by Atul Hatwal
The Westminster groupthink, which recently had Ed Miliband walking into Downing street, has a new favourite: Andy Burnham.
Labour MPs talking among themselves and to journalists, journalists talking to each other in Westminster bars and on the conveyor belt of rolling news comment slots, then bouncing off MPs and vocal activists on Twitter – this is the echo chamber that got the result of the general election so badly wrong and has now reconvened to similar effect for the Labour leadership race.
Andy Burnham certainly has support in the PLP, almost half by some accounts, and an active briefing operation shaping journalists’ perceptions. If the leadership election was to be decided among MPs, journalists and Twittervists, he justifiably would be a runaway favourite.
But party members are also involved. Over 220,000 of them. And they do not even vaguely resemble any of the participants in the Westminster groupthink bubble.
Instead, Labour’s members are like the general public.
According to internal party estimates, over 95% do not attend a single party meeting in a year, deliver a leaflet or knock a door. They are not consumed with the minutiae of politics or deeply tribal.
They’ve just made a choice to join Labour, as many people join clubs and societies without any sense that this membership defines their life.
Under Labour’s new leadership election rules, it’s one member one vote. With a membership that reflects the public, the same priorities which so recently decided the general election will similarly shape this race.
Economic competence and the preference for prime minister will be the key criteria against which contenders are to be judged and on both counts Andy Burnham’s candidature is critically flawed.