James Forsyth

Labour’s role in the EU referendum campaign dominates party hustings

Labour's role in the EU referendum campaign dominates party hustings
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‘There’s a sense that no one is hitting it out of the park right now’, commented one Labour MP after this lunchtime’s Parliamentary Labour Party hustings. I’m told that all the candidates had their moments at the behind closed doors event, but that no one truly dominated.

Liz Kendall continued with her role as the teller of hard truths. She warned the assembled MPs that nothing else would matter if people still don’t trust Labour with their money in 2020. Andy Burnham struck a different tone. He stressed that on inequality, Labour must not distance itself too much from the last five years. However, interestingly, he argued that Labour should not abolish right to buy, stressing that the party mustn’t give up on home ownership.

Mary Creagh still doesn’t look like she is going to get on the ballot. But, by all accounts, she turned in a decent performance. She said that she had taught the people who set up Moonpig, the personalised greeting card firm, and when the idea had first been explained to her she didn’t really know what they were talking about. This experience, she went on, had taught her that you can’t predict with certainty where the jobs of tomorrow are going to come from.

What Labour should do in the EU referendum campaign was one of the flashpoints of the hustings. Andy Burnham was the most concerned about Labour being part of a cross-party Yes campaign. He also made some sceptical noises, stressing how hard it was to work with someone who didn’t speak English. Kendall was the most insistent that Labour should be part of the national In campaign, while Yvette Cooper made the point that the argument about the EU must be brought down to a local level. She made the case that the Haribo factory is in her constituency and the argument that would resonate there would be about the need for Haribo to keep exporting to the EU.

We now wait to see who can garner the 35 MPs they need to get on the ballot paper. There’s certainty that Burnham, Cooper and Kendall will be able to do this. But, at the moment, it seems unlikely that either Creagh or Jeremy Corbyn will be able to hit the 35 mark.