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.


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

Andy Burnham - Labour Leadership - Sexism - Feminism - 2

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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Yvette Cooper’s Cynical, Weaponised Brand Of Feminism

Yvette Cooper’s cynical attempt to weaponise the feminist cause to rescue her flagging leadership campaign is too little, too late

Now that some bookmakers are already paying out on bets that Jeremy Corbyn will win the Labour leadership, it is time to look at the also-rans, the bland non-entities currently sparring with each other for the dubious honour of a second place finish. And as a general rule, they have not covered themselves in glory.

Yvette Cooper’s campaign has been notable not so much for her ideas (thoroughly unexciting, as befits her Guardian endorsement) but for her decision to weaponise the feminist angle in the desperate search for votes.

Here she is at a recent speech in Manchester, arguing against Jeremy Corbyn’s plan to re-nationalise the energy companies:

Bringing back clause IV: spending billions of pounds we haven’t got switching control of some power stations from a group of white middle aged men in an energy company to a group of white middle aged men in Whitehall.

Let’s be clear: Yvette Cooper doesn’t think that nationalisation is bad because it would lead to inefficiency, higher prices or less reliable service, or for any other ideological reason. Her only objection to Corbyn’s proposal is that “white, middle aged men” would continue to run the show.

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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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The Guardian’s Endorsement Of Yvette Cooper Is A Failure Of Political Courage

Yvette Cooper - Labour Leadership - The Guardian Endorsement - Jeremy Corbyn

The Guardian has spent the past five years excoriating the Tories for their supposed persecution of the poor and the sick. And yet when it comes to the Labour leadership, they have endorsed a nonentity of a candidate on the basis that she is best placed to win back votes from a party it considers to be evil.

It is telling that most of the Guardian’s decidedly lukewarm endorsement of Yvette Cooper was devoted to discussing Jeremy Corbyn.

The fact that Corbyn looms so large in the campaigns of the other candidates says a lot about the state of the Labour leadership race, but it says even more about the Guardian-reading Left, and the gulf between their Tory-hating rhetoric and their desperate lack of imagination in coming up with an alternative policy agenda.

Here’s where the Guardian’s endorsement of Cooper really falls apart:

Labour is not a debating society; it was founded to represent the interests of working people at the pinnacle of power. This engagement in politics, this new excitement, must be channelled towards government. The brute lesson of May is that Labour cannot get there without first winning back significant numbers of Tory voters. Mr Corbyn will not do that. Those searching for an election winner must look elsewhere.

Yes, Labour will need to win over a number of Tory voters if they ever want to taste power again. But there are two ways to win the vote of someone who currently supports another political party.

First, you can move your political party so close to theirs in ideological and policy terms that it becomes possible to coax voters across by promising to be just a little bit more competent, or a touch more compassionate. This is what most of the Labour leadership candidates, including Yvette Cooper, are currently doing – largely accepting the centrist Tory narrative on a range of issues, but promising to implement the same agenda with a caring smile.

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