Rebecca Long-Bailey - UK Parliament official portraits 2017

In Conversation: Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour Leader Candidate

Rebecca Long-Bailey, MP for Salford since 2015, is one of four candidates currently vying for the position of leader of the Labour Party. I sat down with her prior to a speech she delivered in Blackbird Leys community centre on 27th January 2020, where we discussed her bid for leadership.

I was keen to know what had inspired her to go into politics:

“Growing up, I learnt my politics really by listening to my dad when he came home from work – he was a trade union rep – and listening to what was happening where he was working: people being made redundant and pay disputes … Later, when I got my first Saturday job, I was working in a pawn brokers and I saw people coming in to pawn with their family possessions and things like that and I got really angry about it … I thought: why, in one of the richest economies in the world, do we have an economy like this that treats people like this?”

Long-Bailey didn’t, however, become actively involved in politics immediately, instead, first pursuing a career in law:

“I didn’t become actively involved in politics until a lot later because I did what a lot of us were asked to do – you know, not to kind of end up like our parents, to work hard, to do well – and I did do well … In 2010, when we lost the general election, I kind of snapped then, and realised that the only way that I’d be able to make sure that we did have that fairer society and that economy that worked for everyone … [was to] get involved and start changing things.”

Long-Bailey’s passion for the NHS, and how this had acted as a driving force behind her decision to enter politics, was evident:

“I was also quite angry about what I saw was going to happen to the NHS under the Tories; I knew they were going to privatise it and that was the direction of travel, even though they were doing it by stealth, and that’s when I thought: right, Rebecca, stop shouting at the telly, get involved, change the world; and here we are today!”

Long-Bailey played a key role in the shaping of the 2019 Labour Party manifesto. I asked her what policies from this manifesto she would change:

“I thought we had some of the best policies that we’ve ever had as a party – a lot of the right answers to the questions that we were facing, whether it was climate change and our green industrial revolution, whether it was to education and our national education service – so I wouldn’t change the policies so much, but I’d change the narrative and the messaging because I don’t think we had an overarching narrative in the campaign that really reached out to people and made them believe that we were there to make their lives better.”

“I don’t think we had an overarching narrative in the campaign that really reached out to people and made them believe that we were there to make their lives better.”

Long-Bailey also spoke of the need for a clearer distinction to be drawn between short-term and long-term policy goals in the future:

“There were things in the manifesto that were a long-term project, rather than a short-term project. So, the four-day working week, for example, is something that, in time, when we’d improved productivity, that’s what we were working towards as a movement, but people kind of misinterpreted that and thought that we were going to do it straight away … That was never going to be the case: it was always a long-term goal. I think differentiating between what you’re going to do in five years and your long-term project and programme is important.”

A widely cited challenge which faced the Labour Party in the last election was demonisation by the media. I asked Long-Bailey how she would look to overcome this were she elected as leader:

“Jeremy had a terrible time; I’ve never seen one person more smeared or attacked than he was … I think that teaches us a lesson in the party that we’ve got to be a lot more robust in rebutting the smears and the criticisms and don’t allow certain elements of the media to define who our leader is and how they’re perceived by the public … We need to look at social media, which we were good at in the last General Election before the 2019 one, but this time we really didn’t seem to hit the right buttons and the Conservatives did – they had a really slick operation, very targeted, and that’s what we need to do. But I think we do need to rebut, and we need to be far more vocal when we see lies and misrepresentations within the media.”

“Jeremy had a terrible time; I’ve never seen one person more smeared or attacked than he was … I think that teaches us a lesson in the party that we’ve got to be a lot more robust…”

The Independent reported on 26th January 2020 that “Rebecca Long-Bailey broke Labour Leadership contest rules, but was quietly cleared by Jeremy Corbyn’s allies who promptly rewrote them”; the alleged broken rule concerned the use of party data to advertise Long-Bailey’s leadership campaign. The Independent’s article noted that some Labour members had expressed unhappiness about the situation, with some of the opinion that the rule change was evidence of rule manipulation by those who wanted to protect their preferred leadership candidate. I asked Long-Bailey if she understood why some people were angry and if she thought that they had reason to be:

“Nobody within the Labour Party contacted me to tell me that I’d broken the rules, and I understand there were concerns. A few candidates did this – it wasn’t just me – where we’d got in touch with our own constituency party members to tell them that we were standing because obviously they’d seen it in the press and they were like ‘why hasn’t she told me’ … and I think that’s what that was around, but the NEC stated that it was acceptable for candidates to let their members know, so I don’t think any candidate broke the rules”.

To finish off, I asked Long-Bailey if she was hopeful for the future:

“Definitely! I think that we are the only party that can provide that vision of the future and you can’t just base it on rhetoric. Yes, you’ve got to have a good message and good ground campaign to win peoples’ hearts and minds, but I know that we’ve got the policies to be able to deliver the change that our economy needs to see. I know that we can unite young people and old people, urban people and rural people, around a green industrial revolution, for example, that shows people what the industries of the future are going to look like, what the jobs of the future are going to look like and how the whole point of the labour party is actually to make people’s lives better”.

Endorsed by The Fire Brigades Union and Unite the Union, Rebecca Long-Bailey recently made it onto the final ballot, along with Lisa Nandy and Keir Starmer. Emily Thornberry is currently seeking the support required to secure her place on the final ballot. The next leader of the Labour Party will be announced on 4th April 2020.  

Image credit: UK Parliament