The nominations for the Labour leadership and deputy leadership elections are now closed. As much as one may wish for more contenders to enter the race, rules are rules: one can’t write in “Keir Starmer” or “Dan Jarvis” on the ballot. Despite the many reservations which I’ve articulated previously, I’ve had time to think about for whom I will be voting.
I don’t believe Andy Burnham is the answer to Labour’s problems: previously, he has fired off a rhetorical salvo or two which have landed direct hits on Tory targets. However, I am not sure that he has a firm grasp on the fundamental issues with which Labour needs to grapple so that the party can be successful. What may be even more damning is that having given his candidacy further consideration, I can think of little else to say about him.
I don’t believe Liz Kendall is an optimal choice either: I think she has completely ingested Conservative narratives and wishes to adapt Labour policy to suit Tory predilections rather than create a viable alternative. Also, being Labour leader is just as much about party management as it is about providing inspirational leadership. My understanding, informed by well-placed sources, is that she is a prickly character: this is unlikely to work well in a scenario in which it will be necessary to influence and persuade colleagues to embrace change. Rather, were she to become leader, she may tire out the party to the point that it would be glad to be rid of her by the time 2020 comes, even if that meant defeat at the polls. Both the country and the party can ill-afford such an outcome.
I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn would be the right pick. My research indicates that he is honest and principled: however, when I consider his qualities, “pragmatic” is not a word that springs to mind. Some battles are worth fighting until the last ditch; sometimes it’s better to walk away and avoid potential traps. Some opponents are irreconcilable: bringing some on board will be necessary to build a winning team. I don’t get a strong sense that he would be sufficiently practical as leader to make these necessary judgments; I also don’t have a firm impression of his managerial style. Were he to be put in charge, no doubt there would be a rose-tinted honeymoon in which the certain parts of the party revelled in the clarity of his beliefs: meanwhile, the ruthlessly hardheaded British public would likely switch off the moment the moniker “loony left” was applied.
This leaves Yvette Cooper. She isn’t a flawless candidate: she’s part of the “Generation F” of Labour ministers, namely those who were unceremoniously booted out of Government in 2010 (to be fair, so is Burnham). In my opinion, she needs to be much firmer with her interlocutors in the media. However, she does have one quality which perhaps has been underestimated at first glance: she apparently knows that there’s no substitute for being there. For example, when Naz Shah faced a tough fight in Bradford West, Yvette was on the scene to help; it may have been this timely intervention which earned Yvette a nomination from both Naz and Judith Cummins, MP for Bradford South. Furthermore, Yvette has stated she will make addressing child poverty one of her top priorities; this is certainly a desperate problem throughout Britain. Finally, because she has positioned herself more or less in the sensible middle of the party, she is in an advantageous position to speak to every part of it. No, she is not a perfect choice: she doesn’t offer Dan Jarvis’ biography and there will be no summer of love for her ideology. However, sometimes it’s more important to be practical than romantic: I will wholeheartedly give my first preference vote to her.
Yvette’s deputy should be a complement and a contrast. Yvette can use guile and diplomacy, her deputy ideally will be ready to attack with a ferocity that would be unbecoming of a future Premier. There is one Deputy Leadership candidate who has proven he can fulfil this function: Tom Watson. He was relentless in pursuing Rupert Murdoch; in this, he was right. Furthermore, he has a talent for making good use of the internet. If he were elected to be Deputy Leader, I believe the Labour Party, thanks to his stewardship, would be encouraged to up its online game accordingly. Similarly, he is one of the very few MPs who understands the digital economy and the value of open data: this means he can act as a conduit for old Labour to a new era.
Tom is not without his problems. He was damaged by the expenses scandal: in 2009, he allegedly claimed £4800 for food, and between 2005 and 2009, along with Iain Wright, MP for Hartlepool, he claimed £100,000 for expenses associated with renting a flat . More recently, he had to resign from his role as deputy chairman of the Labour Party in 2013 due to his supposed involvement in the fracas regarding the selection of the candidate for Falkirk. There is a perception, rightly or wrongly, that he is a bruiser equipped with a sharp pair of elbows. If he became Deputy Leader, no doubt the tabloids would have a field day, particularly the Murdoch titles which are still smarting from the wounds he inflicted upon them.
However it is Tom’s toughness, for lack of a better term, which our present era requires: he is a natural choice to instil much needed discipline in the party. This in turn would free Yvette to focus her energies on tackling the Tories and presenting herself as an alternative Prime Minister. With any other potential leader, it is difficult to see Tom as being the right fit: but given their aptitudes and interlocking qualities, he and Yvette appear to be ideally matched.
Having said all this, I hope that they realise the challenges that lay between them and ultimate success. Social Democracy is not a growth industry in Europe: it’s apparently being replaced by knee-jerk populism and far right gibberish. UKIP is a leading exemplar of this trend. Furthermore, it is very likely that the Liberal Democrats under Tim Farron will tack left and crowd into Labour’s natural space. The Green Party will also be there to pick up disaffected left wing votes. Scotland remains a particular challenge: it may be necessary to create an operationally and politically separate Scottish Labour Party that associates itself with the rest of Labour in much the same manner that the Christian Social Union in Bavaria associates with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. Navigating these difficult issues will require patience, guile, honesty and yes, a bit of brute force. If Labour picks Yvette and Tom, it will get a team that has the best chance of finding a way through.