On May 7, the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire voted decisively for a Labour government. And it is the people in my constituency and my city who will suffer from the Tory agenda which followed our defeat. In the face of such a defeat, it’s only natural that we spend a short time looking at why we lost so badly. It’s clear we have a lot to learn.
I knocked on a lot of doors, both in my own constituency and in marginal seats across the country and two things struck me wherever I went: people didn’t trust Labour on the economy and in general they weren’t big fans of Westminster politicians at all.
We need to reconnect with the people we lost – to Ukip, to the SNP and those that lost faith in the entire system, and we must win votes back from those who put their trust in the Tories.
But, amongst all of this, we cannot and must not abandon our core purpose – to speak up for the voiceless and address the fundamental inequalities that means a girl born today in my constituency can expect to live up to ten years less than another girl born in a wealthier part of my city.
It’s a big job, make no mistake. But I decided quite early on that I’d be backing Andy because he is up to that task.
In my initial conversations with him, his absolute determination to take on the big issues that in the past we have tended to leave untouched was clear: on immigration and Europe and on how Labour is perceived as being part of a metropolitan elite. But it is his track record of standing up for our values and the principles we hold dear which clearly marks him out.
When it would have been easier not to, he spoke out against private sector involvement doing so much damage to our NHS; he staunchly defended our comprehensive system from Tory attacks; and while in Government he helped kick-start a process which may finally, after 26 years, bring some closure to the families of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster who have suffered repeated injustices over more than two decades.
More often than not, these calls went against the prevailing political winds inside the ‘Westminster village’ and that matters because we desperately need a leader who can reach out and speak to the entire country not just talk amongst themselves in London. Andy has repeatedly shown that he can do just that.
Within that I know that Andy understands there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to why we’re not in government today. Anybody that claims otherwise is merely attempting to force their own ideological agenda onto the defeat because while some in the South may have wanted to hear more about small business or wealth creators, there were plenty in the North and West Midlands who wanted to talk about immigration and wages; and tens of thousands of voters in Scotland who wanted change so badly, they rejected all of the main Westminster parties.
For me our main issue in this election was one of incoherence. We didn’t spend too much in Government, but we supported the Tories’ spending cuts. We wanted some kind of reform of Europe but didn’t advocate a referendum. We abhorred the Tories’ welfare cuts but we voted for the welfare cap. We had some great policies in our manifesto but people just didn’t know what we stood for in a more fundamental way – we needed an overarching vision for our country. I was a vocal and firm supporter of Ed and was enthused by the way he started his leadership, but as the campaign progressed our offer seemed to be whittled away by overly cautious pledges on rail fare increase caps and childcare that even the Tories could match.
Yet people from across the political spectrum have recognised that so much of what Ed was saying was right. We did not lose because we championed people on low pay and zero hours contracts and because we stood up to this Government’s vindictive assault on the poor. What attracts me most to Andy is that he will not sweep all this away but will build on it, broadening it out so that it appeals to all sections of society.
And finally, If the last few years have taught us anything, the power of ‘being a normal bloke’ (or woman come to that) shouldn’t be underestimated. Farage is anything but ‘one of the people’ but he plays his role well and Ukip benefit from that. I so desperately wanted Ed Miliband to succeed but his perceived character flaws did get raised on the doorstep, constantly perpetuated by the right wing press looking to accentuate anything they thought didn’t ‘fit’.
It’s hard to find a more genuine, decent person in politics than Andy, and I think people will connect with him at a time when we’re battling scepticism and apathy as much as we’re fighting the other side.