Labour leadership candidates were vying for votes in black and ethnic minority communities as they took part in a hustings in east London last week.
Organised by campaign groups Patchwork Foundation and Operation Black Vote, the leadership debate with Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, (who could not be present but was represented by Seema Malhotra MP), Jeremy Corbyn and Liz Kendall took place in the KMPG Offices in Canary Wharf last Thursday (30).
Long-serving lawmaker Corbyn, who had initially been dismissed as an outsider with no chance of replacing Ed Miliband, was endorsed last month by the country’s biggest trade unions, Unite and Unison.
In his introductory speech, Corbyn said: “I want to live in society where we actually care for everybody and are proud to say so, rather than going down the arguments of Benefits Street and much of our media.
“Standing up for self-organisation is important. Standing up for all these things is important but it’s also about creating an economy that is achievable and accessible to all and a society that cares for all. That’s what motivates me in politics.”
Labour was led in May’s general election by Miliband, who resigned after the party’s heaviest loss since 1987, at the hands of the Conservatives.
Some have argued for a radical shift to the left, while others want a return to the centre ground which brought the party its last spell in power between 1997 and 2010.
Shadow health secretary Burnham, the third favourite to win the four-person race, said he came into politics “to challenge a world where the postcode of the bed you are born in pretty much determines where you end up in life.”
“I believe life is getting harder for young people,” he said. “In my view they will always be better off with a Labour government that will speak up for those who have the odds stacked against them.
“I can unite Labour because I’ve always been true to its values and never been a factional. Also we need credibility in the Labour message; we need to show how we can deliver our promises. We can’t promise the earth so people need to know they trust us to deliver the promises.”
Cooper, second in the latest polls, said in a video message: “With your support, Labour can send a strong message about how serious we are about victory in 2020. I’m determined to take on David Cameron and the Tories from the start. Ultimately it is a choice about who will be the best Labour prime minister – because that’s the decision voters will be making at the general election.”
Kendall, MP for Leicester West, who has never been in the cabinet, said she shared “your goals of a world free from discrimination and prejudice”.
“I will never forget while growing up, the open discrimination and racism in the face of my black and Asian friends and the barriers put in their way. A lot has changed over the years, much of it down to Labour government.
“I am very proud to be one of the three MPs representing Leicester, one of the most diverse cities in the country. I know the difference a Labour government has made to BME communities in my city. I also know the difference BME communities have made to this country.
“My vision for the future is not simply a fairer and more equal society; it is that you take control for yourselves. Let’s get power out of Whitehall and put it in your hands because we make better decisions when you are leading changes in our public services, in our communities, in our jobs and in our skills.”
The winner will be decided by a vote of party members, lawmakers and affiliates, including its main financial backers, the trade unions. The result will be announced on September 12.
The candidates outlined their positions on the issues of concern to voters.
Yvette Cooper says she will create diversity champions in every department of the government who will personally report to her if she is made prime minister.
Seema Malhotra, who represented the shadow home secretary at the hustings in KPMG offices in east London, called for “affirmative action” to see that public services are “making it their duty to increase diversity”.
“It’s about taking tougher action and monitoring, and making sure if Yvette is prime minister we will have departments having a diversity champion and made to report to her on the progress they are making.”
MP for Leicester West, Liz Kendall, explained that “great businesses succeed when they can fully make use of the talent of all the people in this country”.
Andy Burnham said the Labour party needs to make comprehensive education “part of their DNA”.
The leadership contender argued that Labour had one of its “worst moments” when they called comprehensive education “bog-standard” in their 2015 election campaign.
“Having kids together from all backgrounds, seeing life from all sides, and having a range of opportunities in school – that should be what our party believes in.
“The values of comprehensive education should be as intrinsic for the DNA for the labour party as is the value of the NHS,” he said.
Liz Kendall said the earliest years of life were most important in children’s lives: “Kids in my constituency start pre-school 15 months behind where they should in terms of development. The 0-5 years should be as important as primary and secondary school.”
Jeremy Corbyn believes Labour “sadly” pandered to UKIP during the general election campaign this year.
The frontrunner for the Labour leadership and MP for Islington North said he was “very proud” to represent a multicultural community.
“Had there not been migration to Britain since the end of the Second World War, what kind of living standards would anyone have in this country; transport system, university or anything else? We all are very well aware of that answer,” he said.
“The way immigration controls work at the present time can be unbelievably cruel. The income level that’s required to bring a spouse from overseas outside of Europe is too high.
“It’s cruel partners cannot be reunited and children cannot be reunited.”