As I stood in my front room just before the exit poll on election night, moments before heading out to the count, I feared the worst. After six weeks of spending all hours campaigning – talking to people all across Chesterfield – it was clear to me that many people just didn’t feel they could back Labour this time around.
This had been my worry when I walked away from Parliament, the day that we had voted for an election that we simply weren’t fully prepared for. As the vote to hold a snap election was read out by the Speaker, triumphant Tory MPs were waving mockingly at Labour MPs they expected would not be returning.
Unfortunately – they were right.
Far too many of my brilliant colleagues were not re-elected. The exit poll burst through the soul of every Labour Party member who saw it and many of us will never forget that moment. The exit poll confirmed that Chesterfield would be very close and that all of my political neighbours’ seats would be turning blue.
At that moment, I resolved to do all I could to stop any result like this ever happening again. Working people just cannot afford to have another catastrophe like this election – and the unshackled Tory government it means.
It is because of the promise that I made to myself on election night that I have nominated Keir Starmer to be our next leader.
Before reaching that conclusion, I contacted all the members of Chesterfield Labour Party before the leadership contest began. I wanted to know who people in our local community felt was best placed to help Labour win back Midland and Northern town seats, exactly the kind we’ve lost in this election and in ones before it.
The verdict was Chesterfield was decisive:
Ian Lavery 9%
Clive Lewis 2.5%
Rebecca Long Bailey 16%
Lisa Nandy 9%
Jess Philips 13%
Keir Starmer 48%
Emily Thornberry 2%
Chesterfield is a single remaining brick at the southern end of our Red Wall. When I first became the candidate for Labour in Chesterfield it was one of only two seats in Derbyshire – out of 11 – that weren’t Labour. Now it is the only seat outside of the City of Derby that still is.
These seats haven’t just gone blue this year – we lost Amber Valley, South Derbyshire, North West Leicestershire and Erewash in 2010, Derby North in 2015, North East Derbyshire and Mansfield in 2017 and then Bolsover, Ashfield, Bassetlaw, Gedling and High Peak this year. Winning these seats presents a path, not just to losing less badly, but to winning a General Election.
When voters in areas like this, many of whom have recently spent hours knocking on doors for the Labour Party say Keir is the person to lead Labour back to victory, we should take notice.
Keir is fiercely intelligent, passionate and forensic. His career prior to Parliament gave him real world experience which he used to help the vulnerable and tackle the powerful. His intellectual rigour is what Labour and Britain needs against the cavalier carelessness of Boris Johnson, and Keir’s experience of running a large organisation is a vital skill for the leader of the largest political party in Europe.
I have seen him perform in front of a hostile House of Commons and I know that he is the candidate the Tories fear.
He is also the person who can reunite our party. He combines a history of loyalty to our outgoing leader with a clear analysis of what needs to change and a clear vision of what Labour’s future offer should look like.
When we leave for the next election I want to smell the fear in those 365 Tory MPs, not see their grinning faces, mocking us as we walk away to another defeat.
It is because of mine and my colleague’s desperation to win again that I believe Keir has gained significantly more nominations than the other candidates. I hope that party members will join me in supporting him to be our leader – and the next Prime Minister.