Labour lost the General Election, much more heavily than they realise. To win a majority at the next election, one of the seats they need to take is Chingford. Currently held by Iain Duncan Smith, this was the stomping ground of Bury St Edmunds’ resident Lord Tebbit. It has NEVER been held by Labour.
Who you think should take over the Labour Party will depend on why you think Labour lost. And of course whether or not you have the Labour Party’s best interest at heart – certainly the Tories think that Andy Burnham would be the best candidate from their point of view, something Labour should bear in mind.
There are three realistic candidates for the Labour leadership. As nice as Mary Creagh might be, she is not going to make it onto the list, and is clearly hanging in there to make sure that whoever she ends up backing gives her a damn good job in the Shadow Cabinet – she’s fed up with being at International Development.
Realistically the election is between front-runner Andy Burnham, solid Yvette Cooper and dark horse Liz Kendall.
I have no doubt that a great many Labour members want Andy Burnham to be their new party leader. I have no doubt that a great many Labour members of Ipswich Borough Council want Andy Burnham to be Prime Minister. In their heart, I suspect most Labour members want Mr Burnham to win.
Mr Burnham is a formidable campaigner. He has sewn up the largest number of the Labour Parliamentary Party, no doubt because he started he election campaign for leadership many months ago. He has been a dangerous opponent for Jeremy Hunt as Shadow Health Secretary, during which time he has successfully shed his entire political philosophy (he was a Blairite, once) and his own record in Government (he privatised more of the NHS than any Health Secretary in the last 20 years) to reclaim the NHS as an issue for Labour. Remarkably so bad had his tenure at Health Secretary been, in 2010 the Tories led in the polls on who was most trusted with the NHS.
Mr Burnham described himself as the beating heart of Labour. He is certainly the only candidate not afraid to use the word Socialism. But having just spent five years listening to Ed Miliband expand on his concept of intellectual socialism, only to have it comprehensively rejected by the electorate, will Labour fall for the same desire a second time?
One other thing to consider with Mr Burnham is that he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury just before the worldwide financial crash. While he might now say Labour should admit having overspent, the Tories will not find it hard to point out that he was in charge of controlling public spending at the time.
The Shadow Home Secretary is second in the race to the ballot paper, with more MPs publicly backing her than Liz or Mary. She has been solid in opposition, though she is more in the mould of a Jack Straw a Roy Jenkins. She was Secretary of State for Work & Pensions, and would have been involved in appointing Atos Healthcare to administer the Work Capability Assessments which became so hated. She was also Andy Burnham’s successor as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, in January 2008, so while she was marginally less responsible for the overspending, she can be tarred with that brush. Not only that but her husband, Ed Balls, is a hate figure for the Tories and the right wing press – something I’ve never understood because I actually like the guy.
Liz Kendall is the Shadow Minister for Health, not even a member of the Shadow Cabinet. However she has huge experience in Government, having been a Special Advisor to first Harriet Harman and then Patricia Hewitt. She succeeded Hewitt in her constituency of Leicester West. She is considered to be the “Blairite” candidate, which is yet more evidence that Labour are still fighting the fight of 2005, ten years on. Realistically she shouldn’t be in this contest. It is ridiculous that someone who isn’t even in the Shadow Cabinet, who has just five years in Parliament, who had no national public profile, should be considered a potential party leader. And yet… There is something about Ms Kendall’s campaign. She’s attracted support from failed leadership candidate Chucka Umunna – the man the Tories really feared – and Tristram Hunt, who realised that he wasn’t going to make it onto the ballot and so settled for hoping to improve on his Education brief. How would the Tories attack her? Well they’d start by saying she had no experience. They’d take some of her own words – her focus on white working class voters for instance – and they’d attack her for racism. And yet…
Who would I back? Kendall, without a doubt. Her communication might be a little strained at times – she came across a teeny bit student politics debater when putting Andrew Neil on the back foot, but at least she put him on the back foot…
Burnham might be the beating heart of Labour, but as Philip Collins said in the Times that is better than being the bleeding heart of Labour. He will attract millions of voters to Labour, but not in seats they need to win, merely in seats they won in 1992 or 2015. Why did Neil Kinnock lose? Because he stacked up huge Labour majorities in all the wrong seats. Blair’s focus on the marginal seats he needed to win in was what made him successful – that and a focus on the economy.
Yvette Cooper is boring. And shrew-like. And shrill. I’m sorry, it’s really unfair, but it happens to be true. Will she attract floating voters in marginal seats? I can’t see it. However she was an economist before entering Parliament, and boring is what you need in a Shadow Chancellor.
Liz Kendall has no baggage from the last Labour Government. Some people consider her to be a Shy Tory, or Tory-lite. She’d almost certainly have to create a federal Labour Party, because she’d be about as popular in Scotland as anthrax. But that’s probably going to happen anyway.
Elections in this country are won from the centre ground. They are won on the economy. Don’t listen to me as I whisper it, but Liz Kendall is the candidate the Tories fear now.
PS I realise there is a Deputy Leadership race as well. Whatever you do, Labour, resist the temptation to elect Tom Watson. He’s great, he’s popular in your party, but he is hated by the media even more than Miliband was. So what? Well if you cannot communicate your message without it being distorted by a hostile media, you’re dead in the water. Stella Creasy is simply the best communicator in the Deputy race. And as a London MP she has one thing the leadership candidates don’t – a constituency south of Watford.