Matthew Dancona

The Labour beauty contest

Text settings

The beauty contest begins: read Polly Toynbee in the Guardian today and her praise for James Purnell, the arch-Blairite Work and Pensions Secretary who is making a speech calling for Labour to emphasise fairness and social justice. David Miliband also enters the lists this week with a lecture in honour of his father, Ralph. Charles Clarke is expected to intervene (again) shortly. There will be others.

I am reminded horribly of the period 1994-7 when the prospective successors to John Major jostled for position, all making speeches coated in plausible deniability but with a core of political gelignite: vote for me as the next leader. The question then, as now, was how to bridge the gap between appealing to the electorate – the voters in a general election – and the selectorate – the party that chooses its leader. Just as the Tories persuaded themselves in the mid Nineties that neo-Thatcherism was the cure for Majorism, so most of the voices we have been hearing since Gordon’s Meltdown Thursday have alleged – preposterously but predictably – that the party is not left wing enough. Dwindling and diminishing in scale and focus, Labour is starting to please itself rather than the country. It has forgotten the electoral coalition that propelled it to power in 1997.

The best observation of the day is made by the ever-shrewd Jon Cruddas in the Times. David Cameron is more than a salesman, Cruddas notes: Brown should take seriously the Tory leader’s capacity for personal empathy and his rejection of managerial language. Dave is very fortunate that the PM won’t take any notice of this advice at all.