Enough is enough: I am going to the Trinity Centre in Bristol tomorrow afternoon to hear what Andy Burnham MP has to offer the Labour Party and, more importantly, the country.
The contest – it’s not a race! – to lead Labour has filled me with near despair given the quality of the candidates who are standing. At the outset, I dismissed the candidature of Jeremy Corbyn, the natural successor to the years of Bennite tomfoolery, the candidate of purity and certain electoral annihilation. It’s important to have the debate about the kind of Labour we want. Benn, who became “a national treasure”, was much admired by the political right who he inadvertently did so much to help into power. We can argue as to whether the Labour manifesto of 1983 really was “the longest suicide note in history” but just look at what happened: Labour almost destroyed as a national political party, not just for a generation, but very nearly forever. Labour, run by the far left, heavily infiltrated by Militant, was unelectable.
Corbyn follows the Benn tradition in rebelling when it suits him, the luxury of opposition in a safe seat where nothing that happens will affect him but by God it will crucify the class he purports to represent but actually misrepresents. Purity. And here lies the choice.
Tony Blair, much reviled by some (and deservedly so given the wars he took us into), was a winner. He won three elections. He did not change the country as much as three large majorities should have done, but the country under Labour was a far better and united country than it is today. My argument with Blair and New Labour was not what it did, much of which was very good, but what it didn’t do. Labour had two chances after 1997 to change society much more than it did. It could have made our country far more equal, far more meritocratic. Labour could have improved social mobility, too, enhancing the life prospects of those who did not benefit from wealth and privilege, but they chose not to. I am not talking about Marxist ideas and ideals; just simple steps, straightforward changes, fairness. Apart from Iraq, that was Blair’s main failure and it was Labour’s too.
One argument is to support Corbyn because he stands for “real Labour” but even Benn said that Labour represented a “broad church” of opinion and today we need a real debate on what we want Labour to be like.
I maintain that Labour cannot win on a hard left manifesto. A “pure” hard left agenda might appeal to many activists, but it is not all about activists. It’s about principles, of course, but it’s also about winning. When Blair won in 1997, the day after his election win I felt as if the country had been saved. I knew there would be no revolution, but he managed to attract those who would not normally vote Labour to put their tick in the box. If Labour wants to win, it needs to attract the same people again. Who will do that?
The luxury of opposition, eh? That’s not a nice place, but some on the far left love it. “If we do not run on a pure socialist agenda, then what’s the point?” “If we are going to lose, let’s at least go down fighting with a left wing socialist manifesto!” Well, yes, but what about the old? What about the sick? What about the disabled? What about the unemployed? What about the poor, struggling on the minimum wage? They are the ones who cannot afford the luxury of opposition, the quest for purity. Jeremy Corbyn at the despatch box in front of fewer than 200 MPs, most of whom will show as much loyalty to him as he has shown Labour in government and in opposition. Rupert Murdoch will be the happiest man on the planet.
Labour needs, above everything, to win. Labour needs to show to us what it stands for, what a Labour government will look like, how the country, under Labour, will change. Hopefully, tomorrow I will find out.
One reason I lean to Burnham is because of Hillsborough. He has been a powerful advocate for the victims and their families, he has stood up to vested interests. Ultimately, the victims will get justice and Burnham will be seen as a reason why.
Kendall I am unimpressed with, Cooper I am even less impressed with. I’ll see what Burnham is about tomorrow. I will arrive with a blank sheet of paper and I will judge him on his vision for Labour and the country.
If it’s not him, it could be Kendall, a distinctly distant second choice for me but way ahead of Cooper and Corbyn doesn’t even enter my thoughts. Under three of the candidates, things can only get worse.