I’m a child of the great post-war Labour Government. If Clement Atlee had not beaten Winston Churchill in the July 1945 election just three months after the war, I know that I would never have had the educational opportunities I received, and it’s a fair bet too that I might not have survived the childhood illnesses I suffered either.
Labour’s achievements of a free education system, a free National Health Service, and much else besides have been critically important for the life-chances of millions of the British people down the generations since the war.
Over four periods of government, we really have made the difference. That includes the 1997- 2010 governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The NHS was in a desperate state when we took office in ’97; children were educated in crumbling schools, with endemic teacher shortages; people were trapped in unemployment because they lost money if they went to work.
We changed all that – doubling investment in the NHS, transforming our schools and colleges, introducing tax credits for those in work – and the national minimum wage and much more besides.
At least as important, we changed how people relate to each other. It’s only Labour which has ever introduced laws to ensure that people of different races and religions, of differing sexualities, are treated equally.
But none of this would have happened if Labour had not gained power. Of course, power can be misused. But without it, we can do next to nothing, save for opposing from the sidelines.
I spent my first eighteen years as MP for Blackburn in opposition.
It wasn’t that I felt impotent. It was that I saw the damage which was being done to my area and its people, witnessed the lost opportunities and wasted life-chances – and felt so angry that self-indulgence within the Party had helped us to four successive election defeats. That was the greatest betrayal of all. That betrayal was led by those from the left who so frequently protested their purity of principle, who wilfully ignored the fact that in a democracy a party which seeks power has persuade people to vote for it.
The crucial question therefore in this leadership election is which of the four candidates has the principles, and the ability to lead the party to victory; and still more, which candidate will be able to withstand the heat over the four and half years to the 2020 election, and ensure that, as far as possible, we are fire-proof through that election campaign.
Repenting at leisure for choosing the wrong leader is something I’ve witnessed twice in the last 35 years. It’s not something we should wish on the party, nor those who most need us, again. In my judgement it is Yvette Cooper who is the outstanding candidate for Leader of the Labour Party.
First, she has been ready to defend Labour’s record of spending. Quite right too. I don’t recall siren voices from within whilst we were in government complaining about the investment in schools, hospitals and the like.
Indeed, since even the Tories in practice supported our spending plans until the financial crash in 2008, whatever they may say now, why shouldn’t we?
The reason we lost in May was that we never made the argument for what we had achieved, and so were unable to gain a hearing for what we intended to do in the future. Yvette understands that, and is not prone to egregious error.
Second, from late 2010 until the election I was able to watch Yvette on the front bench from Labour’s backbenches. The job of Shadow Home Secretary is no easy one; and Theresa May no easy opponent. Yvette was brilliant – calm, strategic, forensic, sticking up for Labour’s principles of social justice, but never beholden either to shrill pressure groups from one side, nor the populist press on the other.
Yvette has shown that she can hold her own, in the Commons, on radio and TV, in the press, at public meetings. She wins the argument because she knows how to make it. And she understands that the electorate beyond Inner London is very
different from that within the capital.
Third, Yvette is deeply rooted in Labour’s values – and (not but) understands that Labour has to reach out to millions of people whose instinct is to share those values, but who, at the last election, were deterred from voting Labour because they found that what we had to offer lacked credibility.
In short, Yvette is a winner.