Labour leadership contender Liz Kendall, one of three likely to make the ballot (the others being Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper), appeared before a Parliamentary Press Gallery lunch this afternoon, feeding the hacks plenty of newslines. Here are the five main ones.
She backs the 2 per cent defence spending target
The Tories have repeatedly refused to pledge to meet the Nato target of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence (despite David Cameron urging other member states to do so). But Kendall today declared her support for the commitment. “Under this government we have seen a quiet diminishing of Britain’s role in the world, which we did too little to challenge because we were paralysed by the past,” the shadow health minister said. “Under my leadership, Labour will no longer stand by while the Prime Minister weakens our country and allows the world to become less secure. That means insisting the UK maintains our basic Nato commitment to continue spending 2 per cent on defence. As leader of the opposition I will hold David Cameron to account for Britain’s promise to our allies and I will oppose him if he breaks it.”
But while her stance allows Labour to outflank the Tories in a novel area, it will make it harder for her to achieve fiscal credibility unless she outlines how the expensive pledge would be paid for.
She supports free schools
Labour went into the election opposing the establishment of free schools in areas with surplus places – a stance that Burnham has promised to maintain. But Kendall declared that she would support institutions of all kinds provided that they were “providing a great education”.
“As leader, I’m not going to waste time obsessing about school structures. If a school is providing a great education, whether it’s a local authority, academy or free school, we will back it. What’s more, if someone wants to help run their school, they deserve credit, not criticism.”
Kendall’s stance is designed to show that Labour is open to public service reform (one of her greatest political passions) and takes a non-ideological approach to education. But it will not help her cause among the trade union members and party activists she will need the support of to win the leadership (the majority of whom are opposed to free schools).
She would not cut tuition fees and instead focus on early years
One of Labour’s signature election pledges was to reduce university tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000. But Kendall disowned this policy, instead promising to focus on early years education.
“When kids in my constituency start school 15 months behind where they should be in terms of their development and 20 months behind in some areas, they play catch-up for the rest of ther lives. They struggle to even get basic GCSEs, let alone have a chance of going to college, university or getting a job. That’s why children’s early years will be my priority as leader, not cutting university tuition fees.”
She expected the Tories to win the most seats
Asked by NS editor Jason Cowley why she and her shadow cabinet colleagues failed to remove Miliband if they believed his approach was failing, Kendall replied: “You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors and the conversations people have. But he was elected leader, he deserved our loyalty and support. He took the decisions and we backed that because that’s what happens when you elect a leader, I believe in collective responsibility.
Kendall did admit, though, that she expected the Tories “to get most seats” at the election, recalling that “When you have so many undecided voters in our key marginals, you know something is fundamentally wrong. Because it’s either that our Labour party members aren’t canvassing properly, which isn’t the case because they’re fantastic, it’s because people aren’t telling you the truth: either they’re going Tory or they’re going to vote Ukip. I thought they’d get the most seats but I didn’t predict the scale of it.
She is open to the Labour leader facing re-election
Asked by the Spectator’s Isabel Hardman whether she supported the next leader submitting themselves to re-election before the next election (as proposed by Labour peer Jan Royall), Kendall made it clear that she was open to the idea.
“I think the idea that people are asked to make sure that you’re up the job that you’re doing is an interesting one, actually, those three years or whatever. We have to do it as MPs, I think it’s an interesting idea.” Asked whether she wouldn’t object to a second leadership contest, she replied: “If people think you’re not up the job, then yes.”
Now listen to George discussing the Labour leadership contest on the NS podcast: