Yes, there are palpable senses of panic and most of it emanates from the space around Liz Kendall. After all, it wasn't supposed to be like this. She was the "fresh face" no one had heard of who'd take the party back to the best of New Labour and start winning again. Her lot definitely was not to languish in fourth place and act as a strange repellent pushing members and supporters to her polar opposite. In the camps of Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper there isn't panic, but there is some unease. Both can find solace in their strong CLP showings (73 and 62 to Jeremy's 76 nominations), but if either are to be leader they need to start upping the game. It's Corbyn, not Kendall that has set down the challenge and only by responding to it can they win. They can do this in a number of ways. Whether they do or not is up to them.
1) The attacks on Jeremy from friends of Liz are completely and utterly counter-productive. They are hectoring, patronising, and arrogant. You might have thought a campaign placed in distant last should show humility as it talks about winning elections. This, however, is their groove now. Falling short of one of the other two 'mainstream' candidates keeling over, they cannot get back into it. Liz is toast. However, it would be a massive error on the parts of teams Andy and Yvette to start taking this rhetoric on as the polls approach. Members have heard this argument for over 20 years. Negative and lesser evil campaigning can have a place, but it need not be from the mouths of Burnham and Cooper. What they need to do is not just campaign in a comradely way, but set out their stalls.
2. Whatever you think of Liz Kendall's politics, you know where she stands. But as her diminishing machine is jammed on relentless negativity, there's an opportunity here for Andy and Yvette. Believe it or not, there are some good things in Liz's platform. Workers on company boards, big wage rises for the care industry, and a reversal of attacks on trade unions immediately spring to mind. She's left these in her bag while she berates the membership with a megaphone. Why not pinch them?
3. Rather than being this contest's Mr Angry, Jeremy today set out a big policy announcement on tax, the economy, and public spending. These are worth looking at in some detail. There's a call for a national infrastructure investment bank and a big clampdown on tax evasion and avoidance. One can quibble about the specifics, but in the grand scheme of things these aren't particularly "left wing". Actually, in the context of economic management, by using efficient tax collection to fund infrastructure, Jez is setting out a plan for a fairer and, if you want to be technocratic about it, more rational capitalism. His route to battling the Tories over economic competence is by setting out a different, superior plan for the economy. Andy and Yvette would be wise to take a similar route - the Tories will always out-fight Labour when we fight battles on the grounds of their choosing.
4. Andy and Yvette don't need to go left or right, they need to go big. Take a leaf out of Jez's book and be bold. Andy has long talked about the need for a National Care Service. Good. Let's hear more about it. And perhaps have a think about how it can be provided so old folk don't have to sell their homes to fund it. Yvette has mentioned in passing a National Child Care Service. Brilliant, talk about it some more. It might even be one of those "aspirational" policies middle class parents are going to quite like too.
5. "Our only comfort zone should be the future" were words uttered at today's Progress audience with his Royal Blairness. Meaningless guff, or is it? As it happens, he does have a point. You might say this is a roundabout way of speaking about hope. The lead in to 1997's crushing victory allowed Labour to accumulate about it all kinds of hopes and dreams. If you look at that year's manifesto, it was very much a safety-first document. No gaskets were in danger of blowing. All Blair projected was freshness and the promise of an alternative at a moment when any alternative would do. The next leader has to do better than that, and of Yvette and Andy it's Yvette whose marketed her campaign as the most future-facing. She has said a few words about hi-tech jobs and occupations that haven't even been invented yet, but much more needs to be done. Everyone knows the biggest future challenge is climate change mitigation and renewable power - much more needs saying here, especially as - once again - the Tories are burnishing their green credentials by undercutting support for green industries. A few words against fracking would be immensely helpful too. But also, there is a big, big policy challenge on the way: the coming wave of automation is set to make large number of low and middle income jobs redundant and their like-for-like replacement by new jobs unlikely. Showing a bit of leadership now on a coming problem will pay dividends later on.
6. On business, both Andy and Yvette would do well to specify that being pro-business doesn't mean they're going to bend over backwards for them, which is usually the understanding of Labour members from all wings of the party. For example, Jeremy's tax and economy pitch is pro-business in the sense British capitalism sans austerity and coupled with infrastructural spending would do far more for productivity and profitability than corporation tax cuts. They need to have a clear focus on security for everyone, not just because it's the right thing to do, it's the politically smart thing to do, and is ultimately in the long-range interests of business. The dog-eat-dog capitalism of the Tories stymies business and business opportunities, despite the rhetoric, and can have the perverse consequence of securing further terms in power.
7. Andy and Yvette need a theme, or themes. We know they've both been round the block. Within the terms of mainstream politics, they both have potential to be good leaders of the opposition and potential prime ministers. But why are they in the race? What have they got that makes them the better choice over each other, and Jeremy and Liz? Because of Andy's flip-floppery this is a bit of an easier ask for Yvette. What the campaign needs is not more "passion" but more ideas. If either want to win, they're going to have to start talking about them - now.