With ballots close to being sent out, and only weeks until the result is declared, Labour’s leadership contest is getting into the final, intense stages.
Those on the right of the party, lulled into a false and outdated sense of security by years of Blairism followed by the brief and perfunctory failure of ‘Milibandism’, are crying foul. Outraged at the prospect of a supposedly far-left leadership, rumours of splits and coming mutinies abound. Forget the SDP split of the 80s, as far as these types are concerned, a Corbyn victory would be ample motive for full-scale unabashed regicide.
Meanwhile, the hard Left are brashly buoyant. At their rallies they chant curses to the blairites, and exalt in Ed Balls’ defeat as some kind of Hegelian victory over the forces of austerity-lite.
For those in the centre, the choice is depressing. On the one hand, a pathetic, doe-eyed identikit Westminster-bod with a penchant for declaring himself ‘outside of the Westminster bubble’ despite essentially being its Chief Executive Officer by track record and background. That’s not even to mention his ability to flip-flop more successfully than my latest pair of havaianas. On the other, a robotic obsessive-compulsive centrist with sprinklings of poisonous Brownish, determined to defend the spending record of a parliament long-since dissolved for the sake of proving some half-understood point.
It’s not surprising, then, that the greatest chance to reinvent, imagine, discover, explore, and debate that the Labour Party has had in decades has become its most dismal chapter. Veterans are reduced to desperately shouting ‘solidarity’ at each other with cries of ‘REMEMBER THE BROAD CHURCH’, as if that might temper the extraordinary self-inflicted damage unfolding before their eyes. For the new blood, it’s a choice between the orgiastic, hubristic confidence of the idealistic Corbynites or the ‘remind me why I joined?’ of just about everyone else.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not all bad. There are good noises coming from all candidates about all sorts of issues, and each of them have some good qualities in some areas. Hell, some of them even have stories worth telling.
But no one candidate in this contest is anywhere near good enough. None of them truly deserve to be leader of the Labour Party, let alone – if we’re really honest – deserve to be prime Minister. None of them are truly good enough; they have neither the personal edge, political wherewithal, or intellectual substance to make it all the way.
What we need is a fifth candidate.
We need a candidate with a personal story fit for the age of identity politics. Someone with a background somewhere halfway between Dan Jarvis and Caroline Flint, with perhaps a smattering of Ben Bradshaw thrown in. A candidate with whom voters at the bottom of society can identify, with whom they share experiences of childhoods on the poverty line and adolescences filled with anxiety for parents and siblings struggling to keep it together, and whom voters at the top of society can celebrate for being the archetypal ‘self-made-(wo)man’. Such a candidate could tackle head-on the privileged chumocracy of the Tory front bench without succumbing to the wet denialism of Andy Burnham.
A candidate with the right blend of populist policies – popular amongst both the party membership and the electorate – and the economic rigorousness to be trusted by the wider electorate with the economy; Labour’s greatest challenge if it is to stand any chance in 2020. Such a candidate would combine the ruthless truths of Liz Kendall with the warm cuddle for the membership that Corbyn seems to be providing.
Labour’s problem is not being too left, too centre, too Tory, or too stale. Labour’s problem is that there is a complete dearth of political talent combined with leadership, charisma, and a good story.
Until a new generation of radically electable, charismatic, and sensible politicians can make its way up the ranks of the Labour Party, it will find itself bereft of a meaningful role in the country’s government for some time to come.