The choice facing us in the Labour Party

Here is the text of my recent newsletter emailed to all members and supporters in Bristol South:

Dear members and supporters,

It is great to be able to say that this email is being sent to more members and supporters of Labour in Bristol South than ever before. To our long-standing members, thank you for your continued support in my first few months as your M.P. To newcomers, and returners, a hearty welcome. I hope to get to meet you all in due course. I have always been a strong believer in regular direct contact with voters to understand what matters to them and keep the Labour Party relevant.

The Labour Party has always been a mass movement of people, from different traditions, coming together to deliver fairness, equality and justice across society.  It is exciting to have had so many people join the party in the past few months as it gives us a great opportunity to organise together with the shared aim of removing the Conservative government at the earliest opportunity.

At the election the Tories increased their vote in Bristol South and although UKIP came third they still have one UKIP councillor in Hengrove.  My current local campaign priorities are to support better opportunities and training for 16 year olds, increase housing supply and improve rights for tenants.  We will also be campaigning to ensure that our community hospital provides services to better meet local health need. I hope you will join me and our Councillors at street surgeries in the next few weeks and months to take these campaigns to people across the constituency.

Many recent joiners have been inspired to do so by the opportunity to vote in our leadership elections.  The choice we make now between Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn and Liz Kendall is of national importance.

Like many members and supporters, I was devastated by the general election result, despite our successes in Bristol. The electorate sent us clear messages; they did not trust us with the economy and they did not trust our choice of leader.

We failed to effectively challenge the lies of the Tories and their Lib Dem friends that the economic crash was caused by the last Labour Government. Nor was it caused by nurses, fire fighters, teachers, students or pensioners; it was a global banking crisis, and the economy was growing again in 2010 when we lost power.

I am disappointed that our leaders have not defended our record in government much more effectively.   Our 13 years delivered improvements in all south Bristol schools, a local hospital after a 60 year campaign, Sure Start centres, workers’ rights, gay and equal rights and increased overseas aid. We introduced the minimum wage and delivered growth, low inflation and reduced unemployment. Change and progress I marched for in the 1980s, only finally delivered by our Labour government in power from 1997.

During our time in government we also made mistakes including the Iraq war, insufficient bank regulation and not enough to prevent tax evasion.

We also made compromises to deliver our plans; it is an inevitable part of holding political power.  We should learn from our mistakes but not be cowed by them.

The next five years of Tory plans will be hard for us all, but hardest of all for those in Bristol South most dependant on a fair economy, our state and public services. Our collective ambition must be to mitigate the Tories’ impact by effective opposition; but we must replace them as soon as possible by winning back the power to change people’s lives.  That means winning back seats across the south, east and south-west of England that have now have huge Tory majorities.  Labour won only 12 out of 197 of these seats.

The leadership campaigns are fascinating; Jeremy Corbyn’s stated desire for a straight talking, policy focussed debate resonates with me. He articulates our need to challenge unfairness (whether by big businesses paying fair taxes or those needing welfare getting our support) with passion and clarity. I understand that for some he represents ‘change’, tapping into dissatisfaction with the excessive control of decision making by previous leaders and their advisers that has made our mass movement feel too centralised.

We need to give hope to those who know that the middle aged white male elite running the Tory party do not understand their lives; we need to give direction to our economy that looks at greener, high tech jobs as well as traditional industry; we need to kick start children’s life chances by emphasising the importance of pre-school opportunities and childcare; we need a vision to build two million more homes to address the housing crisis.

That is why I am supporting Yvette Cooper to be our next leader. As the Guardian newspaper said “Corbyn has shaped the campaign, but Cooper can shape the future”.

What better change than to have a woman leading our party? Her practical, feminist approach would contrast spectacularly with the high-handed air of privilege from the Tory front bench.

Yvette Cooper has the intellect, passion and Labour values to be a great leader and prime minister. She has been consistently effective on the front bench as Home Office lead; she shows vision with an alternative to George Osborne on the economy; and she unsettles David Cameron with her common touch.  She is the candidate the Tories fear most.

She is also best placed to unite our party and capture the strengths and ideas from across our movement. However, those who tell you ‘anyone but Corbyn’ risk adding to the tone that turns people off politics. We must take the opportunity that this surge in interest in our party offers us by continuing to debate the range of views of members and supporters, whilst committing to winning the election in 2020.

All four candidates have identified the fact that the Labour Party needs to change. We need a better way of doing things that is forward looking, focussed on the way the world is and will be; not how it was. Rather than move to the left or the right what we need is a broader movement, winning support from all parts of society, including those who do not vote, because that is the way to win back power.

I, like you, hold a range of views, passions and principles that I want to support. My political principle is simple; to improve the lives of the most vulnerable in Bristol South by delivering a Labour government. I believe that Yvette Cooper is the best choice to achieve that.

Yours sincerely,

Karin Smyth