Today I listened to about an hour of the LBC Labour leaders debate hosted by Iain Dale. As a Conservative supporter, watching the state of disarray in Labour- whether it is with their shambolic response to welfare cuts or their grass-roots’ embrace of a dinosaur reincarnation of Michael Foot- is great viewing. However, I worry a too weak Labour party may create a lazy Conservative party. Below is my brief opinion of the four candidates and what I think the Labour leadership contest means for British politics going forward.
Andy Burnham– I see Mr. Burnham as a slippery sort of politician that would be easy to defeat. Mr. Burnham was the Minister of Health who presided over the Midstaffs scandal and he tries to be all things to all people in the Labour party. He recently abstained on the welfare bill despite ringing his hands about how unjust it is, and he is the only leadership candidate who is “playing nice” with Mr. Corbyn- even saying today that he would serve in a Corbyn cabinet. He is the ultimate hypocrite, as he is one who bemoans the fact that there are too many posh accents in Westminster, while he himself has a degree from Cambridge and hasn’t minded slipping on a black tie and tux every once in a while. He is the ultimate insider who rose up the ranks under New Labour that pretends to be “for the little guy” because of his Catholic Liverpool roots. I don’t think he would be an effective Labour party leader and I think the Conservatives would outmaneuver him; as they already have done on welfare. The fact that he has lost his front-runner status to a previously unknown left-wing dinosaur is proof enough of what a lightweight Mr. Burnham is.
Yvette Cooper– The wife of Ed Balls is not likely to become leader of the Labour party. She is a political hack that has spent her career working for the Labour party and she has the dynamism of a sleeping sloth. Add to the fact that like her husband she worked as a protege for Gordon Brown in the treasury, than as a minister, her list of actual accomplishments are very small. (Unless you count the increased welfare roles while she was at Work & Pensions).
Liz Kendall– If the Labour party was thinking clearly they would see that Liz Kendall is the best candidate they have in the leadership race at the moment. Is she perfect? No. Without touching on the fact that she is unmarried and childless (a point Yvette Cooper seems to want to use to discredit her), she does have the disadvantage of like Burnham and Cooper, of being a career politician and New Labour baby. But she is well spoken, bright, attractive, and has a backbone. Unlike the weaselly Burnham and Cooper, she is openly for a Blairite centre-ground Labour platform and is not afraid to take on her party’s left during a time when most ordinary politicians would be trying to court them. I particularly was impressed when I heard her today ask Mr. Burnham something sacreligious in Labour circles: “how much will that cost?” Luckily for the Conservatives however, Labour party activists see Kendall as a Tory, and she will not be the Labour party’s next leader. Honestly, I am wondering if she has any place in the Labour party going forward.
Jeremy Corbyn– Jeremy Corbyn is a true throw back to 1970s Labour. He is an old, true believing, uncompromising socialist and was the only one of the Labour party contenders to not abstain and to vote against the government’s welfare cuts. His background is in union organising and he has never been a minister despite being in Parliament over 30 years. He has almost no appeal to the mainstream electorate and he has admitted he is running to become party leader to purify the party before the goal of becoming Prime Minister. He even said if he won the election his victory song would be “Imagine” by John Lennon. Besides maybe in Scotland, his nomination would be a disaster for the Labour party. Conservatives could easily paint the Labour party as loony socialists and swallow up the centre ground, ensuring they thump Labour in 2020. Tony Blair has warned that if the party follows his direction, the party could be out of power for 20 years- which of course will only encourage the party’s fringe to support Mr. Corbyn more. At the moment, although MPs put him on the ballot more out of sympathy than actual support, he is leading the Labour nomination polls (as much as polls could be trusted these days) having 43% of first preferences, 17 points ahead of Burnham, and when second preferences are included he would win with 53% of the vote, defeating Mr. Burnham.
Although I have had a good joke with everyone else in the “Tories for Corbyn” and #jezwecan faux Corbyn support, I have mixed feelings about Labour lurching far to the the left. On the one hand, it would ensure an easy victory (like Thatcher’s in 1983), split the Labour party (Kendall and Umunna already said they would not serve in a Corbyn cabinet) and could allow the Conservatives to push ahead with a more aggressively right-wing agenda because the left-wing alternative would be unthinkable in government. On the other hand, I worry that a weak leftist Labour will encourage the Conservatives to rush to occupy the “centre-ground” and thus abandon its party’s base and miss an opportunity to push through needed strong Conservative reform.
We’ll see what happens for Labour, but for the moment, let us on the right enjoy their poor state of affairs. It won’t last forever, but with a Corbyn or Burnham leadership upcoming, maybe it will last a wee bit longer. Conservatives must take this opportunity to seize the day and keep changing the country for the better.