The race for the Labour leadership is underway and the Miliband brothers have taken an early lead by declaring first. To try and distance himself from the Blairite appellation, David has declared New Labour a thing of the past, while Ed calls for Labour to reconnect with its working class base. Both stances are an improvement on what's gone before, but in politics deeds matter more than words and the brothers' records in government have set few social democratic hearts a flutter.
Nevertheless David's eagerness to be first out the starting blocks help explain the clear lead he's established among Labour members and the general public. As Mike Smithson asks in the latter piece, among the public at least, could David's lead simply be the by-product of name recognition?
There has been an expectation that John McDonnell will fly the flag for the hard left, and according to Louise he has announced his intentions to do just that. If it means anything, in the LabourList poll of Labour members John received a considerable number of write-in votes (he was not an option in the survey) and came fifth behind the Milibands, Jon Cruddas and Ed Balls, and in front of people like Harriet Harman, Yvette Cooper and Alan Johnson.
There are concerns about the course John and the Labour Representation Committee are pursuing and, from the standpoint of reviving socialist ideas and rebuilding the labour movement, I share them. But nonetheless John's candidacy is to be welcomed. In the first place it gives Labour's hard left something to cohere around (inbetween elections it seems to me the LRC does little as the LRC apart from supporting the odd left trade union candidate and holding an annual conference). As things stand given it is unlikely John will cross the 33 MP threshold to get on the final ballot, this seems like an ideal opportunity for the LRC to publicly test other MPs' commitment to an open and thoroughgoing debate by calling on them to nominate John in the interests of that discussion; a grassroots letter/email/lobbying campaign to encourage MPs to do so; and a write-in campaign to the NEC calling for a suspension of the threshold rule (after all, it is considering dropping the six month rule to accommodate the ten thousand new members said to have joined since the election).
Second, and the most obvious reason for standing, is getting socialist politics on the agenda. Having a socialist candidate debate ideas in front of a mass audience could do much to float all the left's boats, whether inside Labour or not. How would the others answer when John places himself unequivocally on the side of the working class against the avalanche of cuts and regressive tax rises that are coming?
This brings us back to the question of LRC strategy. If John is to successfully get his candidacy accepted the LRC has to look beyond itself and its natural allies on the far left outside Labour and think about how it can pull the softer, centre left in its train. The opportunity before the left is too great to pass up.