The Labour leadership contest seems to have already been going on for an eternity, and is set to continue into mid-September. There’s nothing like drawing the process out over the summer recess to create a feeling of stagnation, but it’s been damaging for the party in other ways, too. I’ve taken a look at a few of them in turn.
Two of the candidates, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper, have yet to distinguish themselves. A clear message on what each of them stand for and where they see the party by 2020 is desperately needed. In addition, Andy Burnham’s record under the Brown government is far from stellar, not least for approving numerous PFI deals within the NHS during his time as Health Secretary.
Liz Kendall’s position on many issues of policy, particularly regarding welfare, correspond more with the Conservative stance than the Labour stance. Jeremy Corbyn has a clear agenda, to take Labour back to its roots, and the most conviction of the candidates; but he will only appeal to left-wing voters.
The distraction of the deputy leadership election
The candidates for the position of deputy Labour leader are Stella Creasy, Ben Bradshaw, Tom Watson, Caroline Flint and Angela Eagle. There are two problems when comparing this to the leadership shortlist: firstly, more candidates are interested in being the deputy leader than the leader, which doesn’t exactly send out signals of confidence and optimism. Secondly, Creasy and Watson are both strong candidates who are good at scrutinising policy, and the main leadership contest would have benefited hugely from having them contribute to the debates.
Is there any reason why they couldn’t have run a single leadership election, with the winner becoming leader and the second-placed candidate becoming deputy leader? It seems bizarre to have this two-tier contest going on.
The one thing I will not question is the need for a new deputy leader.
As deputy leader, Harriet Harman became acting leader upon Ed Miliband’s resignation. The acting leader is supposed to give the party a sense of calm and direction while the leadership contest is being held, but Harman was weak in the scrutiny of the Budget and has made a complete mess of Labour’s response to the government’s welfare reforms. After a Labour amendment to the bill was defeated, she instructed MPs who disagreed with the £12bn welfare cuts to abstain rather than oppose the bill, no doubt angering millions of voters who believed their Labour MP would oppose any such moves. As it was, 48 Labour MPs disobeyed this instruction and voted against the bill. (Of the four leadership contenders, only Corbyn voted against: Kendall, Cooper and Burnham abstained.)
Harman’s time as acting Labour leader has so far been characterised by showing passive resistance to the government whilst facing active resistance within her own party.
In order for Labour to be electable again, they need to either retain all of their support in England and Wales whilst massively pushing back the SNP in Soctland, or increase the number of seats they hold in England and Wales to the extent that they can form a government without having any MPs in Scotland.
If Kendall wins, Scotland will be a lost cause and she will have to rely on a Blair-type swing in England and Wales. If Corbyn wins, Labour will regain a few seats in Scotland but not enough to counteract the loss of centrist marginals in England and Wales. If Burnham or Cooper win, they will need a seriously good strategy to reach beyond those voters who backed Brown and Miliband (both electoral losses).
All of which begs the question, is the long and winding road ultimately leading nowhere?