The luxury of hindsight

The last time we chose a new Leader was in 2007.

Gordon Brown was elected unopposed.

There were vocal complaints that there had not been a proper contest.

There can’t be that complaint on this occasion. We had a contest and a half.

Five candidates. Four months. Scores of hustings.

The candidates were dropping by the end. The result a cliff-hanger.

An exhaustive ‘alternative vote’ system meant that it went five rounds – and suddenly the younger Milliband, Ed, had won. A gasp went round the hall.

I gave my first preference to the elder Milliband, David; my next vote to the North-West’s own Andy Burnham, former Health Secretary, and MP for Leigh.

But four of the five candidates were each capable of doing the job; and any doubts I might have had about the winner, Ed Milliband, were lifted by the speech which he made to Labour’s Conference in Manchester on Tuesday afternoon.

Whatever the party, the post of Leader of the Opposition is the worst in British politics.

You have huge responsibilities – above all to lead your party to victory – and none of the power and authority which naturally comes with government.

The Leader’s speech at a party conference is the most difficult he or she will make in any year.

At least in normal times the Leader has the summer to work on it.

Ed Milliband had three days. In my view he pulled it off.

Critically he confronted three demons the party has to face. First was the deficit. He was right to say that in Government Labour would have had to make uncomfortable cuts in spending; that we wouldn’t oppose all cuts – but we did oppose the scale and the pace of the cuts now being planned by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

He was right to spell out that he would oppose ‘overblown rhetoric’ and ‘irresponsible strikes’.

And he was right above all to say that it was not the fault of the British people, but of Labour that we had lost five million voters since those heady days of the 1997 General Election.

Unsurprisingly I do not share Ed’s view about Iraq.

He said – and I believe him – that he was making no criticism of those who made the decision.

It was horrendously difficult. The problem with decisions is that you never have the luxury of hindsight.

I set out in my evidence to the Iraq Inquiry why I believed that we made the right judgement at the time.

Ed also made me sit up when he said that when the new Justice Secretary says we should look at short sentences in prison because of high re-offending “I’m not going to say he’s soft on crime”.

I’m open to look at any issue.

But re-offending by short term prisoners is high not because prison is a failure, but because these offenders have been tried time and again on probation or other community punishments – and have still gone on to commit more crimes.

96 per cent have seven or more convictions – often for scores of offences.

But overall I’ll give it eight out of ten. For me – it was my last platform speech. For Ed, the start of a long journey.

I wish him luck.

What have 3000 people done in the last 24 hours?

I love politics… something I never thought I’d say.  Always thought that politics was something that other people did, the ones with politics degrees and who had nothing else to do with their lives.

I joined the Labour Party in January (shouldn’t really say that should I?! – but still it’s true) and it has made such a dramatic difference to me.  My friends always ask me what is going on and last night when I was in the refectory at uni the lady who was serving me was quizzing me all about a hung parliament and what it meant.

Now, I love politics.  For me, the reason I love politics is because it is about fighting for something that you believe in, standing up for what you think is right and having a voice to disagree with something you don’t.  One of my friends said to me after complaining about a few things that she didn’t vote in the last election, my point to her was that you have a vote use it – join in and fix it instead of sitting at home or in the pub complaining!

So I have decided to tell as many people as possible to join the Labour Party and get involved.  We need you!  There has never been a better time to get involved and show your support!

This election campaign has been brilliant and as most of you will know we had a fantastic result in Blackburn.  I had a man ask me at the count why Blackburn Labour Party are so good?  My reply, it is all about teamwork and more importantly fighting for what we believe is right – fighting for the many not the few!

The next election I want you to be a part of it!  So join or if you’re unsure get in touch and I’ll be happy to have a chat with you –