Thursday, 10 June 2010

Labour Leadership: A Lost Opportunity?

It is a sad indictment on the Labour Party - and our democracy as a whole - that John McDonnell has not made it onto the ballot to be party leader. John McDonnell's socialist disposition will never be popular with the establishment, it may never be popular with the electorate, and it may never be popular with the Labour Party, but the sad thing is we'll never know.

The Lib-Dems’ promiscuous flirtation with Labour before eventually bedding the Tories demonstrates that there is little difference between the leadership of all three parties. McDonnell's appearance on the ballot paper, however, would have shifted the whole area of debate. Excluding Diane Abbott, all the candidates are white, middle-class, Oxbridge educated men who've served as Special Advisors and supported the policies of New Labour. Is this inspiring? Is this going to attract a new generation to politics? And can they compete with their more experienced PR clones Cameron and Clegg?

Regardless of what you think of McDonnell’s politics, he is passionately principled and consistently champions those unable to represent themselves. He voted against his own government on the Iraq war, tuition fees and ID cards. In each of these cases, he represented a large majority of public opinion - opinion not reflected by the actions of parliament. Who will be the dissenting voice now? Who will listen to the people? Without John McDonnell’s voice in the leadership debate, the other candidates will go unchallenged, unchecked and the status quo will prevail. Democracy itself relies on debate and discussion from the widest possible field. By silencing a whole wing of its party through bureaucratic gerrymandering, Labour has denied its members a voice.

The Labour leadership contest will be conspicuous by John McDonnell’s absence, but at least the presence of Britain’s first black female MP shows Labour are more diverse than their rivals in the Commons. Will Diane Abbott succeed in shifting the field of debate, or will we be left with the same old New Labour?

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