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Leadership election: so how did they do?

SkyAt last, the curtain falls on the Labour leadership contest. Amid claims of infiltration andballots not turning up, the most tumultuous leadership election in the party’s history ends with the rank outsider the likely winner, and a membership in equal parts enthused, stunned, and resigned to a most unexpected fate. The result is due on Saturday, but now seems about the right time to cast an eye over the campaigns.

Liz Kendall was the first out of the gate. On the Sunday following the election, she appeared on the Sunday Politics and told Brillo of her intention to run. She made the noises that defined the the early moments of the Labour leadership contest. You know the record, it has had repeat play on Radio Kendall ever since. We were insufficiently pro-business, we weren’t trusted with the public monies, and we need public sector reform went the oh-so familiar lyrics. With four people trying to occupy this ground – Chuka, Tristram, and Mary – it was Liz’s early start that defined the Progress pitch and helped hoover up the limited number of singly unfit for the role.

There were also the clumsy awful interventions by Tony Blair that killed her chances. Were Liz to have her time again, she should have prioritised her genuinely interesting ideas around decentralisation. If she must indulge the public sector reform obsession of continuity Blairism, talking about more markets while the Tories are embarking on privatisations and outsourcings was hardly a capital idea. She could have talked about mutuals and/or public participation instead, giving her programme a coherence that was otherwise missing. To have allowed herself be depicted as the Tory-lite candidate was catastrophic, and anyone from that wing of the party contesting future leadership elections should take note.

As for Andy Burnham, oh dear. During the last five years Andy’s stock rose high. He emerged better known from the 2010 contest and used his time to accumulate political capital thanks to his vocal opposition to the Tories’ marketisation of the NHS, and won plaudits for his role in the Hillsborough inquiry and, well, for just seeming like a nice bloke. Andy had momentum and though not universally popular in the party – particularly among his erstwhile friends in Progress – he was the nearest we had to being a darling-of-the-activists. Lefties liked him. A lot of Labour right wingers liked him too. Alas, four months after he declared his figure is much diminished. Less a rising star, Andy turned out to be nothing more than a Chinese lantern. How was this possible?

Looking at his PLP nominations, the support declaring for him reached across the party. He had Charlie Falconer, friend of Blair. He had Rachel Reeves, Brownite. He had princes-to-be Dan Jarvis and Keir Starmer. Continuity Ed people like Lucy Powell. And soft lefties such as Lisa Nandy. Before Jeremy announced, a lot of his support-to-be were on Andy’s team. Andy was very much the ‘unity’ candidate. But unfortunately, this was his undoing. If you want to speak for everyone the temptation to be all things to all people is next to overwhelming, and sadly for Andy that’s the route he went down.

Rather than making the political weather, he was buffeted by it. First, in the opening stages, and very much against the soft left image he’d cultivated in the previous parliament, he basically followed the script written by Liz. But with added right wingery. For instance, proving how in touch he was with everyday folk, we heard about the man on the doorstep worried because no one but him in his workplace spoke English. The implication being he could to all the Liz-type things, but also reach out to UKIP voters by giving their concerns a sympathetic ear. In other words, doing little to challenge the toxic rhetoric and attitudes toward workers from overseas and refugees. He also started saying “tough” things about social security, mirroring the harsh attitudes of his unofficial deputy running mate, Caroline Flint.

Then hafter making one volte face, he pirouetted and did another, and then another and another. Less a series of u-turns, Andy became a dervish. The 2015 manifesto was the best he’d ever stood on, we were told. But it was pretty crap. Labour’s spending on hospitals and schools had nothing to do with the crisis. Yet, echoing the Tories, we still spent far too much on hospitals and schools.

Then the unnecessary welfare reform debacle, in which tough-talking Andy discovered a conscience and found that he opposed Tory policies, would have voted against it had he been leader, but stuck with shadcab collective responsibility and abstained as per Harriet Harman’s instruction. Andy’s explanation – that it was improper that he should have broken that responsibility, and had he done so or resigned to vote no then the contest would have descended into civil war was, in my opinion, a fair analysis – but this was one gyration too many. This is the point his campaign collapsed.

Since that moment, Andy has been a side show and one that was pretty sad to witness. He courted Corbynistas and attacked their flights of fancy. He said he’s work in Jeremy’s shadcab, but would resign if something happened he didn’t agree with. He said no legal challenges to the leadership result, while his team have been the ones kicking up the biggest fuss about Trot and Tory entryists.

Again, it could have been different. Leadership requires consistency. That’s not the same as pigheadedness, as per Liz, but it does mean being coherence. And Andy has been anything but. It’s as if his brain was scooped out at the start of the campaign, and he’s been run by a couple of work experience spads who one day read Telegraph columnists, the next #JezWeCan, and formulated campaigning strategy accordingly. Whoever has been in charge of this shambles should never be let near positions of influence again.

If I was piloting Andy, I would have had my key messages and stuck with them. I’d have also made sure those messages were congruent with the image cultivated during the previous five years. This doesn’t mean not saying things about the deficit and spending, or about social security and immigration, but in such a way that those policies join up. Andy should have made more weather. His national care service policy idea, for example, is excellent. But he’s fluffed it. Sorry Andy, I do like you, but in this contest you got found out.

Then to Yvette Cooper, who I ended up voting for. Not that this was a positive vote, it was driven by serious strategic reservations I have of Jeremy. However, what Yvette had throughout the contest was a certain consistency. One might say this was a desire to say little and win that way, much like the relatively anonymous Big Brother housemate who always makes it to the final night. She started off like Liz and Andy, but very quickly moved to stand up for the record of the last Labour government. However, as the contest wore on her silence proved really grating.

Yes, we heard about the experience. Yes, we know Yvette knows economics and things. But the campaign was already well underway until her big policy reveal – free universal childcare and more support for careworkers and caregivers – was dusted off. We started hearing a few things about the need to invest more in science. However, silence did pay dividends in one respect. Yvette emerged unscathed from the Welfare Bill furore, despite also following the party whip.

Then came the Cooper comeback. In the final few weeks of the campaign, she found her mojo. By the time she visited the Stokies there were a few more policies and Yvette had started speaking with some passion and belief. She started sounding like she meant it. And there were two key events in the final weeks that gave her a boost.

The first was her very public campaign against the government’s stance on refugees. For her shadcab colleagues who’d previously seen her take a hard line on refugees, this may have come as a surprise. Be that as it may she actually showed some leadership and stuck her neck out, which is more than any other leading mainstream Labour figure can say – especially on a matter that has seen Labour pander, pander, and pander some more. She read the shift in public attitudes and rode it, forcing the government to backpedal.

The second was the way she went for Jeremy in last week’s Sky hustings. As it happens, her argument was wrong. People’s Quantitative Easing isn’t “PFI on steroids” for the simple reason that government debt from monies printed by the Bank of England can be rolled over indefinitely (who, after all, owns the Bank?). Nor does it have to be inflationary, depending on the circumstances. Nevertheless, while it didn’t go down with the Twitterati who had tuned in she was adjudged by the cognoscenti to have been the only contender to have laid a glove on Jeremy. Small wonder she shouldered Andy out the way and is now second favourite.

Yet, as per the others, Yvette could have done so much better. She left it very late in the day to define herself and therefore be the recipient of ABC votes. Who thought staying silent was a good idea should join Andy’s advisors in the dole queue. Also, Yvette didn’t make enough of herself. As one of the few trained economists in the shadcab, she was very well placed to have made the economic case against austerity as Ed Balls did – to everyone’s surprise – back in 2010. She didn’t, and we now know someone else did. What her campaign needed was more “late Yvette” and less “early Yvette”. As soon as Jeremy started getting traction, she could have been straight in with a critique and her own alternative as opposed to falling back on dire warnings. If the mood music is right, she’s may come to rue her campaign’s reticence.

And then there’s Jeremy Corbyn. Putting aside Corbynmania, putting aside the tens of thousands who’ve listened to him speak at almost 100 rallies, and putting aside his utter dominance of both the leadership contest and the media, his campaign’s been fine and dandy. No, in fact, his campaign has been brilliant. Considering that his opponents abrogate to themselves the title of election-winning specialists, Jeremy’s leadership campaign has been the best organised I’ve ever seen. When you think about it, what it has accomplished is something of a miracle. The pitch has been very policy heavy and, actually, quite technocratic. There is a lot to like here, and what it did was give the anti-austerity message some proper substance and heft. Married to this was a hopeful message and a vision of a better life that activated large numbers of people outside the purview of established politics.

Organisationally, the Corbyn campaign has been spot on. Simon Fletcher and the team have taken a machine that didn’t exist four months ago and have broken the mould of British politics. Everything was properly gridded. Jeremy got his main policy statements out near the beginning of the campaign, and has not been pushed into any panicky announcements to try and match the changing mood.

The organisation of the volunteer base, facilitated by supportive trade unions, has been professional – none of the splapdash nonsense usually characteristic of the Labour left. Team Jez were, after all, the only ones who put the link to sign up three quid supporters on their website. And there were even proper scripts and prompts as the campaign wore on.

It’s only weakness were Jeremy’s foibles, of comments and associations of the past resurfacing. There was some hesitancy earlier on on how to bat away these sorts of stories, but the rebuttals cranked up and most of it appears to have had no effect on Jeremy’s momentum. The other point of potential embarrassment, the overenthusiastic zealotry of the social media following, was successfully kept at arm’s length – helped by the dignified way Jeremy presented himself throughout the campaign as well as outright refusal to do dirty tricks. And by keeping it about ideas, the other candidates found it very difficult to respond.

Are there things that could have been done differently? Looking from the outside in, it’s hard to see. Perhaps Jeremy could have said People’s QE wasn’t a policy for all circumstances, but that’s the only wrong foot I can see. And compared to the blunders and, sometimes, downright idiocy shown by the others, this is very small beer indeed. Team Jez haven’t given the text book example of how to do a campaign, they’ve ripped up the old one and completely rewritten a new edition. Whatever the results on Saturday, it’s what they have accomplished that will be studied and pored over by generations of politicos, activists, and academics. The others, I’m afraid to say, should be filed under ‘not what to do’.

This article first appeared at All that is Solid

Image credit: Sky News


  1. Mervyn Hyde says:

    Andy Burnham: Since that moment, Andy has been a side show and one that was pretty sad to witness. He courted Corbynistas and attacked their flights of fancy. He said he’s work in Jeremy’s shadcab, but would resign if something happened he didn’t agree with.

    Some may be taken in by, this so called nice man, but in reality isn’t this a window on the real Andy Burnham. When it came to a vote on a real issue about Labour’s real commitment to the needy, he followed the whip, but if he was in Jeremy’s cabinet he would vote on his principles and resign.

    In other words he is a Neo-Liberal sheep that would follow them into oblivion, but the Labour Party that he promised to be loyal to, he would renege on. I have said it before but Burnham is a charlatan and we should all recognise that, he promised Labour supporters that he would save the NHS when in fact his Preferred Provider meant more privatisation. The obvious fact is, why would you need to prefer the NHS if you believed it was the Best? Which it therefore exposes what his real agenda is. I would not give him a job on the back benches let alone in the cabinet.

    Yvette Cooper:

    The best way to describe Yvette Cooper is; someone I read on one of these or the Guardian threads called her Andy Pandy, which describes her features perfectly, but it also throws a light on her actual political position, Andy Pandy the puppet who’s strings are pulled by the Bankers.

    Her shameful outburst at Jeremy feigning her prowess in economics and playing on peoples ignorance of the banking system proved once again what a charlatan she is.

    She said that Jeremy just wanted to print money and that would be inflationary, well if she is such an expert, how does she explain why it’s inflationary when the government does it and not when the private banks do it?

    These are extracts from the Bank of England’s Bulletin on money creation:

    • This article explains how the majority of money in the modern economy is created by commercial
    banks making loans.
    • Money creation in practice differs from some popular misconceptions — banks do not act simply
    as intermediaries, lending out deposits that savers place with them, and nor do they ‘multiply up’
    central bank money to create new loans and deposits.
    • The amount of money created in the economy ultimately depends on the monetary policy of the
    central bank.

    In the modern economy, most money takes the form of bank
    deposits. But how those bank deposits are created is often
    misunderstood: the principal way is through commercial
    banks making loans. Whenever a bank makes a loan, it
    simultaneously creates a matching deposit in the
    borrower’s bank account, thereby creating new money.

    They go on to say how 97% of all money in circulation was created in debt.

    Jeremey wants to put this money directly into government expenditure free of interest and it doesn’t matter whether it is paid back, the government through the Bank of England is the issuer of the money, it doesn’t have to borrow a penny from anyone or anywhere.

    Then we need to ask Yvette how the government borrows money now and why, when the government can produce that money to infinity. The simple answer of course is that the banks can profit at our expense.

    The other small fact is inflation, ask Yvette how we tackle inflation today?

    It is through taxation and interest policy.

  2. John P Reid says:

    Serious question to readers, if Corbyn resigns as leader in 3 years as Swatatntra(who. Voted for him reckons) and Yvette or Jon Cryer take over, would there be a outcry or would you accept it

    1. Mervyn Hyde says:

      Jeremy if elected will not be resigning, secondly we have the basis for a new mass movement party and Jeremy understands why that is important.

      He wants a party that represents people, not the kind of right wing dictatorship we have had for the last 30 years.

      1. John P Reid says:

        Right wing dictatorship for 30 years we’ve had onov for 22 years,and 30 -27 years ago labour was still very left wing
        I don’t want corbyn to resign,even if we lose near,y half the votes we got in 2014 council elections in the 2018 one
        If he represents the people a year from now if the £3 supporters haven’t joined we should ask why,

        1. Mervyn Hyde says:

          What is absolutely clear, is that without Jeremy ordinary people have no voice, I have the past written extensively about trying to get the Labour Party to stand up to what has been happening in our NHS, only to be blanked out, I have provided an opposition with gold nuggets of inside information which was not acted upon, it left me with no other option but take that information to the local Tory MP who did nothing, but at least I could at some point in the future use that against him, that is the kind of frustration ordinary people faced under New Labour.

          We know that would not be the case with Jeremy, he would effectively use it, not be complicit with the Tories. That is what lost Labour support at the last election.

          Lets hope tomorrow we have not been cheated out of it.

          1. john P Reid says:

            we’ll have to rally arund whoever wins, but to quote tom watson the sad truth is when we lose it’s our own fault,
            can’t argee that we lost the alst election as we didn’t criticise events in the NHS enough even if it was PFI, we lost becuase we weren’t trusted on the economy or appeared to be a government in waiting

  3. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    It isn’t often that an article here makes me burst out laughing, but this one did.

    In fact I find in extremely difficult to relate it to anything that’s happened since Labor mistakenly offered a free vote the electorate.

    Looking at the 3 candidates other than Corbyn, I would summarize my objections, (contempt might not be too strong a term,) as follows.

    1. Yvette Cooper, (and also her equally sticky fingered husband,) helped herself to large sums of money to which she was not entitled, basically and this a seminal characteristic of most if not all of the largely apolitical careerist Blair Babes, she’s crook.

    2. Liz Kendell is simply an ultra right wing conservative in the wrong political party with nothing all all to separate her ideologically from any other ghastly right wing Tory.

    3. Burnham who seems to me to be very far from being, “a decent chap,” come across as being the worst kind of slime-ball careerist politician, apart from his own expenses shenanigans and the fact that as Health secretary he was either unmindful of or was more likely complicit in the culture of, “appalling abuse,” that was happening at Mid Staffs damns him beyond apology or redemption.

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