Saturday, 31 July 2010

Labour Leadership: Time for Change?

I have recently received letters from Ed Balls and David Miliband asking for my vote in the Labour leadership election. Balls is running his campaign on his reputation as an activist and agitator. Indeed, of all the contenders, Balls has perhaps been the most vocal in his opposition to Tory cuts. His bullish pursuit of Michael Gove over the school building programme illuminated the Tories not just as heartless but as incompetent. Balls’ tigerish aggression would undoubtedly work well as leader of the opposition, but I’m sure many Labour supporters would be concerned that this assertive style wouldn’t appeal to the floating voters of Middle England.

Conversely, and quite remarkably, David Miliband’s letter positions him as the candidate of change. He declares that the “Blair/Brown era of the Labour Party is over” and the “era of command and control must end”. Yet, of all the candidates, David Miliband is the most implicated in the Blair/Brown dichotomy. He served as head of Blair’s No. 10 Policy Unit before holding various ministerial positions under both Brown and Blair.

The affinity between the politics of Miliband and Blair are clear, but the similarities between their style and syntax is also striking. Miliband begins his letter by stating “I wanted to start by saying thank you”. What exactly does this mean? I wanted to start this blog with a poem about dolphins, but then I realised it was a stupid idea. Did he intend to say thank you but then thought better of it? Why doesn’t he simply say thank you?

Miliband’s opener reminded me of Blair’s limp apology on Iraq at the Labour Party conference in 2004:

“The problem is, I can apologize for the information that turned out to be wrong, but I can't, sincerely at least, apologize for removing Saddam.”

A vacuous and misleading statement if ever there was one. No reference to the illegal invasion, bloodshed or millions who marched against the war. And, again, what does “I can apologize” actually mean? We’re all aware that Tony Blair has the physical capacity to verbalise the phrase “I am sorry” – but it doesn’t mean he actually did it. Still it’s a step beyond Miliband who wanted to thank me, but couldn’t even get that far. He's yet to refine the lexical gerrymandering of his master.

My concern is that the only literature I’ve been sent directly is from the candidates that have raised the most campaign funds. Naturally, I have sought more information online and at various events – but what about all those who don’t have access to the internet? I want a balanced understanding of all the candidates – not only those that can afford to disseminate mailshots. Despite progressive rhetoric, the campaign is still predicated on money and influence.

According to a source running one of the campaigns, each candidate is allowed one electronic mail merge to all members via Labour central office – but this privilege costs tens of thousands of pounds and has therefore been roundly rejected by the candidates. Not only does this disenfranchise much of the membership from learning in more detail about the candidates, but leading and influential figures have other ways to contact the membership. For instance, candidates can gain access to members’ contact details if they are provided by an MP or MEP. The average MP represents around 100 000 people whilst the average MEP represents nearly 1 million people. If you have the influence and contacts, that’s access to a lot of information.

And so access to membership details comes down to the relationship each leadership candidate has with fellow MPs and MEPs. Understandably, the front runner David Miliband has a lot of contacts – he’s been a Minister for a long time after all – and therefore, not only does he have the most money, he has the access to most members. Does that really represent the end of command and control?

1 comment:

Laura @ Eyes on Power said...

Surely all the candidates are too close to the Blair/Brown leadership to represent a real change for Labour, with the exception of Andy Burnham and Dianne Abbott. The problem is that a leader tends to need experience (unless you're Cameron) and unfortunately, that's going to be those that have been closest to the top.

It looks like it won't be until the leader after this one that we can really stop talking about the Blair/Brown divide.

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