After a long pause in writing, I have decided as part of my MA at SAIS to restart again. I hope you enjoy!
Now onto the Labour leadership election…..
At the beginning of 2015 it seemed clear to almost all observers, certainly in the Labour party, that there would not be another Labour leadership election for quite some time. Having only removed Gordon Brown in 2010 and after a mauling leadership election, where the Blairites of the party were roundly trounced, another election was not what the party had in mind.
It is difficult to appreciate how influential the 2015 General Election has been on the soul of the British Labour party. After constant poll(s) showed a small lead (or at least a neck and neck outcome), to receive such a devastating series of losses in Scotland and to lose seats in Wales and the North of England to the Conservatives has shattered the parties confidence.
The problem is that the modern British Labour party doesn’t actually stand for anything, a fact which explains why this Labour Leadership election is so challenging. Pre-Blair Labour had a clear identity, as an alliance between Social Democrats, left wing academics (Fabian Society) and the UK’s Unions. This alliance focused on delivering a larger role for the state, to be funded with higher taxes in order to protect those most in need. But with new Labour and the appeal to the mythical “centre ground”, the parties voting alliances remained but its policies shifted to match the Conservatives.
There is clearly a need in the UK for a party that represents the Working Class, with the SNP success in Scotland and UKIP’s gains in the North of England showing the willingness of voters to switch away from Labour. The problem is that the UK electorate also clearly values a “Social Democrats” party as well, with Labour’s success in London elections as a clear example of how “New Labour” remains so popular.
This dichotomy of how Labour can effectively represent these constituent parties underpins the entire Labour Leadership debate we see now. The Union movement feel betrayed by New Labour and having invested heavily (both financially and labour) in Ed Miliband’s previous election, they are determined to have a “proper” Labour leader who represents their interests at this election. The Union movement also clearly distrusts the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party) who are seen as being co-opted into the Westminster Machine and who are often (rightly) seen as too London centric in their thinking. The PLP however are determined to pick a candidate who they feel can win elections and after seeing Ed Miliband’s tentative steps to the left so roundly rejected by voters, they are determined not to spend another decade in the political wilderness.
Jeremy Corbyn is an honest, hardworking MP with integrity and a clearly defined and strongly held set of beliefs on how the world should be run. These characteristics will always make a candidate attractive to people because they ooze authenticity and help individuals develop a sense of trust (something which is sorely lacking in the UK). But these characteristics do not make a leader. Corbyn himself did not expect to ever be a serious contender and he knows (as do others) that skills such as coalition building within the political party, maintaining party cohesion and loyalty as well as an awareness of how his personal views reflect on others, are vital and Corbyn does not have them. The PLP know this, the party machine knows this and in their heart so does the party membership.
So why is Corbyn ahead? Clearly Labour voters want to see vision, they want a sense of direction and purpose and more than ever, they need a morale boost. For these reasons they want Corbyn to look like a real candidate and to perform well, to put pressure on others in the Labour party to step up to the mark.
Burnham is unable to do this. He lacks Charisma, he lacks the support of the unions (at least the key ones) and he is a well-known (boring) quantity in the eyes of the voters. He may be a “safe pair of hands” but he cannot win a General Election because he is unable to generate excitement and energy into the party. If you want further proof of that, look at how quickly he has fallen from grace in the Labour Leadership election itself.
Liz Kendall similarly is thoroughly uninspiring and frankly was the parties poor 2nd choice against Chuka Umunna (or even Tristam Hunt), whose initial candidacy and immediate withdrawal caused serious damage to the Blairite wings cohesion and campaigning strategy in the early days of this election. In addition the damage caused by Blair’s public interventions in the election and by the Blairite camps endorsement of Harriet Harman’s policy on welfare cuts have all seriously weakened Ms Kendall’s appeal.
That just leaves Mrs Yvette Cooper. A very experienced (yet fairly young) female politician, with experience serving in the cabinet of a Labour government and serving in the cabinet of an opposition Labour party. She has been strong in House of Commons debates and would certainly create challenges for David Cameron (and his successor) at PMQ’s. Her political relationships are extremely well developed and with Gordon Brown seen as her backer, it would seem feasible that many Unions would cautiously welcome her if she were to be appointed (a Luxury Ms Kendall certainly does not have).
Yvette Cooper also plays well with the other dynamic in the Labour party, its Deputy Leadership election. While dubbed “the most pointless election in the UK” (The Conservatives and Lib Dems don’t even both electing their deputies), if Tom Watson was to secure the post (as he appears on track to do) it would be a difficult dynamic to see him working as well with any other candidate. Additionally there is a feeling that the Labour party “should” have female representation in the party leadership, which again would add weight to both Mrs Cooper and Mrs Kendall.
While many may disagree with my opinion, the nice thing is that in September we will get to see it tested. Polls, pundits and commentators called a hung parliament for 2015, while I called a Conservative Majority and earned a handsome gift from Ladbrokes. I have similarly placed odds at Ladbrokes on a Mrs Cooper win, so if I’m right in September then come find me and i’ll get the drinks!