The last two weeks have been refreshingly honest. Lots of people at all levels of the Labour Party have expressed the need for ‘radical change’, a ‘fundamental rethink’, the need to ‘go to dark places’, ‘soul searching, ‘listening to the country’, ‘worst defeat ever’, ‘Labour on brink of abyss’, ‘Clause 1 moment’, and so on and so on. It’s been refreshing, honest and absolutely necessary. Now we need to see it through.
The Leadership election has the potential to give us both the conduits and the space to really get into this debate. What are we for? What do we believe in? What do we want to achieve? At this stage, the decision about whether this happens is in the hands of the Parliamentary Labour Party. They alone will decide who will go onto the ballot paper for Leader, a huge responsibility and the first test of their mettle as a new PLP: will they have the courage to give the Party and the country a real choice?
We know Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper will be on the ballot. Both of them are very good people who have given a lot to the Labour Party, but neither of them represents the seismic change we need. Liz Kendall on the other hand is something very different. She is a clear break from the past, her ideas are fresh and interesting, and she expresses them in a way that is accessible to people out there in the world beyond politics. Liz embodies a modern, electable Labour Party we really, really need to hear from right now.
No doubt there will be weeks, months, possibly years of big conversations with the people of Britain about why Labour lost so dramatically. But before we go too far down this road, we should reflect on the fact that we have just had the biggest survey of opinion possible in this country – a general election. The people of Britain have spoken and they told us, quite clearly, that they were not prepared to elect us as we are. We need a fresh start.
From 1983 Neil Kinnock, John Smith and then Tony Blair, through blood, sweat and tears, marched (and dragged) the Labour Party up the quite spectacular mountain to election success. Since 2010 we’ve been marching (actually I think we’ve been running) a long, long way back down again. And now we have a very big decision to make.
A contest between Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall may of course end up choosing Andy Burnham. He is the Labour movement’s intuitive choice, the gravitational pull, and there’s no denying that he’s a pretty good embodiment of our traditional politics. But at the same time, there is a real appetite in Labour once again to reach beyond the traditional, construct a modern Labour Party, reach out the the country, and win again. With each passing day, and now with Tristram Hunt having withdrawn, it’s becoming abundantly clear that this means electing Liz Kendall as the new Leader of the Labour Party.