Rafael Behr asks a key question about Labour’s way forward (The new leader will try to unite the party – but around what?, Journal, 27 February). He sounds dispirited about a solution being found, but I say: “Let’s have a not-heated debate!” Why not bring in some good facilitators to work with members and supporters to thoughtfully map out the various camps and their values; to listen compassionately to each other’s enthusiasms, dreams and stories; then to analyse the state of the world and the possible paths to power; finally, to lay out an array of options and conduct some deep and slow reflection on which of them are most likely to be successful?
It might take a few conferences over a couple of years. But it’s doable, and going slowly would be a good thing, giving people plenty of time to look at the crucial questions from all possible angles. It might even become clear from the process what kind of leader would be best to galvanise the party and country behind a new united vision.
• Rafael Behr is hardly reasonable to criticise the Labour leadership candidates for failing to be precise about their plans. A Labour government, if we were ever to get one, would face severe problems, not least the climate crisis, the inequality crisis and a dangerously unbalanced economy. Policies to tackle these effectively need to be based on the best advice and evidence obtainable, advice more readily available to a government than an opposition. To be too precise in opposition can trap a party into committing to actions which have political appeal but in practice fail or are undone by unintended consequences.
We are fortunate to have three strong candidates all dedicated to reducing inequality, cutting carbon emissions and rebalancing the economy, and we should be glad that in the interests of future unity they are stressing their common aims rather than their differences.
• Rafael Behr suggests that Keir Starmer is guilty of “incoherence” to denounce the “free market model” while advocating “intimate alignment” with the European single market. He is absolutely right to challenge the candidates to articulate their approach to a capitalist economy; which is why it’s a shame that the candidates did not agree to take part in a business hustings – offered to them by Labour Business, the party’s affiliated business membership group – to explore their economic ideas. But he is wrong to accuse Starmer of incoherence.
The truth is that thousands of Labour party members who run their own businesses – small, medium and large – are committed to a different approach to the market economy which puts long-term stakeholder values ahead of short-term shareholder profit. Equally, they are clear that they will lose access to the biggest market for their goods and services outside the UK unless, post-Brexit, the UK has the closest possible alignment with the European single market. No incoherence there!
Chair, Labour Business
• Rafael Behr does the Labour leadership candidates a disservice by asserting that “the contest is without serious analysis of the past or substantial account of Britain’s future.” This might be a description of Rebecca Long-Bailey’s pitch, and her disastrous “10 out of 10” verdict on Corbyn’s leadership; but on the next page Lisa Nandy, whose analysis of Labour’s neglect of smaller towns and the aspirational wing of its traditional voters is well-known, makes specific commitments (My Labour will squeeze the rich to create a fairer society, Journal, 27 February).
To name only two: “taxing wealth at the same rate as income” – one doesn’t need to trawl through Thomas Piketty’s monumental works to know that extreme wealth hides and multiplies outside visible income – and “lowering the threshold for union recognition”. These are not mere apple-pie commitments aimed at achieving unity in the party, but specific policies. She even dares to praise the last Labour government’s achievement in poverty reduction.
Anyone who has watched Channel 4’s hustings programme should have been delighted by the courtesy, humour and sheer intelligence of the contenders, both in response to the audience and towards each other. Remember the nasty inanity of the Conservative leadership debate last year?
• Attending the Labour hustings in Manchester last Tuesday has encouraged me to stay a member of the party. Although there is no other party I was tempted to join, I was feeling somewhat unsure what my membership was supporting. While my constituency, Warrington North, has stayed Labour, we have lost all those around us. Both Warrington South and Leigh, previously Andy Burnham’s seat, are now Tory.
Not only am I staying with Labour, I am certain that voting for Lisa Nandy will make the Labour party exactly what it should be, and hopefully in government. She is keen to have Labour relocate its headquarters to Warrington – surely a good way to make somewhere other than London he focus of political engagement.
• At last someone in the Labour party has grasped the nettle. “Soon, all politics will be climate politics,” says Rebecca Long-Bailey (The climate should be at the centre of the next election, Journal, 25 February).
Here in Mytholmroyd, where our lives are dominated by water, waterworks, roadworks, traffic lights, diggers and skips full of flood-damaged white goods, that day has already arrived. Calderdale council (Labour-controlled) has pledged to run every new policy past climate-based criteria; local Labour groups are talking in detail about semi-permeable dams and upland management, and phrases like “carbon literacy” and “climate justice” are in common usage.
Please can those who have a vote on the Labour leadership support a candidate with a vision for facing the massive turnaround we must accomplish within the next decade.
Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire
• As a Labour member, I’ve been receiving emails from the candidates for leadership and deputy. The first email from a leadership candidate was from Rebecca Long-Bailey on 19 February, with messages over the next two days from Lisa Nandy and Keir Starmer respectively. I then received an email on 25 February from John McDonnell (subject line “I’m voting for Rebecca Long-Bailey”), followed the next day by one from Team Labour, explaining that McDonnell’s email had come from them and correcting the Long-Bailey weblink. This was just the day before I received my email voting form.
Three emails sent for Long-Bailey, the candidate favoured by Jeremy Corbyn, McDonnell and Momentum; only one sent for the other two candidates. Team Labour have been far from independent and even-handed.
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