Our Labour Leadership Predictions

September 16, 2010

This is Cory and Hannah’s first collaborative post, as they start to morph into the Lennon and McCartney of political blogging. We jest of course: there’s no room at Paperback Rioter for that sort of hubris. Yet. Anyway, here are our predictions for the Labour Leadership contest, in reverse order:

5) Andy Burnham

Burnham’s campaign has undoubtedly been mediocre. His campaign theme of “aspirational socialism” is comically vague. The one substantive idea Burnham has had is a National Care Service, and to his credit he has produced a reasonably sensible plan for funding it via an estate tax.  This is certainly not a trivial policy; unfortunately it’s not original either.

Burnham’s main problem is that he lacks a natural base. He’s coming fourth in the MP recommendations, is unlikely to pick up many subsequent preferences in the other two electoral colleges (party members and affiliated societies) and seems to have little appeal outside the North-West. It’s laudable to position yourself as neither a Brownite nor a Blairite, but just being northern isn’t enough to be Labour leader.

Like Diane Abbott he has pitched himself in a very tokenistic way as the authentic working class voice; but unlike Diane, Burnham has emphasised his unreserved loyalty to whichever government he serves in. These two attributes of “working class voice” and “loyalty” could see him become a John Prescott figure, if you like, alongside one of the Milibands (preferably Ed). He reaches the demographics that they don’t, and is New Labour-ish enough to counterbalance Ed Miliband, if he becomes leader, without bringing any damaging right-wing policies. Depending on what happens to Harriet Harman, he could be a reasonable deputy leader, but chances are he will continue as Shadow Health Secretary, where he has been adequate enough.

4) Ed Balls

Paperback Rioter would like to put on record they have been, genuinely, very impressed by Ed Balls in this leadership campaign.  He has comes across as very straightforward and being very strong policy-wise, particularly on the economy, where he’s done a very good job on challenging the coalition’s narrative on spending cuts. As Hopi Sen wrote in his wonderful series “The Case Against…”:

Here’s an odd thing. When I ask Labour members who they’ve been most impressed with during the leadership campaign, who’s done most to improve how they’re seen, the answer is almost always – Ed Balls.

Again, when I ask people whose performance at husting most impressed them, the answer is again – Ed Balls. When I ask who’s done best in opposition? Ed Balls.

 In fact, Paperback Rioter would go as far to say that they would be happy to see him as Leader and thence Prime Minister (stop laughing at the back). Unfortunately, neither of those things is likely to happen.  

For a start, he’s very divisive even inside his own party. His role as Gordon Brown’s bruiser made him a lot of enemies in the Labour party. For every person who says that he has come across as personable in the hustings, you can generally find another who says he’s an arrogant so and so. He’s coming comfortably in third for the MP section, but is trailing with the members and affiliates, and is even in danger of being knocked out first. (This could, paradoxically, give his second preferences a decisive role in the outcome.)

He’s also very unpopular with the general public; most of which is manufactured by the Conservatives and the conservative press. Ultimately, like Brown, he’s not a leader for the 21st century celebrity-media era.  The vilification of Ed Balls seems to be driven by fear: as Sunny Hundal puts it he likes to punch Tories in the face.  The Tory Press will demonise whoever the next Labour Leader is, particularly if they start trying to propose any recognisably left-wing policies (ie any of them other than maybe David Miliband) but with Ed Balls they have a fatal head start. 

Assuming Ed Balls will not become leader, his strong performance in the contest, along with his economic background and hatred of Tories, could be enough to propel him to the role of Shadow Chancellor.  

3) Diane Abbott

Her campaign has been disappointing. In person she can make some very interesting, nuanced points, but her pitching has been awful, and she hasn’t gone beyond portraying herself as the token non-white, non-male candidate.  This is a shame because the contest could have benefitted from a truly radical left-wing voice contributing to the debate. John McDonnell would have been an infinitely preferable choice of candidate to Abbott, and would undoubtedly have performed better at hustings and debates. As Hopi Sen has set out in this quiet demolition, Abbot is not the ideal candidate to be head of the Labour left.

Abbott has no hope of winning this election. She only made it onto the ballot paper because of the interventions of David Miliband and Harriet Harman. At present she is coming a distant fifth amongst MP votes, but because she is the “left wing option” Abbott could do surprisingly well in the first preferences in the members and affiliates sections. She will probably pick up a significant minority of first preferences that should see her rise above Burnham, and by our reckoning probably even Balls, in the contest. This could potentially be bad news for Ed Miliband supporters, if she comes third and the result is in before she’s eliminated.

Still, Diane Abbott will soon be back on the This Week sofa, and all will be well with Thursday nights again.

2) David Miliband

The elder Miliband is the “obvious” choice in terms of experience. He held a major portfolio as Foreign Secretary, and has the head start with name-recognition. On the other hand, this also means he is tainted with the worst errors of New Labour.

David Miliband is also the most mercurial candidate; very difficult to pin down. He has backed a number of left-leaning policies, but has also been backed by the New Labour Core that he has tried so hard to distance himself from: Alistair Campbell, Peter Mandelson, Jack Straw and even David Blunkett.

In the hustings he has tried to square this circle by portraying himself as the unity candidate, capable of uniting both wings of the party. He has the support of Jon Cruddas, for instance, who we had previously thought better of. They co-authored this article. In it, there are platitudes drawn from the New Labour toolbox, aiming to have the maximum breadth of appeal but minimum commitment, however, there’s some left-wing platitudes in there as well.

His election as Labour Leader would hardly be a disaster for the party. Nevertheless, we don’t think he’ll win the race, and our prediction for Labour leader is:

1) Ed Miliband

The race between the Miliband brothers is tighter than Jamie Redknapp’s trousers. However, we predict that Ed will win on the back of second and third preferences (like Harriet Harman in the 2007 Deputy leadership contest).

So far, the polls say that David has the better chance of winning, but it’s hard to know how seriously to take them [NB – we wrote this last week before the latest polls that suggest Ed could win by a whisker. It’s still far too close to say for certain, but we’ve stuck our neck out]. A poll of Labour councillors, for instance, is unrepresentative of Labour members as a whole. Also, because of Labour’s, er, questionable electoral system, individuals can have as many as five or six votes, depending on how many affiliated societies they are a member of. The only trend that we can be sure of is that Ed Miliband has been steadily gaining ground on David throughout this contest.

There is an element of opportunism in Ed Miliband’s campaign: such as his late conversion to full gay marriage after it became clear that his hesitancy over the issue was costing him support. He has the potential to be a very good communicator, and is telegenic, but there is an appearance of timidity in his interviews at the moment.

Ed Miliband does seem to have an underlying hint of steel, though.   Not every politician would have challenged his own brother, certainly not at such an early stage in his career, and his platform marks a radical break from Labour’s recent history which, contrary to many commentators’ views, is neither an easy nor certain strategy.  This boldness, though not without a hint of tactical positioning, bodes well for his potential as leader, certainly when compared to David Miliband’s dithering.

We think, and hope, Ed Miliband will win but it’s far from certain. An Ed Miliband leadership wouldn’t be perfect but we’d certainly be comfortable with it. His policies have been very promising, and he has shaped the debate more than any other candidate. Perhaps most importantly, a victory for him would be a symbolic break from New Labour. Although he seeks to distance himself from Blair’s patronage, a victory for David Miliband would be seen as a vindication of “The Project” and a mandate for continuity.  A win for the upstart, though it would hardly herald a Socialist Utopia, would indicate a desire for change and a fundamental re-evaluation of the direction of the Labour Party.

Blogging the Labour Leadership Contest Part 3 – The Sky News Hustings

September 7, 2010

The Labour Leadership Hustings on Sky News was rather interesting. I have seen so few campaign events this summer, because I thought that would be the best way to preserve my sanity, but I’m guessing that the slogans that the candidates used were identical to those at the other 7,284,357 hustings thus far. “Slogans” being the operative word – Adam Boulton only allowed each candidate to speak for thirty seconds. This barely gave them enough time to give a soundbite, let alone time to engage in meaningful debate.

Here’s my summary on how each candidate did, starting with who I found most impressive:

1) David Miliband

He’s articulate and animated, rather than passionate. There’s still an air of the Blairite about him and his policies, which he’ll probably never shake off. His definition of socialism (“we can achieve more together than we can apart”) sounds like something Blair would have said. Come to think of it, it could just as easily be a quotation from Glee or High School Musical. But his criticism of New Labour – that it was too top-down – was the most acute of all five candidates.

Another point of his that stuck out is his point on New Labour’s record: “If we trash our record, nobody will believe us in the future”, and listed some of the positive things Labour had done as a government, such as introducing the minimum wage and rebuilding schools.

It’s amusing that David Miliband still defends this record so staunchly when Tony Blair has already begun to trash it. If you were going to list ten Labour achievements, you’d be hard-pressed, but along with the minimum wage and Sure Start centres you would surely have the ban on fox hunting and the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act. Odd, then, that Blair should list these as his two biggest regrets as Prime Minister.

All in all, David Miliband performed best in the debate, and is probably Labour’s best chance for a win in a 2015 election. Although that begs the question of whether a Labour party led by David Miliband is worth electing. We’ll have to wait and see.

2) Ed Balls

He continues to impress in this leadership campaign. He answered questions well, wasn’t starey-eyed, showed a sense of humour and was good on the economy. One thing he said that surprised me: he relayed a conversation he’d had with Tony Blair while he was PM, in which Blair said he thought the average income in Britain was between £40,000-60,000 a year. Which is an astonishing anecdote if true.

However, the debate showed the problems Labour will have when they make points on the economy. When Balls and Diane Abbott spoke of the need not to cut your way out of recession, the Labour supporters on one side of the debating hall were applauding. On the other side of the room, made up of independent voters, but there were lots of crossed arms and silence. Labour’s biggest problem is on the economy, and one this blog will be returning to.

3) Andy Burnham

He is perhaps lucky that I was in the kitchen whilst the immigration debate was going on, because some of the things he has said on the issue have been immensely irritating. Nonetheless, he is a good communicator who spoke of his passion for the NHS and dislike of the 10p tax abolition, both of which are laudable.

“ELITES” is what’s written in my notebook from his closing speech. Labour needs to breakdown the London based elites and stop pandering to rich elites. Metropolitan elites were also mentioned by Burnham. Instead, Burnham reckons they should give the job to a Northerner. They won’t stop pandering to elites or make a Northerner Labour leader, but someone needs to say these things.

4) Diane Abbott

Ah, Diane. The token lefty. Not surprisingly, on this Unlock Democracy quiz, I matched up with her views overwhelmingly. But as a debater and potential leader she doesn’t cut it. I stopped listening to her eventually, and just watched her gesticulating with her pen, jabbing it towards the person she was making her point to like it was the world’s worst taser.

Before I stopped listening she got applause for mentioning she voted against Iraq and said she could appeal to Middle England because of her appearances on This Week (which makes you wonder what type of mushrooms she’d eaten that morning).

5) Ed Miliband

I’ve not just put Ed Miliband bottom because he’s a poor communicator. He comes across as a very intelligent man who struggles to put his points forward in clear, straightforward language – like Gordon Brown in that respect.

I also got sick of him constantly repeating himself. The others had a number of points they wanted to make, and generally answered the question directly. Ed Miliband twisted every answer into trashing New Labour’s record. “Courage to Change” was his mantra, and I wrote it in my notebook in LARGE CAPITAL LETTERS. It’s now etched into my brain. He not only came across as one-dimensional, but this line of attack from Ed is not credible, as I’ve pointed out.

Simon Hoggart was fond of saying that Michael Heseltine was excellent at finding the clitoris of the Conservative Party. Ed Miliband has spent his whole leadership campaign trying to find the Labour Party’s clitoris. If I may be allowed to persevere with this extremely inadvisable sexual metaphor, it seems to me that he is whispering sweet nothings into Labour members’ ears, about Iraq, civil liberties and everything else, not because he really means them, but because Ed thinks that this way he can get into the Labour Party’s knickers. Once that has been achieved, he will abandon his left-wing admirers, making them feel angry, hurt and betrayed.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Voting began last week, and the Labour leader will be unveiled on the 25th. At some point this week Hannah and I will be sitting down in our smoking jackets, drinking brandy and smoking cigars, and making our predictions on the Labour leadership race. Watch this space…

GUEST POST – Blogging the Labour Leadership Contest, part 1

July 12, 2010

Cory writes: We have the first ever guest post on Paperback Rioter today! Cue riotous celebrations:

Hannah has very kindly offered to blog about the Labour leadership contest. Here’s her first post, about a leadership hustings:

After failing to appease Nick Clegg and secure a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, Gordon Brown stepped down. So since May, the Labour party has been without a permanent leader, and by extension, the country has been without a permanent leader of the opposition. Acting leader Harriet Harman has managed to put up a competent fight against David Cameron at PMQs, but Labour needs a strong, stable leader to present a coherent unified stance, and capitalise on the vulnerable position the coalition’s controversial policies has put itself in.  In September Labour MPs, members and affiliates will install a new leader. They can choose from a shortlist of five, consisting of the Miliband brothers – David and Ed, close Brown ally Ed Balls, New Labour Loyalist Andy Burnham, and backbench rebel Diane Abbott. I must admit to initially feeling pessimistic that amongst the careerists and the light-weight New Labour clones could be found a leader of similar standing to the much-maligned Brown.  Having seen the nominees stake their various policy tents across the Internet and mainstream media, I’m beginning to feel cautiously optimistic that this period of opposition will allow Labour to renew itself as a party worthy of Government.

Last week I got the opportunity to see the candidates speak in person at the Christian Socialist Movement hustings in London.  It’s quite surreal to see people you’ve known for years as abstract figures of Government in flesh and blood.  What’s even more surreal is, having acclimatised yourself to seeing them as ordinary mortals, to suddenly have them behave like politicians, and the Milibands, in particular were quintessential politicians.

David’s opening speech had obviously been perfectly calibrated (he thought) to the audience – he cited the Sermon on the Mount as his favourite example of the influence of Christianity on left-wing politics, and, while being upfront about his own atheism, was keen to assert his respect for religious communities – and was a study in perfectly measured, centrist inoffensiveness.  His speech and mannerisms were startlingly reminiscent of Tony Blair, and much as he has tried to distance himself from the Prime Minister who first promoted him to ministerial office, it is obvious that he is the heir to this style of politics.

Ed, on the other hand, aggressively “orated”, in a way that made him look faintly preposterous (see this video for a sample of his speaking style, except where, in the video, he addresses the audience as “conference” he addressed us as “comrades” – in a perfect estuarine accent – I for one found it very hard to keep a straight face).  However, he came into his own in the Q&A setting out what was obviously a very well thought through political strategy, reiterating his commitment to definitively centre-left policies on income equality, flexible working and the greater representation of women in government.

Ed Balls had a very straightforward speaking style, there was no hint of artifice as there, perhaps, was with the Milibands.  He came across as the most overtly partisan and the most keen to attack the coalition directly, particularly on the budget.  He was very jovial in the run up to the hustings and, in my opinion, didn’t live up at all to the image the media has constructed for him.  He told one very significant story about how, during his time as advisor to the Treasury, they were being lobbied by the Jubilee 2000 Third World debt relief campaign.  Their offices were surrounded by protestors, shouting and tooting horns, and they were inundated with campaign postcards.  At first they were irritated, but they soon came to realise that in fact this direct pressure was helpful to them.  Eventually they approached the leaders and thanked them and asked them to please lobby the German Finance Ministry as well!

Diane Abbott, was flamboyantly herself, and a very fascinating speaker to listen to.  She made a couple of direct appeals to her “alternative” credentials, to the other, white, male, Oxford educated candidates, which came across as slightly clunking.  Towards the end made the reasonably apt point that men have an expectation of a very stereotyped, macho, display of strength from politicians that can shut women out, however she made this point in her typical, very direct style, whilst the four gentlemen, on the podium, sniggered in the background.  Overall, she made a very engaging speaker and set forth an interesting and nuanced left-wing stance, similar to that that Ed Miliband was trying to stake out for himself, but with a stronger radical position on, for example, immigration and Trident, and more appeals to her impeccable left wing voting credentials thrown in (as well she might).  Also, interestingly, she seemed confident enough in her progressive stance to throw in a little nuance here and there, emphasising the increasing social and cultural dimension of the deprivation, she witnessed in her constituency, on top of the historic, material, poverty that it was known for, with increasing family breakdown and children coming to school lacking very basic life skills. It came across that her political views were born of experience in a way that the younger Miliband’s – though a very well constructed academic and intellectual position- were not.

Finally, Andy Burnham gave a fairly mediocre performance, very little that was particularly objectionable, but nothing really memorable, or original either.  He engaged the audience, as the only practicing Christian (Roman Catholic) by saying that politicians had much to learn from the Churches but also that the Churches had much to gain from listening to politicians.  He  singled out the Roman Catholic church’s very inflexible lobbying style on  certain moral issues.  While this was a point well made about the Catholic Church’s own peculiar political style it seemed to fundamentally miss the point of direct political action.

So what can we conclude?  I felt that Ed Miliband, Ed Balls, and Diane Abbott came out on top – although it’s hard to give more precise rankings than that – and David Miliband and Andy Burnham were weaker.

I will blog on the candidates’ platforms, as presented through the media next week, looking particularly closely at the Guardian’s Web chats.

Fantastic headlines: nos 2, 3 and 4

July 10, 2010

This occasional series is intended to collect fantastic headlines from wherever they come. I’ll mainly be concentrating on contemporary headlines, but for the second post in the series I thought I’d post a few of my favourites from the past year.

Many things can make a headline fantastic. The previous one had a wonderful juxtaposition – who expects to see George Galloway and Dusty Springfield in the same sentence? It’s similar with this headline from the Mail last year:

“Former French President Chirac hospitalised after mauling by his clinically depressed poodle”

It’s the addition that the poodle is “clinically depressed” that always tickles me.

Next is this one, which does not have great wordplay but I am sure you can appreciate its majesty:

Courtesy of Fleet Street Blues.

One my housemates said, “why doesn’t Ed Balls change his name to Ed Ball? Ed Ball sounds fine. Ed Balls……no!” It can lead to some cracking headlines, like this gem from Left Foot Forward:

“Abbott supports AV but blasts Balls”.

Apologies to those of you who are now experiencing disturbing mental images as a result of that headline.

If you have any examples of Fantastic Headlines, past and present, please let me know. In the comments, twitter, e-mail, whatever. I don’t mind which.


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