Labour members prepare to make their leadership choice

MEP Richard Howitt

MEP Richard Howitt - Credit: IAN BURT

Don't blame the candidates or the campaign on the streets of East Anglia – it was the national message which was to blame for Labour's definitive defeat at the polls last month.

Analysis by the region's only Labour Euro MP, Richard Howitt, of why his party was so resoundingly beaten is probably one shared by many in the party.

And he is among the many activists who are now reflecting on who might have the magic formula to rectify this wrong.

Denise Burke, who stood on a Labour ticket in North Norfolk is clear. Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham 'ticks all the boxes'.

But Norwich South's new MP Clive Lewis has given his valuable nomination to backbencher Jeremy Corbyn. He is adamant that he needs to be an option for the wider membership to vote on.

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But there are still many who are undecided – Mr Howitt included. He will not make up his mind until he has attended some hustings and seen what those vying for the Labour top job are really made of.

Mr Howitt remains adamant that Ed Miliband would have been a good prime minister, despite being part of his brother's campaign team last time his party was trying to decide who would become leader. But he accepts there were faults.

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'All of us were quiet and loyal, but some of the messaging in terms of the attitude towards business didn't strike the right note,' he said. He also criticised the so-called 'Ed Stone' – a carving produced in the final days before polling day – which 'did not cover us in huge glory'.

The attitude of the national press towards Mr Miliband was also a factor in the defeat, he thinks.

But what should the party opt for now?

'I think it is about time the Labour Party did have a woman leader and there are some high-quality women candidates in the field. I wouldn't be surprised to find myself voting for a woman leader,' he said.

But the candidates will also have to convince him that they are 'going to be attentive to the needs of our region'.

'I have an extra responsibility to ensure that,' he said. 'That is definitely going to be a big factor too.'

He is optimistic that more seats can be won – and says he is 'gobsmacked' Ipswich and Waveney did not go red.

'Ipswich was a banker for me and so was Waveney, I have to say. I don't think we were a million miles away from winning those seats.

'No way was it the campaign or the candidates that didn't win it. It is on national messaging. We lost the election on national messaging that wasn't right to win over people who needed to be persuaded Labour is responsible on the economy and it worries about the whole nation, including our region.

'The voters are there to be had. With the national messaging being a bit different, those seats are eminently winnable. I was around in 1997 when we won 24 seats, and Labour did better in the East of England than we had done in 1945.'

Former Labour Norwich City Council leader Baroness Hollis said the next leader needed to be 'relatively experienced and battle hardened'.

She added: 'Someone who can construct a narrative that resonates with people on why they, we, need a supportive state – from the NHS and safe birth, to child care to open up choices for mothers, to schools where your child will thrive, to apprenticeships and jobs on a living wage and better, to tax credits to take the strain of sickness and misfortune, to housing help for those unable to afford to buy, through to support for the carers of older people, and dignity for pensioners.

'That requires fairer taxes and sensible government finances.'

She said the new leader needed to persuade voters across the country and across the generations that we all need the supportive state if we are as individuals, men and women alike, to reach our potential, to have strong confident families and strong welcoming communities.

Over the coming months, the candidates who are selected today to appear on the ballot paper will have to persuade those outside Westminster that they have the answer to resonate to many more voters.

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