Sebastian Payne

When will the Labour leadership contenders realise it’s the 2020 election they’re fighting?

When will the Labour leadership contenders realise it’s the 2020 election they’re fighting?
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Tonight’s Newsnight Labour leadership debate is a sink or swim moment for Liz Kendall. So far, there has been a lot of talk about Kendall's candidacy and her potential to be a reforming leader. But until now, there hasn’t been a lot of proof to back that up. Some have been whispering that she doesn’t perform well under sustained pressure; others have likened her supporters to the Taliban. Either way, tonight’s debate is her opportunity to show that she is credible — as well as hopefully answering the crucial question of what, if anything, she stands for.

It’s a mistake to label Kendall as just the Blairite right-wing candidate. Again, she has the potential to have far broader appeal, what could be described as 'New with a touch of red.' For proof of that, here is an interesting blog by Brian Beck, a Marxist sociology lecturer, Labour activist and ‘the most left wing person I know’. He saw Kendall at a hustings in Cardiff last night and explains why he's backing her for Labour leader:

‘Liz Kendall spoke with real passion and conviction, she really seemed to care about the state of our country and the problems we face. Liz Kendall was convincing. She was convincing in her answers to our country’s problems. She was convincing in her approach to repairing Labour’s record for economic competence. Most of all, she was convincingly sincere and passionate about her reasons for being in politics and what she wanted to achieve.’

‘If Liz Kendall had been leading the party at the last election, I believe that we would have been more successful. Being as Marxist as I am, I am incredibly surprised to find myself saying this; but, of all the candidates for the leadership, I currently find Liz Kendall to be the most impressive by far and I believe that if she becomes our new Labour leader, we have a very good chance of winning the next election.’

But Kendall suffers a similar problem to the other candidates: she is running as if it's a past election ahe's fighting. Kendall appears to be running as if it’s 1997, with the reformist zeal to slay a weakened Conservative party, while Yvette Cooper is in a 2010 mindset, failing to break away from Labour’s past with no vision for the future. Andy Burnham appears to be still thinking in May 2015 mode, arguing about tuition fees and dodging accusations he’s the trade union candidate. And Jeremy Corbyn is up for refighting the 1983 election. When one of the candidates realises it's the challenges of the 2020 election they need to tackle, he or she can try to offer realistic solutions to tackle Labour's present flaws and offee a strategy for how to take on the Tories for the next five years. Then, and only then, can the party begin to think about winning again.