I am going to use all three votes in this Labour Leadership election. I can understand, fully, fellow Liz supporters not wanting to use the second and third preferences, with some flirting with the idea of Liz 1, Jeremy 2 – rationale being, if we’re going down, let’s go down with full-on kamikaze fireworks. In some of the darkest hours of this contest, I’ve thought this myself. But I know, deep down, in the boring, sensible, pragmatic bit of my heart, that it’s not the right thing to do.
I understand why a lot of people feel angry about being in this position, and I think it’s important for the Andy and Yvette camps to understand it too. As has happened in this contest with Liz, over the years it has so often been left to those Labour people, still (bizarrely) defined by their support for Tony Blair, to face down the hard left in Labour. The soft left, or soft old right, or new old right (disclaimer – confusing) have very often agreed with the policy positions of Labour’s progressives but have left it to others to make the arguments locally and nationally, (others who, like Liz, have be vilified for doing so.) Slipping progressive policies into Labour’s manifesto is not the same as having – never mind winning – the argument, and this ‘head down, get on with it’ approach has fomented huge resentment in different ways among Labour’s Progressives and Labour’s hard left over many years.
Tony Blair and the New Labour generation were prepared to fight their corner, people knew where they stood, yet in recent years the hard left has been publicly placated by Ed Miliband’s leadership, patted on the head with sounds of notional agreement while the party was often busily developing policies in the opposite direction. Locally it’s been the same story. Labour MPs giving public support to regressive hard left Labour members’ campaigns, while confessing in private that they knew they were wrong and yet leaving it to a handful of ever more besieged grassroots – usually ‘Blairite’ – Labour members to take them on. Anyone who has fought the hard left within or outside Labour knows that they are relentless, brutal, and fighting them is exhausting, but it has to be done. The failure of Labour’s recent leadership to expose the deep flaws in their political ideas and methods has had terrible consequences across the Labour movement, as we are seeing today. There is anger from the hard left who have spent years being patronised and ignored, and who are now undoubtedly indulging in a heady catharsis. And of course there is anger from those who have taken them on, alone, and who feel now that they bare the scars on behalf of the entire rest of the Labour Party.
Yet in politics we have to start from where we are not where we would like to be. If Liz Kendall doesn’t win, no matter how disaffected her supporters feel, the fact is a Labour Party led by Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham would be more open minded, more tolerant, and more electable than one led by Jeremy Corbyn. Yes, the Yvette campaign has been at times very hostile to Liz, yes, Andy has some policy ideas that I would struggle to find any more ways of disagreeing with. But the fact is, neither of their campaigns are dominated by people who have spent the last 20, 30 even 40 years condemning, demonising, hating the Labour Party.
So when casting our votes, we need to remember every time a Labour councillor has been spat at by hard left activists for refusing to pass an illegal budget, every time we have seen the hard left bully and intimidate Labour members who disagreed with or challenged them in public, every time they have savaged decent Labour members, calling them “scum”, “racist”, “war criminal”. The gentle idealists who have flocked to Jeremy Corbyn will walk away soon enough – they will be every bit as upset and disgusted by the behavior of his hard left support as the rest of us are. Even Jeremy Corbyn himself won’t be setting the tone. No, it will be this hard core of hard left bullies who will be in control, they will cause unimaginable chaos across local government and constituency Labour Parties, and over time – starting at the very moment of his election – they will destroy the Labour Party from within. The Labour Party will become utterly dysfunctional, and rebuilding it will be harder (if it’s even possible) than at any time in the past.
When the ballots arrive next week we need to muster that famous political pragmatism for which we are all so condemned, and that means sticking together to use all our votes for the other three candidates. Now more than ever we need to remember that core Labour belief: that by the strength of our common endevour we achieve more than we achieve alone.