Under the new rules this is about organisation
It’s only been a week but it’s shaping up to be a lively leadership and deputy contest so far. Some early discussion on lost voters, did Labour spend too much, was there much wrong with Labour’s manifesto if anything and even which type of unsuspecting supermarket shopper should the party pouncing on in the car parks in five years time. Is New Labour the right model for victory or was that where the rot set in. How did Labour lose and to which leader can the party turn to? Labour’s leader and deputy contests will be a half Silent Witness and half X Factor.
Nominations will be able to be made from 9th June until the 15th for leader and 17th for deputy. Each aspiring candidate needs at least 35 nominating MPs before they make the ballot paper which will be issued a whole month later and counted in mid-September. The timetable set out by Labour’s National Executive was said to benefit the candidates with lower profiles but I’m not sure about that. Some on the right of the party like Liz Kendall and Mary Creagh have ready-made explanations for the defeat that will take a while for others to counter.
It will be helpful to trade unions that they have more time to encourage individuals to sign up to supporting Labour, but so far the task has proved harder than even their leaders have anticipated.
This contest will be very much about grassroots members and under new rules there won’t be big union machines to propel certain candidates forward.
Some have suggested that Andy Burnham will be union-backed. Don’t count on it. The unions know that it will be down to their members and want to encourage all candidates to make their case to them. As it happens Burnham has a decent record to talk about, but there’s scope for Cooper and others to charm them too and win some over on her approach to migrant labour which will play well with some in the private sector unions.
The contest will partly be determined by which of the main candidates can best reach out of their comfort zone and grasp some of their weak points which the party will have to address to be anywhere near contention. So for Yvette Cooper the big issue will be tackling Labour’s complete failure of Ed Miliband and her husband to build trust on the economy. Will voters’ opinion of Ed Balls hinder them putting her into Downing Street in 2020 or will the prospect of a female PM suffice?
Andy Burnham will have to demonstrate his appeal is broader than the north of England and that he can win back some Tory voters from 2015 and 2010. It’s all well and good spending the money, but what is economic vision and strategy for earning trust? So far Liz Kendall shows signs of being quite an interesting candidate and certainly has a thoughtful intellectual range that may not be initially appreciated by the pigeon-holers. Will she be able to communicate this in the time she has and demonstrate support from the centre-left of the party too?
The decisive factor could be the nuts and bolts of the campaign teams and approach. So far Yvette Cooper’s campaign shows signs of having the hallmarks of the German football team. Meticulous preparation and wooing of support through second parties means that she will start strong when the nominations are published. But will that be enough? Andy Burnham’s campaign has already shown itself to be more promising than his 2010 effort. Crucially in the last five years he more than any other former government minister has shown he knows the different between governing and opposition. He starts with a lot of grassroots goodwill but the scale of Labour’s electoral challenge means that will be asking hard questions of all candidates.
Liz Kendall will be a beneficiary of Chuka Umunna’s surprise withdrawal from the race, but she could do with snapping up his supporters and support quickly to be in contention. But what’s her ground game like? Is she well known and liked enough to reach beyond MPs and the think tanks? Her team need to use every single day to get her out and about and ready to perform well in the hustings. Her good media performances will help but won’t be enough. People will want to meet her face to face and both Cooper and Burnham have spoken at huge numbers of constituency Labour party dinners well in recent years.
Looking at the odds I think Yvette Cooper really should start as narrow favourite ahead of Andy Burnham on the strength of her formidable campaign operation alone. Burnham has the potential to overtake her if he can demonstrate he is a candidate of the head as well as the heart. At the moment Yvette Cooper should be a 4/5 favourite and certainly represents good value at 9/4.