Labour Leadership: The Zero Sum Game of Liz Kendall

by Charlie_East_West on June 19, 2015

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The battle for the Labour leadership is a dispiriting affair. The campaign is too long (allowing the Tories to ratchet up their own nasty set of early parliamentary policies with little opposition) and the campaign offers not much in the way of big ideas and long term vision on how to make Labour a political powerhouse that can win a general election.

We have the following:-
1. Jeremy Corbyn. A true lefty. A man who has stuck perhaps too rigidly to his core principles. He should be applauded for this. But, an election winner? No chance. If he won, he would be the 2015 version of Michael Foot.

2. Yvette Cooper. I am still unclear what she stands for. She is a modern day political robot offering not much more than political rhetoric and a vision of being a safe choice, boring option. She may win. She doesn’t exactly offend people and may pick up a lot of second choices at the leadership election. But, a visionary who can galvanise floating voters? No chance.

3. Andy Burnham. An even safer bet than Yvette Cooper. But, again, like Cooper, I am not exactly clear what he stands for, and seems to be stuck in a crossroads between needing to appeal to the left of the party, and the Blarite calls to lurch back to the right. But, superficially, he ticks a lot of boxes. He is Northern. He is good looking. He acts like a normal human being. Compared to Ed Miliband, he looks and sounds hugely credible. But, depth of vision and ideas? Sadly lacking so far.

4. Liz Kendall. She really scares me. She terrifies me. After watching the leadership debate, she came across as a Tory in the wrong party. In fact, she has advocated for an Australian-style points based system on immigration. This is UKIP territory.

But, what really terrifies me is the momentum that Liz Kendall is generating through her energetic zest. She isn’t scratching her own head for ideas. Unfortunately, her ideas are dangerous ideas. Pro austerity. Pro Trident. Pro rampant privatisation. Cuts to welfare. Rolling back the state. Tough on immigration. This is borderline UKIP territory.

Liz Kendall is in parts, more Tory than the Tories. She is a ruthless opportunist. Scarily, the right wing media, Blairites and big business are beginning to endorse her. This Blairite-on-steroids has a fighting chance of being the next leader of the Labour Party. It is possible that Labour look at her, take a sharp intake of breath, hold their noses and decide that she is only one who can win over support media, big business and the South of England.

But, if she wins, this is Labour effectively admitting ideological defeat. Screw what the party should stand for, and instead, swallow the bitter pill of trying to win at all costs. The zero sum game of trying to obtain a 2020 vision to win an election. That in itself is heartbreaking. If she wins, Labour is saying goodbye to being the party of the people, and hello to being a neoliberal champion of many of the things that are severely wrong in this country.

Labour should be better than this. Labour needs to reclaim its ideological roots, but cultivate and grow ideas in a way that is relevant to modern Britain. They shouldn’t look towards Tory or even Blair success for inspiration. Instead, they should look to Scotland and the SNP. The SNP have cleaned up by largely taking old Labour principles and wrapping them up with good pro enterprise ideas. This is the golden ticket. It promotes social democracy, social justice as well as recognising that the market is important, but that austerity is a ruthless con.

What Labour needs is a new vision. A vision that millions of people can identify with – such as targeting unethical businesses, promoting a fair and robust welfare and public service system, and cutting expensive wastage that does not benefit society – such as rampant privatisation at the expense of public services, Trident and unfair austerity-based policies such as the Bedroom Tax. It should also offer a certain element of renationalised industries such as utilities – where the market can still tender for contracts, but also a publically owned energy company that is run like a private company. The French did this with EDF. The Germans did this with NPower. Both state-owned companies bid for contracts globally, help the balance of payments and offer local consumers low tariffs based on their own profits.

This is just a few snapshot examples of where Labour should be heading. Will they get there by 2020? Unlikely. It appears that Labour are navel gazing towards a form of long term election insignificance. They have lost Scotland for a generation. They are losing support in Northern England. They are nowhere in the Tory-reich of Southern England.

Labour needs big ideas from big individuals…and fast. They need a clear and consistent vision. They need to be able to reach out to millions of people with a message that is clear, easy to understand and one that makes them electable.

But, be careful with Liz Kendall. She is the clearest thinker of all the candidates. But, she bloody terrifies me.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Killingworth June 19, 2015 at 1:32 pm

The Labour Party is finished. As you imply, a nearly 70-year old Trot, two leftovers from the last Labour administration and a rabid populist are not exactly an inspiring choice.

I predict: the Tories will win the next two elections, and finally, mired in so much sleaze that not even BoJo can shrug it off. be replaced by a set of Kendallite populists. Who may even be worse than the Tories. In all sorts of ways.

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Eddie Kaye June 19, 2015 at 2:13 pm

Trot or not Mike, it is an eternal reflection of Labour that they have nobody younger subscribing to anything other than the ‘red Tory’ banner. The last administration (and those guilty by association) has been successfully toxified by the Tories as being the route for all evil. Labour however, as predicted, are treating this interregnum with all the aplomb of Santino Corleone’s tenure as Don, and allowing the bastards to get away with it…again.

You are right Mike, the Parliamentary Labour Party is fucked. They are just an irrelevant section of a bought and paid for regressive majority in the Commons. I predict the Blairites will be happy with the outcome, but their legacy will be just like the Orange Bookers in their trashing of their own party.

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George_East June 19, 2015 at 2:42 pm

Good piece Charlie. The saddest thing of all is that Liz Kendall is by a country mile the most impressive candidate in terms of raw talent- but as you say for what purpose? She is indeed terrifying.

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Julian Ware-Lane June 19, 2015 at 3:14 pm

Liz Kendall merely articulates the obvious – Labour needs to challenge itself. We must look in mirror and ask ourselves what has made us so unattractive to the British electorate. And many of her ideas make sense. She is not trying to out-UKIP UKIP, but rather understand why so many former Labour voters are now voting for the anti-EU party. We need to understand why the welfare state, a truly marvellous entity, is not working anywhere nearly as well as it should, what has made immigration so problematical in some places, and how we can defend the nation in the most effective way. Most people care less about who owns a service than the quality of the service on offer.

As for populism, isn’t this what we should be after? Of course we need to persuade, but we also have to listen. We should not turn a deaf ear to those voices we disagree with, but rather try to work out how we can be true to the ideal of an equitable society whilst also meeting the wishes of the voters.

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Ray_North June 19, 2015 at 7:50 pm

Well said Julian.

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Andrew Campbell June 21, 2015 at 6:09 pm

What exactly is wrong about a point based system for non- EU immigration? Is it not more transparent, understandable and able to be used more efficiently eg family re-union, skills shortages and regional growth?

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Richard Maynard June 22, 2015 at 10:41 am

The Labour Party under Blair followed the political strategy of Bill Clinton to achieve success. They completely abandoned the Socialist principles that had always been central to the party and veered sharply to the right, actively embracing free market ideology. Winning elections was all that mattered, however, this led to a haemorrhaging of support from all those grass roots activists who still held those beliefs. Because the party is still dominated by Blairites this ideology still holds sway. All the candidates are career politicians who will say whatever is necessary to get elected.

We need to regroup under a fresh socialist vision of the future. A coalition between the SNP, Greens and the embryonic socialist parties that came together during the last election would be a good start and might even force some real change in the right wing Labour party that now exists.

For all those who will say I am suggesting handing the country over to the Tories on a plate, I would add that Osborne and Cameron got away with their destructive antisocial policies during the last election, but only just. Remember, they only managed 37% of the actual vote. It would not take much to tip them over the edge and their weakness is their arrogance, triumphalism sheer nastiness.

Now is not the time for the Labour Party to turn to the right. Now is the time to follow the example of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, both socialist parties making their mark by fighting against the evils of the austerity culture.

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Jim Macgregor June 22, 2015 at 2:53 pm

I think she’s doing this triangulation of the Tory policies in order to prevent/neutralise future Tory attacks after she wins the leadership, which is what Blair did successfully from 1994 to 1997.

I think she talks rightwing to “gain credibility” with the powerful rightwing press, but if she ever becomes PM will act more leftish and humanely than she currently sounds.

The problem though is I don’t think Labour will win a majority in 2020, but she may of course become PM in a coalition or minority government (although even that’s very difficult).

It really depends on whether the Tories make any major blunders or there’s an economic crash before 2020.

Usually the UK electorate (as a whole) doesn’t kick out governments unless its perceived to have messed up the economy – 1976 IMF bailout, 1992 Black Wednesday, 2008 financial crisis

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