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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Everyone's forgotten the one issue that united the Labour party

There was a time when Ed Miliband spoke at Momentum rallies.

To label the row over the EU at Thursday’s Labour leadership hustings "fireworks" would be to endow it with more beauty than it deserves. Owen Smith’s dogged condemnation of John McDonnell’s absence from a Remain rally – only for Corbyn to point out that his absence was for medical reasons – ought to go down as a cringing new low point in the campaign. 

Not so long ago, we were all friends. In the course of the EU referendum, almost all of the protagonists in the current debacle spoke alongside each other and praised one another’s efforts. At a local level, party activists of all stripes joined forces. Two days before polling day, Momentum activists helped organise an impromptu rally. Ed Miliband was the headline speaker, and was cheered on. 

If you take the simple version of the debate, Labour’s schism on the EU appears as an aberration of the usual dynamics of left and right in the party. Labour's left is supposedly cheering a position which avoids advocating what it believes in (Remain), because it would lose votes. Meanwhile, the right claims to be dying in a ditch for its principles - no matter what the consequences for Labour’s support in Leave-voting heartlands.

Smith wants to oppose Brexit, even after the vote, on the basis of using every available procedural mechanism. He would whip MPs against the invocation of Article 50, refuse to implement it in government, and run on a manifesto of staying in the EU. For the die-hard Europhiles on the left – and I count myself among these, having run the Another Europe is Possible campaign during the referendum – there ought to be no contest as to who to support. On a result that is so damaging to people’s lives and so rooted in prejudice, how could we ever accept that there is such a thing as a "final word"? 

And yet, on the basic principles that lie behind a progressive version of EU membership, such as freedom of movement, Smith seems to contradict himself. Right at the outset of the Labour leadership, Smith took to Newsnight to express his view – typical of many politicians moulded in the era of New Labour – that Labour needed to “listen” to the views Leave voters by simply adopting them, regardless of whether or not they were right. There were, he said, “too many” immigrants in some parts of the country. 

Unlike Smith, Corbyn has not made his post-Brexit policy a headline feature of the campaign, and it is less widely understood. But it is clear, via the five "red lines" outlined by John McDonnell at the end of June:

  1. full access to the single market
  2. membership of the European investment bank
  3. access to trading rights for financial services sector
  4. full residency rights for all EU nationals in the UK and all UK nationals in the EU, and
  5. the enshrinement of EU protections for workers. 

Without these five conditions being met, Labour would presumably not support the invocation of Article 50. So if, as seems likely, a Conservative government would never meet these five conditions, would there be any real difference in how a Corbyn leadership would handle the situation? 

The fight over the legacy of the referendum is theatrical at times. The mutual mistrust last week played out on the stage in front of a mass televised audience. Some Corbyn supporters jeered Smith as he made the case for another referendum. Smith accused Corbyn of not even voting for Remain, and wouldn’t let it go. But, deep down, the division is really about a difference of emphasis. 

It speaks to a deeper truth about the future of Britain in Europe. During the referendum, the establishment case for Remain floundered because it refused to make the case that unemployment and declining public services were the result of austerity, not immigrants. Being spearheaded by Conservatives, it couldn’t. It fell to the left to offer the ideological counter attack that was needed – and we failed to reach enough people. 

As a result, what we got was a popular mandate for petty racism and a potentially long-term shift to the right in British politics, endangering a whole raft of workplace and legal protections along the way. Now that it has happened, anyone who really hopes to overcome either Brexit, or the meaning of Brexit, has to address the core attitudes and debates at their root. Then as now, it is only clear left-wing ideas – free from any attempt to triangulate towards anti-migrant sentiment– that can have any hope of success. 

The real dividing lines in Labour are not about the EU. If they were, the Eurosceptic Frank Field would not be backing Smith. For all that it may be convenient to deny it, Europe was once, briefly, the issue that united the Labour Party. One day, the issues at stake in the referendum may do so again – but only if Labour consolidates itself around a strategy for convincing people of ideas, rather than simply reaching for procedural levers.