Emily Thornberry looks like somebody drew a face on a thumb. Okay, got the childish insult based on physical appearance out of the way first – just in case it might appear my objection to Lady Nugee was solely down to not liking the look of her. Mind you, the look of a politician does make a difference, whether we like it or not; how they carry themselves in public and come across on TV can undoubtedly have an impact on the electorate. With or without bacon sandwich, Ed Miliband just never convinced as a potential PM – and neither did Jeremy Corbyn. Nevertheless, the former was clearly desperate to move into No.10 – hell, yeah! – whereas the latter has always given the impression he was fairly ambivalent on the subject. And now a fresh crop of contenders are vying to step into shoes sorely in need of a trip to the cobblers.
The most honest post-Election obituaries to have emanated from the Labour camp have been aired by those who either lost their seats or are long past leadership ambitions. A small handful of hopefuls intending to inherit the poisoned chalice have tentatively issued gentle criticisms of the Corbyn regime, but they’re too mindful of the grip Momentum has on the party to fully let rip; they realise any overt critique of Corbynism and actually saying out loud what a catastrophic effect it had at the ballot box could curtail a leadership campaign. No, anyone hoping to become Labour leader cannot publicly declare what everyone outside of the party knows to be fact. This means, of course, that all bar one or two expected to throw their hats into the ring are already doomed to lead the party to a fifth successive General Election defeat in 2024. Labour’s problem right now is that any ‘period of reflection’ is in denial from the off and thus further detaches it from the electorate that comprehensively rejected it a couple of weeks ago.
At the time of writing, only Thornberry and Clive Lewis have officially announced their intention to run, with Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy (and possibly Jess Phillips) expected to follow shortly. Thornberry embodies the London-centric mafia that have dominated the Shadow Cabinet during Jezza’s tenure – sneering, snooty Champagne Socialism of the worst order, contemptuously dismissing the traditional provincial Labour plebs in favour of chasing the middle-class, big city university graduates. But her enthusiastic embrace of the Second Referendum agenda should hopefully prevent her from being installed as the next Prime Minister-that-never-was; this arrogant misjudgement of the public mood typifies the insular narcissism of Lady Nugee and her clique, making her the last person capable of winning back hardcore Labour voters who switched to the Tories.
The loathsome Keir Starmer would be another disaster, though he has been sly and clever in a Mandelson manner to keep his seat on the Opposition frontbench throughout a period in which the wide divide between Corbynistas and the rest has dispatched so many into exile. Starmer’s chameleon-like ability to quietly blend into the Shadow Cabinet almost unnoticed is a by-product of his unnerving absence of personality as well as a blatant pointer to his leadership ambitions. As was noted in relation to Tom Watson – whose name would have been top of the contenders’ list had he not bailed out as soon as the General Election was called – the fact that Starmer can be regarded as a moderate voice of reason when he was so eager to thwart a democratic mandate delivered by such a large percentage of Labour voters speaks volumes as to the state of the party. And, lest we forget, this is a man responsible for overturning one of the foundation stones of British Law during his toxic stint at the CPS helm; for that alone, the man shouldn’t have been let anywhere near public office ever again.
Clive Lewis is perhaps the most anonymous of the names put forward – best known for being caught on camera using the word ‘bitch’ in a toe-curling, ironic ‘Gangsta’ fashion during a fringe event at the 2017 Labour Party Conference before being forced into the standard apology when it went viral. He is a close Corbyn ally and Remainer, both of which instantly alienate him from those Labour needs to win back to even stand a chance of being the largest party in a Hung Parliament – which, with such a severely depleted seat tally, is the best Labour can hope for next time round. But in a party so driven by Identity Politics, the colour of his skin may be the one thing he has going for him. If the new leader can’t be a woman, surely a black man would be the right box-ticking move?
Jezza’s anointed heir is Rebecca Long-Bailey, the double-barrelled northerner whose accent is about the only aspect that distinguishes her from the inner-M25 crowd she’s embedded in. She reminds me of an imagined Caroline Aherne character from ‘The Fast Show’ – if there’d been a ‘crap politician’ one. With Corbynism such a tainted brand in the mind of the electorate, changing the leader whilst sticking with the brand makes changing the leader a pointless exercise; and that’s precisely what will happen if Long-Bailey is elected as the chosen one of Corbyn, McDonnell, Momentum and McCluskey. Angela Rayner was initially touted as a prospective contender, being seen as ‘soft left’ and not as closely allied to the Corbyn master-plan as Long-Bailey; Rayner also has a back-story that serves as a refreshing alternative to the usual private school/Oxbridge/SPAD conveyor belt. However, it now appears she and Long-Bailey may engage in a pseudo-Blair/Brown pact, offering voters Continuity Corbyn and Corbyn-Lite in a bid to claim that record-breaking fifth-in-a-row defeat.
Lisa Nandy is mainly known through her appearances as one of a rotating group of Labour MPs sharing a sofa with Michael Portillo on ‘This Week’. Her Brexit stance, which was opposed to the People’s Vote smokescreen, may make her a more attractive prospect to Labour deserters; ditto representing one of the old industrial towns (Wigan) that the Corbyn crowd so casually disregarded; and the fact that she left the Shadow Cabinet in 2016, receiving abuse for supporting Owen Smith’s leadership challenge, makes her the only realistic candidate genuinely distanced from Corbynism. She’d also be more likely to attract Labour centrist voters than Second Referendum cheerleader and New Labour leftover Yvette Cooper. Whether or not Nandy is a strong enough personality in terms of taking on Boris Johnson at the dispatch-box is another matter, however.
Strong personality is one thing Jess Phillips certainly couldn’t be accused of lacking. In some respects, the MP for Birmingham Yardley is the nearest thing Labour has to the PM in terms of energetic bluster and putting her foot in it. A gobby long-time critic of Corbyn, Phillips often falls back on playing the ‘working-class woman’ card in the same way outside bet David Lammy constantly resorts to the race card; and she would need to up her game considerably to be regarded as a serious candidate. She’d also have to overcome the dominance of the pro-Corbyn membership to get anywhere near the leadership. If the party wasn’t so determined to carry on along the suicidal path that has made it unelectable, it might well decide to push Phillips forward as Labour’s Boris, just as the Tories pushed Cameron forward as their Blair. If that’s what it takes to get back into government, they could try it; but I suspect they won’t. Nobody in a position to alter the direction of the Labour Party appears capable of tearing up a bad script and giving this country what it so desperately needs – a strong, viable and believable opposition that can take the Tories to the cleaners.
© The Editor
PS Sincere apologies for the unintentionally altered appearance of the text. Afraid the ‘justify’ option for the preferred text allignment has inexplicably disappeared from the editing process (one of those unasked-for ‘upgrades’ that always contradict the old ‘if it ain’t broke’ maxim); unfortunately, from now on every post will look nowhere near as nice ‘n’ neat as it used to do. Nothing I can do about it, alas. The march of progress, eh?