Children from white working class backgrounds in particular need to be taught more about aspiration and the chance to improve their lives, Liz Kendall, one of the Labour leadership candidates, has said.
The shadow minister for care and older p eople put education at the heart of her mission to be Labour leader as she promised to launch a project encouraging businesses, unions and volunteers to go into state schools to show how learning can transform lives.
The three main leadership candidates – Kendall, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper – all gave speeches on Friday emphasising the need to move on from Labour’s past and re-engage with disillusioned voters.
Kendall said her own background was ordinary and her parents were “like many across Britain, neither on the breadline, nor loaded”. But she said many of her “brilliant, funny, acutely intelligent” school friends had never fulfilled their potential.
She praised one primary school for having an “aspirations week”, saying such programmes were needed to “teach girls and boys, particularly from white working class communities, about the chances in life they may not even know exist – like being an engineer, a chemist and even leader of the Labour party”.
Kendall also mentioned the need to help white working-class communities, during a journalists’ gathering in Westminster last week, when she said Labour would still “be doing the best for kids, particularly in white-working class communities” in 2020.
Her emphasis on helping this perceived societal grouping suggests she may be concerned about the need for Labour to win back “left behind” voters in the party’s northern England heartlands who, at the last general election, were tempted by Ukip.
Burnham’s speech to business leaders in London stressed the need to appeal to voters who had lost their “emotional connection” with Labour - whether they had gone to the SNP in Scotland, Ukip, or the Conservatives.
Burnham, the shadow health secretary, who is trying to dispel his image as the candidate of the left and of the unions, said there were three areas in which Labour needed to win back people’s trust: welfare, immigration and economic competence.
Currently the favourite to win, he said he wanted to counter the perception that Labour gave an easy ride to some people in society who “did not want to help themselves”. He said Labour was right to challenge “indiscriminate welfare cuts”, including the bedroom tax, but he suggested there should be further cuts at some level short of the Tory proposal for £12bn of savings.
It should be probably somewhere in between [zero and £12bn], shouldn’t it?” he said. “These are things we’re going to look at. I’ve not today got specifics. But I am saying Labour does need to win back those people who have that feeling about us.”
Burnham said he backed the shadow cabinet position on welfare, revealed by Labour’s interim leader, Harriet Harman, who said the party might be sympathetic to the idea of the government lowering the cap on benefits to £23,000 a year.
In a wide-ranging speech, he urged the government to get on with the process of increasing airport runway capacity in south-east England and of holding an EU referendum by the autumn of 2016. He outlined an ambition of introducing a university-style system for allocating and financing apprenticeships, arguing that the last Labour government let down some young people who did not wish take an academic path.
Cooper, the shadow home secretary launched her campaign, in Tech City in London, before embarking on a national “listening tour” in constituencies that Labour had been hoping to win.
She called on Labour and Westminster to move on from the analogue age, arguing that politics was not keeping up with the fact that Britain “was changing fast, through technology, global competition, travel, trade and migration – changing jobs, changing family life, changing communities”.
She said: “We can’t get sucked back into replaying Miliband vs Miliband, Blair vs Brown, or trying the old campaign playbooks from the 1990s or the noughties. Britain has moved on. We need answers for tomorrow not yesterday.”
One of her statements was that central government needed to be closer to people, a move that should start with the break-up of Whitehall, sending departments out of London and into the regions.
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