Labour’s Leeds hustings was dry, dull and uninspiring

There were few new ideas and no engagement with the audience


Saturday’s Labour leadership hustings event took place in the shadow of Elland Road, the home of Leeds United football club.

A once great premiership club, last season Leeds United came 15th in the Championship, England’s second-tier club league. The club has been led by six different managers since 2012.

Sadly, the venue provided an all too apt metaphor for the state of the Labour Party, and reinforced the need for the party to pick a leader who will get it back to being genuine contenders for power once again.

For so many party members and supporters to have given up their Saturday afternoons to travel from across Yorkshire to the event was a sign of a party engaging well, and genuinely excited about the opportunities that leadership elections present.

Sadly though, the enthusiasm and interest will have been severely dampened by the party’s botched efforts at a hustings event.

First, the event started 15 minutes late, leaving what had been billed as an hour long ‘debate’ curtailed to 45 minutes.

Just six questions were asked, and the candidates were given so little time to respond that little was said that we didn’t know already.

The Labour party stands at a crossroads. We need to show not just why we should be trusted to run the country again, but more fundamentally, why we should exist.

At no point did candidates get a proper opportunity to debate with one another. And at no point were party members, the bedrock of the party, given the chance to provide their ideas – there was even an announcement at the start that clapping and other audience reactions were not allowed.

The whole thing was dull, dry and uninspiring. It came across as the platform for some sort of stitch-up, to prevent the serious debate and group think the party actually needs.

Andy Burnham had his one liners, although did not do as well as perhaps he would have liked.

Yvette Cooper got the biggest cheer when she accused David Cameron of having a woman problem, and called on the party to give him a bigger woman problem by electing her as leader.

But in truth there was little to distinguish Burnham and Cooper in their visions for the party and I left feeling underwhelmed by both performances.

Jeremy Corbyn was at least consistent. His views now are those he’s always held and the biggest cheer he got was his call for the country to unilaterally get rid of its nuclear weapons. Fears are growing about how well he is doing in the contest, which I would share.

But Corbyn’s approach is a lesson for all the other candidates – he has a clear, different vision that is easily understood.

And finally, Liz Kendall – at this point I should declare my interest as a supporter.

In her closing statement, Kendall made a brave pitch. Pointing to Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper she warned members, rightly in my view, that more of the same from the past five years simply will not do.

She then pointed to Jeremy Corbyn, and warned of the dangers of going off to the hard left. Kendall called instead for a fresh start, for someone different who seeks to apply Labour’s values to the world as it is, not as we might want it to be.

Sadly, that was about it. No debate, no cross examination, and no sense that those who gave up their Saturday afternoon had learnt anything new.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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