I wrote the stuff below yesterday, and then saved it in draft form, and then re-read it this morning and found it to be utterly disgusting. Dreary managerialist politics, combining a narrow view of possibility with an out-of-date ‘party before politics’ dogmatism and a lingering odour of Blairite electoral cynicism. It ignores the possibility of a new politics. It assumes the electorate cannot be convinced of the need for a new economic prescription. England, it seems to say, is really an emotionally Tory country, and always will be.
Disgusting, like I say. Unadventurous, careful, dispassionate, cold.
I still agree with it. Every line. I hate myself, obviously.
This was going to be an elegant essay on the various considerations involved in electing the new leader of the Labour party. But my ballot paper arrived today, and when I opened it I realised I didn’t have the capacity to make a reasoned argument for or against any of the candidates.
It comes down to this, really:
- There’s no point in being a member of a political party that can’t get into government, alone or in coalition. Which means reaching out to people who one doesn’t agree with. That seems self-evident to me, and anyone who doesn’t recognise it is being childish.
- Historically, Labour only wins a significant parliamentary majority when the Tory administration is worn out and the Labour leader has broad appeal. In other words, the electorate has to be disgusted and/or bored with the Tories before it turns to Labour, and even then will only do so when it believes in the Labour leader. At the moment, neither of these things looks like being the case by 2020.
- All the candidates are profoundly weak in their own unique ways. Not one of them, for instance, can make a decent speech, a tub-thumping speech. Two of them can’t even do that. This is another way of saying none of them can win a general election unless something very dramatic happens. (Tony Blair, incidentally, was a magnificent speaker, as was Kinnock, as was Smith. Labour’s lost its magnificent oratorical tradition, and needs to find it again)
- Corbyn and Kendall have the virtue of saying what they believe, whatever you think of their beliefs.
- Cooper has the virtue of having been in government and understanding the triangulation needed to run things.
- Labour needs to fundamentally reform itself as a representative organisation in the digital age. The colossal snafu over this leadership election just goes to confirm that.
- This election comes to be about this question: who would best begin the process of reforming the party for the digital age in such a way that a future leader with electoral appeal can have a go at leading a progressive majority in parliament.
- It also should be about having a woman in a position of political prominence in this country.
And, my word, that’s a depressing and boring set of bullet points, other than the last one. It’s also impressively grown-up, though I say so myself. I have a sneaking, unquenchable desire to see what Corbyn would do when given real political authority, because I’m a huge admirer of Ken Livingstone and what he did as London Mayor. I enjoy Kendall’s rebel heart, as I once admired Blair’s rebel heart, and she’s right about a good many things.
But Corbyn won’t win a general election, and he won’t do so in ways which will make the Tories stronger, which means even more terrifying right-wing nonsense will take place with a Corbyn-led Labour party. I really don’t understand why people don’t get that. Particularly the presumably well-informed people who run trade unions.
And I don’t think Kendall is strong enough as the voice of the ‘new right’ in the party. She may be one day. Chuka might have been, but now we’ll never know. And Kendall is so, so far behind that a vote for her now feels like a vote wasted in the face of the Corbyn onslaught.
So, a safe pair of hands combined with a party-rebuilding agenda. Yvette Cooper for leader, Tom Watson for deputy. If the Tories do implode in the next four years (they won’t, but let’s just imagine) Cooper could be a credible alternative. And Watson knows more about the way the Labour Party works than anyone, and he gets digital engagement in a way few other MPs do.
It’s not a fist-pump conclusion. I think Labour has been very, very badly damaged by the nonsense of the past five years. I think the party’s lost sight of itself, and its purpose, and there’s a very real danger that it collapses in on itself amidst a toxic stew of social media aggression and wider political pointlessness. And the candidates for leadership are all, as I’ve said, very weak in their own very unique ways.
But while we argue about this stuff, the public space is being dismantled by a doctrinaire administration that can’t believe how lucky it is. Time to get on with working on that.
PS: Andy Burnham left blank deliberately.