January 13, 2020 3:39 PM

Labour must ditch 'ideological purity'

Shadow minister launches deputy leadership bid with a unifying pitch

Labour must move past the factionalism and “ideological purity” that has alienated voters across the country, the shadow minister Rosena Allin-Khan has said as she set out her pitch to become the party’s deputy leader.

The A&E doctor who has served on Jeremy Corbyn’s frontbench is the latest party figure to officially throw their hat in the ring for the deputy leadership, alongside the shadow cabinet members Angela Rayner and Richard Burgon.

Allin-Khan, 43, said that for too long the party had been weighted down by infighting and described her politics as being inspired by public service, which she said was not based within soft- or hard-left identities.

“I’ve got the campaigning experience but also the life experience to help rebuild the party again,” said Allin-Khan, who has been a shadow minister for sport since 2016 and still works hospital shifts.

“We need to move beyond the last few years where nasty internal debates about faction and ideological purity have too often alienated people outside our movement.

“Public service isn’t about identifying who sits on which side of the Labour party. I am Labour because of my values, my life experiences and the fact that I’m a doctor. We must communicate how we are going to change people’s lives in a way they can understand.”

Her pitch as a unifying figure across Labour’s political spectrum would involve trying to make inroads in Scotland and Wales and other heartland areas that went Conservative, by holding town hall events, as well as meetings in synagogues, churches, mosques and temples. She said to rebuild the party’s base Labour must listen far more to councillors, who she says are the experts in their communities.

The Tooting MP, who has a Pakistani father and Polish mother, dismissed concerns that Labour must have a leadership team that is drawn from northern constituencies.

“I grew up poor with a single mum working three jobs to support me and my brother. That taught me the reality of day to day life for people across this country,” she said.

“There’s no regional distinction to hunger. Loss of hope lives across the UK. London is used to mean ‘metropolitan elite’ but we also have some of the highest levels of deprivation.

“Growing up in poverty. Understanding what it was like to get a job really young to supplement household income, to being careful in supermarkets with food, to feel there was no hope for someone from your background – that experience gives me a fire in my stomach to fight for all people around the country that have to go through that.”

The mother of two studied medicine at Cambridge through Labour-initiated scholarships after initially failing her A-levels during a period of difficult family circumstances. After qualifying as a doctor she has worked as an A&E specialist in London hospitals and as a humanitarian aid doctor in the Middle East, Africa and Asia for a decade. She won the Tooting seat in a 2016 by-election after Sadiq Khan quit to run as mayor of London.

In parliament she has highlighted the difficulty Palestinian children in Gaza have in accessing healthcare in Israeli hospitals because their parents are not allowed to accompany them through a restrictive permit system. As part of her sports brief she has fought for the return of safe standing at football clubs, as well as being an advocate for the women’s game both in parliament and as a player herself.

She was also a vociferous campaigner for the People’s Vote campaign on a second referendum but said she accepted the country was leaving the EU, even though she had fought so hard against it because she did not believe the deal would work for her constituents.

As for rejoining the bloc, she said that would have to be looked at if it should ever come up but was not a priority.

Despite Corbyn being rejected at the election, she pointed out positive changes he made for the party, including a more welcoming immigration policy, and said she was proud of his strong anti-austerity message and the party’s continued support for the NHS.

But on the defeat, she said: “We threw everything out there and nothing had time to land effectively. In comparison the Tories used three words and a few repeated soundbites which ultimately proved effective.”

She said she would be happy to work with any leadership candidate should they be elected.

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