Labour’s leadership contest is a disaster

by Kevin Meagher

Does the Labour party ever want to win an election again? I ask in all seriousness because its acting to all intents and purposes as though the answer is, to invert Ed Miliband’s maxim, ‘Hell, no!’

This pained, drawn-out saga – which will not see a new Labour leader announced until April 4 – would better be described as a ‘lack of leadership contest.’ It long ago descended into a dreary, insular and circular exchange. Platitudes are issued, hands are wrung and virtues and signalled.

But are voters convinced?

Hardly. The whole thing serves as a rolling reminder of why Labour was trounced for the fourth time back in December and unless something radical changes the script for a fifth defeat will already have been written.

Broadly, there are three problems with Labour’s leadership contest.

The first and most obvious is that candidates are playing to the gallery. It almost goes without saying, but Labour members are not representative of the country. This much was true enough in the Blair years, but in the Age of Corbyn the gap has become cavernous.

As a result, the internal discussion skews towards pleasing activists rather than talking to the country at large. No-one in the real-world cares about mandatory selection of MPs or any of the other obscure preoccupations of activists.

In turn, this leads to the second problem, the topics under discussion. You would never imagine Labour had crashed to miserable defeat just two months ago. There is scarcely any debate or reflection about why this happened.

What’s the explanation for losing former mining strongholds like Bassetlaw, Bolsover and Leigh? How are we going to win back these northern heartlands – never mind re-establishing a foothold in key southern marginals?

Neither have any of the candidates come up with any signature policies. There isn’t a single compelling idea doing the rounds in this contest. Instead, the campaign is repeatedly hijacked by one cause or another demanding a purity test from candidates.

Take the issue of trans rights. There is a heated and at times destructive debate taking place between some feminists and trans activists over women’s rights. There simply isn’t going to be a meeting of minds any time soon between the two camps, but that battle cannot and should not be fought out in the Labour party, despite candidates being urged to sign petitions backing one side of the other.

If we’re going to have a conversation about trans rights, then let’s turn it into an issue about NHS waiting times, given the shameful treatment too many transsexual patients face to access basic treatment, relying, instead, on dangerous internet-procured hormone drugs.

It highlights, however, the major emergent fault line in the party. Labour is now effectively a social liberal party, not really a social democratic one. It used to be a working-class party with enough progressive liberals on-board to form a winning coalition that, nevertheless, put working class interests first. Now it is a party of woke middle-class liberals who tolerate a few proles, offering a slightly higher living wage than the Tories.

The third problem is that the important issues that voters are really bothered about don’t get a look in. The only issue a social democratic party should be focusing on are jobs, homes, the benefits system, public services and reducing poverty. Anything else is an indulgence.

I want a relentless focus on redistributing power, wealth and opportunity to ‘the many, not the few,’ (the only phrase Blairites and Corbynites agree on). To tax fairly, spend wisely and redistribute widely.

I want public spending on transport in Leeds to match that of London. To ship entire government departments to the regions. For HS3 to be signed-off, never mind HS2. To equalise public spending across the country.

This is what makes Labour, Labour and what those living in that famous Red Wall want to hear too. They want the party to be champions of economic justice, not social justice warriors. Yet, no-one in this farce that passes for a leadership race is talking about jobs. No-one in Labour ever does any more.

The reason so many ex-mining communities finally abandoned the party in December is that having suffered forty years of decline they have simply given up on the party. Thatcherite economic vandalism came first, wiping out jobs and entire industries. New Labour followed, spending oodles on public services, while offering crappy jobs in retail and leisure as a poor substitute to lost employment in mining and manufacturing. Then came a decade of Tory austerity, carving out New Labour’s extra public money. The net result? Long-term economic decline and political nihilism.

So, here’s a prediction: The north of England is the new Scotland. A place Labour has taken for granted for too long and where ‘ungrateful’ and ‘ignorant’ voters have now decided they have had enough. The damage has been done. The spell has been broken. People who were Labour out of familial and communitarian loyalty have come to realise the swells in London simply don’t care about them.

Actually, they now realise don’t like them much either. They have had enough of being taken for fools because they voted for Brexit or labelled as bigots because they don’t want mass migration foisted on them. This relationship between the party and its heartlands has corroded over a long period before finally snapping nine weeks ago.

The candidates bidding to lead what is left of Labour need to accept that reassembling the party’s support in its traditional backyard should be the Number One issue in this election campaign, yet it has barely been mentioned.

The only candidate who I thought seemed to get this was Lisa Nandy. Unfortunately, I now know that she wants to scrap the monarchy, but I’ve no idea how she would reform Universal Credit.

As for Keir Starmer, he has decided to triangulate, picking up support from moderates who, believing he looks vaguely prime ministerial, while refusing to distance himself from Jeremy Corbyn, blaming the media for the party’s disastrous campaign, presumably in an appeal to the tin foil trots.

Okay, I understand why it’s wise not to unnecessarily pick a fight with the neo-Corbynistas, but instead of being opaque on policy, (let’s face it, the privilege of the frontrunner), he has decided to tack left on policy and cling to the charred fuselage of John McDonnell’s economic policy, replete with a catastrophic £200 billion commitment to nationalise half the economy.

If Nandy is seen as the Blue Labour candidate in this election, then Rebecca Long-Bailey began hers with a hint of teal, talking about ‘progressive patriotism’ and developing green industries. Nowadays, she appears to be on autopilot. I can’t blame her, these leadership contests always drag on for too long and make all the candidates appear jaded, restating tired old lines at hustings all over the place, like a rep company touring with ‘The Mousetrap.’

It’s a hopeless vista. I honestly don’t think there’s much between any of the remaining three. They are all in the wrong place on policy and in thrall to an activist base that refuses to make any concessions with the electorate. There’s no sense of urgency coming from any of them. Rather than serving as a platform to showcase the renewal of the party this leadership race is a grimy shop window for its continued decline.

Perhaps this reflects the only achievable purpose of the next Labour leader: To lose better in 2024. At which point we might elect someone to take us back to power.

On this form, it won’t be any of the current contenders.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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22 Responses to “Labour’s leadership contest is a disaster”

  1. Emma Green says:

    This made me cry literally because it’s so accurate. My husband and I live in a white working class part of Sheffield, though we are both graduates, We live there because my husband works in the NHS and I’m a writer and small time journalist who works with Asylum Seekers and Refugees. We always voted Labour until now. Labour has become all the things you have said and are rapidly becoming irrelevent to it’s core voters. The final straw for us, was the announcement in the manifesto that they would put VAT on School Fees. Who cares a tinker’s cuss about that round here? Most people are trying to feed their kids, cope with low paid work or unemployment. Only Islington Lovies, totally out of touch with the real world would even begin to think that this is important or relavent. The Tories will win again in five years, mark my words and the only people to blame is Labour.

  2. John P Reid says:

    Baring in mind Alf elsewhere called Lisa Nandy BNP lite ,for in your words being blue labour and actually wanting to get the working class vote back, it’s ironic Alf said he’s backing RLB, as RLBs talk of progressive patriotism

    But Nandy doesn’t want to scrap the monarchy she was asked a straight question, would she vote to keep it in a rfrndum if there was on, at least it was a straight answer to the question

    Good article none the less

  3. Alf says:

    Looks like we’re going back to just being Tory-lite. Tough on the poor; and hard on immigrants. Shame.

  4. Neil says:

    This is an internal election, God knows why it’s been carried out in public.

  5. john P reid says:

    alf ,you realise labour lost the last 3 general elections, so what ever policies it wouldn’t have mattered had we not accepted controlling migration

    Corbyn was against the EU which supported free movement

  6. steve says:

    “Now it is a party of woke middle-class liberals who tolerate a few proles… ”

    That’s a crazy exaggeration. When did you last hear of a working class, non-university educated manual worker becoming a PPC in a winnable seat?

    Labour’s middle-class membership, whether Blairite or not, have populated the green benches with people reassuringly like themselves. They refuse to vote anyone unlike themselves onto the gravy train.

    Open Selections are the way back to relevance for the LP but is anyone expecting sharp-elbowed, entitled, middle-class go-getters to voluntarily step aside? Can’t ever see it happening. The ladder’s been pulled up and the LP has set sail for oblivion.

    No doubt they’ll be enjoying plenty of hors d’oeuvres on their way.

  7. Francis Heyes says:

    Francis Heyes, Already ask Angela Rayners team to ask her to sit down with whoever goes to the hustings and debate with them. I asked that this take place after the hustings is over because the hustings is only a question and answer session whereas a debate you actually discuss and can come back at the person where hustings you cannot. It would also be good if they had a meeting with the general public again a debate instead of just question and answer, they just might learn something and get the public onside. One other point I would like to make is this, most Labour facebook sites are Labour members only, the members need to get talking to people as well so why not have open sites.

  8. Anne says:

    I find this article disheartening really. I think the leadership contest has gone on for too long – most of us have made up our minds. Better now to get on with it – form the shadow cabinet of our best people and start to look to the future. Look, half the north is under water. Is Johnson caring about that? What is our policies for trade with the EU? What about job protection for workers after leaving the EU. It is said that Ed may be brought back into the shadow cabinet- he, at least, has a good brain and has made sense on issues relating to the environment. What is our policy on energy provision? It is alright saying we must all be driving electric cars by 2035 but is there enough power for this transition? We have got to be finding answers to these questions – is this what is implied by the so called green revolution?
    I feel we should be much more positive. Come on – look at where we are – I thought Mrs May was poor but this lot in government are really, really terrible. With a good team we can be so much better.

  9. “It used to be a working-class party with enough progressive liberals on-board to form a winning coalition that, nevertheless, put working class interests first. Now it is a party of woke middle-class liberals who tolerate a few proles, offering a slightly higher living wage than the Tories.

    How much of the changes in the party actually reflect changes in society? There are a lot more graduates than there used to be, many more of them of working class origin and in more precarious jobs than the older, smaller, graduate cohorts would have been, so the internal balance was bound to change.

  10. Richard MacKinnon says:

    Its far worse than Kevin Meagher articultes.
    We are witnessing the slow death of a political party. It happens.
    The LP was formed to protect the working class way back in the late 19th early 20th century industrial Britain. At that time Britain had an empire to plunder and Britannia ruled the waves.
    Now the big industries are gone. The small ones too. Those working class areas of Wales Scotland and the north have abandoned Labour because Labour has nothing to offer them. The Party and leadership contenders will never admit it but that is the reality of an independent 21st century UK. China and India are the global manufacturers now. No minimum wages there.
    Look at the leadership campaign. What are the major topics of debate? Antisemitism and trans gender rights. You get my point?
    The LP is broken, (what did John Reid call the Department for Work and Pensions?) ‘not fit for purpose’.
    And when the the state of things as they actually exist sinks in, schisms appear, two camps one blaming the other. Blairites and Corbynites. Depressing it must be from inside the tent, fascinating from outwith. When viewed objectively the truth is its no sides fault. There is an inevitabilty about Labour’s present predicament. History has overtaken The BLP.

  11. John P Reid says:

    Steve- angela Rayner?

  12. steve says:

    John P Reid – one out of 202 MPs? Perhaps there are one or two more though they are easily out-numbered by the privately educated MPs in the PLP.

    As the Brexit general election indicated – the LP has become detached from the electorate. Yet there is a very good chance of electing the clown who devised the disastrous 2nd Ref policy as leader. The Left needs to wake up, smell the coffee and get out of the LP. No need to go down with the sinking ship.

  13. alan scott says:

    As a Tory I find this article to be both true and heartening. You boys have totally lost the plot. Whichever one of these virtue signillars wins you do not speak to or understand the British people.Welcome to 10 more years of Boris but please don’t blame the media smears. This is all down to you.

  14. Mike says:

    This article is accurate. I have been disappointed by how Nandy has pandered on the monarchy, trans “rights” etc. This leadership campaign should have been a conversation with the public but has been a missed opportunity.

  15. Tafia says:

    Stories in the high brow media that Starmer is already assembling what will be a heavily “Blairite” Cabinet and has hired an advisor (McSweeney) with the brief of working out a way to marginalise the far-left, including the membershipe, the NEC and McCluskey, and also ultra-Blairite Matt Pound of Labour First to deal with Momentum. Names circulating for inclusion in his first Shadow Cabinet include Yvette Cooper, Stephen Kinnock, Lisa Nandy, Mary Creagh, David Lammy, Ben Bradshaw, Debbie Abrahams, Hilary Benn, Ed Miliband.

    Apparently Starmer believes Labour has to be sorted and united for the next election (2024) by 2023, with it’s policies fully in place, or it has no chance. Re-joining the EU or the Single Market, or the Customs Union, will not feature.

    This is going to be fun to watch and smacks of Kinnock taking on Militant all over again.

  16. Jack Graham says:

    Very good article.

    In a nutshell the country no longer wishes to be governed by the glass is completely empty brigade. It is not policies that are killing Labour, it is the persistent doom laden message it as an organisation, but especially those drawn to it seem genetically predisposed to broadcast.

    Labour’s vision appears to focus on making misery compulsory for all.

  17. Richard Turner says:

    I am an ex-labour voter. I stopped voting labour because the quality of the leadership and front bench became so poor. I lost faith that they had the ability to respond like grown ups to the challenges of Government. Somehow the LP have to grasp that we live in a capitalist economy that is pretty effective at innovation and generating wealth. However it needs managing to protect the vulnerable. The modern economy is a complex web of domestic and international players that respond to small changes in incentives. Smart government that uses regulation and taxes to optimise outcome is a sophisticated and tricky endeavour. Obsession with ownership is a 19th Century Trope. Who owns BP – every pension and investment fund in the UK has shares in BP. For me to return to the fold the LP has to significantly improve its leadership and its level of perceived understanding of the way the world works. The failure of the LP is its inability to recognize that the aspirations of the electorate need to be nurtured as well as be protected from the downside of life.

  18. Noah says:

    Sounds so true. I’m afraid once we’ll wake up and discover a mandatory fee at the air we breathe in. Just because I want to live in a free society and love whoever I like.
    I want my voice to be heard and my interests to be counted while they are legal.

  19. Merseymike says:

    Better still, the party needs to split. If it went the way Meagher wants it would just exchange one set of voters for another. It’s unrealistic to expect a single party to we able to satisfy diametrically opposed views
    First we need electoral reform and that may take some sort of one off arrangement

  20. John P rid says:

    Tafia, Mary creagh lost her seat,she gonna be a baroness?

  21. Tafia says:

    John, There is no requirement for a Cabinet Minister to be an MP or a member of the Lords. She can be put in Cabinet and later parachuted in to a seat ‘for convenience’. Remember, Anthony Eden wasn’t an MP when he became PM. Frank Cousins, Patrick Walker in Harold Wilson’s Cabinet, and Peter Mandelson was neither an MP nor a Lord in 2008

    Making them a minor member of Lords yo gloss things over is no problem. Charlie Falconer?

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see Caroline Flint in Shadow Cabinet before year’s end either.

  22. ExLabour says:

    This article is so true and refreshing to see that at least some Labour members realise that the party is lost in a wilderness of self indulgence.
    I suspected that Starmer was playing to the Corbynistas but now I’m worried he is actually wedded to some of these disasters us policies. if he wins and sticks by them it’s curtains at the next election.
    Just a point to note that Bolsover is in the East Midlands for the information of you metro types. However I can tell you that it was the Corbyn effect that killed Labour here. Labour voters are in general patriotic, aspirational and believe informing hard and paying their way. Their communities have had mass immigration forced on them with everything that entails. The elephant in the room is the increasing pressures on health, education , social services and so on, but the the Corbynistas seem more concerned about the immigrants than traditional labour working class voters and their communities. Boris and co ” get it” and that’s why they are where they are and why Labour is where it is.

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