Oh you poor things – first you have to hear me go through the emotional turmoil of turning my back on a Labour party that felt bereft of leadership, ideas and any passion or instinct to govern. Then you suffer through me returning to the fold after realising that whilst love can sometimes be messy, undignified and downright painful; it is after all love and therefore more hard-wearing and longstanding than I had previously thought. Now you have to witness the trials and tribulations as I decide which of the leadership candidates to plump for. Bear with me – I will try and make it at least a little entertaining and informative for you all.
So, with only a couple of months to go, where am I? Let’s go through them one-by-one, in ascending order.
5. Ed Balls – The old school scrapper. To be fair to him he is the one that has really stepped up and taken the fight to the Tories. His performances against Gove have been legendary – two stereotypes of their parties going toe to toe. He has also been effective, forcing the new coalition government on to the back foot early on and then keeping them there. Yet, having an attack-dog in your back-garden is one thing, giving him the keys to the house is quite another. Can you really imagine him as leader of the party, let alone the country? No? Me neither. Going on the attack is all well and good, but some of his policy announcements have looked distinctly like someone following the crowd rather than leading it and I have yet to hear anything of an over-arching vision. And, if we are honest, he is never going to shift public opinion away from the fact that he is an arch-briefer that represents the very worst of the Brown administration. The campaign looks in trouble – and you can see why.
4. Andy Burnham – Until last weeks brilliant performance on Question Time I had almost forgotten that he was standing. And that says it all really. He comes across as a decent guy, with some good ideas. But, unless he is there standing in front of you it is too easy to forget about him and that is probably the most damning indictment of any potential leader. Having said that, when the debate moved to the NHS on Question Time last week he was immense – articulate, knowledgable but most of all passionate – he now needs to inject this passion into the rest of his campaign if he wants to move from affable boy next door to most-powerful man in Britain. I am not convinced he can, but he is the one with the most to gain from the long election period, so we will have to wait and see.
3. Diane Abbott – Every time I hear her, read about her and watch her on TV I am reminded of why I first joined the Labour party. She is passionate, articulate and principled. Her politics are shaped not in focus groups but through her life experiences, and she is all the better for it. But politics isn’t just about idealistic rhetoric – for without power we are little more than an irrelevance. And there comes the problem – whilst Diane Abbott keeps the rest of them honest, there are no votes in her winning the leadership – the public will never go for a product of the left of the party. And therefore, alas, neither can we.
And this is where it becomes tough – for whilst I know who I will not be voting for, I am yet to decide who I will. So here are the last two, in no order of preference.
David Miliband – If you had asked me 3years ago who I wanted to lead the party then I would have responded instantly with the words ‘David Miliband’. One of the brightest of his generation, he is a genuine intellectual powerhouse and is steeped in the traditions of the party. But can he lead them now? For name recognition alone, if an election was called tomorrow then he would have to be the one best placed to take on the coalition. He is, of all, the most ‘Prime Ministerial’. But that comes at a price – he doesn’t look comfortable talking to the average person and he doesn’t create any sense of ‘he is one of us’. He is also very much the continuity candidate – he wrote the 1997, 2001, 2005 manifestos and was Foreign Secretary at the time of the 2010 election – how many more new ideas does he have and can he really create a step-change with the past? Having said that, he is the one to beat. He is well financed, well organised and anyone who read or saw the Kier Hardie speech must at least pause for thought before voting for anyone else. He has also been hugely impressive on the less fashionable but most important issue of how to organise for victory – delivering successful local campaigns and developing a new generation of activists. Yet despite this I find myself strangely unenthused – his task over the next few months is excite me and people like me.
Ed Miliband – And finally, Ed Miliband. He too is bright, articulate, steeped in the traditions of the party, but also approachable – as if Westminster hasn’t quite tainted him yet. The outsider on the inside if you like. There is no doubt that he has a strong vision for the party and his views on Electoral Reform, Immigration, The Iraq War and the deficit all chime with mine. (I disagree with him on Trident, but you can’t have everything!). He is also doing great work connecting with young people whose natural home should be Labour and developing a grassroots campaign of the kind we will need to fight the Tories at the next election. So, why the doubt? It can be summed up in one question – Can he lead this party at this time? If between the next couple of months he can convince me of that then he has my vote (or votes actually… I think I get a couple!).
So there you go – that is where I am at the moment… erring towards Ed M, but still undecided between him and his brother. I’ll try to keep blogging regularly as I make up my mind. It would be great to get your feedback and who you are supporting and why.