Friday 22 September 2017

Labour leadership hopefuls herald dawn of a new era

Andrew Woodcock in London

LABOUR'S five leadership candidates all said it was time to move on from the Blair/ Brown era as they took part in a televised debate in the wake of the explosive Tony Blair memoirs.

Mr Blair himself declined to endorse any of the contenders and promised to support whoever is elected "100pc".

But commentators who suspect him of favouring front-runner David Miliband will note that he praised him as "a quite remarkable guy".

In a clear sign of the shift in atmosphere within Labour since Mr Blair's time in charge, all five leadership hopefuls were happy to describe themselves as "socialist" when they appeared in the Sky News debate.

And when the candidates were asked whether they preferred Blair or Brown, David Miliband deftly ducked the question by replying: "Miliband . . . Tony is not on a ballot paper, Gordon is not on a ballot paper, Michael Foot is not on a ballot paper, Tony Benn is not on a ballot paper.

"It's a new generation on the ballot paper and it is how we go forward for Britain and not how we refight the battles of the past."

Voting slips in the postal ballot were sent out to MPs, MEPs, party activists and union members on Wednesday, and the identity of the new leader will be announced in Manchester on September 25 ahead of the annual conference.

Failings

All of the candidates were ready to acknowledge failings in the Labour administrations of the past 13 years.

David Miliband said it was "too top-down, too much about one man -- first Tony, then Gordon", while his brother Ed said New Labour had become "stuck in the past" on issues such as low pay, civil liberties and the relationship with the US.

Ed Balls said New Labour had "lost its way in the second term, because we got into an argument that said 'private good, public bad"'.

And Andy Burnham said New Labour had pursued a "top-down, controlling, elitist, London-centric" style of politics, which he wanted to end.

Diane Abbott said mistakes like the Iraq War had overshadowed Labour's positive achievements, including investment in schools and hospitals.

Asked what would be the defining idea behind their leadership, David Miliband cited the training of activists to become community leaders, Ed Miliband said the replacement of university tuition fees with a graduate tax, Ms Abbott suggested a new programme of council house building, Mr Balls offered the construction of 100,000 affordable homes and Mr Burnham pointed to the introduction of a land value tax to replace stamp duty and council tax.

David Miliband described himself as "the unity candidate in this election" with support from all sides of the party.

"With your support, I think we can be the change Britain needs," he said.

Ed Miliband said the party needed to show "the courage to change at this election and move on from New Labour".

Irish Independent

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