By David Talbot, Consultant, London
After its second successive heavy electoral defeat, Labour finds itself immediately conducting a leadership election over the long summer months. In 2010, after thirteen years of a Labour government, and the ill-fated reign of Gordon Brown, there was a widely-held sentiment that a new leader would breathe life into a visibly tired and, in parts of the country, reviled party. It was a job of regrouping, reuniting and then combatting the unheralded coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Five years later and a defeat that was even worse than the one that preceded it and the stakes are even higher for Labour.
There was an initial flurry of speculation of who might stand, with a one or two false starts. Dan Jarvis withdrew before he had even put his name forward for consideration, and Chuka Umunna, long the heir apparent, signalled his intent only to revoke his candidacy just days after. Following the closure of nominations, Labour now has a roster of four candidates to choose from. The candidacies range from the hard left to the Blairite right of the party, offering the party’s membership a genuine choice over its future direction.
The Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, and Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, are considered the two initial front runners. Both have extensive and envious track records as parliamentarians, Cabinet and then Shadow Cabinet members. The former ran in 2010, finishing fourth, whilst the latter declined five years to allow her – now defeated husband – a run at leadership. Liz Kendall, the hitherto unknown Shadow Health Minister, has also declared. Surprising many with an assured appearance on the Sunday Politics Show three days post the election, she has ran an insurgency campaign and reignited what remains of the Blairite faction in the Labour party. It is the inclusion of Jeremy Corbyn, the veteran Labour MP and of the hard left, on the ballot – supposedly in the name of ‘widening the debate’ – that has either brought joy or derision to those in Labour’s ranks.
The challenges facing the next leader of the Labour party are stark. Wiped out in Scotland, none-existent in the south of England, with UKIP in second place throughout much of its northern heartlands and unable to win strongly in anywhere but major conurbations, the party starts almost one hundred seats behind the Tories come 2015. Remaining out of power for twenty years is a distinct possibility. The next leader must, of course, win the party membership ballot, but more importantly look beyond those two hundred thousand to the millions who did not, who could not, vote Labour and appeal to them directly. Otherwise Labour will simply be repeating its leadership election exercise come the summer of 2020.