Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Our Leadership Candidates

            Well, another summer comes to an end. Children are going back to school, the 2 weeks in Torremolinos are a distant memory for us all. Nights are just starting to draw in, and another Labour Leadership election is drawing to a close.
             I wonder which was worse now. Was it last year’s or this one?
At least for the one last year, there felt like a real purpose to it. We had lost the general election for reasons that the Beckett Report went into (http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/01/beckett-report-into-labours-loss-is-uncomfortable-reading-for-all-party-factions/) whether you believe that or not. We needed new leadership to change the direction of the party on some fundamental issues. We didn’t have a leader – Ed Miliband had stood down. We now know (thanks to Ed Balls) that he had to – after all, it was all his fault for not including Ed Balls in his decision making (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/sep/02/ed-balls-interview-speaking-out-memoir-labour-blair-brown ). I am sure his professional dance partner is bricking it. I think we can know whose fault it will be if he is voted out.
We had a plethora of contenders. There was Jeremy Corbyn, Blairite 1, Blairite 2 and Liz Kendall MP of the conservatives for some unknown reason. (I am well aware that at some point in this blog I am probably going to fall into “purge-able” territory, but to be honest, anything you now say counts so may as well be damned for doing). There was, from the membership, a resounding decision. 59.5% of the party members voted for a non-Blairite, left-wing politician to be leader. Worse than that, the man was a serial rebel who didn’t then appear to be particularly keen on being leader. He didn’t have the polished façade of the modern politician, honed to a cutting edge by SpAds and an office funded by millionaires and staffed by consultants from the Big 4 accountancy firms. What the hell were we thinking?
It’s almost like, and I realise this may surprise some in the PLP, the membership were lashing out at this ideal they themselves had built of a professional political operator who was simply focussed on what they had been told would be the best way to win votes. Or maybe, like me, members of the Labour party really fancied a party leader who seemed to be a bit “socialist”. Whilst that terminology and that ideology are not beloved of everyone, you have to assume it was a mixture of those 2 things. After all, he won. I don’t think there was a huge swathe of Labour members saying “I disagree with his positions and policies and that is not the direction I want the party to go in, but man does he look good in a grey tracksuit. I am voting for him”.
Not only did he win, but the Labour party saw a groundswell of new membership. The reasons behind this can be argued about, but what this did mean is a massive increase in our available resources to fight the electoral battles coming up. Even if we assume that all of those members pay only £1 per month, the minimum, then that is an extra £3.6 million per year pouring into the Labour party coffers. By an eerie coincidence the tories outspent Labour by £3.5m at the last election (https://www.ft.com/content/bb84c98a-bf74-11e5-9fdb-87b8d15baec2) . So there has been a financial boon to the party of Jeremy Corbyn being leader – no matter how much has been spent on questionable court cases over whether he should be allowed to stand as leader.
Of course, there have been problems with his leadership. A central one seems to be that he is not the leader that the PLP see for themselves. Now, there has been yards (sorry, we are no longer European so I am not using metres) of column and newsprint spent on whether that is because Jeremy Corbyn is a good leader or not. For some reason whilst Clive Lewis and others find him easy to work with, many MPs say he is distant and dismissive. They can’t all be telling the truth. So, I have come to the conclusion that some of them are not being completely honest. I know. The problem is, for those of us who are rank and file members who should we believe?
That really is a question for you and your conscience. For me personally, I have seen enough to believe that perhaps the drive from the PLP was coming irrespective of his performance as leader. Not that I am entirely happy with his performance as leader. There certainly have been enough questions over his abilities. What concerns me is the consistency of his performances in front of the media. This is not only about the clear and obvious bias against him – which even those Trots at the LSE have confirmed is genuine (http://www.lse.ac.uk/media@lse/research/pdf/JeremyCorbyn/Cobyn-Report-FINAL.pdf). -but his own performances. Of course, we should have expected this, but even then the ferocity of the attack has left many startled.
So here we are again and, having followed the various leadership debates, it really doesn’t leave us as a party in a great position. From the tone of the debates themselves to the decision to leave the BBC question time debate which was always likely to be the one which more people viewed to the very end. What you ended up with was 2 battered and tired characters replaying the same lines with less zip and vigour and more simple acrimony. When you know your contenders comeback lines so well that you have a prepared “on such and such a date you said such and such” you don’t look like a leader, you look bitter.
What have we learned from the combatants in these battles? Well, the choice seems to be simple. In the red corner you have Jeremy Corbyn – beleaguered, nice guy, who wants to reach out to his membership with promises of nationalisation but who is unable to honestly answer questions on security and defence because he realises that the answers he wants to give are completely unpalatable versus Owen Smith in the slightly less red corner.
Owen Smith, the Great, White, Middle Class, Middle Aged, Managerialist, Male hope. You have to feel some sympathy for the “Anyone But Corbyn” camp that this was their chosen prizefighter. The obvious candidate – Angela Eagle - was so clearly not going to win that she was unceremoniously dumped by the very political class who had initially rallied around her. She was never going to stand a chance once the Chilcott report was published. When she had fallen back on her “Well, it’s about time it was a woman” rhetoric you knew she was defeated. It is hard for me to decide which is more depressing from an equality point of view – that she thought this was an acceptable line to take or Jeremy Corbyn’s remarks that obviously men don’t want to go home and look after their children.
The biggest challenge for Owen Smith has been that, in all of his outings, his lack of depth and of core principles has led to him spouting platitudes whilst being woefully inconsistent. For example, he tells us he will do whatever it takes to gain power because that has to be the most important measure – and in the next breath is saying he will fight for a re-run of the referendum (a strategy that seems guaranteed to keep us out of power). That he is passionate about disarmament – but only if every other country does it at the same time. That he believes in an end to nuclear weapons but would happily pull the trigger.

Worryingly, his method of delivery (in fact, his persona) is so screamingly political class that voters must worry they are seeing the re-run of Blair / Cameron / Clegg. His use of macho metaphors and empty promises that can never be held to scrutiny are exactly the things that are turning people off politics and politicians. The decision to make is whether that would be worse than a Jeremy Corbyn who makes gaffes and blunders and is completely unsupported by his own parliamentary colleagues.  Because although Corbyn seems to misunderstand a lot of the social and political changes that have happened in the last 30 years, at least he cares. 

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