Sunday, 21 June 2015

Including a tame left winger does not make for a meaningful leadership contest.

The Labour Party has put forward its slate of candidates to be the next leader, it is not a mix to set the pulse of the membership racing.

In the starting gate are former ministers Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper; rising star Liz Kendall and veteran back bencher Jeremy Corbyn.

I'd like to say that the inclusion of Corbyn on a late wild-card is a sign of the Labour Party returning to its roots as a staring point on the road to finding a new relevance. At the very least you'd hope it meant the party was ready hear words like socialism used in polite company without reacting like a mob of Victorian spinsters who have caught sight of an unclothed piano leg.

Sadly its nothing of the sort, most of the thirty five signatures Corbyn secured to get his name on the ballot paper came from MPs who don't share his views and have no intention of voting for him. It is an unsubtle attempt to 'include' the remaining left leaning elements in the debate on the firm understanding that they are going to be resolutely ignored.

The sad truth about Jeremy Corbyn is that although a man of principle with reputation for being independent minded he is also a lifelong member of the awkward squad, the whips long ago gave up on the idea of his seeing the light and joining the project. Far from being a potential leader this latest adventure moves him one step closer to occupying the spot vacated by the late Tony Benn as the establishment's favourite tame radical.

It isn't hard to predict the outcome of the sorry little contest set to be played out at half empty meeting rooms across the country for the next few weeks, it will go like this.

Andy Burnham will make the early running and than fade away in the final furlong, done down by colleagues with scores to settle from his time as a minister. Yvette Coper will talk a good game about not buying wholesale the Tory interpretation of the mood of the electorate, she too will fall on the home stretch, the only difference being that some of the scores settles will relate to the less than tactful antics of her husband Ed Balls, who was cast into outer darkness at the election. This will leave the field clear for Liz Kendall, the candidate with the lease baggage to take the prize to the surprise of nobody at all.

Don't weep for her defeated opponents though, they'll all get seats in her shadow cabinet, the music will start again and everything will go on as before with the Labour Party steaming ahead into the night like a liner with an appointment with an iceberg it just can't break.

Does any of this matter? Probably a lot less than the boys and girls in the Westminster bubble would like to think.

Labour lost the election because it failed to connect with the public, a truth so obvious it should be set in stone. The big lie is that this is entirely due to the spectacular hash Ed Milliband made out of leading the party. Actually things started to go wrong a long time before that, things started to go wrong at the moment when they finally seemed to be going right.

From the moment Tony Blair became leader in 1994 he and the New Labour apparatus he created concentrated on the one thing they were unquestionably good at doing; winning elections. Unfortunately they did so to the exclusion of almost everything else.

The idea that a political party should stand for anything apart from whatever brings in the next positive headline and the associated tranche of votes became a dangerous heresy. New Labour may be dead; but its dreary mindset marches ever on.

You can find evidence of this written throughout Ed Milliband's tenure as leader, like to word 'disaster' written through a stick of rock. For the whole five years Labour were vocal about the things they didn't like, but painfully timid whenever it came to articulating a recognizable ideology.

They tended instead towards a fatuous assertion that their cuts would be somehow kinder than Tory ones, either that or they buried anything like an idea under layers of technical nonsense; remember predistribution?

The received wisdom is that because the Tories won it must follow that voters want more of what they've been offered over the past five years, more austerity, more cuts to public services and a speedy return to the good old days when greed was good. As is so often the case this is largely hokum; people voted for the status quo because they weren't offered an alternative they found credible.

Where they were, by the SNP north of the border they rejected the tired old parties and embraced something new. Plaid Cymru and the Greens also saw their respective voted grow, but in the latter case our outmoded voting system robbed them of the rewards their hard work deserved.

The truth is the entrepreneurs who are setting up the businesses that will power our new economy, the people who are doing interesting things in the arts and technology; who are thinking furthest out of the box in academia aren't flinty eyed old school capitalists. They're people with social consciences who care about the environment and believe that fairness is fundamental to having a society worth living in.

These are all things the political establishment with the Tories braying at the head of the pack dismiss as unaffordable sentimentality. Yet again they are far behind the curve, lost in a tangle of their own petty squabbles and unable to see that the wind has changed.

True leadership isn't about offering people more of the same, it is about swimming against the current and offering people what they're going to want tomorrow though they don't know it yet. It is about having the courage to do and say what you believe to be right, even if it gets you ridiculed in the short term.

The Labour Party, which still, undeservedly, has the support of many working people, needs a leader with those qualities. Sadly what its been given is a stale contest between three career politicians; who wins matters not a bit.

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