And a letter to all of you, too. Photo:Getty
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A letter from a trade unionist to Britain's trade unionists

Liz Kendall, candidate for the Labour leadership, writes an open letter to Britain's trade unionists.

I’m a proud trade unionist, and I know you are too.

Trade unions helped found the Labour Party, and if I am elected as leader that link will never be broken. On the contrary, I want to strengthen your relationship with the Labour Party so I will not tolerate those inside or outside our movement who want to put that relationship at risk.

Rather than being dominated by threats to withdraw funding or back other parties, let this leadership election give a voice to the many trade union members who now face a fresh assault on their rights at work because Labour failed to beat the Tories in the election. That includes union members who chose not vote Labour this time. I also want to hear from working people who have not yet joined a trade union, and hear why that is.

And I promise that I will always be an ally for you. I will tolerate no weakening of protections for working people or the basic rights of trade unions while I’m leader. If they’re implemented by this Tory government, the Labour government I will lead will reverse them.

As Harriet Harman said yesterday we need a frank, open and honest debate about why Labour failed so badly and what we need to do to win in 2020. This is the time for hard truths – and that’s the kind of campaign, and party, that I will lead.

Too many people in Britain today feel like they’re powerless. One of the great strengths of the trade union movement is to take power from the centre and put power into the hands of the many. That’s what I’m about too – and I want Britain’s trade unionists, and anyone else who cares about making those changes, to join me on this journey. 

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John McDonnell praises New Labour as he enters conciliatory mode

The shadow chancellor sought to build a bridge between the past and the present by crediting the 1997 government. 

Ever since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader, John McDonnell has been on a mission to reinvent himself as a kinder, gentler politician. He hasn’t always succeeded. In July, the shadow chancellor declared of rebel MPs: “As plotters they were fucking useless”.

But in his Labour conference speech, Corbyn’s closest ally was firmly in conciliatory mode. McDonnell thanked Owen Smith for his part in defeating the Personal Independence Payment cuts. He praised Caroline Flint, with whom he has clashed, for her amendment to the financial bill on corporate tax transparency. Jonathan Reynolds, who will soon return to the frontbench, was credited for the “patriots pay their taxes” campaign (the latter two not mentioned in the original text).

McDonnell’s ecunmenicism didn’t end here. The 1997 Labour government, against which he and Corbyn so often defined themselves, was praised for its introduction of the minimum wage (though McDonnell couldn’t quite bring himself to mention Tony Blair). Promising a “real Living Wage” of around £10 per hour, the shadow chancellor sought to build a bridge between the past and the present. Though he couldn’t resist adding some red water as he closed: “In this party you no longer have to whisper it, it's called socialism. Solidarity!”

As a rebuke to those who accuse him of seeking power in the party, not the country, McDonnell spoke relentlessly of what the next Labour “government” would do. He promised a £250bn National Investment Bank, a “Right to Own” for employees, the repeal of the Trade Union Act and declared himself “interested” in the potential of a Universal Basic Income. It was a decidedly wonkish speech, free of the attack lines and jokes that others serve up.

One of the more striking passages was on McDonnell’s personal story (a recurring feature of Labour speeches since Sadiq Khan’s mayoral victory). “I was born in the city [Liverpool], not far from here,” he recalled. “My dad was a Liverpool docker and my mum was a cleaner who then served behind the counter at British Homes Stores for 30 years. I was part of the 1960's generation.  We lived in what sociological studies have described as some of the worst housing conditions that exist within this country. We just called it home.”

In his peroration, he declared: “In the birthplace of John Lennon, it falls to us to inspire people to imagine.” Most Labour MPs believe that a government led by Corbyn and McDonnell will remain just that: imaginary. “You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one,” the shadow chancellor could have countered. With his praise for New Labour, he began the work of forging his party’s own brotherhood of man.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.