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Friday, 24 July 2015

Labour leadership contest needs to not only be serious but respectful

Comment piece by Labour PPC for Rayleigh and Wickford, David Hough:

On Tuesday the House of Commons went into its summer recess, and this is usually the time that the 'silly season' begins, that time of year when the newspapers are filled with frivolous stories, of little real interest or importance. This year, though, is different as the season seems to have started earlier, with the entertainment being provided by the Labour Party's leadership contest.

The party's contest was triggered by Ed Miliband's resignation following the general election defeat. Unfortunately, what should have been a serious debate about the future of the party, and by extension the country, has often been sidelined by stupid comments, in support or against another candidate.

I am a supporter of Yvette Cooper's campaign, but it was one of her supporters, Helen Goodman, who got the whole thing started, when she said that the primary reason that she supported Yvette was because she was a mother. This then got turned into a criticism of Liz Kendall who, as yet, is not. If deliberate, this was an unkind allusion, as there could be many reasons why Ms Kendall is not a mother, none of which are anyone's business but her own.

Then followed the ridiculous, 'Liz Kendall for Conservative Party leader' meme, which may well have been intended as a joke, but too many Labour supporters have been accusing her of this very thing. Indeed, on Iain Dale's LBC debate, a caller asked this very question, but all the other candidates refused to accept this. Anyone who is a supporter of employee representation on boards and the living wage would sit oddly with the Conservative Party.

A lot of Andy Burnham's problems have been brought upon himself, with his constant shifting of position. The most recent examples being on Welfare Bill debacle, when he said that, 'we can not simply abstain on this bill,' the problem being he had just done so. Now I know exactly what Mr Burnham meant, that we cannot just leave it as it is going forward, but he needs to think more carefully about how he says these things.

Mr Burnham's reputation for 'flip-flopping,' was then compounded by his 'no' then 'yes' answers on whether he would have Jeremy Corbyn in his cabinet, then few hours later it was, apparently, a joke. In the LBC debate he unequivocally said he would serve in a Corbyn cabinet, as a loyal Labour Party member, when just last week he was saying he was thinking of nothing other than the top job.

Finally we come to Jeremy Corbyn himself, whose place on the ballot was because of MPs who supported other candidates, 'lending' him their nominations. Now there is a chance that Mr Corbyn may win this election and they're unhappy and regretting their decision.

Well, I have no sympathy whatsoever for them, these people that John McTernan called 'morons' made their choice and should think about why it is that Mr Corbyn's chances are much better than anybody originally thought. I have great admiration for Dawn Butler and Emily Thornberry, both of whom have not regretted their decisions, Dawn especially for not losing her temper with Kay Burley

It's more than abstaining on the Welfare and Finance Bills, there appears to be something going on at the top of the party which isn't convincing people, and indeed, in some circles is making us a laughing stock, when PeteWishart from the SNP mischievously asks if the seating arrangements can be changed so they become the official opposition.

Now we have the stop Jeremy Corbyn campaigns going on, and some are panicking to such an extent they're trying to get Liz Kendall to withdraw so her supporters can switch their votes elsewhere. This is yet another ridiculous move as the party is in danger of turning on itself, and the new leader, whoever it is will have a real job on trying to bring it back together.

Liz Kendall may or may not be trailing, but she has attracted a lot of support from members and supporters. It should be the the members and supporters who decide Ms Kendall's fate, not a small cabal of MPs. Some because they see her as a 'Blairite' standard bearer, and others because they think a complete break from thepre-2010 era is what's needed.

Even Tony Blair has felt the need to get involved saying that those who support Jeremy Corbyn need a heart transplant, which is not conducive to good relations within the party. Of course, it doesn't help when candidates start saying the election of another would be a disaster for the party, which leads to yet more antagonism.

I think it's time for the party to get a grip, and instead of seeking to undermine candidates, promote the one you agree with. The party should be having a debate on its future, but instead it is in danger of being seen as a summer sideshow, and not a party having a serious discussion. It is this sort of behaviour that puts people off politics, and we should make sure that the contest is not only serious, but respectful.