The Labour leadership race: who’s who?

labour leadership

Written by Max Bettridge

Come September, the new Labour leader will be successfully elected to lead the opposition into the next 5 years until the 2020 General Election where they will battle to become the next British Prime Minister.

Jeremy Corbyn, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham are the four hopeful contenders to become the next leader following Ed Miliband’s humble election following the painful General Election defeat in May. Unfortunately, it will make absolutely no difference who is elected. Labour is doomed.

Labour voters and members should not be looking at the next election to kick the Tories out of Number 10, but perhaps looking as far off as 2025 or even 2030 as having a better chance of electoral success. Not to doubt the credentials, talent or ambition of the four contenders, but we now live in a society where the majority of the electorate do not vote based on the stance of a political party, but rather how they feel about the leader; whether they believe they are tough enough to lead our nation.

The fact is, the Labour Party now find themselves in a situation all too similar to the dismal campaigns fought by the unelectable Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock between 1983 to 1992.

This was Labour’s biggest downfall during the election in May. Miliband didn’t actually do much wrong during the campaign, in fact, he hardly put a foot wrong. The problem was that half the electorate could not look past the idea that he was a common buffoon, as perpetuated by most right wing media, while the other half of the electorate were, arguably rightly, unable to trust Labour with the economy following the 2007 Global Financial Crash. The idea that Miliband’s biggest downfall was that he simply wasn’t ‘Prime Ministerial’ is emphasised when compared to David Cameron. Although Mr. Cameron has, to be fair, had five years’ experience as being Prime Minister, he does portray a certain air of confidence of a man who will lead the country. Although this was also a criticism of Cameron, it is why the majority of the electorate had faith that he could continue to lead Britain.

Miliband’s resignation does not, by any means, mean that these problems have now disappeared and that the new Labour leader won’t have to worry about such issues. The simple fact is that all four of the candidates are equally as unelectable, or at least, equally unable to convince the nation that they are tough enough. As well as this, the majority of those running to become leader were part of the previous Labour regimes which has seen the party fall so dramatically from power.

Jeremy Corbyn, who has been dubbed the outsider of this leadership election, is a strident socialist who campaigns on the basis of anti-austerity. He is also the candidate that clearly sticks out as a more rebellious political character. In fact he is one of the most rebellious MPs, having defied the whip a staggering 238 times since 2005. He also has the most experience in Westminster, having been elected in 1983. In this time he also has a fairly reputable record in claiming the least amount of expenses, describing himself as a ‘parsimonious MP’. Furthermore, in order to display his discontent at the forming of New Labour under Tony Blair he decided to grow out his infamous beard which has won Parliamentary Beard of the Year a record 5 times. As well as all this, the beard winning, anti-austerity, parsimonious MP has also received the backing of Britian’s biggest union, Unite as well as the influential Guardian columnist Owen Jones. Although the MP for Islington North has been in parliament for more time than any of his rivals, he has always distanced himself from the Labour governments of Blair and Brown which have become so unpopular. However, despite Corbyn’s clearly adhering qualities, his strong left wing stance will never win Labour an election. Though he may succeed in winning back some of the voters who deserted Labour for UKIP and the SNP, his stances will never win back middle-class voters who voted for the Tories and those that did vote Lib Dem. As former editor of the Daily Mirror, Piers Morgan commented, “If Jeremy Corbyn’s the future of the Labour Party, they won’t win back power for another 100 years.” Furthermore, although the fact that Corbyn has never directly been associated with the previous Labour governments, the fact that after 32 years in Parliament he has never served in a cabinet or shadow cabinet asks serious questions of his leadership credentials as well as governmental experience.

In comparison, Yvette Cooper, who has only served in Parliament since 1997, has held several roles both in Gordon Brown’s Cabinet between 2008 to 2010 and the Shadow Cabinet under previous leader Ed Miliband from 2010 to the present day as Shadow Health Secretary. In fact, since her election to Parliament following the successful Labour campaign of 1997, Cooper has held seven different positions both on the Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet. This certainly indicates no lack of ambition or talent from the Labour leader hopeful. Her wealth of experience in a relatively short time means she has the most experience of all her rivals within Government. Furthermore, in 2013, Yvette Cooper was selected as one of Britain’s most powerful women by BBC Radio 4’s The Woman’s Hour. Cooper is rightly considered to be one of the front runners and can boast the second highest amount of nominations from fellow Labour MPs with 59 nominations. Cooper is certainly a more electable and arguably sensible choice than Corbyn due to her less left wing stance, as well as the fact that she has a better chance of winning voters back off the Conservatives. Furthermore, as Cooper’s campaign team have been trying to point out, the Shadow Health Secretary can also appeal to modern working mothers, though this appeal only lead to a feud between supporters of Cooper and her leadership rival Liz Kendall.

Cooper may be considered in many ways, a more approachable and ultimately electable candidate, many of the electorate and those within the Labour Party itself would simply see her as an extension of New Labour, with good reason. She was of course elected as an MP in Tony Blair’s 1997 successful election campaign, which saw New Labour come to power. Although some may argue that Labour would be more successful taking an approach closer to New Labour, her affiliation with the far more commonly disliked Brown government may be more of a worry to voters. Being on the Cabinet during Gordon Brown’s tenure as Prime Minister means questions about Labour’s ability with the economy will always be asked. Furthermore, Cooper has been married to former Chancellor and Shadow Chancellor (and as of May, former MP) Ed Balls since 1998. Mr. Balls, who has to take a large amount of responsibility of Labour’s handling of the British economy, is currently a man to be avoided, within the context of politics of course. While Cooper obviously can’t change perceptions of her husband, her clear affiliation with him and the former Labour Governments will only remind voters why not to vote for Labour. Many may feel uncomfortable with the idea of the now powerless Ed Balls being able to get into Downing Street on the back of Yvette Cooper.

The third candidate for Labour leadership, who was also the first to throw her hat into the ring, is the inexperienced Liz Kendall. Ms Kendall, who has been the MP for Leicester West since 2010, may be relatively inexperienced in regards to her years at Westminster, but has already been serving on the Shadow Cabinet since 2011 through her position as Shadow Minister for Care and Older People. Such a quick elevation can only be applauded and a testament to her evident ability. Kendall is widely seen as a passionate Minister, willing to fight lost causes and champion those who are commonly ignored. Kendall has also called for change to come to the Labour Party, and warns that ‘Labour will be out of power for a decade, if it fails to change’, in this sense, Kendall can be viewed as the new type of Labour leader, that the party desperately needs in order to ever come back to power.  Kendall also appears ready for this leadership battle, criticising the two front-runners, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham, as leader she would certainly not lack for passionate intensity to fight for what she believes in. However, its remains to be seen if this attitude would remain should she take on the significantly added responsibility of Labour leader. Kendall is pro-choice, pro-LGBTQ, pro-Europe, pro-devolution and pro-trade union. She has clearly wasted no time in making her position known with regards to major social issues in society as well as the Labour Party. As a tactic, Kendall has done this in order to highlight the poor position or positions of silence of her rival contenders, as was achieved in her position on LGBTQ rights against the position of Andy Burnham, who has been widely criticised because of previous comments made by the Labour leader hopeful. Significantly, Kendall won the backing of key Labour Ministers, such as Tristram Hunt and Chuka Ummuna. Ummuna quickly urged those who considered voting for him to give their support to Kendall, following his withdrawal of his candidacy. Moreover, Kendall also received the backing of The Sun newspaper, who stated, “she is the only prayer they (the Labour Party) have.”

However, whether the backing of The Sun is an advantageous thing for her campaign can certainly be argued. The paper has always been traditionally anti-Labour and was especially vicious against Ed Miliband during the 2015 General Election. Furthermore, Ummuna had been backed by former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, and was seen as a definite ‘Blairite’ and extension of New Labour. Kendall, who has also been described as a ‘Blairite’, may do well to avoid any comparisons to New Labour in order to gain support of the mistrusting electorate. Although Kendall’s lack of Parliamentary and Government experience acts as one of her key strengths as she brings a new voice to the Labour Party, it would obviously be her biggest and most damaging weakness. Cameron and the Conservatives would certainly relish testing Kendall’s ability and in truth, she would not be able to compete with the merciless yet professional attacks of the Tories. As Yvette Cooper aptly wrote, “Our new leader has to hit the ground running –­­ not try and learn on the job.” Labour cannot afford to elect a leader who cannot completely compete with the Conservatives, it would make their already weak position untenable. Kendall herself seems aware that she is by no means favourite to be elected leader, but it seems is building her reputation through publically challenging her rivals. As she has been an MP for only 5 years, it would be incredibly unlikely for her to become the leader of the party at such an early stage in her political career, however, Kendall may well end up leader in the future.

Lastly, the front runner and favourite for the position is the Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham. Burnham, who has been a Labour MP since 2001, received the highest amount of MP nominations with 68 and previously held positions on Gordon Brown’s Cabinet as the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for Health. Burnham describes his campaign as being the ‘heart of Labour’, and his background as a son of a telephone engineer from Aintree, Liverpool certainly adheres to the traditional Labour supporter. Such is his support for Labour that Burnham actually became a Labour member at the age of 14, and during the 1990s, he became directly involved in the party as a researcher and special advisor to senior government officials until his election to government in 2001. During his time in the Cabinet, Burnham can boast a key role in reopening the Hillsborough inquiry which ultimately led to justice for those that died in the footballing disaster of 1989.  Burnham had run for leadership in 2010, but subsequently finished fourth, eliminated on the second ballot with just over 10% of the vote. Burnham is considered a centre left politician, with some right wing tendencies and his election may well divide many within the Labour Party. However, he would in many ways be an improvement on Ed Miliband as he is seen as able to present a more professional and electable presence as leader. Burnham certainly matches Cameron in presenting himself as ‘Prime Ministerial’.

However, Andy Burnham’s political career has not been one shy of certain controversies. For example, while in the Cabinet, Burnham said in an interview: “I think it’s better when children are in a home where their parents are married” and “it’s not wrong that the tax system should recognise commitment and marriage.” Worryingly for Labour, these views almost exactly matched the policies of the Conservatives. Furthermore, Burnham has been criticised for his stance on LGBT rights, although he refutes this saying he is a strong advocate of gay rights, to the extent that it has caused rifts within his family. However, Burnham has previously voted in favour of proposals that would have blocked lesbian couples from accessing IVF. In a recent interview with a leading LGBTQ website, Burnham reaffirmed his views towards parenting and IVF. Considering the Labour Party lost a considerable amount of the LGBTQ community to the Tories, having a leader who is not unequivocally supportive will only be of a detriment to the Party’s election chances. Moreover, Burnham has a clear affiliation to the government of Gordon Brown and all that went disastrously wrong with it. Which brings upon it the same problem for voters that he will only remind the electorate of why not to vote Labour. Lastly, Burnham’s ‘Prime Ministerial’ qualities which in one sense aid him, will also cause tension within in the party as he would drift the party further away from their traditional left-wing stance.

All four candidates would bring the Labour Party into various different directions, ultimately however, none of them will lead the party to success. Unfortunately, when looking at the candidates, there is not one who voters can look at and feel inspired and confident that they can lead the country. The two with the best credentials to become leader, Burnham and Cooper, have been too involved in the previous governments which the electorate obviously wish to avoid, while Corbyn and Kendall bring new fresh and alternative views to the leadership race, one would be considered far too radical to seriously lead the country, while the other is perhaps too inexperienced to even lead the party. As a Labour Member, of course I hope that whoever is elected is able to succeed. However, no Labour voter can honestly look at the candidates and feel completely confident of kicking out David Cameron from Downing Street, who will of course have just marked 10 years as Prime Minister, quite the challenge.

To be fair to the candidates, there is little they can do about the fact that the public perception of the party at this current time is so poor. The Labour Party need a reformation to rid them of the constant reminder of their own failure.

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