Hundreds of members of Brighton and Hove Labour Party gathered on Saturday (29 February) to question the Labour leadership and deputy leadership candidates about their vision and the policies at the Grand Hotel, Brighton.
Three MPs remain in the race for the Labour leadership: Sir Keir Starmer (who does not use his title), Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy. They all talked about the need for unity to enable the Labour Party to build a better, fairer and more equal society.
Mr Starmer said: “We need to bring our party together. We lost the trust from the British people as a party of a change (at the last general election.) Mr Johnson is dangerous; he is no clown. We need to be relentlessly focused on winning the next general election.”
Ms Nandy, who represents a constituency in the North of England in Wigan, said nurses and ex-miners voted for the Conservatives, having returned Labour MPs for one hundred years. She blames unemployment, high house prices, debt and air pollution and said: “People need to believe in politics that will transform their lives again.”
Mrs Long-Bailey highlighted how the Labour Party rebuilt Britain after the second world war and introduced the NHS. She said we need to build council housing now and stop privatisation. Labour’s ‘guarantee’ she said if she wins the Labour leadership, is that “your children’s lives will be better than yours.”
Mr Starmer said: “We need to win back the trust of the public. People in their hearts know inequality has gone too far.”
Mrs Long-Bailey said the essence of human nature is a decent standard of life and the green industrial strategy. She said: “These are not radical policies. They are good enough for our European neighbours and they’re good enough for our country… We must empower our members to be our cheerleaders in our communities. The Labour Party is about realising aspirations wherever you’re from.”
Mr Starmer and his London constituency voted remain but after the referendum, he spent a lot of time with leave voters to understand their point of view. He said people told him they wanted better infrastructure and transport, jobs that had dignity and decisions made closer to home. He said: “It’s a compelling story about change that, I think, takes us a long way forwards.”
All the candidates were concerned about press freedom and smears against the Labour Party. Mr Starmer thought the press needed to diversify because independent journalism is under attack. He said there is a high risk that Britain will follow the American model which will have a negative impact for Labour at the next general election. Ms Nandy thought the BBC should be mutualised to make it more accountable.
While Labour leadership candidates agreed that the Labour Party will not be able to win an outright majority in a general election without winning seats in Scotland, Ms Nandy argued most strongly to keep the union together. She said: “The SNP fought a ‘once in a generation’ referendum and we need to hold them to that. We want to see a party that stands up for working people. We need to fight for the UK. People in Scotland need far more power far closer to home.”
Mrs Long-Bailey said she would campaign vigorously against Scottish independence but couldn’t guarantee the outcome. Mr Starmer said he would work with Scottish Labour and not impose policies from Westminster. He thought the campaign should be about social justice, not constitutional arguments and independence underpinned by radical devolution and a federal system.
Candidates also discussed the economic settlement as a means of explaining inequality in our very wealthy society including homelessness and waiting times for child mental health assessments. Mr Starmer said: “We need to have the courage to say our economic model is busted, it’s not delivering and we need to change it for a different economic model.”
However, it was Ms Nandy who came up with a solution. She said: “We may not be in power but we should never believe we are powerless. Do not sign trade deals with countries who don’t sign up to the Paris agreement (about climate change.)
Mrs Long-Bailey summed up discussion at the hustings by saying for many people pay is too low, bills are too high, housing is too expensive and homelessness is getting worse. She said: “The solution is not to retreat and despair. It’s to offer hope: Aspirational socialism, an industrial revolution… We forge our path to power not by weakening our aspirations but by realising them.”
Brighton Kemptown and Brighton Pavilion endorsed Rebecca Long-Bailey as their Labour leadership candidate. Hove and Portslade chose Keir Starmer.
After lunch there was a hustings of the deputy leadership candidates: Angela Rayner, Dawn Butler, Rosena Allin-Khan, Richard Burgon and Ian Murray who is the only Scottish MP sitting in Westminster since last December’s general election. Here is just a taster of what they said.
Mrs Rayner said Labour needs to talk about everyday socialism, promote peace not war, save the planet from climate change and she said: “We don’t have to pander to the racists to win in Northern seats.”
When asked who was her most inspirational figure, Mrs Butler said her late father who worked on the railways. He could not be an official trade union steward because he was coloured. She said her father told her, ‘never walk on the other side of the road.’ She said: “I am exhausted when I stand up for my own rights and empowered when I stand up for other people’s rights.”
Mr Burgon promised as deputy leader to be campaigner in chief and organiser in chief. He said there would be no return to immigration controls, Tory austerity, strikes, Labour would be democratic, member-led, internationalist and anti-war. Mr Burgon made a peace pledge.
Mr Murray said the Labour Party is an internationalist party. He said: “Let’s not throw our principles away. Scots don’t want another referendum. Why should we facilitate the means if we don’t agree with the ends like Mr Cameron did when he called for the EU referendum?”
Dr Allin-Khan said Scots are divided and agreed with Mr Murray that Scotland should remain part of the UK and make the case for people in Scotland to vote Labour.
Mrs Butler won the nomination for deputy leader from Brighton Pavilion and Hove and Portslade constituencies and Dr Allin-Khan was nominated by Brighton Kemptown.
This article was first published in Brighton and Hove News.