2015 Labour Leadership Elections

Post length: 1,027 words, about 4 and a half minutes.

As the Labour leadership campaign rumbles on I find myself torn. There are four candidates standing — Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn and Liz Kendall — but one has been the subject of the most media attention.

Jeremy Corbyn has excited the media by seemingly being the outsider who has defied the odds to become the hot favourite to win the contest. Along side this Corbyn has got the media’s interest by being a staunch socialist — arguably flying in the face of today’s standard centrist “they’re all the same” image of politicians — what some paint as the party stepping back in time.

From a personal point of view I’ve been in the uncomfortable position recently of finding myself agreeing with Tony Blair a couple of times. Putting aside that people seem to find it strange for an outspoken socialist to be in a strong position to challenge for the leadership of what is supposed to be a party built on socialist foundations, the prospect of Corbyn becoming leader of the party rings alarm bells for the prospect of being elected in the 2020 general election.

If the media are to be believed, the British people are sick of politicians who take the centre ground. They tell us that they don’t have any colour, that they are all the same. They claim that the electorate is disillusioned with the state of British politics and feel there are no real choices when it comes to casting their vote. While I don’t necessarily completely subscribe to this theory I think there probably is some element of truth: politicians have got closer together ideologically, but it is because of the electorate rather than in spite of it.

To be successful in politics you (usually) have to win elections. You win elections by appealing to more people than the other candidates and therefore by winning their vote: the more people who agree with some or all of what you’re saying the more people you’re going to win over. How do you best appeal to the most people? You occupy the centre ground. Those on the moderate left will identify with elements of what you’re saying as will those on the moderate right, albeit that they are perhaps agreeing with different bits and pieces. Of course those in the centre are perfectly aligned with you. So you win, beating those who are stuck out on the left or the right whos appeal is restricted to their respective side of the spectrum. So it goes on with the centrist politicians winning and the less-centrist losing until, finally, the people at the top of the game are all “bland centrists” which you apparently can’t slip a cigarette paper between.

Of course this is a sweeping generalisation but perhaps it goes some way to explaining where the image of the middle-ground political leaders comes from, and the fear people seem to have of anyone who dares to step out of this mould. It is this point which is the key — Jeremy Corbyn is different; he’s what the press tell us that people say they want in their politicians. Yet the warnings coming from the Labour Party’s insiders is this: if the party gets Corbyn as leader, the party will not win elections. While this is of course juxtaposed to what we’re told all the time by the media, if the theory above is true then it is easy to explain where Blair and others are coming from.

Which leads back to my bind. A lot of what Corbyn says makes sense — renationalisation of public services (dare I say it even to the extent pledged by Clause IV) is something I could get behind — but while I’m a member of the Labour Party for ideological reasons, I do recognise that in order to make real difference to this country, the party must be in power. (Here’s an NB: I recognise that most of my post-formal-education political study and analysis has been in the area of campaigning and electioneering. Therefore I realise that I dismiss without much thought the line that a party can be effective by being in opposition. While I do appreciate that the British political system relies on a strong opposition, the governing party is the one with the power to get things done.)

So do I vote with my heart or my head?

I believe the country needs a Labour government in 2020 to undo all the backwards steps that 10 years of Conservative-lead government has done. A Burnham- or Cooper-lead Labour Party would, I believe, be hugely more electable than one lead by Corbyn — I really struggle to see how even the best campaign manager and spin doctor could get Mr Corbyn into Number 10 on the leftist ticket he holds. If the right-wing media pointed their considerable artillery at Ed Milliband for being left-leaning, they would have a field day with Corbyn, and while I don’t agree that the party should suck up to the tabloid press, I certainly don’t think they should provide the papers with the ammunition needed to shoot themselves.

So when my ballot paper arrives, and it’s time to log on and rank the four candidates in order of preference, in what order do I put my numbers? So far only one thing is clear: poor Miss Kendall will be last on my list.

(One final get-out clause. If the polls are to be believed then Jeremy Corbyn is hugely popular. While I doubt this is the case, it’s possible that he would be widely popular with the nation as a whole. If this is the case then the whole discussion will have been a little bit pointless and most of my conjecture goes out of the window. Some say the internal debate in the Labour Party is damaging, but I disagree: if politics is about debate and discussion then why shouldn’t a party have a discussion about its own future direction? I have no doubt that whichever way the party goes any wounds opened up will heal in time for the 2020 campaign. After all we’re ultimately all pulling in the same direction, aren’t we?)

Posted on Monday 17th August, 2015 at 9:43 am in Obiter dicta.
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