Sunday, June 13, 2010

Decisions, decisions

I've just not had time to sit down for over a week and do anything at all political or not related to a busy life with work and children, but for now, I have a few spare minutes to catch up.

To open, a gem from Tom Watson, who is grasping the nettle of opposition and getting on with the job, rather than choosing to gaze inwards upon our collective navel and worry about which Ed or Miliband we should choose to lead us. However, he hasn't ignored the leadership contest.
All the frontrunners for Labour's leadership are insipid-looking, clean-shaven boys from the suburbs. I can only get away with saying this because the nation knows we also have a prime minister and deputy prime minister who don't yet shave. David Cameron and Nick Clegg are mollycoddled middle-class white men whose idea of an early shift is the Today programme radio car interrupting their morning cappuccino.
This was written before Diane Abbott was forcibly injected into the leadership's bloodstream, of course, and at a point where nobody thought that either she or John McDonnell would gain enough nominations from the PLP to even qualify to stand. Even after McDonnell's stepping aside, following an ill-judged retrospective promise to assassinate Margaret Thatcher - presuming he could find a convenient time machine, obviously - the televisual Ms Abbott only made it onto the ballot thanks to some support loaned by Harriet Harman and David Miliband.

Quite aside from the image of John McDonnell being thrown naked into a car park circa 1980 and demanding 'your suit, your Austin Allegro and a mandate from the people', I'm not entirely happy with this. On the one hand, I do think that her presence in the contest will enliven debate and perhaps help keep the other candidates honest, but she is massively weakened by the fact that she could not sustain enough support amongst the parliamentary party - she was actually behind McDonnell in terms of nominations - and I have problems with her credibility as the leader of the parliamentary group. Quite aside from that, I suspect that her policy proposals might be a raging disaster area in terms of rendering us unelectable for a generation and I have no reason to wish to revisit the early 1980s, thank you very much. We can't afford that luxury and there is no mood within the party for it. We need to be ready for an electoral fight that will come at a time that we can't choose - whether we have to wait until 2015 is an entirely different matter - and we need to be able to propose policies that will get the support of a majority of the British people, especially facing the additional challenge of a remodelled political system.

So far, I've backed Ed Miliband as the most interesting of the candidates, but I want to be inspired by them. I want to feel that my leader knows where we should be heading and is able to set the right tone with the broader British public, catch their mood and take us back to power. I want to see a leader that promises to work with the broad party and not regard them solely as a resource of willing cheerleaders. We have much work to do and we need to enthuse our wider base of members and supporters - they will be the powerhouse to return us to government and remember that we are not flavour of the month at the moment, so the big political donations that fund the party machines will not be coming our way.

We need a leader who can talk to people - not the carefully-selected and managed groups who turn up at party events, but the people on the doorstep and in the street, the ones who feel abandoned by all the parties.
This is why John Prescott remains a hero. Never has the phrase "traditional values in a modern setting" been so important to the Labour party. During the election, not only did the 71-year-old husband of Lady Pauline tour the country in a transit van, he also got on his soap box and met his hecklers. How do I know this? I know this because John is also a social media sensation. He twitters, he updates his Facebook page and sends clips to his YouTube channel. He uses social media to meet real people. I've been dismayed to see how the traditional methods of spin have been applied to the social media efforts of the leadership campaigns. It's all well and good setting up fan sites and Twitter channels, but unless you use the tools to meet real people, then it's just window dressing.

Real people, real voters, real votes - a real chance of winning again.

We need a leader with a respect for the achievements of the past thirteen years, but with a hunger for the fight of opposition, someone who isn't afraid to take it to the Tories/Liberals and keep on pushing against the current narrative that everything is Labour's fault and that the only solution is to dismantle the state - a political position that is utter rubbish and unsustainable. We need a leader who is recognises and is able to exploit the political divisions of the next few years and can guide the policy process with the full involvement of the party down to the grassroots.

Harold Wilson said that the Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing and we are certainly at our strongest when we take the moral high ground. What we need is a leader who understands the prose of governance, but can give us the poetry of the campaign trail for the next few years.

Impress me.

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