Liz Kendall addressed a packed meeting hosted by the Exeter Labour party on Sunday, and confidently and persuasively addressed the recent criticisms of her.
She was at her most animated when talking about what motivates her - making sure that everyone has equality of opportunity, irrespective of where they start in life. She expressed her determination to tackle the factors that lead to children of poor families being eighteen months behind those of their wealthier peers when they go to school, as they are now. As Prime Minister she would work to ensure that there are enough midwives, health visitors and that children have the best possible start in life through initiatives like Sure Start. She insisted that we must take care of the vulnerable. She stressed her commitment to our remaining in the European Union, as a key member, and to tackling climate change. She made the point that she wants Labour to take power not so that it can hang on to it but rather to give it away - to communities, to local councils, to co-operative housing groups and so on.
Why did we lose?
Liz called for party members to focus on why we lost the last election and asked the audience to express their views on why it had happened, to help ensure that we don't lose again. Her view is that one of the main factors was that we weren't trusted with the economy, and we didn't say enough about how the future could be different and better. "If you have a job, want a home of your own and to have something to look forward to in old age, we didn't have much to say to you" she said. The Tories won, she suggested, not because they are liked, but because people thought they were better at managing the economy, and perhaps because we didn't say enough about how well we had managed it when we were power. In fact, she was at her most impassioned when talking about Labour's achievements in Government - "I'm proud of what we did" she said, and this generated the loudest applause of the evening.
Liz also called for discussions with those candidates who were unsuccessful in the last election, so that we don't lose valuable information. “Going outside our comfort zone is how we learn”, she said. She talked about the challenges of dealing with the media and is angry that women still have to face comments about their weight, clothes and relationships. And she knows that if people see and hear her they are more inclined to support her.
Liz warned us that the Conservatives “want to wipe out the Labour Party, and they are ruthless". With an impressive analysis she outlined their four - way attack. Her clear and urgent aim is to stop them making the Labour Party an insignificant protest party.
During the question session Liz Kendall was robustly challenged by the Exeter audience - there was a returning member who had left because of Iraq and competition in the health service; a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn; and others who were concerned about her apparent support for Free Schools. She took the criticism full on. “We reduced NHS waiting times from 18 months to 18 weeks" she said. “We want better services, and business should play a positive, controlled role in delivering better services". She explained her view that we shouldn’t dogmatically close Free Schools if they were performing well and valued locally. “Accountability is the key". "We can have both principles and power". This last was her strongest message.
One of the comments from the floor was that Labour lost in rural areas like Central Devon because there was nothing that voters could see was relevant to them. Liz recognised that she needs to know more about rural issues; in fact this was the only topic on which she seemed less than comfortable. She accepted that the party is often perceived as having a “northern” and urban focus. She said she would listen if we advised her; and she would change the "key seats" approach.
Power and principles
During her speech, her response to questions and while chatting informally with members afterwards Liz Kendall appeared approachable, impassioned, and thoughtful. Her firm, clear and unapologetic view was that to further the principles we hold dear we have to be in power, and, if we're not in power, we're letting down the people who need us.
Read Liz Kendall's vision here;
Andy Burnham is coming to Exeter on Saturday; look here for a report on that visit.