For those readers old enough to have attended a concert given by a proper ‘rock band’, you will be familiar with the role of a ‘roadie’. As well as lumping around heavy musical equipment, obtaining narcotics for the band and procuring groupies for the purposes of sexual gratification, their more mundane task is to make sure the band’s guitars are in tune.
With not long of the Labour Leadership World Tour to go, some of our prospective lead singers could do with a good roadie. Not to fulfill the more unseemly aspects of their job description you understand; but to fine-tune candidates’ rhetorical stratocasters. Because I don’t know about you, but my ears are starting to hurt a bit.
Can I make a suggestion? Can we just take it as read that all candidates in this leadership contest are motivated by their “values.” That they all want to “reconnect”. That they are all committed to “renewal” and “fairness”. And that they all want to “listen?”
Because that will improve the sound of this leadership gig no end. And while we’re at it, can we now dispense with the ‘personal narrative’ spiel as well? All this folksy-holksy stuff about why each of them wants to be the frontman in the band. Come on: Enough of this false modesty! None of the candidates has had a damascene conversion to politics. They have all wanted to be a political rock star their whole lives. They have all practiced the soaring speeches in front of the mirror. And there’s nothing wrong with that. God bless ‘em. Better someone to lead Labour who has long harboured ambitions to lead than, er, a novice.
There. That sounds better already. Now we have more time to listen to the candidates sweet music about what we need to do to win next time: How we attract back lost voters. How we convince working class supporters to stick with us. How we fight back in the south. How the party’s structure must adapt. How we defend our achievements in office. How we work with people and organisations outside the party. How we fashion a low-cost social democratic vision. How we make the government machine work better. And, most importantly, how we win back our reputation for economic competence.
And I want to hear new stuff. Not the old favourites that please the crowd. I especially don’t want to hear that old one: ‘Why We Lost the Election’. I’ve heard that song a million times. And it’s not one of the band’s better tracks. It has a long, utterly narcissistic guitar solo in the middle that adds nothing. Let’s move on from all that. It just divides the fans and brings out recrimination amongst the band members.
Anyway, from this fan’s perspective, the answer is simple: We had been in power a long time. We looked and sounded tired and complacent. We had a leader who had suffered serious reputational damage. We were battling the deepest recession since the 1930s. And the alternative(s) were not completely odious. It’s a miracle we did as well as we did. If pulling off that ‘difficult second album’ is a drag we need to lighten up and remember how implausible it was to win a fourth term.
Let’s start afresh and hear some positive, upbeat tunes about the future. They must remember that the success of the band is measured by how many records real people buy. Not by how many cigarette lighters get wafted at them in the hustings.
So come on candidates, let’s hear what you’ve got. Thrill us with your new material. Dazzle us with some new lyrics. But try not to get too experimental. Not like Tony Blair did during his psychedelic period with his ‘kaleidoscope speech’ at the 2001 party conference. How did that one go? “The pieces are in flux, soon they will settle again”. Now that was just weird.
Kevin Meagher was special adviser to the Labour secretary of state for Northern Ireland.