Jim O’Neill sees echoes of Keir Hardie in Richard Leonard, and sets out why he’s backing Richard as Scottish Labour leader.
I believe that any Leader of our party should have a sound grounding in, and understanding of, the roots of the party. Our party, founded by James Keir Hardie as the Labour Representation Committee in 1900, arose from his belief that the worker should have a direct voice in Parliament. As a full-time trade union official, Hardie understood that the Liberals were so compromised by their attachment to the new middle class, that they could never represent the needs of the ordinary worker, and in a speech to miners on Irvine Moor, Hardie first suggested that a separate party of Labour was required.
Few today understand Keir Hardie’s motivations as well as Richard Leonard. Such understanding brought him to found the James Keir Hardie Society, along with Cathy Jamieson and newly elected MP Hugh Gaffney.
I should declare an interest here. He brought me on to the Executive of the Society and Richard, Hugh and I have laid the foundations for Keir Hardie trails in both Lanarkshire and Ayrshire. Now we only need the funds to bring those visions to fruition. Having grown up in the village of
Keir Hardie’s youth, Newarthill, and later in life being responsible for the Keir Hardie collection in Cumnock, it is understandable that I have felt a visceral connection to the founder of our Party. I have sensed the same in Richard Leonard.
Like Keir Hardie, Richard has come from a trade union background. As Political Officer for the GMB, he has sought to influence our politicians at Holyrood and Westminster, and also in the councils, that they need to implement policies that support and value their workers, rather than drive them away. He has led many campaigns, both by the GMB alone and with other trades unions, and he has always sought to further the cause of Labour. However, in his role he has never forgotten the individual member, as my friend David is never tired of telling. When David was having difficulty accessing a much-needed medical retirement, it was Richard’s personal intervention that broke the logjam.
I believe that Richard’s campaigning background for collective Labour issues, and also his understanding of the needs of individual members, will serve our party well.
As anyone who reads my contributions to Labour Hame knows, I am a passionate co-operator. At the recent 100th Conference of the Co-operative Party, our UK leader, Jeremy Corbyn, reaffirmed his commitment to public ownership; not, as he said, of the 40s, 50s and 60s style of state ownership, but using new co-operative models of ownership that place ownership directly into the hands of the people. Until now, trades unions have been reluctant to adopt that model, concerned at the impact on their members. Who better than a passionate trades unionist to take this
message to the trades unions and convert them to the value of the co-operative model?
Finally, I am proud to call Richard Leonard a friend. I have seen his enthusiasm and workrate drive his passion for Labour politics in all its forms, but I have also experienced the warmth of his personality in his dealings with individuals. I do not have that experience with Anas, since I do not know him so well, although I deplore the tone of the attacks on his candidacy.
Thus, for all these reasons, I have no hesitation in supporting Richard Leonard as the person to guide the next phase of our party’s recovery and, eventually, back to a pre-eminent place in Scottish politics.