Two weeks ago I wrote a blog setting out why Labour’s defeat had led me to the conclusion, amongst many, that we needed a broad debate in our leadership and deputy leadership contests, one that reached out to all those who voted for us, and those who didn’t. A debate which spoke to the UKIP voter in Skegness and the SNP voter in Stirling; the Tory voter in Berwick, and the Green voter in Brighton, the Labour voter in Newcastle (of which there were many!) and the non voter in Nottingham. If we are going to gain new territory in 2020 we should be entering new territory now.
Since then Labour members and supporters locally and nationally have made it clear to me that they too feel they deserve a real choice in the debate. I am grateful to all colleagues who have put themselves forward for two of the most important jobs in the UK, leader and deputy leader of the only broad, progressive party we have. I believe it would be real missed opportunity if members and supporters were not able to benefit from the same level and breadth of debate as I experienced in the Parliamentary hustings this week. It was great to hear Jeremy and Mary alongside Liz, Andy and Yvette on Monday in the leadership debate. And I learnt much more about our party nationally and organisationally from listening to Rushanara, Stella, Ben, John and Angela in the deputy hustings, as well as Tom and Caroline.
In particular Rushanara and Stella brought the perspectives of the 2010 intake, whose experience in the world outside Parliament exceeds their time within this marvellous but surprisingly hierarchical House. They know the party needs to change, to be more inclusive, more democratic, to embrace and engage our members, supporters and friends. They recognise the contribution technology can make to freeing activists to be active in communities as well as meetings. New digital tools can create networks both within wards and across interest groups. New applications can make our presence on so many doorsteps across the country – second only to the Royal Mail – a way into the heart of the nation as well as a means of voter ID. Technology cannot win elections, change culture or organisation but it can enable a flatter, more democratic and effective party.
Stella and Rushanara both have great campaigning experience, Rushanara won her seat after three years hard fighting against George Galloway and Stella worked with groups across the country to bring legal loan sharking under some kind of regulatory control. Both can reach out to a range of demographics from young unemployed to successful start ups.
I can only nominate one candidate, and so I am nominating Rushanara. Her background and considerable experience spans social enterprise, Government, politics and business. She represents a diverse constituency, economically and in terms of ethnic and social mix. She owes everything to the Labour Movement but is not afraid to demand change from the Labour Party. Having been tested by Mr Galloway I know she will have the persistence and stamina to carry that message to every corner of the country we hope to represent.
In my blog I made a commitment to talk to as many of the candidates as possible, and to consult with my CLP and Labour supporters before choosing who I will support. I am still doing that. I recognise the strengths of all the deputy leadership candidates and know the debate would benefit from their experience. It’s great that some candidates have already secured enough nominations to be on the ballot and, importantly, win immediate access to the party’s membership list to begin campaigning. We need to take the debate out of parliament and into the country and we need more candidates’ voices out there.
Thanks to the reforms of Ed Miliband, in these leadership contests MPs act as gatekeepers – we do not decide the outcome, our votes are worth no more than any member or supporter – but we do decide who gets on the ballot. I believe it would be wrong if we were only to open the gate wide enough to let a couple of candidates through. I’m nominating Rushanara so another voice will be heard. I urge my fellow MPs to do the same.