A lively hustings for Labour Party leadership candidates at Manchester’s Central Convention Complex last night covered a lot of ground including issues around: Brexit, housing, transport, political reform, the environment and antisemitism.
The three contenders for the Labour Party leadership, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy and Keir Starmer, laid out their visions for the future of the Labour Party at a hustings in Manchester last night.
Lisa Nandy, the current MP for Wigan, would move the Labour Party headquarters to Warrington if elected its leader as a way of reconnecting the party to local communities, she said at a hustings event hosted by the Guardian at the Manchester Central Convention Complex.
Appearing alongside Rebecca Long-Bailey and Keir Starmer, Nandy criticised politics for being too “London-centric,” and pledged to create Citizens Assemblies and push through electoral reform in order to “hand real power to our constituency parties, councils and communities.”
Rebecca Long-Bailey, who is currently MP for Eccles and Salford and the Shadow Secretary of State for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, agreed with Nandy that there needed to be a “democratic revolution”. She pledged to abolish the House of Lords and replace it with an “elected senate outside of London,” as well as announcing her support for mandatory “open selections” in Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) where party members would be able to choose who represented them in parliament as opposed to re-selecting sitting MPs, as a means of allowing talent to “rise up through the party.”
Long-Bailey also promised to democratise the economy by empowering “regional institutions” to be responsible for “delivering industrial strategy and making investment decisions,” in order to devolve “real economic and political power to our regions and nations.”
Starmer, who is currently MP for Holborn & St Pancras and the Shadow Brexit Secretary, said it was right to “radically devolve power” to communities. He said he was “very open” to changing the country’s voting system because under first past the post voters in safe seats “feel their vote doesn’t count.”
When asked by an audience member on how HS2 would benefit the UK economy, Long-Bailey won applause for her response that “HS2 should have started in the North [of England] and finished in the South.” Long-Bailey said she had supported HS2 because it had been originally intended to “build capacity in the country’s rail infrastructure.” However, she wanted to see a “crossrail for the North” so that people could get around the region, rather than getting to London quicker.
On the environment, Long-Bailey presented tackling climate change as an “economic opportunity.” Which would be seized by the “Green Industrial Revolution”, aka the Green New Deal. Long-Bailey had spent four years drafting this Green initiative which would create new jobs, insulate homes and make electric cars more affordable.
Nandy pledged “greener, more reliable buses” and “home insulation” and “green energy jobs.” When asked by Anushka Asthana, who was chairing the event, whether he would increase fuel duty, Starmer said that the electorate could not “be shy of the argument that if you want transformational change that you’re going to have to pay for it.”
The candidates were in agreement that the next Labour leader should prioritise fixing the housing crisis. Starmer said it was “a complete disgrace” that the current system didn’t treat affordable housing as a basic human right and promised “a massive building programme of genuinely affordable housing”, while supporting a “licensing schemes” in the private sector.
On housing, Nandy promised to link the definition of affordable housing to income and to end “land-hoarding” by developers. Meanwhile, Long-Bailey pledged to give Local Authorities the money they needed to build “at least 100,000 council houses a year” and argued that there needed to be rent controls and “secure tenancies.”
On Brexit, Long-Bailey said that Labour’s focus on Westminster “did not convey what we were trying to do to our community and led to a lack of trust,” which ultimately lost Labour the election. According to Nandy the party’s Brexit policy was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Starmer rejected this, claiming that blaming the electoral defeat all on Brexit was a “dishonest” analysis. He insisted instead that the “leadership” had been the factor which had come up on the doorstep most consistently, followed by Brexit, “manifesto overload” and the antisemitism crisis within the party.
On the issue of antisemitism, Long-Bailey promised to put in an independent complaints process as the first action she would take if elected leader. Nandy admitted that Labour had “let people down very badly” over its handling of cases of anti-semitism and agreed with Long-Bailey on getting the party’s “house in order.”
When asked by Asthana what she offered which the others did not, Long-Bailey implored the party’s members not to “abandon” the Corbyn project. “We won’t win again and unite and inspire our movement if we abandon these building blocks of a socialist society,” Long-Bailey said. “We’ve never won elections without offering a bold vision.”
Nandy warned that Labour needed “an honest reckoning” when it came to what went wrong. “If we get this wrong again, we won’t just be out of power for ten years, there will be no Labour Party to vote for. It isn’t enough to say we got everything broadly right… that we can just change the face at the top and that will change things for us.”
Starmer emphasised his ability to unite the party. Labour faced two options, he said. “We either mope around and take lumps out of each other… but we’ll lose. Or we pull together, we unite, we rebuild, we recognise that the next leg of the journey is for us. Labour governments don’t come out of nothing; they only happen when the Labour movement pulls together and decides it’s going to win the next General Election.”
Labour members started receiving their ballot papers via email and by post this week. Voting will close on 2nd April, with the results announced at a special conference two days later.
Feature image: Screengrab of Youtube video