Labour has a leadership vacancy but no takers

by Robin Thorpe

The Labour party is always at its best when it is seen as a modernising force; a movement that has the capability to tangibly improve the lives of people across the UK. This was true for Prime Ministers Atlee, Wilson and Blair. This is perhaps why the current crop of Labour MPs sees Corbyn, a representative of a historical aspect of Labour, as the problem rather than the solution. But the complete lack of any ideas from the challengers, let alone principles, means that any coup was doomed to fail before it had begun.

The launch of Angela Eagle’s leadership challenge typified the earnest but empty hand-wringing that is all the vast majority of the PLP seemingly have to offer the country. The speech was full of platitudes and expressions of dismay over Corbyn’s lack of leadership, but utterly devoid of any vision for a brighter future or strategy of how to achieve this. Her argument is that she is better than Jeremy because Jeremy failed.

Leadership is a process by which a person influences others to accomplish an objective and directs the organization in a way that makes it more cohesive and coherent. Corbyn has accomplished this to some extent with the Labour membership and the leaders of the trade unions. He clearly hasn’t with the PLP and opinion polls suggest that he has failed to influence the wider electorate. Angela Eagle has set out her challenge for the leadership by offering a more cohesive party. But leadership is not about better management; it is about providing direction. Defining what an organisation is about and where it will take its stakeholders.

This same lack of positive vision is why Cooper and Burnham failed to beat Corbyn in the last leadership election.  I didn’t disagree with most of what they were saying but although I hoped that they could lead Labour back into government, I didn’t genuinely expect them to. I think that they are both very capable people, I even think that Cooper did have viable policy objectives, but that like Miliband before her, she failed to connect with the voters.

For all of the successes that the Blair government had, the failure of judgement in following Bush into war in Iraq will stain his leadership record for ever. The self-styled heir to Blair, David Cameron, shares not only Blair’s ability to connect with the electorate, but also a lack of judgement in crucial decisions. Leadership is about more than just defining the mission, it is also about seeing the mission through and to do this you need to meet all four components of leadership.

The first component of leadership is Direction; a leader must define not only their vision but also their values. In order to exert influence a leader must be trusted; an essential component of a leader is therefore Integrity. Without integrity it is impossible to ensure that the values that define the purpose behind your objectives are embedded within all the actions of your team. To inspire confidence a leader must also provide Consistency. A leader must be focused on achieving their stated objectives, maintain a consistent message and not get distracted. Finally Connection: leaders almost always lead through shared values, but this could equally be through shared objectives.

Harold Wilson succeeded where Blair failed in that his leadership prevented Britain from following the USA into an unpopular war. But like Blair, Wilson was able to connect with the electorate by promoting a positive vision for the future.

The 1964 Labour Manifesto, Lets Go with Labour for the New Britain, offered Britain “a new way of life that will stir our hearts, re-kindle an authentic patriotic faith in our future, and enable our country to re-establish itself as a stable force in the world today for progress, peace and justice.”  This resonates now as much as it did then. This followed on from Wilson’s iconic ‘White Heat’ speech, a speech that defined how it was the Labour Party that was best-placed to embrace the modern world. He set out a vision of a UK full of hope, opportunity and self-determination. Crucially the speech united the Labour Party behind Wilson after a series of divisive internal disagreements and a period of 10 years as opposition.

The Labour party was in flux, concerned about the erosion of its core voter base as the class and demographic boundaries changed. For a brief period Wilson managed to achieve cohesion; was able to exert influence and chart a distinctive direction towards a brighter future.

Like all Prime Ministers Wilson was not able to achieve all of the objectives that he set out to; but the themes that Wilson highlighted; expanding educational opportunity, lifelong learning and innovation-driven growth are just as crucial today. Attlee, Wilson and Blair; were all proponents, in their different ways, of what might be called pragmatic radicalism.

Focusing not on ideological objectives of any ism, nor being defined by being purely against an ism. Instead they are defined by what they would do to improve the lives of the people of the United Kingdom. Left, right, capitalist, socialist and hegemony are not important words to the wider electorate. Yet within political circles these words inspire feelings of loathing and distrust depending on where you sit on this imaginary (and ever-changing) line.

Attlee was arguably the most successful of the three Prime Ministers compared here. Not only did he provide a clear, and popular, direction for the future of the country, but though his consistency and, above all, integrity he was able to unite the disparate parts of the Labour party and galvanise the country to vote overwhelmingly for change. A quiet man he was noted, by Thatcher, as being all substance and no style. He was able to connect with the country because he understood what it was that they yearned for and he remained consistent in the application of his policy objectives.

For all the talk of Corbyn’s integrity he repeatedly rebelled against the leadership of the party; he defied Kinnock, Blair, Brown and Miliband. It is little wonder then, that MPs feel any obligation to support him when they disagree with his direction.

But in so doing, they also lay open suspicions of their own trustworthiness. If Angela Eagle succeeds in her leadership bid then to be more succesful than Corbyn she must provide an optimistic vision of the future.

This vision must state how the Labour Party would improve their lives. It is not enough to say that the Tories are bad therefore Labour is good; the people that we need to vote for a Labour government voted Conservative in the last two elections. Telling them that the Tories are evil equates to telling voters that they were duped or that they themselves are selfish and uncaring. Neither of which is a recipe for them to believe in Labour. The Labour leader must be able to give a distinct direction for the country, must display integrity and a record of consistency. Providing Leadership requires the leader to say not simply what they are for or against, but what they are going to do. Only then will the leader connect with the electorate.

Robin Thorpe is a consulting engineer for a small practice on the south coast

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16 Responses to “Labour has a leadership vacancy but no takers”

  1. Mark Livingston says:

    I feel sorry for Angela because I think she’s being used. She’s obviously going to get humiliated during the leadership contest and, everyone knows, Corbyn is going to win again by a country mile. Owen Smith’s just a newbie, and a bit of a chancer. A no-hoper really.

  2. Mike Stallard says:

    What is the policy of Mr Corbyn and Angela Eagle on:
    1. The EFTA/EEA Norway option as platform for negotiating our exit from the EU?
    2. What do they think of Associate membership?
    3. Is the WTO option viable?
    4. What are their plans for Scotland where 2/5ths of the population voted for Brexit?
    5. What do they plan for the white unwanted boys who fail in the educational system at the moment?

    I have no idea. Has anyone please?

  3. Tafia says:

    Some 75% of Labour Party members belong to the social classes ABC1

    A upper middle class higher managerial, administrative or professional
    B middle class intermediate managerial, administrative or professional
    C1 lower middle class supervisory or clerical, junior managerial, administrative or professional
    C2 skilled working class skilled manual workers
    D working class semi and unskilled manual workers
    E those at lowest level of subsistence state pensioners or widows (no other earner), casual or lowest grade workers

    The Labour Party – to be what it is supposed to be and to prioritise those who it is supposed to prioritise, should be overwhelmingly C2, D & E with the bulk of it’s policies prioritising C2, D & E in all things. In addition, those bands make up most of the adult population as well. The fact that the Labour Party is so disproportionately skewed away from where it should be speaks volumes as to the position it now finds itself.

    And fewer than you might think live in some of the areas where Labour traditionally drew its support – nearly half of members (47%) live in London and southern England. Just over one in four – 28% – live in northern England.

  4. Historyintime says:

    No profiles in courage for the Right at present. Angela Eagle won’t win and is not first rank.

  5. Tony says:

    “For all the talk of Corbyn’s integrity he repeatedly rebelled against the leadership of the party; he defied Kinnock, Blair, Brown and Miliband.”

    This is not evidence of a lack of integrity. What he did not do was call on them to resign less than a year after they were elected.

  6. John P Reid says:

    Labour-uncut has a direction vacancy, but no idea that’s a problem

  7. madasafish says:

    You can tell the intelligence of the Labour MPs. They hate Corbyn but cannot agree on a single challenger and are likely to see Corbyn win again.

    Darwin had a theory about that.

  8. Tafia says:

    John Mann ‏@JohnMannMP Jul 13
    I was approached six months ago to back Owen Smith to be Labour leader. I politely declined the offer.

    Owen Smith MP
    I had no intention of running 6 months or even 6 weeks ago. John should name whoever he claims approached him.

    John Mann ‏@JohnMannMP 18h
    Claims approached him eh? So Owen Smith is calling me a liar. I will have to publish more details then.

  9. Anne says:

    Owen Smith is the candidate who is actually saying what he will do if he became leader. I also think that because he is reactively new to front line politics is an advantage – he is presenting new ideas and a little vision. I think he is the last chance to save the Labour Party from being confined to the history books. The Labour Party has got to modernise- deal with the issues of today and plan for tomorrow – yes learn from the mistakes of the past but policies should be evidence based and open to analyse. This is more very true when the details of BREXIT are being considered.

  10. Tafia says:

    While the so-called official opposition continues to tear itself apart with their public campaign against itself, it is fitting that the latest person to try to oust their leader is Owen Smith – the one man they can rely on to put party before country.

    An expert in judging his audience – a former CND member one day, and a man who is prepared to annihilate millions of people with a nuclear weapon the next. A man who believes austerity is a “completely self-defeating economic strategy” on one day, and a man who votes in favour of the Tories’ £30 billion austerity package the next. One nation Labour really has two faces.

    Having consistently voted against empowering the people of Wales and the Welsh Parliament however, the people of Wales can at least know for sure that fork-tongued Owen Smith will always vote against the Welsh national interest.

    – Jonathan Edwards MP, Plaid

  11. Last time it was Burnham, Cooper and Kendall. This time it’s Smith and Eagle so far. See a pattern? Maybe even a reduction in quality as the right looks for someone slightly to the left? And they wonder why they lost to Corbyn. If this is the best New Labour can come up with then it says a lot about their recruitment policies. Just one like Robin Cook and they would stand a chance, but that wasn’t the type of Labour MP they wanted, was it?

  12. John P Reid says:

    Even If Jeremy wins, the Moderates shouldn’t Split

    In the Summer of 2010, I drove Emily Thornberry to speak on Ed Milibands behalf at A leadership hustings, at Hornchurch and Upminster CLP in Essex, with Mike Gapes representing David Miliband, my reason for Backing Ed Miliband was he was aware and David didn’t understand how un popular we were with the Public, following on from the Expenses scandal , Gordon Browns Comments, that Mrs Duffy’s view on Immigration was dismissed by him as ‘that bigoted woman’ and our obsession with the middle class.

    In the End My CLP backed Andy Burnham for Leader, I can understand why, as the Thames estuary from Neighbouring Dagenham and Basildon are known as the areas of the inspirational working class.

    Stephen Kinnock and Paddy Ashdown have allegedly been In talks about forming a new centre party if The labour party doesn’t change direction, If true this is the most extraordinary turn of events, in re alignment of the left for one Hundred years. The formation of the SDP wasn’t a Sudden thing, at the last stages of talks, Roy Jenkins had approached David Steel, to see if he could join the Liberal party, both had come to the conclusion if Michael Foot did win the leadership, for there to be a breakaway party, and Jenkins would be in more of a position to take one tenth of the CLP with him, and form an electoral pact, followed by a merger years later, of which would really be a take over.

    If such a powerful figure as Kinnock Could take with him, the generation that Had his father, Neil as their hero, Labour first, those who realise he saved the Labour party, Roy Hattersley, Fabians, the Co-op, compass, as well as the 174 back bench MPS,

    The need for Labour to attract current conservative voters to win an election ,let alone UKIP ones who had previously voted labour, seemed important a year ago, now keeping current Labour voters, from either holding their nose and voting Tory or Liberal Democrat, is more of a long way off goal, our core demographic of voters a year ago, were socially liberal, economically conservative ,mainly pro EU, ones who would see the Liberal Democrats as a natural choice, many may have voted Libdem in 2005 and later, only to return to us due to the coalition.

    the views of working class voters, we needed to get back from UKIP were socially Conservative, against Neo liberalism and EU sceptic, the views of Maurice Glasman’s Blue Labour ,Glasman in the Mail on Sunday
    has now said a break away party would be a mistake. Blue labour , having backed Ed Miliband in 2010 , had campaigned for Liz Kendall to be leader siting her commitment to devolution, despite her backing of the EU, ironically I found several people voting Kendall first, Jeremy Corbyn second, as at the Time he was still in favour of Brexit,

    An exception of One person to associated with Blue Labour is Journalist Rod Liddle having backed Andy Burnham, my own support for Yvette Cooper may have seen odd, but Denis Healey in one of his last statements before he passed away was to back Yvette, as well as Healey’s support for Brexit,

    I would then Classify the views of Cooper to be much more in line with the ‘Socially Liberal, pro EU’ Labour member/supporter who’s views don’t currently fit in with the Labour leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, but more with the ‘Core vote, possible Libdem’ voter who could be attracted to a new centre party.

    And although some of those who may have left us for Ukip,or still vote Labour due to having a Blairite EU sceptic MP, John Mann, Simon Dankzuc and Frank Field, could be attracted to voting for a new Merged Moderate/Libdem party, would any such party ever attract those who now vote Conservative, that Blue Labour has so cleverly targeted.

    The EU scepticism of Social Democrats of Tom Harris, David Owen ,have known not to merge with the Libdems ,having not voted for Labours manifesto to leave the EU in 1983, finding they have more in Common with Centrist Brexit Labour MPs such as John Cryer, just as EU sceptic Labour MPs Gisela Staurt and Kate Hoey have common ground with those M.P.s loyal to the party, Angela Eagle, Andy Burnham and Louisiana Berger.

  13. paul barker says:

    To clear things up, Ashdown is not calling for a New Party but a cross-party movement to establish common ground across The Centre-Left. Such a movement could develop a set of common ideas which Candidates of different Parties could sign up to. No-one is envisaging a new version of the Liberal/SDP Alliance.
    For Labour Centrists the simplest option is to join The Libdems but I appreciate that a lot of you want to wait & see what happens over the next weeks & months.

  14. john P Reid says:

    Paul Barker and Labour centrists who aren’t socially liberal accept that there needs to be some sort of authoritarian police sot protect us,, is EU sceptic

    there were those like Cyril smith who just wanted The SDP to join the liberals, what would have happened was David Owen would have said hold your nose vote Tory, and many ex tories who came over to the SDP like Anna Soubry and chris Brocklebank would have probably stayed in the tories

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