Monday, 26 July 2010

My thoughts on the Labour leadership contest...

Ed Balls: apart from the ridiculous name? Well, for me he has always been far too close to Brown, thus too associated by Labourites with the (let's be honest) failure of Labour's Brownite years, which now seem like a short, strange and half-forgotten nightmare, to have a chance. Not only that, from what I've seen Balls also shares a measure of his political mentor's presentational style - or lack thereof; renowned for 'ballsing up' interviews, for a rather stubborn speech impediment and his arguably callous response to David Cameron's critique of the 2008 Budget ("So what?" the shrewd young Wildean declared. Prick.), I for one have no faith in him to be an effective Leader of the Opposition and still less to beat the silver-tongued chameleon at the next general election. The polls clearly reflect his failure to articulate his message to his own party, and signs suggest he will soon withdraw from the contest.

Ed Miliband: to me he seems to have spent the better part of the contest struggling to put some distance between himself and his more famous brother (who I'll come to shortly); an example of this is his over-eagerness to kick the orphaned child that is the Iraq war (pointing out that he wasn't an MP in 2003. Fair enough, but if you really believe he'd have been against the parliamentary tide had he had the option then you may as well vote Monster Raving Looney...) He has since, more shrewdly it must be said, found a far better way of doing this: his strategy seems to have been, cognisant of Balls' droop and that this has left fertile recruiting ground among Party members to the left of the New Labour project but understandably don't wish to vote for Diane Abbott, to appeal to the Party's left by making pro-union noises and calling for an end to the New Labour era. This has rewarded him with the backing of Britain's biggest union, the GMB, despite its general secretary being Charlie Whelan, a close friend of Balls'.

David Miliband: by far the most impressive of the candidates and his support reflects this. He has cleverly given the appearance of holding the initiative of the contest, being the first to declare his candidacy (apart from an ever hopeful John McDonnell) and the first to endorse the idea of TV debates.
His most interesting move of all was his endorsement of Abbott's candidacy, which allowed her onto the ballot and thus gave credence to his approach of 'keeping things out in the open' by having as broad a contest as possible. It's completely cosmetic of course as Dave only endorsed Diane knowing she is no threat, but it is, in my view, a) a good way of highlighting Labour's past problems resulting from a lack of such glasnost (Brown's 'coronation' in 2007 for instance) and b) still not as disingenuous as his brother's pseudo-leftist posturing.
Anyone who has any qualms about how genuine a leader David Miliband truly promises to be, should think back to when he was offered that cushy and prestigious EU job by the European socialists. As Nick Cohen pointed out in the Observer on Sunday: "Paddy Ashdown and many others said he would be mad not to take it. Admirably in my view, Miliband replied that he would rather lead Labour through the dreariness of opposition than be at the centre of world affairs." In my view, he deserves to win and he probably will.

Andy Burnham: I know little of due to his profound uninterestingness. He's considered to be, like Ed Miliband now is, a competitor of Balls' for the left ground of the Party vote, but unlike Ed Miliband, with little hope of success. No so uninterestingly, he has undergone an unexpected surge of support, but it's not enough. Also interesting, is that he has, in common with David Miliband, not rushed to renounce all support for the invasion of Iraq.

Diane Abbott: Ah now for some fun at last! This intellectual lightweight is possibly suffering from some form of delusions of grandeur due to her achievement of consistent re-election as MP for Hackney North, one of the safest Labour seats in the country. I can't think of any other possible reason she considers herself a serious contender for Party leader.
Still she's provided us with some laughs: imagine your average Labourite's horror on reading this headline... ...and mirthful relief on reading the article and finding that Abbott polled most highly among Conservative and Lib Dem supporters, who would understandably be quite happy to see Labour shrivel into 1983-style leftist self-delusion by electing someone like Abbott. She polled far lower among Labour supporters, though on a par with Balls and Burnham admittedly (and embarrassingly for them, IMO).
Also amusing was Abbott's evident unreadiness for her grilling from longtime colleague Andrew Neill on This Week: Douglas Murray licks his eloquent lips over the demolition here: (and you can watch it too!) In a succeeding post, Murray offers a controversial but not implausible alternative to my explanation of Abbott's ridiculous candidacy; well worth a read.
One more thing: before you feel too sorry for befuddled Diane and Labour's far left in general, note that in another appalling performance on the This Week sofa she defended not only the Castro regime in Cuba (not unusual for socialists) but also that democidal slob of a dictator, Chairman Mao, saying he may have "done more good than bad". This is the calibre of what remains of 'Old' Labour; in other words, we're better off without it.