I sometimes wonder if I'm cut out for this political blogging lark. Apart from preening our vanity and practicing our writing, presumably us bloggers would quite like to influence people too. When it comes to the Labour leadership contest, I've failed on this score completely. I *have* finally made my choices this afternoon but realise this blog is too late in the day to influence the bakers' dozen of affiliated trade unionists and Labour Party members who regularly turn up on this site. Never mind, I'll be sure to get the posts about the next round of NEC and National Policy Forum elections in plenty of time!
This is how I voted. I have doled out all five of my preferences, because that's the way I fly.
No prizes for guessing first preference. I gave it to Diane Abbott. I haven't been impressed with her campaign or pleased with the manner of her nomination. From the stand point of socialists politics John McDonnell's candidacy would have made for a much more interesting and lively contest. There is talk of Ed Balls challenging the cuts consensus (more on that shortly), but McDonnell would have fronted a much more comprehensive and wide-ranging critique (which is precisely *why* he didn't secure enough nominations). But we are where we are. Diane Abbott is the only candidate in favour of scrapping trident, opposed the Iraq and Afghan wars in deeds as well as words, does not think the public sector and the working class should pay for the deficit, has a parliamentary record of opposing New Labour's authoritarianism, refuses to scapegoat immigrants, and takes seriously the need to restore party democracy. I know Diane won't win, and she can't even count on united left backing, but a good vote sends a clear message. It tells the eventual victor that they can afford to ignore the left at their peril. And it shows the wider electorate who've been alienated from Labour by the Blair/Brown axis that a significant section of the party is unchanged and unashamed of its relationship to the working class. That's why I voted Abbott, and would recommend others to do so too.
Barring an unforeseen upset, one of the Milibands are going to win. With this in mind my second preference went to "Red" Ed. I won't lie. When Ed Miliband visited Stoke he performed much better than I expected. Politically he's hardly Marx or Engels, let alone Tony Benn, but he does appear to have drawn many of the right conclusions about why we lost the 2010 general election. He knows New Labour's blind enthusiasm for repressive legislation cost the party dearly among its core middle class support as much as its default setting for useless and regressive neoliberal policies drove a section of our working class vote away. Significantly, along with Abbott, he has refused to bash immigrants. He knows they are a lightning rod for all kinds of discontent, not least unemployment and lack of housing. He is committed to rebuilding the trade union movement and making sure they're listened too (though MiliE has been equivocal over his support for strikes against the cuts). And above all, he's more of a social democratic figure than the others bar Abbott and is not wedded to the disastrous "worse than Thatcher" cuts Alastair Darling promised before the election. If Ed Miliband wins, I think there will be more room for socialists to make their influence in the Labour party felt and more of a chance of Labour getting back into power than under any of the others.
Ed Balls would probably have got my last preference if it wasn't for his saving grace: economic policy. For those opposed to the cuts, it is difficult to overstate how important it is for our argument to have someone articulate an anti-cuts position from within mainstream politics. Yes, we can put forward arguments light years ahead of present day consciousness about expropriating the expropriators, but there are hardly useful for winning a majority against the cuts now. Whoever wins, a fair vote for Balls will give a boost to his shadow chancellor's campaign, which he's sure to launch shortly after the the conclusion of this contest.
I just want to reiterate something I've said on this blog before. On a personal level, I quite like David Miliband. And if it wasn't for his mistaken view of how to win the next election, the question marks over rendition flights during his watch as foreign secretary, his submission to the cuts agenda, a good chunk of his policy platform, and the support of the most right wing, anti-democratic and neoliberal figures in the Labour Party, I might have voted for him. All that said, he is no Blair mark II. He is more "Labour" than the anointed one and appears more relaxed about trade union influence. Much is made of his name recognition among the public, but I'm convinced this is more a function of having a higher profile in the previous government than the others. What is potentially very worrying is Miliband's endorsement by practically all the right wing press. He is part of the New Labour cohort still obsessed with how things play out in The Mail and The Sun, even though their power is not what it was when The Project was germinating. Among the five, he is the candidate most likely to win Murdoch's endorsement at a general election. But he's also the one most likely to be blown from pillar to post by press pressure.
But it's Andy Burnham who gets my last preference. He has said some good things about the NHS, the need for a national care service, and party democracy. But little else. His 'aspirational socialism' makes vacuity look substantive. His continued support for the Iraq War, despite everything, shows Burnham up as dogmatic and out of touch. And advocating a reduction of union influence in the party was never going to score brownie points with me. So no, Andy, no.
Elections for the National Executive Committee have been taking place too. There has been much less public discussion of this, for obvious reasons. Just so you know, I voted for Sam Tarry, Christine Shawcroft, Susan Press, Sofi Taylor, Ann Black, and Peter Kenyon.