Labour leadership contenders debate party failure

Labour leadership candidates (from left) Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt and Liz Kendall. Picture: Getty
Labour leadership candidates (from left) Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt and Liz Kendall. Picture: Getty
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THE five candidates for the leadership of the Labour party were yesterday quizzed about their plans by members of the public.

They were asked about issues including the economy, the financial deficit and the future of the NHS south of the Border.

“We have lost the emotional connection with people not just in Scotland but in the whole country”

Andy Burnham

Those currently in the race to replace Ed Miliband – Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh and Tristram Hunt – all spoke at the annual conference of the Progress thinktank.

Hunt has not formally declared his candidacy, but said last week that he was “interested”, adding that he would make a formal statement this week.

Some of the candidates admitted economic failings in the last Labour government, with Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, saying that by a third term of Labour government, the deficit “should ideally have been in surplus”.

Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, added: “We let the deficit get too large in the middle years of the last decade. Let’s own up to that so we can start learning lessons.”

He also warned against complacency, insisting that party supporters should not assume that the Labour party is at “Ground Zero” and that “things can only get better from here.

“We have lost the emotional connection with people not just in Scotland but in the whole country and we must get it back.”

Shadow culture secretary Chris Bryant has backed Cooper, tweeting that the next leader must be “someone who’s been tried in the fiery furnace of public opinion”, while Burnham is thought to be supportted by Labour peer Lord Falconer and shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher, who is to run his campaign.

Missing from the stage was Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, who pulled out of the contest on Friday, just three days after formally declaring his candidacy. Citing worries about the effect on his family of continuing with his campaign, he said that he now realised the “added level of pressure” which come with being a leadership candidate.

He said: “I have not found it to be a comfortable experience. One can imagine what running for leader can be like, understand its demands and the attention but nothing compares to actually doing it and the impact on the rest of one’s life. Consequently, after further reflection I am withdrawing my candidacy.” Sources close to Umunna insisted his withdrawal was not due to any negative story which he expects to appear in the media.

Frontbencher Caroline Flint confirmed to the conference that she was running for the deputy leadership. She warned that Labour could “do nothing” while it remained in opposition and had to appeal more widely.

“I like winning elections,” she said.

A deadline of 27 May has been set for prospective leaders to declare their candidacy, with the new leader to be announced on 12 September.