Labour’s choice is oblivion or a chance of power after Jeremy Corbyn led us to defeat – Rachel Reeves

JEREMY Corbyn’s inner circle would have you believe Labour’s devastating election defeat was all down to one issue – Brexit. It is easy to trot out a line that an attempt to unite Labour Leave and Remain voters to back one policy ultimately proved impossible.

By Rachel Reeves
Thursday, 19th December 2019, 4:48 pm
Rachel Reeves is the Labour MP for Leeds West.
Rachel Reeves is the Labour MP for Leeds West.

Sadly, the reasons behind our fourth General Election defeat in nine years – two of those under Corbyn – run far deeper than our relationship with the European Union. Time after time as I walked around my Leeds West constituency, the same issues came up.

Many potential Labour voters did not like or trust our leader, particularly on national security. When your candidate for Prime Minister is so unpopular, that’s a huge problem.

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Rachel Reeves has squarely blamed Jeremy Corbyn for Labour's election defeat.

Another recurring issue was our spending and economic policies. Yes, many of those, such as renationalisation of the railways, cutting train fares, the £58bn for “Waspi” women pensioners and abolishing university tuition fees, were very popular. However, people kept asking me: “How are you going to pay for all this?”

Voters thought we were like that person in the pub who offers to buy everyone a drink, but has to borrow cash to pay when he gets to the bar. I am in favour of using low interest rates to borrow to invest in our crumbling infrastructure such as our transport network. However, there is a big difference between borrowing to fund proposals such as our green revolution to decarbonise our economy – a good idea – and borrowing to fund day-to-day spending – a bad one unless you are in a recession.

Jeremy Corbyn and Rachel Reeves campaigned together in Leeds in the aftermath of the city's floods in December 2015.

No government can afford to fund everything, at least not straight away. We need to be clearer about what our top priorities are and explain exactly how we would pay for them.

A week after our defeat, I am still angry and upset about what happened and what it will mean for the country and the communities I represent in West Leeds. When we battled so hard, it is exhausting and devastating to know we face years in the wilderness.

Of course, I am honoured voters re-elected me. In almost 10 years as an MP, I am proud I have been able to make changes at a local level and help people individually. But it is immensely frustrating that I am powerless to make real changes over the next five years because of the mistakes of the Labour Party and its leadership team.

While the Government is to blame for the NHS crisis and our underfunded schools, Labour must share the responsibility because of our failure to convince people we had the solutions.

When it comes to what happens next, it’s not about whether the left or the right of Labour Party wins out. It’s about wanting power and having the desire to be in Government. That is the way we will be able to lift a child out of poverty, to recruit new nurses and to re-open Sure Start centres to unleash the creativity and talents of our children and their parents.

The landscape in the north of England changed last week. The new Government has made a lot of promises to northern communities, I’ll be making sure they don’t break them. That is one of the reasons I support the plan outlined in The Yorkshire Post for new Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle to amend the Commons timetable so MPs can demand answers from the Northern Powerhouse Minister at a monthly question session.

I would also like to see a new Northern Powerhouse Committee which could call Ministers, civil servants and others to answer questions on plans for the region.

However, there is only so much I can do as an individual MP. To achieve radical change the Labour Party must ensure the decisions we take now put us on the road to a Labour government. It’s time to choose a leader who can win because they can inspire and build a team that will appeal well beyond a narrow sect. The next Labour leader must connect with the Midlands and the North – the areas where we have lost most ground.

A party of working people that can’t command the support of Grimsby, Workington, Blyth Valley, Bolsover and West Bromwich is in real trouble. We need to recapture the essence of Labour and the people’s trust.

The new leader must deal with the outstanding cases of anti-Semitism and kick out these poisonous individuals. They must show they care about defence, keeping our communities safe, and explain how we will fund our spending commitments. The Labour Party is at a crossroads. If we turn the wrong way, we will face the abyss. If we make the right choices, we could be in power in five years. That’s the choice our members now face.

Rachel Reeves is the Labour MP for Leeds West.