Rebecca Long-Bailey’s ‘path to power’ speech – Summary and analysis
Here are the main points from Rebecca Long-Bailey’s “Labour’s path to power” speech in Salford this morning. It was well-written and well-delivered, and John Rentoul has posted a link to the full text.
Much of what Long-Bailey said repeated points she has already made in the campaign, but here are the new or newish lines that stuck out.
- Long-Bailey said Labour should not let the Tories present them as an establishment, “shiny suit wearing” party. This seemed a clear jibe at Sir Keir Starmer, the favourite in the leadership contest, although Long-Bailey did not make this explicit. But she did make the argument twice. In her speech she said:
In this leadership election, our party needs to exercise the greatest care in who we choose to lead us. Because the British establishment wants to put us into a box. A box that separates us from the people our party was built to represent. Well I will not be put in that box and won’t allow our party to be either.
Yes, we have to be credible to regain trust with voters but I’m not interested in the definition of credibility used by the media and chattering classes. The only credibility I’m interested in winning is that of the people.
And in her Q&A Long-Bailey said:
We have got a government that wants to put us into a box. They want us to be viewed as the establishment. They are laying a trap for us. They would love nothing more for us to go down the route of shiny suit wearing, not rocking the boat too much, not setting out a transformative vision, and trying to scale back our ambitions, so that they can turn round to our communities and say, ‘They’re part of the establishment.’
It is obvious why Long-Bailey is making this argument when she appears to be trailing badly behind Starmer in the contest and looking “establishment” could be seen as one of his weak points. But having an establishment, “shiny suit” image has never stopped Conservative leaders winning general elections, and so the premise of her argument is questionable. And Long-Bailey may be wrong to claim that being credible with the chattering classes is not the same as being credible with the public. She seemed to accept that Starmer has credibility with the former, but the polls suggest he has more credibility with the later too.
- She criticised colleagues in the party who said they would vote remain in any second referendum on Brexit instead of backing a deal negotiated by Labour. In the Q&A, talking about the problems with Labour’s Brexit policy at the election, she said:
It was also confusing and ambiguous, the final stage of our policy position, because we talked about a people’s vote as a way to resolve the conversations that were happening in our communities, we were going to give people a vote on the final deal. But then when we were asked if we were going to campaign for our own deal, our answer was: [at this point Long-Bailey put on a posher accent] “I don’t know, we will have to see what it looks like, might campaign for remain.” And that was really bad, and it confused a lot of people.
Reserving any decision about how to campaign in a second referendum until after a Labour government had renegotiated the withdrawal agreement was official party policy, agreed at conference last autumn. Jeremy Corbyn himself would not say how he would camaign, and eventually resolved this conundrum by saying he would be neutral. But Long-Bailey’s comment seemed aimed at colleagues like Starmer and Emily Thornberry who were explicit about wanting to back remain.
- She described herself as someone who was good at both details and big vision. And she said that, as a working-class woman, she was used to having to prove she was much better than middle-class men. In her speech she said:
To deliver our path to power, we need both details and big vision. I do both.
I’m a details person. I work hard. I don’t slack off. I suppose that’s the benefit of being a working class woman, always having to work twice as hard to show you’re just as good, in fact better, than an upper-middle class man. So yes, I do think it’s time our party had a woman leader.
- She said she felt “sad” about the way the party had not focused more on its plans for a green industrial revolution during the election campaign. (See 11.04am.) And she gave an example as to how she thought it could have helped the party win in Falmouth. (See 11.05am.)
- She said Labour should be more “robust” in tackling negative coverage in the media. In her speech she said:
My leadership will be far more robust with the media …
I’ll not only call that out, I have a plan to deal with it. I’ll ridicule the most absurd smears and lies. We won’t just rebut factual errors in stories, but provide a counter-narrative about deliberate media efforts to hold back aspirational socialism.
But a credible and effective communications strategy extends beyond just being more combative and self-confident. It must also be more creative. So I’ll set up a dedicated creative digital communications unit in the party, producing viral content that can both get around media hostility and speak directly to voters.
This implies that Labour hasn’t tried this before. It has, repeatedly, including employing people to focus on digital media, although admittedly there is always room for improvement.
- She said Labour should support a mass trade union membership drive and back workers in every dispute and strike against exploitative bosses. She said:
We aren’t just a different team of politicians in Westminster, alternating power with the Tories. Our party was born out of a movement in communities like mine and many of those we lost in the election.
To win again, we need to look and sound like it. And it’s our members and our trade unions, on the front line in workplaces and communities, who will make that a reality.
That’s why under my leadership, Labour will back workers in every dispute and strike against unfair and exploitative employers. And we’ll launch a mass trade union membership drive, supporting hundreds of thousands of young activists who have been inspired by our party to become active trade unionists in their workplaces.
- She implied that she does not see a case for keeping on Diane Abbott, John McDonnell or Corbyn in any frontline role in Labour. She said:
I’ve learned so much from Jeremy, John and Diane. They helped our party and our movement rediscover its heart and soul. We owe them so much and I thank them for their huge efforts. History will be much kinder to them than today’s media consensus and we mustn’t retreat from that politics.
But they have done their bit and it is time for a new generation to take us forward.
- She quoted Tony Blair approvingly. She said:
In his introduction to the 1997 manifesto, Tony Blair wrote that our party was the “political arm of the British people”. That is what we must become. I believe I can chart the course to get us there.
Last night Jake Berry announced that he was leaving the government. He had been the Northern Powerhouse minister, but Boris Johnson wanted him to move to the Foreign Office and Berry refused because he said the foreign travel meant he would not see enough of his three young children.
Berry’s portfolio has been handed to Simon Clarke, who has moved from the Treasury to be a minister in the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, although it is not clear whether or not Clarke will call himself the Northern Powerhouse minister. He says he’s in charge of levelling up.
Berry was one of the 10 ministers who used to attend cabinet without being a full member. Clarke won’t do that, which could be seen as a downgrade, although the PM has taken a deliberate decision to reduce the number of of cabinet non-member attendees from 10 to four, because it was felt that their numbers were getting out of hand.
Rather than going to the pub (see 11.51am), Julian Smith, the former Northern Ireland secretary, has been visiting a school in his Skipton and Ripon constituency. It turned out the pupils hadn’t been keeping up with the news.
Julian Smith, who was sacked as Northern Ireland secretary yesterday, was doorstepped by Sky News this morning. Asked about his future plans, he replied:
I think my future plans involve things like going to the pub and I’m now going to my constituency.
I wish the new cabinet and new secretary of state all the best of luck.
Jackson Carlaw elected new leader of Scottish Conservatives
Jackson Carlaw has been elected the new leader of the Scottish Conservatives.
Carlaw, who had been filling the role on an interim basis since Ruth Davidson stepped down last August, comfortably defeated his rival, Michelle Ballantyne, the party’s social security spokesperson at Holyrood by 4,917 votes to 1,581.
Carlaw promised to offer voters a “clear, focused, ambitious alternative to the SNP”, which will include a refreshed approach to the union that would be “positive and forward-looking, not lazy and historical”.
Insisting that he would be “an ambassador for Scotland to the UK government”, Carlaw said he would have no problem speaking up against Boris Johnson where necessary.
During his leadership campaign, Carlaw, who has served as an MSP since 2007, signalled that he wants to put forward a more populist policy agenda, to dovetail with Johnson’s plans for the UK party, and win over blue-collar voters disillusioned with the SNP and Labour.
Q: If the UK goes into recession, how would that affect your plans?
Long-Bailey says the economy is vulnerable because the economic model is broken.
She refers to the film The Big Short. That shows how people have not learned lessons from the financial crash, she says.
She says government should invest more in the UK. It is too unequal, she says. She says the green industrial revolution would spread power.
She says people think of collective ownership as an obsession. But it is not, she says. It is about spreading power.
Q: What would you replace the House of Lords with?
Long-Bailey says she does not support the Lords, because it is the only unelected chamber in Europe.
There are some great Labour peers, she says. But a second chamber should be democratically accountable, she says. It should be replaced with an elected senate outside of London.
That would be one step towards restoring faith in politics, she says.
And that’s it.
I will post a summary shortly.
Q: How much would your policy on freedom of movement affect the wages of workers?
Long-Bailey says the UK will be out of the single market. She says she wants an immigration system based on values, not on targets.
She says she is worried EU nationals could be facing deportations.
And she says Labour has a moral duty to oppose the far right, and to make the positive case for immigration. She says she is a child of immigrants. She is proud of that, she says.
She says the impact of immigration on wages is “negligible”. But she says communities are right to be angry about how services are not working for them.
That’s not an immigration problem, she says. She says that is because the Conservative government has starved public services of resources.
Q: Do you think it was a mistake backing the election to take place? And what would you do to stop a no-deal Brexit at the end of this year?
Long-Bailey says she would rather not have had the election. But the party was not in a good place. Many people in Labour communities saw the party as one trying to overturn the referendum. And remain supporters did not like the party’s stance either, she says.
She says it did not help that people in the party were saying different things.
And she says it was “really bad” that Labour could not even say it would campaign for its own Brexit deal.
She says Labour needs to scrutinise the government, and make sure it does not water down standards.
And she says businesses will need support. They have been preparing for the worst, she says. But smaller businesses do not have the resources to prepare, especially firms in the supply chain. Labour should be demanding the government support these firms, she says.
Rebecca Long-Bailey is now taking questions.
Q: This room isn’t full. Are you worried that your campaign is not going as well as you hoped?
Long-Bailey does not accept this. She says she has got some of her finest supporters in the room this morning.
It is a long campaign, she says. And she did not have a campaign ready to go. She was concentrating on trying to win the election.
She says she thought members would go through a grieving process. But she is standing to tell people that their ambitions are not wrong.
Q: Do you only see a path to power outside parliament?
She says Labour will only get into power if it has a strong membership. She wants to have a million members. And she thinks the party needs a more robust media strategy.
The government wants Labour to be seen as the establishment, she says. It would like Labour to go down the route of “shiny suit wearing”, so they can tell Labour voters the party is unrepresentative.
- Long-Bailey says Tories want to portray Labour as an establishment, “shiny suit wearing” party.
She says parliament has to have a role in giving power away. She wants the nations and regions to be given far more power.
She says they also need to define what the role of the government is. She supports a written constitution, so that every decision a government makes should be based on how much it improves people’s lives.
UPDATE: This picture helps to explain the question about the room not being full.
Long-Bailey is now winding up.
When we win the next general election, I want you to be able to say that you stared defeat in the face last time. You felt the pain. But you picked yourself up and were part of a new path to power than runs through social justice, delivering a new, green economy, uniting our people, and empowering them to realise their hopes, dreams and aspirations.
Because not only can we do that, it’s the best way to win.
So, let’s empower our movement to show that big change is possible through a democratic revolution that delivers aspirational socialism and a green industrial revolution.
That’s our path to power. Let’s take it together.