Speech by Yvette Cooper on being nominated for Labour Leader

Today, as nominations from MPs close, Yvette Cooper gave a key note speech about why she is the best candidate to be Leader of the Labour Party.


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Today, I want to talk about why this leadership election must be about the future of the country not just the past of our party if we are to win again.

The past few weeks have been tough for Labour party. The scale of the defeat has sunk in. The road ahead seems long.

But the image in my mind is also the memory of having been here before. 23 years ago. The last time the Tories won a majority.

I was working as an economic researcher for John Smith, Labour's Shadow Chancellor – a good man with strong values, passion, conviction, and a chortling sense of humour. A Scot who appealed across the UK.

After the Basildon result came in we knew the night would be bad. And in the early hours I stood on the steps of Labour HQ in Walworth Road with a crowd of Labour supporters as the result sank in. We were handed red roses to wave. Mine was a little limp. Broken stemmed. Rather how we felt.

But like so many people that night I vowed to learn from defeat, to work out how to win, and to work towards a better day.

That’s what we did.

We weren’t broken, because in the end nothing could break our enduring Labour values – as the party of work, the party of equality, social justice and solidarity.

But we did have to change – changing ourselves so we could change the world.

And that’s the renewal we need again now.

Of course things are very different from 1992 and 1997.

We cant just return to that formula. The world has moved on. The challenges are very different.

In 1992, we gained seats, we beat the Tories in two-way marginals, and we knew the task ahead was to win back even more Tory votes.

This year we went backwards. We lost seats, and we lost votes in many different directions – and that means we need to win votes back from different places too.

Those new seats we won this year were mainly in our great cities and university town. The metropolitan Liberal Democrat vote collapsed and Labour benefitted.

But in market towns, coastal towns and the suburbs across England and Wales, when the Liberal Democrat vote plummeted, it was the Tories who benefitted. We lost significant votes to UKIP and in some areas we lost votes directly to the Tories too.

And in Scotland, from the highlands to the borders, city, town and croft, we lost overwhelmingly to the SNP.

There’ll be a healthy debate about what to learn from defeat. And from the past.

It’s clear we cannot run a narrow strategy ever again.

There is no hidden reservoir of progressive votes among Liberal Democrats.

And we also cant simply move our narrow party to the left or to the right and think that will work, we have to grow. There can be no no go areas for Labour.

We have a long hard road to support Scottish Labour regaining trust in Scotland. We have to win back the trust of Labour voters who switched to UKIP and are angry about the world. And the vital challenge to persuade people who voted Conservative to come over to Labour. Those who are worried about the economy and the future, especially across suburbs and towns across England and Wales. We need to win back people who leant their support to David Cameron because they thought it was preferable to what Labour offered.

So we have a serious task ahead.

Siren voices will tell us we should pack up shop and declare the party is over. We heard the same siren voices in the 1930s, the 1950s and the 1980s.

Each time we managed to renew and rebuild. In 1945, in 1964, in 1997. We drew on our values to inspire, to shape and design a new mission of national renewal.

We’ve done it before, we must do it again, because too much is at stake for our country if we turn away.

Renew through confidence in our Labour values.

Through reaching out.

And through an optimistic vision for the future.

Through plans that are both credible and optimistic, that combine both economic prosperity and social justice, a vision of a fairer Britain that everyone can feel part of.

So let me start with the values I grew up with.

Born in Scotland, brought up in England, we moved around when I was young. My family are from the coalfield communities and industrial towns of the north - like the Yorkshire constituency I now represent. But I grew up mainly in Alton - a small town in Hampshire, a comprehensive girl.

My first job was about as rural as it gets, picking fruit for £2 an hour on the local farm – and learning to drive a tractor too. Yet now our children go to school in the most diverse and dynamic cosmopolitan city in the world – as we split our lives between London and the constituency.

So I know and love the diversity of our whole nation – and feel passionately that should make us stronger not pull us apart.

Granddaughter of a miner, daughter of a trade unionist, I marched with my dad on the peoples march for jobs in the early eighties. I learnt the values of solidarity – that we are stronger together than when we leave each other to sink or swim alone.

And also the values of aspiration – growing up in Alton in the 70s, where families on an ordinary wage could afford to buy their own home in the new cul-de-sacs and suburban estates.

And I’m proud to come from a long line of strong women who believed in hard work, fierce love for their families, and a strong responsibility to help others get on too.

My mum, a maths teacher, who used to interrupt her marking at the kitchen table to help my friends with exam revision, she was so determined everyone should do well.

My great auntie lizzie – like a grandma to us – a single mum who brought up three children and worked as a cleaner. But also helped deliver the babies and lay out the bodies in the pit village in the days before the NHS, when families couldn’t afford doctors or undertakers. And I remember how angry my mum was that my great auntie, despite working all her life, never got a proper pension, never got the fair deal or the chances others had.

For me the chance to go to Oxford University was incredibly exciting – but I was shocked by how few other comprehensive girls there were. The first campaigns I joined were against apartheid and the discriminatory section 28.

I know I had so many more chances in my life than my parents and grandparents exactly because of the work Labour Governments did – building the NHS, expanding university education, championing women’s equality.

And so I was taught the importance of hard work, of striving to get on, but more importantly striving to help others get on too. Of not walking on by when others need help. The importance of family, and community. But also of challenging traditions and prejudice, of standing up for others, for social justice and for equality. And of pride in the diversity and strength of our country too.

Those values are why I believe in the Labour party.

And why I’m standing here now.

Because we did lose the election.

But we cant just walk away or walk on by.

I’m standing to be leader not because I want to be something, but because I want to do something.

Because I hate the widening divisions in our country – the widening gap between rich and poor, the fracturing communities, the turning inwards, the politics of division and blame.

I hate the fact that people are working really hard but not getting a fair deal.

That more children will be growing up in poverty that holds them back.

That our precious NHS is struggling.

That families feel so stretched.

That so many people feel worried or pessimistic about the future.

That Britain just isn’t seizing the brilliant opportunities that the future could bring.

And most of all I hate the fact that Labour is in opposition and there is so little we can do to help.

I passionately believe in the Labour Party and the need for Labour to win again.

So our challenge now is to refresh and to renew.

We wont deliver a Labour Government by swallowing the Tory manifesto, Tory plans, or Tory myths.

In the end the Tories don't have the right values or answers for our country.

Nor will we win just by trying to splice together a shopping list of retail policies targeted at different slices of the electorate.

No ‘vote Labour and win a microwave’.

We need to have confidence in our values but to apply them afresh to new times.

We need to reach out. To include.

Two weeks after the election I spoke to a businesswoman from a Labour family. She said to me;

“you broke my heart at the election. I wanted to vote labour. I wanted a higher minimum wage. I wanted you to deliver it, because if I do it on my own I just get undercut. But I felt like you pushed me away. I felt like you didnt want my vote.”

She should be voting Labour. She’s worked hard creating wealth and opportunities for the future. She wants a fairer economy. I want her to come back home.

I want there to be no no go areas for Labour.

If you believe in a fairer Britain, if you want to be part of a more prosperous, stronger, more optimistic country, I want your home to be with Labour.

And we need a big vision of Britain’s future that everyone should want to be part of and feel positive about no matter where they live, no matter who they voted for last time.

The world is changing fast. And people want to feel ambitious for their future not fearful about what tomorrow will bring.

Technology is changing at an exponential pace. Global science, invention and innovation are accelerating. Creating amazing new opportunities, but also new threats. Our economy is changing in the face of global competition, jobs are polarising, with many jobs in the middle disappearing, and a growing problem with low skills, low productivity, and people trapped in low paid work.

Social mobility risks falling as old ladders of opportunity fall down, and hard work no longer pays. More children are being held back growing up in poverty, more young families unable to buy a home, and more middle class parents worried their children will be worse off than themselves. Family life is changing – as more women work and we care now for older relatives as well as our children.

Communities are changing. Cities are getting stronger, but many towns are being left behind. Higher levels of migration are affecting communities and local economies. Community cohesion is being challenged by rising extremism, anti Semitism, islamophobia and hate crimes. People want more from public services just at a time when money is tight.

Political identities are changing – with the rise of nationalism, the new questioning of what we share in common, and a creaking political structure that struggles to cope. Our role in the world is changing, with deep uncertainty over our relationship with Europe, and new global challenges to face including climate change and the rise of ISIL.

And of course Britain faces real challenges to make sure the deficit and debt come down, whilst sustaining economic growth and stability, turning around the long term decline in living standards, and maintaining public services too.

In the 2015 election, I don't believe most people felt any party was facing up to those future challenges, or showing how we can earn prosperity and security in that changing world.

Labour couldn’t reassure those who felt threatened by change, nor could we convince those who wanted to be optimistic for their children that we had a credible enough plan for the jobs and opportunities they wanted.

I talked to a skilled engineer about to be made redundant in my constituency and looking for a new job. In our area there are lots of distribution jobs on zero hours contracts.

I could tell him Labour would stop the exploitative zero hours contracts. And he would agree with the policy. But it wasn’t enough.

He wanted to know how Labour would bring in the new engineering and high tech jobs would be in Yorkshire in the future.

I don't believe any of the other parties offered much optimism for the future either – instead they campaigned on fear, blame and division including fear of Scotland, blame of England, fear of Europe.

But a progressive party can’t ever win without an optimistic vision – and in the end the voices of pessimism were louder and they won.

So that is the challenge I want to end on in this speech today.

We will debate in the course of this leadership election so many things about our past and about how we respond to things the Government is doing now. We will talk about how we reach out, how we rebuild trust and credibility. How we combine tough fiscal discipline with the policies and investment our country needs to be stronger and more secure.

But in addition to all these things, the Labour party must look upwards and outwards. We need to start thinking now about how we have the best ideas for the 2020s.

That is what we did in 1945 when we built the peace, in 1964 with the white heat of technology and in 1997 when we didnt stop thinking about tomorrow.

We should start by championing the digital and science revolution. Thats how we will get the jobs of the future, the productivity growth, the new opportunities for everyone.

We should be at the forefront of new technology, but we are falling behind. As Martha Lane Fox says, Britain has been stuck in a cul-de-sac.

In 1975 there were 1 billion connected places; in 2010 there were 5 billion connected people; in 2020 there will be 50 billion connected devices.

That is a world of opportunity for tech start-ups, entrepreneurs, people wanting to run an online business from their home in a rural community, the young people doing their A-Level exams who want to a place on hi-tech course at university.

We need to encourage the start-ups. Invest in science, technology and innovation. Make investment available to the entrepreneurs who are willing to take a risk. And make sure everyone has the chance to get into new and high tech jobs.

But right now we’re stalling. Why are the TechCity hubs for new start ups only in our cities. What about our towns? Why don't our university graduates have the high tech skills employers need? Why aren’t older workers getting the chance to up skill and regrade? Why is 98% of coding being written by men?

And why is “super-fast broadband” by European standards an “actually very slow broadband” – even though it is crucial for the growth and productivity we need.

Its not just about digital. Despite our brilliant scientific history, and the great academic and research breakthroughs we still enjoy, we just aren’t cutting it in the modern world.

Take graphene – a revolutionary new carbon material developed at the University of Manchester. Will Hutton points out Britain has taken out just over 100 patents on graphene use; the US 1,700 and China 2,200.

Look what other countries are doing. Germany, Scandinavia, Korea and Japan are now investing 3% of their GDP in science, technology and innovation – through businesses, Universities, the public sector and charities.

Britain is being left too far behind. That’s not good enough. We should set our ambition to increase our collective investment in our high tech future to 3% too. Using Government support to set incentives to boost private sector, universities and charitable investment in science and technology too.

Just as Labour championed the white heat of technology in the 1960s, so today we need to champion the white flashing constellations of the networked world.

And we need to make sure everyone is a part of it. That means reviving Labour’s historic crusade to champion social mobility too.

And here’s three examples of how to do so for the future of the next generation:

  • Leading the revolution in vocational education so everyone can get the skills for the new jobs we need.


  • Tackling the disadvantage which is holding children back. Nearly 5 million children will be in absolute poverty, many of them in working families, as inequality widens. The Tories have abandoned the child poverty target - but we shouldn't tolerate child poverty in Britain in the 21st Century at all. It's time to increase childcare, increase the minimum wage, bring in a living wage - help parents give every child the very best chance in life. We should recommit to ending child poverty in Britain within a generation.


  • And building far more homes. Right now fewer and fewer young families are getting the chance to own their own home – unless their parents or grandparents can afford to help them. That’s not fair. We need a revolution in housebuilding – not the 200,000 homes a year we promised at the election, but 300,000 homes a year.

I don't believe Tory values or Tory policies give us the answer to the big challenges of the future.

Laissez faire or trickle down economics wont help Britain get the high speed broadband, the education and vocational skills, the productivity growth or the science investment we need.

Turning their backs on rising inequality and child poverty, wont deliver stronger, fairer communities or the talented future workforce our country needs.

Shrinking public services driven by ideology wont help us care for a growing elderly population.

Turning inwards towards Little England, not Great Britain in Europe, wont help us get the international investment, the jobs, or influence the global debates.

In each of these areas we have big choices to make as a country. Get those choices wrong and we become a narrower, fractured, more unequal, inward looking country. Get those choices right and we can build the stronger fairer country we should all of us want to be part of.

I want Britain to be optimistic again.

I want Labour to be optimistic again.

I want us to build a vision of a fairer, stronger country that everyone wants to be part of – based on Labour values and new ideas for the future.

Back in 1992, when we all felt so devastated, I remember not just the steps at Walworth Road, but also the morning after the night before as we gathered to commiserate.

I remember John Smith gave me a hug and he told us that the Labour party would always be strong as long as talented people with new ideas kept joining it, as long as enthusiastic young people kept believing in it.

Soon after that I got on a plane back to the US where I had been studying.

And I bought a one way ticket on a 36hour Greyhound bus down to Arkansas, where I volunteered for a bright young candidate called Bill Clinton.

In the infamous war room they had a board with a handwritten message, “It’s the economy, stupid.” And another one underneath which said “and don't forget health care.”

They had a progressive vision. But most striking of all was their focus on a place called Hope.

It helped that Bill Clinton had been born there.

But it showed how to catch the imagination of America, and took his party back to the White House after years out of power.

That’s our challenge now.

Be true to our values.

Reach out in our approach.

And believe in a progressive future.

By offering hope.

Thank you.