Lisa Nandy has formally announced her bid for the Labour leadership: with an article in her local newspaper, the Wigan Post. But also – if we’re being honest – actually with an article in the Guardian. The Wigan Post thing is just spin. I mean, it’s not bad spin, but it is really just spin.
That’s both the point and the biggest weakness in Nandy’s campaign. Her pitch, essentially, is that the Labour party’s electoral coalition is afflicted with a wasting disease, and has been for at least a decade – and that she is the cure.
The problem is that the argument that she can cure it is, at the moment, based solely on her back-story. It’s based on the case that she is a change candidate, from “not London” and “gets it”. The problem is that if your appeal is based on the spin of “Lisa Nandy gets towns, folksily launches in the Wigan Post” and the reality is “Lisa Nandy: launches with an op-ed in the Guardian, just like everybody else”, then your campaign becomes one without a unique selling point. As I wrote about the launch of Jess Phillips’ campaign a few hours earlier, if you run as straight-talking, you’ve got to talk straight. If you run as wanting to do politics differently, you have to do it differently.
The awkward truth is that Nandy isn’t that different from the other candidates, or from any other Labour MP. She went to London for a bit, worked for an MP, then in a third sector organisation for a bit, then came home and became the MP. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. But when your campaign is based on doing things differently from the rest of the field, when they all have the exact same CV as you, it risks blowing the whole enterprise up. To offer change, you have to demonstrate change.
This is one reason why Nandy is struggling to get the support of either the 21 Labour MPs or the trades unions that she will need to be certain of making the ballot. Most Labour MPs also went to London for a bit, worked for a third sector organisation, then came home and became the MP, and it rubs many of them up the wrong way to be talked about as if they don’t get it. Add that to a YouGov poll showing her finishing bottom of the pack and it makes the trades unions wary of wasting their nomination hopes.
Nandy can turn it around, but it will mean retooling her campaign. She will need to move away from talking about what she is – someone who, unlike her rivals, “gets it” – and demonstrating that she does actually have the cure: talking about policies, solutions, innovations, changes to how the party operates. This is one area where her real launch article in the Guardian is going in the right direction: she talks about devolution and the care crisis, although she’ll need to go further and have more detail, beyond just calling on the party to show “courage” on the issue.
Without change, Nandy’s leadership bid will be short-lived.