Express on Sunday
Labour finally has a new leader, and we can at last move on from the darkest five year period in our 120-year history.
Yesterday the unelectable Jeremy Corbyn was replaced by a highly competent, experienced and grounded Prime Minister-in-waiting – precisely the sort of leadership our country needs in these turbulent times.
Keir Starmer knows just how hard we’ll have to work to regain the confidence of voters who deserted us in the 2019 election, and he recognises that this process has to start with winning back the trust of those who voted Leave in 2016.
Let’s be clear: Leave voters are fundamental to Labour’s past, present and future. The ‘Leaver’ identity label may disappear over time, but the people and communities will still burn brightly.
People voted to ‘take back control’ for many different reasons – including a rejection of our city-centric economy, concern over sovereignty and border control, and disillusion with years of being let down by a distant, disconnected Westminster government.
Those of us who campaigned for Remain may have seen some things differently, but the fact is that we lost the argument on 23 June 2016.
Millions of Leave voters backed Labour in the 2017 election when we rightly promised to accept the referendum result, but understandably shunned us in 2019 when we wrongly u-turned on that commitment.
So, Keir’s top priority is to start rebuilding bridges and regaining trust.
To do this he must start by looking to the future, and to talk about the issues that unite us all. I call this ‘whole nation’ politics. Labour will always be there for those who need us most, but we also need to be a party of the everyday household. Keir should hold town hall meetings across Britain, giving ex-Labour voters their chance to tell us where we’ve gone wrong; he should invite Labour’s leaders in Scotland, Wales and English local government to join the Shadow Cabinet, and regularly hold meetings outside London.
We also need to be a challenging but constructive Opposition, supporting the government when it is acting in the national interest, but relentlessly probing and scrutinising to secure the best possible outcomes for the British people. This has been our approach to Coronavirus, where we’ve argued for more support for cash-strapped SMEs and more testing for frontline staff. Going forward we should apply this robust-but-constructive mind-set to the government’s post-Brexit EU trade negotiations, and also on key policy areas such as immigration.
In short, we need less placard-waving, and more constructive criticism. Less virtue-signalling, and more realpolitik.
The fall-out from the Coronavirus pandemic will have a huge impact on our economy and society for years to come, so it’s vital that we learn the lessons from the 2008 crash and ensure that the benefits of the post-crisis recovery are shared fairly this time.
We must make the case for effective international co-operation as the basis for our national security, but we must never go back to the winner-takes-all hyper-globalisation that has been ripping through our communities for far too long.
These are just some of the monumental challenges that our new leader faces.
But, as impressive candidate Lisa Nandy stated repeatedly during the campaign:
“Labour’s path back to power is steep, but it needn’t be long”.
Under Keir’s leadership our party and movement is now going to re-unite, and rise from the ashes. We’re going to re-emerge from the political wilderness and take that steep path back to power with clarity, courage and conviction.