The Tories need to be introduced into Labour’s leadership race

by Atul Hatwal

Labour’s leadership race needs to become a lot less comradely. Last night’s debate was a pedestrian trot through the expected.

There was little direct challenge with even less to enlighten members on how these candidates would bear up when facing the Tory meat-grinder.

This has to change.

Gordon Brown serenely glided through his selection without having once been put under the type of pressure the Tories subsequently exerted on him every day.

While his disastrous leadership was little surprise to several of those who had worked with him at close quarters in government, for the rest of the Labour party his inability to deal with sustained political attack was a nightmarish revelation.

Ed Miliband triumphed without once having been robustly challenged on his innate lack of electability or an economic platform that totally ignored the judgement of the British people at the 2010 election.

Yet again, the Labour party was largely unprepared for what the Tories did to him.

This time, the membership need to see the leadership contenders run through their paces in a live-fire environment.

US primaries vet their aspirants in a way British parties’ leadership elections rarely do. Obama was a far better candidate for having faced Hillary and her 3am call ad.

The Tories need to be introduced into Labour’s leadership election.

What would they do to these candidates?

Andy Burnham is in many respects the ideal contender on paper. Experienced, decent and committed.

But he was also chief secretary to the Treasury just before the crash and opposed a full public inquiry for Mid Staffs as secretary of state for health.

This clip from the general election, highlights the continuing political danger from Mid Staffs and his inability to answer the most obvious and basic Tory attack.

Last night, Andy Burnham seemed to be positioning himself as the Kevin Keegan of the Labour party. The passionate, northern, nice guy. Yet we all know what happened when Kevin Keegan faced off against Alex Ferguson.

If Labour elect Andy Burnham leader, the Tories will tear him apart. It would be like giving Ramsay Bolton a puppy for Christmas.

Yvette Cooper is not quite as vulnerable as Andy Burnham to the Tory onslaught. She is impressive at the despatch box and speaks with authority. But her role at the heart of the Brown government and then Ed Miliband’s opposition team, is fodder for attacks.

Of all of the candidates, she is the one most wedded to defending the last Labour government’s spending record and seems trapped re-fighting the 2010 election.

Her ideological conservatism and political inertia combine to make her the continuity Brown candidate. Dan Hodges captured the essence of Yvette Cooper in a tweet last night,

The Tories would lash her to the political carcass of Gordon Brown as surely and securely as Ahab to the whale.

Liz Kendall has the benefit of being unknown. She wasn’t part of the last government and as she pointedly said last night, doesn’t carry the baggage of the past.

The Tories have less to work with on her and would take time to resolve their best attack. Her recognition of the reasons for Labour’s defeat and the difficult decisions needed to regain economic credibility, further limit their scope for attack.

But even then, as a lifelong resident in the Westminster bubble and yet another ex-special adviser, she has weaknesses of her own and given her relative inexperience, needs to be tested.

Labour’s members deserve a contest where Liz Kendall, and all of the candidates, are given a proper test.

For the vast majority of the membership, the ability to withstand the inevitable Tory onslaught and take the fight to them is the criteria on which they will make their choice.

In their world, politics is a pastime not a passion.

They do not regularly go out canvassing, deliver leaflets or attend meetings; do not take to twitter to berate the ideologically impure and their lives are not professionally or personally dominated by politics.

For them, the last election was a disappointment not a disaster.

In a party of over 240,000, with only 5-10% active, 220,000 or more fall into this category.

The ideological totems that mean so much in the Labour’s internal debate, as currently played out in the media – aspiration, austerity, budget surpluses or deficits – are an indecipherable code for most members.

They tell members nothing about what matters most.

At the general election, there were two cardinal vote-determining criteria: economic competence and leadership.

For electors in the Labour leadership election, there is only one: beating the Tories. Vague ideological sentiment, either to the left or right, is a secondary consideration.

This is the signal. All is noise

If Labour is to avoid the repeating mistakes like Gordon Brown or Ed Miliband, the gloves have got to come off in the contest.

The shadow boxing needs to end so members can see who is able to take a Tory punch, who has a glass jaw and who has the political ringcraft to defeat David Cameron.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut


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10 Responses to “The Tories need to be introduced into Labour’s leadership race”

  1. swatantra says:

    Excellent idea Atul.
    Yesterday JC proved to be far the best speaker and most passionate., That comes from years of speak to pickets outside factory gates and stirring agitators into action, and in the market squares of Islington. You won’t find the present Spads intake capable of arousing masses into action. The closes they’ve got to unruly mobs is the WI.
    That’s why we need to put them in front of a hostile Tory/UKIP/Green mob and see whether they can come out alive smelling of roses.
    That’s why I’ve suggested hustings at Speakers Corner Hyde Park and Other Open Air Meetings where the Public can come along and throw tomatoes at you, if the like yu and lager cans if they don’t.

  2. David Walker says:

    A huge problem for the left is that so few of its high-profile representatives look like they enjoy life. I can imagine both Foot and Tony Benn laughing heartily, in certain situations. I can picture them actually having fun.

    The current crop, be they in politics or journalism, just seem so grim and grey. They give the impression that the best that anyone can hope for in life is to avoid some kind of disaster.

    I don’t think it was always this way. People like Derek Hatton, Neil Kinnock, Roy Hattersley, Denis Healey, Peter Mandelson, Tony Blair, John Prescott and even Ed Balls to a certain extent… That’s a pretty broad-church, but I can imagine them actually having a good time (maybe not together!), just as I can with Cameron, Johnston, Osborne and more Tories than you would thank me for mentioning.

    I think that the ability to enjoy life is one of the most important qualities that a human being can have and I just don’t see it in anybody who wants to stand up for Labour right now.

    As for Corbyn, I only found out yesterday that he got a divorce over his wife’s refusal to put their child through a failing and violent comprehensive school.

    Good grief. That’s like a teenager who disappears into the night with a rope, because they are unhappy that they have been ordered to tidy their room.

    Nobody would ever accuse him of being unprincipled, in fact he has taken principle to a bizarre level, but the guy looks like he has never even smiled without feeling guilty for doing so.

  3. If you truly believe that a Labour government creates a better and fairer society then you have to pick the leader that will deliver victory.

    All four contenders bring something to the table, but only one seems to understand the size of the mountain that is victory come 2020.

    In 2010 we were told it was Labour’s worst result since 1918. In 2015 we managed an even worse result. Therefore, doing more of teh same will deliver another thrashing in five year’s time. We have to change

    Corbyn is unattractive to all but those who inhabit the left-wing of the party. Burnham and Cooper are continuation candidates. Only Kendall offers true change.

    If you want ideological purity then please be aware that this will deliver nothing for those who need us. If you want to help make the UK a fairer and more equitable society then chose someone who can win.

  4. Matty says:

    “I think that the ability to enjoy life is one of the most important qualities that a human being can have and I just don’t see it in anybody who wants to stand up for Labour right now.”
    I’m surprised you say this, Andy Burnham is well-known for being a massive football fan which he loves to bits. As for Jeremy Corbyn I have met him several times, including at social events, and he is a lovely, genuine man.
    As for “a failing and violent comprehensive school.” Where on earth did you get that little gem from?

  5. Mike Stallard says:

    What strikes me from outside the Labour movement is how it has changed.
    In the past I have admired the Socialists in my own family. The poverty which was, in one case, insisted on – including death in a public ward. Refusal, as Mayor, to take any expenses. Time given to the real poor. Living in Council houses.
    Here are some things that badly need Labour’s attention in 2015.
    Kate Hoey and the EU.
    Producing Comprehensive Schools which provide what our economy needs instead of blindly feeding the University system. And more male teachers – who nowadays need a lot of protection.
    Reforming the Civil Service which is creaking – especially the Foreign Office and HMRC.
    Discussing Welfare Reform (including the NHS) instead of walking by on the other side. We need to focus it onto the vulnerable instead of spraying tax and borrowed money at everyone who says they need it. Differentiation.
    And the BBC? “WIA?” seen it?

  6. swatantra says:

    Matty is right. Andy has other interests than politics: Football, so he’s not a complete political nerd. And being the Unity candidate he is best to bring together the common sense and compassion of JC and the basic pragmatism and realism of Liz that the world doesn’t owe Britain a living any more; and I’m sure he can accommodate Yvette in his vision too of a diverse fairer and equal society. Andy is the only one who could win Labour the GE.

  7. The problem is one of appearance – in all those telly and media shots. Without some kind of charisma (and it shouldn’t be difficult to out-face Smoothie Chops Dave) the disaffected, disinterested public will give no credence. Policies come after the photo shoot. Machiavelli knew that, so did Frontinus and so did Clinton and Obama. Labour needs to get the right face first, sort out the policy wars next, agree on a determined front full of sneers and guffaws at the Tories, and sting like a bee.
    Up until now, too much floating like a butterfly. God knows the country needs an effective opposition – more than ever. (God is an Englishman, we are told, but is he an anti-inequality supporter? ) And there is the key – anti-inequality. Fight the 1%!!
    Hammer the tax havens, the tax dodgers, the stinking rich, the immoral banks, the lounging Tories, the City!! Make it strong! Please….. Otherwise, it will be the descent into the abyss…..

  8. Tafia says:

    Burnham is a weak and unprincipled man with no moral compass and no convictions.

    Less than 2 months ago he was pushing policies he now says were wrong. Less than two moths ago he was claiming Miliband would be an excellent Prime Minister – now he says he was the wrong man and a disaster. Less than two months ago he was banging the drum about polices he now says are crap. less than two months ago he was all for austerity now he isn’t.

    He won’t last 5 minutes in PMQs and will be very quickly reduced to a laughing stock, every week, on national TV.

  9. John. Reid says:

    Tariq, unfortunately you’re right, Yvette will probably win, Andy wouldve of been the best leader labour didn’t have last time(OK he voted for Iraq, I know many labour supporters who want Blair at The Hague who backed Andy last time)

    That’s why I don’t think Watson should be deputy,he’s part of the Ed miliband idea, that, if we just denounce Blair we’ll win,but Bradshaw or Eagle understand how unpopular we were done south ,up north,and Wayson just going in about denouncing new lanout wont cut it.

  10. Philip Collinson says:

    It was Jonah not Ahab who was secured to the fish/whale!

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