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Leadership race – how they measure up

a horse race

click for pic credit

“New” Labour is over. Even Labour’s leadership hopeful acknowledge the end of an era characterised by a system of “command and control”, once needed, says David Miliband, but no more. Well, that “command and control” system has helped drive out perhaps two thirds of our members, contribute to the loss of 5 million voters and played its part in our worst result since 1931. So with the passing of “New” Labour it comes as something of a surprise that the Labour leadership favourites all have the following in common; they are – with the exception of Diane Abbott – White, Male and Middle Class. Prior to carving a career in Parliament they were to a man Special Advisers, policy wonks, and intrinsically linked to the party machine. All were “helped” into Parliament – Ed Balls and David Miliband in controversial circumstances. All supported the war in Iraq. None of them demurred from any of the truly controversial, party dividing issues of the Blair/Brown years.

To this can be added, all are to varying degrees quite personable, certainly intelligent. As professional politicians, they behaved professionally in office and generally worked hard. None of them are bad people, although Ed Balls has reputedly got up the nose of some of his colleagues.

So on this basis and all things being equal, those on the Left will be queuing up to support John McDonnell, right? Wrong, I suspect. Which is not to counsel against a McDonnell candidacy. John McDonnell has the courage of his convictions, is consistent and what is more has been on the right side of the big issues which transfixed both the party and the country. But given the composition of both the PLP and what is left of the party membership, he is unlikely to win. Whoever does win however, will be forced to expostulate many of John McDonnell’s views and prescriptions in eighteen months time. And casting a long shadow over McDonnell, and one that cannot be lightly dismissed are the lengths he went to ensure that he, as opposed to Michael Meacher, could be able to run as the Left candidate in the wake of the resignation of Tony Blair. To be blunt, McDonnell’s camp stood accused of falsifying nomination forms.

Diane Abbott likewise will hopefully gain enough nominations to run, and may have a better chance of securing those nominations than McDonnell. An early victim of the Blair/Brown years, Abbott was purged from the Treasury Select Committee. Her record is both good and consistent and under any normal Labour Government, she would have prospered. It is difficult to imagine John Smith for instance has he been Prime Minister ignoring her obvious talents, nor the constituency of opinion she represents. And as the only woman her entry to the race could open the up the debate, and force some of the favourites to acknowledge that not only is “New” Labour dead, but that the party now needs root and branch reform if it is to recover and stand a serious chance of winning again. Diane Abbott should certainly be in the Shadow Cabinet; the fact that she doubled her majority is another huge mark in her favour. But whatever her merits, it seems unlikely that she will be able to manage to pull together enough support to win.

So who would be best placed to do this, and more to the point who is both willing to listen and adapt to the new prevailing wind? Who can the Left reach out to, and ensure for the sake of the party, the old gerrymandering and chicanery of the “new” Labour years are firmly buried? Who can the left – and the party as a whole – encourage to reform and open out Labour, making it more accountable in that process? Who can we talk to about civil liberties, peace, the re-distribution of power and wealth, and a new European economic order built with financial and industrial stability, and full employment, in mind? In truth, probably all of those thus declared. Nor will it take them long to lose the hackneyed vocabulary of middle management professional politics as the economic firestorm blows in.

If the Left, in Parliament, the constituencies and in the unions is co-ordinated and clever, there is no reason why the best values and principles of Labour cannot be restored. The “New” Labour project is over, and while the media bubble can continue to prattle about the “middle ground” and the “centre left consensus”, as realists we know that political struggle is about more than increasingly irrelevant positioning. Labour is now the only large, national Opposition party. Realignment with the Liberal Democrats is not going to happen. Labour will be defined by its response to the coming economic crisis, and our response to it.

And so the leadership does matter. Labour has an elected Deputy Leader in the shape of Harriet Harman, and now we will have to choose from what is on offer. My question to myself has been, which one of them, Ed, Ed, David, Diane or Andy will not only still be able to walk the walk and talk the talk in eighteen months time, but will be seen as an alternative to the Cameron, Clegg, chuckle brothers routine – and will have escaped the straitjacket of the “New” Labour years?

Of course he has a lot to learn, and will have to do a whole lot better in reaching out to all sections of the party than he has managed so far. But when all is said and done, my money is on Ed, Ed Miliband.

6 Comments

  1. Robert says:

    The death of new labour sadly could well see labour out of power for my life time, I’ll never vote for it again.

    Welfare Reforms were the end for me, the principles which was labour has to be Income support, the labour party wanted to win and stay in power, look what we ended up with, it tried to kill off the Tories and take it’s place. It failed. I just heard one of the idiots looking to take over Andy Burnham say he will carry on with Blair’s third way, which suits me fine, no need to sit and think about coming back then.

  2. Duncan says:

    Shame you had a rake up smear stories from 2007 in an otherwise sensible article. A lot of allegations flew around about nominations. As both “sides” knew the names were to be shared and compared it is quite clear that the particular allegation referred to here is an absurd one.

  3. Andrew says:

    Well said Duncan – I thought I remembered this being responded to at the time – and indeed it was by Meacher and McDonnell’s respective campaign managers: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2007/may/18/labourleadership.labour1

    Why would a left blog try to smear a left candidate?

  4. Matthew Stiles says:

    I read a very good article at Jon Trickett’s website on the leadership debate:
    http://www.jontrickett.org.uk/PageViewerRepeater.aspx?Id=999
    Hopefully, he’ll nominate for a left candidate like McDonnell or Abbott.

  5. Dave Semple says:

    Indeed it’s a disappointment to see such a smear carried on a Left blog at just the point where McDonnell, a socialist whose credentials aren’t in question, probably the first to run since Tony Benn in ’81, has a minuscule chance of making the ballot.

  6. susan press says:

    Is this the same Mark Seddon who used to edit Tribune and speak at Campaign Group rallies where he was “glad to be amongst comrades”…. an unpleasant and frankly utterly erroneous slur . Clearly Mark has spent too much time out of the uk. Another hurrah for Ed Miliband . How disappointing .

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