I’m really looking forward to the Labour leadership contest of 2017

As an old inhabitant of the Westminster bubble, I give my prophetic testimony.  Having been bombarded by emails from different sections of the Labour party and paid to qualify for a vote, I’m now waiting for my ballot papers in the leadership election. For the first time in my life, I’ve declared a party allegiance. I’m only doing as a personal gesture in favour of Labour remaining a party of government.  While it’s all great crack ( sic), it’s completely bonkers that I have an equal share in deciding the identity of the alternative UK  prime minister  on the basis of paying £3 a couple of weeks ago and clicking a mouse three times. Please don’t delude yourself that it’s  any closer to real democracy like than the X Factor or the Eurovision Sing Contest.

What’s the problem you may ask, when voting in a general election is even easier?  Because voting in elections is based on the universal franchise developed over decades, whereas this Labour party franchise is improvised, poorly run and perversely designed for capture by narrowly motivated  groups, the very antithesis of a system for  a mass democratic  party. How Lenin would have laughed as he took it over!  The new Ed Miliband version of OMOV is worse that Union bloc vote which at least was a bloc that could be wooed and weighed. Falling between two stools, it’s a travesty of democracy.  It neither embraces the entire electorate in something like an open primary, while by opening registration so casually, it fails to foster a sense of responsibility to a party that needs to win elections to survive.

There are two ways of looking at the phenomenon, the micro- political and the macro. In the  micro analysis,  a trebling of Labour membership to 600,000 is a stream not a flood compared with the  9,347,000 who actually voted Labour. It’s the fumbling of the leader franchise which has prompted   so much over heated speculation about a radical shift in British politics. If a proper election system had been in place you would never have heard the half of it. Although there has undoubtedly  been  the shift to the left which is usual when Labour is defeated, the drama of Corbynmania has been caused by two factors: the panicky introduction of OMOV to halt  the long term decline of party membership, and the  final absolute loss of authority by MPs despite their popular mandate.

So why did the Labour hierarchy leave themselves so vulnerable by choice? For the same reason as they were wiped out in Scotland. Complacency. The y never thought for a moment thought they lose control via the broad church, big tent strategy. The ignored the warning of the power of factionalism in the unexpected election of Ed Miliband against the wishes of MPs, through big Union muscle . This time they opened the tent even wider to all in sundry with what looks like even more disastrous results.

There is no ideal system as Mike White recalls in the Guardian. His fellow columnist Martin Kettle has the macro analysis of the debacle.  However accidentally we may be witnessing the strange death of Labour Britain, with parallels to the Liberals of a century ago.

( The Liberals never recovered from) three such changes in particular: Ireland, where the Liberals were powerless to prevent violence and revolt; the rise of the labour movement, whose interests the Liberals could not bring themselves to embrace adequately; and votes for women, a radical demand for equality over which the Liberal party fatally hesitated..

Labour’s handling of Scotland has echoed the Liberals’ handling of Ireland, giving the initiative to the nationalists….. Just as the Liberals in the last century were unable to embrace labour, so the Labour party today is unable to free itself. In post-industrial Britain, the embrace is fatal….if we reframe the suffragette challenge as an essentially democratic, rather than a gender, issue, the parallel is much clearer. Labour does not do modern democracy. Labour won’t reform the voting system, won’t revive local government, won’t abolish the House of Lords, won’t energise industrial and corporate democracy and won’t revive its own internal party democracy either. It is a top-down party, much as the Asquith Liberal party was.

I can think of only two consolations if Corbyn wins.  Entryism by social democrats will become a flood and there will be a new leadership election within two years. It will open up the real  popular debate they all claim to want at last and drag in the Tories, the SNP and the UK’s relationship with the EU too.   And none of the present candidates will stand.

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  • Xan Phillips

    Many people seem to be warning us that Corbyn will be taking us back to the 80’s, well maybe that was the last time we had MPs who thought, rather than read the script handed out to them. I hear what you are saying, but also see a dilemma for the Tories in electing their next leader before 2020. How long will they need to biuld up a head of steam? Cameron out by 2018?

  • mickfealty

    Read Turgon’s piece Xan? He nicely pricks the ‘long suicide note’ narrative of 1983. And Labour do need to learn from Corbyn’s populism.

    But they need to be better and more resilient populism than Jezzers self contradictory platform if they want to shape the future of the UK. Blairism is too narrowly built on the Thatcherite legacy to afford Labour the means of articulating such a way forward.

    But binning it lock stock and barrel is utterly mental because you make the deep investment in working families, and deep investment in piblic services disappear and ironically propound the idea that voting Labour has been utterly worthless for as far back as anyone can remember.

    My tip: watch Burnham!

  • chrisjones2

    its all like searching for meaning in life then deciding that the answer is Scientology

    Just cause its back to the 1960s doesn’t make it right

  • Brian Walker

    Nope.. Cooper..

  • mac tire

    That’s who the Tories wish to win, Brian, in my view – the weakest of the lot (and, seemingly more Tory-lite).

    I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest Corbyn will win – just.

    If I’m wrong I will donate a modest amount to a charity of Mick’s choosing. (in saying that, I’m useless at predictions so I expect to be down a few quid next month).

    Corbyn to win with Burnham a close second.

  • mac tire

    Erm, what parts are back to the 1960s, Chris? Are there any other countries in Europe who do some things similarly?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I do hope you are correct and Jeremy wins. I know this is anecdotal, mac tire, but from my experience on trips to the south of England recently a lot of people under forty seem to be ready for a radical change such as Corbyn offers. The old Blairite politics seem confined to those over that age, and even amongst supporters this appears to be more out of habit and the “normalisation” process of decades long familiarity with the primacy of getting support from “money interests” than from any strong intellectual commitment. It speaks eloquently about just how extremist our so-called “middle ground consensus” actually is that when Corbyn offers pretty much a public interest first platform that either major party would have supported when Macmillan was PM, he is thought of as some sort of Trotskyist!

  • mickfealty

    I’ll buy that mac. And this is my charity of choice (if you can spare £15 that is): https://www.lendwithcare.org/.

    Your money could be safe though. Burnham or Cooper only make I think if they can either amass a significant majority of second and third preferences.

    Truth is as ever, and despite the polls, no one knows.

    Brian, I’m only saying Burnham because he’s playing a good STV game (ie, refraining from direct attacks, and he’s starting to talk human. He’s also right to say that the party needs to learn from Corbyn about speaking plain English again.

    The question is what lessons? And does he really mean it?

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Hello Corbyn, bye bye Labour.

    A Party’s suicide note writ large.

  • Brian Walker

    On Burnham I’m entirely subjective. I can’f stand his earnestness about nothing very much, his slithering for position and his exaggerating over privatisation in the NHS. He is a perfect example of why sometimes it’s ok to play the man. He is a ball I badly want to kick

  • We have had OMOV at CLP level for years. This is not OMOV. “Supporters” are not members. Here’s one problem. Mark Steel applied and had his application rejected because he supported Caroline Lucas at the general election…. This would be a breach of the Labour Party Rulebook if he was a member but he’s actually applied to be a supporter so should the same rules apply. The problem with the system is there used to be a freeze date to prevent entry ism. There is one this time but it is a mere 48 hours before ballots have gone out. Ludicrous. The old system was incredibly complicated and I’m not even going to try and explain it but votes were weighted. The key is transparency. A proper vote brakdown after the election should reveal any entryism

  • chrisjones2

    Well lets start with Jeremy’s plans for Nationalization.

    Even into the 1980s do you remember that if you wanted a telephone installed the queue was up to 7 months because the Post Office said it would be?

    Where huge white elephant industries that time and technology had overtaken were bailed out by huge subsidies? Where their products and prices damaged the competitiveness of other industries?

    Where the British motor industry fell apart because of appalling quality, poor management, low investment and incessant union demands. Where an innovative aerospace industry was destroyed by the same factors and by Whitehalls insistence that it could manage things better

    Where the Unions called strikes on a whim?

    Where policies like Corbyns planned spend undermined the currency to a point where interest rates reached 15% and inflation peaked at nearly 25%

    France perhaps is another example.

    Thats why they have protesters burning tyres on the motorways and blocking trains almost at will because their uneconomic ferry company is effectively bust.

    Where this week it was exposed that an SNCF Manager has been off on full pay for 16 years – after he had the temerity to query a £20m contract fraud against his employer

    And where the Country’s Champion Baker was just fined for daring to sell his baguettes 7 days a week – apparently that’s not fair to other bakers

  • chrisjones2

    I think Corbyn will win on the first ballot

    The only other contender is Cooper. Burnham has crashed out, exposed as a greasy pole climber

  • Zig70

    I like my socialism to be socialist, not a tory lite. I hope Corbyn wins. Who says getting the wealthy to pay a fair share of the money ( which they wouldn’t earn without the social structure government provides) they earn isn’t economically viable? I would say creating a self centred, screw the poor society isn’t viable and as with Thatcher, society will turn on the tories. If a tory lite labour are there at that point then they won’t pick up the mood. Blair came to power on a very moral wave, just a pity it ended up a shiny shell.

  • Zig70

    Just because there was mistakes in the past doesn’t mean they will be repeated. Large corporations have the same issues with internal self protecting departments that lose sight of the customer. The problem I saw was with management by politicians being more focused on self protection than running efficiently. I’m not in favour of large government and Corbyn’s policies will evolve but the idea of securing equitable social providers for things like water, health care etc, is something I think we should work towards. Either by regulation or not for profit bodies.

  • Rowdie111

    Don’t forget he would not allow a full PUBLIC Inquiry into Mid Staffs…..that is his epitaph !

  • Turgon

    It is interesting that this anti Burnham position and a set of increasingly personal attacks seems to have been adopted by many in the media since he failed to rule out working with Corbyn.

    It appears that treating Corbyn as anything less extreme than the worst thing ever makes one unacceptable. Is Mr. Corbyn now Emmanuel Goldstein and Burnham now in danger of being Winston Smith: interesting as Brian Walker would fit well as O’Brien.

  • Granni Trixie

    At a very simple level, I would not vote for someone with the bad judgement to buy into the Republican narrative….not just in the past but now with hindsight. Even strategically in his present circs he doesn’t seem to get that it would be wise to at least show willing to know what he doesn’t know of the complications of the NI situation. Or that he is a hostage to fortune by those who seek to legitimise paramilitary violence.

    I don’t think it’s insular to judge him on a failure to convey an understanding that it was not just the state who has questions to answer.

  • mickfealty

    I’m not a big fan either. Cooper is heavier, but doesn’t seem to have taken off. There’s no appetising options here. The Corbyn crisis in Labour is a very good example of what happens when conversations are stifled for far too long. It’s probably the wrong time and the wrong place. But it will have to be got through.