Nominate in haste, repent at leisure

As the excellent Labour Uncut site reported yesterday, the Labour party machine and the various campaigns swung into action today to ensure that Diane Abbott, an MP on the marginal wing of the extreme left of the Labour party got enough nominations to be on the ballot paper and lose in a future leadership election.

This is quite remarkable. It’s like Hugh Gaitskill busting a gut to make sure Tom Driberg was a candidate for leader. (That brief bio makes Driberg sound quite salacious, but he was a fairly credible political figure at the time)

The party move for Abbott was done, we are told, to ensure the widest range of choice for party members. It was not significant that Diane Abbott could barely muster half a dozen MPs to truly support her candidacy, she must still go on the ballot paper.

Fair enough. You can only conclude that MPs don’t want the burdensome duty of choosing the candidates they think best suited to the tough job of leading the Labour party. So they shouldn’t be surprised when moves are made to remove it from them, as Peter Kenyon, a left wing member of the NEC, has already proposed.

Now obviously, the leadership candidates did this so they could appear all “let a thousand flowers bloom” about the leadership election. Fine. Leaving aside the stunning lack of self confidence it takes for Leadership candidates to believe it needs the presence of Diane Abbott to valididate their campaigns, the decisions they took today will have consequences.

So here’s how I expect it to play out from here. I will likely be wrong, but hey, if so, you can tell me why!

First, the media will make Diane Abbott’s nomination the story of the early part of campaign, giving her huge publicity and momentum.  She will get far more media attention than her politcal credibility deserves, not least because the media are already bored with the other four, and Ms Abbott is nothing if not quotable.

Second, various hard left factions in trade unions will organise to try and secure nominations and support for Diane in the affilliates section of the electoral college. This will give the union political teams nightmares, and will end up dragging a couple of the candidates a bit to the left to hold the union left factions off.

Third, Diane Abbott and the Grassroots alliance will work to ensure that the composition of the NEC is significantly more left wing than previously, using the bully pulpit of the campaign to get a couple more of the hard-left elected. 

Fourth, this process will be used to push forward a policy agenda that will be massively out of sync with the vast majority of the Labour party, and although it will be heavily defeated, it will have an imprint on the party that will last.

Finally this campaign will give the hard left the chance to build funding, contacts and voting blocs that will be used in future NEC, NPF and conference votes.

When the next leader of the Labour party is cursing their NEC at 3am of the Tuesday of conference as they devote hours to trying to deflect yet another obscure leftist policy proposal, while being lampooned in the press for their weakness, perhaps they will have cause to look back at this moment and wonder if the chance to look noble on Twitter was really worth it.

45 Responses to “Nominate in haste, repent at leisure”

  1. Miranda

    Very short sighted, Hopi. I see David Miliband has nominated Diane formally. That is going to win an awful lot of credit with many BME and female members around the country when they are deciding to put second after Diane. Miliband D has played a blinder and he and his followers (all Blairites) deserves major congratulations. If the race is close between him and Ed Miliband this will make him inch it. The number of Black people I know who are not party members but are excited about Diane running is phenomenal. I have already had people asking me how to join. Those people (and there will be many) are guaranteed to put David M 2nd after today.

    • hopisen

      Perhaps you’re right. I surely hope so.

      What I see is an astonishingly poor candidate being placed at the heart of the Labour leadership race by the fact her rivals don’t want to look bad by excluding her.

      Now, I’m a long term supporter of AWS, and support shad cab quotas. That’s because they actually broaden the party. This just appears to broaden the party, and has major risks.

      • PooterGeek

        Miranda’s comment reads like something from a 70s campus satire or an updated version of a missionary to Empire enthusing about how keen the fuzzy-wuzzies are on the scripture classes, now they are being taken by One Of Their Own Kind.

        I spent years growing up trying to persuade people called Kevin to see beyond the colour of my skin. Now I’ve “escaped” that working-class environment to live amongst my middle-class “betters”, I can look forward to years trying to get people called Miranda to do the same.

        Once, polite, educated types thought it perfectly acceptable to reduce the mind-boggling (and greater-than-European) diversity of the peoples of entire continents to labels like “picaninnies”; now they think it’s fine to reduce them to “BME”. Miranda can’t even be bothered to stretch her imagination as far as that.

        I’m not voting for Abbott, Miranda. I’m not one of your “Black people”—why the capitalization? I’m a Labour Party member who’s sick of identity politics and sick of being patronized by genteel racists. And I’m hoping that, for everyone’s sake, the best human being for the job will win.

      • AdamB

        For an “astonishingly poor candidate” she did amazingly well last night getting the biggest rounds of applause on almost every question. A channel four online poll also put her way ahead of her rivals as having won the debate. Maybe her views aren’t as “extreme” as you seem to think!

    • roger alexander

      ‘ I have already had people asking me how to join.’

      With Abbott now nominated,I bet there are lots of Tories ‘temporarily’joining up to give her a helping hand.

  2. Jon Wilson

    I agree that this demonstrates leadership candidates’ _astonishing_ lack of confidence. You either have a PLP nomination round or you don’t.

    But Abbott being a candidate isn’t a problem, for two reasons:
    1. She isn’t a candidate who will able to create, hold together, or even rally any effective left-wing bloc in the party.
    2. We on the non-left need arguments which aren’t just about pragmatism to challenge the left’s claims – which are about a social market not just big state for example. Having someone on the left in the contest will force the other candidates to do that.

    • hopisen


      1. I only hope you’re right – but I think you’ll surprised at ho the left rallies around Diane now. After all, she’s got guaranteed “pulling power” for 4 months. Will she be person who holds a left wing bloc together- I doubt it, but others might well be able to build on it.

      2. I agree with the first part, but a leadership election isn’t quite the place to do it. After all, you’re fishing for votes in an election, not trying to set out credible policy agenda!

      • Jon Wilson

        I guess i’m just a fantasizing about policy and ideology being discussed during a leadership election. But we need to figure out _somewhere_ for it to happen, otherwise we really are shafted.

  3. quietzapple

    Tom Driberg was nothing if he was not salacious.

    Diane Abbot is a media darling and she will take as read, loudly, most of the commonplace untruths re the fine Labour Government we have just lost, principally because of the world wide recession.

    How anti Labour she will pull the Party and the other candidates I don’t know. Let’s hope comrades in the Trades Unions are more solid than I fear many “activists” will be.

  4. Mark

    All good points but a Machiavellian view might suggests that David Miliband gains doubly. Firstly as Miranda suggests above. Secondly though as front runner he benefits from an extra candidate to the left. Diane will take votes away from the two Eds more than Andy and David. The Deputy Leadership ballot shows that under STV not all votes transfer across with 10-20% of voters not providing full preferences.
    My estimation is that this will mean there will be a number of voters who would have voted for either Ed who will now vote Diane and not transfer to either Ed.
    So David Miliband gets favourable publicity and he gains politically by weakening the vote of his rivals.
    Brilliant! He’ll go far with nous like that he’s the man to lead the Party – I’ll be voting for him!

    • hopisen

      I’ve heard this interpretation too.

      There’s some truth to it, esp in unions, but it’s not totally clearcut.

      In the PLP section Dianne only has about 5 votes. Poss 15 with McDonnells, supporters. There’s no guarantee they’ll go to DMili.

      In the Union section, it may prevent a couple of endorsements of EMili, or Balls. If so, that could be of benefit to DMili.

      In the Members section, I suspect that main effect will be to move centre of gravity of debate to left, which will impact all candidates.

      It also depends if Abbott attracts “new” voters, or redistributes existing pool – eg was Johnson main beneficiary of Cruddas strength in Union section? No, Harman was because his supporters prob wldn’t have voted at all without hard union campiagning.

      In sum, this is an exhaustive ballot, so transfers count. Will Abbott be “grateful” to Dmiliband and simply hand over 2nd prefs? Personally I doubt it.

      Will it split the left vote? maybe, but it will also move race to left, which will create probs for DMili.

  5. Tim H

    1. “on the marginal wing of the extreme left of the Labour party”

    2. promoting “a policy agenda that will be massively out of syn with the vast majority of the Labour party”

    3. promoting “obscure leftist proposal[s]”

    Any evidence to support these claims? Care to demonstrate that Abbott is indeed on the margins of the “extreme” margins in terms of Labour party sentiment? “Extreme” would suggest at most the furthest left 10%. The margins of that would put her within (at most) the most left-wing 3% of the party. So: any evidence that that’s the case?

    • hopisen

      She had the declared “actual” support of 5 MPs out of 258.

      That’s about 2%.

      • Tom

        She would have had more were she not actually *outflanked* on the left by John McDonnell, of course. I’m not a particular fan of Diane, but I think it’s wrong to suggest that her views aren’t representative of a fair chunk of the party membership.

      • Tim H

        “MPs”, as everyone knows, being exactly the same thing as “all Party members”. And “my nomination” being exactly the same thing as “entirely representative of my views”, as every tactical voter in history will be able to tell you.

        Any +real+ evidence?

  6. Edward Carlsson Browne

    See, this is why we lost. Because the right of the party was too busy whinging about a hard left that’s been marginal for as long as I can remember to actually cater to the broad mass of the party and its voters, instead concentrating, as far as I can tell, on a couple of constituencies in Hampshire where we’ve never broken 30% of the vote, and that in 1966.

    Diane Abbott is a gadfly. A gadfly who will sound good in debates, attract a certain amount of student and right-on support but fail to demonstrate substance and look hypocritical or badly informed in some of her more left-wing stances, few of which will shock middle England anyway.

    She is not Lenin. She’s not even John McDonnell. Whatever passes for the remnants of Militant these days is not going to move heaven and earth of get her nominated and they couldn’t if they wanted to. Nor is she going to have much effect on NEC elections – nobody knows who they bloody are anyway. Take a deep breath, calm down and consider that actually following the party leader blinding down whichever alley he chooses is not smart.

    Abbott will not create much extra internal opposition, but if she did that wouldn’t be a bad thing. It would make the leader appeal to those voters we’ve lost on the left, even if only for the length of the election campaign, and it would force them to win arguments rather than assume they got their way through some sort of social democratic royal prerogative.

    Aside from which, if any of the leadership contenders can’t beat Diane Abbott by a country mile, they’re far too incompetent ever to be considered as a worthy leader of the Labour Party.

    • hopisen

      You’re right she’s a gadfly- but gadflies can be useful to organisers!

      Of course she’s going to lose. it’s what happens after that counts.

  7. Newmania

    That was a a superb post Hopi , quite enthralling , not that they aren`t all a great read but this one lives on the page , as they say.

    Would you actually have preferred no left wing candidate then Hopi ? ( To me Ed Milliband is a dangerous lunatic and Balls an unspeakable Commie , but there are fine gradations detectable to your antennae I would imagine )

    PS -So what she is a Black Abbess , I know one black woman(intimately ) who walks out of the room when she pretends she speaks for “Black women”.

  8. Miranda

    “In sum, this is an exhaustive ballot, so transfers count. Will Abbott be “grateful” to Dmiliband and simply hand over 2nd prefs? Personally I doubt it”.

    As a BME Labour supporter I can tell you categorically they will – they’ll have David Lammy and Keith Vaz telling them to for a start. Jon Cruddas is also being actively whooed by David Miliband and he has major respect in the BME community because of the work he does fighting the BNP and his work for low paid (many Black, female) union members as part of London citizens.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, by nominating Diane Abbott David M has played a blinder. Mark is absolutely right that she will take votes away from the odious Balls and also from E Miliband. That guarantees David a clear run.

  9. Huw Clayton

    Whatever the rights and wrongs of the procedure used, it’s going to be a lot more fun over the next 3-4 months now than it would have been watching a bunch of grey-suited male nonentities in their 40s cooking up a series of mind-bendingly dull and meaningless platitudes.

    That would actually be good for Labour – not only do they need to decide what they stand for, but they need to somehow get the message out. Although that said, it will have to be an intelligent message, or the party will remain stuck at 1983 levels of popularity – and speaking as a swing voter, that would not be a good thing for democracy.

  10. tim f

    Come on Hopi, you can’t have it both ways.

    Either the left is out of sync with the rest of the party, or the left will be able to get great benefit out of Diane’s candidacy by mobilising support in the CLPs & unions, but both can’t be true.

    I’d be pleased if I were you – McDonnell would be much more likely to be able to mobilise the kind of results you’re talking about here. Abbott won’t have the same effect he’d have had & I suspect that’s why she’s on the ballot and he isn’t.

    I thought we were supposed to be over this kind of politics where a section of the party is consistently shut out, now?

    • hopisen

      Not so. One can be of the extremist fringe yet have appeal far beyond it. 80s era Tony Benn is a perfect example of this .

      Politics is not a rational transactional business: emotion, solidarity, passion and so on can count for more in peoples desire to support a candidate than their actual views. This is, by the way, why I think Diane Abbott has potential to be a better champion of the left than a McDonnell – he limits left support to true believers, she could extend it.

      As for the politics where a section of the party is shut out, well, don’t get me started on that -there’s a bdifference between being shut out and being disagreed with.

  11. damon green

    Whoever becomes leader of the Labour Party will have to lead the whole party, and not just the bits that they like.

  12. donpaskini

    Hopi, what do you think has gone wrong for the “moderates” over the last three years?

    In the Deputy Leadership, they managed to lose to Harriet Harman, who was seen at the time as a comedy candidate.

    Then last year a bunch of them resigned in such a way as to cause maximum annoyance to mainstream Labour Party members.

    And now they have contrived to make sure an articulate leftie who has a big media profile will be on the ballot paper, thus guaranteeing that there will be a big vote for the left and that the next leader will be whichever Miliband brother is best at getting the left’s second preferences.

    Is this part of some unspeakably cunning plan?

    • hopisen

      A subject for another blog post…

      Let’s just say that the way to build your career for the last 15 years was not to spend your time building a strong operation across the party, as you could rely on that provided by one T. Blair or one G. Brown to rise smoothly to the top. At the summit, what mattered was keeping a few key journalists in the loop, and a threat to walk out was a serious weapon.

      Now none of that matters, but the members of the GMB political committee do. It is those excluded from the old process that prosper – from the political strength Jon Cruddas now has in the unions, or Harriet has from building a network of women MPs patiently (or indeed the broadly sympathetic media coverage of Diane Abbott).

      As for the rest – I understand that if you don’t use muscles, they atrophy.

      • donpaskini

        If you do Readers’ Requests, I’d love to see a longer version of this (very good) point in a blog post some time.

  13. Brian Hughes

    All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

    If nothing else this lady’s presence in our little competition will give us lots more to chat earnestly about for the next few months than we might otherwise have had.

    A far better way to pass the time in my view than wasting our energies trying seriously to oppose the collision government during its honeymoon period.

  14. Alex Chalmers

    She will bring diversity and the media won’t be able to say that all the candidates are the same.

    She isn’t that left-wing, if they want a traditional socialist, they should get the Beast of Bolsover, one of our greatest MPs, when he leaves Parliament, if he does (!), he will be sorely missed.

  15. CS Clark

    When I read your piece Hopi I wasn’t sure you weren’t taking this role of Cassandra a bit too far, for most of the reasons above. Now, having read some of the pro-stuff elsewhere I’m not so sure. Who was it who said that the most enthusiastic supporters are the worst salespeople?

    But I’d also offer the possibility of another nugget of scheming – the realisation from MilliD, and others, that the next Labour government is likely to have a small majority or be in coalition, and that there will be no reserve to accomodate awkward buggers. I don’t suppose it’ll matter then if they feel shut out when they are actually just being disagreed with.

  16. tantric lover

    Spot on Hopi. Patronising, tokenistic tosh moving us back to the 1980s.

  17. Mike

    Abbott on NewsNight: Scrap Trident, troops out of Afghanistan, tax the rich.
    Vote winner!

  18. James Doran

    Labour is a democratic socialist party, I can’t understand why people who worked for it would be using language like “extremist” to describe a Labour MP.

  19. Julia Smith

    Call me crazy if you like, but isn’t it a good thing that the Labour leadership race makes an attempt to reconnect with some kind of left-wing policy, however vaguely that is?

    Or is three centre-right-ish parties battling it out until the end of time your idea of a mature democracy?

    • hopisen

      Of course we should have a good policy debate with all parts of the party included. What we shouldn’t do is indulge in the pretence that someone who would be an awful leader for the labour party does us any good when presented as a credible candidate.

      If, in 2005, David Cameron had gone out of his way to ensure Dan Hannan was a serious candidate for leader of the Conservative party, giving him a huge amount of media and grassroots attention in the process, while various centrist Tories fell over themselves to say how essential it was he was in the race to represent the rabid eurosceptic wing of the conservative party, we’d have been delighted.

      That’s how the Tories feel today.

      As for the point about three centrish parties battling out – I don’t see the point of refusing to go where the voters are, just because others might be trying to go there too. That doesn’t always being “centrist”. It does mean always being mindful of political reality.

      • Julia Smith

        I thought Dan Hannan did get a lot of bigging up around that time. Not that I’ve read it, but I seem to remember that ‘Project’ tome he wrote with Carswell got a lot of ink.

        Anyhow, I suppose what I’m saying is that if having her there means the debate happens, that has to be A Good Thing, if after that Labour decides that being a left-wing party is a terribly outdated notion in the current climate and it and my ‘X’ can finally part company for good. It does seem a terrible shame though.

        I just wonder how I will tell the difference between Clegg, Cameron and Miliband D when the time comes?

  20. Matthew

    I wouldn’t worry about Diane Abbott being on the ballot so much. A strong Labour party should not be afraid of debate. We had thirteen years in power and won three elections. We have earned a badge of competence. No need to be as uptight as before.
    We need to be seen by outsiders to lighten up and be open. I think an open race and slightly more conflictual party is a good thing. After all the party is so much more interesting than the milquetoast, ideologically rigid folk on the other teams.

    I just wish they were having a televised primetime debate so the rest of the country could enjoy the serious political entertainment of the Labour leadership race..

  21. Gareth Hughes

    It is a fact that the Labour Party is not a monolith with all members believing the same. Any party of any size will have its wings and factions. If it doesn’t, it’s likely to indicate authoritarian control freakery.

    Since SDP, the Labour right have been left without any real cohesive value system (if there is one, please tell). In government, Labour has demonstrated a certain authoritarian streak that had been at work within the party for much longer.

    When you use the words ‘extreme’ and ‘hard’ to describe the Labour left, it is to suggest that they do not belong to the party, that the sidelining should continue.

    From many in the CLPs there was much ill-ease about the direction of New Labour. Any other party’s vote might have collapsed at the general election, but we campaigned hard for a party whose leadership gave us grave misgivings.

    Among Labour left, Abbott is seen as a somewhat soft socialist, with imperfect left credentials. But having a former New Labour minister leading the opposition to the Con Dem savage cuts when they come is the liability. All their protests can be batted away by blaming the former government for everything.

    Diane Abbott has plenty of rough edges and lacks the top-level experience of the others, but I bet she’d be far more effective leading the opposition and connecting with discontent in the wider society against the government. The other four will all bring more spin, bluff and a whole lot of baggage from their part in unpopular government.

  22. LesAbbey

    Just another apparatchik who would like to disenfranchise the left of the party. After all they are only good for knocking on doors, these activists.

    Could this possibly be why the membership has shrunk by more than half over the last dozen years. Could the four clones, never have done a job outside of politics, have cloned themselves so much inside the PLP that it’s impossible for outsiders to get nominated without the nominations of Miliband, Straw and Harman?

    If both McDonnell and Abbott had been nominated we could actually say that democracy in the party is healthy. The fear our political class has of democracy shows up so well at times like this. Whatever you do, don’t give people a choice.

    • hopisen

      Membership numbers are an awful measure of political success. We gained tens of thousands of members after losing the 92 election. I’d rather have won.

      I’m in all in favour of party democracy. What I’m not enamoured of is the pretence that a CLP delegate/Union block vote at conference is particularly representative of Labour party members. Nor do I think that MPs should be obligated to nominate someone they think would be a terrible leader just to offer a choice. Either we ask MPs to give us their judgement about good potential leaders, or we don’t.

      Personally, I’d quite like a proper MP nomination round, followed by a 50/50 afilliates/members ballot. That way we wouldn’t have the farce of fake nominations.

      Oh, and Diane Abbott was a TV researcher with LWT, then a press officer for Labour councils, then an MP. She has about as much “real world” experience as George Osborne.


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