The leadership contest is a total disaster for Labour

by Samuel Dale

The leadership election has been a disaster for Labour. It is painfully clear that we are not learning the right lessons from defeat.

The spectacle of Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper, charging headlong into the tax credit trap set by George Osborne, giving him the opportunity to keep hammering Labour as the welfare party, shows how deep a hole we are in.

Let’s be clear.

We lost in 2015 because we had a desperately unpopular leader who was not trusted to manage the nation’s finances. That’s it.

To win in 2020 we need a more popular leader than the Tories have with our economic credibility rebuilt. If we do that then we have a chance.

We don’t need a big debate. We don’t need to talk to Jeremy Corbyn about his views on Greek debt and Hezbollah. It doesn’t matter whether Liz Kendall has no children. I am not bothered if Andy Burnham is a member of the metropolitan elite. Or whatever platitudes Yvette Cooper is pitching this week.

Instead of debating fringe issues we should be straining every sinew to prove we can be trusted in the Treasury again. We should be comparing the candidates against their potential Tory opponent in 2020.

Once you have the fundamentals right then you can try and win the election with a string of policies to attract key voter groups. But that is for another day because the only thing that matters in this leadership election is the fundamentals.

We should have had a new leader in place by June 1 after asking ourselves the simple, questions about how to win. The long drawn-out affair has proven just as damaging as it was in 2010 when Labour’s reputation was trashed by the coalition.

That’s our lesson from defeat and we are not learning it.

Meanwhile, the Tories are learning the right lessons from their victory and driving home their advantage.

They know the country defaulted to them out of fear of a left-wing Miliband/SNP Government, not from a positive choice.

That’s why they are sprawling on to Labour territory with landlord taxes, non-dom bashing and a living wage.

As I have written previously, the Tories are using this summer with a Labour leadership vacuum and fresh majority to rebrand themselves as a centrist worker’s party.

While Labour is ludicrously complacent about occupying the election-winning centre ground it is up against a Tory party that is ruthless in occupying it.

Osborne spent the last five years sewing up the essential pensioner vote with a string of goodies. And now he wants to reach out to more Labour voters in the north and in the aspiring working and middle classes.

He targets voter groups that can win elections so he can wield power and change the soul of the nation.

Ed Miliband ran his most high profile campaigns against the bedroom tax and for taxing non-doms – with the sum total of zero votes in either.

He wanted to remove benefits from voting pensioners and hand them out to non-voting students. The rights and wrongs are irrelevant – it’s terrible politics. And none of the potential leaders seem to understand – or even accept – the rules of politics.

That’s the state of the two parties this summer. The Tories humbly learning the right lessons from victory while Labour is indulging in epic delusions despite an huge defeat.

Labour is growing more divorced from political reality just at the moment the Tory party becomes more wedded to it. Unless we start to understand politics again then the future is bleak.

Sam Dale is a financial and political journalist

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27 Responses to “The leadership contest is a total disaster for Labour”

  1. Ian says:

    I am a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, but that doesn’t actually matter here.

    Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper, along with Jeremy, are right here. 100%.

    The Tory policy that Harriet Harman is proposing that Labour give tacit support to is morally wrong. It is wrong to support a policy that will result in more children living in poverty and make the lives of the least fortunate people in this country even harder than they already are.

    If Labour leadership candidates don’t understand that, don’t feel it in their bones that this is absolutely the wrong thing to do, then they no longer deserve the votes of people who believe in humanitarianism and equality than do Tories.

    This right-wing narrative ‘welfare versus work’ narrative is a poisonous one that must be resisted, not pandered to as you are suggesting Labour do here. We are already seeing disability hate crimes (what a horrible concept) because the scrounger narrative has become so pervasive.

    If you want to talk about economic credibility, look at the amount of wealth the top 0.1% of people in this country have compared to the rest. Look at corporate tax avoidance. Not heaping more and more blame and financial stress on the people at the very bottom, receiving welfare because they need it to live.

  2. Harry says:

    You are so, so right, what are these people playing at, they will be decimated at this rate

  3. swatantra says:

    Oh YES it is!
    That’s why whoever we elect will be a mistake and we need another go in 2018 at getting the right person in.
    Its been an absolute disaster, from HH as Acting Leader to all 300 Labour MPs performing well below average.
    There has to be a radical shake up of the whole Party.

  4. Landless Peasant says:

    Having just seen Jeremy Corbyn on C4. New s. I would vote Labour again if he were leader!

  5. Dave Roberts. says:

    Landless peasant. You won’t have much company. He was appalling.

  6. Madasafish says:

    Samuel Dale is 100% correct..

    Pensioners vote in far greater percentages than any other sector of voters. They are more than twice as likely to vote as under 25s.

    So whom did Ed chase with Russell Brand and Izzard? The youth vote..

    Ian above is being politically pure. Great. he can have a clear conscience in permanent opposition and achieve nothing. That’s mindless politics.. (see Greece – another example).. PS corporate tax avoidance is 100% legal so his last paragraph is meaningless.

    I see what the candidates for leadership say and think they are perpetuating all that people complain about – ex SPADs, ex Oxbridge and out of touch…

    As for Jeremy Corbyn- I assume supporters have forgotten all political history and have zero political sense. He would make an excellent choice of candidate to achieve a further reduction in MPs to sub 200.. After all, the man supports known terrorists.. So what chance has he of winning any Jewish votes, any UKIP votes and Tory votes, and LibDem votes or any moderate Labour votes? Little to none. The Conservatives would laugh themselves silly and every week the papers would print an expose of his past outrageous statements on a variety of subjects…. By comparison Michael Foot would have appeared electable .

    It would appear to me the Labour Party needs Jeremy Corbyn as Leader and a total disaster to force them to come to their senses…and if the Leadership candidates had any sense they would say so.

    The Government needs a strong Opposition. So far the potential Leaders look to provide anything but that..It’s not good for democracy to have the major Opposition Party looking as if it is living on Planet Zog..

  7. Mr Akira Origami says:

    Jeremy Corbyn the man that would be Prime Minister…….

  8. John. P Reid says:

    Ian ,saying labour MPs don’t deserve the votes of those who believe in equality, if, as I understand your view aren’t ,left wing enough, tweets those who believe in equality with contempt, no one forces any one to vote,and describing those who believe in equality, as only have one issue they vote on, over looks the elections we did win, with regards to it could be well down in their electoral thinking,

    Landless peasanr, well that’s one vote we’ll get it he wins

  9. John P Reid says:

    The deputy leadership contest,is more interesting,I’m not part of the any one but Watson campaign,but understand why he’s upset people, but the vote flint or Creasy to stop Watson, ignores the fact that Bradshaw and Eagle are both better choices,

  10. Charley Farley says:

    Actually what Labour need to do is pretend to look like they can run the economy, like Brown did. Labour will never genuinely be able to run the economy successfully, they just need to hoodwink enough people into believing that they can.

  11. Madasafish says:

    Watson as Deputy Leader is just a tad less unappealing than Corbyn as Leader.

    I take it Labour supporters who vote are introspective..

  12. Richard MacKinnon says:

    I do not disagree with Samuel Dale’s analysis of the present UK political scene. It must be depressing for Labour supporters to have to watch the endless debates between the candidates for the Labour leadership. They come across as rabbits in the headlights, terrified that an ill thought comment will be jumped upon or a well thought out comment misinterpreted.
    Samuel Dale’s article unwittingly focuses on the problem the candidates have. He understands Labour’s predicament, he articulates the strength of the Tory government but just like the candidates he has no solutions or even possible alternatives. He writes “But that is for another day because the only thing that matters in this leadership election is the fundamentals.” What fundamentals?
    He goes on “We should have had a new leader in place by June 1 after asking ourselves the simple, questions about how to win.” A messiah! If this is the best advice a political journalist has for Labour’s way forward then the future is bleak indeed.
    In the interests of fairness I suppose I should offer my thoughts on a possible ‘way forward’. First, the present alignment of UK politics, a new Tory government with an overall majority and a mandate to carry on ‘fixing it’ (the mess) is not in my opinion redeemable. Labour cannot turn that around. Definitely not by 2020. Therefore, something has to change. Either Labour carries on opposing the government and waits for the Tory’s to make a mess of it themselves. And this is a possibility, but it is not a strategy. Or the model has to change.
    If I were advising the Labour party on long term strategy I would say, make your enemies enemy your friend. Support the break up of the UK and back independence for Scotland, in other words make the SNP your ally not a sworn enemy. Why? Because Labour and the SNPs interests are the same. Because independence for Scotland in Europe will happen. Embrace the EU. Adopt unilateralism, apart from being right morally and logically it will save £100b.
    I have other lots of other policy advice but its dangerous to stuff yourself on an empty stomach.

  13. Mike Homfray says:

    The rights and wrongs are never irrelevant.

    And if the electorate want Tory policy, they will vote Tory.

    I only want power to do things which coincide with our policies and mission. Not to be another version of the Tories.

    What is really needed is electoral reform so the party and inded, other parties, can break up into more reasonable parts reflecting the differences within the party

  14. Bosun Higgs says:

    The last nine general elections have gone to he party with the better-looking leader. Therefore we must decide whether Burnham or Kendall is prettier.

  15. Keith says:

    The author of this article is completely wrong. To say that we don’t need a debate is nonsense. Without a debate anything we say – even if it means endorsing the tax credit changes – becomes meaningless. It is the easiest thing in the world to say you are for something, but it has to be against a background of your core beliefs and how it fits into a coherent strategy for government. For having policies without a vision of the society we want is like trying to build a house without laying the foundations. Milliband failed, not because he said the wrong things, otherwise, Osborne would not have been copying some of them in his budget such as the increase in the living wage and non-dom status changes. Rather, he failed because he was unconvincing and not trusted in that he never provided a coherent strategy of what sort of country he wanted this to become. All he did, was pull out of the air the occasional policy that he thought would go well with the electorate. His predecessors behaved in the same way as Blair’s middle way was an attempt to be all things to all people as a strategy for maximising their vote.

    Labour should have had a debate about what they now stand for before Brown became leader but the party ducked it because it was too much hard work. The same happened in 2010 and will happen again later this year unless a proper debate is conducted. We will again end up with a leader who will surround themselves with spin doctors who will advice them what to say to raise their opinion poll ratings rather than coming across as someone who believes in something with conviction. That is the reason why Labour lost 5 million votes between 1997 and 2010.

    There really is an existential problem for Labour. Unless they understand that they will go the same way as Pasok in Greece.

  16. John says:

    It’s even worse than you think, because even Liz Kendall is no saviour. Are Jeremy “Hamas” Corbyn, Andy “Road to Damascus” Burnham, and Yvette “Labour appealed too much to the white vote” Cooper the road to another disaster? Probably.

    What of Liz though? Resurrecting Blairism, the new hope of the political centre, the instinctive understanding of the ordinary voter?

    Well, it’s a shame she falls apart on TV under cross-examination, Tony didn’t.

    It’s a shame she thinks a priority is more all-women shortlists in local government (a sad necessity for Parliament, but in many Labour local areas there just aren’t enough people both daft enough to take on the commitment of being a councillor, and smart enough to do the job competently) let alone enough to start ruling out the ones who have the wrong genitalia.

    It’s a shame that after the zinger of “the country comes first”, she thinks the country in question is Europe, as she set out at the Brussels hustings when she said she would be pro-Europe “first, last and always” (in the age of social media, it’s a lot harder to pander to one audience without the others finding out).

    It’s a shame her desire to reach out to Tory voters doesn’t extend to accepting that the Labour Party in the country got it terribly wrong on immigration, and have got nowhere near winning that trust back. Saying you want to “smash” mugs that say Labour will control immigration, and committing to making a positive case for more immigration, don’t speak to me of a deep understanding of where ordinary voters are at right now.

    I despair. I’m going to have to vote for these three in some sort of order, or I can’t put Corbyn last, but God knows. Anyone got some spare dice? At least if we lose with Kendall or Corbyn, one extreme side of the party will have to shut up about following their path being the only important bit of strategy.

  17. SunnyJim says:

    The single best summary of Labour’s current malaise has come from ex Blair media man Lance Price, who succinctly summed it up…

    “England never elects left wing Governments”

    Until Labour learns that lesson, it is doomed.

  18. David Walker says:

    “Ed Miliband ran his most high profile campaigns against the bedroom tax and for taxing non-doms – with the sum total of zero votes in either.

    He wanted to remove benefits from voting pensioners and hand them out to non-voting students. The rights and wrongs are irrelevant – it’s terrible politics. And none of the potential leaders seem to understand – or even accept – the rules of politics.”

    I still think Labour should go with Corbyn, but this part of the article is still correct. Young people don’t vote. There is a reward for voting. If your own section of society votes, it gets more stuff from the government. If it doesn’t, it gets nothing and neither do you.

    Labour will never get votes from the young unless it is extremely radical, with policies that border on insanity. It was never going to be that sort of party, with either of the Milibands in charge.

    @Bosun Higgs, yes you are correct. The problem is that the Tories are just a lot better looking. Blair was the exception that pretty-much proved the rule. Having said that, I think that JC looks the best of the 4! His voice is certainly the least annoying.

    Labour doesn’t just need a miracle, it needs to first put itself in a position where it can benefit from the unlikely event of one. That’s why I think Corbyn is the only choice. Labour will probably get thrashed, if he is leader, but they have a slim chance if Corbyn can get the young to vote.

    They have zero chance with the other three candidates. All would perform respectably, but none would avoid defeat. The same people would turn out to vote and the Tories would get another 5 years.

    Labour won’t ever be trusted over money again, by enough mainstream voters. The party needs people who don’t care about the economy to vote for it. These people are mainly to be found amongst the young.

    The sad truth for Labour is that many of the people who turn up for anti-austerity marches will not vote until they have got married, bought a house and started a family. Their first vote will then be cast for the Tories.

  19. LeftIsForward says:

    It’s crazy that Labour have put Kendall up for leader of the party when frankly the party should be considering very carefully her expulsion. If you let Tory infiltrators into a left-wing movement then it eats its heart out from the inside. The rot should have been stopped with Blairism – “this far but no further” or “never again” would be two viable approaches – but Kendall seems intent on positioning what was originally a socialist party of the workers deep into Conservative ideological territory. That must not be allowed to happen. Even the fact she is in the race undermines trust in the party. What is this woman even doing on the Labour benches?

  20. Delta says:

    You are not having a “debate” because you are not allowed to have a “debate”.
    You are not learning because there is no real substantive assessment and in-depth understanding of what has happened and what will happen.
    Labour HQ has withdrwn into its own fantasy land and the Party is in Limbo while your Labour Leadership puppets talk about nothing that matters to anyone especially to placate Left Wing and Blairite media luvvies who do not matter.

    Your Leaders have withdrawn deep, so deep into their comfirt zone they are utterly unable to process reality…but they refuse to allow the world in. They are safe there, they are comfirtable. Double speak of jargon and words and expressions dreamed up in a dark hole somewhere so as to appear to be sound bies and PR is all you have.

  21. Richard MacKinnon says:

    Delta you are spot on. In Scotland Labour has no leader. It appears to be run by two special advisors McDougal (ex leader of Better Together) and a John McTernan. Faceless, thugs, answerable to who the hell knows, post graduate students of Machiavelli. One MP and the polls suggest that things are going to get worse at next years Holyrood elections.
    I believe that we are witnessing the death of Labour, that nothing can save them. They are reaping what they sowed with Blair and Brown.

  22. John P Reid says:

    Leftis forward, OK the unions Fabians the co-op set up labour as a democratic socilIst organization, but as far back as 1918 ,it was suggested Sooclaim isn’t left wing
    As for infultrators, if the Labour Party is aside church of new liberal thinking Social Co-op conservatism, then those on the right of the party ate t infultrators ,to infiltrate would imply, joining by using under hand tactics to buy influence to get power, and u democratic rules to get in a position of power, there have always been those on the right of the party, who se m at odds t other left, and undemocratic ways such as militant ant expelled them, causing us to lose millions of votes when those who went off to join the SDP were deselected in their seats.

    I may not like Corbyns views but if he wins so be it, all be it unions are creating false members signing thof m up to vot for him, but non members are only infultrators if they join, by breaking the rules ,Kendall isn’t a infultrator and your silly view to expel her when she hasnt broke the rules, is no better than militant, and we all recall after they had their day in 1983′ the state of the party,

    Madasafish, I know Watson messed up on falkirt, and ousting Blair, but he changed young socialists too young labour, and helped create Labour first,his problem is he doesn’t realize members are volunteers,and he tries to be too forward, changing things and has upset people,but the changes he brought in were needed, but as a lot of members are burnt out, telling them what to do would seem like bullying

  23. Robert Eve says:

    There is nothing better than seeing Labour in a complete mess.

  24. Twinkle says:

    Labour is funded by the unions and the votes they can cast will ensure only a left leaning leader will be chosen just as they ensured Miliband was chosen. There cannot be any move to centre ground because the votes will not be there.

  25. John P Reid says:

    Twinkle, less than half labours money comes from the unions, in 1997 it was 30%, yes delta is right

  26. paul barker says:

    The New Statesman is apparently reporting that a Private Poll has Corbyn ahead on 1st preferences. Of course private polls are often dodgy & its notoriously difficult to Poll Party members accurately, but still – exciting times.

  27. David says:

    A depressing analysis – depressing as some is correct, and much more depressing given how much this is accepted as the truth.

    We lost because we got less votes than the tories. That’s a fact.

    Beyond that, it is fair to say we lost because more people preferred to vote for them rather than us.

    But that says nothing about policy. And it won’t, because policy is not largely something that drives voting behaviour. Most people don’t know one policy from another. Anyone who says we lost because we were too right wing or left wing is simply wrong. You can’t attribute votes to UKIP or Scot Nats or Lib Dems on right or left grounds. It doesn’t work any more.

    We need a leader who gets this, that the policy is far less important than the way we talk to people, the way we frame our arguments, the way we appear to be on people’s sides rather than against them. Hopefully in the future we may have a leadership candidate who is this, because we certainly don’t have one at the moment.

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