The Labour Party is facing electoral wilderness. On the day after the election, as the result I near enough called became apparent but worse than I expected, I felt a hollow sense of vindication. Milibandism was doomed from the off. A false analysis of the political centre of gravity, it stood on a manifesto several degrees to the left of Brown’s in 2010, the latter itself more conspicuously to the left of those in the successful campaigns of 1997, 2001 and 2005.
Ed Miliband and his close circle always seemed at best ambivalent and at worst hostile at times to the world of business. In the run up to the election reports emerged of the then Labour leader musing aloud at a meeting with business people on why they needed to pay dividends to shareholders. Even in his attack on Boots tax arrangements, reasonable to the informed politico perhaps, it just seemed out of the blue and too specific. The average voter will just hear Ed attacking their favourite high street pharmacist who offer them generous points and three for two on selected products at Christmas.
Noble efforts were made by Chuka Umunna and, loathed as I am to complement him, Ed Balls to make positive overtures towards the business community and make the case for a strong private sector. This was both too little, too late to affect the outcome, and seemed at odds with the leaderships own stance. Ed and his team could not grasp that those who sit awake at night worrying about big business and tax avoidance are probably the sort of folks who are a sure bet to vote for him or another left-wing party already. Little to nothing was done to focus on centre to centre-right voters, a winning strategy for the party in the not too distant past.
Back to the day after the election. There was a degree of hope in the air. Balls, Umunna and his ilk were open about Labour failing primarily due to perceived lack of competence in running the economy and hostility to middle income voters and business. Tristram Hunt meanwhile led calls for a long period of reflection, time to regroup under a competent interim leader, rather than hold an election instantly while emotions were high. Already at this point though I could see the self-indulgence of the harder left out in force on social media. In statuses or posts to university Labour groups contempt and vitriol at the voting public, as if they were stupid, selfish or inhuman, or indeed all of the above. Let’s be absolutely clear: The only group to blame for the Labour Party failing to win the election, or at least denying the Conservatives their slender majority is the Labour Party.
Heedless of many calls for reflection, the election was called for a new leader to be elected by September 12th. Since then it has been an unedifying farce. The most telegenic and popular moderniser, Umunna, pulled out early due to pressure on his family life. From that point onwards, the modernising strand, represented by Liz Kendall, has in my opinion been permanently tainted. Meanwhile, in strange acts of charity, Labour MP’s who did not share Jeremy Corbyn’s views donated nominations to him in order for him to reach the required thirty five to stand in the contest, so as to ‘open up the debate’. Such foolishness. In theory this was a noble democratic act, a means of having all voices from different wings of the party in the leadership debate. In practice it seems anything but principled and democratic. If all MP’s had simply nominated who they thought would make the best leader of the party, then as per the agreed upon rules, three MP’s with differing outlooks would have reached the minimum nominations required with all MP’s having gone with their consciences. As it were, their charity has opened a Pandora’s Box.
Said box though already had its key turned well before then. In the aftermath of UNITE the union rigging the selection of candidates, Ed Miliband rightly sought to change the democratic process of the Labour Party. I naively thought that the one member, one vote policy, as well as forcing union members to have to opt in as supporters of the party, rather than have an automatic say in its democracy, would be a positive step in curtailing the union block voting that imposed Ed on the party. While I think the opt in policy to be right, the one member, one vote, and ability to have access to one vote by becoming a supporter for the grand sum of three pounds seems to have had devastating unintended consequences. Some sort of Electoral College system should have remained. This would have allowed the MP’s, those who know better than anyone what sort of person it takes to win elections, to retain a substantial impact on a leadership vote. You could then have retained a members college, and lastly perhaps a third of the say with union members and the newly created supporters. The PLP have been reduced to a mere 200 odd votes amongst over 600,000 that will be cast.
Despite a thousand odd rejections, one can say with confidence that many more will have slipped through the cracks to promote their own interests and views, rather than increase the electability of the Labour Party; such is the influx of supporters over the last few months. Even today a Conservative received several rather than one ballot paper, all of which he intends to send back with Corbyn as his first preference, incidentally the first preference of the Conservative leadership. Of course though there are many more in this surge of new supporters who are earnest, indeed zealous supporters of the bearded phenomenon. The rhetoric of many has been appalling, calling those who oppose or criticise Jeremy of being traitors, conservatives and every name under the sun. The well respected Labour veteran John Mann MP was subject to anti-Semitic tirades for doing as much. The substantial presence of extremely hard-left, abusive extremists in the Corbyn camp has not been adequately addressed by the Islington MP, such a proponent during the campaign of keeping things to do with policy and not resorting to the personal. Quite.
It seems bar a miracle Corbyn will be the next leader of the Labour Party. Andy Burnham’s campaign has been a mishmash of trying to be all things to all people, full of flip-flops that run contrary to positions he once held. He has pandered too much to the Corbyn bandwagon, but this does not seem to have paid off if polling is to be believed. Yvette Cooper has been more consistent and moderate in her centrist pitch, but for much of the time earlier in the campaign a policy vacuum developed, and she appeared hesitant to begin with in challenging Corbyn. Her critique of him last week was welcome, but very late in the day. Finally Liz Kendall, my preferred candidate, is a bold and pragmatic reformer, her policies perhaps best suited to win over floating voters with her vision of a focused, efficient and enabling state, localism, rather than punitive taxation and statist solutions for their own sakes. He candidacy has been dogged from the off however by misrepresentation that was not properly challenge, abuse and slander, and she’ll more than likely come fourth, and a low fourth at that.
I (waits for my feminist friends to spit out their fair trade coffee over their Huffington Posts) genuinely wanted a female leader of the Labour Party, either in the form of Kendall, and now in the more realistic prospect of Cooper. I thought it would really take the teeth out of and deny an edge over the Welsh and Scottish nationalists, as well as the Greens, as well as paint a stark contrast with the Conservatives, not to mention trip up Cameron, less able historically to stand up to the scrutiny of female peers as opposed to males. It seems alas we’ll be heading for a Corbyn leadership and perpetual opposition and Conservative government. If this is the case, I hope for the sake of moderate centre-left politics that the PLP moves against him when it is favourable to do so, or that the moderates break away from the party, a la the gang of four in the 80’s, and start to focus on building a platform palatable to the country, rather than comforting the membership.