Labour Leadership Contest 2015: Highlights And Lowlights

Labour Party - Labour Leadership - 2015

Voting has now closed in the Labour leadership election, with the result due to be announced on Saturday. Time to look back on a contest which has vindicated Semi-Partisan Politics’ call for a rejection of bland, consensual political centrism

As voting closes in the Labour Party’s leadership contest, it is interesting to look back on a time in the recent past when Jeremy Corbyn was an unknown backbencher – and maybe also point out that this blog was one of the first among the punditry to realise the significance of Corbyn’s candidacy and the effect it could have on our politics.

In that spirit, here is a summary of how Semi-Partisan Politics has covered the battle for Labour’s soul, from the dark days immediately after 7 May through to the Jeremy Corbyn insurgency, and everything in between.

Enjoy!

9 May: Where did it all go wrong?

Why Isn’t Labour Working?

Until the exit poll came in, it was simply inconceivable to many on the left that there could be any result other than a rainbow coalition of Britain’s left wing parties, coming together to lock the Evil Tories out of Downing Street and immediately get to work cancelling austerity and providing everyone with material abundance through the generosity of the magic money tree.

Labour lost the 2015 general election because they increasingly stand for nothing, having gradually lost touch with the party’s roots and founding principles – and because they created a two-dimensional caricature of their right wing opponents (stupid, selfish, mean-spirited and xenophobic) and campaigned against this straw man, essentially shaming Conservatives and UKIP supporters to keep quiet about their beliefs.

12 May: Please, God, not Chuka Umunna

Anyone But Chuka

Just what the Labour Party needs. Another dazed and confused London career politician stumbling shell-shocked and bewildered beyond the M25 in a belated effort to understand why so many working and middle class people – Britain’s strivers – spurned his party at the general election, totally unconvinced by a Labour manifesto and message conceived in Islington but barely embraced even in Hampstead.

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Time For A Woman To Lead The Labour Party? Yes, But Not Like This

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Andy Burnham’s Labour leadership campaign has its flaws, but these grasping allegations of sexism are cynical, shameful and unfounded

I dearly hope that one Andy Burnham rally was not all it took for me to become “part of the change” or whatever desperately lame slogan his supporters are now using, but today I actually find myself defending the man.

I have to take exception to the storm of manufactured outrage swirling around social media simply because Andy Burnham failed to agree – when asked on the radio – that he should effectively step aside from the leadership contest so that a woman can win.

During BBC Radio 5 Live’s Labour leadership hustings today, Andy Burnham was asked whether it would be “great” if Labour chose a female leader. And Burnham, realising that to say yes would be to effectively denigrate his own campaign, replied “When the time is right, when the right leader comes along”, clearly meaning when the future woman leader did not have to win at his own expense.

But in today’s charged and cynical atmosphere – fed at all times by the virtue signalling Twitterverse – you would think that Burnham had ordered his two female leadership opponents out of the leadership contest and back to the kitchen.

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Labour Leadership Focus: Interview With Andy Burnham

Andy Burnham is not without good ideas, some of them even quite radical. But they risk being drowned out by an over-willingness to indulge in the Labour Party’s favourite hobby: raging against the Evil Tories

It’s fair to say that this blog has not been Andy Burnham‘s biggest fan throughout the Labour leadership campaign – “bland non-entity” being my most charitable description thus far of the Shadow Health Secretary and MP for Leigh.

Having attended Burnham’s latest rally in London yesterday, however, I must give credit where credit is due and walk back some (but by no means all) of my criticism. Clearly Andy Burnham does have convictions, though in many cases his policy prescriptions are inevitably contrary to my own. And Burnham spoke well, albeit in that polished and structured way that you only really notice in contrast to the frank, off-the-cuff style of Nigel Farage or Jeremy Corbyn.

Former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott gave Burnham a barnstormer of an introduction, reeling off the New Labour: 1997-2010 greatest hits to a warm reception which was most notable because (one heckler aside) the capacity crowd of several hundred seemed willing to give Tony Blair’s Number Two a completely free pass on the Iraq question. And when Burnham came to speak, he did so with the wry humility of someone who was once the frontrunner but now seems doomed to scrap with Yvette Cooper for second place.

Burnham was at his best when trying to look beyond sulking opposition to austerity and focus instead on the bigger, more transformational changes he wants to bring about, like bringing social care under the umbrella of the NHS. When asked what new Labour policies could ever appeal both to Scotland and the south-east of England, Burnham cited the 1945 Labour government which “had policies of scale, of ambition, of hope”.

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Interview With Andy Burnham

Here’s what happened when I met Labour leadership candidate Andy Burnham after a campaign event in London

Rather than just criticising from afar, I decided to make an effort to see all of the candidates running for the leadership of the Labour Party, in the hope that they might seem more interesting – if not inspiring – in person, when not filtered through television screens or newspaper columns.

First up was Andy Burnham. So earlier tonight I waited outside St. Pancras parish church near Euston in London with a surprisingly large number of supporters waiting to hear Andy Burnham speak.

Overall, Burnham was fairly impressive, though he had the advantage of addressing a capacity crowd buoyed up by the irrepressible John Prescott as a warm-up act. Full impressions of the evening will come later, but suffice it to say that while I still favour Jeremy Corbyn because of the sorely needed ideological difference that he brings, Andy Burnham is not without good ideas of his own.

I spoke with Andy Burnham at the end of the event. I was particularly interested to discuss how – if at all – Andy Burnham intended to reconcile the seething anti-Tory hatred within the Labour Party with the need to persuade and win over current Conservative and UKIP voters in coming elections.

Below is the transcript of my interview:

Question: Your speech has obviously gone down well, you had a standing ovation. You talked about the Bullingdon Boys quite a lot, you talked about the Tory cuts, you talked about Iain Duncan Smith “terrorising disabled people” with ESA changes, and that goes down very well in this hall. But what happens when you try and take the message outside of this room, outside Labour supporters? What happens in 2020 when you try and fight the general election when, let’s face it, you’re going to have to win the support of people who voted Tory and might not like to hear that they have been complicit in maybe a genocide of the disabled or the persecution of the sick? How do you take this passion, but do it in a way that doesn’t necessarily alienate the half of the country who might vote for the Conservatives or for UKIP?

Andy Burnham: Well, I trust in the decency of the British people. They don’t want to see disabled people worrying from one day to the next, full of anxiety, and I think they see how the things that they [the Tories] are doing are cruel. Unfair. Because if people can’t work, people support the idea that they have help. If people can work, then people want to see them helped into work, but Duncan Smith goes further than that, and they’re taking support off people, money off people, who have no ability to replace that income. And the stress, the anxiety that causes is just wrong.

So that’s what I’ve said and I will stand as Labour leader for a fair and humane benefits system, but actually also responding to the concerns people have about immigration, about the economy, I’ve said that we should do that. This party shouldn’t just talk to itself – I said that tonight – it should talk for the whole country, and that’s what we’ll do under my leadership.

Question: And on that note, how does your party connect with aspirational Britain? So we get the compassion, that’s very clear, and that comes through loud and clear in your voice and in the supporters, but what about the people who are striving, you know, maybe trying to move up into those top income tax brackets and don’t think that that is necessarily a bad thing? How do you win them over to the Labour Party and to your cause?

Andy Burnham: Well that’s a really, really good question. And I’ve said that I want to lead a Labour Party that helps everybody get on in life, not a party that drags people back or speaks to the politics of envy but helps people get on, so helps people get onto the housing ladder with a very ambitious housing policy that stops young people having to find a huge deposit, that really helps them get an affordable home, that removes that millstone of debt off the backs of young people, so gets rid of tuition fees, supports young people who want a technical education. These are the policies that I believe in, and actually, when it comes to older people, have a situation where nobody loses everything they’ve worked for just because they happen to be vulnerable and need care. These are the policies that I’ve got and I believe they can speak to the whole country.

You can decide for yourself whether you think Andy Burnham answered my questions or not. But I came away feeling that the message had not quite penetrated, or been fully understood. Burnham’s answers were still predicated on the idea that there is a savage attack being carried out on the vulnerable by the Tories, and that anyone in their right mind must be able to see this.

But more concerning to those who care about Labour’s future, even when I provided a golden opportunity to pitch to Britain’s aspirational voters and perhaps talk about rolling back regulation, taxes and the nanny state, Burnham could only talk about what government has to offer the people by way of state handouts and perks. It’s hard to see this message resonating with the millions of aspirational voters who just want to get on, and who don’t look to government as an essential partner in everything that they do.

My full review of Andy Burnham’s campaign event in London will be available here.

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It’s Time For Jeremy Corbyn Detractors To Put Up Or Shut Up

Assailing the veteran left-winger for being “unelectable” is the coward’s way out. Jeremy Corbyn opponents should spell out to the Labour Party membership exactly which of his policies they disagree with, and why.

The three candidates running against Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour Party leadership are willing to talk about almost anything, it seems, other than why Jeremy Corbyn’s policies would be bad for Britain.

Don’t misunderstand – they are more than happy to talk about why a Jeremy Corbyn victory would harm the Labour Party. But pinning them down to any specific criticism of Jeremy Corbyn’s policies is close to impossible. In fact, for every one specific criticism of a Corbyn policy coming from within the Labour Party, there are at least ten other generic complaints that he is “divisive”, or that he will “split the party”.

Why is this so?

The 2015 general election result proved that there are still just enough votes in David Cameron’s wishy-washy, watered down conservatism for the Tories to win an outright majority in Parliament. The margin was not comfortable, but the Tories were able to haemorrhage right wing votes to UKIP and still carry the day.

But Labour no longer have this luxury. Following their wipeout in Scotland, and with the Green Party nibbling at their heels in England, Labour need all the centrist votes they can muster to ever win again – barring some major external shock or unforeseen realignment of British politics.

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