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With the ballot papers being sent out next month, the Labour leadership contest is heating up. A YouGov poll has put leftist outsider Jeremy Corbyn ahead on the first preference vote – beating frontrunner Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper and Shadow Health Minister Liz Kendall.
So far the main topic of conversation has been reopening the wounds left over from Labour’s dismal defeat in May’s general election. There are several theories.
The one Corbyn supporters will have you believe is that Labour wasn’t left wing enough, not differing enough from the Tories. This, they argue, delivered the huge losses in Scotland where all but one Labour MP lost their seat. The Scottish National Party positioned themselves to the left of Labour on an anti-austerity ticket with increased spending and slower deficit reduction.
Those to the right of the Labour Party, often referred to as Blairites, argue that a move further away from the centre ground would make Labour unelectable. Tony Blair waded into the debate this week suggesting that those whose hearts lie with Corbyn should ‘get a transplant’. This statement was rubbished by his own Deputy PM Lord Prescott.
Corbyn didn’t prove popular with his colleagues in the Commons who nominated the contenders. He scraped his way onto the ballot paper, in part due to people wanting an open debate with the left to have a voice.
However, now he is seen as a credible candidate those that fear a shift to the left are lining up to attack him. Former Foreign Secretary and Deputy Leader Margaret Beckett described herself as a ‘moron’ for nominating Corbyn. Lord Mandelson, who was Business Secretary under Gordon Brown and served in Blair’s cabinet, has also warned of the dangers ahead.
Something I don’t agree with is the panic and press manipulation that’s going on, as demonstrated through front-bench Shadow ministers coming out and saying they would not serve in a Corbyn opposition. Equally I don’t agree with the calls for Kendall to pull out and support either Cooper or Burnham to give one of them a chance at beating Corbyn. Petty infighting and such strong party divides do more harm than good. After all, whoever wins has the job of uniting the party – an unenviable job if current practices continue to rip the party apart.
With all this in the media, policies and visions are being side-stepped. The story is not how the candidates differ, it’s about where the candidate stands on the political spectrum and whether that stance is electable. To the ordinary voter, this minefield of political ideology may seem pointless. When I studied it, I got so frustrated that I just gave up, only to find that there is an ‘end of ideology’ ideology!
I can understand why Corbyn is popular: he speaks his mind, sticks to his principles and isn’t tarnished by serving under Miliband, Brown and Blair as a minister. His stance in voting against the Tories and the interim Labour leader Harriet Harman over caps on child tax credits prove popular with the left and those who will be affected.
He didn’t follow Andy Burnham in abstaining from the vote and then complaining about it passing the next day. He believes in negotiations when it comes to the Middle East and said he would meet with Hamas. He has pledged to scrap tuition fees, paid for by an increase in National Insurance on those earning more than £50,000 a year.
All sounds good to me, however, I haven’t picked my candidate yet. Personally (and this isn’t the stance of Vada by any means), I describe myself as a centre-left pragmatist but I suppose I should say I’m a Blairite. I don’t believe in strong unions, as I believe in free market economics, albeit with a guiding hand. I believe that the market defines wages and by legislating to make them higher you push up the cost of living, you don’t halt it, however I am all for the minimum wage. I also am for increasing the threshold at which point you pay income tax.
I believe the role of the state is not to fill the gap between wages and living costs with uncapped benefits but to encourage businesses to pay a living wage above the minimum wage. I don’t feel the people that have the least should suffer the most whilst big corporations evade their civil duty of paying taxes.
Again, it’s worth stating that these are entirely my own opinions, and not Vada‘s. I oppose The Tories’ welfare plans as they do not mean ‘we are all in it together’, however, I do believe Labour lost the argument on economics at the general election and that a shift further to the left would not correct this. I do believe we should be mindful of abuses of the welfare state, though these are only minority of claims.
More importantly, work should always pay more than benefits. I believe that the welfare state is a safety net, there for if and when you need it. I do not feel it should be used as a long-term income but in order for work to be a real alternative, wages must pay more than benefits.
I do not believe in the character assassination of the working class. I believe in equal opportunities, and equal access to education and training which isn’t based on your financial capabilities, family background and class. This should actively promote skills for the service economy we live in.
This should not mean the state leaves you in the benefit cycle but that the state upskills you to meet the economic demands of the job market. No one should be left behind.
I believe in a state-run NHS, free at the point of use. This is a department alongside education where funding should not be a barrier to progress. Everyone should have the right to the treatment they require.
I’m a huge advocate for better mental health care, something that I haven’t heard much about in this leadership race. If someone is in such a state of mind that they struggle day to day, then they should be treated the same as anyone with a chronic illness. We shouldn’t put people on endless waiting lists for stop-start treatment.
Labour should reclaim the centre ground it held onto successfully and achieved so much in under Blair. So let’s sit down and debate, no mudslinging, political games, frank, open and honest debate.
There are so many issues I am passionate about and passion is something that’s missing from this leadership race. Passion and inspiration – things that have been missing from the Labour Party for the last five years.
So please, stop the mudslinging, the left and leftist. Listen to the public, adapt. Debate ideology and policy, explain why you are the candidate for me, the party, and the public. Don’t try and dismiss your opponent as a non-option.
Britain is crying out for a strong, united opposition and in this day and age, image and perceptions matter. It’s not Blairites verses Unionists, Old versus New. It should be about a strong, inspirational, united Labour against the Tory government.