Could Ian Lavery become North East Mayor and who does the Wansbeck MP want to lead the Labour Party?

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery talks about Labour's failure at the General Election and who he is backing to be the party's next leader

The Blyth Valley and Wansbeck election counts at Concordia Leisure Centre in Cramlington - The Wansbeck result, Labour candidate Ian Lavery wins
Ian Lavery

Alarm bells are sounding at the office of Ian Lavery MP.

It seems apt that the miner-turned-parliamentarian is based at Wansbeck Business Park, which replaced Ashington’s pit, but there’s no time to ponder history with this ear-piercing ‘beep beep beep’.

Mercifully, I’m soon greeted by an altogether more pleasant sound - the soothing Northumberland tones of the Wansbeck MP himself.

“I need to sort out this security system,” he says, frustration furrowing his brow as he stabs at various buttons. “It seems designed to keep people in rather than keep them out.”

Something quite similar could be said about the Labour Party.

Under Ed Miliband, their territory was invaded by just about everyone during the General Election; the SNP cleaned up in Scotland, the Conservatives edged them out of key English marginals, UKIP tore strips off their working class support, they lost left-wing support to the Greens, and, it seems, no-one in a red rosette saw it coming until the exit poll was writ large across Big Ben.

So, what next? Firstly, the party must find a new leader. As we get settled Ian’s office, adorned with Pitmen Painter prints, it occurs to me, as he sits suited and booted ready for an Armed Forces Day parade in Morpeth, he could have been in the running.

He mulled over launching a bid for the leadership, but is anxious to point out it wasn’t his idea.

“I never put my hat in the ring, other people put my hat in the ring,” he says. “Other people suggested we needed someone from the left of the movement on the ballot paper.

“It was never, ever my intention to stand.”

Yui Mok/PA Wire Andy Burnham
Andy Burnham

The left winger spot instead belongs to his long-time pal and union favourite Jeremy Corbyn, who provides a stark contrast to the stiletto-heeled Leicester MP Liz Kendall and the two main contenders battling it out to take the helm, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper.

Suffice to say, he is not a big fan of Liz Kendall.

“The Labour Party is a broad church,” he said. “Liz Kendall is a very decent person but she is, in my view, in the mould of Tony Blair and the Blairite brigade.”

But, Tony Blair and New Labour decisively won three elections.

“They were pretty successful in their period but times have moved on and we live in a different world now,” he said. “We need new policies that reflect this new world.

“We need practical answers and assistance for 2015 and beyond, not 1997 and beyond.

“Liz and her team believe we should hark back to 1997 and that Blairite-type vision of the future. I think it is completely dated.”

What direction does he want the party to go in now?

“Forward.”

What exactly does he mean by that, further left?

“The party is not on the left,” he said. “The Labour Party, like I said, is a broad church. We have got to clearly identify what we stand for and who we represent. You cannot have that broad a party whereby at one end you have people screaming to reduce people’s benefits and at the other end you have people who are being hammered by benefit reductions.

“That just cannot happen in a political party. My view is we have to look at the core values of why the Labour Party came into being in 1906 and we have got to base the party around those values: looking after the poor, decent health, decent education, decent wages, terms and conditions and employment.”

This answer perhaps reveals a party deeply divided about its future.

Indeed, talk of the party’s new direction since May 7 has been completely overshadowed by an old arguments. Former cabinet ministers Peter Mandelson and Alan Milburn headline a rolling cast of figures publicly castigating the 2015 campaign for turning its back on Blair’s policies.

“You get this in politics, these people wheel themselves out,” says Ian, visibly annoyed by the reminder. “These are relics of the past.

“Blairism is gone. They seem to think it should have continued and should continue into the future. Milburn and Mandelson have both had senior positions within Government, perhaps they should just leave those jobs to other people now and not consistently wheel themselves out as if they are important, because they are not important anymore, and not a lot of people listen to their views.”

He also feels New Labour’s big beasts have taken it too far. Former Darlington MP Mr Milburn declared earlier this month Labour picked “the wrong leader”.

“To attack Ed Miliband is basically supporting the Tories,” he says. “Ed Miliband is a fantastic person and a really decent man who had an excellent vision for the people of this country and for the people of our area.

Ian McIntyre Ed Miliband
Ed Miliband

So why did Labour lose?

“The radical policies that we had at this election were the best we have had for 20 years,” he says. “Perhaps we weren’t able to articulate those as clearly as we could have.

“Unfortunately, the media had it in for Ed Miliband from day one.

“The media wanted David Miliband and they didn’t get David Miliband so they blamed, first, the trade unions and then Ed himself for having the audacity to stand against his own brother, well why shouldn’t he?

“He was then called a back stabber. I think now we should is look to the future, draw a line under it and learn from what has happened and be positive.”

His is perhaps not a fashionable view as the party attempts to draw a line in the sand. Yet while many thought the Wansbeck MP would plump for Jeremy Corbyn, he has in fact thrown his weight behind Andy Burnham.

“The difference with Andy is that he has the common touch,” he said. “I think he is someone you can look at and trust immediately. He has been fantastic with the health brief. I just feel we need a safe pair of hands. We need someone who can recover our identity because right now we have an identity crisis. Andy is in the best position to do that.”

Tom Watson is his choice for the deputy leadership.

“Tom has a great track record within the movement,” he said. “He is a mover and shaker and is someone who delivers. He has taken on Murdoch, among others, and he is at the head of the issue with regards to child abuse. He will not shirk his responsibilities.

“The sad thing is we have some good people who have put themselves forward for the deputy leadership but you can only put your vote behind one person, and that’s a shame.”

He singles out Angela Eagle. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to have some female leadership?

“If there was a suggested rule that we have female and male representation in the leader/deputy leader positions then I would support that,” he said. “We have got to get to grips with equality.”

So, why isn’t he voting for a female candidate?

“I wouldn’t just vote for somebody because of their sex,” he said. “If I thought there were two women that were better on this occasion I would be voting for them.”

He added “But I do think we should have a rule so that equality is hard-wired in at the very top.”

Over the coming five years, he will focus on one of his big passions - getting more working class people in Parliament. This is a problem for parties of all political hues, he says.

“We have got to get more working class people into the corridors of power, more people who have experienced life” he said. “We need people who have been blue collar workers. Parliament must be a reflection of the country and right now it isn’t.

“At the minute we have, in the main, privileged people who have been privileged all their lives and that is skewing policies that are pushed through Parliament.

“It is very difficult debating with people who have never had to struggle for anything, whereas I know lots of people in this region who have continually struggled.

“You come to understand that they haven’t got any idea about that and furthermore it doesn’t interest them. It is frustrating.”

Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire Chancellor George Osborne
Chancellor George Osborne

He admits Labour faces a challenge in its heartlands from the Conservatives as George Osborne establishes his Northern Powerhouse initiative as Labour. The phrase even made the Queen’s Speech. The Lib Dems are also forming a clear message around its leader-in-waiting Tim Farron.

“At this point in time we are fully focused on getting the ship a new leader, a new crew and a new direction,” he said. “We have in many ways allowed this vacuum to be filled by the new narratives from the Conservative Party. I think it is very dangerous to take our eye off the political ball, and I think we have to some degree. There is a lot of work to be done between now and September.”

He says the Budget next week will focus minds as the Government looks set to slash in-work benefits.

“I’m frightened for the people of this region,” he said. “The idea is to take money from people in work and make the employer pay, but before you take the money from them you need to make sure the employer will pay, because you are going to take away a chunk of finance.

“The reason they are getting benefits is because they can’t make ends meet. It is going to place them in poverty immediately.”

“It is absolute ideology and it is a betrayal of these people who get up and go to work for low wages and then have to claim benefits. They are trying to do their best and progress in life and to withdraw their finance within weeks of the election is unbelievable.”

The former president of the National Union of Mineworkers will also strongly oppose new strike laws, which could mean union turnout must be 50% for action to be legitimate. He says being able to withdraw labour should be protected as a “human right” in certain circumstances.

He also fears a renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU could hit workplace rights.

“We need to have stronger legislation that represents people in the workplace and I fear that the way in which Cameron is looking to renegotiate with the EU will achieve the exact opposite of that,” he said. “I think in a region like the North East, it would be the wrong time to leave the EU because we are heavily dependent on big employers and their supply chain in Europe.

“But it’s not a left and a right issue, it is about what you think would be best for your region. To leave would have a devastating impact on the North East.”

He will also challenge the unemployment rate, which he says in reality is not falling, just that less people claim job seekers’ allowance.

“Things aren’t fantastic,” he said. “People are living on the breadline and I fear the worst for them. As MPs we have a massive role to play to make sure we get fairness back into this region.”

Sources say the Wansbeck MP, who was first elected in 2010, was offered shadow cabinet positions having worked closely with acting leader Harriet Harman, but that, far from falling out of favour, he shunned these. It is something he is not prepared to confirm or deny.

But would he want to achieve his aims as, say, Mayor of the North East (a role which could soon be created to head the North East Combined Authority)?

“That’s interesting,” he says. “Never say never in politics. We shouldn’t be put in a position where we need a mayor to access funds that everyone else is getting. There shouldn’t be all these strings attached.”

So, is that a yes or a no? He glances towards the office’s open window.

“At this stage, I wouldn’t say no,” he says. “I’m different to most people. I think when you’re elected, people have to make a decision when they go into the Commons. Do they want to take a shadow minister role, if they are offered it, or not? I’m here to fight for people out there.”

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