A Greater Manchester Labour MP has said it will be ‘catastrophic’ if the future leadership ignore Ed Miliband’s suffering at the hands of the right-wing press or water down what the party stands for.
Debbie Abrahams, who held her seat in Oldham East and Saddleworth during last week’s General Election, has spoken out about the future of Labour and their need to continue what Miliband started – engaging with and empowering communities.
A week on from the party losing by a landslide to the Conservatives, the analysis into why has begun and many are calling for a return to New Labour, something Miliband rejected.
But Mrs Abrahams feels their crushing defeat was more to do with a failure to win the argument on the economy and Miliband being mocked in the media.
She said: “There are a number of common factors across the UK which contributed to our not winning the seats we needed to form a majority government. Firstly, we failed to win the argument on the economy.
“On a regular basis I was told that the global financial crisis was down to Labour not mending the economic roof while the sun shone. All the evidence shows that this is not true.
“But even on the latest edition of the BBC’s Marr Show the Labour spokesperson was asked if previous overspending by Labour was the reason we lost!
“For me, it was the hiatus during the 2010 leadership election that allowed this government narrative to take hold and which they then reinforced over the following 5 years.
“We must bear this in mind as we start a new leadership contest.
“This brings me to my second point. With a few exceptions, the national media was not, shall we say, Labour-friendly, and in particular, gave Ed Miliband a very hard time.
“This is not to make excuses for our result but it certainly affected some people’s views.
“Ed’s integrity, values and judgement from challenging some elements of the media to stopping us going to war in Syria and to calling the ‘Big Six’ energy companies to account for exploiting their consumers, were spot on.
“His progressive politics, drive for a more equal society, and generally inclusive leadership style – apart from a few ‘outliers’ the Parliamentary Labour Party was pretty united in the four years I was an MP – were impressive.
“But he suffered the consequences of speaking truth to power.”
Mrs Abrahams thinks it is this ‘progressive politics’ that Labour must not lose now Miliband has resigned because it is what the electorate want.
“My key belief is that the electorate did not reject a progressive political agenda, but that Labour’s message of how we would achieve a fairer Britain for all did not resonate,” she said.
“It is important that this is recognised and that in the coming weeks and months, Labour presents an agenda that is a force for social justice and is the voice of progressive politics.
“It would be catastrophic if Ed’s experience was met by acquiescence from the future Labour leadership or a watering down of what we stand for as a party – addressing the inequalities that persist across the country, which damage society and stifle growth, and enabling everyone to reach their potential.”
In fact the MP insisted that Labour’s ‘progressive politics’ is the only way the UK is going to address the current ‘disgraceful’ level of inequality.
She said: “Just before the election, the Lancet reported that life expectancy was increasing but the gap between rich and poor had widened and was associated with increasing poverty and cuts in public spending.
“We now have a life expectancy gap as large as Sri Lanka and Vietnam. For the sixth wealthiest country in the world this is a disgrace.
“As a party, we must continue to promote progressive policies which address these inequalities whilst being fiscally responsible.”
This inequality is something Mrs Abrahams is eager to address in her own constituency.
“I want children from the poorest parts of Oldham and Saddleworth to aspire to great things in their lives just as much as I want young people to be able to buy their own homes,” she said.
“We need to raise aspirations across the socioeconomic spectrum, whilst being a compassionate society which cares for the vulnerable.”
The final reason for Labour’s failure in the election, according to Mrs Abrahams, is a more overarching problem – a disconnect and lack of trust between politicians and the people – that Ukip managed to use to their advantage.
She said: “Politicians are still by and large seen as remote, out of touch and unaccountable by many people from all socioeconomic groups. This is getting worse not better.
“Couple this with, the anger and fear many are feeling, as their lives become harder and harder, it’s not surprising they gave us a kicking.
“Before the election I met a lovely man in his 30s who had recently been widowed. He had moved to be nearer his family who were helping looking after his little girl.
“He said his life was just work, he drove a van, and caring for his daughter, commenting, ‘I don’t want much but surely there has to be more than this’. He was thinking of voting Ukip.
“Ukip in particular has tapped into these fears, pointing the finger at others (mostly immigrants) for the reason many people are struggling.
“But the Liberal Democrats have fallen most foul of this lack of trust. In the South and South West the Tories have particularly benefited from this.
“In Scotland, the SNP has built on its momentum from the Independence Referendum with an emotionally charged campaign which appealed to people’s need for hope rather than fear. I think we should recognise this.”
It is in handling this divide between politicians and the people they ask to vote for them that Mrs Abrahams really feels Miliband had the best approach, one she hopes to see Labour continue in his absence.
She said: “I believe the approach Ed started was the right one. His mission to develop a fairer, more equal and inclusive society was right.
“We need to strengthen this approach not weaken it. This message needs to be heard across the country.
“Labour needs to engage with and empower our communities. The five million conversations we had in the run up to the election needs to continue, week in, week out, from now on.
“Politicians are public servants and should behave as such, listening, responding to and representing our constituents’ views.
“This is entirely compatible with championing our wealth creators, our small businesses and our entrepreneurs. My Be Fair – Pay on Time campaign against late payments for small businesses is just one example of how we can do that.
“But we must also address the current status quo, where power not just wealth is retained by a tiny, tiny elite – elected and unelected.
“We must continue to be the party of the many not just a privileged few.”