By Rob Carr
Cheerleaders are nice. Don’t you agree? They make the supporters of their team feel good. They repeat chants and cheers to motivate those supporters and everyone feels that bit better for it. Whether they’re the American dancing pom-pom variety, or the British stupidly costumed mascot variety, I’m all for cheerleaders.
At least I am in sports. In politics … not so much. Because cheerleaders, by definition, express thoughtless praise. And the one thing politics needs is thought. The trouble is, during this contest for the leadership of the Labour Party, there are a lot of cheerleaders about. They’re easily identified by calls of “I’m supporting X, so you should too”. No real reasons why you should support their particular candidate: just that you should. Don’t get me wrong, this is all good cheerleader stuff – motivating the people who already support your candidate – but it doesn’t win any new support. It doesn’t argue a case. It doesn’t persuade me to use my vote on making that candidate the leader of my party.
When the leadership selection process was first announced, I was completely open-minded about who I would support. I wanted to be persuaded. I wanted someone to show me the leader they would be. So I’ve read the articles, watched the interviews, and listened to what they all have to say. I’ve finally seen what I wanted to see and heard what I wanted to hear: I was finally persuaded. And now I’m telling you why I’ll be voting for Ed Miliband.
On Saturday, Labour held hustings in Leicester. This was the first BAME hustings. BAME, if you don’t know, stands for Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic. Now as I’m white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant all at the same time, I wasn’t sure whether I would find these hustings relevant. But this was never solely about BAME issues. All the candidates had a lot to say on a number of subjects. There was a good discussion on importance of small businesses, debate on faith schools, and interesting comments on what kind of legacy the candidates might leave behind.
That was all informative and helpful, but it was actually representation of BAME MPs in Parliament that I found most revealing of all. David Miliband talked about his leadership academy again, and both he and Ed Balls talked about a fund for BAME members. Nice gestures, I thought, but will it really raise the numbers of BAME members? There’s been training before. There’s the Next Generation programme, the BAME Friends of Labour, the BAME cross-party councillors task force. These are all good measures, but they’re not really having a significant impact in making Parliament properly representative.
None of that showed me the kind of leader we need. A progressive, thoughtful, decisive leader, willing to make the hard decisions and unpopular choices, willing to put themselves out there. What we need to see was something pro-active. And on this issue, that means BAME shortlists.
The last time I thought about BAME shortlists was also during a hustings. It was the hustings for Deputy Leader. Correct me if I’m wrong but I seem to remember 4 of the 6 candidates – all except Alan Johnson and Hazel Blears – supported the shortlists then; but the idea fell by the wayside amidst all the economic problems of the last couple of years. It was good to see someone putting it back on the agenda again.
Diane Abbott was the first black woman MP and has campaigned for BAME shortlists for years, so I wasn’t too surprised to hear it in her response. But I was really pleased to hear it from Ed Miliband. It was nice to be shown what kind of leader he’d be. He was actually being progressive, and not using it as the buzzword du jour. He is able to consider an option he knows is likely to face opposition, just as all- women shortlists have in the past; rather than playing it safe with vague soundbites, he makes the hard policy choice.
Ed pointed out that it wasn’t the ideal solution, but it was a necessary measure; and he wants discussion with party members about how it would work. I liked his consultative approach in making a decision he knows may not be popular with all members. His commitment and insistence that it was the right thing to do shows up the other candidates’ rhetoric without action.
It was these qualities that persuaded me that Ed Miliband is the candidate I’d most like to see as the Leader of the Labour Party. He didn’t try to tell me how he was going to lead: he showed me. Which is why I’m happy to say that I’m supporting Ed Miliband, and I think you should too.