Has a Labour leadership election ever been such a rollercoaster? Much has been said already by others on what shade of red, blue or purple each candidate is, but I believe there is more to them than the pigeon holes that press and opponents put them into. Key to the current debate is that we have 250,000 members in our party, who represent a wide range of views on numerous policy areas. Grass roots members have strong opinions and every month that is demonstrated around the country in lively debates at our local meetings. What Labour needs before anything else is a leader who can unite the party, not divide it, and who can enable us all to work together as we make our party more democratic and responsive. It is not the leader’s job to simply dictate policy, they should be leading the debate while allowing members to genuinely contribute.
There are serious judgements to be made on the candidates’ personal strengths and weaknesses and we can find many of these for ourselves by watching and listening to the public and broadcast hustings, and their interviews. As a parliamentary candidate in 2015 I found the hustings were the most challenging events of the campaign and there was no hiding place under such scrutiny from peers and public. I tripped up numerous times so have empathy for all the leadership candidates however, I really do not want to see our next leader making too many mistakes. He or she has to be an expert in public debate and presentation.
The best candidate will get their message across in a hostile, competitive environment, without appearing like a bully or complainer. Candidates vie to appear strong, in charge of the debate and for their point to be the one that people remember. There is a skill to being able to do that without just shouting down others or persuing lengthy detailed exchanges. Whether it appeals to our socialist sensibilities or not, our leader has to be persuasive, passionate and charming.
Secondly to lead and persuade a leader has to be able to speak plain English and relate to people’s lives. It is so much easier to identify with someone who speaks about everyday life easily, it is that kind of connection that makes people actually listen to the message.
Jeremy has gained plenty of support but he is as far from uniting the whole party or the country as is possible. Seeing him debate with the other candidates who like him and have no interest in destroying him is no indication of how he would do against Cameron, Osborne, May or Johnson; any one of them would enjoy eating him for breakfast. A good leader does not have to be slick but they do have to win the debate against the skilled and powerful Tory party.
Having lived through the Michael Foot and Margaret Thatcher years I have seen with my own eyes how little traction the Foot and Corbyn approach had with the British voting public. To many of us in the Labour party, Michael Foot’s speeches were exhilarating, inspiring, passionate and we loved him. However, the end product of his leadership was 17 years of Tory government with policies which penalised ordinary working people and even homeowners; social engineering policies raised unemployment to damaging levels; undermined worker’s rights; and raised mortgage interest repayments,which had mine, at one point, to 17.5 per cent! I was a hard working, fully employed single parent whose only state support was child benefit for my son – but we suffered. The people who are suffering now are once again those who are doing their level best, and it is them who will be condemned to years of more Tory policies if we choose a leader who cannot convince the electorate.
We have a candidate in Andy Burnham who stands for solid Labour principles and who over the years has put his party first. He knows how to actively involve members in policy development, as he did with health policy, and he knows the party must reform and how to achieve this. It is only as a united party that we are strong. He has the charm and acumen to both unite the party and win over the electorate, we would be mad to miss this chance to elect him as our leader.
Fiona Dent is the former parliamentary candidate for Windsor
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