Labour has come a long way in the last four years – a long way towards becoming the democratic socialist party the country needs and the majority of its members want. Now is not the moment for turning back. Throughout the years of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership there were many Labour MPs, and many in Labour’s leading bodies, who disapproved of the new policy radicalism and the greater party democracy and hankered after the old days of New Labour.
Today, they see their chance to turn back the clock – if not all at once, at least bit by bit. So let’s not forget that under Corbyn’s leadership, Labour recruited around 400,000 new members to become the largest political party in Britain and the biggest socialist party in western Europe. Still more importantly, it expressed the desire of millions of British people for an end to austerity and for fundamental change in our society, taking Labour’s share of the vote from 30 per cent in 2015 to 40 per cent just two years later, an unprecedented achievement.
Of course, last December’s result was a severe setback after those advances, one largely attributable to Labour dithering its way into becoming a “Remain” party, and paying the price in the constituencies where I feared it would. But that should not be allowed to obscure the achievements of the last four years, in which I include the still uncompleted business of opening the party up and making it more democratic, and its representatives more accountable.
None of the leadership candidates are presently talking of taking the party back to Blair. But there is only one candidate who has stood rock-solid for radical change and democratic socialism throughout the Corbyn years, and that is Rebecca Long-Bailey.
That is why the lay leadership of my union, Unite, overwhelmingly backed Becky for leader. She is the only one among those vying for party members’ votes who stood firm during the shameful PLP coup against Corbyn in 2016, as did Unite.
She also worked hard to bridge the gap between the “Remain” view increasingly dominant in the party leadership and the “Leave” views she knew were held by many Labour voters in constituencies like hers, while others were imposing the second referendum policy on the party.
The democratic reforms introduced in Labour will also be safe in her hands – indeed, she is the only candidate arguing for extending and deepening them to make Labour, more than ever, a member-led party. But, above all, she has continued to argue unequivocally for the policy advances of the last few years, standing firm on Labour’s popular public ownership plans, on scrapping the Trade Union Act and lifting the legal burden on trade union organisation and operations, and championing the crucial Green Industrial Revolution of which she was the pioneer.
It looks like we are facing a significant period of Tory rule, alas, of at least four years until voters get the chance to make a change. Labour must use that time to reconnect with its natural supporters in the industrial towns of the Midlands and the North, while maintaining its strong electoral coalition in London and other big cities.
Becky Long-Bailey has lived working-class life in our heartlands and can speak to, and from, the experiences of people in those areas. And as Labour’s first woman leader, she would be able to connect our party with wider sections of the electorate. She is a skilled and engaging politician, but not an identikit one. She is her own person who has the courage and capability to unite our party.
So I believe Becky is the best leader to build the “red bridge” we need. She will retain the gains of the recent past, while reaching out to future victory. I urge members not to sit on their hands nor to be deflected by the siren voices of our enemies both inside and outside of the Labour Party. Be proud of your beliefs and values and fight on for a better Britain and a more peaceful world. Becky will – she is the candidate of continuity socialism.