Choosing Labour’s leader: a simple guide



In case you have a vote for the Labour party leadership election and haven’t yet voted, here, in no particular order, is an objective check-list of twelve ideal characteristics and qualities for an effective, radical Labour leader capable of winning elections. Some, including the first and last and a couple in between, are absolutely essential; others merely desirable. No-one will agree with every item in the list – some will no doubt smell ‘élitism’ — but I hope most will agree with most of them. No single candidate ticks all 12 boxes. But whichever of the four candidates ticks the most boxes is probably the one to vote for: and please recognise the risk to the party and the country if you’re thinking of voting for a candidate who ticks very few of them:

  1. Substantial (but not necessarily majority) support from all sections of the party: the parliamentary party (other Labour MPs know the qualities and weaknesses of the candidates better than anyone else), constituency members, trade unions and their members, affiliated members and supporters.
  2. Experience in government or front bench opposition: of sitting in Cabinet, as a minister in charge of a government department, chairing or sitting on committees, working in a shadow cabinet.
  3. Experience of managing and leading groups in politics, government, industry, etc.: evidence of ability to work with others, to compromise to get things done, apply core principles to changing circumstances, conciliate opposing factions, work within financial and other practical constraints. Experience of work and interests outside politics.
  4. Intellectual ability: a sound educational record in serious subjects in school and higher education.
  5. Charisma and gravitas. Manifestly serious, likeable, reasonable, undogmatic, authoritative and pragmatic on television. A good listener.
  6. Reforming zeal: ability to look beyond technocratic fixes to the big picture in specifically Labour terms (protection and empowerment of the weakest and most vulnerable, a major role for the state in support of the individual, equality of outcomes as well as opportunity; liberty, solidarity, fraternity). Constructive, practical proposals for post-devolution constitutional reform, including future durable relationships of England and Scotland with the UK as a whole.
  7. A passion for social justice, fairness, willingness to take risks in order to protect individual freedoms, commitment to human rights and the rule of law. Specific proposals for reform of prisons and penal policy, including of illiberal anti-terrorism legislation.
  8. Sound judgement of people and groups: a record of association with colleagues and allies with similar values, ability to recruit reliable people, not charlatans or those with dubious past records, choosy about which movements and campaigns to support (especially no record of association with movements or individuals that condone terrorism, illiberal policies, denial of basic rights, undemocratic régimes or opposition to the Labour party).
  9. A working understanding of basic economics and a willingness to listen to and learn from trained economists, judiciously selecting the advisers and the advice worth heeding.
  10. International outlook: high priority for the Atlantic alliance (regardless of who’s in the White House), an active and constructive role in the EU, the UN, the Commonwealth and NATO; a strong commitment to the UN Charter as the principal instrument of international law; a willingness to commit the UK to using force in international affairs when no alternative is available, the action is legal under the Charter, there is substantial international and domestic support (especially from the EU and the US), a good chance of success for defined objectives, and where ultimate benefits clearly exceed human and material costs. Not a pacifist.
  11. A proven record of ability to translate generalities and motherhood statements into practical and achievable measures.
  12. Ability to recognise that winning general elections is an absolute pre-condition for achieving any of Labour’s historic purposes, and that winning elections must take precedence over ideological purity and wishful thinking: the best is sometimes the enemy of the good.

Which candidates tick which boxes is partly a matter of subjective opinion, but also partly of indisputable fact. I have compiled the list with no intention to advance or belittle the claims of any particular candidate (although it will be obvious that in practice the list effectively disqualifies one of them).

If you’re voting for Jeremy Corbyn, you probably don’t need to bother using your second, third or other preferences, since Corbyn is most unlikely to be eliminated except possibly in the last round, so his second and lower preferences are extremely unlikely to be redistributed. Indeed, if the polls are to be believed, and taking into account the consequences of a totally asinine electoral system (for which no thanks, Ed), Jeremy Corbyn could well be elected in the first round, by winning at least 50% + 1 of the votes cast. I’m prepared to risk the prediction that the Labour party with Jeremy Corbyn as leader will never win a general election. I just hope we’ll never know.

Brian Barder is an author and a former diplomat

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