Harriet Harman: Labour must unite behind new leader

Harriet Harman arrives for Cabinet

The new leader of the Labour party will be “validly” elected, Harriet Harman has said as she called on MPs and party members to unite behind the winning candidate.

As George Osborne said that the Tories would react to a victory by Jeremy Corbyn by championing working people from the political centre ground, Harman declined to say whether all four candidates would make a successful prime minister.

The question of whether the next Labour leader would make a successful prime minister is raised by Labour critics of Corbyn who say he is not a credible candidate for Downing Street. Harman said she could not talk about the four candidates’ suitability for No 10 because she has to act in a “scrupulously neutral” way.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1, the acting leader of the Labour party said: “I am absolutely not anticipating the result one way or another. Obviously we want a Labour leader who is going to be an effective leader of the opposition and going to be a prime minister. Whoever is chosen we will all need to be working with to get ourselves electable.”

But she made clear that the next Labour leader would need to reflect on why Labour lost the election – the argument that prompted her to call for Labour to support some of the government’s welfare reforms on the grounds that the party had lost public support in this area. Corbyn, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper are campaigning strongly against the cuts.

Harman said: “Whoever is chosen we will all need to be working with to get ourselves electable. The disappointment is despite the fact the Tories were not ragingly popular before the last election nonetheless [the public] did not have trust and confidence in us and didn’t elect us. So we have to address those concerns. We have to have our principles and our policies but we also have to win the support of the public and understand why we didn’t get elected last time.”

But she said the party should rally behind the new leader on the grounds that the winner will have been elected in a valid process. Harman said: “There has been a proper process under these new rules that were introduced in 2014. Whoever is elected as leader on Saturday will be validly elected under those rules. The aim of those rules was to involve many more thousands of people in the choice of the leader of the Labour party. That has certainly happened. We are going to have over half a million people taking part.”

Harman confirmed that 4,000 people had been rejected in the verification process. “We have had a process of scrutiny and verification – it has been absolutely due diligence. There is no question about. Whoever is elected on Saturday – that is the leader and they are validly elected. Obviously, as it is the first time we have used these rules, people will want to look at how they have worked. But that will not make any difference to who is elected on Saturday.”

George Osborne used his appearance on the Andrew Marr Show to say that the Tories should not use a Corbyn victory to tack to the right. The chancellor said: “The Conservative party has a big responsibility to represent the working people of Britain on the centre ground of British politics and to offer support and a home for people who don’t want a Labour party that is far off to the left.

“I don’t know who is going to win the Labour leadership contest. But Jeremy Corbyn is more a symptom of what’s happened in the Labour party than a cause. The Labour party has moved sharply to the left. It has abandoned the centre ground. That is not so much an opportunity for the Conservative party. It presents a big responsibility to us to speak up for working people.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Nicholas Watt Chief political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Sunday 6th September 2015 12.45 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010