I meant to write this post last week and then again at the weekend. I hoped that I would have been inspired by the Labour Leadership election campaign enough to continue you my election blogging for my non-political friends. But despite trying to muster any enthusiasm I have struggled. Today in a chat with a fellow senior party member we came to the same conclusions – but with a similar and unhealthy lack of enthusiasm.
I had hoped by now that I might have declared my support. I know I am not important enough any more to have a nomination so none of the candidates or their campaigns are really worried about me yet. Getting to the magic 35 nominations within the PLP is the first and important stage. It looks as though Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall will reach that number. It looks as though Mary Creagh will struggle and I am not sure if enough MPs are keen enough to see Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot paper that they ‘give’ him their nomination even if they won’t vote for him? We will see. I did tweet earlier this week that I would like to see him on the ballot paper, even though he won’t win. All political parties are strange alliances of political ideologies (with quite a lot of crossover which many will deny) between all parties in the centre ground. Labour has a strong socialist as well as social democratic tradition and their voices need to be heard and their messages debated and challenged – not simply ignored.
At the start of the process I made it quite clear that this time we should vote for the person best able to lead a Labour party into government – so that means voting for somebody who can appeal to the widest parts of the electorate in the seats we need to win (now 106 target seats just to have a majority of one!) and who will look like a PM in waiting by 2019. This last part is hard to judge. The trappings of power and the office help people look like leaders and or potential PMs if the basics are right. I found the same when friends were made junior ministers. Quite often the didn’t have the appearance of a Minister at first, but success at the dispatch box, SPADS and PPS officials with folders walking alongside or behind and a Ministerial car all add up to having a ‘presence’. Not everybody carries this off as Ed Miliband showed. He never quite looked the part for much of the electorate. It is an awful thing to say but modern politics like much of our celebrity driven culture demands the image to be right. I wish it were not so. But for now it is.
So having given myself some ground rules I have set out to ask as many non Labour party members and voters that I know what they think. I have been met by a shrug of the shoulders and many genuine ‘I don’t know’. To be fair even amongst keen political types the response has been similar. Many friends have declared their support and I admire their enthusiasm and decisiveness. I wish I had seen enough to get to the same point.
What is even harder writing this piece is the fact that those involved are generally people I could call friends. I am closest to Andy Burnham. We were both working in DCMS in 1999-2000 when Andy walked into the office one day and wanted to discuss the news that the MP for Leigh was going to retire and asked me if he should go for it and what it would take to win. I really liked Andy and his fresh approach to the old guard and thought it would be great to see him in Parliament in 2001! we both loved our sport and our politics often matched. Andy rose up the ranks quickly and remains popular. I almost want it to be Andy as a friend who wins. But that is not enough in my heart to suggest he should or will.
The others like Yvette I got to know reasonably amongst the 97 intake. Again Yvette progressed into government ranks and there becomes a divide with back benchers who see them less and less. I want Yvette to be great and to do well but the steady calmness and assured performances in the Chamber have still not added up into a winning formula. I haven’t heard anything new or compelling to make me take notice of her campaign.
I have also got to know and like Mary Creagh during my time. Again a bright and enthusiastic MP with a different perspective. Much as I like her as a front bench spokesperson and hopefully in cabinet the extra gravitas is still missing.
For me Liz Kendall has been the surprise candidate. She has at least ruffled a few feathers with some of her interventions but is seen too much as a simple ‘Blairite’ candidate for many in the party. Although these are not my personal politics this does at least say to me she is willing to challenge the Party about what it needs to do to win in places like Loughborough. I know there are many on the left accuse her of being a ‘Tory’ but this betrays our ideological purity tests that the average voter does not conduct! I still haven’t seen enough in terms of performances and close up but Liz will be one to watch and a surprise newcomer.
Finally there is Jeremy Corbyn. As I have said I think it is important his voice and the politics of anti austerity get an airing. I really detest the way we have given up as a nation believing that austerity is the only way to balance the books in the long term. I really hope Corbyn allows the alternative economics programmes to get some exposure. We can’t let the Tories write the election battle grounds for 2020 in the next few months again.
I haven’t even had a chance to look across all the deputy leadership candidates. I will do that once they are formally declared with enough support from the PLP. This an even tougher choice because I am not that clear about the JD and person spec. Indeed I would argue that we need two Deputy Leaders – one internal focussing and one externally. It is why I supported Alan Johnson last time round. I wanted a human face to match Gordon Brown. It seems all the candidates seem very inward focussed.
I hope I am wrong to be so uninspired so far. Perhaps it is simply that I am being exposed to the election through the prism of the national press and social media. Having been close up to the leadership elections since 1992 am probably suffering from feeling very much like and unloved outsider!. My hope is that once the nominations are secured the pace will haste and the platforms developed. As and when I feel inspired I will declare… I hope it is before ballot day and I am down on their canvass sheets as a Don’t Know!