LONDON — Labour’s Lisa Nandy has told Business Insider that she would return to the shadow cabinet if asked by the party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The Labour MP for Wigan said she’d “certainly play a full part” if offered a post in Corbyn’s top team in the future.
However, she warned that the party has lost touch with voters outside of major cities and needs to do more to speak for more traditional Labour voters.
Nandy quit as Shadow Energy Secretary following the EU referendum of June 2016, citing Corbyn’s failure to assemble a “broad, inclusive shadow cabinet that draws on the best of our movement’s left and right traditions.”
Speaking to BI on the eve of Labour’s autumn conference in Brighton, Nandy praised the “good job” and “hard work” done by Labour’s current shadow ministers and added that she’d seize the opportunity to join them on the Labour front bench if given the opportunity.
“What I would like to see in the future is a broader representation within the shadow cabinet. The party has always been at its best when we are broadest and when every tradition within the Labour movement is represented on the Labour frontbench.
“I would certainly play a full part in that if asked,” the Labour MP said.
Nandy, who is speaking at several fringes during the Brighton conference, claimed that Labour had finally put behind it the infighting that had characterised many months of Corbyn’s leadership of the party.
“Perhaps I am being too optimistic, but I really feel that the internal machinations have run their course,” she said.
“There are, of course, some people who would like to continue to wage internal wars, but when I resigned from the shadow cabinet a year ago, the reason I did so was that there were two wings of the party that were absolutely determined to go to war with one another. I don’t feel that at all anymore.”
She added: “I think the election was a real game-changer for us. Partly because it cemented Jeremy’s position in the party and so that argument was effectively over.
“But also because I feel that what it did was it reminded us of what it feels like to speak openly about convictions and show our values again. It reminded us of our job, essentially. That was the great success of the election campaign.”
Labour must “speak” for traditional voters to win the next election
Nandy, who is tipped among many Labour figures to be a future leadership candidate, praised Corbyn for “inspiring” young and first-time voters during the general election campaign, but warned that the party couldn’t afford to be complacent if it wants a chance of winning the next election, whenever it takes place.
“Despite the fact we did very well in getting our vote out in Wigan, the Tories, despite doing very little, managed to have their best election result since 1979,” she said.
“That tells you there are still underlying issues that we need to face if we are going to get back to into government.”
The Labour MP explained that despite her party’s surprise performance in June — which she described as a “total shock” — it is still is suffering from a long-standing disconnect with voters in Brexit-voting, largely working-class towns, like her constituency Wigan, northwest England.
“There is a lot of scepticism in a lot of towns around the country about whether Labour still speaks for them. Whether any political party really speaks for people in towns like mine,” Nandy told BI.
She said that Labour focused too much of its attention on cosmopolitan cities and neglected the needs and concerns of voters living in Britain’s towns.
“You had this consensus that was forged under New Labour that outlasted New Labour into the Osborne years, about the economic model based on city regions and growth being focused on cities with towns being pulled along in their wake. We have allowed towns across the country to become a lot more hollowed out.”
She added: “There is also a cultural difference between people who choose to live in towns and cities. When I talk to my constituents, there is very much a premium on stability, on the local environment, on family, which is very different from the sort of fast-paced, cosmopolitan culture that attracts people to live in cities.
“What’s happened in Labour over time is we’ve stopped speaking for that former group of people in favour of the latter. The election laid bare the challenge for us, really. We only win power when we’re able to bring those groups back together and speak for both.”
Boris, Davis and Fox have been a “disaster” for Britain
Nandy has been dismayed with the attitude of ministers Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, and David Davis towards Brexit negotiations, which she says has made “what would have been an incredibly difficult task virtually impossible.”
“Where Labour has been clear is that you have to approach the negotiation in a constructive spirit. The blame game and the name-calling and abuse that is being hurled around is really, really unhelpful,” she said.
Progress in negotiations between British and EU negotiators “would be a lot further down the road than we are now” if Labour’s Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer was representing Britain, she added, and described Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to put Brexit in the hands of Johnson, Fox and Davis as a “disaster for the country.”
The Labour MP defended her own party’s position on Brexit, insisting it is difficult for the opposition to scrutinise the government when its policy on Britain’s departure from the EU is so muddled and unclear.
“The difficulty we are in at the moment is the politics of the UK is really driving the negotiations,” she told BI.
“We haven’t seen any real progress in negotiations since they began. The reason for that is because we have a Tory PM who is being propped up by the DUP who doesn’t have a depth of support within her own party, who has to focus very much on her own immediate survival. So everything is on hold until Tory Party conference because she cannot decide to make trade-offs and compromises with the EU until shes goes to conference and tries to shore up her own position.
“So we’re stuck, basically. In that scenario, there are no trade-offs and compromises on the table to make a decision about. As the opposition, it’s difficult to scrutinise negotiations when there is no real negotiating taking place.”
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