It was May 8th 2015 when Ed Miliband officially resigned as Labour leader having lost the general election, trigging a leadership contest. Determined to negate the power the Unions had over the election of Ed Miliband the rules would be different this time, each member would receive a single vote and Union members would sign up independently. This system created the most democratic conditions a Labour leadership election has ever seen. Under the new system people from around the country who didn’t want to commit to fully joining the Labour party were given the choice to pay a one off £3 fee for the right to vote. A mechanism to entice people back to Labour, to engage them and empower them to help shape its future.
Confident she would receive the 35 required parliamentary nominations Liz Kendall enters the race, the Blairite candidate keen to push fiscal responsibility in 2020. Then came forward Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper making their announcements May 13th both securing large backing from the parliamentary Labour party. And that we thought would be it. Three candidates, Blairite Liz Kendall, centrist Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham on the centre-left.
Unhappy with the lack of discernible differences between the candidates some in the party, including Jeremy Corbyn, sought to widen the debate. With 90 seconds to spare before nominations ended, Jeremy Corbyn scraped past the finishing line through the charity of reluctant MPs. A decision some have come to regret.
17th June hustings began, something new began. It was not initially obvious. Andy Burnham at this stage of the competition was lined up as the candidate to win, impressive performances gained Burnham a seemingly large grassroots appeal and favourable odds at the bookies. As the competition heated up people noticed Jeremy Corbyn, a well principled long-standing MP whose ideas formed a vision which encapsulated the national audience. Unlike the other contenders which seemed to give only a minor spin on the status quo, Jeremy Corbyn began offering real alternatives, alternatives which were well thought out and addressed the real issues people today face. The candidate with a new economic deal for the UK, a candidate which deplored the illegal Iraq war but most of all a potential leader which didn’t act – think – speak like the rest of them. Straight forward answers to simple questions. Something new.
Moving forward to the beginning of August, a new grassroots movement had begun. The young and old alike enthused to become engaged in political debate. The possibilities for the future. Corbyn received 152 local party nominations, far more than the next candidate Andy Burnham on 111 nominations. Corbyn began drawing crowds exceeding 1,000 supporters during rally events in almost every major city around the country, putting to shame his rivals who struggled to break the 100 barrier. It was clear at this point Jeremy Corbyn was a serious contender for the leadership role, with polls suggesting he could even win in the first round of voting.
New Labour panicked. One by one the ‘beasts’ of modern Labour stepped forward in a conveyor belt-like fashion, speeches in hand to deplore Jeremy Corbyn and urge party members to see ‘sense’. Potential war criminal Tony Blair came forward to tell Labour supporters they needed a heart transplant for supporting Corbyn. Cash for access criminal Jack Straw ensured us that Corbyn himself doesn’t want to be leader of the Labour party. Then came along Gordon Brown who would literally walk 500 miles in anxiety of Corbyn taking the helm. Despite their best efforts momentum behind ‘Corbynmania’ would only continue to grow. As it did the other leadership candidates would drag the leadership election through the mud. Discussions of policy were forgotten, the number one priority changed to pointing daggers at Corbyn. Staying faithful to his no-abuse policy, Corbyn was able to continue laying out his vision with a vast media presence to amplify his voice.
Anyone But Corbyn (ABC). Desperate to skew the process ABC was born with the purpose of encouraging their own supporters to put list anyone except Corbyn as their secondary preference. In effect this signalled the end of fair play. Next came the calls for either Burnham and Kendall, or Cooper and Kendall to stand down to provide the greatest chance of keeping Corbyn away from power. Showing their contempt for democratic will of the electorate, Labour MPs declared they would attempt to remove Jeremy Corbyn from power on day one by any means possible. Liz Kendall dubbed the anti-Corbyn plans ‘the resistance’. The leadership contest turned into a media frenzy exposing a fractured and vulnerable image of Labour to the public, surely damaging its chances in 2020.
This brings us to the present, now voting has begun over 600,000 individuals are eligible to nominate the candidates of their choice. With just over 121,000 registered supporters who paid £3 for the right to vote and influence Labour’s future, there have been cases of mischief. An insignificant but vocal Tory campaign have pushed for Conservative members to vote for Corbyn to ensure what they see as sending Labour to electoral oblivion. What Harriet Harman would describe as ‘robust’ verifications led to the exclusion of several high profile Conservative members. Unfortunately this verification process has led to a long list of genuine Labour members receiving unjust exclusions, it has also opened a witch hunt against left-leaning individuals who didn’t necessarily vote Labour in 2015 but support the values Jeremy Corbyn brings to the table. In one last attempt to undermine democracy, activists from opposing leadership camps now have free reign to seek out Corbyn supporters and exclude their vote (even after they’ve voted). Confident in their ability to hinder the democratic process anti-Corbyn activists publically threaten left-wing individuals and act upon long standing grudges to the benefit of their candidate of choice. Importantly these malicious individuals have Labour HQ on their side, encouraged to stalk and scrape the barrel of the social media profiles associated with Corbyn supporters to tally up another elimination, rewarded with ‘gold stars’ by the compliance team. But there’s an appeals process! I hear you say. To gain the privilege to fight for your democratic vote one must pay up and join as a fully-fledged Labour member. A price some are not willing to pay given the childish mudslinging and anti-democracy approach which has been demonstrated in this competition.
What’s the bigger picture?
First and foremost it is clear that the mudslinging and threats made by rival candidates to Corbyn has dragged Labour’s reputation into the ground. If people weren’t fed up of personality politics and character assassination in the general election, they sure are now. Secondly Labour has tarnished its reputation by appearing out of touch with the grassroots and anti-democratic. But finally they may well be pushing away the very voters Labour needs to win back in 2020. Jeremy Corbyn has polled as the leader to entice back Green/SNP/UKIP voters to the Labour party, genuine supporters of Labour values who may have felt Labour left them in recent years. Should Labour have any chance of winning in 2020 they will have to form around Jeremy Corbyn and work with his ideas or face consignment to opposition for a very long time.