Why this leadership contest is so crucial to the future of the Labour party

Each of the candidates poses a different kind of threat to Cameron


Public perception of politicians is at an all-time low. An Ipsos MORI survey conducted in January showed that only 16 per cent of Britons trust politicians to tell the truth, well below journalists, estate agents and bankers.

Following Labour’s defeat, shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt stated on ITV’s The Agenda that the public simply ‘didn’t trust Labour’ to deliver.

In this climate, the next leader of the Labour Party will face an uphill battle. To win the 2020 election, he or she will have to regain seats in Scotland, regain the support of the working class whilst combating the rise of UKIP, galvanise young voters and non-voters, win back Middle England and hold onto core voters in traditional Labour heartlands.

To make matters worse, the potential boundary changes will make a Labour majority very difficult indeed.

But winning the 2020 election is achievable – provided a strong leader emerges who is willing to address the failings of past Labour governments and move forward with a progressive vision.

The next leader must be trusted around the country, north and south, and represent all cross sections of the community.

To achieve this, Labour cannot afford to choose the wrong candidate. There are many examples of how strong leaders can unite parties to impressive victories in tough times, but three immediately spring to mind:

Tony Blair came to power on the back of 18 long years of Tory rule. Years of hardship, coupled with a young, charismatic leader who told Britain that it deserved better, gave Labour a landslide victory.

Similarly, Barack Obama seized on the alienation many Americans felt after eight years of George W. Bush, and he swept to victory on the promise of hope and change along with the feeling of a new dawn for American politics.

Nicola Sturgeon’s rise to prominence was equally as impressive. She combined her undeniable political savvy with a new message that Scotland could affect Westminster politics. After years of Westminster rule and limited devolution, she tapped into the local sentiment.

The current crop of leadership candidates may not have Blair’s charisma, Obama’s rock star appeal or Sturgeon’s nationalist ideals. But, as they showed at the televised hustings, they would each pose a different threat in the 2020 general election after 10 years of Tory austerity.

So what do they have to offer?

Frontrunner Andy Burnham emphasised his Merseyside roots at the hustings, keen to demonstrate that he is outside of the ‘Westminster elite.’

If he is elected this phrase may become indispensable to Burnham, as he tries to distance himself as much as possible from the Conservatives, and gain the trust of a public disillusioned by a decade of austerity. This everyman approach could be the deciding factor in convincing Britain to vote Labour.

Yvette Cooper would also be a thorn in David Cameron’s side, though for different reasons.

Cooper is a smart, sophisticated and likeable candidate, who has emerged from her husband’s shadow since his election defeat. She has a wealth of parliamentary experience, having served as shadow home secretary, and secured an impressive 59 nominations, just 2 behind Burnham.

If successful, Cooper would no doubt be a tough opponent, though she would need to demonstrate a clear advantage over Cameron on a weekly basis.

Liz Kendall would be a different threat to the Tories altogether. Perceived as the most right wing of the four candidates, she was right when she stated she would be the leader the Tories ‘would fear’ most, as her strong convictions and quick reactions make her a political force to be reckoned with.

At hustings she had the line of the night, when she rebuked Andy Burnham’s statement that the party comes first with a curt ‘the country comes first’.

Last-minute addition Jeremy Corbyn made the cut by ‘borrowing’ votes from other candidates, but at the hustings many argued he was the standout performer.

With his strong anti-austerity message and loyal following in the left of the party, he would be making arguments that haven’t been aired on the front bench in years.

Such a left wing leader could well be Labour’s undoing at the next election, but if the Tory cuts are as deep as expected, Corbyn’s message could rally the country behind him in 2020.

The Labour Party has some tough challenges ahead, but it is very likely that whoever emerges from the leadership election will fare better than the press currently predict.

Because with five more years of public sector cuts and austerity, all four candidates have the potential to cause upset in 2020.

Ryan Maynes is a freelance journalist and Labour activist. Follow him on Twitter

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.