An opinion piece from Norwich Eye editor Julian Swainson

Like him or loathe him, nobody can deny that Jeremy Corbyn has greatly energised the debate about left wing politics and the position of the Labour Party. His leadership has seen a huge increase in party membership, a large amount of engagement with younger voters and a peak on the graph of older members, mostly male, reminding everyone that they know best. His humanitarian left-of-centre stance has certainly worried opponents, who have carried out a smear campaign against him unprecedented in British politics. One of his more unexpected achievements is that the Tories have stolen the language of the left, claiming to be the people’s party while still robbing us daily of our public services, nurses, carers and police. They even lift some of the Corbyn policies, such as slowly returning railway operation to the public sector after the repeated failure of private operators.

Labour has received a surge of increased support under Corbyn, but not enough to put him into Number 10. The challenge now for Labour is to move forward harnessing that surge in support but attempting to avoid the vilification he suffered. 

Now this is an opinion piece, so I will be frank with my preference for the Labour Leadership team. I wanted to see Angela Rayner as Leader, Clive Lewis as Deputy, and Rebecca Long Bailey as Shadow Chancellor. Why? I consider it vitally important that Labour is now led by a woman. It is long overdue, and it would be particularly effective if the blustering, pompous over-testosteroned Johnson had to face a working class woman across the dispatch box. To me, Rayner has the sass and confidence needed. Clive Lewis would be a good deputy – ready to do the dirty jobs that need to leave the leader’s hands clean, while watching their back with military determination. Keeping Long-Bailey in the Shadow Treasury office would help us build on some of the progressive policies that emerged from her and McDonnell. This would also be a team that focused on climate matters.

My dream team is not to be – a sign for me that the PLP still has far too much say over who members can choose.

Looking at the three Leader contenders left I can see merits in each. Keir Starmer has had a fairly Teflon time in Parliament and is clearly seen by many as a less challenging leader to follow than Corbyn. He is fairly vague on most policy matters and may be considered inoffensive. His record as chief of the Crown Prosecution Service is more controversial, with some strongly criticising decisions taken at the time. Read more here: https://medium.com/@lucynevitt/starmers-shambolic-cps-affabd38bb6d On the other hand he has gained considerable regard for his work as Shadow Brexit Spokesman amongst those who oppose leaving the EU. He is however, once again, a middle class white man in a suit from London.

Lisa Nandy is the contender I know least about. She is undoubtedly plucky and brave, saying in her plea to members that ‘now is not the time to play it safe’. A woman from the North with a part BAME background she is certainly different from the previous norm. But one thing sticks in my mind – she was the campaign co-chair for Owen Smith when he challenged Corbyn for Leadership in 2016. That was a poorly managed and ill-fated campaign which hugely misread the views of the membership. It was clear at the time that Smith did not have the attributes needed to win an election, so it is worrying that Nandy was so closely involved.

Rebecca Long-Bailey is the contender closest to the current Labour policy base. She has made clear statements about moving to a low-carbon economy and abolishing the unelected House of Lords. She speaks with the straightforward frankness that you might expect from a Salford MP, and has attracted a fair amount of malicious misreporting from media that oppose the left. For example tabloids suggested that as a Catholic she would oppose abortion rights, whereas her voting record and personal statements make it quite clear that she supports women’s rights, including the recent change to permit abortion in Northern Ireland for the first time. 

For me it is paramount that Labour elects a woman as Leader this time. I have confidence that Long-Bailey represents the kind of green, sustainable politics that I have always fought for.

The Deputy choice is more difficult. I have already said above that I like Angela Rayner. I have canvassed door-to-door with her and her relaxed and affable manner wins people over, while in Parliament she has shown the ability to prick the pomposity of the inflated male egos opposite. She would undoubtedly be a supportive deputy to RLB as Leader, a welcome change from the last five years.

However I am also interested by two other deputy contenders, Dawn Butler and Richard Burgon. Both have made their mark on the left of the party, showing bravery against often unpleasant criticism. Ian Murray has undoubtedly been a strong campaigner in Scotland, but I cannot find anything in his proposals that gives me confidence in him. Dr Rosena Allin-Khan is an interesting candidate, and hands down winner of the best campaign video from December 2019. But I remain mystified about her commitment to Socialist values. You will doubtless tell me if you know better.

Butler or Burgon? Difficult choice, both have strengths and possible weaknesses. Dawn Butler has an interesting background and record, but appears to have been caught out on some issues. It is hard to tell whether this indicates any confusion on her part or just a relentless and racist press campaign against her. Similarly, the right wing media just love trying to portray Burgon as benign oddity, but he has had a good campaign and refreshingly puts principles before  PR. 

If you want a Labour Party that puts Socialist values to the fore then the choices in this election are fairly clear. As a basic rule of thumb, if the mainstream media and the BBC are attacking or trying to marginalise a candidate then they are worth looking at. RLB as Leader is the only choice for those of us who are happy with the direction of Labour under Corbyn. Many are, and if in doubt talk to younger voters who have been politicised by Brexit, tuition fees, housing deprivation and many other issues. The choice of Deputy is more nuanced, and I am still split between Rayner and Burgon. Let’s see how the last few bits of their campaigns go. If you are still tempted to vote for Starmer because we keep being told that he is popular with voters, then please ask yourself, ‘do we really need to elect another white man in a suit to take us forward’? I am an ageing white male ex-politician, and yet I still think we need a bit of a change from people like me dominating politics in Britain. Be bold.  Vote for some change.

© Julian Swainson 2020

An elected person for 26 years, but what do I know?

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