Will Labour survive a drawn-out leadership contest?

by Kevin Meagher

The inside of the Labour party is beginning to feel like a tense family funeral, just before the point when everyone starts drinking.

There’s a lot of unreconciled psychological baggage as we await the National Executive Committee’s decision about whether it will institute a short leadership process, or stretch it out to the September party conference, or, indeed, beyond.

The problem is that years’ worth of sleights, rivalries, anguish, antagonisms and things that have been left unsaid have all built up. If invited to have a drawn-out discussion about why the party lost, it is inevitable that this will lead to family members’ pulling each other’s hair out as they send Granddad’s ashes flying.

In its soul, Labour is a party of deep divisions (personal and social as well as in terms of emphasis and priority). When a colleague remarked that Herbert Morrison was “his own worst enemy” Ernest Bevin famously snarled, “not while I’m alive he ain’t.” The decade-long drama between Blair and Brown (“the TB, GBs”) was merely symptomatic of this same psychosis.

These tensions are usually capped by the affected manners and superficial pleasantries of the party’s generals. Everyone is nice to each other’s face. Get behind that carapace, however, and it’s a different story.

During a Labour leadership contest, it is not enough for candidates to put themselves forward and explain what they would do, they also need to define themselves against their opponents.

So while your candidacy may represent The Last Hope, the only possible choice of any sentient adult; your opponents are, in contrast, sell-outs, lickspittles, lightweights, too associated with the past, too untested, too naïve, too unpopular, too Blairite, or not Blairite enough, et cetera, ad infinitum.

This is how Labour’s binary internal politics works. The briefing and counter-briefing, back-stabbing and vitriol are part and parcel of the whole thing. And the knuckledusters are already being polished, while elliptical references in speeches and interviews will become wounding blows when rival teams have finished whispering in journalists’ ears.

The last leadership contest in 2010 was a relatively courtly affair because the two Miliband brothers were clear favourites from the start and their respective camps were obviously wary of slagging off their boss’s brother.

There are no such restraints this time, not in party that is wounded and confused about last week’s result. There simply isn’t enough goodwill or self-discipline for a long period of introspection.

Old enmities will surface and things could turn very ugly very quickly as soon as the party pulls on the string and starts unravelling the past.

In short, Labour cannot afford months on the psychiatrist’s couch. What it needs is a quick course of cognitive behavioural therapy. Accept what happened, learn from past mistakes and don’t make them again.

If there is no leader in place by September’s party conference, tensions will boil over. Those things that have been left unsaid will be shouted from one end of Brighton’s Grand Hotel bar to the other. The damage will be permanent.

And then Labour will be out of power for a generation.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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17 Responses to “Will Labour survive a drawn-out leadership contest?”

  1. Bob says:

    Labour will be out of power for a generation regardless. I’m afraid the public just aren’t buying what you’re selling!

  2. John P Reid says:

    Look at the amount of ‘quiet’ activists, in areas we should win, from Thirrock, Harrow , Norwich, to the whole west Coast of England and Yes Scotland,

    They’ll be the ones to decide the leader, if by not getting out, mentioning why the electorate of those areas were forgot, bu what’s needed to get them back, Even if we’d had a more marketable version of Ed, that had t tried for the 35% strategy, or assumed if we appealed to skilled (female) public sector workers ,we could have dine better, plus, shown we weren’t ,removed from the concern about the recession, of only joining protests groups against cuts, this may have applied to Andy abut hams campaign,

    David Lammys excellent description of why he didn’t have what it took to appeal to those outside the Westminster bubble, has ruled out Chuka

    Yvette,has communication skills, and ability to appeal to dislusioned voters, but it’s those ex Labour. Voters ,who really only have opted Laboyr twice in their lives 97’2001 we need, and being nice and understanding wouldn’t cut it

    The blairites want their choice for deputy,and the division Tom Watson caused over Falkirk, livingstone a campaign, and Lufthur Rahman,have stained his case, but the Blairites , dint know how to win back the working class up North, only blue Labour ,know it, Lord Glasman yesterday, backing Liz Kendall,

    Independent Scottish party, there are Scots who vote SNP at the Scottish parliament, as they’ll know the SNP will get more from the money the UK gives them back, but don’t vote SNP nationally or didn’t vote for Scottish independence, as well ass discussing with the Libdems, on deals to put up candidates against each other,there’s a case for appealing to SNP voters who would vote labour if we could promise a different manifesto, than England, different manifesto than last time,and to prevent the Thatcherite, UKiP right from taking over the country.

    Electoral reform isn’t a issue that important with the electorate but the results for Ukip, and SNP disproportionately, show we need change, losing a Trident may appeal in Scotland,

    Will the party implode over the next 6 months.
    The new leaders doesn’t needed to be Surrounded by bag carriers, a string deputy from a different wing would work.

    There are students Having read of books, by Chomsky, Charles Murray or Laurie penny about how the underclass are victims, as a media bias,has convinced them to put themselves down as that they’ll never be as good as the famous,who’ve got a view because they shout loudest when been see. Interviewed by Jordan on the X factor

    a lot of constituencies will have AGMs

    There’s People who joined 5 yrs ago,as our leader had said new labour was over,maybe they were members in the 80’s left in 1997′ voted Socialist, rejoined in 2010″ they’ve got themselves on positions at the local CLP in Epping Forest & Are looking on in disgust that if A progress person wins,they’ll resign leaving their party without a branch chair

  3. swatantra says:

    No. Knowing the Labour Party they’ll be at each others throats by next week. Already the Left re blaming the Others that the Manifesto was not Left wing enough, would you believe it! What part of idiocy do they not understand. Must we keep talking to the 10% and ignore the90% of the population which Labour has shown no in tention of helping?
    Ghats why we need to keep it short. I’d lie to see a Leader by June, beginning of.

  4. Schaden Freud says:

    After years of hearing about how few Tories there are in Scotland (circa 14% of the population in the honesty based community), it’s amusing to note that there are now more pandas in Scotland than Labour MPs. Now that the boot is on the other foot the smear won’t be quite so appreciated by the eretwhile smearers of the left. Suck it up!

  5. Paul says:

    Surely a longer time-frame should be preferred since that will enable a thorough look at the underlying philosophy of the party. The fact that this may mean candidates tearing into each other says quite a lot about them. Failing to get back to the core creed will just produce a quick-fix rather than a fundamental re-examination of what is ‘Labour’

    Finally, I suggest this article needs to be put through a spell & grammar checker if it is to have any chance of being convincing.

  6. Dave Roberts. says:

    John P Reid. The only bit I got about this was that students, or some students, read books by Chomsky, Charles Murray or Laurie Penny. I assume that you mean that this is a selection of the books that students read, very eclectic choice, but presumably others you don’t mention. I can’t quite see the point of your post.

  7. Jonathan says:

    You paint a picture of a vile bunch of individuals and a horrible organisation.

    I’ve long thought that Labour are the 2nd most evil political party in the UK, a close second to the BNP. How do Labour qualify as evil? It’s the continual preying on the poorest and most vulnerable in society. The 10p tax scandal being a classic, stiffing the poorest people, just to get an advantage over the Tories.

    Of course, most Labour Policies punish the poorest and most vulnerable, once you think them through at least two chess moves ahead. “Rent Freeze” – wham – electricity companies put breaks on building more capacity, demand races ahead of supply and rates become more expensive, hitting the poorest hardest. “Minimum Wage” – sorry mentally disabled people who used to be paid 10p to pot plants in the local garden centre, but those days you enjoyed being out in the community can no longer happen – cos Minimum Wage has made it unviable.

    Utter, utter evil scum. Now we know the inside workings of the Labour Party, it’s really no surprise……

  8. tim says:

    I was wondering whether the author of this excellent article, or anyone commenting here, thinks that there is the possibility of a permanent split within the Labour party. Is there the possibility that the Blairites will form one party, and those on the left form another? It appears to me that there are some pretty big differences between the two sides, and I’m not sure how these differences can be bridged. And if the only bridge is a hatred of the Tories, I’m not sure if that’s really a good enough reason to stay together, let alone to try to form some sort of clear ideology….

  9. Madasafish says:

    In short, Labour cannot afford months on the psychiatrist’s couch. What it needs is a quick course of cognitive behavioural therapy. Accept what happened, learn from past mistakes and don’t make them again.

    Labour does not want to know.

    I was thrown off LabourList in 2010 when Ed Miiband was elected. I pointed out – politely – that he was 1) a Geek, 2) had never done anything real outside politics 3) looked weird, talked weird and acted weird and 4) held attitudes on politics best suited to the 1970s. and 5) he was basically unappealing to teh country and would lose teh next GE badly.

    I was accused of being a Tory plant and worse.

    I saw no evidence then that Mark Ferguson or any of the Labour supporters on that blog had any idea of what is needed in a Leader. I still see no change in those views.

    I read Comment is Free and a similar attitude exists there.

    Frankly Labour make the Conservative Party appear modern and up to date. (!!!!).

    There’s an overwhelming belief in the Money Tree, and no understanding whatsoever about the need to change.
    The Unions are the same if not worse.

    I cannot see the Party selecting the type of Leader required to win a General Election until people’s noses are rubbed hard into the despair and mud of another General Election defeat… or two or three.

    I would suggest the Party start educating its members on some basic economics. OK you would lose the very left wingers who call Tories “evil” and think the Public Sector is wonderful and think mid Staffs is a made up story..(yes they exist)..

    Ed has done the party a great disservice – but it’s not his fault but the people who chose him.

    I don’t know all the candidates for Leader.. but none of those I do know something of- Umana, Burnham – fill me with any confidence. They are a little less unapppealing than Ed.. and rather more vacuous.Any thought they will win back lost voters seems to be forlorn – but what do I know..?

  10. AnneJGP says:

    I have heard that the Labour party offers a wide selection of training material. Does it include Anger Management courses?

    If Labour is in need of a long, hard look at what it’s for, what it’s trying to do, and how best to do it, then quick fixes are not the answer.

    A quick fix may avoid all the in-fighting & back-stabbing Kevin Meagher foresees. The downside, however, is that only luck will throw up a good result.

    Labour avoided the soul-searching 5 years ago, and here we are today back at square one. Maybe we ought to reserve our seats here for 2020.

  11. Jen The Blue says:

    I hope and pray that Labour and the left are a dead force in UK politics. Socialism is a product of the late 19th early 20th centuries and has no place in a modern country.

    All governments, however good, benefit from a strong opposition. I hope therefore there is a realignment of UK politics. A right wing party (UKIP?) , the Tory Party, Right of centre and a Centrist party…..maybe born out of the wreckage of the Liberals and Labour parties.

  12. Jen The Blue says:

    I guess I should add maybe, that I am still astounded that many people on the left still think the answer to everything is borrowing and spending.

    Listen to Nicola Sturgeon…..spend more borrowed money and everything will be OK…….unbelievable!

    Would that it were easy eh?

  13. This is different from the wish list eminating from party people at the weekend. They thought that it would be a good idea to have an argument and to settle things. The phrase “there needs to be blood on the carpet” was uttered as well.

    Then of course there’s the re-writing of history by the Blairites. Milliband was apparently too left wing and didn’t understand that you had to win elections on the centre ground – despite Cameron disproving that theory last Thursday. Indeed, some of Milliband’s more left wing policies were actually popular with the electorate.

    Of course Milliband’s biggest issue was the distinct lack of a viable alternative to Scorched Earth – which to the best of my knowledge Blair, Dripping Poison, Hutton etc all advocate. Because Milliband pfaffed about in the first months in ther post, Osborne’s narrative became perceived wisdom about the Credit Crunch/Defecit/recession.

    Tim: I think the split will be “Scottish” Labour splitting off to form an affiliated separate party. It’ll be the only way they’ll survive.

    Jen The Blue – the problem with the economy is a lack of liquidity in the economy. This is why prices are stagnating & wages are refusing to rise. Small spending increases as advocated by the SNP (of 0.5%) could stimulate the ecconomy.

  14. theProle says:

    @ Alan
    >wages are refusing to rise

    Which alternative universe are you currently inhabiting?
    Real wages are rising rapidly given we have zero inflation. In some sectors (e.g. mine, which is heavy engineering) there is a shortage of skilled workers, which is starting to produce significant hikes in wages (I got 13% rise last year, and I’m by no means unique).

  15. George S says:

    it was the total lack of commitment, policies or anything other than a vague “we’d like to do” list put forward by Ed M. even his carved in stone promises were vague, woolly, not in any way quantifiable and when lucy powell stupidly said that no-one expected ed to keep carved in stone, vague aspirations …. you could feel the voters wandering off thinking “not worth the paper its written on or the hot air expended”.

    even before that, for the last 2 years Ed was the ultimate bandwagon jumper. leaping onto worthy causes them promptly falling off because he didnt look first.
    – publicly lauding Hollande in France – fail because frances economy is relentlessly tanking under high taxes and massive state spending
    – power companies – fail because we need 27 new power stations in the next few years and Ed alienated them and threatened their business. when he complained about the cost did he not realize he was responcible for the green taxes on power. He brought them in for petes sake!
    – rental housing – even most socialist economists think rent controls destroy rental property stock
    – R Brand – pure idiocy to have anything to do with this mouthy hypocritical nutter

    all of the above were caused by having a theoretician in charge with vague aspirations you know will get ditched the second his feet hit the no10 carpet. you need to chose a leader that sets out his stall and his wares and convinces you to buy because he gives you a guaran-damn-tee that what he’s promised will come to pass. Right now NO-ONE trusts politicians of any party … but it seems the torys were less distrusted than we were.
    PICK A LEADER WHO LEADS AND ISNT A TWO FACED LIAR… just not sure where you are going to get one from the likely candidates.

  16. John P Reid says:

    Dave Roberts, I meant, people who either joined Labour in the last 5 years, because Ed ,denounced Blair/new Labour, or they were old lefties in the 80’s, left the party when Blair became PM, came back , but now apart from Yvette the new choices for leader, are Blairites, and they’ll probably leave,

    Incase OBV don’t print, the link, this is the money they get from the government, funding,

  17. Twinkle says:

    The problem is where does Labour want to position itself along the political spectrum. Does it matter to Labour if Labour is out of power for a long period or not?

    The series of left wing leaders from 1979 to 1997 (the wilderness years) showed that the electorate is unlikely to vote a very left government to power, well before the Miliband attempt.

    A second problem is that Scotland has been drifting left since the 1960s which first decimated the Conservative vote and now the Labour vote. It is unlikely Scotland will return to favour any unionist party. This means a permanent loss of seats for Labour (40 seats).

    A third problem is that in England there is an increasing drift to the right because of the EU.
    The FPTP system has hidden this so far. There are about 46 million electors in the UK. 3.9 million voted for UKIP even though this only created one seat http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/i-loathe-ukip-one-mp-3-9-million-votes-national-disgrace-1501080.

    A fourth problem is that the Conservatives may well equalize seat sizes (in England at least) which will reduce the seat advantage of Labour.

    Many idealists will be most comfortable with a left wing Labour party but the above makes it less likely that such a party can win an election

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