Rebecca Long-Bailey calls on rivals to back public ownership

Labour leadership contender urges pledge for ownership of energy, water, rail and mail

Labour’s Rebecca Long-Bailey is challenging leadership hopefuls to back the nationalisation of key utilities in what could be seen as an attempt to test their commitment to socialism.

The shadow business secretary, whose personal political views are perceived as being closest to Jeremy Corbyn’s, said fellow candidates must all pledge to support the public ownership of energy, water, rail and mail.

A platform of nationalising utilities was a hallmark of the 2019 Labour manifesto and a key part of Corbyn’s vision for a Labour government. The party insists the proposal is popular with voters, despite their crushing defeat at December.

Long-Bailey, 42, is one of four people hoping to take over the leadership of the Labour party, alongside Keir Starmer, Lisa Nandy and Emily Thornberry. She formally made it on to the ballot paper after the endorsement of the Fire Brigades Union.

In a speech in Leeds tonight Long-Bailey said: “Members have a right to know exactly where candidates stand. I want to be clear that I am fully committed to the pledges in our manifesto last year for public ownership of energy, water, rail and mail.

“Other candidates say they agree with the transformative programme, but now I’m calling for specific, concrete commitments you can trust.

“Public ownership of key utilities is the foundation for a more fair and equal society, and any candidate for Labour leader should endorse them without hesitation.”

Nandy, a former shadow energy secretary and MP for Wigan, said in December 2019 that she believed Labour’s commitment to renationalisation of services in the election had gone too far.

“If I’m honest, I think nationalising the energy companies is a waste of money. Disrupting them by setting up municipal energy companies and energy co-ops around the country is a much better route,” she said.

Starmer is yet to go into significant detail about whether he would want to continue the exact same commitments to nationalisation as Corbyn, but he has said he sees the value in public ownership.

The deputy leadership candidate Richard Burgon has gone the furthest of all candidates so far on the issue by saying he would write public ownership of water, energy, rail and mail into a new Clause IV to go into the party’s constitution.

Long-Bailey’s challenge to her rivals came as Labour’s former policy chief warned his party against reaching for the “comfort blanket” of assuming the election result could be blamed on Brexit – or on Corbyn’s leadership.

Some close allies of the Labour leader have sought to blame the party’s shift to supporting a second Brexit referendum for its electoral drubbing. And that view was reflected in a report presented to its ruling national executive committee (NEC) on Tuesday.

But Andrew Fisher, who was the party’s executive director of policy until Christmas, and oversaw Labour’s manifesto, told the Guardian’s Politics Weekly podcast that was too simplistic.

“I think Labour’s problem is much bigger than that; and I think anyone who wants to hold a comfort blanket that says, ‘it’s Jeremy Corbyn’ or ‘it’s Brexit’, is doing exactly that: they’re holding a comfort blanket. They’re not really analysing the real reasons,” he said.

“The trends of where Labour is gaining and losing seats, and the shift in the electorate, is much deeper, and something Labour’s got to contend with if it’s going to win back power.”

And he warned the leadership campaigns against using December’s election result as a political weapon.

“I do worry that it’s become factionalised: one side saying, it’s all Brexit, and throwing the Keir Starmer, Emily Thornberry wing under a bus; and the other side saying it’s all Jeremy Corbyn, to try and rid the party of the last vestiges of Corbynism. I think that would be a mistake on either side to do that.”

Practical proposals to try and tackle regional inequality in the UK would be a major tenet of Starmer’s approach to the Labour leadership if he is elected, he said.

He is calling on the government to change the remit of the Office of Budget Responsibility beyond the debt and deficit so they release inequality figures twice a year and factor in the scale of disparity into their forecasting.

The shadow Brexit secretary, who is back to campaigning after his mother-in-law became severely ill, condemned the “pernicious postcode lottery that dictates people’s opportunity, wealth and life chances.”

“We need to move on from the era of austerity and put addressing regional inequality alongside the management of the public finances as the highest priorities of our macroeconomic policy,” he said.

Analysis of official figures by Starmer’s campaign shows people living in the North East earn over £200 a week less than people in London.

Contributors

Kate Proctor and Heather Stewart

The GuardianTramp

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