Peace in the Party? The Candidates’ Plans for Unity

Leadership Corbyn SmithOn 22 August, former Labour MP HARRY BARNES wrote a letter to the Guardian posing a challenge to the two candidates for the Labour Party leadership.

He wrote: “Before I fill in my Labour party ballot paper, I would like to know … how (if elected) they will bring about peace and reconciliation within the party.”

Today we can publish their responses.

Here’s Owen Smith’s reply:

Thank you for your recent email seeking my plans to reunite the Labour Party.

I agree that we need to be a united party. We’ve always been a social movement and a political parliamentary movement, and the two can, and must, go hand in hand. The experience of the Labour Party in my lifetime tells me that with absolute clarity. If we lose that unity then we fundamentally lose touch between those two parts of our movement.

One thing that has become clear from this contest is that many members don’t feel the PLP is properly representing them, and that is why I have put plans in place to empower our grassroots.

As Leader of the Labour Party I will:

  • Create a Shadow Cabinet and Cabinet in Government of Party Members, who will work alongside me and the PLP to advise our party leadership on the issues that members hold dearest, and to help hold this Tory government to account.
  • Hold elections for a Members’ Cabinet from across our party to advise the leader and his ministers on strategy and tactics. This will be a revolution in the leadership of Labour, and in the process of how we make decisions at the top of the party, while listening to our grassroots.
  • Bind myself to the decisions made there on Party policy. Regardless of my views I will not seek to overturn them, but I will seek to influence it.
  • Crucially, I will also give conference a new role and responsibility – to sign off our manifesto. No Labour leader has done this before, but I believe it is necessary to reassure people across the party that the radical and credible policies I have laid out in this leadership contest will be delivered in a Labour manifesto.

I hope this information is helpful.

Yours sincerely,
Owen Smith

And here’s Jeremy Corbyn’s:

Dear Harry,

Thank you very much for your letter.

I agree with you that uniting the Party after the leadership election is the main priority in order that we can take on this callous and divisive government. The Labour Party has always been stronger for its diversity and I want to lead a party where the contribution of every member, and every viewpoint within our movement, is respected and valued.

If elected, I will reach out to all Labour Parliamentarians and will welcome MPs into my Shadow Cabinet from across the spectrum of opinion within our party, as part of our plan to return Labour to government.

I believe there is far more which unites than divides the Party. Throughout this election campaign, there has been a clear consensus on a range of key issues – from ending austerity and investing in our economy, the NHS and other public services, building new, affordable homes and council homes, ending exploitative zero-hours contacts and establishing a national Living Wage and tackling violence and harassment towards women and girls. I plan to unite our party around this common agenda, while also facilitating robust, but respectful, discussions on issues where there may be disagreement.

Through openness, honesty and putting resources into providing the space for reasoned and democratic discussion and decision-making, we can ensure that our party is a hub of debate, but not of division. It is the responsibility of all party members, including all members of the PLP and the Leader, to foster a positive political culture within the party. I am excited by the opportunities which a hugely expanded membership gives for hearing a wider range of voices and I am committed to ensuring that all our members can have their say.

I do, of course, recognise that whilst the majority of Labour Party members have conducted themselves well and participated with enthusiasm in election campaign debates and activities, a small minority have not behaved in an acceptable manner. As I have repeatedly made clear in response to the findings of the Chakrabarti report, I am committed to consulting on, and introducing, a comprehensive Equal Opportunities Policy, alongside training and guidance for party members and staff. This will embed principles of equality, diversity and respect within Labour and ensure there is zero tolerance towards all forms of abuse, as well as discrimination.

As a former colleague in Parliament and long-standing party member, I would hope that you will make an input to this vital discussion.

With very best wishes,
Jeremy Corbyn


Harry Barnes is the former Labour MP for North Derbyshire. He blogs at ‘Three Score Years and Ten’.

See also: ‘Labour on the Brink: A Statement on the Leadership Crisis’


  1. Harry Barnes
    19 September 2016

    It is being suggested in the media that the NEC will meet on Tuesday to consider adopting a process in which either (a) the shadow cabinet will be elected by the PLP or (b) that a third of them will be elected by party members, a third by the PLP and a third oppointed by the party leader. The new proposal will then (it is claimed) be put to annual conference which starts on Sunday.

    So how can constituency parties in the meantime mandate their conference delegates on any such proposal prior to annual conference which meets five days after the NEC meeting? Indeed who amongst the ordinary membership of the Labour Party know what their delegates will be asked to vote upon at conference? The virtual banning of Labour Party branch and constituency meetings during the leadership contest having undermined any such procedures. I would also be interested to know of provisions within any CLPs which have faciliated a mandating process for their delegates in recent years. Some of us need to make moves to emulate these.

  2. Ernie Jacques
    17 September 2016

    Both candidates say that they want unity, change and compromise. One candidate refuses to serve in the shadow cabinet if the other one wins.

    Unity on that basis is about as convincing as an apology from Sports Direct.

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