Three mistakes Labour has made in the leadership contest

A dry and stage managed effort by Labour HQ has done little to enhance the reputation of the party


As a member of the Labour Party for almost 15 years, in the event of Jeremy Corbyn winning I will wish him well as he seeks to take on the Conservatives. For all my disagreements with him, and there are numerous, I nevertheless remain of the view that a Labour government is needed to address the devastation that the Conservatives are inflicting on the country.

Many on the left of the party have attacked so-called ‘mainstream’ candidates for selling out on their principles for the pursuit of power. Principles are indeed important. They define us. They send a message to the public about who we are, what we stand for and the story we have to tell. But principles without power mean little.

If Corbyn wins the leadership, he will have done so partly because of the clear vision he has given, but also because of a failure within Labour HQ to conduct the campaign as it should have done.

The first mistake was to run a leadership campaign at the same time as the party sought to understand why we did so badly at the General Election. Harriet Harman’s decision to appoint Margaret Beckett to chair an inquiry into what went wrong was a good idea.

Why then, did the party not decide to let this work take place first, properly considering the results at the party conference before starting the firing gun on the leadership election?

It would also have been invaluable for the party to properly digest Jon Cruddas’ work, which found that we lost the election in large part because voters believed we were anti-austerity. Sadly, such serious work from an MP respected across the party has been lost.

By starting a leadership contest without first understanding why we lost was akin to putting the cart before the horse.

The second mistake was to allow a near-open invitation for all and sundry to join the party as supporters throughout the campaign. I’ve been in the party for many years and it is quite frankly absurd that the campaign has, and I use this word carefully, been hijacked by what I suspect is a new influx of ‘supporters’ with an agenda to destroy the party.

One wonders just how many of the new supporters and members will actually be heard making the case for the Labour Party once Corbynmania has died down.

Labour’s former first minister in Scotland Jack (now Lord) McConnell is right to have argued that a deadline should have been set for members to join the party to vote in the contest. This should have coincided with the deadline for leadership contenders to be nominated by the parliamentary Labour Party. Lord McConnell has dubbed the current situation ‘ridiculous’, and I concur.

And finally, the third mistake has been the woeful organisation of the debates up and down the country.

When the leadership campaign began it was billed as an opportunity to reach out to and engage with the public.

What we’ve had instead is a series of old school set piece speeches and leadership hustings which, I feel, have been irrelevant. When candidates each get 30 seconds to answer questions on topics as big as the economy and Trident, then you know there is something wrong.

I wanted to see our candidates cross-examining each other, debating with party members and the public, understanding what went wrong in May and articulating clear visions for the future of the party. What we have had instead has been a dry and stage managed effort by Labour HQ which has done little to enhance the reputation of the party.

The party now stands on the abyss and faces the prospect of being irrelevant. Sure, with Corbyn in power we can all continue to complain from the sidelines, but what will this achieve?

Will it take a single child out of poverty?  Will it protect the most vulnerable in our society? Will it save the NHS? Will it improve the life chances of everyone in this country? Will it create the jobs and provide the education people need? Will it make our communities safer?

And will it give people hope that there is a genuine and serious alternative government in the waiting? The answer to all these questions is a resounding no.

It’s time to get serious. We are electing a leader of a party that should aspire to be a government in waiting, not a leader of some increasingly fringe movement. It’s worth repeating: principles without power mean nothing.

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

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