Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Labour leadership debate : Burnt ham

When Michael Crick mused that it was very difficult to tell who had won the Newsnight leadership debate, I couldn't help wondering if what he really meant was that Diane Abbott had been the most impressive, but it felt odd to say that out loud when we know (or we think we know) that she can't win the ultimate prize. I certainly agree with Crick, though, that the one definite conclusion we can draw is that Andy Burnham lost tonight. His delivery was wooden, and the content of some of his answers was distinctly peculiar, especially on Iraq. How precisely has the invasion of Iraq made it easier to deal with Iran now? Surely the polar opposite of that statement is true. And in the unlikely event that Tony Blair was watching, his jaw would have dropped to the floor to hear Burnham advance the eccentric argument that Hans Blix's weapons inspectors couldn't be allowed more time because it might have triggered a domestic uprising against Saddam Hussein. That drives a coach and horses through Blair's perennial excuse for why it had still been justifiable to invade in the absence of WMDs - namely that Saddam would otherwise have been certain to remain in power to this day.

It also became painfully obvious tonight just what a cynical campaign Ed Balls is running, and that there's almost nothing he won't now say in an attempt to neutralise his biggest perceived weakness - ie. his closeness to Gordon Brown. Dredging up the Gillian Duffy incident just to take a swipe at his old political mentor is a tactic that thoroughly deserves to backfire, and I suspect it will. Declaring Tony Blair his favourite Labour leader was a fairly obvious affectation as well. He also coined a phrase that may one day be cited as a textbook example of how not to wriggle out of responsibility for something - "In retrospect, as I said at the time..."

The other Ed was the slightly stronger of the two Milibands, and there were plenty of signs that he is indeed consciously tacking a little to the left - by denouncing the invasion of Iraq, by pledging to tackle the gap between rich and poor, by calling 90 days detention and ID cards a mistake, and by suggesting the 50p tax band should be made permanent. As always in leadership elections, the $64,000 question is - just a tactic, or does he (to use Blair's irritating phrase) "actually believe this stuff"? If the latter, there may be just a glimmer of hope for the progressive strain of opinion in the Labour party, for the first time virtually since the day John Smith died in 1994.


  1. I can't believe there are actually people in the Labour party who seriously want Ed Balls to win. I've not seen Newsnight yet due to the BBC taking so long to put it on the iPlayer (why can't things like this go straight up?) but the comments I've read about it sound like it should be good fun watching Balls speaking utter nonsense. He's such a horrid little man, which is strange when you consider that his wife is generally a pretty decent person (or that's how she comes across on TV).

    When choosing their leader, Labour needs to look at each candidate and try to imagine them as Prime Minister. Ed Balls will never be PM, people just wouldn't vote for them with him as leader. Andy Burnham seems like a nice enough guy, but he's too meek to be PM. There's something about Ed and David Miliband that I just can't see either of them as a PM - I think Ed comes across a bit too geeky perhaps (especially his voice, which just doesn't sound like the voice of a statesman) and David just doesn't quite seem authentic enough. Ironically, I think Diane Abbott is the only one I could imagine as PM, but she obviously won't win, which is a great shame.

    So unless the unlikely happens and they elect Abbott as leader, I can only see Labour staring at another 5 years in exile in 2015, unless the coalition has REALLY mucked things up by then.

  2. Totally agree about Yvette Cooper, Doug - it would have been much better if Balls had stood aside in her favour.

  3. yeah i thought too that Yvette Cooper would have been the best candiate leader if she stood