Kezia Dugdale: ‘Labour could win under Jeremy Corbyn’

Kezia Dugdale.
Kezia Dugdale.
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Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said she was “consistent and very clear” that the party could win the next general election under Jeremy Corbyn - despite having previously said the left-winger could not appeal to enough voters to take them back into government.

Ms Dugdale insisted Labour could defeat the Conservatives in 2020 if it is a “unified fighting force”, and pledged to work with the newly re-elected UK leader to work towards that.

But she stressed Mr Corbyn “has to want to unite the Labour Party” after a split between MPs and grassroots members sparked a divisive leadership contest.

During that campaign, Ms Dugdale publicly endorsed Mr Corbyn’s challenger, Welsh MP Owen Smith, writing in a newspaper column in August: “I don’t think Jeremy can unite our party and lead us into government. He cannot appeal to a broad enough section of voters to win an election.”

After the veteran left-winger was reinstalled as UK leader, Ms Dugdale said her party had to focus on the “hard business” of uniting behind Mr Corbyn.

Ms Dugdale told BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland: “The job now for the Labour Party is to unite behind Jeremy Corbyn.

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“I believe he can unite the Labour Party. He has to want to unite the Labour Party and equally my colleagues the Labour MPs in Westminster have to want that too.

“It’s easy to say those words. It’s time for unity, the hard business now of making it happen is what happens next.”

Pressed on her support for the UK leader, she added: “We’ve had a leadership contest, that has now concluded. Jeremy Corbyn has a mandate to lead the UK Labour Party. I respect that.

“His job and his duty now is to unite the Labour Party and I believe he can do that, but he has to want to do that, and I’m going to work with him to that end - equally, Labour MPs have to do likewise.”

Speaking from the Labour conference in Liverpool, Ms Dugdale stressed: “The job of unifying this party continues because only a united party can win an election.

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“I believe the Labour Party can win a general election as a united fighting force, taking on the Tories. That’s what I’m going to spend every single day aspiring to do and I’m going to work with Jeremy Corbyn to do that.”

While she said her comments over the summer had been “very clear”, Ms Dugdale said: “When you listen to Jeremy Corbyn yesterday, he said he wants to wipe the slate clean.

“He has a mandate from the party, he’s convinced the Labour Party that he can lead the Labour Party. Now his job is to convince the country that he can lead that and I want to help him do that.

“I’m committed to working with Jeremy Corbyn to achieve that end of a Labour government. It’s what I’ve wanted the whole of my entire life. It’s what I get up to fight for.

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“I’ve been absolutely consistent and very clear. I believe Jeremy Corbyn can unite the Labour Party - he has to want to do that, though. Those are easy words, the reality of making it happen is the job of us all to do next.

“That’s what we’re focused on, the next steps on uniting the party, and I want to play my role in that because what I want is a united Labour Party that is committed to taking on and defeating the Tory Government.”

She added Mr Corbyn could send a “great signal” to those MPs who have opposed him by restoring elections to the shadow cabinet.

“There is a case for having some form of shadow cabinet elections,” the Scottish leader said.

But while she said “there has been a history of having elections to the shadow cabinet in the Labour Party when we have been out of office”, she said there was no such tradition for Labour at Holyrood, where the leader appoints the frontbench team.

Ms Dugdale insisted: “There has been no such history of doing that in the Scottish Parliament, I’ve not heard anybody calling for that.”