The chances are that their choice will be reduced to only one of tainted characters. Diane Abbott and John McDonnell are up against a system that is designed in the first place to neuter the left. It is unlikely either will have anywhere near enough nominations to get on the ballot paper. Perhaps the first reform Labour's new leader needs to introduce is one that involves their own members in the nomination process. If Labour members do not realise that allowing Brown an unopposed return three years ago as Leader, without the debate needed to engage both the party and country generally, they have not learnt one of their biggest lessons of the past few years. So it seems, Labour needs to create a grassroots movement in which ordinary members are not treated as people who have to be held at arms length. Whether or not they can get that from one of the tainted candidates is difficult to say.
Reading the Guardian's Comment page today in which each of the Labour candidates is given space to set out their stall, the two left wing candidates make the clearest calls for change. Diane Abbott claims Labour needs to rediscover their moral compass and goes on to explain that "Labour should take back the civil liberties agenda." I suspect they are too late for that as this is a key issue for the Coalition. It would also mean a major uturn for Labour. It is unlikely any of the tainted candidates would be willing to do that. Were Abbott's plans to be adopted by Labour, it would mean Labour being on the same side of the government on a crucial area of policy. What then to differentiate Labour?
Though Abbott and McDonnell are the candidates who represent change, they also represent a throwback to the unelectable days of Old Labour. McDonnell calls for cuts to be rejected but does little to explain how the deficit can be cut. Meanwhile, Diane Abbott's main selling point is her opposition to the Iraq war. It's bizarre that a prospective leader of the Labour party defines herself as opposed to such a defining issue for Labour. It seems everyone in Labour is now opposed to the Iraq war. Pity they kept quiet 7 years ago (though in Abbott's case, she made her opposition clear at the time.) Nevertheless, being opposed to something that happened nearly a decade ago cannot form the basis of your political faith.
Assuming the Coalition succeeds, Labour will have to define itself in new terms. Quite how they will do that will be interesting to see but a simple fall into oppositionism will not be enough to give them an election victory or a defining mission statement.
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