Quick Dip Back Inside the Bubble

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I know Westminster is often described as a political bubble and therefore anything that is said inside is somehow not worth the same as a ‘real discussion’ on the doorstep! So today I was back in Westminster to get some ‘gossip’ from as many people as possible about the state of politics and of course the Labour Leadership election. This wasn’t the main purpose of course but nobody could stop themselves talking about it!

It is fair to say that my 15-20 conversations were not scientifically chosen but I did speak to MPs, staff and others from across the House. It seems the only happy people I cam across were the Tory MPs I spoke to who couldn’t believe their luck! A Corbyn led opposition was a gift to them as far as they were concerned. Although in the long run they felt it was poor for democracy and the quality of decsion making not to have an opposition that looked like a government in waiting.

The only other thing I picked up was the willingness for people to stay inside the Party and to fight for it again. I see there has been some ‘speculation’ about an SDP type split if Corbyn wins. I haven’t seen any evidence of this, indeed just the opposite. For those who fought off entryism in the 80s they feel they might have to start all over again. There was also some fear expressed about the darker side  of Corbyn  supporters who are nowhere near as charming as him and who may well use their newly found status to take over the machinary of the Party too. The word de-selection was muttered a few times.

These are only the bits I picked up today. I was hoping to bump into a Corbyn supporter or two to balance out the insider gossip, but that looks like it may have to wait until next time.

And finally most of the anger turned to a Party that gives the same voting rights in an election to somebody who may have voted against us in May 2015 but with the payment of £3 gets the same rights as those who have sustained the party for 30-40 years through good and bad. These people are pretty bitter.

Labour Leadership Ballot Papers Out – it is now VERY real

The ballot papers for the Labour leadership election have started to go out and I am looking forward to receieving mine and posting my first preference for Andy Burnham, and my second for Yvette Cooper. As we saw in 2010 the distribution of secnd and third preferences can become really important.


So far I remained fairly quiet on my political blog – probably like a lot of members I was getting slightly fed up with being bombarded by texts and emails from the candidates (Leader AND Deputy Leader of course). But then ‘Corbynmania’ started to become a little less of a joke and serious polling started to emerge that he is odds on favourite to win. I still held back thinking the collective voice of the party would or will win through. I worked on the assumption that party activists have always been to the left of the majority of party members and certainly to the left of the majority of Labour party voters and way off the scale when compared to the general electorate. But day after day the bandwagon kept rolling for Jeremy and his campaign. My twitter and facebook is full of normally sensible friends with their ‘I’m backing Corbyn’ photos.

That’s why last week I had to come off the fence and support Andy Burnham as my first choice and Yvette as my second. The timing was helpful as Yvette delivered a really well received speech, moving out of the comfort zone of candidates trying to say all the right things to appease the Labour party electorate. It is right that she started to take on some of the myths of the magic surrounding the Corbyn campaign. It is frustrating that every time somebody raises serious questions about Corbyn and his policies their team run for the cover of ‘avoiding personality politics’.

This is the theme for today. I am afraid we are in an era of personality politics- even if we reject this kind of politics. It is like much of the Corbyn campaign – harking back to an era before 24 hour TV, News, and social media coverage. It seems that whilst UKIP want to take the country back to some mythical 1950s, The Tories ARE taking us back to some 1930s level of state provision, and now we have Corbyn & the left fighting battles of the 70s and 80s.  They also attack anybody (I assume I will now join their list) who does not agree with their vision of a left wing agenda as somehow a ‘Tory’. This idea that there is some test of ideological purity is something I find as deeply depressing as those in the Christian world denouncing others as non-believers because of some obscure theological doctrine.  I am reminded of the Life of Brian Scene time after time – ‘Splitters’.

Just because I am willing to adjust and create pragmatic policies to fit the world as it is now and will be in the future it does not mean an abandonment to my core principles of creating a more just and equal world. I hold a really positive and radical view of what the world could and should be like. It is a world in the words of Shane Claiborne – “where Capitalism is impossible and Communism is unnecessary.”

The main difference is that I know the majority of the British electorate don’t share my worldview just yet. Yes I could spend my time ‘educating’ them or waiting for our Right Wing Press to collapse. I could even wait for the end of international capitalism. But whilst I am waiting people suffer. I made a conscious decision as an 18 year old to Join the Labour Party because I wanted to change the world. I joined because of issues of international development and global poverty & inequality. I could have joined a campaign organisation (I did this too – from the Nicaragua solidarity Campaign to CND), i could have gone and worked for an aid agency to offer practical skills and effort. But I chose to join a political party so that we could get our hands on the levers of power to make the positive changes I wanted to see. Yes it was always slower than I liked and full of compromises, but when we cancelled much of the debt of the poorest 49 countries as a consequence of the Jubilee 2000 campaign I could see how important it is to be IN government, making the right choices even if it means compromise and adjustments.

So I can see the appeal of those who join Labour as a protest movement against capitalism and this bunch of Tory cronies running the country. But as we battle with each other over our ideological purities the Tories are busy ruining our country and sitting on 39% in the polls. So if you joined Labour as a ‘supporter’ just to get Corbyn elected as leader I fear you will have destroyed the very thing you want to see – the end of  Tory government. With Jeremy we will all be able to tut very loudly about the state of the world and just how awful these Tories are – but we won’t stand a chance of being able to do a thing about it!

You see we are electing a “Leader” of the opposition party with a view to them becoming Prime Minister. The electorate couldn’t even cope with the concept of the decent guy Ed Miliband becoming PM. What do Corbyn supporters honestly think the general electorate will make of Jeremy? And as we are electing a ‘Leader’ I would love to see far more scrutiny of the leadership qualities of the candidates. Who can command the PLP and Party? I am seriously not convinced Corbyn could ever seriously ask for party discipline in view of his years of non-compliance in my time in parliament.

I admire my friends enthusiasm for Corbyn and I know – a little like Farage & Boris Johnson – people like to see a little more fun in their politics. But the reality is that winning government is about forming a coalition and alliance of supporters from your core supporters to those who may vote for the other major parties. Corbyn does appeal to the core hard left voters, but the maths are against him winning & forming a government. All the research from the 2015 election I have seen points to our need to win back in the centre – not tack further to the left to bring back a few Greens and minor socialist party voters. I know many Corbynites also add in non -voters, but again the evidence suggests these are more likely to be right wing voters than the left sitting at home. This is why UKIP did well. They took voters from Lab & Tories and gained on-voters. I can assure Corbynites these voters are not looking for us to be more left wing!

I make this plea to fellow party memberss not because I don’t share some of the hopes and aspirations that Jeremy talks about and I certainly have really tried to avoid any hint of personal attacks in anything I write or say. I personally like Jeremy and enjoyed working with him a few times on some issues in Parliament

There is still a few weeks to go. And I hope to wake up one of these days to see the Corbyn bandwagon put into a proper perspective. It’s nice to wish, but realistically 10-20 years of opposition is not a good place to be. And I don’t want to be writing here in 2020 “that I told you so”

Time to come off the Fence for Andy Burnham 

Andy Burnham
As you will know I have been a little critical of the Labour Party since its defeat in May and the subsequent leadership election process. I was initially struck at the lack of inspiration offered during the process and the personal attacks on the candidates by ‘close friends and the their supporters.’ In any broad church party it is vital that we can disagree on policy solutions to the problems the country faces without resorting to insult. 
At the start of the process I set out my desire to see a pretty open and honest debate about why we lost and what was needed to get us back into power in 2020. Clearly the maths are not good so it would take some inspirational leadership to achieve that goal. I had welcomed the involvement on Jeremy Corbyn in the process because I felt it was important that the Left of the party had not felt squeezed out because the PLP wouldn’t allow a left candidate to be on the ballot paper. In fact If I had still been an MP I would probably have been one of those MPs to lend Jeremy my nomination to get him onto the ballot paper, but not to vote for him as leader!
My measurement for the leadership is firstly about who is best to re-unite our party such a after a bruising loss. This in itself is a difficult job and neither Jeremy Corbyn or Liz Kendall can achieve this. They represent the two wings of the party that drive the others mad! The victory of either of these candidates would split Labour down the middle for a decade. The only winners in these circumstances are the Tories. When we were in government it was almost hilarious to watch the Tories between 1997 and about 2008 really not understand what had happened. 
  
The election of Corbyn would probably see Labour shore up support amongst the Left, some Greens and a chunk of non-voters – but with about 15-20% of the electorate at a general election. I am probably quite close to Corbyn on many of his policy positions, but I recognised years ago to win elections you need to convince voters of your policy and values positions. The problem is not just that Corbyn could never win an election for us in our current electoral system, but that his supporters are such zealots that they have lost touch with the reality of winning elections. In fact they seem to hate the idea that any non ideological purity can even be tolerated. I joined the party in 1983. I have seen this all before and it is slightly depressing to hear the arguments all over again. I respect their position that there are people inspired by the message of anti austerity and socialist populism. But I can assure them we will be a radical pressure group – not a party preparing for government. The maths just don’t add up.
 I realised as a candidate and an MP in classic middle England seat of Loughborough that the British people are quite compassionate but not ready to vote in large numbers for an ostensibly socialist manifesto. They are prepared to support a left leaning social Democratic Party when it can get its act together. I think Liz Kendall has understood this in this debate. It saddens me when anybody in our party is called a Tory and traitor for simply recognising where the electorate are and where Labour needs to meet them. Whoever wins the election needs to listen to both Corbyn and Kendall on how to win the voters they believe they can attract. Because for Labour that is the struggle ahead. Go win back Sottish voters on the left whilst winning back those who voted Tory again in 2015 in middle England and seats like my old Loughborough.
If we want to win again we can’t simply pile up votes in the North and fail to win seats like Loughborough where my 2005 6500 majority is now a 9000 Tory majority. The next leader needs to be reassuring our core vote, and at the same time demonstrating they understand the hopes and aspirations of middle england. They need to come and listen to the supper parties of Quorn as well as take on board the disaffection of our traditional vote in Shepshed. It is only by building a coalition of support can we hope to win. Floating voters are not evil people. Yes they are far more interested in their own personal circumstances and financial position, but we shouldn’t despise them for this as it some times appears we do.
So with the need to face all these challenges at the same time this is why I will be backing my old friend and colleague Andy Burnham for the leadership of the Party, and hopefully to be our future Prime Minister.
I have been fortunate to know Andy since he worked in DCMS with me when I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Ministerial Team and Kate Hoey the Sports Minister. I encouraged Andy to go for the Leigh seat when it became available. I followed every step of his progress as I thought Andy was a similar character to me. He was of course sporty, but also despite being more involved in the Party than me he was not so deeply involved that he would put a policy conference ahead of a crucial Everton game… a key test of normality for me amongst my parliamentary colleagues. 
Andy was far more successful at Westminster than I could have hoped for in those early days. Of course he is certainly still not the finished product yet.. as I am sure because of his modest approach he would be first to admit. But I believe he can achieve the delicate balance and speak to various parts of the country whilst maintaining his authenticity as an individual.  
He can unite the party in a way that I know won’t be achieved by Corbyn or Kendall. I have also always admired the steady and confident approach of Yvette Cooper and know she would do a good job if elected, but for me Andy Burnham offers more at this crucial time. I know Andy will be mature enough to listen to the hope that Corbyn has generated, and embrace the sense Kendall has spoken about what it takes to win in Middle England. 
As you know I didn’t rush to this decision. It was hard to come off the fence because the decision was never about how do I like most, or who I do I agree with ideologically. Having spent time reflecting, listening and analysing I believe it is now time for the Party to unite behind Andy Burnham and to start the job of opposing this Tory government who have the slenderest of majorities but are acting as though they won the popular vote across our country. They have got away with way too much whilst we have been inward looking during this campaign. Once again Andy Burnham has shown the fight and passion in the last parliament to make sure the Tories don’t get away with governing unopposed!
Andy Reed
August 2015