Labour has chosen its new leader – time for us to get on with it ourselves

At the time of writing, we have no idea who the new Labour leader is. Whoever it is, I wish him or her well in their task of holding this most incompetent and mediocre of Tory governments to account.

It shouldn’t have taken this long for Labour to choose their new leader, of course. The contest has been interminable. The hustings have been tedious. The debates have been largely dull. But at least they’ve managed to get a new leader in post in 2020 – something which, apparently, is beyond the wit of our own party.

Instead, we’ve to wait another year on top of an already very generous transition period. I can’t say I’ve seen a single argument made in favour of doing this which stacks up. Indeed, every single reason not to choose our new leader during the Covid-19 state of uncertainty and looming crisis can be flipped on its head and turned into quite a good reason to plough on as originally planned. For example:-

We need an experienced hand at the tiller just now. Ed Davey, the argument runs, has the experience and gravitas needed to take us through this difficult period. Never mind that it’s frankly outrageous for a supposedly liberal party which is supposedly in favour of democracy to suspend its own democratic processes in this way. Never mind that we have other MPs who have been involved in crisis situations in their careers outside of politics, and never mind that nobody is really paying attention to us at the moment anyway so who cares. On which…

We’ll get more attention if we wait until the crisis is over. I’m not convinced anyone outside of the party, certainly outside of the political sphere, is really going to care any more next year than they would if we did it in 2020. Why would they? Indeed, I think we might get more positive attention from the press at least if we do it now – we’ll get props for having the first ever digital-only party leadership contest. And we’ll get a nice press release out of how much CO2 we’ve saved by not ferrying the contenders and their coteries across the country for months on end.

The new leader won’t have a chance to prove him/herself.  There are no local elections this year and Covid-19 is going to be all you see or hear in the news for God knows how many months, this is true. However, there’s plenty for the new leader to be getting on with – they can lead internal efforts to get the party’s structures into a fit state, they can consider how to properly democratise our decision-making structures instead of a handful of middle-class worthies controlling policy through two conferences a year, and they can use this as an opportunity to test their mettle in the most difficult political circumstances possible. If you think you’re good enough to be leader, you’ll relish the opportunity to prove yourself during a global pandemic with the party on 6% and unable to fall back on its usual door knocking and Focus leafleting approach to shoring up local support.

These are the three most common reasons to delay that I’ve seen on social media – not that I’ve been looking all that hard, I’ll grant you. But I’m sure people can think of others. Whatever they are, I doubt they’re good enough to justify this wait to choose a new leader. As much as I like Ed Davey – I voted for him last time – it’s ridiculous that he’s going to get to be leader for three times as long as the woman who beat him to the job.

 

* Stephen Howse recently worked for a Lib Dem MP and is now working for a not-for-profit while campaigning for the party in Newcastle.

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18 Comments

  • Johnny McDermott 4th Apr '20 - 12:43pm

    Agreed. Now we get a chance to observe Labour, see what kind of party they become, but it should not be our only focus. Made many points in other threads, yet to hear a single logical argument for delaying beyond July that isn’t fear of a bit of bad press. But as another post pointed out, it’s unlikely the public at large (or even the rather busy press) give two hoots! Any backlash will be short, and if it’s protracted, well, that’s the role we play. Be a punch bag for upset and frightened journalists (in the name of ‘the people’, no doubt). Ultimately, no publicity is ever really bad… But in-fighting caused by seemingly unnecessary delays could become bitter, and that really could grow into a purely negative story that outlives this crisis.
    The alternative is crowning Ed, so he can act with more authority, and setting a pledge to hold a new contest by 2022 at the latest, so we can validate his work or hear new ideas if we still aren’t making a mark. It prevents a slow burning campaign he can never really engage in and 4 other candidates treading eggshells every time they are asked a question because they’re kind of acting leaders too.

  • Phil Beesley 4th Apr '20 - 1:23pm

    Stephen Howse: “It shouldn’t have taken this long for Labour to choose their new leader, of course.”

    If you allow for the mid-winter break, Labour have managed it in about 14 weeks. That sounds fine to me. The election organisers have experienced technical problems operating their polls. I hope that, in the spirit of democracy, they will share information about their difficulties.

    Rather than a new leader, how about some spirited but sensitive opposition? Some consolidation of ideas about liberalism and social democracy in the future?

    The old euphemism for insecure day labour, ‘Gig economy’, has been given a well deserved kicking in the last month. Let’s give a kicking to the new euphemism, ‘Furlough’ — unpaid lay-off, we used to call it. If a worker is being told to stop working without pay, that’s no holiday.

    In the financial crisis ten years ago, governments handed money to banks to prevent harm to businesses and individuals. There were no UK government handouts to builders or manufacturers or fashion retailers. This year, UK government will give billions of pounds to support big business. RBS required so much money that government became the major share holder. In 2021, UK government will be the major share holder in businesses where you have to keep moving to stay afloat — retail, airlines, construction — and far too many to control. The question will be how to give them to their remaining employees to run.

  • Jane Ann Liston 4th Apr '20 - 2:01pm

    ‘Middle-class’? That has several possible meanings, as well as being ‘loaded’. Please define what you mean, to avoid misunderstandings.

  • Without a clearly defined LEADER the public do not know the nuance, approach and policy objectives of the party he or she leads. We should have got our finger out before Christmas, we must do so now.

  • ……………As much as I like Ed Davey – I voted for him last time – it’s ridiculous that he’s going to get to be leader for three times as long as the woman who beat him to the job…….

    That might be due to the fact that he kept his seat.

    As for the rest..IMO, Ed Davey has done a good job at a difficult time. Having an leadership electuon ( even if in the short timescale of Labour’s) will rob Ed of much authority. Why deal long-term with him when there are others in the party claiming to be able to do a better job; after all that is what ‘contests’ are all about!

  • David Allen 4th Apr '20 - 8:19pm

    A party is defined by its leader. Corbyn defined what Labour stood for: Starmer now has the opportunity to remake the definition. The Lib Dems do not. Last year we promised to provide Britain’s next Prime Minister. Now, it seems, we are making a very solemn promise NOT to do so!

    If we’re not willing to be a cohesive political party with a leader, then why not dissolve the party, and just let each of the MPs be a member of The Independent Group? After all, that worked so well for the last lot of centrist politicians who tried that option, didn’t it?

  • If ever the Lib Dems had an opportunity to wipe away the guilt and pain of the Coalition it is now. The Labour party is a distraction look to your own situation be bold be honest and be individual. Politics is going to be very confused very difficult post Corona and the party needs to meet this challenge.

  • Well if you think Labour have taken a long-time over 14 weeks … we’ll have taken about 16 months!

    This leader election postponement feels wrong, makes the party look insignificant and indeed robs it both of a key voice and the chance for a new leader to bed in.

    Please re-think and get on with it.

    Finally, the idea that not choosing a leader until next year is in the national interest is both laughable and preposterous.

  • @Jane Ann Liston – “‘Middle-class’? That has several possible meanings, as well as being ‘loaded’.”

    So does “worthies”……

  • Completely agree with this post. For a party with “Democrats” in it’s name, it’s disgraceful for the Federal Board to unilaterally cut the membership out of all party decision-making for over a year.

    We should be grabbing the opportunity with both hands to INCREASE membership engagement with the Party, not reduce it, before too many of our Brexit-motivated joiners drift away. We should be pushing hard to get ordinary members MORE involved, not less, with the decision and policy making processes.

    We should be ashamed that something can be made policy because around 0.5% of the membership vote for it at conference, because the whole conference process is exclusionary.

  • Nonconformistradical 5th Apr '20 - 9:08am

    While I’m not happy with the proposed leadership election ‘timetable’ – what do all those complaining so much think all the prospective candidates are doing at the moment?

    I would hope they are all focussed as much as possible on the needs (casework etc.) of the residents in their constituencies. Because as members of parliament their first duties are (supposedly) towards their constituents.

    In which case I question whether or not our MPs are exactly focussed on a leadership election right now.

    We are where we are. In the middle of a serious world-wide crisis. Hopefully focussed on keeping safe and not passing this virus around. Is that too much to hope for?

  • David Garlick 5th Apr '20 - 10:52am

    For goodness sake lets just do it.

  • Wilf Forrow 5th Apr '20 - 10:55am

    There must be thousands of us who gave up on the Labour Party under Corbin who must be thinking the LibDems have just lost the plot. Get on with it FFS before we all drift off or resign ourselves to permanent irrelevance.

  • Julian Tisi 6th Apr '20 - 9:20am

    “I think we might get more positive attention from the press at least if we do it now – we’ll get props for having the first ever digital-only party leadership contest.”
    Good point, I hadn’t thought of that. Completely agree. The Labour contest has been a tortuously drawn out contest, with 3 stages, lots of hustings and more than a month for the vote itself. I think they were hoping to gain members along the way. I can’t imagine our leadership contest is going to do the same! Let’s get it over and done with. The longer we draw this out the more weak and indecisive we look.

  • Julian Tisi 6th Apr '20 - 9:29am

    One more thing. 31 December 2020 is a key date. Most people have forgotten about Brexit – the Conservatives want you to believe it’s all done. I suspect a lot of people don’t really get that we haven’t experienced a post Brexit UK just yet. Once we do actually leave – i.e. we come out of the transitional arrangements, I strongly suspect Brexit is going to be back on the agenda and it could – just could – reinvigorate support for us if we’re ready. We MUST have a leader in place by then to take advantage.

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