A brief series where, for my own amusement (and possibly ensuring I never work for the Labour Party again), I set out the case against each of the Leadership candidates. The eleventh commandment of internal elections is “Never speak ill of a fellow party member”. It gets broken just as regularly as the other ten, but I shall try to be constructive, not merely critical.
I planned to make the entirety of this post a link to the result of the 1983 General Election.
Thinking about this, I realised I’d be letting my own rejection of Diane Abbott’s agenda stop me from saying anything interesting.
The truth is, Diane Abbott is not running to be leader of the Labour party.
She has the support of approximately 15 MPs, is only on the ballot paper because David Miliband’s campaign team wanted her there and has the support of few constituencies and even fewer unions. This is not a recipe for victory. I have a greater chance of being Labour leader in my lifetime than Diane Abbott does.
The fiction that Diane is running for leader is one that has to be maintained by both her campaign and the media. To do otherwise would make her candidacy impossible to explain in hustings and interviews.
We’re lucky, we don’t have to pretend.
What Diane Abbott is really running for has many names, but no official title. It’s the mantle of Nye, the leadership of the left, the Benn inheritence.
The ambition is to be the face and figurehead of a resurgent, campaigning left inside the Labour party, helping to break the grip the centre and right of Labour have had on the party since the conversion of Neil Kinnock to the path of moderation.
If you’re considering voting for Diane, my guess is that this prospect sounds pretty attractive.
So the case against supporting her has to be that she’d be a diasaster in that role.
The next few years are a major opportunity for the Labour left.
Labour has just lost office thanks to a crisis in capitalism and the failure of the Labour centre-right to respond to that crisis it in an electorate pleasing way.
As a result, we have a government which will run an anti-public services, anti-social spending, anti-housing benefit and welfare agenda, while pursuing policies that will, at the very best, slow the decline in unemployment.
For the first time in a generation, the left could have a coherent intellectual and electoral argument. If the face of the left is Diane Abbott, that argument will be less likely to be seriously.
First, Diane Abbott is grounded in the discredited and failed eighties left. She’s never really managed to graduate from that particular fight. The left needs a leader who isn’t defined by years of irrelevance.
Second, the left needs converts. Diane Abbott is not someone who’ll make many friends inside the Labour party. She’s been an MP for over twenty years, and many of her colleagues, left or right, dislike her on both a personal and political level.
Third, she’s easily badged as a hypocrite.
Fourth, she’s a dreadful media performer under anything more than light scrutiny. She’s good with the faithful, and gives a good (sometimes even brilliant) speech, but she is abrasive, evasive and hectoring in a tough press interview.
Finally, for the left, the challenge of the next few years is primarily an economic one. The left needs answers on jobs, deficits, pensions, benefits, pay and housing. Diane Abbott offers little other than sloganising on these issues. Compare and contrast Livingstone on housing, or John McDonnell on taxation of the super rich.
There is a major chance for the left of the Labour party to grow, if it wants it.
The old right and New Labour inheritors are divided, a little bemused and comparatively organisationally weak (though Labour first is doing the hard work well, as ever) , while the centre is willing to please the party and listen to it’s concerns.
With the right leaders, the left could well provide intellectual and organisation inspiration to the wider movement.
Diane Abott is the wrong leader for that role. In fact, the best thing the left of the Labour party could do is consign the likes of Abbott, Corbyn and McDonnell to the past, honoured and praised but ultimately ignored.
Instead they should focus on developing a new generation of strong voices for whom the chance to stridently oppose the government, challenge their own party to be mor radical and win applause from party members will be attractive. Most of these won’t be in Westminster – they could be council leaders, or trade unionists, or simply fluent, passionate activists.
The challenge for the left isn’t winning this Leadership election, it’s becoming strong enough to ensure that in conference, NEC and Shadow cabinet, it’s people and ideas are taken seriously.
So if you really want a stronger left in the party, why not vote for Ed Miliband, who’ll at least listen to you, and might concede ground on party democracy and policy that is important to you.
Alternatively, be cynical and vote for David Miliband, so you can look forward to the Bevanite backlash his politics will create.
Please, though, don’t let Diane be the leader of the left. She’ll ruin it for you.