Diana Johnson: Why I’m backing Yvette Cooper to rebuild Labour

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LABOUR lost the General Election badly. Rebuilding starts with the leadership contest triggered by Ed Miliband’s resignation.

LABOUR lost the General Election badly. Rebuilding starts with the leadership contest triggered by Ed Miliband’s resignation.

We need to show humility and understand why we lost. Although avoiding undue haste, we can’t afford to talk only to ourselves for the next four months, while Tory Ministers implement further austerity – hitting the poorest people in the most deprived communities hardest and doing more damage to key public services, such as policing.

Labour needs to change. We can’t offer more of the same – even if better presented. Crowning another traditional leader risks another traditional result. We must apply Labour’s eternal values anew to society as it is today, developing practical policies – not academic theory. We need a leader who respects Labour’s past, but who doesn’t live in it. We need a leader passionate about people’s needs and aspirations, but not addressing either at the expense of the other.

That’s why I’m backing Yvette Cooper. At our best, Labour is the party of aspiration, formed because the Liberals and Tories couldn’t meet the rising aspirations of working people at the start of the 20th Century. The NHS, the Open University, SureStart and much else have all been about raising aspirations.

Yvette is right that Labour’s offer on May 7 was too narrow. Too many voters felt that Labour had no plan to address their concerns – whether it was immigration, welfare and charity dependency, or the challenges facing a young generation saddled with more private debt at the same time as being asked to pay more into pensions. When opportunity is restricted, so is freedom.

Many working people feel exploited, however, not just by bad employers but also by those capable of working who don’t take available work.

Many knew that Labour wanted to stop workplace exploitation and value workers as wealth creators – but they saw no vision for nurturing enterprise and creating well-paid secure jobs.

That’s why Yvette is already acting to reset Labour’s relationship with business, especially those at the cutting edge of innovation. We need a resilient, efficient and productive economy as a basis for generating the growth needed to balance the books, and sustain public services.

In Hull, with our developing green energy sector, we know the importance of working with the local business community to build new industries for the long term.

Our economy must also be ready for new challenges posed by the possible outcomes of this Parliament’s EU referendum.

Yvette will do politics differently, reaching out to all parts of the United Kingdom – North, South, East and West. We need to devolve genuine power, not just blame, without imposing made-in-Whitehall structures on local communities. Labour must lead the fight for fair funding for areas that have had the rawest deal since 2010.

By becoming Labour’s first elected woman leader Yvette will be the breath of fresh air that Westminster’s old boy network needs.

Labour has led the way on gender equality and having more women MPs. However, a century after the Suffragettes, 40 years after the Tories chose Margaret Thatcher, and with the Church of England now ordaining women bishops, there is no valid excuse not to smash Labour’s final glass ceiling.

Women volunteers are the beating heart of Labour Party organisation around the country. Women have led the way in historic Labour reforms, such as the 1968 fight for equal pay that was celebrated in Made in Dagenham. It’s time to break with the past and sweep away any remaining assumption that Labour’s Leader must be male.

Yvette Cooper has what it takes to hold David Cameron to account and put Labour’s case forcefully. A debate about where Labour went wrong is essential, but Yvette wouldn’t allow opponents to get away with falsifying recent economic history or distorting Labour’s record.

She is not only a strong leader, but a team player and team builder. Yvette has a vision for the future – the future of our economy, where future jobs are coming from, what support families need in the future – focused on creating a stronger and fairer Britain.

It would be a Britain where opportunity is matched by responsibility, but where those trying their best at the bottom are not told that Labour doesn’t represent them.

We need to learn from May 7 – and act. The year 2020 must see a strong, organised Labour Party taking on whoever succeeds David Cameron. In the early 1990s some pundits doubted Labour could ever win again. Ten years later the debate was about the Tories.

Now the pendulum has swung back to Labour’s “existential crisis”. Labour can win in 2020 – if we’re prepared to change. Yvette Cooper is that change.

Diana Johnson is Labour MP for Hull North and a shadow home affairs spokesman.