Labour’s path back to power will be through on-the-ground activism | Lisa Nandy

The next party leader will have to go to the places that rejected us, and win the argument. That’s why I’m standing

  • Lisa Nandy is Labour MP for Wigan

We are out of power and on the rocks. The shattering collapse in trust among lifelong Labour voters has been a long time coming. Now is not the time to steady the ship or try not to oversteer. Unless we change course, we will become irrelevant.

This change starts with empowering people to make change themselves. We’ve been a decade out of power in Westminster, changing our leaders, and commissioning reports and focus groups from offices in central London just to hear what is happening in the country. If we were trying to reinforce the sense that we just don’t get it, we couldn’t do better than this.

Yet out there in the country, Labour is creating change – from Preston council, which has used local assets to grow the economy, to Nottingham, which set up its own energy company to help the poorest. As shadow secretary of state for energy and climate change, I brought 60 Labour councils together to defend the Paris agreement and cut the UK’s carbon footprint by 10% by switching to clean energy. Quietly and unsung, we disrupted the power of the big six energy companies. It is this on-the-ground activism that will pave the way back to government.

We’ve been running scared of debate, dissent and constructive challenge. The anger and infighting has to end. We are leaving the EU on the hardest of terms. Laws that defend people’s health and their safety at work, the environment and the minimum wage are unlikely to survive a free trade deal with Donald Trump. A century of progress is at stake. In this fight, Green MP Caroline Lucas is not our enemy. We are an internationalist party, and we should make common cause with others here and around the world. We need to stop waiting for a saviour and have the confidence to believe that change comes from ourselves. Ours is a movement that will graft and toil to deliver change together.

To do it, we have to become rooted in our communities again. The GMB union’s campaigns on Amazon and Uber, Unison’s resistance to the privatisation of NHS staffing or Unite’s community campaign on universal credit could create the same groundswell for change that brought us the minimum wage – a beacon of hope in similarly dark times. Labour activists support credit unions and law projects in every nation and region of the UK. They need and deserve real power, resources and respect to allow us, by the strength of our common endeavour, to achieve more than we achieve alone.

In the decade I spent fighting for the rights of marginalised children before I became an MP, I learned that winning a vote in parliament is never enough. What is needed is the hard yards of winning the argument, inch by inch, in town halls, workplaces and pubs. This is where we fight to regain people’s trust and win permission to deliver radical change.

The luxuries of a hung parliament are behind us. If we want a hearing we will have to go out into the country, create waves, and make it happen. The next Labour leader will have to be up for a scrap – willing to run to the places where we are loathed, take the anger on the chin, and make and win the argument.

The belief that this country can be better drives me forward. Bring back universal child benefit, end the benefit cap and build a system that gives people dignity, not just an allowance with conditions set by decision-makers in Whitehall. Reclaim our public services so they are run by empowered frontline professionals, not distant experts. Bring investment to places that have lacked so much for so long to deliver good jobs, not charity. Find the courage to tackle the social care crisis – no longer can we abandon people to die in poverty after a lifetime of work.

We could run the economy as if the future matters. More than 1,000 fossil-fuelled power stations are being built across the world, many with the support of UK banks. Their backing equals the whole coal-power capacity of the EU and Australia put together. This will raise flood risks in Britain, threatening everything from our pensions to our planet. It is just one symbol of an economy that puts profit before people – with appalling long-term consequences.

By the next election we will be trying to win voters who were toddlers when there was last a Labour government. More than stories about how Margaret Thatcher ruined the NHS, they will need evidence of the real change that comes from our grassroots. Born in 1979, I was 17 before I saw a Labour government, and at times it felt that change would never come. I went into politics to change the world, and that flame has never dimmed. Our biggest asset is the people in every community and workplace I have ever been – MPs, councillors, activists, trade unionists and charities who give their all because they see a spark that, if ignited, might just change the world.

Amid the shellshock, anger, hurt and frustration, there is hope. This defeat was shattering, and I never want us to be here again. But rebuilding cannot wait. I am standing to be the leader of the Labour party to defeat Boris Johnson and lead a compassionate, radical, dynamic government that I firmly believe most people want and deserve. That leadership will place at its heart an end to the wholesale patronising of working people as a homogeneous group, to be saved or condemned. We can change Britain, but it doesn’t start in five years’ time. It starts now.

• Lisa Nandy is the Labour MP for Wigan


Lisa Nandy

The GuardianTramp

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