Opinion: Who do we want to win the Labour leadership election?

It’s been interesting to see the final list of nominations for Labour Party leader which, for those that missed it, is:

Diane Abbott
Ed Balls
Andy Burnham
David Miliband
Ed Miliband

The response from all quarters about the list first that its very ‘samey’, with much said about tokenism and the inclusion of Diane Abbott, not because she’s black or a woman but because she represents the old left of the party. That got me to thinking about who would be the best from a Lib Dem point of view.

A Leftie

Dianne Abbott is the only real left leaning candidate. A Labour party under her ministrations would either regain its left leanings or it would lead to the breaking of the party into two and a creating of Nu-Labour and Socialist Labour parties. She’s been a committed member of CND and described herself has being hard-left in a piece on Michael Foot. Over the last few years she’s campaign on civil liberties, right to trial and extraordinary rendition to the point where she argued in the House of Commons with David Miliband.

Whether Labour splits or just lurches it should end in benefits for the Lib Dems. A left leaning Labour party will loose some of more middle ground supporters (hopefully to the Lib Dems) but it would be a different voice that would be easy to challenge on the ground. A split would leave four parties fighting for seats in parts of the country and (hopefully) pave the way for PR as politicians begin to realise there is more than just a simple Red/Blue split in the country.

A Centerist

The other four candidates all seem to have come from the same mould, and would be a case of more of the same unless they can find something that is different about them. I’ve tried but, to be honest, I’m struggling to find something that actually sets them apart from each other.

Ed and David Milliband and Andy Burnham all come from the post Blair/Brown Primrose Hill Gang, believing more in Social Democracy that the traditional routes of the Labour Party whilst Ed Balls is a Fabian with a strong economic reform agenda.

Ed Balls has managed to upset many parents (especially home educators) with his continued mission to regulate the education of children – even when the evidence is counter to the decisions being made, especially with some of the interpretations on the figures being supplied. If elected to leader many suspect that he would follow Gordon Brown approach and promote further nannying by the state.

Andy Burnham is different from the rest in that he’s representing his local area and has a strong local connection to the north. Politically he’s been in favour of increased regulation in many areas but has displayed the greatest right leaning of the candidates by advocating that the tax system recognises marriage and in his responses to the They Work for You survey prior to the election.

Ed Miliband emerged from the expenses scandal as a saint and is (arguably) the most likely winner following his support from Neil Kinnock and Tony Benn. However, some see him as a political lightweight that has yet to have much responsibility and that his time is not now but after whoever wins this time.

David Miliband, Ed’s older brother, would seem the most natural next leader, providing a ‘change’ from Brown and Blair. But some within the party seem him as upstart following his implied challenge to Brown in 2008. In his time at the Foreign Office he has made a few mistakes, notably related to terrorism and its justification during a Radio 4 documentary.

From a Lib Dem point of view it is the least attractive option as politics will become ‘more of the same’ and we could lose some of our left to support to a revitalized Labour (that’s predicated on the revitalisation of course).

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  • Given that only three out of the post war nine leaders of the Labour Party ever won a general election the odds are against whoever wins the Labour leadership becoming prime minister (this contrasts with seven out the eleven leaders of the Conservative Party). In addition, the odds on a change of government at the next election are low (post war: Lab/Lab/Con/Con/Con/Lab/Lab/Con/Lab/Lab/Con/Con/Con/Con/Lab/Lab/Lab/Coalition).

  • paul barker 13th Jun '10 - 1:30pm

    We dont know yet if Labour will follow anything like the trajectory of 1979, I would have thought a split driven by ideas unlikely, they dont have enough ideas left. The Elephant in Labours Womb is their massive debts, if interest rates rise & membership falls again they could be in very deep doodoo.
    The big question for us is which leader would be best to negotiate with in 2015 ? Abbott best & Balls worst IMO.

  • Sadly, all of the candidates are completely against PR (in particular Abbott), although they all seem to be in favour of AV.

  • James – of course history is not a necessary guide to the future, but Labour leaders have only won elections when they have been able to articulate a very clear alternative to what has usually been a long period of Tory government. Attlee in 1945, when people still remembered the economic chaos of the twenties and thirties and had experienced the war as a period of collectivism which chimed with what was being offered by the Labour Party in 1945; Wilson in 1964, who offered a managerial alternative to what appeared to be a Conservative Party manifestly out of touch with a rapidly changing society; and Blair in 1997, who had detoxified the Labour brand and was basically offering a competent version of Tory policies. The anomaly is the Heath government of 1970 and the return of Harold Wilson in 1974: Heath, for all that he took us into Europe, was spectacularly incompetent with the economy, and called the February 1974 election at the wrong time and on the wrong issue. We may, of course, be appalled in a couple of year’s time by the Coalition’s handling of the economy, but somehow I don’t think so. Just as most people knew that Thatcher was right to face down the Trade Unions and lessen their power, most people now know that the previous administration had allowed public spending to get out of control and that the priority has to be to tackle this. We don’t yet know how it is going to affect us, but we know it is going to be painful. A new Labour leader who argues that cuts are wrong and that a Labour government could handle the situation better is, for some time into the future, going to be met with the response, “Well, why didn’t you sort it out when you had the chance?” I think it will take at least two terms of Tory government for the political landscape to change sufficiently for Labour to be able to articulate a credibly different set of policies.

  • I don’t see Diane Abbott as “hard left”, at least not in the sense that the term was used in the late 1970s when what was then called the “hard left” seized control of every section of the Labour Party other than the Parliametary Party.

    Is Diane Abbott a Marxist, does she have a history of praising the Soviet Union, does she talk about “class war” and the “class enemy”, has she called for the nationalisation of the entire economy?

    I am only aware of two current Labour MPs who qualify as “hard left” in a late 1970s sense, and they are John McDonnell and Dennis Skinner. (There may be others, but their names don’t spring to mind.)

    There are, of course, plenty of people who used to be “hard left” but have mellowed over the years. Indeed, they comprise much of the Parliamentary Party. While they espouse free market economics and subservience to the USA, they retain their love of control and distaste for democracy. David Blunkett, John Reid, anyone? While I have no reason to believe that Ed Balls was “hard left” in the sense I describe, he certainly fits the template of an old Stalinist who has never lost his taste for democratic centralism.

    The two Milibands are typical of Oxbridge people who have led the Labour Party over the decades (Harold Wilson, Tony Crosland and Tony Blair are not a whole lot different). They lack a connection with the working-class and the trade unions, but they are tolerated nonetheless – and always have been, since the days of H G Wells and Sidney and Beatrice Webb.

  • @ Tonyhill
    “I think it will take at least two terms of Tory government for the political landscape to change sufficiently for Labour to be able to articulate a credibly different set of policies.”

    When are you suggesting that those two terms will commence? The Tories, like the Liberals haven’t passed the finishing post yet. And Labour had a credibly different set of policies at the last election. Much more credible than the coalition’s.

  • From a narrowly LD point of view:

    Either of Millibands make things potentially more difficult for us. Both seem to have hit on local community organising and Ed M seem to have more of a civil libertarian about him.

    Balls, Burnham are easy targets.Abbott less so as her views are not as left as she would like to pretend and she seems to be developing in a Borisesque way – personality first, politics second.

  • John Leston 16th Jun '10 - 9:06am

    Watched the dwarves on Newsnight. Burnham looks and sounds about 12. Ms. Abbott was OK but surely too short to be a party leader. On last night’s showing Ed M isn’t even the better candidate from his own family while his brother somehow always reminds me of a loo brush. And as for Gordon’s vicar on Earth, as Reagan would have said, ‘Labour members tear down Ed Balls’

  • Paul McKeown 17th Jun '10 - 4:07pm

    Watched the NN hustings a couple of evenings ago. It was interesting – in a deadly dull kind of way.

    I think it is clear that Labour will elect David Milliband, no matter how much he resembles a bogbrush, and no matter how some of their loudmouthed, doctrinaire activists foam about him being some sort of Thatcher clone. There may be some fools in the Labour party, but the majority are not, they have flirted a bit, put on a bit of show of internal democracy, but they will choose the person most capable of leading their party and connecting with the public, and the one least likely to take a ridiculous policy position purely to appeal to a small faction within their party. DM may be dull, but the flaws of the other candidates are quite obvious, and few will allow the wool to obscure their eyes for long.

    For me what will be interesting is how Labour deals with a small number of issues:
    a) Labours rules regarding removing its leader. This was brought up, if tangentially, by the gentleman from the audience in the green pullover who asked the first question. It was not, however, answered at all by the five leadership contenders; when the green pullover stated that he wasn’t satisfied by the answers provided, his question was ignored even more deliberately. The point, though, is one of national significance. The last Labour term of government can be characterised as one of policy drift and party infighting. It was clear to everyone for several years, except perhaps for a few Labour partisans, that Gordon Brown was not up to the job of leading either his country or his party, yet he was not removed from his various offices. This caused considerable damage to both country and party. I found it sickening to watch Diane Abbott’s cheery grin every Thursday evening, reassuring the country in mellifluous tones, or with a knowing little chuckle, that removing leaders was “not the Labour party way”. It bloody ought to be: the country deserved better and, under similar circumstances in the future, will deserve better. How could anyone vote for a party unprepared to act in the interests of the country as a whole? It’s not even as if this moral indecision did the Labour party’s electoral prospects any good in any case. In the end, Labour seemed delighted to have lost only a hundred seats, normally the mark of an electoral catastrophe, rather than the cause of jubilation.
    b) Civil Liberties. It seems strange to say, but the Conservatives seem to have cracked the conundrum of making the Home Office anything but a political graveyard. Indeed Theresa May currently seems destined to be the first popular Home Secretary since, since, since when? The secret to this success is simple: just rip up any law passed in the last 13 years by any Labour Home Secretary. Let’s think about it, we had Jack “Pinochet” Straw, David “machine gun” Blunkett, Charles “double jeopardy” Clarke and then John “unprecedented scale” Reid. Little Mickie Howard, in retrospect, seem like a mild mannered vicar after that line of muggers. Indeed, his putative ancestor, the Count Dracula would seem a woolly humanitarian by comparison. That before we even got to Jacqui “evidence based” Smith, whose all round absence of competence must surely make her go down in the annals as a genuine low water mark. Enough of the knockabout, though, but there is a serious point here. Will the Labour party repeat its appalling policy of triangulating the Daily Mail? A rational question would be ask why it should want to. The Mail will never support the Labour party, no matter what Labour should promise or should do, so there is no political benefit to be had in the policy, anyway. In a strange way, it is easier for Theresa May to do the right thing, as the Mail will support the Conservatives, come hell or high water. But equally, as there is no profit for Labour in pandering, why bother? I have vague memories a few years ago of some hooha about some couple or other being threatened with prosecution for indecency. What had happened was that some company had stuck a CCTV camera on top of a ruddy great pole, which just happened to allow one of their security people to peer over this couple’s tall hedge. Lo and behold, they were engaged in some al fresco naughties, which seemed to offend this security man’s sense of propriety so greatly that instead of enjoying the free show on offer, he felt instead that he had to complain to the authorities. Perversely enough some tabloid feigned outrage, not at the shocking invasion of the couple’s privacy, but that they should be at it like rabbits outside of the matrimonial bedroom. Happily the fuss all quickly died down, and no doubt the sensible course of action was followed, security man told to mind his own business the next time. But what is worrying is that instead of drawing sensible conclusions on such matters, I watched Andy Burnham attempting to defend this intrusive proliferation of CCTV cameras. No one is arguing that they are not necessary, no one is arguing that a shopping centre shouldn’t be allowed to deter shoplifting and bag snatching, but what is clearly of concern is when those selfsame shopping centres insist on pointing those cameras outside of their own properties. Similar concerns apply to those placed by local authorities on our streets. Stringent guidelines are needed, which private citizens can enforce in court when they are not followed. That Andy Burnham – and many others in the Labour party – cannot see that the civil liberties were sorely abused during the previous 13 years of Labour government is of concern. Indeed reading Labour leaning publications, one is struck by how many Labour types just don’t get it. I was dumbfounded by the comment given by one such on LabourList, strongly emphasizing that Labour was not a libertarian party and should take an authoritarian line. I suspect that David Milliband will draw rather different conclusions, or at least I rather hope so.
    c) AV. There will be a strong temptation amongst Labour MPs and activists to lash out at the Liberal Democrats for the temerity of being in government without Labour. And there are a number of voices clamouring from within Labour ranks to reverse their previous policy of support for AV. This would be a serious mistake. Firstly, the idea of changing an electoral system widely seen to be unfair would seem to have strong, if not overwhelming, popular support. It might be possible to erode that support with a determined negative and fuddish campaign. But that brings on my second point. At what cost to the Labour party itself? I broadly supported the idea of a coalition government between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats; it long seemed transparently obvious to me that no party would achieve a majority. It also seemed obvious that it would be in the interest of the Liberal Democrats to shoot the Tory fox that the LDs would only ever support Labour and I suggested on various Tory blogs a few times that there were many areas of potential agreement between the two parties (e.g. http://conservativehome.blogs.com/thetorydiary/2010/04/three-ways-to-burst-the-nick-clegg-bubble.html#comment-6a00d83451b31c69e20133ecd65103970b). One of the points I put forward was the shoddy way in which Paddy Ashdown had been treated in the aftermath of the 1997 general election by Labour’s own United Jurassic Front. The point should be re-iterated: the Liberal Democrats are an independent party and will deal with whatever other party is necessary to implement its manifesto. That may well in future be the Labour party. But it certainly will not be the Labour party if it insists on pissing on a fundamental reform strongly desired by the Liberal Democrats, and which has been, and still is, official Labour party policy. Piss on us and we will piss on you, that is a simple promise of equalising justice and should be clear to all. Memories are long and no party ever has a guarantee of achieving a majority on its own.
    d) Plan B. There were many reasons that Labour and the Liberal Democrats were unable to come to an accommodation in the aftermath of the recent general election. That Gordon Brown’s successor was unknown was certainly one. That Labour had rather been expecting to be beaten totally out of sight was another. Visceral hatred amongst the Jurassics of everything Liberal was another. The parliamentary arithmetic and the sheer addiction of many on the Labour backbenches to dividing against its own party whip was another. But the simple fact that Labour hadn’t even considered for a moment what would be involved in policy terms, in division of ministerial posts, in the mechanics of achieving and enforcing consensus across two parties was another. Labour simply had no Plan B. The Tories had. And they came to the negotiation table with comprehensive, detailed and equitable proposals. David Cameron, George Osborne, William Hague, Michael Gove and Oliver Letwin entered government with the Liberal Democrats. They did so, because they showed foresight and an open mind. I wonder has the Labour party drawn the rather obvious conclusions yet, that a thoroughly prepared Plan B can be an enormous asset?

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