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.

LEARN LESSONS

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.

CHOOSING OUR NEW LEADER

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?

EFFECTIVE OPPOSITION

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. 

CONCLUSION

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.

 

 

Nicola Sturgeon. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

For the first time in decades, there is genuine dissent in Scottish Nationalist ranks

The First Minister is facing pressure to talk less about independence - and bring on new talent in her party.

She so recently seemed all-powerful, licensed to reign for as long as she chose, with the authority to pursue the return of our national sovereignty. We would then have the ability to strike our own deals on our own terms, a smaller, smarter, leaner nation freed from the stifling constraints of partnership with a much larger neighbour. There was, she repeatedly told us, nothing to be afraid of.

Now, suddenly, she is the victim of her own miscalculation: having misread the public mood, having raced too far ahead of moderate opinion, she finds herself at bay. The voters have delivered a public humiliation, while an opposition party until recently lampooned as unelectable is on the march. There is, suddenly, talk of her departure sooner rather than later.

Yes, this is a tough time to be Nicola Sturgeon…

Let’s not overstate it. The position of Scotland’s First Minister is considerably more secure than that of the UK’s Prime Minister. Theresa May wants out as soon as is feasible; Sturgeon, one suspects, will have to be dragged from Bute House. Sturgeon retains enough respect among the public and support among her colleagues to plough on for now. Nevertheless, things are not what they were before the general election and are unlikely ever to return to that happy state.

It’s all because of Scexit, of course. Sturgeon’s unseemly sprint for the indy finishing line left enough Scottish voters feeling… what? Mistreated, taken for granted, rushed, patronised, bullied… so much so that they effectively used June 8 to deliver a second No vote. With the idea of another referendum hanging around like a bad headache, the electorate decided to stage an intervention. In just two years, Sturgeon lost 40 per cent of her Westminster seats and displaced half a million votes. One could almost argue that, by comparison, Theresa May did relatively well.

For the first time in decades, there is genuine dissent in Nationalist ranks. Tommy Sheppard, a former Labour Party official who is now an influential left-wing SNP MP, published an article immediately after the general election calling on the First Minister to ‘park’ a second referendum until the Brexit negotiations are complete. There are others who believe the party should rediscover its talent for the long game: accept the public mood is unlikely to change much before the 2021 devolved elections, at which point, even if the Nats remain the single largest party, Holyrood might find itself with a unionist majority; concentrate on improving the public services, show what might be done with all the powers of an independent nation, and wait patiently until the numbers change.

There are others – not many, but some – who would go further. They believe that Sturgeon should take responsibility for the election result, and should be looking to hand over to a new generation before 2021. The old guard has had its shot and its time: a party with veterans such as Sturgeon, John Swinney and Mike Russell in the key jobs looks too much like it did 20 years ago. Even the new Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, has been on the scene for donkey’s. There are more who believe that the iron grip the First Minister and her husband, SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, have on the party is unhealthy – that Murrell should carry the can for the loss of 21 MPs, and that he certainly would have done so if he weren’t married to the boss.

The most likely outcome, given what we know about the First Minister’s nature, is that she will choose something like the Sheppard route: talk less about independence for the next 18 months, see what the Brexit deal looks like, keep an eye on the polls and if they seem favourable go for a referendum in autumn 2019. The question is, can a wearied and increasingly cynical public be won round by then? Will people be willing to pile risk upon risk?

As the hot takes about Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise election performance continue to flood in, there has been a lot of attention given to the role played by young Britons. The issues of intergenerational unfairness, prolonged austerity and hard Brexit, coupled with Corbyn’s optimistic campaigning style, saw a sharp rise in turnout among that demographic. Here, Scotland has been ahead of the curve. In the 2014 referendum, the Yes campaign and its can-do spirit of positivity inspired huge enthusiasm among younger Scots. Indeed, only a large and slightly panicked defensive response from over-65s saved the union.

That brush with calamity seems to have been close enough for many people: many of the seats taken from the Nats by the Scottish Tories at the general election were rural, well-to-do and relatively elderly. The modern electorate is a fickle thing, but it remains rational. The Corbynites, amid their plans for total world domination and their ongoing festival of revenge, might bear that in mind.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

0800 7318496