Labour’s Leadership Blues

by Ray_North on June 19, 2015

imagesI know that my mate Charlie has already posted about the Labour Leadership election today, but I wanted to add my twopennyeth as well.

You see, the health of the Labour party is a massively important matter for all of us, even those like me, who didn’t actually put their cross in the People’s Party’s box at the last election. The Country must have an effective opposition, and, for those of us who don’t believe that the Tory policy of austerity and cuts and a reduction in public services is the right way, then the Labour Party must be the vehicle through which an alternative better way is articulated – that is its purpose, and that, at times, is what it has achieved.

In short, the Labour Party is vital, and the person who leads it, must be exceptional.

Which brings me to the current contest for the Leadership of the Labour Party – I’ve followed it as a very interested outsider and thus far, alas, the contest has been desperately uninspiring and seems to reflect the absence of any great politicians currently involved in the Labour Party (or perhaps, with the notable exception of Miss Sturgeon and a few others, in British Politics generally), and the problems that the Labour Party have in deciding upon a direction and vision that is as inspiring as it is relevant and realistic.

Before, I consider the candidates, let me briefly and humbly proffer what I think the Labour Party of 2015 should stand for – to me the Party must emphasise the importance of public service, it needs to set out clearly and unequivocally its belief that the state has a role to play in education, housing, health, law and order, transport and other social services; it should clearly set out the principle that a good society, a thriving society, is also one where the state has in place a safety net to look after those who are unemployed or ill. It should clearly say that private is not always best, and that those who rely upon benefits are not in some way enemies of the state.

But, neither, should it be dismissive or evasive about the role of the private sector – it should work with the private sector setting out clearly, that private enterprise and the state are inter-dependent, after all, without educated and healthy employees and consumers then the private sector couldn’t exist. Saying that, the modern Labour Party mustn’t be afraid to champion the rights of individuals against the large companies and corporations who, at times, wield excessive power and do little to further the common good – which is sort of what the ‘squeezed middle’ concept tried to do and was the period when Ed M’s Labour was most coherent.

More challenging for Labour is that it needs also to work out how to be British, almost fiercely British. It is no co-incidence that the success of SNP and UKIP and even the Tories, is based upon a national identity that Labour seems to have moved away from. And this is tricky: the Labour Party that I grew up with is, rightly, suspicious of nationalism, but that has tended to force it to shy away from some of the concerns of the ‘traditional working class’ because it fears it will appear racist or unsound as was the phrase of yore. It is a understandable concern, but, it shouldn’t be. There’s nothing racist about being worried about immigration, there’s nothing racist about saying that you have a concern about the European Union determining domestic public policy. That doesn’t mean that Labour should suddenly become UKIP, but, it does mean that Labour should be careful not to dismiss the views of much of its traditional vote, it should try to engage rather than hector, it needs to try to lead rather than get around issues through focus group based policy and clever language that actually doesn’t mean anything.

And perhaps that is where the crux of Labour’s problems lie, an inability to lead – an inability to get people to trust them – because if you want to challenge the voters on issues such as Europe, immigration, benefits etc, then you really have to have the trust of the people.

And that, sadly has been lacking for some years. Indeed, probably since Tony Blair decided that he was going to join with the Americans in the War on Terror.

That is what Labour need a great leader, not someone who is a compromise or a token or the best of a bad bunch, they need someone who is clever and attractive as well as inspiring and relevant.

Sadly, the current contenders don’t really inspire: Andy Burnham, is quite an attractive and enthusiastic cove, but there is a lack of coherent set of objectives, I’m not sure what he stands for and I’m not sure that he has the intellectual clout to really dominate an agenda; Liz Kendell really troubles me, on policy, as Charlie set out earlier, she’s far too right wing,, we don’t need just another Tory with a social conscience – saying this, she is not without her positive points, and she probably scares the Tories the most; Jeremy Corbyn is, I’m sorry, a token leftie – I accept and understand why he’s on the ballot paper, and that he’s keeping the party honest, but, as a leader who is capable of taking on the right-wing and creating a vision that will appeal to the nation as a whole, I just can’t see it, I’m afraid that it is more complicated than just saying you’d get rid of Trident and you oppose austerity; which brings me to Yvette Cooper, I quite like Cooper, I think that she is the most intelligent of the candidates, but, could she lead the nation? Could she inspire could she take on the prejudices and persuade the voters who have turned away from Labour to take a leap of faith with her? I’m not convinced.

As Machiavelli said in The Prince, any great leader needs two extra special ingredients – luck and charisma, Tony Blair had both, and though luck is impossible to predict, I’m not persuaded that this lot have the ability or the charisma to turn any good luck that comes their way into political success.

Sigh. I hope I’m wrong.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

John Stone June 19, 2015 at 8:31 pm

Yeah, I listened to the debate the other night and came away somewhat uninspired. Yvette Cooper did come across quite well. The tragedy is that the RWP will just attack her constantly as Mrs Balls. Whoever wins however, their biggest challenge will be getting the message across at all. Labour simply does not have an effective strategy for engaging people at the moment, the target voters read the Mail, Sun, Times all of which have spent 6 years trashing them as a brand. Now that really did come across from the people of Nuneaton…

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