Marathon men (and woman)

Labour leadership hopefuls complete yet another hustings.

The five candidates for the leadership of the Labour Party have completed the latest in a series of public debates that began back in June with the New Statesman hustings in Westminster. Sky News hosted a debate this morning in Norwich. You can read Ruth Barnett's live blog of proceedings here.

Frankly, very little was said that we haven't heard before, though there was some confusion about the date of St George's Day -- with only David Miliband and Ed Balls giving the correct answer of 23 April (something that seems to have particularly exercised Jonathan Isaby of ConservativeHome). There was an interesting moment, however, when Balls aimed an implicit rebuke at the rhetoric of both Miliband brothers. He said that talk of "values" and "change" is all well and good, but "policies" matter, too. Spoken like a true Treasury technocrat.

Balls has certainly impressed this summer as he has taken the macroeconomic fight over cuts and deficit reduction to the government. But one of the things that the general election campaign surely showed is that technical arguments aren't enough.

As Ed Miliband put it in his June speech on the future of social democracy, and as his brother argued in his Keir Hardie Lecture the following month, some fundamental questions of political economy remain to be answered, and they are as much about an overarching vision and, yes, "values" as they are about detailed policy.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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Benn vs McDonnell: how Brexit has exposed the fight over Labour's party machine

In the wake of Brexit, should Labour MPs listen more closely to voters, or their own party members?

Two Labour MPs on primetime TV. Two prominent politicians ruling themselves out of a Labour leadership contest. But that was as far as the similarity went.

Hilary Benn was speaking hours after he resigned - or was sacked - from the Shadow Cabinet. He described Jeremy Corbyn as a "good and decent man" but not a leader.

Framing his overnight removal as a matter of conscience, Benn told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "I no longer have confidence in him [Corbyn] and I think the right thing to do would be for him to take that decision."

In Benn's view, diehard leftie pin ups do not go down well in the real world, or on the ballot papers of middle England. 

But while Benn may be drawing on a New Labour truism, this in turn rests on the assumption that voters matter more than the party members when it comes to winning elections.

That assumption was contested moments later by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

Dismissive of the personal appeal of Shadow Cabinet ministers - "we can replace them" - McDonnell's message was that Labour under Corbyn had rejuvenated its electoral machine.

Pointing to success in by-elections and the London mayoral election, McDonnell warned would-be rebels: "Who is sovereign in our party? The people who are soverign are the party members. 

"I'm saying respect the party members. And in that way we can hold together and win the next election."

Indeed, nearly a year on from Corbyn's surprise election to the Labour leadership, it is worth remembering he captured nearly 60% of the 400,000 votes cast. Momentum, the grassroots organisation formed in the wake of his success, now has more than 50 branches around the country.

Come the next election, it will be these grassroots members who will knock on doors, hand out leaflets and perhaps even threaten to deselect MPs.

The question for wavering Labour MPs will be whether what they trust more - their own connection with voters, or this potentially unbiddable party machine.