This is one of four articles by Young Fabian members outlining why they are voting for their chosen Labour leadership candidate. The views expressed below are those of the author only. The Young Fabians do not endorse any one candidate for the Labour leadership.
Okay, okay, so when I heard I would be writing a contribution for this four-way leadership blog battle it instinctively led me to sorting the candidates into Game of Thrones houses. You can probably guess that I’m backing Andy ‘Stark’ Burnham. But despite my locating of him in the far northern reaches of Westeros, I back Andy because I believe he has broad reach and appeal. He can extend Labour’s popularity from King’s Landing to Castle Black – and even beyond the Wall.
One of Andy’s critics’ earliest attacks is that he cannot reach out to Middle England on account of having garnered most of his support from the north of the country. On the contrary, there is a sizeable electorate in Middle England that, while they may have different policy priorities, are just as susceptible to hating all politicians equally. They cannot connect. Andy nailed this disconnect before any other candidate.
Andy speaks of an emotional connection. We lost that with UKIP and SNP supporters –and too many analyses from left and right neglect these losses, particularly among C2 voters, Labour’s share of which has been decreasing steadfastly since 2005. These are the voters that have turned to identity politics as a way of expressing their beliefs.
Arguing with an SNP member was too often a hopeless cause because no fact could puncture the ‘Red Tory’ accusations or the idea that the SNP were ‘for Scotland’.
Attempting to convert UKIP voters was a similarly fruitless exercise, as these voters ‘felt betrayed’ and considered that Labour ‘were not for the working class’. It is true that our policies were near identical to the SNP and would have benefited UKIP C2 voters far more than the right-wing, free market, anti-worker polices of UKIP. But it was not policy swaying these voters’ decisions. It was identity, and the fact Labour had lost an emotional connection with large swathes of the country.
As well as providing a clear policy platform, we need a leader who can appeal once more to regions that are the antithesis of Westminster. That leader is Andy. This may seem clichéd and it may be tiring hearing the phrase ‘Westminster bubble’ being bandied around, but Andy is talking about it for a reason: because of the fact we lost so many of these voters in the regions.
Identity too is what pushed Middle England out of our grasp in May. While many argue that our appeal was too narrow – something Andy appreciates and is responding to by chucking in an aspirational message of ‘getting on’ with housing and graduate policies alongside his big visions for a National Care Service - it is also a fact that we lost because the fear of a Labour government at the mercy of the SNP shocked many Englishmen and women into voting out of nationalistic sentiment.
Their identities again were at the core of their vote. Andy’s appeal to help everyone get on and to appeal to an England ‘for everyone’ can help temper those divides. Being for all nations and regions and defeating nationalism by building a positive message that brings to light its inherently divisive nature is essential, and requires Labour to not scrap those parts of the Miliband manifesto which proved popular.
Andy is not a continuity candidate, nor is he a ‘prettier Miliband’ (oh come on guys, that’s mean), this is evidence-driven. Blind surveys proved our policies were popular if incoherent. None more so than our redistributionist policies and our plans to tackle class divisions. Elaborating and building on One Nation by ‘speaking to all regions’ is an asset, not a source of insult.
Andy can realise this vision. He is personable, he has a clear view of where we need to go, and he is a credible leader, something that is reflected in the public polls that consistently put him first.
Jade Azim is Deputy Blog Editor for Anticipations