Maybe this post comes a little late in the day for this topic, but I the feedback I get from many people who are in/support the Labour Party, is that they are still not sure who would be the best person to vote for.
Now, let me point out at the start, that I am NOT a Labour-ite and haven’t backed them for the last two elections. So please don’t expect an impassioned plea from a died-in-the-wool socialist, or a piece written with Red-Rose tinted glasses. That said, as one of the ‘Big Two’ political parties in Britain (and having spent 13 years in power till May this year) Labour DO matter in this country. Labour have proved that they are capable of running the country, have brought about some significant changes that are here to stay (minimum wage, devolution, student fees, etc), and as a person who believes that governments should serve its citizens I want a strong, vociferous, credible opposition. Even if they are wrong in most of what they say. For the sake of healthy British politics, it is vital that those voting for Labour’s next leader get this right. Or else, Labour could well go the way of the Tories under a succession of ineffective leaders and spend years out of power. Or even the way of the historical Liberal Party, and tear itself apart until it becomes an also-ran in General Elections.
The best way to sum up the pros and cons of each is by listing those involved and giving an analysis.
David Miliband – The favourite at the moment, and not surprising given his fast rise in the Party, and the fact he has rubbed shoulders with top Labour members, both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown for example. What he has going for him is his ability maintain a high-profile figure despite Labour’s recent election loss and unpopularity at the moment. He talks a good game, and has been a key player since around 1994, even helping to draft Labours’s successful 1997 manifesto. His sharpness has been commented on by many. All this gives leads to believe he could get to the top, but would he be any good. The priority of the next leader will be to unite the party and get a vision for them to bond with and fight for in the public arena. The elder Miliband brother has emphasised his differences with those he once served, and is prepared to stick to unpopular ideas, such as agreeing with Alistair Darling’s proposed cuts and stating he would not seek to liberalise union laws any further, which show he has his principles, too. The last thing Labour should go after is a populist, whose weaknesses will come undone at the first hurdle by the Coalition government. David Miliband is certainly one to consider as he has been there, seen it, and seen how it can go wrong. And if he doesn’t get the top job, whoever does needs to ensure he is put in a decent cabinet position, maybe chancellor.
Ed Miliband – The younger Miliband brother has been making all the right noises, and is another one who has been at the top and had some pretty important jobs. He was charged with writing the 2010 manifesto, and has risen to a very high-profile position in just five years. Just as impressive is his ‘common touch’ and the fact that he seems to have a knack for cutting to the chase and getting his point across in interviews that appear to try to ‘trap’ him. Again, an important aspect for any new leader. However, I do not like the fact that he has attempted to play himself as the maverick MP, who disagreed with the last governments seeming ‘war’ on civil liberties. Where was he complaining at the time? He claims he would have been against the Iraq invasion. Again, it’s not been on his list of priorities to speak out about it since his rise to public figure. Also, it’s a tad nauseating to see him reaching out to Liberal Democrat members in a manner that seems to suggest that Lib Dems are (and always have been) disgruntled Labour voters. It’s insulting, and more to the point, shows that he is not beyond playing the ever-changing populist. Definitely not what Labour should be looking for.
Ed Balls – Full of energy, and never shy in a debate, Mr. Balls certainly gives off the charisma that you would want in a leader. Also, the well-known fact that he was a key advisor to then-chancellor Gordon Brown shows he has experience of dealings at the top-level (especially the claim that it was his advice that played a big part in Brown deciding that Britain should remain outside the euro-currency). Being Schools Secretary for a few years he showed he can handle himself in a responsible job, and many say he has had the better of his opposite number Michael Gove on more than one occasion since Labour lost power in May. My main concern with Mr. Balls is his seemingly dishonesty with his deficit denial. On the economy, he seems to basically ignore all the evidence that says Britain IS in a bad shape, and urgent action is needed. But his insistence that ‘there is an alternative’ seems to just be ‘more government spending to create jobs, through more borrowing’. If this isn’t at least slightly dishonest, then it is definitely economic illiteracy. And Mr. Balls should be ignored at the leadership ballot.
Diane Abbott – She is passionate, well spoken, and probably the most likely of all the other candidates that the average person can relate to in her life experiences. However, does this make her the right person for the job? In my opinion, she is another deficit denier, and although her crusades to protect the public sector and restore civil liberties are commendable, it seems to be distracting her from the other main issues of how to balance the country’s books again and modernise the Labour Party to get in tune with the rest of the Globalised world. Ms. Abbott self-confesses to be on the left of the party, and while this may connect with the ‘hard-core’ Labour loyalist, it will do nothing to bring back the voters who deserted them in favour of David Cameron’s Conservative party or the businesses that trusted Labour with their votes from 1997 onwards. In my opinion, she is a Manchurian Candidate, that the more centrist members of Labour want to see put up to show how better the others are. If Labour veer to the left, it could end up in a much worse state. Think of when, in 1980, Labour had the choice of electing a moderate, centre-left candidate in either Denis Healy or Peter Shore they went for thoroughly left-wing Michael Foot. And spent almost 20 years in exile, while Margaret Thatcher’s Tories got even stronger, aided by this fact. In addition to this, her decision to send her son to a private school (while criticising then-Prime Minister Tony Blair for doing the same) was hypocritical, and proved that on matters of principal, is she right for the job? Also, her decision to play the ‘race card’ in attempting to defend her choice to do so was weak. These reasons are why, if I had a vote in this contest, it would not be for Ms. Abbott.
Andy Burnham – Last on my list, but by no means least, is Mr. Burnham. Up until recently, he was declared a possible ‘lightweight’ for this position. However, since his official campaign, his momentum has been ‘snowballing’ and now has a genuine chance, even if he is not the favourite. He has had a few jobs since ‘New’ Labour first gained power in 1997, and proved himself credible in all. He worked his way up the ranks in a traditional manner, from researcher, to working for political offices and being promoted on merit to Health Secretary (albeit for less than a year due to the 2010 Election). He has done what a Labour MP should be doing by campaigning and promoting a public service, the NHS, and highlighting the differences that his party offered and what the others would do. In debates he has got people who were undecided before, to come around to his thinking, and, despite one or two disagreements with the left of the party on his law and order record, he is a committed, principled Labour politician. And the main aspect that stands him out from all the others is his solid vision that he has been promoting. That of ‘Aspirational Socialism’. Now, whether you’re a socialist or not, it certainly shows that he has an idea of what he wants Labour to be, and where he will be taking it. He has not been forcing through anti-deficit slogans, but at the same time shows that he wants to be a defender of public sector jobs. He may be trying to connect with the ‘typical’ Labour voter, but shows that he understands the need for incentives for people and businesses to prosper in life. For those who say he may be too lowbrow for the position, have a look at Tony Blair pre-1994. He wasn’t most people’s idea for Opposition leader, let alone possible Prime Minister. But he did it, through clever alliances, hard-hitting speeches and, let’s face it, pushing through his own vision of what Labour should be and where he wanted it to go. Mr. Burnham would be my first choice. And if David Miliband was given a prominent position in his choice of cabinet, even better.