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Why I'm backing Yvette Cooper

The UK Labour party doesn't need to compromise between principles and electability: Yvette Cooper has both.

Yvette Cooper - photo, Steve Punter, CC2.0

In the Labour leadership election, I’m going to vote for a candidate who will put equality and social justice at the heart of Labour’s plans; invest in the shift to a post-carbon economy; create high skilled manufacturing jobs through a major public and private investment programme in research and development; and tackle systematic injustice and redistribute money from the wealthy to low income families in order to end child poverty.

This candidate, of course, is Yvette Cooper.

As a grassroots Labour member and campaigner, I’ve met Yvette only once. I was part of a delegation of living wage campaigners who went to talk to her about increasing wages for low paid workers. She was generous with her time, engaged thoughtfully with our arguments, and was empathetic and visibly moved by the testimony of one of our delegation who spoke about her experience of working on the minimum wage as a cleaner. Yvette made sure before we left that this woman was receiving all the support that she was entitled to, and identified a tax credit that she could claim. Not a surprise, therefore, that Yvette recently announced her plan to pay all social care workers the living wage. And if, for whatever reason, Yvette fancies a career change in future, she’d be an excellent welfare rights worker.

Some politicians have very different public and private personas, loved by the media but detested by those who work closely with them. But the thoughtfulness, intellect and empathy which I saw on the one occasion I met her is confirmed by others who know her better. Andrew Smith, my old boss and the cabinet minister responsible for the largest recorded fall in poverty during his time at the Treasury and DWP, is backing Yvette. One of her first jobs was to work for Andrew, and he says that she was the smartest person who ever worked for him. Sheila Murphy, the legendary Labour organiser in the North West whose most recent claim to fame was ending Esther McVey’s political career in one of Labour’s few gains against the Tories, is working for Yvette. Anneliese Dodds, Bridget Phillipson, Kate Green, and many more of the best and most effective Labour MPs and MEPs from across the country who have seen and worked with all of the contenders, are all supporting Yvette. People who have been to the hustings and heard the different candidates speak and answer questions say that she is passionate, compelling and able to deal comprehensively with whatever comes up.

Not everyone was positive about Yvette, though. One former Treasury civil servant I spoke to said that working for Yvette was a right pain, because she was on top of her brief and always asked awkward questions when civil servants just wanted their minister to nod something through.   

Some of the commentaries on the Labour leadership that I’ve read have suggested that Labour faces a choice between what we believe in and what will get us elected. I don’t agree with this. I think Yvette’s policy priorities and track record aren’t a reluctant and tactical compromise with the electorate, but represent the best and most coherent policy platform of any of the candidates. To end child poverty, I support the person who led on the implementation of Sure Start; to tackle youth unemployment, I’d trust the person who was responsible for the delivery of the Future Jobs Fund...the list goes on. The chances are that anyone who has protested against a Tory cut in the last five years is probably campaigning to keep one of the services which Yvette Cooper had a role in implementing during her time in government. This isn’t about voting tactically based on putting aside principles in favour of ‘electability’, it is that her ideas are the strongest and she’s got the best chance of putting them into practice.

The leadership election does, of course, offer Labour the long overdue opportunity to make history and elect a female leader. Any woman of Yvette’s age who has had such a high profile and effective political career will have had to work twice as hard as any man at a similar level or position of power, dealing with the misogyny that exists in our politics and society. If she wins, the Daily Mail will no doubt already have its articles drafted about ‘Mrs Ed Balls’, and David Cameron and George Osborne will spend every day battling against their urge to be patronising and condescending. Electing Yvette will be one small step on the road to greater gender equality, and will make sure that we can expose and defeat the repellent prejudices that are so widespread amongst the Tories and their allies.

Yvette also has the most experience and the leadership skills to act as a credible alternative Prime Minister. Every successful Labour government has drawn on the talents of Left and Right of the party, from Herbert Morrison and Nye Bevan working together in Attlee’s government, to New Labour implementing the social agenda of the 1980s ‘loony left’. Yvette is the kind of leader who will be able to draw on the diverse skills of Andy Burnham, Jeremy Corbyn and Liz Kendall and all their supporters, in order to bring the Labour Party together after this election.

Sometimes in the Labour Party and on the left, we expect these occasions to produce a Great Leader, someone in whom we can put all of our hopes and dreams, and who by saying the right things and having the right policies can lead us to the New Jerusalem. Yvette, like all the candidates in this election, won’t be that kind of leader, a Tony Blair figure who people can love and then hate. But as an ordinary Labour member not affiliated with any of the leadership campaigns, I’m fine with that. I want a leader who will tackle poverty and climate change, who is backed by some of the most effective people in the Labour movement, and who has the best ideas and experience.

Yvette will be a leader who has decent Labour values, the empathy and intellect to lead a better alternative to the Tory government, and the ability to draw on the talents across our movement and be a Prime Minister who we can be proud of. That’s why she’s got my vote.

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