Should Labour Go Short or Long?

by George_East on May 11, 2015

labour logoFollowing the shortest resignation in history, Nigel Farage is back as the leader of UKIP this afternoon.   The Lib Dems (or what is left of them) have announced that they will resolve their two bald men fighting over a comb leadership contest by the middle of July.  But what of the official opposition.  What of the Labour Party.

Labour has a history of reacting to what happened last time rather than looking to what needs to happen in making these decisions.  Following the coronation of Gordon Brown  in 2007, which was later seen as some sort of existential mistake, Labour decided to go for a long campaign in 2010.  In truth, the election of a leader in 2007 could have taken all year and the result would have been the same: Gordon Brown by a landslide because no other party figure could touch him in terms of his standing (I would suggest that no one has come close to him since either).

In 2010, the long campaign following the defeat in May and the new Coalition’s Rose Garden moment (I wonder if Nick Clegg has nightmares about that now – probably not), Labour decided to go long.  Then, as now Harriet Harman was left in a caretaker leadership role while the 5 candidates slogged it out until the party conference in September.    The result of this was that the new government had, in practical terms, no opposition at all and was able to cement the biggest lie of the entire coalition administration and the one that ultimately won them the election: that Labour overspending had caused the 2008-9 crash.

The newly minted Tory government has a terrifying list of truly reactionary policies it intends to ram through in the early days of the administration.  Repeal of the Human Rights Act and restrictions on the mandate of the European Court of Human Rights (placing us with Belarus, as the only country in Europe not signed up to international human rights norms as embodied in the ECHR), £12Bn of welfare cuts, defenestration of the BBC (the Telegraph today reports that Cameron has ‘gone to war with the BBC’), the Torymander boundary changes, ballot restrictions on strike action (with thresholds at levels which would render most elections in this country null and void) etc etc.

These are the kind of right wing crazy policies that the Tories have been dreaming about for a long time.  The appointment of Gove at Justice and retention of IDS at the DWP, among others is a mark of Cameron’s intention to press right ahead with all of this full pelt.  These are policies that need to be opposed and opposed with vigour and authority.  That cannot be achieved by an interim leader as an interim leader can only hold the ring, not knowing the direction the new leadership will take the party.

It is said that Labour needs a long conversation with itself to come to terms with its defeat.  It can surely do that in two months. The possible candidate list is known – with Dan Jarvis ruling himself out it is: Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Chuka Ummuna, Liz Kendall and Tristram Hunt. Mabye David Lammy and maybe Jamie Reed.  There may be for a short time a candidate from the old Campaign Group left but that candidate won’t be able to muster enough nominations (Diane Abbott has ruled herself out).

The policy lines are pretty well already drawn – all of the newbies are Blairites of one form or another, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper less so.  There are no candidates who are urging a lurch to the left.   Yes Labour doesn’t want to elect another leader who is not electable, but there is no leader-elect.  No panacea or easy solution to this problem.  Whoever is picked will have a ton of shit dropped on their head by the right wing press.  If the inquest cannot be dealt with in vigorous short campaign I don’t see how the party is going to be any more enlightened about the reasons it lost or who is best placed to lead it into the future.  On these pages we will have a lot more to say about the leadership race in due course.

Meanwhile, if Labour do go long, the narrative will be set in Labour’s absence.  This government has a small majority of 12 (not the effective majority of 80 that Nick Clegg gifted David Cameron last time round) and the Conservative Party backbenches are full of drooling right wing nutters.  A vigorous opposition able to harry and cause difficulty at every turn (like John Smith and then Tony Blair did in the Major years) and able to exploit the divisions on the right that are there to be opened up, is what is needed.

Labour should go short and have the whole thing done by the end of July.  It will, of course, go long.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan Stasi May 11, 2015 at 7:54 pm

“defenestration of the BBC (the Telegraph today reports that Cameron has ‘gone to war with the BBC’)”

A nationalised broadcaster in an age of digital media is an outdated relic and the licence fee is plain extortion. You cannot operate a television without paying it, even if you have never watched a BBC programme in your life.


Bobby_West May 11, 2015 at 8:20 pm

because some things have a value and a worth beyond anything that can be explained just by free market theory.


John Durst May 12, 2015 at 11:14 am

There *is* the possibility that someone puts themselves forward as a short-term stability candidate, with the express intent of another leadership election after sufficient navel-gazing and soul-searching? Johnson would be the ideal choice.

But it’s not very likely, is it.


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