Lisa Nandy has claimed voters in the general election found the prospect of a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn “frightening”, and said the party under her leadership would remain radical but try to persuade people it would be careful with their money.
The Wigan MP, who is through to the next round of the leadership contest after winning the support of 31 MPs or MEPs, used a campaign speech to argue she was “the brave, not the easy choice” for the job.
In a speech in Dagenham, east London, Nandy said Labour must replace its so-called red wall of once safe seats in the north, Midlands and Wales with a “red bridge” linking towns and cities.
Answering questions afterwards, she said the levels of investment promised under Corbyn in December’s general election were not the issue so much as voters’ fears about how competently any plans would be executed.
“We have to understand that for a lot of people, the problem that we caused in this election was not that they thought we were too radical, not that they didn’t support the things that we were putting forward,” she said.
“But they simply looked at the prospect of a Labour government and instead of finding it empowering they found it frightening. And we have to give people that sense of confidence back again.”
A close ally of the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, the Salford MP and shadow business secretary has been groomed as a potential leftwing contender for the top job.
The Wigan MP has built a reputation as a campaigner for her constituency and others like it, many of which have fallen to the Tories. A soft-left candidate, she resigned from the shadow cabinet in 2016 over Corbyn’s leadership and handling of the EU referendum.
The MP for Birmingham Yardley is a strong media performer who has built up a significant public profile from the backbenches. Her fiery speeches and witty barbs aimed at the Conservatives frequently go viral online.
Pitch Prepared to argue for Britain to re-enter the European Union and address challenge of bringing back working-class voters.
Ambitious former director of public prosecutions has led the charge for remain in the shadow cabinet. He was instrumental in shifting Labour’s position towards backing a second referendum
Pitch Launched his campaign by highlighting how he has stood up for leftwing causes as a campaigning lawyer, and unveiled the slogan “Another Future is Possible”.
The shadow foreign secretary and MP in Islington South and Finsbury, she will have to fight allegations of being part of the “metropolitan elite”.
Nandy said Labour did not have to choose “between our hearts and our heads, between our values and government. And investment is the absolute core of that. But we do also have to convince working people who do not have the resilience of great savings that we will be careful with their money.”
Her speech did not mention the frontrunner, Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary. However, she appealed to the party to make a bold choice of a new leader, casting herself as this option.
“These have been a bruising few years and a shattering defeat,” she said. “But now is not the time to steady the ship or play it safe. If we do not change course we will die and we will deserve to. This is the moment when we up our game and recover our ambition. So I am asking you to make the brave, not the easy choice, in this leadership contest.”
The speech was primarily focused on a general vision rather than specific policy ideas. Asked what sort of plans she would introduce, Nandy said she would want to devolve power to local communities and listen to views.
On specific proposals, she called for a huge improvement in local bus services, and for more changes to improve the rights of people renting their home.
Clive Lewis, who quit the leadership race after failing to gain the necessary support, argued that Labour should work more closely with other parties and embrace proportional representation. Asked about this, Nandy called for more cross-party collaboration but insisted Labour should contest seats across the country.
In her speech, she said Labour was “in retreat” in places including Scotland, north Wales and many northern, southern and Midlands towns, and struggling in some parts of cities.
“The stark reality is the path back to power runs not along our red wall but across a red bridge that connects our towns and cities and stretches from Dagenham to Fulham, Aberdeen to Glasgow and Cardiff to Wrexham,” she said.
Some in Labour believed the party must “choose between working and middle class, leave and remain, north and south, young and old, towns and cities,” Nandy said. “But I do not accept this. For all of the radicalism and energy of our recent years, they are wrong to believe that this is a zero-sum game.”