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 Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.