South Shields and Jarrow MPs speak out on 'battle for the soul of Labour' ahead of Sir Keir Starmer’s first party conference as leader

South Tyneside MPs have weighed in on the ongoing struggle for the future direction of the Labour Party ahead of Sir Keir Starmer’s first conference as party leader.

Thursday, 23rd September 2021, 5:02 pm

The party gathering in Brighton will be the Labour leader’s first since being elected.

Tensions between Labour Party factions have been mounting in the weeks leading up to the conference, with proposals to return to Labour’s old electoral college voting system – whereby MPs have considerably greater weight than party members in electing future leaders.

There is also a campaign to restore the whip to former leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

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Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer. Picture by Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.

Echoing comments she made after Labour lost further heartland territory in May’s Hartlepool by-election, Emma Lewell-Buck, the South Shields MP, said the party had to avoid further “navel-gazing” and “inward-looking” disputes, adding that its aim should now be to reach out to the public at a time of deep crisis.

"People are facing a very bleak winter with rising taxes, universal credit cuts and soaring gas prices,” she said.

"Therefore, I have felt utter despair this week that my party has been plunged into yet another internecine feud over our internal processes.

“Whilst this has consumed the media and Westminster it is not a concern of the vast majority in this country.

The MP for Jarrow, Kate Osborne (left), and South Shields MP, Emma Lewell-Buck.

"I have spent my week as I always do in Parliament fighting for my constituents and challenging the Tories on their severe and harsh policies that are impacting on South Shields.”

Ms Osborne, who has in recent days been ‘erroneously’ put on notice of investigation by the party, said the electoral college proposal would be a ‘hugely backward step’ that would disenfranchise members and the wider movement.

“I feel that going back to an electoral college would be a hugely backward step and extremely disappointing,” she said.

“I strongly believe in democracy and one member, one vote, is the democratic way to elect the Leader, giving everyone an equal say regardless of who they are and what they do.

“Our membership, many of whom are committed trade unionists, must be respected.”

Sir Keir may struggle to see the proposals through the conference, with trade union leaders understood to be unenthusiastic about the planned rule change.

Ms Osborne added: “Given the hugely difficult situation many workers and communities are finding themselves in, we should be focusing on issues that are affecting many people on a daily basis.

“Therefore, I strongly reject a hierarchy which places one above another. Members must be allowed to retain the power to elect the Leader.”

The Labour leader has also published a 14,000-word essay in which he sets out his roadmap looking ahead to the next general election.

The document promises a ‘contribution society’ – with a less ambitious economic agenda alongside plans to “repair the public finances”.

Dubbed ‘The ‘Road Ahead’, some see it as a return to New Labour’s formula.

Mrs Lewell-Buck said: “Keir has set out his vision going forward this week in a long read.

"I haven’t had the opportunity to read all of it yet but at first glance there are some things to welcome and some things I feel require further clarity.

"It is likely that very few people outside of Westminster will read it. It is therefore important our message is crystal clear coming out of Conference.

“But even more important to remember is that voters don’t judge politicians on essays and set speeches – they judge them on their day-to-day words and actions. It is important that every single day our behaviours match our core values and beliefs of social democracy and fairness.”

Ms Osborne has not commented on the essay.

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