Time to reconnect with Britain

Standing in the conference hall on Saturday, you couldn’t miss the different reactions to the announcement of the new Labour leader. It was a reflection of the broad church that is the Labour Party.

Now some are celebrating, others are despairing. Some have been condemned.

I have received vitriolic messages, deriding me for saying on the BBC’sAny Questions? that I doubted I’d be asked to serve in the shadow cabinet because of the issues Jeremy Corbyn and I disagree on.

But to condemn each another in this way is to lack the understanding of the different stories that brought us into this one political party.

Consider a child who this year embarks on their first step in education – starting nursery. Look ahead to them graduating from further or higher education and imagine that their entire education takes place under a Tory government – feeling the impact of cuts, witnessing the growing inequality between private and public education, the fleeing of teachers from the profession. That was my life, from 1979 to 1997.

And during all of that time I defended the Labour Party. Teachers and classmates laughed at me. The idea of a Labour government was the preserve of history and the likelihood of it happening again was ridiculed. I know what it's like to lose your education to the Tories and it’s my overriding duty to ensure that it doesn’t happen to the next generation.

That’s why some Labour people of my era were concerned by Jeremy’s ascendancy – fearful of a return to the 1980s when Labour was trampled by successive Tory Governments.

But history does not have to repeat itself. And it is the responsibility of everyone in our party to ensure that it does not.

That means putting aside past differences and pulling together for the good of our party but, more importantly, for our country. Because a divided Labour Party will be resoundingly rejected by the British people.

Our new leader should use his mandate to reach out across the party, bringing people into the fold. Left, Right; frontbench, backbench; lifelong member, registered supporter – and the many thousands who have joined us in just the past 48 hours – they should all be given the opportunity to play their part.

It is then their responsibility to use it wisely and allow others to do the same.

However, a party that talks only to itself will be ignored. So we must reach out to the public and ask why we lost their trust, and be prepared to listen carefully to their answers. We should never forget that the voters are always right.

We also need to rediscover respect – for ourselves and the electorate. It will not be hard to find; common decency is integral to British values, and we can use that as a rallying point to direct our efforts.

Tough challenges undoubtedly await us and we quickly need to become a strong opposition.

Then we must prepare a credible alternative for government with economic solutions in which people can trust: somewhere between undiluted adoration of the market and printing money.

This must be articulated from a place of unity, understanding that whilst many different histories brought us together, we are united in wanting to serve our country.

It’s time to roll up our sleeves and crack on with the business of creating a brighter future for Britain. Around that we can unite.

This article was first published in The Telegraph newspaper on 14th September 2015

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