Saturday, 22 May 2010

Six candidates in search of a message.

For a while there it looked like the main qualification for entering the race to be the next leader of the Labour Party was membership of the Milliband family. The field has expanded over the week, but I’m still far from sure that any of the candidates have much to say worth listening to.

Jostling for the top job, the result of the race will be announced at the party conference in September, are Ed and David Milliband, Ed Balls, John McDonnell, Diane Abbott and Andy Burnham.

Good egg though he is John McDonnell is really only in the race as a token gesture towards the shrinking left wind of the party and the presence of Diane Abbott means he might not even get the backing of thirty three MP’s necessary to get onto the ballot paper in the first place. As for Diane Abbott, she spent Labour’s thirteen years in government building a career in the media rather than as even a junior minister, a cynic might think there is a hint of vanity in her standing for the party leadership at this late stage, I couldn’t possibly comment.

Out of the four front runners Ed Balls has the least chance of success, as Gordon Brown’s strong arm man since 2007 he has made a legion of enemies and his abrasive manner is unlikely to appeal to party members.

David Milliband, named as the favourite by the media, looks likely to fall in the first few furlongs, in a leadership contest it is seldom the front runner when the gun goes off who gets to break the tape at the finishing line. There is also the small matter of Milliband senior’s accident prone approach to dealing with the media, think of that photo of him gurning madly as he clutched a banana at the 2008 party conference and you get a good idea of the fun the press would have with the poor man were he to win the leadership.

The race will probably come down to a straight contest between Ed Milliband and Andy Burnham with Burnham emerging victorious due to being photogenic and having the least baggage; that though might be just the beginning of his problems.

It is all very well for Alan Johnson to advise his party against ‘spending months examining our navels’, but a period of introspection is unavoidable id Labour are ever to form another government. Put simply the party must rediscover the values it jettisoned under Tony Blair and also who it aims to represent.

So far all the candidates in with a realistic chance of taking the prize have talked bravely about reconnecting with the grassroots membership, reaching out to the core vote who have felt taken for granted in recent years and damned decisions such as entering the Iraq war. It is, as the advert used to say, good to talk; but it is even better to match words with actions.

Whoever wins the race to be the next leader of the Labour Party will be judged not by his critique of the decisions made by his predecessors but by those he makes himself.

And another thing:

With the World Cup less than a month away and the London Olympics coming in 2012 the issue of when, if at all, we should fly our nation’s flag is a hot topic once again.

One contributor to a debate on the subject on Radio Five Live this week asserted that flying the flag was the sole preserve of ‘shaven headed white van men.’

This view has always struck me as rather odd, at a time when the balance of power is shifting fostering a positive sense of what it means to be British, or any other nationality for that matter, seems to be a sensible defence against extremism.

On the subject of the London Olympics we were introduced this week to Mandeville and Wenlock, the two one eyed mascots named after the towns where Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic movements began.

The best one can say about them is that they are better than the graffiti inspired log for the games unveiled to much public disgust in 2007; that said they lack the warmth and genuine, as opposed to designed in by a committee, quirkiness necessary to really connect with the public.

Take a letter; then again don’t, according to a survey carried out for the charity World Vision one in ten British children have never written a letter.

So what you might say, isn’t this the age of email and Twitter; haven’t we left such fussy and old fashioned things far behind. If so more fool us because from the collected letters of the great and the good to Granny’s faded love letters stored in the attic the letter provides a unique insight into the thoughts, hopes and everyday lives of people from every class, race and political persuasion.

If the letter really is dead our culture will be much the poorer as a result and we risk being incomprehensible to the generations that come after us.