The three Labour leadership candidates, Sir Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy went head to head on Thursday evening in a televised debate on Sky News. Party voting is now underway and the three vying to replace Jeremy Corbyn got to have their say on the future of the Labour party.
Hosted by Sophy Ridge, the debate was held in Dewsbury, a Leave-voting seat in Yorkshire which Labour lost to the Conservatives on a 4.5 percent swing in 2019.
The audience will be representative of the UK population in terms of gender and ethnicity.
One third was Labour members, one third current Labour voters, and the final third was be past Labour voters who switched away from the party in the 2019 General Election.
The candidates took questions on how Labour fared in the 2019 general election, how they lost the “red wall” in the North of England, and the future of the party.
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Rebecca Long-Bailey, 40, kicked off the debate with a 90 second pitch to the waiting crowd.
In her opening statement, Ms Long-Bailey said the election defeat was “devastating”, and added the party needs to “listen to voters”.
Lisa Nandy, 40, warned there would be “no party to vote for” if Labour didn’t get it right this time round.
The Wigan MP insisted she is determined to fix the issues but “progress is not inevitable”.
She said: ”I’m asking you to put your trust in me because this may be our last chance… This is the moment to decide whether we have the courage to try.”
Sir Keir Starmer, 57, was the final candidate to make his pitch to the audience, saying there was one “burning question” they had to answer: how to turn the fate of the Labour party around after December’s “devastating” election result.
He said: ”I came into politics to change lives… you don’t change lives in opposition.”
Up for the discussion during the hour-long debate was coronavirus, the NHS, Brexit, recent flooding across the country and the future of the Labour party.
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On coronavirus, Sir Keir said his “heart goes out to all of those” who have been caught up with the virus.
He also said the government have been “too slow” and have given “confusing advice” over where to travel or not.
However, he said he thinks the public want to see “parties pulling together” rather than pointing fingers, but he would offer to “work with the government” to make things better.
Ms Long-Bailey was quick to slam Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s absence from flood-hit areas of the UK in the wake of three weeks of storms.
Sir Keir also critiqued Mr Johnson and accused him of “hiding” rather than taking a lead on the flooding across the country.
In terms of Brexit, Ms Nandy said “there’s no question” Mr Corbyn and his leadership “came up on the doorstep” – not just in Wigan but “everywhere that I campaigned”.
When Ms Ridge asked if shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir was to blame for that, Ms Nandy said it was a “collective failure of leadership” and an “absolute disaster”.
The trio clashed on antisemitism, with Sir Keir saying he was “pushing time and again” in the shadow cabinet on the issue, as well as in public and on the media.
He said: ”Personally, I think it’s a leadership issue.”
He added if he becomes leader he would request every antisemitism case would land on his desk.
Sir Keir said his “test” for Labour would be if all those who left Labour due to antisemitism would feel comfortable to return.
Audience member Taalib Shamsuddin asked the candidates what they would do to “dispel the misconception” that antisemitism is rife in the party.
Ms Nandy responded: ”Deal with it [antisemitism]. I spoke up about this when I was in the shadow cabinet, it was the only time I broke collective responsibility.
“I am half-Indian and I know what racism feels like.”
Ms Nandy then spoke to Sir Keir, and said if Labour do not acknowledge how badly the shadow cabinet handled antisemitism they would not win back the trust of the Jewish community.
Sir Keir said Ms Nandy’s description of lack of action by the shadow cabinet as “nonsense”.
He said: ”There were massive rows in the shadow cabinet.”
Mr Starmer added: “Rebecca didn’t speak out in the same way as I did.”
Ms Long-Bailey said she is “not pointing fingers” but said she did speak up about antisemitism in the shadow cabinet.
She added: ”The time for retrospective criticism of each other has gone, we are in a crisis.”
When an audience member asked the candidates how they will convince voters Labour can properly handle the economy Ms Long-Bailey said she “wouldn’t drop any of the policies” to manage the economy and transform peoples’ lives.
She said policies such as the four-day week – “that was an aspiration” adding “we’d never have got there” in five years as it was dependent on making progress in areas like productivity.
She added it would have been better to have a five-year manifesto which was “deliverable” and longer-term ideas separately.
Ms Nandy said she didn’t get “any sense” the policies were unpopular and voters had decided already when the election was called they didn’t trust Labour and wouldn’t vote for them.
Sir Keir said he thought “our economy isn’t working”, citing an average of nine children in a class of thirty children living in poverty.
He said: “The idea that people don’t want change is wrong.”
He said voters “didn’t trust the Labour Party to bring about that change”.
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