Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

A pitch to the country or the party

Last night’s Newsnight Labour leadership hustings in Nuneaton marked the closing of the parliamentary Labour party’s nomination process and fired the starting pistol for the ‘proper campaign’. Generally the format of the programme did not allow for debate or a clash between the candidates to allow them to show their differences – apart from a few standout moments.

Andy Burnham used his opening statement to attack the prime minister and the Tories. As the bookies’ favorite he played it safe and pitched to the party membership. While he made no mistakes, neither did he stand out at any point in the debate. He struggled to stretch beyond his brief of health and the NHS, often falling back on it for examples during the discussion. A broader vision is still to emerge from Burnham on the economy or an analysis of what went wrong for Labour in May.

The shadow health secretary said he wants to take Labour ‘out of the Westminster bubble’ because it has looked ‘like it has been run by an elite, talking in a kind of code for years’. All correct, but the former secretary of state’s anti-establishment pitch is reminiscent of Ed Miliband’s insider-outsider insurgency.

Liz Kendall was the only candidate to clearly pitch to the country and not the party’s membership. She was frank that the party was not taken seriously on the economy or trusted with people’s money. She was also the only candidate to link Labour values to show why the party needs change – ‘We cannot put our values into practice if we do not win’. While her pitch to the country showed the kind of leadership the party needs, will this win her the support of the party?

Yvette Cooper, although making no mistakes needs to do more to dodge the charge of just going through the motions. To her credit, she gave a passionate defence of the welfare state, citing her own experience of being ill for a year and having to ‘claim benefits otherwise [she] wouldn’t have been able to pay the rent’. Pitching herself between Burnham and Kendall, her campaign strategy seems to be to amass second preference votes, not making any noise on the way to doing so. It could be a winning strategy, but it did not yet make her stand out as the confirmed next leader.

Jeremy Corbyn was … Jeremy Corbyn. Nothing he said would have been out of place at a rally of the People’s Assembly or CND – you have to admire his consistency at least. However, he posed more questions than answers, and was the voice of protest from the left. The fact Tories have been plotting to register as supporters of Labour to vote for Corbyn, I think, tells you all you need to know. He did not pull the broader debate to the left, which progressives can take heart in, but had some lines that were real crowd pleasers.

The most telling moment of the evening was at right at the end, and it was worth waiting for. Candidates finished by discussing whether they would stand down if the party was doing badly under their leadership. Of course, Burnham declared, ‘the party always comes first, always’. ‘The country comes first’, Kendall shot back. Fiery moments such as this, along with her response to Philip Hammond on Question Time when he confused her with Rachel Reeves, show that she is unafraid to speak her mind and is more than capable of taking on David Cameron across the dispatch box at prime minster’s questions. Kendall is, as she claimed, ‘the Labour leader that the Tories [will]  fear’.


Stuart Macnaughtan is editorial and social media officer at Progress. He tweets @smacnaughtan


Photo: BBC

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Stuart Macnaughtan

is editorial and social media officer at Progress.


  • I agree and she was also correct about not carrying any baggage. She is clearly a strong minded individual, realistic and pragmatic and these qualities are not contradictory to holding Labour values. I want us to win so we can put those values into effect, and she’s a winner.

  • She was the one that went on about balancing books, etc with the economy. She didn’t sound credible to me. If the Tories were to fear her, it doesn’t mean the electorate will warm to her.

  • Such a predictable partisan analysis as this shows us, the lengths we really have to go to get beyond starting preferences.

  • No, no, no.

    It’s got to be Yeremiy Korbin and that pig-faced slob Watson. The dream ticket!

    Ten more years!

  • I am 100% clear after being to the hustings in Stevenage, that Labour needs a new focus and a women leader, that woman is Liz Kendall. She speaks to the nation and understands the wider society is nowhere near some of those on the left assume it is. The election result should show that. Millions who could have voted to oust Cameron yet instead many voted for an extremist and racist party in UKIP. Others switch their votes to the Tories wile millions more as ever just stayed at home and moaned.

    Yet society overall has changed since the days of the 80s and most of the 90s to most people that period is just in history books or a memory of a song. Perhaps just as well as Labour from 79 lost 4 General Elections in a row by veering to only the left and ignoring millions of people in doing so. They do not need reminding of that, its hardly Labours finest period.

    There is a need for a candidate of the centre and that is clear, the public will only respond to Labour if there is. It won’t vote for Corby or those too linked to the recent past.

    There is however too many people using poor language and making up assumptions based on pettiness about the candidates especially against Kendall. When I talk of Corbyn I talk of how the public would respond. I am not personal, I do not call him names, I just respect that he is part of the process. Yet when many of those on the left speak of Liz all they do is name call and act childish. Calling her a Tory is pathetic, she is a Labour MP, she represents one of the most working class areas in the country and she won again when many Labour candidates did not.

    She is Labour as are all the candidates. I wish the left of the party would grow up and just debate, instead of acting like squabbling school kids. There are always difference of opinions, but the left do not have a right to deny the debate and to try and shut it down just because some do not like it.

  • I was tempted to support Liz Kendall because she carries no baggage. She’s fresh and new. But, there’s a problem. She is trying to be a 21st Century Blair. Could Tony Blair win now? No, no, no. We are back to where we were in 1987. The difference is we’ve lost votes in Scotland, and in England to Conservative, Green and UKIP. It was Blair who drove voters away to SNP, Green and UKIP by his Tory-lite approrach. We really need a Leader who will position us right in the middle. Tough on finance, ensuring efficiency not expensive privatisation. Expanding Business. SME’s not big business which is hurting our economy with corporate greed and inefficiency. A clear social policy that is about supporting those who cannot work but developing economic activity amongst the unemployed who are out of work because of lack of jobs and poor skills. Also, to enforce the minimum wage to stop the spiral of downward wages. I do not believe Liz Kendall represents this approach but a Tory-lite approach. If the voters want Tory policies they’ll vote Tory.

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