Yvette Cooper should teach the world to code

by Jonathan Todd

James Forsyth recently branded the last Labour leadership election – the one that dragged through a summer, as this one will; the one that allowed the Tories to determine the terms of trade for a parliament, as this one may – “dull, dull, dull“. I don’t recall it being a laugh either. More importantly, it wasn’t a political success. It took an age and strengthened the Tories.

If that was a dreary, drawn-out failure, what is this? Farce springs to mind after the scramble to place Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot, but ultimately he will be irrelevant.

When seconded to the short lived Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS), the resignation of James Purnell from the government, while I was on holiday, precipitated the absorption of DIUS into Peter Mandelson’s Department of Business – a reward for keeping the Gordon Brown show on the road – and the DIUS Secretary of State, John Denham, was shuffled across to the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). Detached from supportive ministers, it became easier for sceptical officials to conclude my secondment. Nonetheless, something – disappointing in ending my secondment, yet educational in opening my eyes to Whitehall – happened.

On Wednesday, when I’ll be in the air somewhere between Birmingham and New Jersey, as the first televised hustings of the leadership election occur, I hope my absence again coincides with something politically significant. Anything. Because we have a leadership election consumed by the narcissism of small differences between the main candidates who are failing to convince their parliamentary colleagues (Uncut has endured several moans about the calibre of the race) and their party, while leaving the wider public even colder. Dull, dull, duller.

I struggled to stay awake reading a feature in June’s Progress magazine that poses the same series of questions to Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and the now departed Mary Creagh. Tired cliché upon tired cliché. The only bit that grabbed me was Cooper saying, in answer to a question on what she’d be doing if not in politics, that she’d be “learning to code”.

In three words, this showed a flash of recognition of how the world beyond politics is changing.

It also felt somehow more believable than the claims of Burnham that he’d be a “teacher, like my brothers” (even if true, it feels a bit too much like ticking the teacher box) or Kendall that she’d be “campaigning on early years education” (yes, I know early years is a theme of her campaign. I know she’s right also to make her peace with a system of university finance that the statistics show has not precipitated any decline in working class access to higher education, creating fiscal room to prioritise early years, the period when working class kids are at greatest risk of falling behind.)

But it’s still another box ticking answer, even if the box contains intelligent and, in the context of a Labour election, brave policy. I prefer to imagine Liz running a hip hop label, as she’s been at her best when majoring on her fun loving self. And is a campaigning job even outside politics?

But why should Yvette not learn to code as a politician? Why doesn’t she secure an engaging tutor and upload videos of their lessons on to YouTube?

I’ve not heard any of the candidates use the term MOOC. Even though it is one of the biggest educational revolutions in decades, massively extending access to high quality learning, and we are a party that says we are committed to opportunity for all. Never mind praising MOOCs, Yvette should set up her own coding MOOC.

Don Draper wanted to buy the world a coke. All the candidates are cool with this because they’ve stepped back from Miliband’s anti-business rhetoric and recalibrated Labour as a pro-business party. While this is welcome, it is as much motherhood and apple pie as noting the necessity of oxygen to human life. In isolation, it won’t shake the public into renewed interest in Labour.

Nor will the commitment, demonstrated by the all the candidates in the Progress interviews, to get power away from Whitehall officials and into local government and communities. As convinced as I am by my DIUS experience that this instinct is correct, it will remain more motherhood and apple pie in a world of devolution to Scotland, Wales and the “northern powerhouse” unless Labour can conjure a devolution offer that is both bolder and more doorstep ready.

Yvette shouldn’t just want to celebrate the businesses that buy the world cokes, while committing to create enough businesses and cokes for availability to be plentiful for all, she should teach the world to code.

By putting herself in a vulnerable position by publicly taking lessons, she’d become more human. By stressing the importance of this skill to individual and national prosperity, she’d be an inspiration. The power of a MOOC and her example would be the change that she wants to see in the world.

As the Mayor of Oklahoma got the city to buy-in to his own weight loss efforts, transforming it from one the fattest to thinnest American cities, Yvette has the potential to greatly increase the UK’s coding capacity. Just think what she might do as prime minister. And what Labour’s devolution offer might look like with more local leaders akin to that of Oklahoma. It wouldn’t be dull.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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2 Responses to “Yvette Cooper should teach the world to code”

  1. Robert says:

    This article is as dull and meaningless as the campaign itself. Corbyn is th eonly candidate who seems to be capable of expressing himself in language that is meaningful. It is actually possible to agree or disagree with him!

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