What a summer of sadness it has been: daily reminders that our world faces the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War. Millions of people fleeing conflict in Syria and Libya drowning in the Mediterranean, dying on Eurotunnel trains and suffocating in lorries. Each day brings new horror. People fleeing death at the hands of Assad and Isis are dying needlessly because of the West’s indifference and inertia.
During June's debate on the Queen’s Speech, I reminded Justine Greening, the International Development Secretary, of the refugees which the UK had helped in previous conflicts, and urged her to take more. This country has a proud history of offering sanctuary to people fleeing persecution. In the 1930s, Britain took in 70,000 Jewish people. In the 1970s, we offered sanctuary to 25,000 Ugandan Asians. We offered shelter to 2,500 Bosnians and 4,000 Kosovar Albanians through a UN resettlement programme in the 1990s. We must do so again now.
The UK Government’s response until Thursday – a refusal to work with the UN or the EU to offer asylum to Syrian refugees – has shamed our nation. It has resettled a paltry 216 people under the UK’s vulnerable persons scheme. That is simply not good enough. Wednesday's national outpouring of grief and anger at the heartbreaking picture of toddler Aylan al-Kurdi, lying lifeless on the beach at Bodrum, prompted a swift change of heart from David Cameron. That government U-turn was also prompted by the courageous intervention of Yvette Cooper, the Labour leadership candidate who called on the UK to take 10,000 refugees on Tuesday.
After I withdrew from the Labour leadership campaign in June, I have spent the summer watching the contest alongside other Labour members. I have not yet cast my vote, just like an estimated 30 per cent of those eligible to vote. People have been away, uncertain of who to choose and waiting for their ballots to arrive.
It has been an unpleasant campaign, particularly on social media. The centre ground has become a toxic place during the leadership campaign, with anyone who suggests that we listen to the public branded as a red Tory, including, risibly, Harriet Harman, who has devoted her life to the Labour Party.
Labour must never forget its responsibility to the British public. Our challenge is how we apply our values to shape our country, which has been buffeted by globalisation, technological change, recession and Tory austerity.
For 13 years in government, we put Labour values into practice and we changed people’s lives for the better. It is why the Labour Party exists. Those three election victories lifted a million pensioners and a million children out of poverty, saved the NHS, transformed education, built a fairer workplace through the minimum wage and holiday entitlement, stopped mass murder in Sierra Leone and Kosovo, and delivered 3,000 Sure Start centres, the Disability Discrimination Act, the Human Rights Act and civil partnerships.
Labour needs a leader who can unite the party, shape our national debate and make the world a better place. That leader must reach out to the British people and show how Labour will make their lives and the lives of their children better.
I believe that leader is my Yorkshire neighbour, Yvette Cooper.
Yvette has shown she would honour the UK’s proud history of offering shelter to those in need. Her call for the UK to take 10,000 refugees shows the strength of her values and her courage and crystallised my decision to support her as leader. It changed the nature of the national debate, from one where tabloid columnists referred to refugees as cockroaches, and the Prime Minister to “swarms” of migrants, to a position where the ‘welcome refugees’ campaign and Aylan, have forced David Cameron into a U-turn. True leaders don’t just follow public opinion, they create, shape and change it. Leaders do not accept the world as it is, but instead paint a picture of the world as it should be. That is what Yvette has done.
Yvette’s commitment to tackling inequality, child poverty and a radical programme of genuine devolution has been unwavering. Like me, she’s defended Labour’s economic record against those who suggest that Labour created the global financial meltdown. And she understands Labour must speak with both the head and the heart. We must show people we can create a country where compassion, hope and economic competence go together.
Labour has a duty to be a credible opposition, to win elections and to put our values into practice. To once again put our principles into action at home and abroad.
Yvette has shown this week why she is the woman to take the fight to Cameron, and to win in 2020.Reuse content