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