No continuity Milibands here. Photo: Getty Images
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Let's be clear: there is no continuity candidate in the Labour leadership race

No-one in the Labour party thinks that "one more heave" is enough. No-one thinks the party doesn't need to change. The question is: how much change?

Ok.  I’m getting irritated now.  The very idea that anyone really supposes that Labour can stand still and just wait for the government to fall into our lily-white hands is not just daft, it’s offensive.  Nobody thinks that one more heave will win this tug of war.  Everybody – including every candidate for the leadership of our party – believes that we have to change. Nobody is a continuity candidate.  Everybody knows that we are going to have to be absolutely ruthless with ourselves if we are to stand a chance of returning to power.  

Besides, the whole point of Labour has always been change.  Deep, fundamental change in the way our country, our economy, our democracy and the world is run.  If we can’t embrace change ourselves we have no chance of bringing about change in the world.

But let’s be clear, we do come with baggage.  Every single member of the Labour Party does. We have a set of values and principles.  We believe in equality and peaceful coexistence.  We hold that work is the best route out of poverty and that a civilised society protects the vulnerable and the rights of the minority. We know in our guts that grinding poverty can destroy people and that a more equal society is a happier society.  We have railed at every moment of injustice and cheered on every campaigner for democracy and the rule of law.  We see humanity as essentially social but we cherish the freedom of the individual.  This is our baggage – and I for one have no intention of discarding it.  Not because I fear change, not because I believe that Labour has a monopoly of truth, not because I believed every jot and tittle of our manifesto this May, but because politicians without principles are worth nothing.

We’ve other baggage too.  We were in government for thirteen years – and for all the bitch-slaps our opponents try to land on us, there is so much to be proud of.  Others will have their specific policies we should boast of, but I remember so very clearly those hateful years when some attacked the brave souls in our party who campaigned for gay equality as ‘loony lefties’.  But Tony Blair and Jack Straw, building on the 1960s liberalism of Roy Jenkins, managed to crack that argument wide open.  An equal age of consent, gay adoption, gays in the military, an end to discrimination on the grounds of sexuality and civil partnerships all followed because we were brave enough to change our party so that we could change the country.

We can and must do that again, rebuilding our economic credibility and refashioning our whole approach.  Old nostrums will need new analysis.  Individual policies that made sense in the 1950s or 1990s will need re-examining.  At times we will need to revise some of our most cherished ideas, because the world is changing fast. 

But let’s be clear.  There is no point in trying to rerun the 2015 election.  Nor can we just pretend that 1997 is just around the corner.  None of us knows how the 2020 election will play out and it is neither certain that we will win nor inevitable that we will lose.  But one thing is certain, we shall have to reframe the party so that every aspect of our manifesto runs with the grain of life as it is lived today and will be lived in the future, not as it was in our industrial past. Political nostalgia could all too easily undo us.

So yes, let’s embrace change, but if we try to ditch all our baggage we shall look like shape-shifting charlatans. Better to own our baggage and write our own version of our history so that we can write a different future for our party and our country. 

Chris Bryant is shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport and the MP for Rhondda. 

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era