My Labour leadership ballot paper arrived this morning, so finally, after all the hoopla, it’s decision time. And very difficult it has been too. There’s the tough one, the working class one, the older brother, the younger brother and the black woman. Of course my one little vote isn’t going to make much difference, but I’ve always believed in taking voting seriously. So what to do?
I thought about choosing on policy grounds. Here, I am overwhelmingly in agreement with Diane Abbott on issues such as the economy, Trident, higher taxes and Afghanistan. Above all, I agree with her on immigration, and my suspicion of Ed Balls on that issue means he goes to the bottom of my list, even though I suspect he is actually the best candidate on the economy. Ed Miliband comes over well on the environment, and Andy Burnham on health and social care. I find David Miliband to be the vaguest on specific policy promises, and that may be because, to his credit, he understands that policy isn’t entirely in the hands of a party leader. With the exception of Abbott, who does have a different world view, the other candidates’ policy statements are merely symbolic, to show us what they think Labour is for.
But if policy is really about fighting it out with the Shadow Cabinet, PLP, and way behind that the NEC and Conference, what about capacity for leadership? The new leader has to take on the Coalition, win the next election, and become a credible Prime Minister. Which candidate connects best with people and can communicate a message to the general public as well as retaining members’ support? It’s been interesting to see how well Abbott does here. Audiences appear to love her, but is this because they agree with her or because she’s on the telly? David Miliband is the only candidate who can make a decent speech. Ed Miliband comes over as sincere, Burnham as passionate, and Balls as a bit of a bruiser, a John Reid for his generation. All qualities a good leader needs, but unfortunately they do not all appear in the same candidate.
So by now I am in despair. Who should have my first preference? I really do not want to vote for David Miliband as the heir to Blair, but I think he’ll make the best Prime Minister of the five. I want Abbott to make a good showing but not to win, as I don’t feel confident that she can lead but her views need to be taken seriously. I want to vote for nice Ed but I think nasty Ed might do a better job. And then there’s the overlooked Burnham, who is the only candidate who seems to realise that most Party members don’t live in London, and some don’t even live in England.
And there’s the key. Andy Burnham was the only candidate who bothered to come to Northern Ireland. He spent hours answering our questions, and most importantly he supported Labour members’ wish to stand in elections here, subject of course to NEC approval. After all, what good is it to us here if the new leader introduces lots of fab policies, increases membership, strengthens organisation and finances, and makes decision-making more democratic, if in NI we continue to depend on other parties in the devolved policy areas such as education, health and housing? Yes, if Labour win the next election there will be fewer cuts, but we won’t have a say on how the block grant is spent. Grass roots change in NI requires Labour to be involved, and that’s why my first choice will be Andy Burnham. Followed by Diane Abbott, Ed Miliband, David Miliband and Ed Balls.
Now I just need to start on the NEC........