A view of the London Eye behind Portcullis House in Westminster
A view of the London Eye behind Portcullis House in Westminster

For an old timer like me, in my third term as a Labour MP after barely five years, I’m struggling to get used to all this change around us. If I see a new face with a striped green pass, I assume they’re a new Tory MP, because there are plenty of them!

I love listening to maiden speeches and regret that I’ve not had a chance to hear many of them. I did have a listen to Alicia Kearns, the new Conservative MP for Rutland and Melton, because we were both on Westminster Hour on the Sunday night and she mentioned she was planning to do it the next day. It was an accomplished speech with the predictable and enjoyable tributes to her predecessor and constituency – combined with the novelty of listening to someone who knew what they were talking about! It’ll never catch on…

The other maiden speech I listened to was from the new Labour MP for Vauxhall, Florence Eshalomi. I’ve known Flo since she was a Lambeth councillor and her speech was inspiring and powerful, including a tribute to her late mother, the NHS that cared for her, and the urgent need to tackle knife crime. She also strayed into controversy by telling busy Labour benches that Nigerian jollof rice is better than the rest. We’ll have to enjoy a tasting to confirm the veracity of this statement.

I made Flo’s maiden speech just in time having rushed off a train from Manchester where I’d been with Jess Phillips as part of her leadership campaign. I’ve thrown myself into the Labour leadership contest having been asked by Jess Phillips to chair her leadership campaign jointly with Melanie Onn, the brilliant former MP for Great Grimsby. For the first time in a long time I’m feeling optimistic about Labour’s future. Jess isn’t the only credible candidate in the leadership race, but she’s the one that offers us the best chance to cut through. She says herself that she’d be unlike any leader we’ve ever had. A bold choice – but I think it will take bold to beat Boris.

The miserable reality of opposition sets in for Labour. Whereas previously the mere hint of a piece of EU legislation would fill meeting rooms and column inches with anticipation about what would happen, these days it’s all very predictable: the Government proposes, Labour opposes, the Government wins.

So just as the Withdrawal Agreement Bill sailed through last week, so did the Queen’s Speech this week. Some of us understand this grim reality and are determined to change it. Others are sadly in denial and seem destined to repeat it.

"Labour wins when we face the future, but still we see people more interested in picking a fight with the past."

Labour wins when we face the future, but still we see people more interested in picking a fight with the past. I lived through the last Labour Government, and even marched against it over issues like the Iraq War and tuition fees. But I’m not in any doubt that the governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown changed this country for the better.Labour’s crisis now is existential.

Our worst defeat since 1935: one MP left in Scotland, one MP left in North Wales, battered in the North and Midlands and irrelevant in the South and East of England outside major university towns and cities. Even in London our vote share fell. As a Labour MP I believe that when Labour loses, the country loses. Lisa Nandy, another credible contender for the top job, warns our party that if we don’t change then Labour “will die and we will deserve to”. She’s right.

I realised this week that Lisa is my new neighbour in Portcullis House, where I’ve just moved in with my long-standing office buddy Peter Kyle. I’ve been ‘curtain-twitching’ all week and getting to know the neighbours. I get on well with all of them – even Clive Lewis who took one look at me and complained that the neighbourhood was going downhill!

For The House Magazine, Volume 42, 20 January 2020

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