On the Labour leadership, and my disgust with myself

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 Dreary managerialist politics, combining a narrow view of possibility with an out-of-date ‘party before politics’ dogmatism?and a lingering odour of Blairite electoral cynicism.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.

9 thoughts on “On the Labour leadership, and my disgust with myself

  1. I find myself in full agreement with you & similarly rather depressed. Some of Corbyn’s supporters (but not the man himself) have been, shall we say, less than generously inclusive when engaged in conversation, which doesn’t bode well.


    1. Indeed – though as you say, his supporters aren’t his fault. Though the rigidity of some of his opinions (particularly the international ones) might explain the tone of those that support him.


  2. A thought I had this morning: There are two ways for Labour to get more votes than Tories and aim to win an election:

    1.) Try to win those votes from people who voted Tory in the last election. Every vote won is two votes closer to overtaking the Tories

    2.) Bring in more voters. There are more “didn’t vote” than people who actually voted.

    So going further away from the Tories (rightwards?) reverses option 1. That means option 2 is the primary mechanism for catching up.

    Which means, who is best placed of the candidates to appeal to the non-voter enough to make them vote? And are there enough non-voters to the right that make it worth alienating people in the intersection of the edges of Tories and Labour.

    To be honest, I have total respect for Tom Watson. So I hope whomever wins the Labour leadership is someone who can forge an especially productive relationship with him. I’d be tempted to say it’s more important to have a leader best suited to Tom Watson than anything else. But then that’s not leadership… that’s a figurehead.

    I empathise with your / Labour’s predicament. And I hope the Labour electorate understands the implications of the choice they make.

    As a consistent LibDem voter (in an unassailable Tory constituency), I want a strong and effective opposition to every British government. And the path to government cannot bypass this milestone. And Labour needs to pick itself up and be the opposition this country needs.


    1. Interesting. Do you think, then, that it’s arithmetically twice as effective to convert a Tory voter to a Labour voter than to convert a non-voter to a Labour voter? Never thought of it quite like that.


  3. I’m stuck on this. “There?s no point in being a member of a political party that can?t get into government, alone or in coalition”. Is it really childish to believe otherwise? Syriza, UKIP and the pre-coalition Lib Dems had belief first, then power or power by proxy.


    1. A few thoughts on that, Richard.

      1. Look at them all now. Fractured (Syriza), emasculated (Lib Dems), and electorally dead (UKIP)

      2. FPTP makes a difference. It tends to entrench a govt. and an opposition. But you need an opposition.

      3. What’s the point in voting Green or UKIP in a General Election? Seriously?

      Perhaps I should have said ‘there’s no point in being a member of one of the two big political parties in Britain that can’t get into government.’


      1. Yes. Good points well made. Thanks. The solace I take from all this (which is not a party-political point) is that any would-be political leader might note that, irrespective of policies, Corbyn, Farage (and Johnson?)-like qualities are attractive to a suspicious electorate.


  4. I disagree with your first bullet. (Spits dummy out…)

    When I last voted, I did so for a party I believed in. They won’t ever gain power. They might one day be part of a coalition, but it’ll be some time off. As I see it, people are rallying behind Corbyn because of belief. Let’s say as a result of all this we end up with ‘The Corbyn Party’. That would be a strong voice that could quite easily be part of a coalition at some point. The trajectory of such a party could even be very much like the SNP and it end up in power.

    I often see the Labour party as some coalition of the left, in that the Labour Party has more of an ethical spread, and a wider spread across the political spectrum than say the Tories do on either on the right. However, the factions within the Labour Party always seem to be more at war (the Teebee-Geebees, brothers even (the Millibands) and the current farce being three consecutive examples). It seems there are so many in the Labour Party that don’t get how unappealing that is to voters who might otherwise have more truck with Labour ideals. It always looks like a quest for power first and a solid belief system second. It doesn’t matter if the business of being a political party is about gaining power or not (and I don’t believe it is anyway) the obvious quest for power is just very very unsexy. Listen to Gordon Brown’s ramble on Sunday. Just a nonsense.

    If an alien had landed in the UK for a day in 2006 and a day in 2012 and asked to guess which of TB/GB and DC/NC were on the same team, Dave and Nick would have been the answer every time.

    I also think the Labour Party, being a broad coalition of the left, struggles with knowing who its target audience is. When you couple this with a seeming obsessive quest for power that doesn’t help, because it creates an environment where it looks like you’ll say whatever, or go wherever to attain that goal. The ‘working man’ is no longer an audience. And anyway, he got owned by Thatcher as soon as he was given the aspiration to buy his council house. He wants to get on and move forward. (Like you say, England is emotionally Tory). The poor and the disadvantaged need a voice, support, help and a fair deal. Labour seems to hope that middle, emotionally Tory England will give a hoot about them AND while helping them get on. Labour won’t say we are the party of those most in need in a way that will really appeal, engage and support them in the way the SNP does. I think it just sees them as uncool. Corbyn will be a real voice for those. If his campaign has shown anything it’s that there are many in the UK who want to be part of a proper socialist party. Given that would effectively be starting from scratch no wonder some of its policies might seem outdated. But they could evolve.

    My final point is on digital engagement. If digital has done one thing everywhere else it’s that it’s diversified audiences and genres. How many musical genres did we have in Our Price in the 80’s? How many have we got now? Maybe a digitally engaged electorate goes hand in hand with a rise in more niche parties with specific beliefs which in time organically form coalitions which govern in the national interest and over time effect electoral reform. Perhaps Labour is like BT before it sold off o2 and needs to split so its constituent parts can grow,

    Let the Labour Party split I say – it’s done nothing to show in the last 10 years it can present cohesive unity. The country desperately needs the HoC minus the Tory majority to work as an effective opposition – not be embroiled in tawdry in-fighting which seems to be more about power than ideals. First and foremost Labour is neglecting that important role. By focussing on it it might win people over.


    1. Good stuff, Al. I agree that Labour is a coalition of the left – I think that’s very well put. I fundamentally disagree that Labour splitting would be a positive. Politics needs focus and control to be effective. A coalition of non-Tories won’t ever win a general election. The main thing that killed Labour in the last election was the accusation that they would go into coalition with the SNP.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s