Labour Leadership Runners – Corbyn Makes It

After quite a bit of shadow boxing we finally got the list of Labour leadership candidates yesterday and with Jeremy Corbyn making the final ballot with seconds to spare adding to the drama.

From my previous posts you will gather that I have not been too impressed so far with the level of debate. I got pulled up by a few former collegaues for being so negative. I know it’s not normally my style so it perhaps showed how low the mood is in the camp after our disasterous election result in May. 

As the campaign  progresses and more is actuallly said I am sure I will post more detailed thoughts but today I wanted to share some thoughts on why I thought it was good to have Jeremey Corbyn on the ballot paper. I know his presence is not universally welcome.

  

All political parties are a combination of different ‘wings’ of ideological perspectives. As we are seeing inside the newly formed Tory government those right-wing anti Europeans are about to have a great time playing with their own government to achieve their higher ideals – whatever the cost of damage to their own party in the short term. They will be convinced that that they are fighting in the long term interests of their party. Clearly the Lib Dems are almost a ‘franchise’ and as we saw in 2010-15 the right of their party feels very at ease with their Tory friends. So Labour is no different. Our internal battles have usually been between left and right, but during the Blair years we added in the Brownite faction, which all seemed to be personality based.

Although I am deeply tribal for Labour I was never able to be pinned down to a particular faction within the Party. This was probably why I never progressed far (as well as being talentless). Because I wore a suit and tie from an early age and used some modern techniques I was identified as a Blairite. At no stage did I self identify with Blairism. My problem has always been that I hold traditional left wing views, but have recongnised these are not yet the views shared by the majority of the British people. The choice has always been between maintaining an ideological ‘purity’ whilst remaining out of power to put into effect any policies that would counter the dominance of capitlalism and the market or making compromises with our language and policies to get to a position where we can win elections to put into effect social democratic policies. In general I have favoured the latter – to look and sound social democratic to effect change – rather than tutting or shouting from the sidelines whatching people suffer the consequences of Tory led capitalism. I am sure to many this makes me a traitor or sell out to many on the left. Such is the strength of the feelings and anger felt by some on the left. 

When I entered Parliament it was pretty obvious I didn’t quite fit because of this slightly nomadic approach to all things political. We had won on the back of the modernisation of Tony Blair and we had rejected symbolically our Clause 4 and the nationalisation of the economy. As a student I had submitted an essay supporting the nationalisation of the top 200 companies. A few years later I had realised just how naive I had been. If I had to be put into a faction it didn’t quite exist. I was not a full on Blairite, but supported the need to modernise. I supported quite a bit of what the Campaign Group said but didn’t like their oppostionalist approach. In 1997-98 a group of us under the leadership of Robin Cook MP did try to create some space for more thinking around the soft left position of the Tribune newspaper at the time. We didn’t want to create another faction, but felt there needed to be space in the soft left to put forward our arguments. I am still sad that we never really got this off the ground and the middle way inside the party!

So back to Jeremy Corbyn. I saw the aricle by Dan Hodges yesterday that suggested Corbyn being on the ballot paper shows the Party is still as mad as ever. To some degree I accept that outsiders may see it this way. But I disagree on a number of fronts. For starters people may not agree with the political positions taken by Jeremy Corbyn, but at least he is engaging almost charming in the way he puts across his message. He comes across as reasonable and likeable, not hectoring or shouty. The humerlous John MCDonnell was a disatser last time. He had no credibility outside his small group. I have been happy to share platforms and Westminster Hall debates with Jeremy on such issues as nuclear non-proliferation. For me the main reason to have Jeremey on the ballt paper is to ensure the left of our party feels it has not been stitched up and so when it loses can spend the next 5 years undermining the elected leader. I am not convinced they will still accept the defeat of their candidate but at least they can’t complain it was unfair. This is important in itself. I follow or have various friends on social media who cover the whole political spectrum. I have been struck with the depth of feeling of those on the left who actually do believe we lost because we were not left wing enough! I would love us to be able to be much more left wing but this is not a political reality in the UK at this time in history if we want to be within a shout of ever winning a working majority again. Think political parties are a coalition. Creating a national coalition of voters to form a  government has to be even broader. As somebody famously moaned once – we have to get Tories to vote for us! The electorate is much less tribal as each generation breaks from the traditional party loyalties. For Labour this is hard because some break to the Tories who talk more about the aspiraion they feel and others break to UKIP beacuse of our London centric view of the world. 

I would never vote for Jeremy Corbyn to be leader. It would be the end of our party electorally apart from the hard core of those on the left. We have to face it that our country might just have a progressive majority but it is nowehere near ready yet for a Socialist future. We can blame capitlism, the system, the establishment and the media (rightly) but at the moment they are winning the Class war! As I have said repeatedly during this campaign I will be voting for the best person to lead us to victory in places and seats like my Loughborough constituency. We need to win this back to be within a shout of having a working majority. I can assure people that Jeremy Corbyn isn’t that person! That leaves me with the choice of Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper. They have all started canvassing & emailing me. It is great not having to declare my support as an MP with a nomination as I can now make a really considered decision. I will be really following the debate closely because I like each of the candidates personally. But my test will be. Can they look and feel like a potential PM by 2019. Do they understand what it takes to build a coalition of voters in seats like mine (where I did need Greens, Left Labour voters as well as former Tories). Now they have their nominations they have to appeal to the 240,000 Labour voters to win – I accept that. But the one for me who will stnd out is the candidate who starts talking to the country!



 

Lack of Inspiration in Leadership election is worrying me…

I meant to write this post last week and then again at the weekend. I hoped that I would have been inspired by the Labour Leadership election campaign enough to continue you my election blogging for my non-political friends. But despite trying to muster any enthusiasm I have struggled. Today in a chat with a fellow senior party member we came to the same conclusions – but with a similar and unhealthy lack of enthusiasm.

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I had hoped by now that I might have declared my support. I know I am not important enough any more to have a nomination so none of the candidates or their campaigns are really worried about me yet. Getting to the magic 35 nominations within the PLP is the first and important stage. It looks as though Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall will reach that number. It looks as though Mary Creagh will struggle and I am not sure if enough MPs are keen enough to see Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot paper that they ‘give’ him their nomination even if they won’t vote for him? We will see. I did tweet earlier this week that I would like to see him on the ballot paper, even though he won’t win. All political parties are strange alliances of political ideologies (with quite a lot of crossover which many will deny) between all parties in the centre ground. Labour has a strong socialist as well as social democratic tradition and their voices need to be heard and their messages debated and challenged – not simply ignored.

At the start of the process I made it quite clear that this time we should vote for the person best able to lead a Labour party into government – so that means voting for somebody who can appeal to the widest parts of the electorate in the seats we need to win (now 106 target seats just to have a majority of one!) and who will look like a PM in waiting by 2019. This last part is hard to judge. The trappings of power and the office help people look like leaders and or potential PMs if the basics are right. I found the same when friends were made junior ministers. Quite often the didn’t have the appearance of a Minister at first, but success at the dispatch box, SPADS and PPS officials with folders walking alongside or behind and a Ministerial car all add up to having a ‘presence’. Not everybody carries this off as Ed Miliband showed. He never quite looked the part for much of the electorate. It is an awful thing to say but modern politics like much of our celebrity driven culture demands the image to be right. I wish it were not so. But for now it is.

So having given myself some ground rules I have set out to ask as many non Labour party members and voters that I know what they think. I have been met by a shrug of the shoulders and many genuine ‘I don’t know’. To be fair even amongst keen political types the response has been similar. Many friends have declared their support and I admire their enthusiasm and decisiveness. I wish I had seen enough to get to the same point.

What is even harder writing this piece is the fact that those involved are generally people I could call friends. I am closest to Andy Burnham. We were both working in DCMS in 1999-2000 when Andy walked into the office one day and wanted to discuss the news that the MP for Leigh was going to retire and asked me if he should go for it and what it would take to win. I really liked Andy and his fresh approach to the old guard and thought it would be great to see him in Parliament in 2001! we both loved our sport and our politics often matched. Andy rose up the ranks quickly and remains popular. I almost want it to be Andy as a friend who wins. But that is not enough in my heart to suggest he should or will.

The others like Yvette I got to know reasonably amongst the 97 intake. Again Yvette progressed into government ranks and there becomes a divide with back benchers who see them less and less. I want Yvette to be great and to do well but the steady calmness and assured performances in the Chamber have still not added up into a winning formula. I haven’t heard anything new or compelling to make me take notice of her campaign.

I have also got to know and like Mary Creagh during my time. Again a bright and enthusiastic MP with a different perspective. Much as I like her as a front bench spokesperson and hopefully in cabinet the extra gravitas is still missing.

For me Liz Kendall has been the surprise candidate. She has at least ruffled a few feathers with some of her interventions but is seen too much as a simple ‘Blairite’ candidate for many in the party. Although these are not my personal politics this does at least say to me she is willing to challenge the Party about what it needs to do to win in places like Loughborough. I know there are many on the left accuse her of being a ‘Tory’ but this betrays our ideological purity tests that the average voter does not conduct! I still haven’t seen enough in terms of performances and close up but Liz will be one to watch and a surprise newcomer.

Finally there is Jeremy Corbyn. As I have said I think it is important his voice and the politics of anti austerity get an airing. I really detest the way we have given up as a nation believing that austerity is the only way to balance the books in the long term. I really hope Corbyn allows the alternative economics programmes to get some exposure. We can’t let the Tories write the election battle grounds for 2020 in the next few months again.

I haven’t even had a chance to look across all the deputy leadership candidates. I will do that once they are formally declared with enough support from the PLP. This an even tougher choice because I am not that clear about the JD and person spec. Indeed I would argue that we need two Deputy Leaders – one internal focussing and one externally. It is why I supported Alan Johnson last time round. I wanted a human face to match Gordon Brown. It seems all the candidates seem very inward focussed.

I hope I am wrong to be so uninspired so far. Perhaps it is simply that I am being exposed to the election through the prism of the national press and social media. Having been close up to the leadership elections since 1992 ¬†am probably suffering from feeling very much like and unloved outsider!. My hope is that once the nominations are secured the pace will haste and the platforms developed. As and when I feel inspired I will declare… I hope it is before ballot day and I am down on their canvass sheets as a Don’t Know!

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