So Labour has a new leader. With the country in the grip of coronavirus lockdown, the UK out of the European Union and a Tory government commanding the biggest majority for many years Keir Starmer has a big and difficult job to do.
I was a young activist in 1983 when Labour crashed to the terrible General Election defeat of that year.
Within days, Michael Foot had resigned as leader and it took Neil Kinnock, John Smith and then Tony Blair 14 more years to lead Labour back into government.
Those of us who lived through that period know the importance of a strong Labour opposition and what a difference Labour can make when it wins the trust of voters and returns to government again.
The General Election defeat of 2019 is the fourth consecutive defeat that Labour has suffered and the worst yet.
We have become increasingly disconnected from those we seek to represent. The poor quality of our opposition in recent years has left Labour almost powerless in the face of a huge Tory majority in Westminster and Scottish Nationalist domination of Holyrood.
Labour’s new UK leader needs to act fast to restore our credibility and lead a genuine opposition. We must become a credible party of government again.
Our country is more divided than ever. Divided over nationalism in Scotland, divided over Brexit in England, divided between the North and the South and even divided over race, religion and gender too.
Labour has to make the case for social justice, regain trust and rebuild hope across these divides.
So Keir Starmer has to be courageous and lead from the front. The behaviour of many in the party has been unacceptable. They need to clean up their act or leave.
The factional fighting of recent years must be set aside so we can debate openly but unite in a common purpose too.
His Shadow Cabinet must include our best thinkers and communicators – including Lisa Nandy who brought such a refreshing style and message to the leadership election. They must prove themselves by working harder in parliament and connecting across the country.
We must set out policies and a programme for government that are relevant to the 2020s and beyond, delivering social justice, prosperity and fairness at home and abroad.
The modern UK is diverse, multinational as well as multicultural – so Labour must speak for and understand the challenges of the historic nations of Scotland and Wales, the communities of Northern Ireland and those areas of England that have been left behind.
Specifically, our new UK leader must respect the Scottish Labour Party, and the undermining of party members in Scotland must stop.
The new Labour leadership should be constructive at this time of national crisis. They must support the government’s difficult measures to beat this pandemic, but also insist the government deliver the vital health and care services that will see us through.
When the crisis is over, jobs will have been lost, there will be real trauma in individual families and across communities and our national finances will be in tatters.
Labour must provide hope at this time of despair and layout visionary but realistic policies that will show how we can rebuild our economy, create the jobs of the future, support those who have been traumatised and ensure that our public services can help rebuild lives.
This will be the greatest challenge: to unite the country and then build a better future.
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