PLP leadership hustings

A private meeting of hundreds of MPs is not really a private meeting.  But meetings of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) are slightly more so than entirely public gatherings.

Several MPs tweeted from yesterday’s PLP leadership hustings: John Woodcock, Rachel Reeves, Douglas Alexander and Denis MacShane, for instance.

But these were tiny snaphshots, in some cases only of their favourites.

The note below is a fuller record.  There are many public hustings to come. But the tone of the leadership cadre is always slightly different at the PLP than anywhere else.

We have provided this note for that reason.

Nominations close at 1230 tomorrow.  There are currently 42 MPs still to declare or nominate.

This is a not a transcript.  It is an amalgam of several contemporaneous notes taken for their own use by people present at the meeting.   If some candidates have more remarks recorded than others, it is because they said more things that people wrote down.

Opening Statements

John McDonnell: We need the widest possible debate. Listed many things he has voted against.

David Miliband: We have lost 180 colleagues since 1997. We no longer seemed to offer change. Our values are our strength. We need powerful redistribution of wealth. Real change in how we do politics. A big disconnect has grown up between party members and the centre.

Diane Abbott: 30 years ago I tried to join my local Labour party and was told that it was full.  I had to fight to be included.  And that’s what I feel like I’m doing again now.

Ed Balls: People thought that we didn’t get it. We should give a voice to those who didn’t have one.

Andy Burnham: I am not a factional politician. We must learn from the past but we mustn’t disown it. In government we spent too much time courting elites (Also got a laugh about being in lots of departments and DCMS).

Ed Miliband: Values are the best vehicle for change.  We failed to listen to and hear what colleagues were telling us; like what colleagues were telling us on housing, on agency workers and on the 10p tax.  Ability to inspire – politics can change our society.

What would you bring to being PM?

David Miliband: Know what has to be achieved. Discipline, promise and definition.

Diane Abbott: We have to get the policy right and communicate it better.

Ed Balls: I will bring judgment and courage, strength, and resilience to the heat from the Tory press. I talk a language people understand.

Andy Burnham: Unify people. Good judgment important when instincts take over. Ability to inspire people.

Ed Miliband:  Values. We went wrong when we spoke the language of technocrats. Empathy.

John McDonnell:  Shared life experience.  Need for a new form of political activism which is not driven from the centre.

What is the best way to bring our involvement in Afghanistan to an end?

Ed Balls: We went in for the long haul. The mission and purpose is still vital to the security of our world

Andy Burnham: As a country we need to show our staying power. We need to win hearts and minds.

Ed Miliband: Can’t be a war without end. Need a political solution. Need to build up the Afghan army and build up civil society, an essential part.

John McDonnell: I voted against the war. Now nearly 500 lives have been lost.

David Miliband: A political solution is needed. The problem for Tony Blair was that Bush didn’t understand the need for a political solution. Afghan people don’t want Taliban back.

Why did we lose and how are we going to win again next time?

Ed Balls: We weren’t totally defeated.  There were many good results. (Then went into detail about how we did among different demographic groups). And what happened to our support among lower income groups.

Andy Burnham: Too many people didn’t know what we were offering.

Ed Miliband: Values. Our idea of fairness wasn’t the same as theirs (voters). We didn’t have a movement.

David Miliband: Values, movement, and centre ground. Same as brother.

On behalf of 25 MPs in the North East, what are you going to do for us?

Andy Burnham: I’m fighting for the North East now.

Ed Miliband: The way the coalition is dealing with the deficit is the worst kind of short-termism, particularly in communities like those in the North East. We should be asking: what kind of society you want to live in at the end of the deficit reduction process? We have to lift the organization.

John McDonnell: The Tories will concentrate on the North East. We need to support Trade Unions and communities that want to resist.

David Miliband: We are a national party, and we have to be a party of national growth; for communities like South Shields as much as for communities like Stevenage.

Ed Balls: Growth. David Cameron has referred to growth in just one speech (at the CBI dinner). He doesn’t talk about growth.


Ed Miliband: To stop the free movement of labour is difficult. We’ve got to look at the underlying causes of why immigration was a problem, like the labour market and housing.

John McDonnell: Housing.

David Miliband: Use right tone.  We got it wrong on fairness in housing allocation and supply. If you want a leader who wants a Dutch auction on immigration or Europe, don’t vote for me. Britain is better because of immigration.

Diane Abbott: We can’t go down the road of blaming immigration for the problems of the working class.

Ed Balls: I fought the BNP so I know about this.

Andy Burnham: We and our activists don’t feel comfortable debating the issue.  Our collective tendency is not to talk about it

What were the toughest and the most unpopular political decisions you’ve had to make?

John McDonnell: Voting against the government because of my principled positions.

Diane Abbott: Sending my son to the City of London School.  I put the child first.

David Miliband: Actually, sometimes the toughest thing was voting for the government (got a big laugh). And the Iraq war. I’ve read the Blix Report and I’d make same decision now as then.

Ed Balls: The toughest was waiting the two weeks for the independent report into Haringey childrens’s services while David Cameron talked about Baby P.  The most unpopular were the decisions on the systematic abuse of admissions to faith schools.

Andy Burnham: The toughest was Iraq and most unpopular was the privatisation of NHS logistics.

Ed Miliband: Toughest was standing against brother, but I wanted the widest choice.  Most unpopular was defending our decisions on nuclear power. Lots of people said we were wrong. Also, defending the third runway at Heathrow because of collective responsibility.  Winding up the debate defending the third runway which I didn’t support.

Do you agree with a 100% elected House of Lords, elected under PR with no Bishops?

David Miliband: Yes. 100% elected using PR, and no to bishops

Diane Abbott: Yes, wholly elected.

Ed Balls: Yes to all.

Andy Burnham: Yes to all.

Ed Miliband: Yes to all.

How do we change our political culture so that it’s not all about personalities?

Ed Balls: We need more effective representation. The National Policy Forum should be strengthened.

Andy Burnham: There needs to be a root and branch review. Need to use new technology to have instant debate. Smaller donations from a wider base. I’d rethink, renew the base and stop stage management.

Ed Miliband: Cultural change in the party. Elect the party chair. Symbolically, party conference is really important, but it’s true that currently it doesn’t engage people.

David Miliband: Train 1,000 volunteers.  Put people before programmes.  Keep the PLP backbench committee. We need to combat the negative briefing culture (got biggest clap of the evening).  Need a positive briefing culture.

Why did we lose the South?

Andy Burnham: Talked about Southern discomfort (referring to Giles Radice’s 1992 Fabian pamphlet about the attitudes of floating voters in the South).

Ed Miliband: We need a stronger small business offer. We made our peace with capitalism through big business.

David Miliband: It was a Southern disaster, not a Southern discomfort. Different demographic.

Ed Balls: Our policies were less relevant.  The national minimum wage is less relevant in the South. Tax credits help fewer people in the South. The welfare state doesn’t give the same support to people just over the threshold.

What personal attributes would you bring as leader based on experience?

Ed Miliband:   Empathy.  ability to reach out to people.  Ability to speak to and connect to people.

John McDonnell: Commitment and dedication.

David Miliband: I’m careful when making a decision, then stick to it.  Very loyal. Make a judgement and stick to it.  Take great care.

Ed Balls: Making a progressive case in the face of extremism.

Andy Burnham: I’m a people person.

Who can best win?

Ed Miliband:   You need to think about values: what kind of movement do you need to win, what kind of arguments do need to win. There needs to be inspiration.

Andy Burnham: Only Compass could organise a hustings 3 hours before kick off. We can win next time. We can connect with people.

Ed Balls: What do we need to do to win the next election? They want a winner.

Diane Abbott: It’s not just about picking a man or woman. There needs to be a diverse ballot.

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