Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Why I'm supporting Liz Kendall

This isn't easy to write: I've changed my mind. I'm voting for Liz Kendall for Labour leader and probably putting Jeremy Corbyn last.

On 7th May, the Labour party lost. We lost in Scotland. We lost in England. We lost in too many parts of Wales. We lost in the Midlands. We lost in the South. We lost in outer London. We lost in the suburbs. We lost in the small towns. We lost in some of the big towns too. We came third to the Tories and UKIP in seats we once held with huge majorities. We lost old people. We lost middle earners. We didn't win enough young people. We lost 8 seats to the Tories, which should never have happened after 5 years in opposition. We lost.

There are reasons to believe things aren't as bad as some of the doom mongers in the Labour party think. After all the Tories are only 6.6% ahead in the popular vote. They have a majority of 12. And, despite our unconvincing bluster against it in this election, we can still do a deal with the SNP if the time comes. 

But we lost. And on the night of 7th May, I realised we have to do whatever it takes to win again. For the people who have to pay the bedroom tax, who are working three jobs to feed their kids, who are struggling on unpaid internships, who are spending more and more on rent. For the people who are going to be deliberately plunged into poverty by the Budget. The 7th May radicalised me. 

Of course, a Labour government has to fight for those people, and importantly, since Tony Blair did this too little, it has to shout about it so that people value the achievements of a Labour government and don't dismiss us as having done nothing for them. We also have to realise that it's what we did in government, including under Tony Blair, that has left us in the mess we're in, in addition to complacent Labour parties up and down the country.

But there can be no no-go areas for the Labour party. There can be nothing we are not willing to change in order to win back people who didn't vote for us. We have to realise that the people who vote are not the same as the people on the electoral register. They are older and richer. There is no point in chasing after people who don't vote: if they come out and vote for us, great, but inspiring non-voters is a non-starter. 

Economic credibility is the first priority, and it has to be on the terms the people of this country set for us. If they want us to admit to pouring buckets of money of the white cliffs of Dover, we have to be prepared to admit to it. The people of this country who think about the Labour party either think about it as a gang of Westminster insiders who love immigrants and benefits claimants and the EU, or, and this is probably the majority opinion, couldn't care at all about the Labour Party. 

I look at the Twitter warriors trying to get the Labour Party to oppose benefits cuts in disbelief. No one cares! The Labour Party has 35% of the seats! It can do nothing about the benefits cuts and can make no one listen about them! Grow up: the only way we can make a difference is by putting pressure on a Labour government, and the only way we can get a Labour government is by getting people who didn't vote for us to give us a hearing.

The problem with the Liz Kendall campaign is a serious one. The only people who seem to have jumped on the Lizwagon are the people who never believed in Ed and willed him to fail. I don't like those people. No one who believed in the policies we believed in and fought for in May likes those people. I agree with Andy Burnham that the 2015 manifesto was fantastic, and I burn with anger at anyone who seeks to disown it. We need to think in terms of 2015+, not just put it all in the dustbin, even though there is a huge amount we can add.

But I struggle to understand how only a tiny number of people saw those results on the 7th, saw the Tories gain Gower (!!!) and were immediately radicalised. I have to believe it isn't just Harriet Harman, someone on the left who has fought for progress and change all of her career, who was shocked by finding out where the British people actually are, not where we wanted them to be, and has resolved to fight to move the party there.

I wanted to vote for Jeremy Corbyn, to help him get to about 20-25% in the first round, to show those Blairites that there are people in the Labour Party who are not prepared to compromise on principles, that fighting the neoliberal consensus matters, that spending billions of pounds on nuclear weapons when kids or their parents are going hungry is ridiculous, that privatising public services is not the way to improve them, that fighting injustice wherever it is found, here or abroad, matters. 

And it does. 

But I see Corbyn's supporters saying things like 'Jeremy will abolish tuition fees' or 'Jeremy will end austerity' or 'Jeremy will repeal anti-union laws' and I think, no. No he won't. Because he won't be elected Prime Minister. Not completely because of his policies admittedly: largely because he'll be 71 in 2020 and he doesn't actually want to be Prime Minister. We have to stop thinking about leadership candidates and their policies as if we're voting on the actual direction of the Labour government elected in 2020. Because unless we elect the right leader, we won't have a Labour government in 2020. Internal fights, passing resolutions and making speeches don't do a damn thing.

I don't agree with everything Liz Kendall has said. Free schools are a disaster. But obviously, as Liz said and as the people of this country want, we won't close schools that are doing well (as long as the corollary of that is that we will close schools that aren't doing well). I disagree on defence but I respect that the British people probably will always feel differently and we really need to reclaim patriotism. I do think she needs to moderate her pro-EU leanings, though a strong line one way or another on the EU question is better than fudge.

But what does Liz Kendall really want and what does she stand for? Early years intervention. A high productivity economy. A stronger role for workers and trade unions in the private sector. Reform of tax reliefs. A welfare state that does things with people, not just to them, and doesn't just throw money at problems without tackling their causes. Devolution of power to the lowest possible level. Under the influence of Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt, it's even possible she'll support electoral reform. 

"A stronger economy and a fairer society" should not have been a Lib Dem slogan at the last election: it will be central to Liz's offer in the next election, because Britain does not have a strong economy and does not have a fair society and we need to fix both, because the Tories are doing nothing to fix the real challenges this country faces. Bringing back fox hunting and starving the BBC of funds don't count.

To be fair, this is an agenda Andy and Yvette can and will get behind for themselves. I was particularly impressed with Andy's speech today on changing Labour's economic policy. Although for various reasons I think Andy is the weakest of the candidates, this was exactly what a Labour leader should be saying. But Andy and Yvette won't focus as intensely on neutralising the negative impressions people have of Labour. They won't be able to demonstrate a clean break from the past. 

This has been demonstrated by the welfare row this week. The British people support restricting child tax credit to the first two children, because they believe people should think about whether they can support having large families before they have them, and they do not believe that the taxpayer should support them to have large families. 

Like too much of Tory policy, this is a total gimmick for electoral reasons and not public policy reasons (incidentally, a good way of opposing the Tories is highlighting the way they are wasting the time of Parliament and the civil service). It will save next to no money and hurt vulnerable people. 

But, if it is popular, the Labour Party has to not oppose it. It's not a choice we would make if we were in government. It's something we will probably seek to reverse or mitigate if we ever get back into government. Unlike with the bedroom tax, we shouldn't make such a reversal a key part of our 2020 election campaign. But, although there can be no doubt it's on the list of different choices we would make, right now, opposing it does nothing for our electoral chances (because no one is listening) and it probably harms them by opposing something the British people support. Liz understands this.

Liz Kendall is Labour through and through. She has been a member since she was old enough to join. She has spent her life working on health policy and is dedicated to the NHS. She wants to rescue trade unions from the hole they've dragged themselves into. In her working life, she has always worked to help vulnerable people. If Liz Kendall was a Tory, she could always have joined the Tory party. You don't dedicate your life to a political cause without believing in it. You don't bump your head at the age of 14 and think that for the rest of your life left means right and red means blue.

She understands Middle England because she was born into it. She understands aspiration because she's lived it. She speaks like an ordinary person because she is an ordinary person from an ordinary background who has achieved great things. She's also clearly a highly intelligent person, and she had a lot of guts to stand and hold her nerve while competitors fell away.

In addition to economic credibility, who our leader is matters. We found that out to our cost in May. Our leader has, above all, to project confidence and strength. And Liz Kendall has both of those in spades. Some people who have worked for and with her say that it was a difficult experience, because she is tough, because she knows what she wants and will stop at nothing to get it. Stubbornness is not always the right thing. But Liz's Shadow Cabinet will not be full of yes men and women - they've learnt the dangers of that after giving in to Ed Miliband time and again - and they will resist Liz and if necessary, depose her. Similarly, Labour Party members will be suspicious of her and hold her feet to the fire. 

But strength will be needed to fight the hard battles that need to be fought to get the Labour Party back in winning position. And the British public will be able to pick up on that strength, a strength that no one saw in Ed Miliband. It is, for that matter, the strength and steel the Scottish people see in Nicola Sturgeon (and the strength that will be needed to call her out on her rubbish).

It helps that unlike Andy and Yvette, who have largely always been followers, Liz has actually been a proper leader as director of two charities. Ed Miliband noticeably struggled with jumping from being a follower to being a leader.

There are risks. Liz is inexperienced. Unlike David Miliband, she has never hobnobbed with world leaders. Her media skills are very underdeveloped, and were the main reason I held back on supporting her. She can come across well, but she can also come across as too intense and not relaxed enough. I can't yet see her standing outside number 10. But, again, people said the same thing about Thatcher. If the message is right, the messenger can be trained. Hopefully.

After all, we said the same thing about Ed, and he shrank in the role rather than developing. But luckily, we won't be making the same mistake twice. If the British people don't take to Liz, she will be out before you know it.

I really hope Liz wins. I hope that Yvette is her Shadow Chancellor and Andy her Shadow Home Secretary. I hope that her team gets their act together and stop antagonising everyone, being mean and petty and small-minded. Think big. Show how Liz Kendall would fight and win a general election. Be serious, and don't try to attract attention with gimmicks. Don't sell Liz as the candidate she isn't.

But I'm terrified they've annoyed too many people already. For every person like me who's been won round by Liz, there must be ten who have been put off by her supporters. Obviously we'd have a chance at winning in 2020 with Andy or Yvette. Except in Scotland, 2015 was just an ordinary election which one party lost and one party won, nothing more than that. 

Nevertheless, I'd ask all Labour members and supporters to think back to 7th May, and be scared. Be scared that you'll feel that way again in 5 years' time. Or 10 years' time. Is it worth taking the risk that you'll feel that way again? That you'll spend even longer seeing a lost generation, a smug gang of rich boys pumping out policies that you hate, no power to improve anyone's lives or make this country a better place? 

For me, Liz is the only glimmer of hope that we don't have to feel this emptiness and rage and sadness again in 5 years. Please think very carefully when you get your ballot paper, and consider voting for her. 


  1. Interesting stuff, Curtis. I've been tempted by Liz, who is by far the freshest candidate and the one with the most interesting ideas, but put off by her campaign which seems to have gone out of its way to alienate people. If your main selling point is that you can win elections, this campaign isn't a good advert.

    I'm not convinced any more that Liz is actually the candidate most likely to win. The Blairite strategy was based on two things: a large number of soft Tories to win over, and a core Labour vote which had nowhere else to go.

    Neither of those things hold today: there are nowhere near as many soft Tories as there were in 1997, and Labour (ex-) core vote has plenty of other places to go, as they showed in the 2015 election. Liz seems to me to be the candidate least well placed to win back supporters from the SNP, UKIP and Greens, so she actually starts with disadvantage compared to the other three.

    I'm not sure I agree either that "inspiring non-voters is a non-starter". Non-voters are made, not born, and people do switch between voting and not voting as others switch between parties. There are a lot of non-voters, if Labour can win over 10% of them that would make a big difference to the election.

    Then again, I agree with you about Liz's personal qualities. I'm back to being hopelessly undecided. For wildly different reasons, I could end up voting for any of the four candidates. At the same time all four could be a disaster.

    All the best,


  2. Hi Craig, thanks for your comment.

    I don't think you can win an election by carving the electorate into different building blocks and putting them on top of each other. We can't say we have a Labour vote of 31% to which we can add 2% of Greens, 2% of SNP 2% of UKIP 2% of non-voters and 2% of Tories and have a winning majority. Of course, in the ground game and with direct mail, we have to target messages effectively, like, the Tories did this time, but the air war is different.

    I think what we failed to project in this election was competence, not just economic competence but competence generally. If you look like you know what you're doing that goes a long way to swaying people. The doubts I have about Yvette or Andy is they seem a bit more hesitant, a bit less confident. Corbyn certainly has confidence, which is why he could do better than people expect, but he doesn't look confident in the important thing: running the country. David Cameron and George Osborne look like they believe in themselves and what they're saying, even when they're U-turning.

    I don't think we'll gain more than a handful of seats (if at all) from the SNP next time. I don't buy that the SNP vote was simply a vote 'for the left'. The fact is the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon have been confident champions of Scotland the past 8 years and competent managers in the Scottish Parliament. Scottish Labour have been in permanent crisis. The Scottish situation is obviously far more complicated than just that and has been a long time coming, but Ed Miliband was as much a turnoff in Scotland as he was in England and I wonder if a strong leader of UK Labour can start to make people in Scotland listen to us again. Again, it's just a hunch and I'm deeply pessimistic about Scotland. But we don't need to win back Scotland to govern, just for a majority.

    On the Greens: a huge number of them are not prepared to vote for a party of government. I think we could only gain a maximum of 1% of their 3.8% vote and to do that we'd have to make choices that would lose us more than 1% of our current vote.

    On UKIP: Ed Miliband was about as far from your stereotypical UKIP voter as it's possible to be, and all the candidates are closer. The challenge is convincing them that the left wing things many of them believe in outweigh their passionate concerns about the EU, immigration and welfare. I think Liz has the best chance of tackling these things, because many Tory voters also share these concerns.

    I'm not saying we shouldn't try, on the ground, to reach non-voters. But we have to accept that those who are likely to vote are more "right-wing", broadly speaking, than the people generally.

    Winning in 2020 is going to be very difficult no matter who wins. I just think Liz's political instincts and character are most likely to get us in a winning position. But I could be wrong.

    Best wishes

  3. Hi Stephen,

    I don't think we're a million miles apart. I'll come back to you on some of those points later, if I may.

    In the meantime, I've written a blog on my feelings about the leadership contest and my issues with Liz's campaign in particular (more to work out my own thoughts than because I expect many people to read it!) If you want to have a look, it's at:

    Best wishes, good weekend,