The Labour leadership: who the newspapers are supporting

The Staggers takes a look at which candidates the national newspapers and their columnists have back

 

On Wednesday 1 September the ballot to choose the next leader of the Labour Party opened and the Labour leadership battle moved into its final stages.

Despite the distraction of Blair's memoirs, some newspapers and commentors have still found the time to declare their support for a preferred candidate, starting with our endorsement of Ed Miliband and our coverage of Jon Cruddas's endorsement of David Miliband.

Here is a round-up of the newspaper editorials:

The Observer chose this Sunday to declare in favour of David, claiming that:

. . . there is a breadth and subtlety to David Miliband's campaign that elevates him above his rivals. He is unquestionably loyal to the Labour tradition, but loyal also to the politics of winning general elections.

The Guardian meanwhile has chosen to sit firmly on the fence, stating that:

The truth is that both reaching out and moving on are essential, which is why neither is yet the obvious winner. In the three weeks of voting, it is to be hoped that one brother or the other will prove they can manage both at once.

The Independent has plumped for David, stating:

David Miliband has stressed repeatedly that Labour must appeal beyond the core vote if it has any chance of being a credible challenger at the election. In making this point he has not stayed in what his brother describes as a New Labour "comfort zone". If he had done so, he would deserve to lose.

The Times (£) editorial was short and pithy, but still came out strongly for David in the end, noting:

Mr Miliband understands that Labour needs a credible line on the deficit; he has tried more than any other candidate to appeal to the electorate as a whole. He is the only candidate who commands the personal authority to be a credible prime minister and Labour can be a serious opposition only if it is seen as an alternative government. There is only one candidate who comes close to answering that description: David Miliband.

The Financial Times, despite coming out for David, has been disappointed by the leadership contest:

The quality of the leadership debate has been dispiriting. It has been too inward-looking and deferential to the core vote. The candidates have largely failed to articulate a clear vision of Britain's future that could serve as a road map back to power.

The columnists and bloggers have shown a little more variety:

Jackie Ashley (the Guardian) strong supports Ed, but is afraid that he is too dependent on the unions:

He could become the "public-sector leader" or the "northern leader" rather than, as he wants, the leader of the "squeezed middle".

Johann Hari declares his support for Ed as well, but adds this warning:

It's not enough to say the debate should be solely "future oriented". The next Labour leader will face similar decisions. What he did in the past will shape what he does in the future.

Matthew Norman (of the Independent) is strongly convinced that Ed is the man for the job and argues:

It isn't that he speaks something far closer to English than the strangulated, triangulated patois of sonorously meaningless cliché that is his brother's lingua franca, although that certainly helps as well.

It's not even that he conveniently splits the difference between David's Blair Gold tribute act and Balls's core vote-protecting, comfort blanket statism, though that helps even more. It is simply that he had the cobblers to stand for the leadership at all, knowing that this must threaten one of the central relationships of his life.

Finally, Jonathan Freedland does as good a job as ever at sitting on the fence:

In an ideal world, there would be a combined Miliband name on the ballot, blending the strengths of both. As it is, there are two imperfect, all too human individuals. Since only one can triumph, it is incumbent on the eventual winner to take on the arguments and qualities embodied by his defeated brother. The party has been offered an either/or choice. But the truth is, it needs both.

Photo:Getty
Show Hide image

Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.