Comment: Labour must put the team back in leadership

One of the things missing from the debate so far is a recognition that a leader does not exist in isolation

Labour leadership


At yesterday’s first leadership hustings at Progress Annual Conference, the declared (and in one case undeclared) candidates had the first opportunity to set out their stalls. Only one commented – in the context of a question on how to deal with failing schools – that leadership involves a team.

One of the things missing from the debate about the Labour leadership contest so far is a recognition that a leader does not exist in isolation. When making our choice, we need to consider what it was about our leadership that led to Labour winning in 1997, 2001 and 2005.

Undeniably, having a leader in Tony Blair who a broad cross section of the population wanted to vote for was crucial. However, the leadership during our most recent period in government worked principally because it didn’t rely just on one individual. It worked because strengths and weaknesses of the team at the top balanced each other out and reflected a range of interests and range of views across the Labour party, the Labour movement and the country.

Could Tony Blair have worked on his own without Gordon Brown or without John Prescott? Even if we had the occasional (sometimes very public) hiccup, would we have had the impact we needed to win without the team around the leadership – both in terms of politicians and party staffers? I genuinely don’t think so.

Our debate and the decisions we make as a party over the next few weeks and months should be based on a wider understanding of what we need from the party’s leadership team. We need the trinity of leader, deputy and shadow chancellor to work and we need the people around them to include the next generation’s unelected party greats like Alistair Campbell and Peter Mandelson. Like them or loathe them, individually or collectively, the combination worked.

Let’s reflect on and be proud of the fact we are a broad church. We may all be determined to move on from past divisions (and we should), however if one section of the movement feels unrepresented in the leadership team, we will have a problem holding our party together until 2020, let alone winning the next election.

I want a leader and a leadership team that can negotiate a course between two (or more) views and arrive at a pragmatic but ambitious and bold solution. We need a united party; but this doesn’t mean to the exclusion of debate. Arriving at strong policies that work will depend on it.

I want us to appeal to the centre ground where we clearly failed to win votes and to have a sense of where we have come from within the Labour movement and the values on which the party is founded. We also lost support in our heartlands, as those MPs and candidates with strong UKIP showing in their patches will know.

This is why both those claiming there-is-no-such-thing-as-left-and-right-anymore and those still sitting comfortably in what they think of as the left and the right wings of the party can claim simultaneously that it is wrong to say Ed Miliband was too left-wing, or not left-wing enough to win. The bigger problem was that we weren’t good enough to win.

If any part of the Labour Party claims a greater right to the leadership, or one wing of the party gains all elected and selected positions in the leadership team, we will not be a party for the whole party let alone the whole country and we will lose in 2020.

I do not want our next successful and charismatic leader – our male or female ‘Tony Blair’ – without the balancing and challenging influence of our next ‘John Prescott’ and the gravitas and credibility of the next ‘Gordon Brown’.

That said, we cannot and should not try to exactly recreate the leadership team of 1997.

Nor should we be too London-centric, or too northern, too male, or too cliquey. The qualification for who gets on or who gets jobs in the leadership teams and front benches cannot be who you eat at dinner parties with (or if you eat at dinner parties at all). People with too similar views, backgrounds or life experience to each other are unlikely to provide sufficient challenge to each other or the mix of views or ideas to produce the ambitious policies and vision we need.

As a diverse party, wanting to represent the whole of our country, we need diversity and meritocracy at the heart of our leadership.  I will only vote for leadership and deputy leadership candidates who I believe understand and accept this and are committed to deliver it.

By 2020 we will be a generation down the line. However, we do need to think about why the dynamics of the team at the top worked in 1997 and beyond. The tensions, differences and diversity within the Leadership team supported, challenged and enhanced the success of our Leader and our Party and contributed to the Labour Party’s three successive election victories.

Fiona Twycross AM is Labour’s London Assembly economic spokesperson. Follow her on Twitter

12 Responses to “Comment: Labour must put the team back in leadership”

  1. AlanGiles

    Though he has “baggage” (mainly because he has been around longer) Andy Burnham seems the most obvious man to lead. He doesn’t sound oily and pompous like Hunt, he isn’t married to a walking disaster like Cooper and he isn’t Blair in a skirt like Creagh and Kendall. AB is quite likeable even if you can’t agree with everything he says.

  2. SarahTShields

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  3. Gerschwin

    Andy Burnham is a pretty boy Miliband. Super. That’s another election in the bag for Team DC.

  4. jaz

    I think it would be a big mistake for the party to elect Burnham. I have no doubt of his talents but he is too much a figure from the past. We need a break, a clean line. I don’t know who it should be but I was impressed with Kendall’s performance against Brillo.

  5. AlanGiles

    But Ms Kendall, like Ms Creagh wants to apply Blairite means. I know we always hear that “Blair-won-three-elections” (Harold Wilson won four), but the last election Blair won was in 2005 – a decade ago. Things have moved on, and I don’t think he would win today, any more than Mrs Thatcher would win today, or his or her acolytes. Andy Burnham could appeal across the country because he appears quite classless. Can you imagine the plummy voiced Tristram going down well in Glasgow or Liverpool?. If you elected Kendall or Creagh most people would say “who?”

  6. stevep

    When people talk about whether the Labour party should be more left wing or right wing the centre usually gets scant attention. Where the centre lies is of more importance because in the last 30-odd years it has shifted significantly to the right. Margaret Thatcher claimed that Tony Blair was one of her greatest triumphs and she was correct. New Labour was occupying the space where old Conservatism used to be. The old left and right has gone. The new left and right is more of a Democrat / Republican scenario, the same capitalist outlook but with a good cop / bad cop take on it.
    If, in five years time, the centre has shifted even more, then the Labour party will have to have an even more right wing outlook to capture middle England. The debate now should be who will the party actually represent if it shift further to the right? Will it stand for the disenfranchised masses on poverty wages and shrinking benefits or will it stand for the better-offs with a nod to the poor to get itself elected?
    If it does shift further to the right, will it be a party fit for the working person to vote for? Scotland certainly didn`t think so and nor did voters in marginal seats Labour should have easily taken. OK it could be argued that voting for UKIP is right-wing but I suspect that in a lot of Labour constituencies voters didn`t see it that way, instead seeing UKIP having a more positive stance regarding issues which were perceived to have blighted their lives in those areas. Or, horror of horrors, voting Conservative in preference to a Labour party which they perceived to have lost it`s compass.
    It is my view that Labour should look at the more progressive left-wing parties in the Uk and Europe such as the SNP, the Green party, Syriza and Podemos enjoying success at the moment and learn from them. I feel that instead of trying to ape the Conservatives, they should present a radical alternative to them, using the various social media and the internet to spread the message, rather than worry what a dying newspaper industry has to say.
    It is heartening to see parties with a more radical message overcoming establishment obstacles and rapidly growing to where they can contest for power.
    Labour can do the same, if it wants to and if we want it to. By all means elect a leader with a pretty face and a media-friendly persona and build a formidable team around him or her. But never forget it is the message and the policies that count, not the politician. Winston Churchill found that out the hard way in 1945 and Clement Atlee, that most unassuming of politicians formed the most radical, reforming government of the 20th century.

  7. Robert

    The center , I mean when are you to the right or the left of center is it an inch or a foot.

    No such thing as in the center your either to the left or the right, the center is this area where you do not have to be left or right it does not exists.

  8. stevep

    It not only exists, it has dominated political thinking for decades. It is where middle-England, people uninterested in politics and floating voters supposedly exist. Where it actually is depends on how far various governments have veered to the left or the right over the years. Since 1979, The UK has moved from a broadly social democratic version of capitalism to a more American-influenced right -wing version. The Labour party, as the only large party of the left in the UK, has gone along with the shift to the right.
    It can be deduced from this that the centre ground of politics has also moved to the right from where it was in 1979.

  9. jaz

    I know we are supposed to be above such things, but I do wonder about having a leader called Tristram…
    I also agree that Kendall lacks the public recognition factor, but then who knew who David Cameron was? Five years is a long time.
    My worry with Burnham is that he is a figure from the past. That was the problem last time round do. We need to look forward, not back.
    I don’t certainly haven’t made up my mind and will be following very closely what they all set out. As a party we need to really be clear what we stand for, what we offer. I think after another five years of Tory rule the country will be ready for change, but we need to make sure that we have something positive to offer, not “we are not as bad as the last lot”.

  10. AlanGiles

    Prissy Trissy has ruled himself out now, and is supporting Kendall (and took a swipe at Burnham).

    I must admit it would have been priceless to hear Hunt talking about “toffs” and “posh boys”, and privledge.

    I think Liz Kendall would be a step in the past since she swallows the Blairite creed. It is ten years since Blair last won an election, and he is so discredited it might well be his disciples are, too

  11. jaz

    I say let’s give her the benefit of the doubt. Let’s see what she has to say, what she can offer. We need to re-group, we need to work out what kind of party we are, how we bring the core values of the Labour party into a modern social democratic party. The most important thing is that we don’t rush into this. We have time, let’s use it.

  12. DonaldSNelson

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