The final nominations for the next Leader of the Labour Party are in. Who will win? My money is on the escape artist.
Vacancy: Leader of the Labour Party
Essential requirements: Parliamentary seat; centre-left credentials; not being Ed Miliband (ability to eat bacon sandwiches desirable)
Responsibilities: Turn around the party’s electoral fortunes over the next five years, keeping Britain in Europe and holding onto Scotland on the way
So reads the job description for Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Jeremy Corbyn. All four this week secured the nominations they needed from the Parliamentary Labour Party to confirm their candidacy for Party Leader. But while all of them will now be firmly focused on getting in as leader, it might actually be an act of escapism which helps them do it.
First, can they escape the lingering damage of Labour losses in 2010 and 2015? Perceived as failing on the economy, unfriendly to business and lacking in convincing leadership, there’s a job to do in terms of inspiring confidence and re-capturing the vision and optimism which swept Labour to victory in 1997, 2001 and 2005. Two of the four candidates (Burnham and Cooper) face the charge of having been ‘inside the tent’ during Labour’s election losses. Rather than re-arranging the camp chairs, it may be time to pull out the tent pegs, roll up the canvas and re-think (anyone for glamping?).
Second, can the candidates escape their own, already largely-formed personal reputations? If you read the newspapers, you’ll have been told what to think of each of the candidates. Andy Burnham is the union man. Yvette Cooper the reliable, old guard candidate. Liz Kendall is the Blairite. Jeremy Corbyn the wildcard, far left winger. Is it still possible to re-shape and re-purpose these blunt (and largely inaccurate) impressions before the ballot in September? History would suggest it is. Let’s remember that 2010 proved not to be a long coronation for David Miliband, but a contest which saw decent ground made by Burnham, Balls, and – of course – Ed Miliband.
Third, can the candidates escape the habits of stale, two-party political system and meaningfully stand out? Where, or who, is Labour’s answer to the charisma of its rivals? Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Nicola Sturgeon – like or loathe them – have it in spades. It’s true that the next Labour leader can’t afford to be as un-guarded in their rhetoric and promises as these particular individuals, but there needs to be a step up. Those Labour members who had hoped that Chuka Umunna, Alan Johnson, Dan Jarvis or even Keir Starmer might toss their hat into the ring will want to see the victory of a candidate who is strong, believable and transformative.
I’m convinced that Labour is delivering this choice in the Deputy Leadership contest, as well as in the race for the party’s London mayoral candidate. Here we can see diversity, difference and dare I say vision coming to the fore. If the Party Leader candidates too can also escape the ties that bind them, then Labour may be a credible force again come 2020.
Ali Hall is an account manager at Camargue