By Seema Malhotra
Labour MP for Feltham and Heston
AS PARLIAMENT returns, it is a bittersweet time – we welcome new colleagues but also share sadness and disappointment for those who lost their seats across the country.
There is no doubt that this was Labour’s reverse 1997. It is a defeat that is going to need root and branch reform of our organisation and our policy platform to win back the trust of the British people and the votes of those who voted Conservative either reluctantly or simply stayed at home.
The hope the Labour party brought and which saw us gain seats in 2017 has been reset after two years of parliamentary stalemate over Brexit, a lack of decisive action by Labour on anti-semitism and other issues, and a Tory party at war with itself. This election should have been Labour’s to win. Why we did not is now the subject of much debate and indeed a review which I will also be undertaking across a range of seats where we lost or where we won but with a reduced majority.
The task of the next Labour leader is – put simply – to give us the best chance of winning the next general election. Party members and registered supporters who sign up before Friday (17) will be voting over the next three months, with the result announced on April 4.
Labour needs a leader who can unite and rebuild our party, and unite and lead our country. Someone with an edge, who can reach out and connect with all communities, someone who can inspire, and someone who has the depth of experience needed inside and outside parliament.
That’s why I’m backing Keir Starmer for Labour leader, because he’s got what it takes to win.
Keir has a strong record of public service and acted against Murdoch journalists in the phonehacking scandal when he was director of public prosecutions. He has been a strong voice where we have got it right, particularly against the Tory cuts to our NHS and public services. And you only need to watch him in the Commons to see his command of the chamber and his credibility as prime minister.
I was also persuaded when after the election, I called colleagues in northern seats who had lost and asked them about what had gone wrong. I then asked them who they would be backing for leader, and heard again and again that it would be Keir. He had campaigned in almost 50 seats, and they had seen his ability to listen and connect.
Indeed, in the past few years, he has been around the country hearing views on Brexit, immigration, NHS and wider issues around the causes of Brexit and what needs to change. He sees the challenge that could now come to our very union itself, and will have campaign bases around England, and in Scotland and Wales.
And alongside a strong leader we will need a new strong deputy leader, leading a connection with our party members, our communities and our supporters. That’s why, while giving my nomination to Dawn Butler MP to help give us the widest possible debate, I am backing Angela Rayner, our shadow education secretary, for my first preference vote. She is someone who has succeeded against the odds from a tough upbringing, but has shown an ability to draw crowds and win hearts and minds.
This isn’t any ordinary time in British politics. Our country is about to change fundamentally. The rules by which we have lived side by side, the rules by which we do business, the rules by which we travel, all are set to change.
Never in my lifetime has government and opposition been more important. Labour must stand tall in parliament. A huge responsibility rests on our shoulders to watch closely and scrutinise every move of the new Tory administration.
The leadership campaign is going to be an opportunity to debate Labour’s purpose, how we differentiate ourselves and how we fight back. We must show political leadership on the issues that Britain will face and to be ahead of this now.
Asians in Britain need to engage in these debates too. The future is going to be different from the past, and if we want to see Britain united rather than broken and divided, it’s going to take all of us to stand up and be counted.