Labour went down to a terrible defeat in May. Times columnist Daniel Finkelstein’s post-match analysis was insightful. The ‘shy Tories’ who have long preoccupied pollsters and Labour party strategists are, he said, neither shy nor Tory. They were genuinely undecided, even wanted to vote Labour, but en masse felt unable to put a party with weak leadership and no economic credibility in charge. A net two million more people voted for the Conservatives – having presided over an explosion of foodbanks, hurtful welfare reform and a raft of deeply divisive policies – rather than Labour. It should not need saying again, but it does: had every single person who voted for the Scottish National party or the Green party voted Labour, Ed Miliband would still have fallen short of the 11.3 million votes the Tories received.
George Osborne’s July ‘emergency’ budget was brutal once again for the very people Labour fought the 2015 election for. The ‘greedy’ got more and the ‘needy’ got hit. However, he parked his tanks firmly on Labour’s lawn by including policies from Miliband’s own manifesto such as ending permanent ‘non dom’ status and creating the ‘national living wage’. In the reams of coverage the budget received no one on the Conservative benches called Osborne ‘Labour-lite’.
On the flipside the Labour party has become a more unpleasant place for its own members. Many shied away from attending their constituency Labour party nomination meeting for fear of being called a ‘Tory’. Daring to believe that getting more votes than your opponents is now sacrilege. Thinking that any – let alone the four out of five 2015 Tory voters we need to have a majority – new support should come from those who voted for David Cameron this year is now branded treachery.
As people who should know better suggest it was the ‘lazy Labour’ supporters who failed to turn out that lost it for Miliband, the thinking in the party has itself become lazy. Liz Kendall has sought to internalise the terrible result for our party and produce an analysis worthy of the scale of the defeat. Others still seem content to wait for the public to come ‘home’ to Labour – but it is not they who have left us, it is the other way round.
The only way to beat the Tories is not – just – to get angry, but to get even. Kendall is the only candidate with a plan that the Tories fear and which they find hard to attack. Only Kendall has made the big speeches – on the economy, early years, and the skills our young people need, and on new politics, power and devolution. She has begun to forge a ‘New’ and ‘blue’ politics for the future. She has scanned the challenges of social democratic parties across Europe and set out five progressive ‘causes’ that should – regardless of the outcome of the leadership election – act as pillars to building the next majority for Labour in the United Kingdom. She has never pandered on our membership of the European Union, our national defence, or any of the essentials for a Labour victory in 2020. The campaign has mis-stepped at times – which campaign does not – but the reality is that continuity will not suffice. ‘A fresh start’ is what the Labour party needs.
With former Progress vice-chair Andy Burnham, former patron Yvette Cooper and current vice-chair Kendall all on the ballot, the Progress strategy board was spoilt for choice when it considered who to support. Progress members told their elected board representatives that support among the membership extends to all four candidates – including Jeremy Corbyn. But the overwhelming choice – of the board and membership at large – to lead Labour through the next chapter in its history was the member of parliament for Leicester West. Kendall is not the finished product – fresh start candidates rarely are. In fact, that is the point. She is the only candidate that has not yet peaked, who has the space to grow and, crucially, has their eyes fixed on the horizon of 2020 and beyond. Not defined by the past, she is Labour’s best hope of a winning future.
But, with regret, this election might not be about winning but about the party’s very future. Corbyn is an affable man. He has made a positive contribution to public life. But as leader his politics would be a disaster for Labour. The party risks being out of power for a generation. Forget economic credibility, there will be a run on Labour’s remaining stock, not seen since the queues outside Northern Rock. This will not just be with its middle-class voters, but its working-class ones too for whom hard-left politics similarly hold little appeal. But, unlike with the banks, there will be no one on hand to bail Labour out. Tony Benn famously claimed ‘eight million votes for socialism’ in 1983. Margaret Thatcher destroyed the miners, sold British Telecom and unemployment reached three million – twice. In the 18 years Labour revelled in its irrelevance, wealth was redistributed in the wrong direction and opportunity for those Labour cares most about followed it. This trajectory was only changed by winning elections.
While Corbyn himself said of proposals to ‘ban Progress’ that he would ‘not be so intolerant’, we know the mob who supports him too often behaves otherwise. Talk of a Blairite ‘virus’ will only be the start of things to come. Not only has ‘cybernat’ politics entered the Labour party, those who masterminded Labour’s 18 years out of office the first time round are set to play a front row role.
This magazine has no truck with those suggesting ‘Kendall 1, Corbyn 2’. It is hard to tell at the moment but Burnham and Cooper were part of the last – highly successful – Labour government. Both then took a leading role in Progress and remember a thing or two about winning elections. Kendall is the first, right and heartfelt choice. You pick the remaining order but do not fail to cast both two and three for anyone but Corbyn. Come on now, don’t be shy.
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