Labour needs as broad a debate as possible, not just a narrow fight between two and three names

Labour need to have a big broad debate in order to avoid another defeat in 2020.

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A friend recently took up a top role with a major international tech company.  She had ten interviews and the head-hunter who recruited her said he had spent over a year putting forward over 80 candidates before she got the job; the company preferring to leave the role vacant rather than recruit the wrong person.

I thought of her as local members tweeted me to demand that #harriethangon and delay the leadership race. I don’t know whether it is or should be possible to delay the contest, and I am not proposing we consider eighty candidates. But Labour party members and supporters – and MPs – should have the opportunity to test more than two or three for both the leadership and the deputy leadership of our party. Or put it another way, I am not sure it is necessary to go long, but I am absolutely sure it is necessary to go broad.

That is not to say I am not impressed by the quality and the number of candidates who have put themselves forward – I am.  I have a huge amount of respect for any colleague who will put their head above the parapet and apply for two of the most difficult and most important jobs in the country. The media vilification Ed endured was not a good advert for the terms and conditions associated with either post and I am grateful that despite all that there are colleagues with the courage and vision to take them on.

I am glad too that some candidates have said things I disagree with or have not heard before. After the devastatingly comprehensive nature of our defeat we must not only tell ourselves what we already know and believe. It is essential we are taken out of our comfort zone and debate a broad range of perspectives with the people we want to elect us to Government next time.  I am also glad that all the candidates have emphasised the opportunities of disruptive technology as well as the challenges, something which whilst covered in the manifesto was not a top theme.

But there are many things I have not heard whether I agree with them or not.  Someone arguing for the uniqueness of public services.  Someone championing the role that immigration plays in making our future as well as our past.  Someone challenging me and other MPs on how we engage and feed in the ideas of members and supporters. Someone asking question about the nature of the people we are seeking to serve and how their lives have changed in the hundred years or so of our existence as a party.  Someone setting out how the reforms Ed started – in selecting our leadership – could be extended. Someone with a detailed vision of how the party needs to change organisationally and culturally.

The debate of ideas barely seems to have started. We still seem to be clinging to the vocabulary and totems of previous election defeats and victories. 

I want to see real ideas debated.  I want the candidates who eventually win to feel as if they have been through one thousand incredibly difficult interviews, that their thoughts and views have been tested, and expanded, by the white heat of intense debate.

I have made a commitment to talk to as many of the candidates as possible, and to consult with my CLP and Labour supporters before choosing who I will support for leader and deputy leader.

In 2010 as a newbie MP I nominated Diane Abbott even though I did not vote for her. I wanted her name on the ballot because we needed to show that we had diversity in our leadership race, not simply in ethnic terms (although that is important) but in terms of ideas, vision and background.

As some one who spent twenty years working as an engineer in all male environments, I am all too familiar with the challenges and limitations of monocultures.  Industry is now recognising the value of diversity, how it promotes innovation and resilience, challenges groupthink.  It would be strange if Labour, who championed it, did not now reflect it.

If there is not a wider set of voices in the debate for Labour’s future then the country will ask if we are really seeking to represent the real face of the UK in 2020. If we are really brave enough to listen to every idea and test it against the framework of how it can be of benefit to those we seek to serve.

We need to go broad now if we are to go deep into our target territories in 2020.

Chi Onwurah is the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, and the shadow minister for industrial strategy.