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16 December 2019updated 08 Jun 2021 11:16am

Evening Call: Oh good, a Labour leadership race

By Jonn Elledge

Why do we spend so much time ignoring the climate crisis? Why is it that Brexit has been reported almost entirely as a battle for power within the Conservative Party, rather than a radical break in Britain’s economic model? Both questions, I think, have the same answer (or two answers, if you count “the end of the world is too scary to look at”): because both journalists and their audience respond better to stories with faces than stories about more abstract forces.

This also, I think, explains why it feels like the country’s political, media, and Twitter-using classes are currently paying more attention to the party that just lost the election than the one that won.

The Conservative manifesto was thin, to put it mildly. But it did include murmurs of radical constitutional reforms – to parliament, the judiciary and so on – of the sort that look a lot like a blank cheque for a party with a big enough majority to do pretty much what it wants. There are whispers that it’ll shake up the structure of the government, too, most notably by breaking up the Home Office to create a new department focused entirely on immigration. All this is more than a little unnerving to anyone of a liberal left mind-set, and probably explains why we are once again seeing hopeful speculation that Boris Johnson is actually a one-nation Conservative at loose in the wild.

But we’re barely talking about any of that. The discourse has instead turned remarkably quickly to what’s happening inside a party that has no realistic prospect of being in power any time soon, and to the question of who exactly might replace Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.

This next paragraph has a very real chance of being out of date by the time you read it, but with the dread caveat “at time of writing”, here’s where things stand. Clive Lewis and Lisa Nandy have said they’re considering running. Keir Starmer, Emily Thornberry, David Lammy and Jess Phillips haven’t – but all have made interventions since that exit poll that have been widely interpreted as signs they were giving the matter serious thought. Rebecca Long-Bailey looks likely to be seen as the candidate from the Corbynite left, while the gossip from the lobby today is that the oft-touted Angela Rayner will not run for leader but will try for deputy instead.

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Although the timetable is still being finalised, the Labour leadership race will likely run until around the end of March. That should be just around the time the Brexit debate is moving onto the tiny issue of what exactly Britain’s relationship with the EU should look like once we’re out – which, barring an almost unimaginable miracle, we by then will be. This is obviously exactly the sort of thing you’d hope to have an opposition leader in post to pay attention to, of course, but we are where we are.

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That gives us three months to enjoy the endless debate about what the new Labour Party should look like. Whether the leader needs to be a woman, not least because it’s beginning to feel a bit odd that Labour is the last major party to have never had a female leader. Whether it has to be someone more working class, or from outside London, to connect with the sort of seats the party just lost. For the next few weeks, we will be treated to a nearly infinite supply of takes which can all be paraphrased roughly as “Why Thursday’s Election Result Shows That I Have Been Right All Along.”

And all the while, Boris Johnson’s majority government will be rubbing its hands and eyeing the structures of the British state.

Merry Xmas, everybody.

Good day for…

Fresh blood. The Liberal Democrats are also plotting a leadership election – unfortunately necessary, after the East Dunbartonshire electorate defenestrated Jo Swinson last Thursday, when it instead opted for the SNP.

One candidate already being much discussed – in so far as any Lib Dem is ever much discussed – is St Albans’ Daisy Cooper, who has been an MP for precisely as long as Swinson hasn’t been. Patrick wrote about what Cooper’s possible leadership bid means for the party here.

Bad day for…

Remainers, not to mention hacks hoping to get a relaxing last week before Christmas. Parliament re-opens Thursday; the government is expected to bring the Withdrawal Agreement Bill before the Commons on Friday. It seems extremely likely to pass.

Quote of the day

“I can tell you ahead of the election nobody in [Local_Place] was talking about [Factor_you_think_irrelevant]…”

The mysterious Andrew R, better known by his Twitter handle @ExcelPope, sums up the problem with lots of Labour commentary right now. He continued: “Every single person I talked to said they weren’t voting Labour because of [Factor_you_think_relevant]. [Non_sequitur] is needed, and [Faction_you_hate] can’t deliver!” Stirring stuff.

Everybody’s talking about…

John McDonnell’s interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr yesterday. “It’s on me, I own this disaster… If anyone is to blame it is me, full stop.” He added that he would not serve in the next shadow cabinet.

In a twist that nobody could have foreseen back in 2015, a lot of people who very much aren’t on the left of the Labour Party seemed to be sad about that: McDonnell’s decision to accept responsibility for the result without caveat will cement his reputation as probably the best operator in Labour’s top team since Jeremy Corbyn took over. He’s thrown his support behind Long-Bailey, essentially anointing her as the left’s chosen successor.

Everybody should be talking about…

Something that isn’t politics. Please. Anything.

Here’s a good example now. The Christmas edition of our esteemed magazine contains over a dozen essays by New Statesman writers on the road not taken: who or what they might to become in other circumstances.

If you want to read about former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’s one time plan to become a monk, Howard Jacobson’s dreams of singing tenor, or how Suzanne Moore would have lived life without children, then now’s your chance. You can find all the essays here.

Questions? Comments? Email me.

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