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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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue