With the Labour leadership contest now well advanced, I guess it’s time for members and supporters of the party — of which I am one — to nail their colours to the mast. So I do so today — though I’m afraid with all the enthusiasm as it is possible to muster when you hold the view that none of the contenders truly recognises the scale of the calamity that befell the party in December, nor has demonstrated the brave and bold thinking necessary to reconnect us with the millions in our one-time heartlands who have given up on us.
She is continuity Corbynism, wedded to a manifesto that was rejected emphatically and, like many of the party’s more hardline activists, too heavily focused on fighting to recast the Labour party in her own image rather than rebuilding the Red Wall. A ‘one more heave’ approach would spell doom for Labour. Anyone who thinks our support has reached a nadir in our traditional strongholds had better think again. In some of the constituencies that we managed to retain, our majority is now wafer-thin. Without a significant change of direction, some of these places will fall next time out.
Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry
Both lawyers hailing from trendy quarters of north London and steeped in the politics of liberal cosmopolitanism, are the embodiment of everything that lay behind the fissure between the party and what was once its core vote. Whatever their undoubted abilities, neither is likely to win back working-class voters in Bolsover and Blyth Valley.
Her aborted campaign is worthy of a mention, only so far as it demonstrates that one can build a profile as a backbench MP on being brash, edgy and irreverent — but that, in the end, there is no substitute for the hard grind of developing popular and workable policies which appeal to the voters. Phillips was found out by the party, and she would have been found out by the country too. Those patronising MPs and commentators who promoted her as the saviour of Labour because, through their own prejudice, they thought she spoke for the working-class should apologise to the woman for imbuing in her the false belief that she was a potential leader.
Probably the best that can be said about Nandy is that she is the least uninspiring of a pretty uninspiring bunch. Media savvy — she more than held her own against Andrew Neil — and bright, she has the personal attributes necessary of a leader. And she has at least made some welcome noises about the need for the party to strain every sinew in the task of winning back its former heartlands.
But — here’s the rub — it doesn’t seem to come from the gut. While speaking passionately about her Wigan roots and the need to give working-class people more agency over their lives, Nandy offers very little of substance on the touchstone issues that matter to these voters: work, family, law and order, the nation, and suchlike. On the occasion recently that she did speak on such an issue — immigration — it was to extol the virtues of free movement. So, for all her warm words, Nandy’s worldview seems to be one that broadly conforms to the liberal consensus.
At least Nandy understands the destination, even if her compass is somewhat defective. So I’ll most likely plump for her. But with no illusions. None whatsoever.