Liz Kendall adds zest to Labour’s leadership race

Leicester MP is scathing of party’s aimlessness under Ed Miliband

 Mary Creagh MP, Tristam Hunt MP, and Liz Kendall MP speak at the Progress annual conference, at TUC Congress House, central London, as they bid for leadership of the Labour Party. Photograph:  Laura Lean/PA Wire

Mary Creagh MP, Tristam Hunt MP, and Liz Kendall MP speak at the Progress annual conference, at TUC Congress House, central London, as they bid for leadership of the Labour Party. Photograph: Laura Lean/PA Wire

 

Just weeks ago, Leicester Labour MP Liz Kendall was little noticed inside the Houses of Parliament but utterly unknown to the British public at large. Today, she is running an increasingly credible campaign to become the party’s next leader.

So far, candidates Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Mary Creagh have all said similar things: Labour have lost touch with voters; it must side with the aspirational and be pro-business.

Though it is early days in a campaign that will run until September, Kendall is managing to win an audience by displaying an ability to say the same things as her rivals, but with a twist that makes them sound refreshingly new.

Yesterday, she met with Westminster correspondents – she distanced herself from Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, claimed a degree of second-sight, but also argued she remained silent about her concerns out of loyalty.

Displaying a degree of irreverence, the 44-year-old, who was first elected in 2010, was nevertheless scathing about Labour’s pitch to voters. “We lost our shadow chancellor, but most people thought we had lost our balls before the election,” she said.

Kendall must build up momentum, since hopefuls have to win the support of 15 per cent of Labour MPs before they can be put on the ballot paper. Burnham and Cooper have had years to build up a store of favours to call upon.

For some, the Liverpudlian Burnham has a non-metropolitan common touch, but for others he is a former cabinet secretary under Blair who came fourth in the leadership battle five years ago, ahead of Diane Abbott.

Betting odds

Reflecting the blunt approach she wants to project, Kendall talked yesterday of how Labour faces a threat from the UK Independence Party in north of England constituencies and enjoys no “god-given right to exist”.

In a pithy condemnation of the Miliband years, where the leader spoke of predatory capitalism and imposing price freezes, the Leicester MP said: “We decided the British public had shifted to the left because we wished it to be so.”

Saying that Labour failed to answer “the big questions” people had, she said: “Lots of people told me they couldn’t see Ed as prime minister. But we didn’t lose because of his personality. We lost because of our politics.”

Much of her messaging, for now, seems directed towards the public at large, rather than to the party’s members, MPs and affiliated supports in trade unions and other organisations who will have a right to vote.

“If a school is providing a great education, whether it is the local authority, academy or free school, we will back it. What’s more if someone wants to help run their school, they deserve credit not criticism.”

Resistant to reform

“The clue is in the first word. What matters is what works,” said Kendall.

Union leaders such as Unite’s Len McCluskey have an opinion, but not a veto: “[It] can’t be about who the general secretaries say impresses the most, or who makes Labour comfortable. It must be about who’s got the best chance of winning.”