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22 May 2015

Labour must ensure the widest possible debate, or the party will lose again

Labour avoided the wide-ranging debate it should have had in 2010. If it does the same in 2015, it will be defeated again.

By Ben Bradshaw

Harriet Harman, Labour’s acting leader has, not for the first time, risen to the occasion. Allaying the concerns of many, that we might rush to judgement, close down the debate and not allow enough time for the candidates to become better known, we are now having a longer leadership contest that will be “open and inclusive”.

It is vital, as Harriet says, that the wider Labour family and the public are “let in on the conversion”. If Labour wants to win again, let alone as soon as 2020, we must choose a leader, not because he or she pushes our buttons, but because he or she has the greatest potential to attract people who don’t vote Labour, or, at least, haven’t for some time.

There was a danger, a week ago, that we would be seen to be closing down the debate and rushing to install a new leader quickly, because the priority was to provide firm opposition to the Government as soon as possible. But we can provide an effective opposition in Parliament and outside, at the same time as the Party more widely has an open and civilised debate about our future.

If we’re serious about having an “open and inclusive” process, it would look terrible if we ended up with only two names on the leadership and deputy leadership ballots. It is not the job of the MPs to appoint the next leader, any more than it is the job of trade union leaders.

Yes, I have an interest to declare. I am running for the deputy leadership. Without a strong, regional bloc behind me (there are only 12 Labour MPs outside London south of the Bristol Channel/Wash line) it will be a challenge to get the nominations I need to get on the ballot. But that is exactly one of the reasons I’m running – the areas where Labour needs to attract the most new voters are the areas where we have the least parliamentary representation.

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Labour did badly across the whole south of England. Despite some great candidates who ran excellent local campaigns we failed to win seats in places like Reading, Swindon and Norwich where Labour has to win if we are to form the next government. In 2010, after what was then a crushing defeat, the Party didn’t have the debate it should have had.

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The challenge we face in 2020 is even great than we faced in 2015. Party members are entitled to a proper debate and a genuine choice of candidates from across the party and across the country.