No one but Kendall will move Labour forward from the disastrous Miliband yearsFACEBOOK

The 2015 election will go down in history as catastrophic for the Labour Party. It was their worst performance since 1983, when Michael Foot’s leadership and a socialist manifesto described as the ‘‘longest suicide note in history’’ were crushed in Margaret Thatcher’s landslide victory. Aside from the SNP’s wipeout of their Scottish stronghold, Labour left English voters utterly unimpressed: in a plethora of marginals they expected to win, the Conservatives increased their majority. Meanwhile, the Tories seized from them seats such as Gower, Bolton West and Southampton Itchen.

In the wake of this, one would expect Labour to take a look at what went so disastrously wrong. They needn’t look too hard: swing voters opted for the Tories because Ed Miliband looked hopelessly un-Prime Ministerial (imagine him negotiating with Vladimir Putin), and even more so because voters saw through Labour’s policies. They recognised that key Labour ideas not only had a theoretical basis in the unproductive and passé politics of envy, but also would be hopelessly counter-productive in practice. The so-called mansion tax would have unjustly punished a significant number of the cash-poor but asset-rich – at the same time as raising a relative pittance. Similarly, reintroducing the 50% income tax rate would also raise little or no money, while causing many workers whose talent and creativity benefits Britain to leave the country. 

Another of Miliband’s key announcements was a proposal to abolish non-dom status; it would be too generous to call this policy pointless, seeing as even officials in the previous Labour government calculated that it would lose £2.1 billion per year for Britain. And the question of why Labour thought voters were simple-minded enough to believe that rent controls would work is – as Winston Churchill famously said of Russia – ‘‘an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, inside a conundrum’’. Government price controls of all varieties have enjoyed a consistent record at producing an absolute clusterfuck of a situation, ever since the Roman Emperor Diocletian tried them and they produced deleterious effects in the early 4th century. Rent controls specifically are, ‘‘next to bombing, the most efficient technique so far known for destroying cities’’ – as the Swedish economist Assar Lindbeck described them while charting their calamitous effect on numerous Western cities in the 1970s.

The counter-productive inanity of these policies, which was so clear to the voters, shows why Labour needs a decisive break from the Miliband years. But the two frontrunners are Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper – both committed Brownites, likely to maintain Miliband’s position to the left of Blair. Beyond the prodigiously platitudinous and vacuous gesture of sometimes using the word ‘‘aspiration’’, neither has shown a scintilla of understanding about how Labour could win over the middle-class and striving voters who populate marginal seats, and ergo win the next election. They haven’t even shown any comprehension of the fact that, in order to gain a majority in the Commons, they will have to reach out way beyond their core vote.

Prominent assertions from these frontrunners include Andy Burnham’s declaration that he will bring back the ‘‘beating heart of Labour’’. Especially in light of his likely support from union barons, this suggests a desire for something akin to the mass-membership, monolithic party, centred on working-class identity politics, that was last in power in 1979 – when in the Winter of Discontent union bullies caused the dead to go unburied and staff to march out of children’s hospitals. Yvette Cooper has similarly bared her unelectable qualities for all to see – denying that the last Labour government spent too much. The electorate accepts that there was a global financial crisis, but no one outside Labour’s core vote believes that they were right to ignore the common sense of counter-cyclical economics and run deficits through years of surging growth. With statements like these, both candidates appeal only to safe Labour constituencies.

So perhaps Burnham and Cooper are in denial about the scale of their party’s defeat. English votes for English laws will likely become a reality before the next election, and to win the necessitated majority in England, Labour must win seats like Chingford and Basingstoke. These are solidly middle-class and solidly Tory; they have never before elected a Labour MP – and the only candidate who could possibly gain these constituencies for Labour in 2020 is Liz Kendall.

In a marked contrast to Burnham and Cooper, she has acknowledged the scale of Labour’s defeat – as ‘‘catastrophic’’, and bringing to mind the fact that the party has no ‘‘God-given right to exist’’. She is ‘‘passionate’’ about wealth creation as well as its distribution, acknowledging along with the British electorate that economics is not a zero-sum game, that bashing the rich fails to help the poor. This comes from her refusal to support the typical policies of the Left, which seem nice and virtuous in theory, but in practice are pointless or – even more often – counter-productive. Kendall scorns the idea of imposing taxes on the rich that raise no money just ‘‘for the sake of it’’. Meanwhile, she knows that the electorate understand this difference between theory and practice – acknowledging that voters quite rightly ‘‘didn’t believe’’ that Miliband’s energy price freeze would work.

However, it is unlikely that Kendall will win. Not only have Labour MPs – perhaps eager for patronage – rallied in greater numbers around Burnham and Cooper (each have 24 MPs nominating them – compared to 18 for Kendall). But also, the union leaders decided the last leadership election in favour of Ed Miliband, and even though the rules have changed to dilute  the influence of union barons, they will make the same effort this time to prevent a sensible, electable Blairite from winning. Len McCluskey of Unite – by far the most powerful such figure – has stated that ‘‘it is essential that the correct leader emerges’’ – as if it is his prerogative to decide who that is. He has also asserted that this ‘‘correct leader’’ will be one who orientates their concerns around ‘‘working people’’. The definition of this phrase does not encompass the legions of middle-class voters who Labour must persuade to vote for them if the Party is to have any hope of winning the next election: one wonders if McCluskey believes that such people as doctors, lawyers and small business owners don’t earn their living by working, but just sit and twiddle their thumbs all day every day. He could then blackmail his ‘‘correct candidate’’ into moving further to the Left, considering the financial clout of Unite as Labour’s biggest donor by far.

Conservatives must be bursting with hope that McCluskey gets his way, sabotages the election and defeats Kendal. That’s what would guarantee a Tory grip on power for at least 10 more years.

@mr_tomwheeldon

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