Is it a good thing that Diane Abbott has joined the Labour leadership race?

And who else should throw their hat in the ring?

My column in this week's New Statesman examines the Labour leadership race and says that it's time for the two Eds, Miliband Sr and Andy Burnham to "come clean" on their views. As Jon Cruddas has pointed out, do we really know what they stand for? What they believe?

I also have a lighter piece in today's Guardian G2 proclaiming my delight at the decision by Diane Abbott to put herself forward as a candidate for the Labour leadership:

Hooray for Diane Abbott! I never thought I'd write those words. I've been ultra-critical of her in recent days, dismissing Abbott as one of the unreconstructed Labour tribalists who had scuppered any prospects of a post-election deal with the Liberal Democrats and a new "rainbow coalition" of the centre left.

But how grateful I am to the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington for entering the Labour leadership race. And to John McDonnell, the secondary-school dropout and son of a bus driver. So far the contest has resembled a City boardroom. Two Eds. Two brothers. Plus Andy Burnham. All of them white, male, fortysomething, Oxbridge graduates.

Was this the best Labour could do, 81 years after the appointment of the first woman cabinet minister, 35 years after the Conservative Party elected a female leader and 23 years after the arrival of the first four ethnic-minority MPs in parliament? Could no suitable female or non-white candidates be found among the 258-strong Parliamentary Labour Party? Perhaps the party needed to appoint itself a diversity czar.

Don't get me wrong. David Miliband, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham are all talented candidates. But I can't pretend I wasn't disappointed by the glaring lack of diversity on offer in Labour's first leadership contest for 16 years.

For the record, I didn't pick the headline ("Why I'm glad Diane Abbott has entered the race") and I'm not an Abbott supporter. Nor do I think she has any chance of actually winning.

But here is my question to all of you: are you satisfied with the current crop of Labour leadership candidates? If not, who else would you like to see throw their hat in the ring?

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Photo: National Theatre
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I hate musicals. Apart from Guys and Dolls, South Pacific, Follies – oh, wait

Every second is designed to be pleasing, so that by the end my face aches from all the smiling.

I always thought I hated musicals. Showy, flamboyant, and minutely choreographed, they seemed to be the antithesis of the minimalist indie scene I grew up in, where a ramshackle DIY ethos prevailed, where it wasn’t cool to be too professional, too slick, too stagey. My immersion in that world coincided with the heady days of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s triumphs in the West End – Evita in 1978, Cats in 1981 – neither of which I saw, being full of scorn for such shows.

From then on I convinced myself that musicals were not for me, conveniently forgetting my childhood love of West Side Story (for which I’d bought the piano music, bashing out “I Feel Pretty” over and over again in the privacy of the dining room, on the small upright that was wedged in behind the door).

I was also conveniently forgetting Meet Me In St Louis and A Star is Born, as well as An American in Paris, which I’d been to see with a boy I was actually in a band with – he somehow finding it possible to combine a love of The Clash with a love of Gene Kelly. And I was pretending that Saturday Night Fever wasn’t really a musical, and neither was Cabaret – because that would mean my two favourite films of all time were musicals, and I didn’t like musicals.

Maybe what I meant was stage musicals? Yes, that was probably it. They were awful. I mean, not Funny Girl obviously. When people ask “If you could go back in time, what gig would you most like to have attended?” two of my answers are: “Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall, and Barbra Streisand in the original 1964 Broadway production of Funny Girl.” I would, of course, also make an exception for Guys and Dolls, and South Pacific, and My Fair Lady, and… oh God, what was I talking about? I’d always loved musicals, I just stopped remembering.

Then one of our teens took me to see Les Misérables. She’d become obsessed with it, loving the show so much she then went and read the Victor Hugo book – and loving that so much, she then re-read it in the original French. I know! Never tell me today’s young people are lazy and lacking in commitment. So I went with her to see the long-running stage version with my sceptical face on, one eyebrow fully arched, and by the time of Éponine’s death and “A Little Fall of Rain” I had practically wept both raised eyebrows off my face. Call me converted. Call me reminded.

I was late to Sondheim because of those years of prejudice, and I’ve been trying to catch up ever since, keeping my eyes open for London productions. Assassins at the Menier Chocolate Factory was stunning, and Imelda Staunton in Gypsy (yes, I know he only wrote the lyrics) was a revelation. Here she is again tonight in Follies at the National Theatre, the show that is in part a homage to the era of the Ziegfeld Follies, that period between the wars that some think of as the Golden Age of Musicals.

Although, as Sondheim writes in his extraordinary book, Finishing The Hat, (which contains his lyrics plus his comments on them and on everything else): “There are others who think of the Golden Age of Musicals as the 1950s, but then every generation thinks the Golden Age was the previous one.” How I would have loved to have seen those shows in the 1970s, when they were new and startling.

They still are, of course, and this production of Follies is a delight from start to finish. A masterclass in lyrics – Sondheim’s skill in writing for older women is unmatched – it is also sumptuously beautiful, full of emotion and sardonic wit, switching between the two in the blink of an eye, in a way that appears effortless.

And I realise that what I love about musicals is their utter commitment to the audience’s pleasure. Every second is designed to be pleasing, so that by the end my face aches from all the smiling, and my mascara has somehow become smudged from having something in my eye, and I have already booked tickets to go again. So sue me.

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left