You’ve got to have a lot of guts to put yourself forward as a leadership candidate for any political party, particularly if you’re a woman. Guts and grit. But I never thought that the vitriol from our own side would be worse than the Tory press. Jeremy Corbyn’s had it bad, but one candidate’s had it worse.
Since entering the race Liz Kendall has been labeled the “Taliban New Labour” candidate, the “Tory secret agent” and her staff, volunteers and public endorsers have suffered the same. What kind of lesson is that for any woman thinking about running for our next leader? Or for anyone who isn’t backing the frontrunner? This kind of demonisation damages us all.
In the few brief times I’ve met Liz Kendall, she didn’t come across as a Blairite to me, and certainly not a Tory. She visited Southampton to support us during the election campaign, and talked about how watching her grandfather with dementia made the case for a proper care system with dignity a heartfelt need. Nurses and carers in the audience warmed to her, and she got that they love what they do but that the system drives them crazy too. She still had something of that Watford girl sunbathing and listening to Wham. She seemed like a real person.
She gets the economy too. She’s repeatedly talked about the need to improve growth in our regions outside of London and financial services. She knows that to move up in the world you shouldn’t have to move out. She knows this can’t be done by government alone, which is why she’s campaigned strongly against this government’s legislation to crack down on unions. When I got her email about that as a Labour member, I thought it was refreshing to have someone senior in the party be proud of their union membership rather than hide it. I can’t imagine Blair sending an email like that.
She keeps talking about giving power away to people. I like that, and the people I met on the doors seemed to want that, from the Dad who couldn’t get help with his autistic son, to the cleaner who had his wage cut over time with no say. They felt bullied by the market and the state, and I think Liz Kendall gets that they want more power. From what I’ve heard from her campaign team, that seems to be reflected in the way her campaign is run. Junior members of the team are encouraged to speak up, and lines in speeches and other decisions have been changed as a result. That seems a long way away from the command and control of New Labour.
None of this means she’s perfect. Like everyone, I’ve got my own bugbears. I don’t think she has a clear enough answer on immigration, she could talk more about the environment and she doesn’t do herself any favours by coming across as if the party is just wrong. But my God she’s got guts for persevering, and even if I don’t agree with all of her ideas, I admire someone for not always arguing the populist case, and – like Jeremy Corbyn – for giving people a straight answer rather than staying bland in the centre. All of that should be rewarded in the Labour party, because we want more women and more conviction in our politics. For that, she’s earned my vote.