Re: Leadership of the Labour Party
I read extracts of your interview with the Indy with some interest as, I think it's fair to say, your platform for Labour leadership is considered the 'lightest' among the contenders so far. No one is in any doubt what Liz Kendall stands for. Ditto Jeremy Corbyn. And last night on Newsnight, Andy finally put more flesh on the bones of his National Care Service idea. I wouldn't be so presumptuous to say he followed my advice, but it's stark that whereas your three opponents have defined themselves you are yet to do so. And that's a shame, because some big ideas are getting floated in the leadership election this time round, and you should be meeting like with like. If you win on the basis of being the least offensive to everyone you will be storing up future legitimation problems for your leadership.
Today's Indy interview goes a little bit of the way in setting out what you believe, but nowhere near far enough. Let's talk about Jeremy, seeing as everyone else is. You say:
Inevitably there is frustration and anger at the prospect of five more years of Tory government. It is really important we channel that anger into defeating the Tories. It is no use just shouting from the sidelines. It is no use being angry about the world. We have got to change the world.That message isn't going to win over many Jez supporters now, especially when when the grating and the dud of the party's parliamentary/spad/journo establishment have articulated it in spectacularly panicky terms. And not being daft, you know this too. The only reasonable conclusion one can infer is that you're explicitly pitching for Liz's second preferences. Yet, as we know from Labour First's open letter to Progress, it seems some Liz supporters are bent on not lending their second preferences to either you or Andy. You've got to win them over rather than posing as a steady-as-she-goes default choice.
I don’t think we want to go back to the 1980s and just be a protest movement ... Today’s four and five year-olds could have to spend their entire childhood under a Tory government if we are not determined and ready to win again.
You do have some advantages here. From what I can gather, most Liz supporters see themselves as forward-thinking progressives. Tony Blair's silliness about the future being the only comfort zone is so much gibberish to some, but it chimes with how Blairites view their tendency. The left and the centre - which includes you and Andy - are yesterday's people. You fight shy of what they perceive as the real world and you offer little in the way of confronting and managing it in pursuit of economic efficiency and social justice, as they like to put it. Liz's platform, for instance, recommends itself to technocratic minds. Her plan to decentralise power, for example, is a good one that would keep the wonks and the geeks very happy. Her politics, however, have some very serious weaknesses that you do not share. There are breaches your campaign can step into.
The largest of these is 'the future'. In your Indy interview, you discuss the opportunities presented by Green industries and you rightly castigate the Tories for treating it them as green crap. Good. But you need to go further. If the future is to see a renaissance of British manufacturing you have to bang the drum hard for onshore and offshore wind, wave power, solar power and, to make sure it's Team Yvette that's future-tinged, perhaps say a few words about nuclear fusion research. You also have to set your face against fracking for pretty obvious reasons: more carbon emissions, landscape and property blight, overstated claims of a jobs bonanza. A plurality of the public are opposed, and not a few of them live in seats we need to win back in 2020. The Tories have left an open goal on this one, particularly as they favour fracking for short-termist reasons.
You are also the only candidate consistently talking about science, the digital revolution, and preparing the economy for jobs that don't even exist yet. As I'm sure you know, one of the biggest policy challenges coming is a new wave of automation. These could render redundant a number of low skilled, low waged, labour intensive jobs. More importantly it could sound the death knell for a great many office-based jobs too. As Paul Mason points out in his new book dealing with this topic (among other things), business as a whole is laying off investing in this way for the moment. When the market is more buoyant and the big savings become clearer, it's going to happen. This can be dealt with in one of two ways. Pretend it doesn't exist and hope that these jobs are replaced like-for-like by the expansion of other industries. That seems to be the Tories' course and, as the 1980s and the so-called "jobs miracle" since 2012/13 tells us, that is simply not going to happen. Or some far sighted leadership can be shown now, and you're in the best position to do this. Be warned though, it might involve thinking some properly unthinkable thoughts.
By stealing a march on these things you won't just win over Liz supporters; there are floating Andy and - yes - Jeremy supporters who might be inspired by what you have to say. You can show the Labour selectorate that you know what's coming and you're the only one who's thinking about those challenges. It also puts the Tories on the back foot because of their short sighted and reckless approach to managing the economy.
Look, my politics differ a lot from yours. However, I recognise that you have a lot of experience, have the thick skin a leader needs, and these qualities commend you both to the position of the Leader of the Opposition and Prime Minister. You will not get to see either of those offices unless you start distinguishing yourself from the others, and certainly not by trash-talking Jeremy. What's it to be?