Just because it’s conventional wisdom it doesn’t mean it’s true.
Conventional political wisdom tells us that leadership speculation is bad for a party, undermines the current leader and gives an impression of division which the electorate hates. Journalists love it but we shouldn’t play their game.
John Rentoul of the Independent claims he and his pals couldn’t think of an alternative leader anyway which may have come as a relief to Ed Miliband and his team. But I’m not sure that it should.
Speculation in the Sunday papers about challenges to David Cameron’s leadership damages the Tory party only because the alternatives are so improbable. A black millionaire nobody has heard of, a maverick Mayor of London who’s not even in parliament, and that’s about it.
If you look across the ranks of the Tories in the Cabinet nobody stands out as a potential leader with the possible exception of the Home Secretary, Theresa May, who shows few signs of exciting the voters very much.
Labour’s front bench is a completely different story. I can count at least eight MPs, not including Ed and Harriet, who could step up into a leadership position tomorrow with a realistic chance of winning the next election. If you include David Miliband, “on the front line but not the front bench” in his own words, that is an array of talent that outshines the Cabinet on any day of the week.
To point that out is not to undermine Ed in any way. He is staying as leader and that’s an end to it. But it is to enhance Labour’s standing overall. A bit of speculation about who among them might one day take over is not a bad way of reminding voters just how strong the team is.
And Labour does need to get itself talked about a bit more in the proverbial Dog and Duck. As the excellent LabourList meeting on One Nation that I attended at the Commons last month showed, there is a lot of creative thinking going on in the party. Eventually under the guidance of Jon Cruddas it will make it into a powerful party programme. But right now it’s not cutting through with the wider public at all.
With just two years to go to the election we need to start exciting a bit of interest. Ed may have decided against brainstorming the country with a series of challenging speeches as Tony Blair did between 1995 and ‘97, but there needs to be a bit of a buzz about Labour pretty soon.
So how about this for starters? One day we might face our own Hillary/Obama moment. Two contenders for the leadership, one a hard-working, committed and talent woman (Yvette), another a younger, less experienced but exciting black man (Chuka). Will the outcome be the same as in the US? Every elected leader of the Labour Party has been a white man. Next time around will it be time for a change?
Painful though it was, that primary election strengthened the Democrats and put them in a position to dominate presidential politics for a generation. Separately and together they inspired and reinvigorated the centre-left. Here in Britain it cannot and should not be left to one man to do that, so why not ‘speculate to generate’ – a little interest, that is.
Lance Price is a Former Labour party Director of Communications and author of ‘Where Power Lies’ (Simon and Schuster)