So many friends assumed I was a card-carrying member of the Labour Party, that I decided I may as well become a card carrying member of the Labour Party. Never one to jump on the bandwagon of a winning team (I’m an Oldham athletic supporter), I decided to join the party at its lowest ebb following the General Election red blood bath. On the positive side, it means I can cast my vote for a new leader. Hope springs eternal.
Jeremy is leaving the building. The reluctant leader, thrust into a position he was as uncomfortable in as wearing an ill-fitting suit. He retires as the tragic, heroic failure; the rebel turned would-be saviour, who was cruelly foiled by the evil press and internal mutiny. A travesty of justice for our man of high ideals and integrity, beaten by lies and misrepresentation. Or maybe, just a decent man out of his depth, or a narrow-minded idealist with little practical or political nous. Probably all of the above.
So how do we find someone to replace him, someone with all of his strengths and none of his weaknesses? Step forward the latest class of leadership candidates – Emily, Keir, Lisa and Rebecca. My daughter and I drove up to Nottingham to hear them gently interrogated in front of a friendly audience.
Unfortunately, the pre-race favourite, Keir Starmer was unable to attend the hustings. So we had the three female candidates lined up before us. Each was asked the same questions, submitted in advance by members of the audience, and had 60 seconds to respond. Like Question Time, except the panellists had to differentiate themselves whilst also demonstrating that they were all on the same side. A tricky balancing act.
We sat through an hour – and whilst I had a favourite, I was suitably impressed with all of them. Each candidate was articulate, passionate and largely coherent. In just a minute, there was little hesitation, no deviation and only minor repetition. Nicholas Parsons would have been proud. They answered the questions they were asked and didn’t interrupt each other. Clearly that is something they need to correct back in the real world.
There was a high degree of agreement on policies and approach. We did not hear anything of left, right or centrist positioning. When asked who they most admired in their past, nobody mentioned Blair, Corbyn, Millband, Smith or even Bevan. They all said their parents (at which point I nodded at my daughter).
Here are some of my favourite quotes from the three candidates:-
- Defeat – Having a Brexit election was a mistake, we could never change the subject. Labour walked straight into an elephant trap (ET). We failed to make a one-nation argument (LN).
- Brexit – was was a rejection of an entire political system (LN). People feel just as alienated from London as they were from Brussels (RLB).
- Boris – he is not a buffoon, he is canny and needs forensic exposure (RLB). Take on Boris’s lies at the dispatch batch. Pin Boris down (ET). I’m not scared of Andrew Neil (LN).
- The Labour Party – The greatest vehicle of social change this country has ever known. But we are in a mess. We need to be cuddly lefty and winning elections. A working party not a protest party. Professional, competent and winning (ET).
- Unity – Challenge behind closed doors, pull forwards together. Live our own values. (LN). We cannot have people castrating each other publicly – er I mean “castigating” (RLB).
- Welfare – The welfare of the people is the highest law (RLB). We need to up our game with emotional support for teenagers (LN).
- Human rights – need to be at our heart, we need to be a force for good in the world (RLB).
- Antisemitism – Accept EHR commission recommendations on antisemitism and we can support Palestinians at the same time (LN).
- Transport – We need to sort out buses and railways. We need to connect northern towns (LN).
- Environment – We don’t only breathe out carbon we breathe out guilt (ET).
- Local government – Keep the Preston pound in Preston (RLB). Bring Power to the people. Councils need more money (LN).
- Internationalism – Stand up and be counted. No trade deals with countries who are not in line (LN). When did we become afraid in the international community? We must apply international law and not get involved in breaching it (ET).
- Leadership – build the best team and trust each other – fire them if they don’t ! (ET)
- The Future – I am determined to deliver democratic socialism in my lifetime (RLB). Build the Red Bridge. Create a political consciousness. Have humility and get out to the country. Take arguments at the core not the periphery. Identify what is not there and ask, why not? (LN).
- Best Tony Blair Quotes – Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crimes (LN). Education education education (RLB).
- Nice strap-lines – Aspirational socialism (RLB) The world needs our anger not our sorrow (LN). I’m a tough old bird (ET).
Rebecca Long Bailey was passionate, animated and not as high-volume far-left as she had been painted. Emily Thornberry spoke quickly but eloquently, to get as much content as she could into her minute. As ever, she was provocative, belligerent, witty, honest and (for this audience at least) engaging. My daughter described her as “scary head teacher that everyone likes ! Lisa Nandy started every answer with a real life experience, was insightful, calm and more measured, but did a very rousing and heartfelt final speech.
Here is a party undergoing a painful degree of self-flagellation and self-examination, licking its wounds and very realistic about the mountain it has to climb in the next 3-5 years. There is a steely determination to stick to the party principles, to fight injustice, defend the under-privileged and provide equal opportunity for all. A party which understands that without power, very little can be achieved.
Core to this is the realisation that all wings of the party need to work together. A fractured party does not get elected (not that it ever stopped the Tories). The party also needs to be more professional, and to deliver its message better, both in the media and at grassroots level the people. A need to return to square one, reconnect with the people and rebuild the argument. Until then , as the headmistress has decreed “Nobody leaves the party”. I wouldn’t dream of it, Emily.