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Are “realistic” Labour leaders best placed to win an election?

Labour Leadership Candidates and now they are 4_edited-1Conventional wisdom has it that the outcome of the Labour leadership contest most feared by the Tories would be the election of the candidate perceived to be nearest to the middle ground. Conversely, it is suggested that a candidate who espouses policies seen to be further to the left, (which seems to mean simply offering something different from the Tory programme), would gravely prejudice Labour’s chances of winning the next election.

There are, of course, many criteria that might be relevant in deciding which candidate to support – age, gender, personal accomplishments, and so on – and a candidate’s electoral appeal, based on such criteria, might well be important in determining which candidate would be most helpful to Labour’s election chances. But the suggestion, constantly made even by Labour’s friends, that the willingness to offer a clear alternative to Tory austerity, Tory attacks on the public services and Tory victimisation of the vulnerable is somehow a disqualification is surely to be resisted.

The advice to Labour members that they should eschew potential leaders who do not “move forward” (or, to put it more starkly, do not acknowledge the inevitability if not actual desirability of Tory policy) is based surely on a damaging failure of political analysis. It can be justified only on the unstated but mistaken premise that the Tories always occupy the centre ground and that any departure from that centre ground is quite literally eccentric and a mistake, and is doomed to fail.

Yet it is the acceptance of this premise that leads most of the candidates for the Labour leadership to vie with each other in demonstrating how “realistic” they are, how thoroughly they accept that resistance to each new Tory initiative is pointless, how little interest they have in the supposedly hopeless task of developing a credible alternative to Tory orthodoxy.

The paradox is that opinion in the world beyond the Labour leadership contest has moved on – not backwards or leftwards, as the conventional wisdom has it, but forwards to a growing recognition that Tory neo-liberal orthodoxy has had its day. There is now a substantial body of opinion that understands that austerity is not the correct response to recession, that markets are not self-correcting, that running the country is not the same as running a business, that growing inequality is the mark of a failed society and a failing economy.

Among the many who share these understandings, we can now count hard-headed bodies like the IMF and the OECD – hardly raging revolutionaries. What the Labour Party now needs is a leader who can articulate these understandings persuasively. It would not be too difficult. All that is needed is an awareness of how the debate on these issues has progressed and a modicum of competence and courage in putting that to the voters.

It is, in other words, not the left but the Tories, with their determination to press on with a discredited orthodoxy, who now occupy the far reaches of ideology. It is a complete misapprehension to position them in the centre ground, when their policies so clearly represent a distorted and prejudicial view of how real societies and economies work.

It is not just in the context of the leadership contest that this error of analysis is likely to cost Labour dear. If the advice tendered to Labour is followed, and a “realist” is elected to the leadership, the Tories – contrary to the conventional wisdom – will heave a sigh of relief. They will enjoy discrediting a rival who complains about outcomes but is at a loss to explain how things could be done differently. They will know that their task has been made easier, because they will face an opponent who has already conceded the greater part of their policy stance.

They will not have to defend the fundamental assumptions on which that stance is based. Their principal rivals for power will, by failing to engage them in a real debate, provide in effect the most persuasive evidence that there really is “no alternative”.

By positioning the Labour party as a sort of cordon sanitaire around an incumbent Tory government, a so-called “realistic” Labour leadership would insulate their opponents from any truly effective critique of their policies and actions. The contention that it need not be like this would easily be dismissed by pointing to Labour silence and timidity as proof that the Tories had got it right.

The “realism” urged on Labour and the advice that they should not “fight the electorate” would not, in other words, improve Labour’s chances at the next election. On the contrary, a Labour leadership that – inadvertently perhaps – acted as a sort of praetorian guard for Tory extremism so that they were protected from outside criticism could only increase the chances of that extremism doing yet more damage.

And, if by some chance the voters tired of the Tories and elected a Labour government, a “realistic” leader of that government could then no doubt be relied on not to veer too far away from Tory orthodoxy and would thereby disappoint its supporters all over again. Haven’t we been there before?



  1. Mervyn Hyde says:

    Do leaders matter, yes to a point but as Jeremy points out it is the movement that matters most.

    If masses of people are not behind the policies you espouse then the leader like Ed Miliband can’t achieve the end game. It wasn’t as some would say that you have to a deadly opponent at the despatch because Ed was very proficient at that.

    The open goals Ed missed were down to Tory lite policies, a real opposition doesn’t just need to attack the Tories but has to have credible policies.

    The idea that we lost the last election because 2% of people moved away from Labour to the Tories and should be wooed at all costs is banal to point of incredulity.

    I told my local candidate before she was selected that she should kill off the deficit myth which I used the term deficit lie. She ignored my pleas and went along with the party line, I even supplied her with local information about what was happening in the NHS, she did nothing about that either, needles to say she lost to a do nothing Tory. Noting that she was a recently retired wing commander in the RAF and thought her background alone would get her into parliament, saying as certain candidates do that they personally can beat the Tories.

    I have just been listening to Liz Kendall on the Jeremy vine show saying we lost peoples trust, because we were not economically credible, then saying we must pay down the deficit whilst at the same time saying we did not cause the deficit; and she can’t see the contradiction in what she is saying.

    New Labour don’t want to discuss openly why they support austerity measures because it exposes their position on privatisation.

    I said it five years ago that labour should kill off the deficit lie but the right in the party want to continue with it, WHY????

    Because they are Tory lite and that is why we can’t afford to let them get away with their past history.

    The truth is any politician that tells us that we have to pay down the deficit, that the country is broke, that we do not have the money for our public services, is actually lying to us.

  2. David Ellis says:

    Corbyn needs to admit that New Labour put the nation and the working people of Britain in hoc to the City of London and the Banksters and when he wins he should apologise for it and say it will never happen again and then he should declare the bail out of the banks to be over and he should take the staff, estates and deposits of the bankrupts into administration and use them to form a new People’s Bank that can lend at base rate to small business and facilitate social investment in accordance with a democratic plan. This bank should have a monopoly of credit so that a private financial sector can never rip us off again with the money printing, credit bubble, Ponzi Scam operation.

    1. Mervyn Hyde says:

      I have just received this and think it is highly relevant to your comment.

      People were led to believe that the days of financial crisis were over, and a doctor explains how they are privatising the NHS.

  3. David Ellis says:

    There is realism and realism. A true realist recognises that things not only change but they must change. New Labour are cynical realists. Their job is to persuade us that nothing can or will change, TINA, so we better make the most of it and try and manage our descent into penury best we can whilst they of course get rich.

  4. swatantra says:

    The answer to that question is YES!
    But thy also need to have charisma, charm and the ability to work a crowd and inspire loyalty and a good Shadow Cabinet.

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