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You're Damn Right We're Crying Out for Leadership: An Open Letter to Andy Burnham

26/07/2015 20:49 BST | Updated 26/07/2016 10:59 BST

Dear Andy,

I hope you don't mind me calling you Andy. I also hope you don't mind me writing you an open letter - rather than, say, an open email or an open text message, which seem to be the two preferred communication choices of Labour leadership/deputy leadership/mayoral candidates at the moment.

I'm a brand spanking new member of the Labour Party, joining after The Event That Shall Not Be Named. That's why I've chosen not to opt out of any of the aforementioned emails and text messages - because I realise that I have a lot of listening and learning to do, both about the party and about the people, like you, who want my vote. (And believe me, I've been tempted to opt out. There's nothing more disappointing than excitedly hearing your phone beep and realising it's June Sarpong telling you why she's backing David Lammy.)

Here's the good news: you've got pretty close to getting my vote, Andy.

Here's the bad news: you just inched further away when you abstained in the welfare reform vote.

You say that the ensuing mess shows that Labour is "crying out for leadership". You also said, before the vote, that the government's Welfare Reform and Work Bill was "unsupportable". I watched the video of the leadership hustings in Stevenage, in which you said this about the welfare cuts:

"We will - and must - never sign up to a campaign where vulnerable people who can't replace that income from any other source through work are then having that money taken off them. And this is a red line for me. We never sign up to those cuts to disability benefits. Why? Because if we're not a voice for the voiceless and the vulnerable, then we are nothing in this Labour Party - and I will always be that on your behalf."

My italics - but your red line. And I can't help but think, hearing what you said then and knowing how you abstained in the vote: what is your definition of a red line, Andy? And how are you being a voice for people by abstaining on - and thus avoiding, rather than directly opposing - an issue that affects them so deeply?

You say you abstained for reasons of party unity - but the party seems as divided as ever following the vote (perhaps even more so, as certain schisms become even clearer). And as you say, the party is now crying out for leadership.

But I want you to show that leadership, and the character of a leader, right now. Not wait for when you become leader to then do so.

As many have pointed out, Labour is seemingly rushing into choosing a new leader without first having a debate about what direction the party should take. Given this, surely it's more important than ever that whoever becomes leader is able to steer the party in such a direction. They need to lead - and to take people with them. And not just party members, but the people of the country. We need someone who is, in Tony Benn's words (as the SNP's Mhairi Black reminded us in her stirring maiden speech to the House), a 'signpost', not a 'weathercock'.

But I see very little signposting - very little of 'this is what I believe, and I will take you with me' - in abstention. By abstaining, it feels you have effectively supported that "unsupportable" bill and crossed over your own red line.

This isn't even about the fact that I oppose austerity; that I believe it's a cruel and ideologically driven policy which punishes the most vulnerable in our society for the mistakes and behaviour of others. This government bill could have been about any issue you said was "unsupportable" - before tacitly supporting it by refusing to vote against it.

And despite my stance on austerity, I'm also something of a centrist (amazingly, I believe it's possible to be both). I hated the rhetoric from many on the Left who, post-election, sneered at those who voted Tory or Ukip, believing them to be evil or stupid or, like Dr Evil, both. I agree that we need an honest debate about welfare - just like we need honest debates about housing, education and all other aspects of government policy that impact greatly on people's daily lives. And I think these debates are best approached from the centre.

For that reason, I still think you're the Labour Party's greatest hope as leader right now. But to do that, Andy, you have to take people with you. You have to lead them. You have to give them what Sarah Palin so memorably called "that hopey-changey stuff" (and I think it's about time the Left reclaimed that from her, don't you?). This is what Jeremy Corbyn is doing so well - and why he's getting such levels of support from party members, especially new ones like myself.

I don't doubt that you're familiar with the saying 'If you stand for nothing, you fall for everything' (perhaps from Katy Perry's hit single Roar - or are you more of a Taylor Swift man?). And I don't doubt that you stand for many things, Andy. But I want to see you stand for them now, not just when you become party leader. And to become that leader in the first place - to be a leader who will take me with you - I really, really need you to be a signpost, not a weathercock.

Yours,

Andrea

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