Tomorrow belongs to Creagh? Photo:Getty
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All of the leadership candidates are good, but there's something about Mary...

Stephen Kinnock explains why he's backing Mary Creagh for Labour leader.

Far too much gets written and said about leadership. Untold volumes of books and learned articles gather dust on shelves; countless biographies, autobiographies and profile pieces attempt to present a forensic analysis of the inner workings of the leader’s mind and character, and to define the must-have qualities of the Great & The Good. So, let’s for once just keep it simple, shall we?

The Labour Party needs a leader who has the right values and instincts, strong communication skills, solid experience and a deep understanding of the fact that we must now make a definitive break with the past, and move on from the tired old debates about Old versus New, Blair versus Brown.

We need a leader who knows that the Labour Party only succeeds when it offers itself to the British people as both a helping hand when they have fallen on hard times and as a launch-pad for their future hopes, dreams and ambitions. 

We need a leader who rejects the false choice between fairness and aspiration. Ask the start-up entrepreneur or the CEO of a FTSE 100 company what makes his / her business tick, and the response will be clear and unambiguous: a happy, healthy, skilled up and productive workforce. Ask anyone who’s on the minimum wage where they’d like to be six months from now, and the response will be equally clear: on the living wage, and building for my future.  

Labour needs a leader who can paint a bold and inspiring picture of the sort of country that Britain can be. A country where a rising tide lifts all the boats, where hard work is fairly rewarded; where cohesive communities are the bedrock of our economic dynamism; where our economy is based on a balanced and sustainable growth model; where there’s a sense that we’re truly all in this together; where we have courage in the face of globalisation, and confidence in our engagement with the world. This is the sort of country that we all want to live in, regardless of whether you’re on a zero-hours contract, on the minimum wage in the public sector, managing a small business or running a multi-national corporation. 

We need a leader who marries compassion with hard-headed competence, because we know that as we race to the top we must ensure that nobody gets left behind. Indeed, we will only win the Global Race if we re-create a sense of shared national success and purpose: there has to be something in it for everyone.

Labour needs a leader who can get the tone and content of our story right, and who is just as comfortable in a room full of CEOs as she is in a school, hospital or Brussels summit.

I believe that Mary Creagh is that person.

I first met Mary in Brussels over 20 years ago when she was a leading light at the European Youth Forum, and I remember being really impressed by her energy, drive and ambition. She went on to spend two years at the London Enterprise Agency and seven years teaching and advising MBA start-ups and mid-size company owners at Cranfield. I’ve chatted many times with her about the challenges and opportunities facing the UK’s business community, and she gets it. She understands what a successful company looks like, she knows what the UK has to do if it is to compete in today's fast-moving world, and she has some great ideas about the role that government can play to support our wealth creators.

Mary is also steeped in real-world experience in the public sector, having spent seven years at the coal face of local government. She has a back-story that enables her to engage effectively across sectors, regions and communities. We need a Leader who can draw on her wealth of experience from the board room to the civic centre, and who can stand tall at the Despatch Box against a Prime Minister who is a product of the PR industry and the Westminster village.  

All four of our leadership candidates are outstanding communicators, deep strategic thinkers, and undoubtedly able to lead us back into government in 2020. We will all throw our full support behind whoever wins this contest.

But there’s something about Mary...


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The Tories' aim is to put Labour out of business for good

Rather than merely winning again, the Conservatives are seeking to inflict permanent damage on the opposition. 

The Conservatives are numerically weak but politically strong – that is the peculiarity of their position. Their majority is the smallest of any single-party government since October 1974. Yet, to MPs at the Tory conference in Manchester, it felt like “2001 in reverse”: the year of Tony Blair’s second election victory. Then, as now, the opposition responded to defeat by selecting a leader, Iain Duncan Smith, who was immediately derided as unelectable. Just as Labour knew then that it would win in 2005, so the Conservatives believe that they have been gifted victory in 2020. David Cameron has predicted that the party’s vote share could rise from 37 per cent to a Thatcherite 43 per cent.

For Cameron and George Osborne, who entered parliament in 2001, this moment is revenge for New Labour’s electoral hegemony. They believe that by applying Blair’s lessons better than his internal successors, they can emulate his achievements. The former Labour prime minister once spoke of his party as “the political wing of the British people”. In Manchester, Cameron and Osborne displayed similarly imperial ambitions. They regard Jeremy Corbyn’s election as a chance to realign the political landscape permanently.

Seen from one perspective, the Tories underperformed on 7 May. They consistently led by roughly 20 points on the defining issues of the economy and leadership but defeated Labour by just 6.5 overall. It was their enduring reputation as the party of the plutocracy that produced this disparity. Those who voted for Labour in spite of their doubts about Ed Miliband and the party’s economic competence may not be similarly forgiving of Corbyn. To maximise their gains, however, the Tories need to minimise their weaknesses, rather than merely exploit Labour’s.

This process began at conference. At a dinner organised by the modernising group the Good Right, Duncan Smith, Michael Gove and the Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, affirmed their belief that, contrary to Thatcherite orthodoxy, inequality is a problem. Only the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, an admirer of the libertarian heroine Ayn Rand, insisted that equality of opportunity was the defining metric.

George Osborne’s assured speech was most notable for his sustained appeal to Labour voters. Several opposition MPs told me how unsettled they were by the Chancellor’s declaration that Labour’s new leadership calls “anyone who believes in strong national defence, a market economy and the country living within its means” a Tory. He added, “It’s our job to make sure they’re absolutely right. Because we’re now the party of work, the only true party of labour.” The shadow minister Jonathan Reynolds told me: “We’ve got to be extremely clear that this is not business as usual. This is a real attempt by the Tories to put us out of business – possibly for ever.”

The Conservatives’ aim is to contaminate Labour to the point where, even if Jeremy Corbyn were deposed, the toxin would endure. For those opposition MPs who emphasise being a government-in-waiting, rather than a protest movement, the contrast between the high politics of the Tory conference and Corbyn’s rally appearance in Manchester was painfully sharp. They fear guilt by association with the demonstrators who spat at and abused journalists and Tory delegates. The declaration by a rally speaker, Terry Pullinger, the deputy general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, that Corbyn’s election “almost makes you want to celebrate the fact that Labour lost” was regarded as confirmation that some on the left merely desire to run the party, not the country.

But few Tory MPs I spoke to greeted Corbyn’s victory with simple jubilation. “It’s a great shame, what’s happened to Labour,” one said. “We need a credible opposition.” In the absence of this, some fear the Conservatives’ self-destructive tendencies will reassert themselves. The forthcoming EU referendum and leadership contest are rich in cannibalistic potential. Tories spoke forebodingly of the inevitable schism between European Inners and Outers. As the Scottish experience demonstrated, referendums are almost never definitive. In the event of a close result, the party’s anti-EU wing will swiftly identify grounds for a second vote.

Several cabinet ministers, however, spoke of their confidence in Cameron’s ability to navigate the rapids of the referendum and his pre-announced departure. “More than ever, he’s the right man for these times,” one told me. By this December, Cameron will have led his party for ten years, a reign exceeded in recent history only by Stanley Baldwin, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. That the Conservatives have so far avoided cataclysm is an underappreciated achievement.

Yet there are landmines ahead. An increasing number of MPs fear that the planned cuts to tax credits could be a foul-up comparable to Gordon Brown’s abolition of the 10p tax rate. Despite the appeals of Boris Johnson and the Sun, Cameron and Osborne have signalled that there will be no backtracking. At such moments of reflection, the Tories console themselves with the belief that, although voters may use Corbyn as a receptacle for protest (as they did Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock and Ed Miliband), they will not elect him. They also acknowledge that the current Labour leader may not be their opponent in 2020. The former paratrooper Dan Jarvis is most often cited as the successor they fear. As with Cameron and Blair, his relative lack of ideological definition may prove to be a strength, one MP suggested.

William Hague is fond of joking that the Tories have only two modes: panic and complacency. If the danger before the general election was of the former, the danger now is of the latter. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.