David Blackburn

Labour leadership contenders eyeing the past, not the future

Labour leadership contenders eyeing the past, not the future
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I wonder if the Labour leadership contenders worry that the previous generation’s forthcoming memoirs have created more excitement than them? I would be. The insipid campaign has laid bare the paucity of talent on Labour’s benches, and the party’s ideological exhaustion. No serving Cabinet minister lost their seat at the election; Tony Blair aside, the Milibands and Ed Balls are the best Labour has. That’s a grim prospect if your colour’s red. Ed Balls has the panache of a Vauxhall Zafira; and the two Milibands are trapped in a Beckettian whirl of meaningless jargon, convinced that using abstract nouns is a mark of vital intelligence. It isn’t; it’s irritating, and voters spurn it. How you do connect with someone you can’t understand?

There's a more serious problem with all three: so far they've said nothing new. They have not yet re-shaped their politics to changed circumstances. It's not a question of being wedded to the recent past; they pine for it. 

Matthew Parris has written an overview of the contest. His choice for leader? None of the above. Labour’s only hope, Parris argues, is that it is not too late for Harriet Harman to change her mind. She, at least, is an individual who stands for something. 

Harman has impressed in recent weeks. Opposition has taken an octave off her shrill vocal chords; it has also concentrated her tactical mind - her attacks on the coalition's split over the marriage tax is obvious but effective. She is now an adept performer at the dispatch box; that counts for a lot in opposition. But Labour is unelectable; a period of introspection must inspire a philosophical renewal. Harman is not a vacuous politician. She speaks with passion and coherence on the issue of equality. But that is it. And equality can be neither a political philosophy, nor a tactical ruse for winning elections; it is just an issue. Even if Harman were on the ballot, most unaffiliated voters would still conclude 'none of the above'.