Labour has a duty to get the choice right about who leads us.
We don’t owe this just to ourselves – our party, our activists, our members – but much more importantly we owe it to the people we represent and the ones we want to represent.
That’s why, as two newly elected Labour MPs, we don’t want to allow Labour’s opponents to frame the debate or the choice we make.
Because the choice isn’t just about the person who leads us. It’s about the party they lead.
And our worry is that false choices have started to present themselves. New versus old, modernisers versus traditionalists, the party versus the trade unions, business versus workers, north vs south, aspiration versus tacking inequality.
False choices designed to divide us and polarise the contest, something that is far more likely to limit the debate than the number of candidates who stand.
In 1997, 2001 and 2005, people didn’t just vote for Labour because of our modernising approach to public service reform or because we were relaxed about people getting rich. They voted for smaller class sizes, lower waiting times, tax credits, the minimum wage and Sure Starts.
Clear offers for all sectors of society, from top to bottom, in a ‘what are you going to do for me’ world.
In 2015, in our respective constituencies, Labour won Redcar back with a 19% swing and increased the majority in St Helens North to over 17,000.
But our experience of the campaign was similar to many candidates who fought and, through no fault of their own, lost in Tory/Labour marginals.
It was clear to us that our manifesto resonated strongly with people who in 2010 felt Labour had forgotten them and was no longer on their side.
Many people were hit by the bedroom tax, or were on a low wage and zero hours contracts. But when campaigning in more affluent parts of our constituencies – not wealthy people, just people who were on a reasonable wage, worked hard and wanted to get on – we struggled when people asked ‘but what are you going to do for me?’.
We looked down at our list of pledges which said we would clobber the richest and look after the poorest, but had almost nothing to say about everyone else.
Our view is that isn’t a zero sum game to care about the disadvantaged, to want to end child poverty, to support the most vulnerable, and tackle the excesses of inequality, yet at the same time to build a society of opportunity and aspiration, supporting business and wealth creation and an economy that means everyone can get on. There’s no incompatibility between caring about your community and wanting people in it to be successful.
That’s why we are supporting Andy Burnham to be the next Labour leader, because we think he brings the best of a modernising, radical vision for a successful, better Britain whilst ensuring that we are a country where everyone matters and no one gets left behind.
Because we cannot limit ourselves to a core vote strategy for any sector. No matter how divided this nation becomes over the next 5 years – socially, geographically, economically; we have to ensure we have an offer for everyone. But that also means no flip-side of the core vote strategy. We can’t have a reverse situation of 2015 in 2020, with people campaigning in the South East feeling armed with offers, but working class voters – themselves aspirational and ambitious – failing to see the Labour Party as their party too.
Most of all, we think Andy is the strongest candidate for Prime Minister who understands the scale of the challenge and is up to the task of being Labour leader from day one.
He can bring people together to deliver the big changes that Labour needs. He has the vision and courage to be bold in tackling the big challenges we face, as we have already seen on the EU referendum and immigration.
We cannot have more of the same. But neither can we have our offer for 2020 being caricatured as a back-to-the-future vision that doesn’t understand why we lost in 2010, never mind 2015. We won’t win over the voters we lost, or failed to gain, by being a poor imitation of the Tories.
That’s the lesson of New Labour: we don’t have to be like Tories, we have to be different to and better than them. And we are at our best when we have something to offer everyone. To do that we must speak to the country. Andy Burnham is the man to lead us in that conversation, and then matching his words with action to win again for Labour in 2020.
Conor McGinn is Labour MP for St Helens North, and Anna Turley is Labour MP for Redcar. Both are new MPs.