“So .. who are you voting for?” has been the question I’ve heard time and again over recent weeks. Friends, family, political colleagues and opponents and even members of my cricket team have offered their own views but I have been genuinely undecided. To be honest, the idea of a leadership campaign before understanding the reasons why Labour lost did not enthuse me at all.
However, as time has gone on, the campaign has become far more interesting in part because it defines the discussions taking place “on the left” and also challenged mainstream political thinking.
Jeremy Corbyn deserves some credit for that. He was a reluctant candidate from the “Left” of the party and narrowly scraped enough MP nominations. It is true that many of these were lent and that some now regret this but nonetheless MPs did this because he is commonly recognised as a decent, principled man with friends across the party and in other parties. I doubt that any other candidate from this wing of the party would have gone anywhere near to securing 35 nominations. Around half of his nominations was because he was a friend rather than because of his political views. There is no doubt that Jeremy Corbyn has re-energised many Labour supporters and it’s certainly true that membership has shot up especially from younger people. Surrey Heath has seen an increase of around 50% since the election and there is a similar picture around the country.
But having spent numerous hours campaigning in various areas, I can categorically say that Labour did not lose the election because it was not left-wing enough. Throughout all the door knocking, there were around 5 to 10 people in total that expressed this view but some of them still voted for us anyway with the odd person going to UKIP, Green or didn’t vote at all. In contrast, hundreds told me their issue was fear of economy changes, our leader and the SNP in government. The idea that Ed Miliband was too right wing to be elected is ludicrous and yet some people still believe this in Labour circles. A victory for Jeremy Corbyn would appear to make all 3 issues even worse in key marginals which is why few PPCs in key marginals support him.
Labour can only win a future election by taking votes from the Conservatives and I simply don’t understand how Jeremy Corbyn would do this so can’t vote for him. If he does win, I suspect his leadership will last 2 years at most and then the party will move to replace him as the Tories did with Ian Duncan Smith.
Turning to the three other candidates, Yvette Cooper was the choice of our Surrey Heath members. I can see why – she’s a unifying, competent and experienced performer and would do a steady job if elected. However, I personally am not sure that a steady job is what is needed now as a steady job would probably get a similar result to now. Whether the public would be willing “to put Ed Balls into Downing Street” is something I doubt but she would have 4 years to work on this. I will be voting for her as 3rd.
Now it gets harder… I have met Andy Burnham and he is extremely down to earth, very friendly and has great empathy with people. There is no doubt that without the unstinting intervention of Andy, the Hillsborough Justice for the 96 campaign would not have been successful. To gain huge respect from bereaved families as someone who was both a politician but also a massive Everton fan is an achievement that few politicians can ever match. If Andy Burnham does win, the Party will move forward fairly united and bridge all strands.
I have never met Liz Kendall and yet I keep hearing the same message from those who are floating voters that she is “saying the right things”, “what she says makes sense”, “she’s got something about her that I like” and “,I voted Tory this time but would definitely vote for her”. Political opponents on the Tory side seem more cautious if she was elected than other candidates. On the downside, some see her as “a bit young” and less polished and would have internal party issues to resolve.
If there was a general election tomorrow, my choice would be easy and for Andy Burnham but there is no election tomorrow. The choice for me is therefore which candidate in an election taking place in 5 years time is the most likely to win over Tory voters. It has to be Tory voters and Tory seats that are the key because there are far more than those of other votes and other seats. If Labour had won every seat in Scotland and those of UKIP and Green, the Conservatives would still have won the election. It seems incredible to me that so few Labour supporters seem to have grasped this fact.
A party led by Liz Kendall would be a huge gamble that may be beyond Labour members but yet it seems clear to me that she offers the best chance of winning in 2020 or at least denying the Conservatives a further majority. She may not win this contest but the more votes she gets shows that the party are grasping what the electorate rather than what party supporters are saying.
For that reason, I am going to plump for Liz but would be happy if Andy won and content if Yvette did so.
Turning to the Deputy, I am a massive fan of Ben Bradshaw as my first general election campaign was spent in Exeter. Similarly, Stella Creasy is a real star with a fantastic understanding of community working and campaigning which the party must implement. Angela Eagle is well respected across the party and Tom Watson is well known for his vigorous campaigning against powerful figures.
However, Caroline Flint has a powerful personal story and is comfortable with both the powerful and powerless. I have pounded the streets of Woking with Caroline and she has a great knack of energising others. More importantly, if Corbyn does win, she would be a good counter balance and if he doesn’t then she would be an asset for every other candidate.
My vote will be 1) Caroline Flint 2) Stella Creasy 3) Ben Bradshaw 4) Angela Eagle 5) Tom Watson