Wednesday 9 June is the closing date for nominations for the Labour leadership. In the meantime, Harriet Harman has been doing a not-too-bad job as acting leader. Just like Margaret Beckett before her, Harman’s stint in charge is merely a caretaking role, and the best a woman has ever got in the Labour Party.
Of the six candidates up for nomination, we have only one woman, and Diane Abbott is currently in last position with only eleven nominations (including Harriet Harman and Jon Cruddas). She is also the only black candidate: an unenviable intersectionality in the patriarchal den that still goes for parliament in this country.
The Labour Party faces the challenge of mounting a strong opposition to the Con Dem government and taking the lead when the public outcry against savage spending cuts comes. The Con Dems, however, can return these with interest using one simple play: it’s all New Labour’s fault. Of course, New Labour cannot be wholly blamed for our country’s financial situation, but The Current Bun and The Daily Hate don’t bother with those niceties. If Labour try to mount an opposition, the Con Dems will decry the record of the New Labour government. If Labour try to spearhead the campaign against cuts, the Con Dems merely have to suggest that the last government made such cuts neccessary.
As with the dying days of John Major’s government, Gordon Brown’s premiership was inhabited by ghosts: politicians lacking purpose or principle. It was only in the last few days of the general-election campaign that Cabinet ministers started to rediscover that they had some principles: like pearls, discovered after a very lengthy bothering over intense iritations.
Four of our six candidates are former Cabinet ministers: David Miliband (Foreign Secretary), Ed Milliband (Energy and Climate Change), Ed Balls (Children, Schools and Families) and Andy Burnham (Health). Their New Labour past makes it difficult to see any of them as effective leaders of Labour’s future.
The other two are John McDonnell, chair of the Socialist Campaign Group and the Labour Representation Committee, and Diane Abbott. These two are the only candidates that stand a chance of renewing Labour. For me, John is the stronger option, having broader support on the left of the party and in the trade unions, as well as good connections with the grassroots of the party.
New Labour may be out of government, but the ironclad control systems still exert control over the party. In the contest for nominations for leadership, each candidate needs the signatures of an eighth of the total number of Labour MPs (so that’s 33 each). This could be spun as a means for ensuring that anyone on the ballot paper has significant support among MPs. However, years of New Labour parachuting candidates into constituencies and trying to run a tight ship, means that the former ministers have the nominations all but sewn up. This is especially true now that the Miliband brothers have both been over-nominated: David has 74 nominations at present, and Ed has 57. These over-nominations are attempts to keep other candidates off the ballot paper, thus denying the voters a broad choice.
As a party member I have a vote, and I would like to make John McDonnell my first preference, with Diane Abbott second, for the reasons outlined above. However, unless the NEC change the rules, we’re going to be left with a worthless competition between ghosts to see who is more substantial. The Con Dems are going to offer us superficial enhancements to our badly battered democracy. If Labour of the Future is going to be relevant, it needs not only to speak democracy but to do it, radically, thoroughly and starting right now with this leadership election.