

But we will move on and move forwards.

Amid the wreckage of defeat, it seems hard to see where the next victory might come from.

I’ve been in Labour politics for 34 years. I have known stunning victories as well as devastating defeat. 

But what experience and history tell me is that sometimes it is from that exact same wreckage that the next victory does indeed emerge. That is how we must approach our thinking and our development over the next five years.

These are my priorities as interim leader.

Being a strong opposition.

Maintaining stability and unity - we will thrash out discussions and it will be painful but we won’t tear ourselves apart.

We will learn the lessons.

And we will elect a new leader and deputy.

But above all, we will let the public in and elect a leader who can lead not just the party but the whole country.



Show Hide image

Anxiety is not cool, funny or fashionable

A charitable initative to encourage sufferers to knit a Christmas jumper signalling their condition is well-intentioned but way off the mark.

The other night, I had one of those teeth-falling-out dreams. I dreamt I was on a bus, and every time it stopped one of my teeth plunked effortlessly out of my skull. “Shit,” I said to myself, in the dream, “this is like one of those teeth-falling out dreams”. Because – without getting too Inception – even in its midst, I realised this style of anxiety dream is a huge cliché.

Were my subconscious a little more creative, maybe it would’ve concocted a situation where I was on a bus (sure, bus, why not?), feeling anxious (because I nearly always feel anxious) and I’m wearing a jumper with the word “ANXIOUS” scrawled across my tits, so I can no longer hyperventilate – in private — about having made a bad impression with the woman who just served me in Tesco. What if, in this jumper, those same men who tell women to “smile, love” start telling me to relax. What if I have to start explaining panic attacks, mid-panic attack? Thanks to mental health charity Anxiety UK, this more original take on the classic teeth-falling-out dream could become a reality. Last week, they introduced an awareness-raising Christmas “anxiety” jumper.

It’s difficult to slate anyone for doing something as objectively important as tackling the stigma around mental health problems. Then again, right now, I’m struggling to think of anything more anxiety-inducing than wearing any item of clothing that advertises my anxiety. Although I’m fully prepared to accept that I’m just not badass enough to wear such a thing. As someone whose personal style is “background lesbian”, the only words I want anywhere near my chest are “north” and “face”.  

It should probably be acknowledged that the anxiety jumper isn’t actually being sold ready to wear, but as a knitting pattern. The idea being that you make your own anxiety jumper, in whichever colours you find least/most stressful. I’m not going to go on about feeling “excluded” – as a non-knitter – from this campaign. At the same time, the “anxiety jumper” demographic is almost definitely twee middle class millennials who can/will knit.

Photo: Anxiety UK

Unintentionally, I’m sure, a jumper embellished with the word “anxious” touts an utterly debilitating condition as a trend. Much like, actually, the “anxiety club” jumper that was unanimously deemed awful earlier this year. Granted, the original anxiety jumper — we now live in a world with at least two anxiety jumpers — wasn’t charitable or ostensibly well intentioned. It had a rainbow on it. Which was either an astute, ironic comment on how un-rainbow-like  anxiety is or, more likely, a poorly judged non sequitur farted into existence by a bored designer. Maybe the same one who thought up the Urban Outfitters “depression” t-shirt of 2014.

From Zayn Malik to Oprah Winfrey, a growing number of celebrities are opening up about what may seem, to someone who has never struggled with anxiety, like the trendiest disorder of the decade. Anxiety, of course, isn’t trendy; it’s just incredibly common. As someone constantly reassured by the fact that, yes, millions of other people have (real life) panic meltdowns on public transport, I could hardly argue that we shouldn’t be discussing our personal experiences of anxiety. But you have to ask whether anyone would be comfortable wearing a jumper that said “schizophrenic” or “bulimic”. Anxiety, it has to be said, has a tendency – as one of the more “socially acceptable” mental illnesses — to steal the limelight.

But I hope we carry on talking anxiety. I’m not sure Movember actually gets us talking about prostates, but it puts them out there at least. If Christmas jumpers can do the same for the range of mental health issues under the “anxiety” umbrella, then move over, Rudolph.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.