The new leader of the Labour Party has told voters in Notts that the party has to listen to their concerns and understand what went wrong at the last election before it can move forward.
Sir Keir Starmer was speaking during a virtual Q&A session for voters in Notts, and was asked question on a range of issues, including the Government’s COVID response, Brexit, and anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.
In Nottinghamshire, the Conservatives won every seat, excluding those in the city, with some seats like Ashfield having never had a Conservative MP before.
He said: “I’m very conscious of the fact that the Labour Party lost the last election, and lost it badly.
“So there’s no point in trying to varnish it and suggest anything other than it was a very very bad defeat.
“But we’ve lost four times in a row now, and as the new leader of the Labour Party, I think my first task is to listen to people, particularly in areas where people used to vote Labour and don’t any more.
“So the purpose of this discussion is not for people to tell me what they think is right about the Labour Party, but for people to tell me what’s wrong, or why they might have moved away from the party. I’m asking people to be blunt and frank, there’s no point tiptoeing round the issues.”
One of the members of the public who asked a question was a young Labour supporter from Beeston, who said he had left the party before the 2019 election in part because of anti-Semitism.
The Labour leader was asked what he would do about the issue, and replied: “I am absolutely determined that we’re going to root it out.
“(In my acceptance speech) One of the first things I said ,my first words almost as the leader of the Labour party, was an apology to the Jewish community for anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, because I didn’t want any hedging about or ambiguity.
“I became leader at about 11am, and by 2pm I had phoned all the leaders of the Jewish communities across the country to demonstrate that within a few hours… to try to begin the difficult process of rebuilding trust.
“My message is, if you’re anti-Semitic you shouldn’t be in the Labour Party.
“I don’t want a party that’s just got a good way of processing anti-Semitic cases, I want a Labour Party that hasn’t got anti-Semitic cases in it.”
Sir Keir was also asked how he would begin to rebuild trust in Labour in places like Mansfield, where the vote has shifted considerably to the Conservatives in recent elections.
He said: “Whenever I’ve gone to places where the Labour vote has gone down or we’ve lost a seat, a strong message coming to me is ‘you haven’t listened to us’, and listening has to be a major part of this.
“Those conversations have been quite gritty at times to be honest, in town halls and community centres, but there’s something about it that makes a difference.
“There’s a huge amount of trust we’ve got to get back, I completely get that, but I think a good start is to be open about the scale of the challenge, and be open about what we’ve done in the past that hasn’t gone well with people.
“We’ve also got to present as a Labour Party that’s credible and people say ‘well I can see them running the country’.
“There’s a huge long way to go on this, but when people vote they are looking for a party not only that they agree with, but that they actually can see you doing it, and I think it’s that second bit that’s been missing lately.
“This is going to take time, and I think if you take Mansfield for instance, it’s going to take me spending a lot of time in Mansfield.
“It can’t be done from London or broadcast on the television.
“That’s why I would have liked to have been there in Nottinghamshire tonight, because there’s nothing like being with a community to talk about what needs to happen.”
Sir Keir was also asked about his and his party’s position on Brexit.
As a Remainer and the former Shadow Brexit Secretary, he was asked whether his past involvement with the Remain campaign would taint people’s views.
He said: “It’s no secret I voted remain, and felt very strongly we should remain.
“But I accept we have now left the EU. We are out of the EU, and therefore the Leave/Remain argument is over.
“It’s important people hear that from me.
“That is gone. It divided families, communities, the country, different parts of the United Kingdom and political parties as well.
“So the question now is where do we go next and what sort of deal do we want with the EU.
“Whatever the relationship is with the EU, I want to make sure no jobs are lost because of it. I think it’s going to be hard enough, the Coronavirus has caused a number of companies to make really important statements about job losses.
“It’s going to be really tough (for businesses after COVID), and I don’t want us to do anything that makes it tougher for any business.
“I think let’s focus on the future here, put Leave/Remain behind us, and for me it’s about nuts and bolts stuff like what is the deal that’s going to best secure jobs, and in Nottinghamshire in particular, because the last thing Nottinghamshire wants is massive job losses again.
“Some of the communities have gone through a hell of a lot in the last 30 years already, and we don’t want to go round the same track again.