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Stella Creasy: Labour is a party running on empty

It is unforgivable to have a leader who asked others to go on to the pitch over Brexit while he benched himself, says the Labour MP for Walthamstow.

Since last Thursday, my inbox has burned with anguish about the state of our nation and our politics. People fear splits that are not just geographical, but also between generations and income groups. These divisions exist everywhere – while I’m proud that Walthamstow voted two to one to stay in the EU, locally and nationally our success will depend on finding ways to rewrite what at present looks like a very bleak future. To stop despair curdling our capacity to achieve this, Labour must urgently offer a radical and distinctive response.

It would be easy in such circumstances to lapse into misery; to find someone or something to blame and luxuriate in the safety of opposition believing a scapegoat is enough. But now is the time to recognise our hunger for social justice demands we do more than wring our hands; not to think in abstracts, but to focus on finding direct and deliverable answers to the challenges we face. And above all, to stand for something, not just against something. To be against austerity, neoliberalism or corporations: this only describes what you want to stop, not what you will achieve. Hold a placard, tweet a slogan, buy the T-shirt if it helps, but if you want real change you have to be prepared to work at making it happen in detail as well as in hashtags. 

Britain is crying out for progressive and courageous change-makers to help put it back together. We need leadership which, in the negotiations ahead, knows why we fought to protect the rights we could lose by leaving the EU. We need leadership that also looks to the world to come and champions how we can co-operate across our communities, our country and our continent. At a time of whirlwind global economic change and social disruption, the UK has just set out its intent to cut itself off from the collective bargaining power of the European Union. Leaving or staying is no silver bullet  it only increases or reduces our options for action. With Britain this badly broken, we cannot shrink into holding repeated meetings about how we wish it were different. In an era when money, services and people move at rapid pace, the crisis Labour faces is about its very purpose, not just its people. We have to show we can lead the way in the world to come, not the world gone by.

Labour must again be a progressive party which has courage. Courage to say the world is a very different place and so our answers must change too including from those given by any previous Labour administration. To give everyone a real chance to succeed, our vision of the economy, of our public services, indeed, of our core mission, needs to be completely revised less focused on institutions, more rooted in networks of people working together to transform markets and communities than anything ever previously proposed. Not a movement trying to stop the pace of change, but one actively trying to hasten and shape it for the benefit of all. 

This would be hard work at the best of times; Labour is a party running on empty, with energy and ideas as well as organisation depleted. We have never been a cult, where everyone has to think the same or leave. As grown-ups, we are able both to have differences of opinion and to make compromises so together we can take action. Actions that every day show we seek power to speed up and strengthen our ability to achieve our goals and that we also refuse to wait until we hold office to get started on our ambitions for Britain.

I have never agreed completely with any leader whether on ID cards, going to war in Iraq or skirting the Financial Transaction Tax but I have always fought our corner. Labour needs each of us to put our very all – our 10 out of 10, not 7.5 into achieving our aims. Each of us asking the public to take sometimes difficult steps with us because we believe it is in the best interests of the country. That is why I have no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn any more. It is unforgivable to have a leader who, when faced with Brexit and the damage it could do, asked others to go on to the pitch while he benched himself.

Being half-hearted about key issues in a world this complex and challenging does little for those we care for most or to win the argument for progressive outcomes  as is now depressingly clear. The trolls and naysayers will stamp their feet whatever happens; it is our responsibility to chart a different course. Labour doesn’t just need new leadership, but also new passion and determination for social justice and social action. As these forces try to tear us apart, let us reject the politics of inertia. Let each of us work to bring Britain back together to face the 21st century with confidence, commitment and common cause.

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Labour is launching a stealthy Scottish comeback - thanks to Jeremy Corbyn and the Daily Mail

The Scottish Labour strategy is paying off - and hard evidence that it works may be more plentiful come 8 June 2017

When I suggested to a senior Scottish Labour figure earlier this year that the party was a car crash, he rejected my assertion.

“We’re past that,” he said gloomily. “Now we’re the burnt-out wreck in a field that no-one even notices anymore.”

And yet, just as the election campaign has seen Jeremy Corbyn transformed from an outdated jalopy into Chitty Chitty Bang Bang magically soaring in the polls, Scottish Labour is beginning to look roadworthy again.

And it’s all down to two apparently contradictory forces – Corbyn and The Daily Mail.

Kezia Dugdale’s decision to hire Alan Roden, then the Scottish Daily Mail’s political editor, as her spin doctor in chief last summer was said to have lost her some party members. It may win her some new members of parliament just nine months later.

Roden’s undoubted nose for a story and nous in driving the news agenda, learned in his years at the Mail, has seen Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly forced to defend her government record on health and education in recent weeks, even though her Holyrood administration is not up for election next month.

On ITV’s leaders debate she confessed that, despite 10 years in power, the Scottish education system is in need of some attention. And a few days later she was taken to task during a BBC debate involving the Scottish leaders by a nurse who told her she had to visit a food bank to get by. The subsequent SNP attempt to smear that nurse was a pathetic mis-step by the party that suggested their media operation had gone awry.

It’s not the Tories putting Sturgeon on the defence. They, like the SNP, are happy to contend the general election on constitutional issues in the hope of corralling the unionist vote or even just the votes of those that don’t yet want a second independence referendum. It is Labour who are spotting the opportunities and maximising them.

However, that would not be enough alone. For although folk like Dugdale as a person – as evidenced in Lord Ashcroft’s latest polling - she lacks the policy chops to build on that. Witness her dopey proposal ahead of the last Holyrood election to raise income tax.

Dugdale may be a self-confessed Blairite but what’s powering Scottish Labour just now is Jeremy Corbyn’s more left-wing policy platform.

For as Brexit has dropped down the agenda at this election, and bread and butter stuff like health and education has moved centre stage, Scots are seeing that for all the SNP’s left wing rhetoric, after 10 years in power in Holyrood, there’s not a lot of progressive policy to show for it.

Corbyn’s manifesto, even though huge chunks of it won’t apply in Scotland, is progressive. The evidence is anecdotal at the moment, but it seems some Scots voters find it more attractive than the timid managerialism of the SNP. This is particularly the case with another independence referendum looking very unlikely before the 2020s, on either the nationalists' or the Conservatives' timetable.

Evidence that the Scottish Labour strategy has worked may be more plentiful come 8 June 2017. The polls, albeit with small sample sizes so best approached with caution, have Ian Murray streets ahead in the battle to defend Edinburgh South. There’s a lot of optimism in East Lothian where Labour won the council earlier in May and MSP Iain Gray increased his majority at the Scottish election last year. Labour have chosen their local candidate well in local teacher Martin Whitfield, and if the unionist vote swings behind him he could overhaul sitting MP George Kerevan’s 7,000 majority. (As we learned in 2015, apparently safe majorities mean nothing in the face of larger electoral forces). In East Renfrewshire, Labour's Blair McDougall, the man who led Better Together in 2014, can out-unionist the Tory candidate.

But, while in April, it was suggested that these three seats would be the sole focus of the Scottish Labour campaign, that attitude has changed after the local elections. Labour lost Glasgow but did not implode. In chunks of their former west of Scotland heartlands there was signs of life.

Mhairi Black’s a media darling, but her reputation as a local MP rather than a local celebrity is not great. Labour would love to unseat her, in what would be a huge upset, or perhaps more realistically go after Gavin Newlands in the neighbouring Paisley seat.

They are also sniffing Glasgow East. With Natalie McGarry’s stint as MP ending in tears – a police investigation, voting in her wedding dress and fainting in the chamber sums up her two years in Westminster – Labour ought to be in with a chance in the deprived neighbourhoods of Glasgow’s east end.

Labour in Scotland doesn’t feel like such a wreck anymore. Alan Roden’s Daily Mail-honed media nous has grabbed attention. Corbyn’s progressive policies have put fuel in the tank.

After polling day, the party will be able to fit all its Scottish MPs comfortably in a small hatchback, compared to the double decker bus necessary just a few years back.

But this general election could give the party the necessary shove to get on to the long road back.

James Millar is a political journalist and founder of the Political Yeti's Politics Podcast. He is co-author of The Gender Agenda, which will be published July 21 by Jessica Kingsley Publishing.

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