Liz Kendall speaks at a Labour party hustings. Photo: Getty Images
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I'm not a Tory, and I won't be called one

Different people in the Labour party might disagree about how we beat the Conservatives, but none of us want to become them, says Alison McGovern MP.

‘It’s welfare.’ She said it with such a sneer, I felt my insides turn over.  As I looked over at the Tory MP sat on the Treasury bench, I knew exactly what was happening. That old Tory tune was on repeat: stigmatise getting help, tell a tale that those with success got it on their own, let those with less fall, and then unwind the structures that make life a bit more fair.

We were talking about tax credits in the House of Commons. These ‘credits’ are based on the idea that in time when life costs a lot  more – when you’ve got kids for example – you should pay negative tax on the grounds that otherwise work might not pay very well. It is a simple principle.  Yet there’s clearly many in the Tory ranks that don’t get it. As far as this particular MP was concerned, condemning millions of ordinary families by labelling them as ‘on welfare’ was fair game. Never mind that you can’t get tax credits without also possessing the dignity of employment.  She felt entitled to look down her nose at them, from the height of the Treasury bench.  No such thing as solidarity from there.
Opposing this lot is not just going to be frustrating like the last five years, it’s going to be hard work. But, never whinge. That’s my first rule in politics. Never, ever whinge.
The reason why IPSA are so heinously wrong about MPs’ pay (and why I’ll be donating my payrise to charity) is because there are loads of people in a much worse position than us. To whinge about anything is to ignore this nakedly obvious fact. To complain about my lot is to turn inward and ignore the distress of others.

So it goes against my habit and nature to raise any grievance about the allegations made in my direction during the leadership election. If people want to disagree with me, then great. I am in the debating business, after all.

There is, however, a line.
My comrades and I just fought a gruelling election campaign.  I watched a young volunteer in Wirral refuse again and again to stop campaigning even when it was clear she was unwell. I had to row with her to get her to go home to bed.  Another experienced volunteer would mislead me saying that he was going home (for a rest) then actually stay up half the night to enter data and crunch numbers. He was exhausted, like many in our party, but utterly determined to put his own comfort on the line, day after day after day, for the sake of Labour’s cause and Labour’s values.
Winning for me has always been hard. I have always fought battles it was not certain Labour could win. My friends and comrades in our movement put their own lives and families second in order that I might represent our home town in Wirral in Parliament, and stand up for our principles.

So the notion that I would want a leader of our party who stood for anything other than those principles is abhorrent. That would truly be a betrayal.
I am not a Tory and I won’t be called one.

So, to the deficit. At a recent hustings where I was representing one of the leadership candidates, I was asked why the deficit mattered. Isn’t it just a Tory line? Shouldn’t we just change the narrative, and maybe talk about jobs and growth instead?

My first thought when I heard the question was, ‘interesting, but I can’t see that one is a like for like swap for the other’. After all, I’ve heard Osborne talk about both jobs and growth himself.
And, as I answered, the fact is, if our idea is to tell the public “No, no, the deficit doesn’t matter,” it’s just a free hit for the Tories. They will point across the room and say, “There you go, Labour’s only prescription once again: spend, spend, spend.” Of course the budget deficit matters.  Without dealing with it, we are beholden to our creditors.  Our strength to deal with risks and challenges is diminished. And far better to invest in changing our country, rather than increasing debt repayments.
And if you think sound public finances matter at all, to look away whilst Osborne yet again breaks his own promises on the deficit is not just fail as a potential government, it’s to fail as an opposition.
At the same hustings, one of the others representing a candidate said that their chosen one represented the ‘moral’ choice.
I winced.  Hackles raised, I said we all had our moral reasons for the choice we had made.  In my case, because I know from the lives of those I really care about what it means to have a Labour government or not.

From older loved ones making the hardest of choices, friends whose parents lost their home in 1992, and the many people who were forced to leave the city they loved during my youth because there weren’t enough chances there, these were all wounds that had to be healed.
And in large part, they were.  Not least in instituting a system of the national minimum wage and tax credits that would ensure that Merseyside (and places like it) didn’t any more fall behind as the rest of the economy grew.  

Now our job is to make sure everyone in our country has the chance of a decent, fulfilling life.  And because we believe in solidarity, we don’t just want that for ourselves, but for everybody together.  That’s our moral stance; it’s what I believe, it’s what Liz believes. 

Alison McGovern is Labour MP for Wirral South.

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“We can’t do this again”: Labour conference reactions to Jeremy Corbyn’s second victory

Overjoyed members, determined allies and concerned MPs are divided on how to unite.

“I tell you what, I want to know who those 193,229 people are.” This was the reaction of one Labour member a few rows from the front of the stage, following the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn’s victory at the Labour party conference. She was referring to support received by his defeated contender, Owen Smith, who won 38.2 per cent of the vote (to Corbyn’s 61.8 per cent).

But it’s this focus on the leader’s critics – so vehement among many (and there are a lot of them) of his fans – that many politicians, of either side, who were watching his victory speech in the conference hall want to put an end to.

“It’s about unity and bringing us all together – I think that’s what has to come out of this,” says shadow cabinet member and MP for Edmonton Kate Osamor. “It shouldn’t be about the figures, and how many votes, and his percentage, because that will just cause more animosity.”

Osamor, who is supportive of Corbyn’s leadership, is not alone in urging her colleagues who resigned from the shadow cabinet to “remember the door is never shut”.

Shadow minister and member of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) Jon Ashworth – not a Corbyn loyalist, but focusing on making the shadow cabinet work together – shares the sentiment.

Standing pensively in front of the now-empty stage, he tells me he backs shadow cabinet elections (though not for every post) – a change to party rules that has not yet been decided by the NEC. “[It] would be a good way of bringing people back,” he says. “I’ve been involved in discussions behind the scenes this week and I hope we can get some resolution on the issue.”

He adds: “Jeremy’s won, he has to recognise a number of people didn’t vote for him, so we’ve got to unite.”

The former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, another MP on the NEC, is sitting in the audience, looking over some documents. She warns that “it’s impossible to tell” whether those who resigned from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet would be willing to return, and is concerned about talent being wasted.

“We have a lot of excellent people in the party; there are new people now in the shadow cabinet who have had a chance to show their mettle but you need experience as well as ability,” she says.

Beckett, who has urged Corbyn to stand down in the past, hopes “everybody’s listening” to his call for unity, but questions how that will be achieved.

“How much bad blood there is among people who were told that there was plotting [against Corbyn], it’s impossible to tell, but obviously that doesn’t make for a very good atmosphere,” she says. “But Jeremy says we’ll wipe the slate clean, so let’s hope everybody will wipe the slate clean.”

It doesn’t look that way yet. Socialist veteran Dennis Skinner is prowling around the party conference space outside the hall, barking with glee about Corbyn’s defeated foes. “He’s trebled the membership,” he cries. “A figure that Blair, Brown and Prescott could only dream about. On average there’s more than a thousand of them [new members] in every constituency. Right-wing members of the parliamentary Labour party need to get on board!”

A call that may go unheeded, with fervent Corbyn allies and critics alike already straying from the unity message. The shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon is reminding the PLP that, “Jeremy’s won by a bigger margin this time”, and telling journalists after the speech that he is “relaxed” about how the shadow cabinet is recruited (not a rallying cry for shadow cabinet elections).

“If Jeremy wants to hold out an olive branch to the PLP, work with MPs more closely, he has to look very seriously at that [shadow cabinet elections]; it’s gone to the NEC but no decision has been made,” says Louise Ellman, the Liverpool MP and transport committee chair who has been critical of Corbyn’s leadership. “That might not be the only way. I think he has to find a way of working with MPs, because we’re all elected by millions of people – the general public – and he seems to dismiss that.”

“If he sees it [his victory] as an endorsement of how he’s been operating up until now, the problems which led to the election being called will remain,” Ellman warns. “If we’re going to be a credible party of government, we’ve got to reach out to the general electorate. He didn’t say anything about that in his speech, but I hope that perhaps now he might feel more confident to be able to change direction.”

Corbyn may have called for cooperation, but his increased mandate (up from his last stonking victory with 59.5 per cent of the vote) is the starkest illustration yet of the gulf between his popularity in Parliament and among members.

The fact that one attempt at a ceasefire in the party’s civil war – by allowing MPs to vote for some shadow cabinet posts – is in contention suggests this gulf is in danger of increasing.

And then where could the party be this time next year? As Osamor warns: “We should not be looking at our differences, because when we do that, we end up thinking it’s a good thing to spend our summer having another contest. And we can’t. We can’t do this again.”

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.