Monday, August 03, 2015

Labour: scrutinise Corbynomics, mellow Kendall, substance please from the other two

Our leadership voting packs will drop on our doormats soon - though knowing the Labour Party it will probably be an email.

The hustings for leadership are over and the decision time is nigh. Here are three things I'd like to happen regarding the candidates.

Liz Kendall has got the pitch all wrong, the campaign needs to get warmer. It needs to break out of policy detail, it needs to sparkle with excitement. She was the stand out star for me at conference last year, my first for six years. She had ideas, clarity and a self confidence about her that made me sit up and take notice. At a supporter's Q&A in Manchester I was impressed again at how personable and bright she was. But, and there was always going to be a but, this awful, awful leadership campaign has seen her struggling to articulate that brighter view of social democratic politics I know she has. Her eagerness to critique the last leadership (correct in her analysis, by the way) for failing to appeal to Tory voters has been shouted down. The spats at the side about Continuity Miliband and the Blairite Taliban and the vile "virus" comment have just further positioned her as a candidate who will divide.  

Some of this isn't her fault, but there is a tonal problem. Kevin Meaghar nails this in a Labour Uncut piece here. I fear it may be too late.

Secondly, Andy Burnham is threatening us with a vision this week. I'd desperately like to see this from him and Yvette Cooper. He's promising a bold challenging manifesto. It takes me back to a Progress conference in Manchester last year where casually dressed Andy - my Dad's favourite Labour politician - said our challenge to get back into government was to offer the British people a competing vision for the future that rejected the Conservative one. I leaned forward in anticipation, desperate to discover the intellectual heft behind this most likeable bloke and hoping it was a little more substantial than his 2010 leadership pitch for "aspirational socialism". None came. There wasn't one. It was just that we had to come up with one. He was right, but he is promising now what didn't come then. 

Finally, give Jeremy Corbyn and his policy programme some proper scrutiny. It's a great shame that Corbyn's critics drag up his shouty interactions on Channel 4 News, his cosy relationships with dictators and brutes like Hizbollah, Hugo Chavez and George Galloway. It's a greater shame that the trump card most frequently played is that he would be an electoral disaster.

The shame here is this is the kind of scrutiny for a candidate that isn't taken seriously.

I think we're past that now and it's time to sit down, seriously and open up what he actually stands for. 

It took a while for me to re-commit to Labour after a long abscence. I was particularly concerned that a return to opposition offered a comfort zone of naysaying, righteous anger and an opt out from a period of tremendous challenge and change. The world is a very complex place requiring detailed and complicated solutions to long term deep seated social change. You can confront that, dive in and seek to be driven by the values of making this complex world work for everyone. Or you can just sit back and say it's all crap and someone else's fault.

There is no question that globalisation doesn't work for many, many people. Neither should we as members of a party constututionally committed to extending power to the many not the few accept the Conservative narrative on a long term economic plan that isn't delivering.  

But I was genuinely taken aback when I read Jeremy Corbyn's Economic Plan. It is a frightening set of slogans for the bits of Tory economy we don't like, with no attempt to craft a solution based upon the elements of society we do. That, at least, would have been an impressive start.

It's a curious mish mash of higher taxes and flippant buzz words about austerity. It amounts to little more than the usual platitudes about taxing business more and investing in infrastructure, oh, and nationalising the railways. A scrawl on the back of a beermat reckons that should be enough. 

Everything else? Self employment is dismissed as the flip side of zero hours contracts. Entrepreneurs are part of a Tory myth. Social enterprises, co-operatives, contracting? Nothing. 

Small and medium sized businesses, the role of universities in developing intellectual property as part of a national treasury of ideas and innovation? Nothing here either. There's a cursory nod in the direction of "suppy chains" without even a thought to what they consist of and who makes them up.

If this is the economic plan for a serious contender to lead a party of government then we are truly stuffed. 

The members of the public I met on the street stall yesterday showed the full range of challenges for Labour. Foremost amongst them was a need for a clear leadership. 

My conclusion at the end of all of this, and what will be the last word on it all is this: I really wish Caroline Flint had stood for leader. And sometime soon, she may have to heed the call. 

1 comment:

Peter Cave said...

Entirely agree with you, Michael. I will probably vote for Liz Kendall - I am impressed by some of her ideas and her overall vision, and I think she can communicate best to the electorate - but I agree with what you say about the shortcomings of her campaign. In fact, you could even say that the Labour leadership campaign has been very cleverly 'run' by the Tories, who have managed to undermine Kendall, Cooper and Burnham with the elephant trap of the welfare cuts; though the three should have done better in avoiding this trap. Corbyn actually has some interesting ideas on economics, but there are big problems with his manifesto too.