Labour leadership hopeful Andy Burnham picks up another couple of signatures. Photo: Getty
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Why we are backing Andy Burnham's bid to be Labour leader

Two new Labour MPs, Conor McGinn and Anna Turley, are supporting Andy Burnham for the Labour leadership.

Labour has a duty to get the choice right about who leads us.

We don’t owe this just to ourselves – our party, our activists, our members – but much more importantly we owe it to the people we represent and the ones we want to represent.

That’s why, as two newly elected Labour MPs, we don’t want to allow Labour’s opponents to frame the debate or the choice we make.

Because the choice isn’t just about the person who leads us. It’s about the party they lead.

And our worry is that false choices have started to present themselves. New versus old, modernisers versus traditionalists, the party versus the trade unions, business versus workers, north vs south, aspiration versus tacking inequality.

False choices designed to divide us and polarise the contest, something that is far more likely to limit the debate than the number of candidates who stand.

In 1997, 2001 and 2005, people didn't just vote for Labour because of our modernising approach to public service reform or because we were relaxed about people getting rich. They voted for smaller class sizes, lower waiting times, tax credits, the minimum wage and Sure Starts.

Clear offers for all sectors of society, from top to bottom, in a 'what are you going to do for me' world.

In 2015, in our respective constituencies, Labour won Redcar back with a 19% swing and increased the majority in St Helens North to over 17,000.

But our experience of the campaign was similar to many candidates who fought and, through no fault of their own, lost in Tory/Labour marginals.

It was clear to us that our manifesto resonated strongly with people who in 2010 felt Labour had forgotten them and was no longer on their side.

Many people were hit by the bedroom tax, or were on a low wage and zero hours contracts. But when campaigning in more affluent parts of our constituencies – not wealthy people, just people who were on a reasonable wage, worked hard and wanted to get on - we struggled when people asked ‘but what are you going to do for me?’.

We looked down at our list of pledges which said we would clobber the richest and look after the poorest, but had almost nothing to say about everyone else.

Our view is that isn’t a zero sum game to care about the disadvantaged, to want to end child poverty, to support the most vulnerable, and tackle the excesses of inequality, yet at the same time to build a society of opportunity and aspiration, supporting business and wealth creation and an economy that means everyone can get on. There’s no incompatibility between caring about your community and wanting people in it to be successful.

That’s why we are supporting Andy Burnham to be the next Labour leader, because we think he brings the best of a modernising, radical vision for a successful, better Britain whilst ensuring that we are a country where everyone matters and no one gets left behind.

Because we cannot limit ourselves to a core vote strategy for any sector. No matter how divided this nation becomes over the next 5 years – socially, geographically, economically; we have to ensure we have an offer for everyone. But that also means no flip-side of the core vote strategy. We can’t have a reverse situation of 2015 in 2020, with people campaigning in the South East feeling armed with offers, but working class voters - themselves aspirational and ambitious - failing to see the Labour Party as their party too.

Most of all, we think Andy is the strongest candidate for Prime Minister who understands the scale of the challenge and is up to the task of being Labour leader from day one.

He can bring people together to deliver the big changes that Labour needs. He has the vision and courage to be bold in tackling the big challenges we face, as we have already seen on the EU referendum and immigration.

We cannot have more of the same. But neither can we have our offer for 2020 being caricatured as a back-to-the-future vision that doesn’t understand why we lost in 2010, never mind 2015. We won’t win over the voters we lost, or failed to gain, by being a poor imitation of the Tories.

That’s the lesson of New Labour: we don’t have to be like Tories, we have to be different to and better than them. And we are at our best when we have something to offer everyone. To do that we must speak to the country. Andy Burnham is the man to lead us in that conversation, and then matching his words with action to win again for Labour in 2020.

Conor McGinn is Labour MP for St Helens North, and Anna Turley is Labour MP for Redcar. Both are new MPs.

Photo: Getty
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Labour's trajectory points to landslide defeat, but don't bet on a change at the top any time soon

The settled will among Jeremy Corbyn's critics that they need to keep quiet is unlikely to be disrupted by the result. 

Labour were able to tread water against Ukip in Stoke but sank beneath the waves in Copeland, where the Conservatives’ Trudy Harrison won the seat.

In Stoke, a two-point swing away from Labour to the Tories and to Ukip, which if replicated across the country at a general election would mean 15 Conservative gains and would give Theresa May a parliamentary majority of 40.

And in Copeland, a 6.7 per cent swing for Labour to Tory that would see the Conservatives pick up 52 seats from Labour if replicated across the country, giving them a majority of 114.
As the usual trend is for the opposition to decline from its midterm position at a general election, these are not results that indicate Labour will be back in power after the next election.. That holds for Stoke as much as for Copeland.

The last time a governing party won a by-election was 1982 – the overture to a landslide victory. It’s the biggest by-election increase in the vote share of a governing party since 1966 – the prelude to an election in which Harold Wilson increased his majority from 4 to 96.

To put the length of Labour’s dominance in Copeland into perspective: the new Conservative MP was born in 1976. The last Conservative to sit for Copeland, William Nunn, was born in 1879.

It’s a chastening set of results for Ukip, too. The question for them: if they can’t win when Labour is in such difficulties, when will they?

It’s worth noting, too, that whereas in the last parliament, Labour consistently underperformed its poll rating in local elections and by-elections, indicating that the polls were wrong, so far, the results have been in keeping with what the polls suggest. They are understating the Liberal Democrats a little, which is what you’d expect at this stage in the parliament. So anyone looking for comfort in the idea that the polls will be wrong again is going to look a long time. 

Instead, every election and every poll – including the two council elections last night – point in the same direction: the Conservatives have fixed their Ukip problem but acquired a Liberal Democrat one. Labour haven’t fixed their Ukip problem but they’ve acquired a Liberal Democrat one to match.

But that’s just the electoral reality. What about the struggle for political control inside the Labour party?

As I note in my column this week, the settled view of the bulk of Corbyn’s internal critics is that they need to keep quiet and carry on, to let Corbyn fail on its his own terms. That Labour won Stoke but lost Copeland means that consensus is likely to hold.

The group to watch are Labour MPs in what you might call “the 5000 club” – that is, MPs with majorities around the 5000 mark. An outbreak of panic in that group would mean that we were once again on course for a possible leadership bid.

But they will reassure themselves that this result suggests that their interests are better served by keeping quiet at Westminster and pointing at potholes in their constituencies.  After all, Corbyn doesn’t have a long history of opposition to the major employer in their seats.

The other thing to watch from last night: the well-advertised difficulties of the local hospital in West Cumberland were an inadequate defence for Labour in Copeland. Distrust with Labour in the nuclear industry may mean a bigger turnout than we expect from workers in the nuclear industries in the battle to lead Unite, with all the consequences that has for Labour’s future direction.

If you are marking a date in your diary for another eruption of public in-fighting, don’t forget the suggestion from John McDonnell and Diane Abbott that the polls will have turned by the end of the year – because you can be certain that Corbyn’s critics haven’t. But if you are betting on any party leader to lose his job anytime soon, put it on Nuttall, not Corbyn.

 

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