Labour leadership: a pair of what ifs

A bit too busy with the dissertation to blog much right now, but a couple of thoughts I thought I’d put out there to see if they might spark a discussion.

First, returning to a thought I had a few months ago, what if John Smith hadn’t stood for Labour leader in 1992? (Probably for health reasons, but the whys of it aren’t important) Would the line up of candidates look that impressive at the time? Sure, Blair was only two years away from winning the leadership but in 1992 he was relatively obscure and hadn’t come up with ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’. Would a call to modernise then fall on the same stony ground as Liz Kendall’s have now? Who else would be a credible contender in the climate of 1992?

Second, would a lot of the current trouble have been avoided if Labour’s electoral system was more like the Conservatives? Rather than just increasing the number of MPs needed to get nominated, Miliband’s reforms had followed the Tories in giving MPs an extended primary where they whittled down a large number of candidates to just two to face the membership/supporters/affiliates vote? With a much lower initial bar to being nominated, but a much-higher one to reach the voters, candidates who dropped out because of insufficient support this time like Mary Creagh and Tristram Hunt could have been part of the process, while no one would have needed to lend Corbyn any nominations, but a lack of support from MPs would prevent him making it to the final stage. Would it have ended up as Burnham vs Cooper, or might something different have happened?

(I actually think the Tory leadership election process is a good one, that only has such a bad reputation because the first time it was tried, it was given a selection of poor candidates and a party that didn’t want to be united)

5 thoughts on “Labour leadership: a pair of what ifs”

  1. I find all the who-ha over the canditature of Corbyn slightly amusing.

    I am reminded of an aposite quotation on this subject:

    “The Money power denounces, as public enemies, all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes.” – William Jennings Bryan – US Congressman (1891-1895), US Secretary of State (1913-1915)


  2. I blame the candidates much more than the election system.

    Too often, Kendall, Cooper and Burnham have tried to draw from the Tony Blair playbook, without having his charisma or his Granita deal with a Brown figure who brought in some support from the left.

    (It’s easy to forget all these years later, but many saw Brown as a guarantee that a “New Labour” government would retain some caring principles.)

    There’s some irony in that Kendall and Cooper were very keen to throw Miliband under the bus as soon as possible, (maybe Burnham too, I might have missed it) when they would have benefited from him staying on for a while and the contest proceeding a bit later on in time.

    However, I have to throw another “what if” at you – the usual one – what if John Smith had carried on to the election? There’s reason to believe he may have won… a reminder perhaps that Blair’s playbook might not be the only one in town…

    1. Oh, I’m pretty sure he would have won and not seen much of a convincing argument that says he wouldn’t. He probably wouldn’t have won with such a large majority as Blair, but a lot of people forget just how awful the Tories were after 1992.

  3. More focused on your thinking:

    The Labour process was designed around giving the grassroots more democracy – in part to slowly cut the union cord – but in part as recognition that unlike a Tory party funded by a few key individuals, Labour needs the grassroots engaged, or it is markedly less viable…

  4. My memory is getting quite poor and I was working abroad at the time. But I think there were other worthy candidates available. That they were to the left of the party may have led them to conclude that it wasn’t worth embarrassing themselves to even bother throwing their hat in the ring.
    I’m thinking of the likes of Tony Benn,Dennis Skinner, Ken Livingstone and George Galloway in particular, but even more moderate candidates like Michael Meacher and Tom Watson would have also been stymied.

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