Labour Only Wins When We’re United.
Here’s What We Need From The Next Leader
It’s time our leadership reflects the diversity of our party and our country,
Chi Onwurah MP writes:
As a passionate and committed non-candidate for the Labour party leadership, I have received many calls for support from those putting themselves forward. I want to wait till I have heard from the members of Newcastle Central constituency Labour party at our meeting this Friday to make any decision, but after several conversations and the first leadership hustings I am beginning to form a clearer picture of what I believe the Labour party needs to look for over the next three months.
Our leaders need to be unifiers. Our party has not been well-served by well meaning people whose instinct has been to either withhold support from leadership they personally might not have chosen, or to seek to drive from the party voices they might not agree with. Our party has always included those to the left and right of each other, and we have always sought to represent the working people of our country in all of our vast diversity. But we only win when we are unified as a party – and we need leadership that can make that unity real.
Our leadership needs to reflect the diversity of our party and our country. Frankly it’s embarrassing that the Tories have had two women leaders and the Labour party has had none. I will vote for the best candidates regardless, but I will also enthusiastically support BAME and women candidates that are suited on substance to be our party’s leaders.
Our leaders need to support structural economic change. We have a profoundly unequal society – where wealth, power, and opportunity are concentrated by class, race and geography. We need a fairer tax system and improved investment in education and skills, but taxes and training alone will not fix what is wrong. We need leadership that is committed to changing patterns of capital investment and increasing worker bargaining power. As automation pushes out the routine and mundane, the true means of production are the creativity and skills of working people, they need to have power over these as wealth creators in their own right, not the beneficiaries of Whitehall largesse.
Our leaders need to support an economic strategy that helps British business succeed, one that is forward looking to enable it to be more innovative and more productive. As a practical matter this means both a commitment to economic integration with Europe and a Green Industrial Revolution. Unfortunately, in the last election generalised rhetoric around nationalisation and “taking on the bosses” overwhelmed sensible policy goals that would have benefited business such as universal broadband access and increased R&D spend. So we need leaders who understand British business as a partner and as a key beneficiary of Labour policies.
Our leaders and the team they put together need to be rooted in our communities, their experiences and their values. We should be proud of our 2019 manifesto in its comprehensiveness and eagerness for large scale change. But too often it was more of an expression of the idealism of its drafters than the experiences, priorities and values of working people as a whole. This problem was compounded by a campaign that seemed unable to bring the party clearly in line with the values of those whose trust we sought – whether by acting decisively to deal with anti-Semitism or by clearly supporting important British (and Northern) institutions such as the armed forces.
Finally, it is not essential but it would be helpful if our leaders had a sense of humour. We don’t want a stand up comedian or negative or demeaning sniping, but the ability to make people laugh positively can get you a much-needed hearing at a time when politicians are often distrusted by default.
My criteria may not be everyone’s and they certainly do not reflect a particular “wing” of the party. But they are, I believe, absolutely necessary if Labour is to win back the voters we lost in the North East and be seen by voters generally as a credible governing party, one capable of winning the trust of the British people and the honour and challenge of Government.