Labour leadership hopeful Lisa Nandy has claimed voters found the prospect of a Jeremy Corbyn-led government “frightening” rather than empowering ahead of the party’s worst electoral defeat of the post-war era.
Delivering the first major speech of her campaign to succeed Mr Corbyn, the Wigan MP urged party members to make the “brave, not the easy choice” and change course with a different type of leader.
Ms Nandy, who quit the Labour frontbench in 2016, is one of five contenders to reach the second stage of the contest after a scramble for nominations went down to the wire on Monday.
Ms Nandy will now join her colleagues, including Ms Thornberry, fellow backbencher Jess Phillips, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer, and the shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey in lobbying for the backing of key unions and Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) across the country.
Referencing the so-called red wall of strongholds across the Midlands and the north that fell to Boris Johnson’s Conservatives at the December election, she told activists gathered in Dagenham, east London: “The stark truth is, the path back to power for Labour will never be to build along the red wall.
“The path back to power for the Labour Party will be built right across that red bridge that stretches from our major metropolitan cities, through our suburbs and into our smaller towns and villages as well.”
Ms Nandy, who described the election defeat as “shattering”, also told her supporters that now is not the time “to steady the ship or play it safe”, adding: “If we do not change course we will die and we will deserve to. This is the moment when we up our game and recover our ambition. So I am asking you to make the brave, not the easy choice, in this leadership contest.”
Quizzed on whether she would stick with some of the radical policies offered by Mr Corbyn – including the nationalisation of key industries – she replied: “We have to understand that the problem we caused for a lot of people in this election, was not that they thought we were too radical, not that they didn’t support the things we were putting forward, but they just simply looked at the prospect of a Labour government and instead of finding it empowering they found it frightening.”
The backbencher also elaborated on what she meant by the “easy choice”, insisting she was not attempting to make any implicit criticism of other candidates in the contest. “I think there is a tendency at times like this to retreat, to play it safe and to not choose change. I am obviously not a candidate that represents safety or stability,” she said.
“I don’t look like the leaders that we’ve chosen in the past and I suspect I don’t sound like them either. There’s no implicit criticism of any other candidate, but I would be the braver, rather than easier option in this leadership contest. For all the reasons I’ve set out, I think it’s vital that we do something different this time round.”
Paying tribute to the Ford machinists and their landmark fight for equal pay in Dagenham, Ms Nandy also said they showed the world “what strong women leaders” do when they refuse to accept the status quo.
“So it is awesome – in the literal sense of the world – to be standing here in this community, so rich with the past and so radical about the future, asking for your permission to lead our party back to power and become this country’s next Labour prime minister,” she added.
There will also be five candidates to become the deputy leader – with Angela Rayner the overwhelming favourite to beat Rosena Allin-Khan, Richard Burgon, Dawn Butler and Ian Murray.
The race is now on to clear the next hurdle, to gain nominations from five per cent of constituency Labour parties (33), or from at least three affiliate organisations, of which at least two must be unions.
Those who succeed in this round will go forward to a ballot of all members of the party before Mr Corbyn’s successor is unveiled on 4 April.