Labour’s ‘leadership’ contest

This morning I watched one of the most depressing TV programmes of 2015 — Andrew Neil on Sunday Politics grilling the four candidates for the Labour leadership. At times, one had the impression that all four inhabited a parallel universe to the one in which the party was roundly defeated in May. This Observer editorial puts it well:

Two months after a disastrous election defeat, Labour is mired in a lengthy, inwardly focused leadership election. The debates are of micro-politics, not existential crisis. There is an assumption of relevance, just as the party is stalked by irrelevance. It is as though the election never happened. Maybe Labour needs reminding what happened on 7 May. It not only lost but was routed in many heartlands, crushed in marginals and rendered virtually invisible in the south. To paraphrase the now infamous foreign football commentator who relished an England defeat, “Labour, your boys took one hell of a beating.”

If a leaked poll is any guide, then a growing number of the Labour party membership now seem to view Jeremy Corbyn as the answer to that drubbing. This is like a pupil who, on being told they answered incorrectly, repeats the same answer shouting ever more forcefully. It’s still the wrong answer. The party faces a choice. It can strive to get re-elected and thereby have an impact on those it purports to represent. Or it can sink in to a warm bath of delusion and face an even larger wipeout in 2020.

On top of that, there are two looming problems: (i) the total wipe-out of the party in Scotland, and (ii) the impending revision of electoral boundaries in England. The implications are that Labour may never again win an election in a country effectively consisting of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. So the game’s up for the party hitherto known as “Labour”.

The only thing that will work is a radical conceptualization of it as a technologically-savvy progressive centrist party focussed on the socio-economic problems and challenges that will emerge in the next three decades. Reconceptualization on this scale is at least a ten-year project, which also means that Labour will not win the next election in 2020. So what the leadership election ought to be about is who could lead the re-invention of a party along the lines that are needed.

But — as today’s TV hustings showed — it isn’t about anything like that, but simply about which Westminster insider will get the nod and the official car.