From today, Labour members have until April 2nd to vote in our leadership contest. I will be first preferencing Lisa Nandy to be Labour’s next leader and prime minister, and I urge you to do the same.
She’s principled, experienced and has a record of achievement as both a campaigner and a front-rank politician. Before becoming an MP she worked in the charity sector getting homeless people off the streets, young people out of dangerous temporary accommodation and opposing the last Labour government’s detention of children at Yarl’s Wood. In her ten years as an MP she has served on the Education Select Committee, spoken out against free schools before it was fully Labour policy to do so, opposed welfare cuts and worked in Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow teams to support children, charities and community energy and to combat climate change.
She has been thoughtful and detailed on policy: on immigration she will defend free movement, but ease public concerns through engagement and investment in skills. She will restore EMA and invest in lifelong learning, will fund social care with a new wealth tax, and has been praised for “grasping the nettle” by making the case for broader taxation to fund public services. She’ll end privatisation of services, but also back co-operatives to build a genuine sense of public ownership, putting services in the hands of individuals and communities instead of hoarding power in Whitehall. She will empower councils far beyond Westminster, so that they can renew their high streets and manage local buses in a way Londoners like me often take for granted under TfL. And abroad she will ensure Labour follows an ethical foreign policy, standing up to Johnson and Trump over a Middle East ‘peace plan’ that is nothing of the sort and refusing to sign trade deals with any country not signed up to the Paris Climate Agreement. She is cautious about the use of armed force, but in the tradition of Robin Cook she also defends Labour’s history of humanitarian intervention in places like Kosovo.
But as we have learnt the hard way in election after election, in real-world politics, our policies do not just exist in the abstract. Indeed as a rule of thumb, the more ambitious we seek to be, the better we need to be at explaining ourselves, demonstrating competence and managing the media. This is why Lisa Nandy’s personality and fluency count for a lot with me too — she took on Piers Morgan, tamed Andrew Neil, casts a spell over people she meets and aced a focus group of former Labour voters. And within Labour itself, she has won over members, MPs and CLPs from across the party and the backing of Open Labour on an all-member ballot.
Equalities also go to the heart of what Labour should be, but as it stands we risk falling short. Electing Lisa Nandy will shatter the glass ceiling that has for too long kept a woman out of the leader’s office (she would also be our first BAME leader, the child of a man who organised sit-ins against the racism he faced and helped write Harold Wilson’s Race Relations Act). And as a Chair of Labour Friends of Palestine who has also been endorsed by the Jewish Labour Movement, she has shown perhaps the strongest grasp of any candidate on how we can rid our movement of the moral stain of anti-Semitism.
Finally, I believe she can reconnect and win — we need a leader who can tackle the schism between Leave-voting towns and regions and Labour’s current metropolitan strongholds. She has been a councillor in London, so she knows that members in safe London CLPs like mine in Hackney care about the whole country, but she has spent the years since the Brexit result setting up the Centre for Towns and working on how to reunify our bitterly divided nation. This is our only hope of rebuilding a social democratic politics where economics and public services come first and more working-class voters can return to Labour. It is why she won a symbolic endorsement from the National Union of Mineworkers, who have entrusted her to win back seats in the North and Midlands that voted Tory for the first time in decades.
Labour’s task can’t just be about winning back the ‘red wall’, though. While the pain of the losses in December 2019 is understandably still fresh, I’ve at times felt like our movement has become inured to the equally damaging blows we sustained in England in 2010 and Scotland in 2015, and to the inroads the Tories have made in Wales. While no one has all the answers, she has spoken well about our problems in the devolved nations and outlined her desire to learn from how the left has responded to similar nationalist challenges in places like Quebec, while PPCs such as Watford’s Chris Ostrowski have identified her as the candidate to reverse the deep ‘Southern discomfort’ Labour must once again overcome in England.
If we win all these people and places back, we can elect a Labour government that will lift people out of hardship, revitalise communities and put our values into practice. This is no small undertaking, but if we are to do it in just four years, we need someone with the guts and the talent to do it. To me, that person is Lisa Nandy.