Dawn Butler: 'Labour can win next election under Jeremy Corbyn's manifesto'

James Morris
Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
Jeremy Corbyn and Dawn Butler in 2018. (Matt Crossick/EMPICS Entertainment)

Labour deputy leadership candidate Dawn Butler has said the party can get back into power by keeping Jeremy Corbyn’s policies – despite December’s election disaster.

In an interview with Yahoo News UK, Butler insisted “nobody hated the policies” and that the party suffered because it made too many pledges.

Butler also rejected rival candidate Ian Murray’s claim that Labour needs to change the minds of Tory voters to become electable.

She said: “If you go after Conservative voters then you are going to be playing to some kind of Conservative narrative to try and win them over.”

Deputy leadership candidates Richard Burgon, Angela Rayner, Rosena Allin-Khan, Dawn Butler and Ian Murray. (Danny Lawson/PA Images via Getty Images)

Butler is up against Rosena Allin-Khan, Richard Burgon, Murray and Angela Rayner in the deputy leadership contest, for which ballots opened last week.

In her personal “plan for power” manifesto, the shadow women and equalities secretary said the 2017 and 2019 manifestos are “here to stay”. In December, Labour suffered its worst election result since 1935.

Butler believes the policies – which included nationalising rail and water services, delivering a minimum wage of £10 an hour and providing free broadband for everyone – will be viable come the next election, which will be held by December 2024.

Asked if Labour can really win under the Corbyn manifestos, Butler said before a campaign rally in Deptford, south-east London: “I knocked on more doors than anyone I know, all around the country. I didn’t have anyone say to me: ‘Dawn, I really hate your policies.’

“This is from my own experience. This is me, Dawn, knocking on doors all over the country, all times of the day and night. Nobody hated the policies. Some did say: ‘How are you going to deliver this? I don’t understand. Where’s the money coming from?’ But nobody told me they hate the policies.”

Dawn Butler at a deputy leadership hustings in Durham last month. (Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

In a swipe at the media, she added: “How [public ownership] was received by the media was quite negative. The government has now brought two railway companies into public ownership and that has been received quite positively by the media.”

In his election night speech, Corbyn blamed media bias as one of the reasons for the party’s disaster.

The Brent Central MP said Labour’s problem during the election campaign was poor delivery of messages: “Oh my god. My main frustration was the number of texts that I was receiving telling me ‘this is our new policy for today’.

“I couldn’t keep up with all the announcements and it was just too much.”

Last month, Butler’s deputy leadership rival Murray told Yahoo News UK that Labour needs to stop thinking Conservative voters “are all b*****ds” if it wants to regain power and said “the whole point” of winning elections is converting Tory voters.

Read more: 'Labour must stop thinking Tory voters are all b*****ds'

Butler dismissed this.

“Oh, I don’t think we have to convert Conservative voters, actually. There is a third of people who don’t vote,” Butler said.

“If you go after Conservative voters then you are going to be playing to some kind of Conservative narrative to try and win them over.

“What we need to do is campaign and organise all year round in communities to build up trust and faith in the Labour Party and our values.

“If we can convert some of the non-voters to voters, I think that is a lot more worthwhile.”

Dawn Butler at a deputy leadership hustings in Glasgow last month. (Robert Perry/Getty Images)

One person who did seek Tory voters was Tony Blair, the only Labour leader to win an election since 1974. Despite this, he is considered the least popular leader among party members. So, if he had backed Butler, would she have been pleased?

“That’s an interesting question,” Butler, who served in Gordon Brown’s government, said. “Tony Blair sent our CLP (Constituency Labour Party) a cheque in the 2015 election and the CLP decided it would return the cheque.

“Everybody’s vote counts: one member, one vote. And I want to win. But the reality is, he wouldn’t back me.”

One of the most eye-catching policies announced by a candidate in either leadership race has been Burgon’s pledge to open a “Tony Benn University of Political Education” in honour of the late left-wing MP.

Dawn Butler holds up her 'plan for power' at the deputy leadership hustings in Durham. (Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

Holding up her “plan for power” leaflet, Butler said: “I think he probably got the idea from the education arm of my core strategy.

“I talk about political education, education for equality, documenting Labour’s history. I talk about having an online education forum that’s there for people to be educated 24/7 whenever they want to.

“I am more than happy for people to use my ideas as a basis.”

Butler also admitted it’s been “hard” to be in the Commons chamber since Boris Johnson’s Tories won an 80-seat majority.

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn walk through the Commons during the state opening of Parliament one week after the election. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

“Some people say to me: ‘I see you sitting there on a Wednesday next to Jeremy, you look miserable.’ I’m like: ‘It hurts.’

“We have got a prime minister who is just part-time. It almost feels like they are taking the mickey out of us. I wonder where the uproar is for our democracy. We have a PM who is hardly ever around. I think people should be outraged over this.

“This is our democracy, our PM should be held to account. You get him for just about half an hour on a Wednesday [for Prime Minister’s Questions] where he just bluffs his way through. Then that’s it.”

In Butler’s “plan for power”, she said MPs who “go off message will have to deal with me” if she becomes deputy leader.

Read more: The night Jeremy Corbyn's socialist dream died

When suggested to her that this is reminiscent of the autocratic style of Johnson’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings, Butler said: “That’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek statement. It’s talking about discipline because it’s important we have discipline. I served in a Labour government and there was discipline.

“When we have a new leader and deputy, let’s just be a credible opposition and a government in waiting. The public will expect us to be disciplined because a divided party never wins elections. Let’s be united.”

Dawn Butler: Quick-fire questions

Sum up the Corbyn leadership in one word.

Democratic.

What was your last conversation with Corbyn?

We were walking over to the PCS [Public and Commercial Services Union] strike and talking about how this government is taking us backwards, as we are having to fight again for recognition rights for trade unions and workers’ rights. And how we’re worried for the future. And what we’re going to talk about next week at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Who is your favourite Labour leader of your lifetime?

Oooh. I don’t know. I want us to get into government so I don’t really have a favourite, to be honest. I am just focused on us getting into government.

What was your first thought when you saw the exit poll on election night?

I held on to my special adviser’s hand and was like: “S**t, this can’t be true.”

Would you like Corbyn to be in the shadow cabinet?

It’s not up to me to decide. I will work with the leader. It’s important we don’t pre-judge anything.

If you don’t become deputy leader, which of the other four candidates would you like to win?

I will win.

How many Tory MPs are you friendly with?

I say hello and have conversations with Tory MPs. You have to work cross-party.

Out of all the Tory MPs, who do you respect the most?

[Laughs.]

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