A modern fable: Goldilocks and the three Labour leaders

Nobody expected Jeremy Corbyn to win the leadership contest in 2015, I’m not sure even he expected it. Actually, nobody expected Jeremy Corbyn to even be part of the leadership contest in 2015 – he was put on the ballot, as history now tells us, to widen the discussion, to broaden the range of candidates on offer.

Well that worked out well. It may however have served a purpose in the long run.

“Once upon a time, there was a Parliamentary Labour Party.  They went for a walk in the forest.  Pretty soon, they came upon the need for a new leader.  They knocked and, when no one answered, they walked right in.

At the table in the kitchen, there were three profiles of potential leaders.  Goldilocks The PLP was hungry for a new leader.  She tasted read the profiles on the table..

“This leader is too soft!” she exclaimed.

So, she read the profile from the second bowl.

“This leader is too hard,” she said

So, she read the last profile.

“Ahhh, this leader is just right,” she said happily and she ate it all up.”

The failures of the 2015 General Election were many. Miliband took the fall and many saw him as neither style nor substance; ‘milifandom’ aside…

Is it possible the PLP were happy enough to have Jeremy Corbyn as leader for a short while, to reinvigorate the flank of the party and to steer the conversation, but that they never had any intention of him fighting a General Election?

Political tactics suggest that when your rival is taking a beating from the public, sit out this round, you can’t make it better (for you) and you could make it worse. When the referendum results caused Cameron to quit & Osbourne to disappear, leaving a faffing Johnson flapping at soundbites and failing to land them, what good can come from the Labour Party distracting?

Hilary Benn knows this, but yet acted anyway. The rest of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet v2.0 know this, but acted anyway. The public discussion was no longer just, “who will be the next Tory PM,” in fact it was mostly, “I’m a shadow secretary, get me out of here.”

The Conservative leadership collapse, with the ongoing Article 50 debate and the general consensus that Tory MPs are by and large, Remain voters themselves, a General Election is a real possibility.

So the Labour Party, instead of having a pragmatic King-for-a-Day in Corbyn, giving him some time to energise the base, attract new members and all the rest, then be removed over something less divisive in a year or two, they felt they need to act now.

The PLP couldn’t risk a second successive hammering at the ballot box, so measures were taken. Will they work? Who knows…

The problem now is that the general Labour populace seems to like porridge being too hot.


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  • Reader

    Electing JC was just like voting for Brexit. Sometimes people get so gloomy with the path they are on that their hope overcomes their fear, and they say – “what the hell, let’s just do it”
    And once they have done that, try getting them back onto the path again.
    But I don’t think that in either case people were deliberately voting for a temporary solution.

  • Gopher

    I thought Labours problem was of a more personal nature. Once the Blair/Brown monolith was gone the unions did not want another strong centre so shafted David Miliband and made his brother Ed, political equivalent of Carlos II leader. The Labour electoral system was reviewed and Ray Collins, Baron Collins of Highbury (a trade unionist) replaced the second worst electoral system with the worst which circumvented the parliamentary party after the initial stage.

    Ed duly failed badly at the general election and the threshold of Labour MP’s needed to put a name on the ballot became unfeasibly low for a practical leadership contest at 15% or 35 MP’s.. When you lower thresholds everyone thinks he can become a leader and that is what happened to the Labour party, self interest. Once Corbyn got on the Ballot the left which was both homogeneous and motivated had no difficulty making Corbyn leader against three very average personalities in a ballot of members and affiliate members.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “Is it possible the PLP were happy enough to have Jeremy Corbyn as leader for a short while, to reinvigorate the flank of the party and to steer the conversation, but that they never had any intention of him fighting a General Election?”
    I don’t think they were ever happy enough to have Jeremy Corbyn as leader, because (to steal from Blackadder III), they’d met him.

    The problem in the Labour party now is one really created by Corbynmania – that is, the party membership has lurched far to the left. People are right to point out it’s not now just about Corbyn, it is the membership itself. And these people are not walking away, despite the utter failure and lack of public credibility of their hero. This is why unfortunately a split seems to me likely.

    The only question is, who gets the name? If Angela Eagle edges a win, it means the Labour Party goes on and the Corbynistas return to being a pressure group inside Labour, albeit now a hugely powerful one. But if Corbyn wins, we have an impasse between MPs (representing 9 million Labour voters) and members (representing a fraction of that but the kingmakers ultimately) which I think can only end in most of the PLP and ‘real world Labour’ members having to break away from the fantasist brigade to form a parallel Labour Party 2.0 or new SDP. No one wants it but it seems to be logically unavoidable.

    Post-split, it seems both left-leaning parties will struggle at the next election, whenever that is. The left wing vote will be split so a lot of Labour seats will be lost to other parties. Where either a Corbyn Labour MP wins or a Real World Labour MP wins, they might increase local votes through being newly energised and focussed for their respective causes. But there will be fall-out at a local party organisational level too which may lead to fewer activists doing the hard yards door-knocking overall. I suspect the combined vote of both brands of Labour would still be lower even than the poor Labour performance in 2015.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Society has changed from the days in which parties like Labour were formed, and when they operated at their peak. Class is perceived differently now, communities are looser and states are seen as relatively powerless instruments of change in the face of global economic and social forces. No one much believes in the big solutions any more, other than academics, some callow youth, nostalgists and zealots. There’s been a culture in politics generally, not just Labour, of deracinated managerialism, as the only possible politics – and that has hit the buffers. It doesn’t matter on the right, as that’s all people expect or want of the right. But it’s a huge problem for the left because the left was supposed to be about something. it was supposed to have ideals and aspire to improve society. It can’t afford too much cynicism about change for too long.

    The Corbyn moment captured part of the change that needs to happen – a party reconnecting with core principles and starting to believe in the possibility of political change through popular mobilisation once more. But only part of it. Because what also needs to happen is two things: (1) to develop that new politics in a way that will resonate outside the party, to wider voters; and (2) to marry that with a high calibre, impressive and credible leadership cadre that can sell this idea to the wider electorate. Labour hasn’t got either of those right now.

    You can blame the MPs for not playing the role the members wanted them to. Or you can blame the members for ignoring my (1) and settling on a politics incapable of resonating in the places Labour needs to win (i.e. among people who voted Tory last time but might vote Labour on a good day).

    Personally, I think the PLP has it right and has a much better grasp than the Labour members of what is needed to win a general election. But whoever wins the leadership election, they need to join up the positives of the Corbyn reinvigoration of the Labour left with the policies that can deliver wider resonance and the credible, appealing leadership cadre. Same challenge faces whoever triumphs.

    Thing is, it may end being a challenge faced by two rival Labour parties, not one. The Labour Movement could well fight itself into the long term political wilderness.

  • terence patrick hewett

    The proposition that national identity is redundant is fine except hardy anyone believes it. The process of welding tribal identity into national identity in these islands was one of extreme violence and the tribes are still there: the names of just about every county in Ireland and most of the counties of the UK refelect this. In the US they still cling to the nations from which they came: African Americans, Irish Americans et al. We are still the hunter-gatherers which we were not very long ago: we can’t handle big, we like small. The third industrial revolution on which we are now embarking is going to be as traumatic as the last and everyone is going to have to be brought forward willingly: not threatened, blackmailed, deceived and ignored: and that is just one of the lessons that politics needs to learn.

    One of the real problems is that technolology is putting increasingly powerful tools in the hands of the individual and our political class has never been educated in, nor does it understand technology: or its profound implications. Could brexit have been achieved without the internet? I doubt it.

    Has the very multi-nation-al Switzerland got it right?

  • ted hagan

    Corbyn would have had a better chance if had followed his instincts and gone for Brexit. At least he might have sounded convincing. The Labour voters who are deserting the party in droves and going to Ukip are feeling the affects of mass immigration and its impact on services. It’s reality and certainly not racism and it’s a reality not helped by Tory austerity. But that’s where the key Labour vote lies, not with the extremists who have hijacked the party.

  • Katyusha

    Labour would have been well served by moving into a left-wing nationalist position, promising to protect public services, nationalise the railways, strategic industries and utilities, and secure the UK’s sovereignty and its borders. There’s a lot of national pride for Britain’s industrial heritage and the NHS that can be tapped into. I think if Labour had adopted this kind of position rather than trying to appease either a) the market, or b) fashionable social “liberals”, they would have been able to occupy a lot of the ground that has proven so fertile for UKIP.

    It’s fine to express solidarity and cooperate with left-wing movements all over the world without succumbing to internationalism. Marx’s line about working men having no country has been proven false time and time again, and nations have proven to be extremely resilient against all attempts to destroy them. People define themselves by nationality because of our nature, and the left needs to work with that and use it rather than fruitlessly trying to erase it.

  • Zig70

    David seemed like a sensible choice

  • terence patrick hewett

    True: but the sciences have always been international and swapped ideas: technology has made it that much easier. My own alma mater have been banging on for months about how they take £25 million from the EU have just sent me an e-mail saying: not to worry, we have been on the problem for months: who has been trying to b*llsh*t whom?

    In Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when the computer Deep Thought announced that it was irrevocably dedicated to answering the question Life the Universe and Everything: the philosophers threatened to go on strike: to which Deep Thought replied: “and who will that inconvenience?”

    But fear not: like the Hitchhikers’ philosophers, todays crop undoubtedly are beavering away as we speak.

  • Granni Trixie

    Forgive my ignorance – I obviously am conceiving UKip wrongly – why would someone who identifies with “Labour” turn to UKIP?

  • Granni Trixie

    What surprises me is that so far there is no ‘big beast’ politcian to emerge as a natural leader to unite Labour post Corbyn. That Labour are lacking talent ought to be a real concern in the melting pot of concerns.

  • ted hagan

    Immigration. People in traditional Labour territory feel under pressure. Their service are under strain and they have become easy recruiting targets for Ukip. Labour have tried to bury the issue. Labour, it has been generally accpeted, lost out badly to Ukip in key areas of England in the last general election. Shocking and disturbing, I know, but a grim reality of bad Labour stewardship.

  • Granni Trixie

    Thanks Ted.

  • ted hagan

    Plenty of Blair/Brown sheep but no Big Beasties.

  • Reader

    Besides what Ted says, a lot of UKIP policies (so far as anyone knows or cares) are populist or even left wing. They can pass themselves off as beery Old Labour so long as you are prepared to disregard the elephant in the room.

  • Reader

    Paging David Miliband…

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I agree, it’s one reason Corbyn got in in the first place. Burnham unfortunately was revealed as a bit of a lightweight; my pick was and is Yvette Cooper but others don’t warm to her. I have no doubt some unconscious misogyny is at least part of the reason why. She is undoubtedly a “big beast” but it’s rather a male term, isn’t it …

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Message: “Stay where you are …”

    He might have a future in a breakaway SDP-style Labour but not otherwise.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    a problem perhaps with both those leaders – big trees with big canopies under which other trees could not take root – only a few wavy grasses and some fungi.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    He wasn’t it – he didn’t get how Labour needed to move on from Blair-Brown and reconnect; the much-maligned Ed did.
    Where Ed fell down was in not really acting or looking or sounding like a leader. But in terms of his strategic understanding he was spot-on. If he’d had Dan Jarvis’s back story, he’d be PM now and we’d still be in the EU.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Perhaps: but the EU is not the only show in town and as far as I am aware they don’t want to tell whether I can bl**dy well creosote my fence or not! 🙂

  • Granni Trixie

    Not sure about the gender dimension to th term but I first heard it with ref to Charles Clarke, one of the few Tories I think highly of.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Paint my own fence!!!

  • terence patrick hewett

    Ah sure I’m an engineer and therefore an optimist!!!

  • Abucs

    You will never create a moral, just society through politics. It becomes authoritarian, divisive and self serving. This is where ‘the left’ always goes wrong.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    not ‘create’ but politics must enable a moral, just society. Part of that is placing taboos upon certain types of individualism that erode the quality of life of others. That’s why the right always goes wrong.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Ken Clarke do you mean? Charles Clarke was a Labour MP for part of Norwich and was Home Sec at one point. I have a lot of time for the latter.

  • Granni Trixie

    Indeed – I stand corrected (not sure how I made that mistake).

  • MainlandUlsterman

    no worries 🙂

  • Abucs

    example please.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    high and soaring executive pay, low / stagnant wages for most other employees. Hugely damaging for society and for the economy overall.

  • Abucs

    Low stagnant wages are a function of a lack of economic growth and wealth creation. It is also a function of policies that favour open borders and globalisation over personal commitment and responsibility to your own countrymen.

    With regard to executive pay, it is a complicated issue which i would divide into at least two categories. Someone like, say Bill Gates who creates a huge industry that revolutionises business and enhances communication which creates wealth and employees (indirectly) millions of people who pay tax and can add to society is a great thing and he deserves everything he gets. There should be more Bill Gates. I disagree with any taboo that would categorise people like Bill Gates as somehow the problem.

    The other category of CEO is the one who takes over an existing company and the main thing of importance for him is how much money he can take from the company in as short a time as possible. This is a very different case and the morality of this CEO and the people around him causes problems. These people draw up (indirectly) pay deals which are unjust. The companies themselves should have rules to stop this but they don’t. In theory they have human resources people to draw up independent salary benefits but the people who work there know if they are ‘over generous’ then it will be reciprocated by the board when it comes to their own salary.

    Companies do have rules now where benefits can be voted on by shareholders but the main shareholders are commercial trusts and funds. I might be in favour of a rule for businesses that are already well established over a certain capitalisation where the CEO can only receive a salary say 20 times greater than the lowest wage but then companies will then outsource the jobs to another company to get around that. My faith is not in politics and government to solve the big problems.

    Like you i think at best government have to be enablers and encourage non government community bodies to have more power in such things. There is a place for law and government, but it will not solve the problems IMHO.

    If Afghanistan were to ditch all their government laws and adopt in total the laws of Switzerland, it wouldn’t then become Switzerland. In the end, a people’s culture contributes to success more than government and laws. My thinking is the Left do not get that at all. They usually concentrate on government and laws and ridicule anything to do with culture as racist, xenophobic, out of date, yawn, etc, etc.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Just taking up the Picketty point that inequality in itself is bad for economies. Money is best allocated where (1) it is most needed and (2) it is most used. The accumulation of wealth and income at the top leads to a lot of capital being taken out and tied up, rather than refuelling the system.

    I don’t begrudge genuine entrepreneurs and risk-takers their rewards at all. There will always be Bill Gateses and I hope there always will be, if only because it’s got to be good to have that possibility there, no matter how remote. But I do think the overall shift over the last 30-40 years in the proportion of a company’s salaries now taken by boards vs what the employees get, around the world, is much less good than the balance we used to have. That was hardly a communistic system, just a less rapaciously exec-focussed one.

    You’re making a distinction Ed Miliband correctly made a few years ago between ‘producer’ capitalism and ‘predatory’ capitalism, which I agree with, as do actually most people I’m sure. I consider myself on the business-friendly end of the centre left and I think ideas like Ed’s and those of Will Hutton around making capitalism go back to working again for the wider good of society, rather than just for a few at the top, are spot on. I’m not against capitalism, but we can’t duck the questions about what kind of capitalism we want. Unfortunately, it’s gone down a path since Thatcher and Reagan (and arguably before that) of no longer producing rising living standards for most people. Something clearly needs to change to make the system work for people again, big time.

    If that takes government intervention through regulation to make it happen so be it. Better really if the big corporates take the lead themselves. But they may need incentives to do so, in the form of closer regulation. Someone has to stand up for the wider public interest here and government may need to play a much more active, much tougher role in setting the frameworks within which business operates and ending the erosion of employee rights, welfare and ability to live a decent life.

  • Abucs

    I agree in general. I think globalisation has been a major factor in the suppression of wages in the last 30 years.

    I acknowledge the benefits of globalisation but i think there are also problems, especially for those people who produce things in the UK that can be produced much cheaper elsewhere.

    This has been most damaging to unions and the strength of the working class over that period. The unions and lower wage workers have lost much bargaining power and i think gradually this has affected the middle class more and more as overseas workers are willing to do more tasks as they have industrialised.

    I think there is a real split in the politics of the Left between being a citizen of the world with open borders and looking after indigenous communities. This split is also in the Conservative side reflected in those who want globalised economic opportunities and those that think community and culture are being thrown under the bus.

    I don’t have an answer but having spent some time in Japan they seem to have the best of both worlds.

    Regarding equality of wealth, i think it is a balancing act. I have been in the Philippines for the last 2 weeks and the new President – Duterte, an interesting figure to say the least quoted something i agree with,

    “You don’t strengthen the weak by weakening the strong”.

    Having said that, your point about excess wealth being wasted in the hands of the idle rich is well taken.

    This can act as a suppressant and resistance to others benefiting. I think you are correct on this and this has been one of the problems shown clearly in the Philippines.

    If we are to be a community there has to be some broad agreement on the morality of the state taking part of people’s wealth and then, as you say, deciding where that taken wealth is best suited. I’m thinking there seems to be less agreement year by year on both of those questions.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    whoever emerges from Labour, they will have to bridge that cosmopolitan, internationalist side and the threatened, anti-immigration communities side. Very tough balancing act.