Labour Leadership: Crunch Time

The dilemma for the Labour party member in voting for their next leader has been simple: does one vote for success, or for purity? Both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, in their most recent leadership elections, voted for success: neither Cameron nor Clegg hail from the most dominant wings of their party, yet both seemed to promise electoral gain. They now share power (though Nick shares more than Dave), and thus the experiment – like the last Labour contest, way back in 1994 – was a success. How, though, to respond to the new politics? Pick a champion  of Labour values, or a potential Prime Minister?

The choice is not so stark: three of the candidates (Ed B, Ed M, and David M) could make passable claims to offering both. But the elder Miliband places the emphasis on being a readymade PM, and the younger on championing Labour values (many of which observers may have missed he previously held); Ed Balls is the most interesting of the three, in the sense that he has blossomed during this contest more than any other – developing his arguments and harrying the government, he has emerged as not just a credible leader but also the only prominent politician offering a narrative other than the one established by the Tories (and Jonathan Freedland is right that this is the urgent task facing Labour).

Consequently, and in the absence of a clear perfect candidate, today I took the radical step of placing my first preference simply for the candidate who has fought the best campaign. And here are the words I could not possibly have predicted writing in May: that was Ed Balls. Not a single poll suggests he has much of a chance of winning – although he’s second choice amongst former MPs – so my hope remains that, between the Milibands, it’ll be the firstborn that wins. Much like many of Ed M’s own supporters, it’s clear to me he’d be the better leader of the two.

You’ll be pleased to read that I won’t bore you with where my Treasurer, NEC and NPF votes went.

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5 thoughts on “Labour Leadership: Crunch Time

  1. I still don’t quite see the Ed ball’s thing. Admittedly, he has appeared a bit more passionate and proved himself to be quite fierce during debates but do you really think he’s on the rightside of the economic argument? I think Labour should be asking questions about what is cut and also, maybe about the balance between cuts and tax rises but Ball’s, it appears to me, seems to be about some idea of even more stimulus and basically an overall spend our way out, vibe. I would worry if that was the road Labour chose to go down.

    Where we are agreed is Ed Milliband. I never understood why so many people banged on about him in the past and, like you, have found his recent discovery of the left unconvicing. I also agree, if this was your implication, that David Milliband would give the best fight to Cameron and Clegg (which, really, is the most important thing for labour to do). I don’t much like DM, I find his rhetoric to detached from the his personal belief in a way that even the likes of Cameron and Clegg’s isn’t, but I do think he would keep Labour in the centre and hopefully offer a genuine alternative to government and not just passionate, and easy to cheer, protestation.

    It will definitely be interesting to see who becomes leader, it’s the most important event of the conference season for all parties.

  2. Good to hear from you, Mr C – and I somehow had you pegged as a man who would be not entirely convinced by Ed B. 😛

    On the issue of economics, I actually did find Balls’s Bloomberg speech the clearest, best argued speech on economics made by any of the five candidates. Whether or not this means he’s right is another question entirely, of course, but it can be answered in one of two ways: economically, we simply (and this in Ed’s own words on QT last week) don’t know; politically, though, Labour very much needs a narrative of its own. You say the party should be engaging in horse-trading with the Coalition about what cuts should be made where, but this smacks of accepting the government’s narrative wholesale; what Labour instead needs to do is accept the reality of the deficit, admit the changing relationship between the state and spending, but offer a less heartless, more heartening, characterisation of the challenge this presents us with.

    This is why Balls must surely be shoe-in for shadow chancellor in the likely event that he doesn’t win. Of the two ‘front-runners’, you’re right that I think DM could give the Coalition the best run for its money, though I also agree with you that his language is currently too distanced and technocratic fully to connect. The question with DM, though, is whether a genuine alternative government than only wants to fiddle at the edges of what the current government is doing will really be worth voting for in 2015.

    As you say: interesting and important times.

  3. I tend to find the pragmatist argument hard to counter. Come the next election, some (I think) small proportion of Lib Dem voters will decide they might as well go the whole hog, and vote Tory. But a much larger proportion will be motivated by disillusion with their party’s right-wing dalliance. (I take it as axiomatic that the Lib Dem vote per se will collapse at the next election). Which Labour Leader would be best placed to sweep those votes up? The elder Milliband would be my guess. I, of course, understand the ire of party members who think ‘we were suckered by the pragmatist argument before, but it gave us Blair, Iraq and climbing into bed with George W. Bush.’ I just don’t really share it.

    One of my worries during the last election campaign was not that we’d lose (it was obvious that Labour was on the way out, of course) but that the core vote would collapse … for instance, migrate en masse to the BNP. But that didn’t happen. But how effectively would Balls court the sightly right-of-centre floating voter?

    • Whither the Lib Dem vote is the great question of the age, isn’t it? I’ve never had the Liberals pegged as an inherently left-wing party – only under Kennedy did they veer decisively in that direction – so it’s harder for me to be certain that so many of their voters will be quite so up in arms about the Coalition. I agree, though, that the great risk is of squeeze – and that would fatally undermine a party which already has fewer seats that it did in 2005.

      You’re right, too, that D-Mili is the most Lib Dem friendly candidate – E-Mili has gone as far to say as he couldn’t work with Clegg, after all. This alone would make a super pragmatist argument for his being given the leadership, and since he got my second preference I wouldn’t be upset with that – like you, I can’t quite get onboard with the gnashing of betrayed Old Labour teeth. Two problems: there’s a whiff of old fashioned triangulation about D-Mili which feels inadequate as a proper response to the current shifts in political weather; and, more personally, I just couldn’t whip up the passion for pragmatism properly required to trump all the other candidates – thus the simple vote on the basis of the strengths of the campaigns, which I cheerfully accept is a less than long-term means of decision-making.

      On the subject of campaigns, however … interestingly, it’s Balls who has most emphasised, for instance, immigration (particular in the first, less impressive, phase of his campaign). One might imagine this could appeal to the right-of-centre floating voter (and which almost cost him my vote). It also plays, curiously, to the BNP-sympathetic core vote Labour didn’t quite lose in, frinstance, Stoke or Barking & Dagenham. Worth saying, though, that our perhaps surprisingly large vote comprised, as Peter Kellner has been pointing out, for the first time more middle class than working class voters.

      • I have’nt really got into this ‘predicting five years from now’ thing with the lib dem vote. It depends on too much. Dan is certainly correct to point out that there has always been a bigger right/left split in the lib dems than a previously apathetic media pointed out in the past. Although, whilst Kennedy is certainly left leaning- and notably the only high profile lib dem not to vote for the coalition- I wouldn’t say he moved the liberals any more leftward than Ashdown previosly or Ming after. In fact, he was far more reluctant than both when questioned, during his time as leader, to define the party as centre left.

        I have to agree with Adam, I don’t think balls would be the man to steal centre right votes. His views on immigration, whilst nowadays associated with the right, isn’t really going against anything traditionally left- liberal, yes, left, no- anyway, I don’t think the whole bnp thing will be as big at the next election (I could be wrong). I agree, though, that DM is certainly the most lib dem friendly.

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