By David Milliken
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s Labour Party needs to do more to promote aspiration and look more like a government-in-waiting, the party’s business spokeswoman, Rebecca Long-Bailey, said when she formally launched her leadership campaign on Friday.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is stepping down, after the party’s worst election performance since 1935 gave Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives a large majority in parliament.
Long-Bailey is currently second in the race to succeed Corbyn, behind the party’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer, according to a YouGov poll of party members for The Times newspaper.
Speaking to party members in Manchester, northern England, not far from where she grew up as the daughter of a trade union official, the 40-year-old lawyer said Labour had failed to convince the public they were competent to run the country.
“The truth is many didn’t trust us, whether it was Brexit, whether it was tackling anti-Semitism – they didn’t believe in us enough,” she said. “There is no point promising the world, if people don’t trust you with the basics,” she said.
Labour’s policy of renegotiating Johnson’s Brexit deal then holding a second referendum dissatisfied both Brexit supporters and opponents, and under Corbyn there was a surge of complaints about anti-Semitism within the party.
“To win, the Labour Party does need a new professionalism. We need to look like a government in waiting,” Long-Bailey said.
Long-Bailey is close to trade unions and has been characterised as wanting to keep more of Corbyn’s policies than Starmer, a 57-year-old former head of England’s prosecution service who wanted Corbyn to take a tougher line against Brexit.
However, on Friday Long-Bailey said existing Labour policies needed to be supplemented with a greater focus on aspiration.
“We talked quite a lot about individual polices in relation to helping the most vulnerable – which we should do, because we’re the Labour Party, we’re the party that does that. But we didn’t match that with a message of aspiration.”
In a further nod to the right wing of the Labour Party, Long-Bailey also briefly mentioned the optimism created by the 1997 victory of Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is now a hate figure for many on the left due to his support for the 2003 Iraq war.
Long-Bailey also said parliament in Westminster felt almost as remote as the EU in Brussels to many voters, and pledged to close the unelected upper house of parliament and replace it with an elected senate outside London.
(Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by Alistair Bell)