Yvette Cooper is now Labourâ€™s best hope for returning to power argues Keiran Pedley but itâ€™s important that Liz Kendall does well.
Has there been a more turbulent 6 months in the history of the Labour Party? I am sure there has but it is hard to imagine.
If we rewind but a few months, many thought that Labour was heading for government with Ed Miliband as Prime Minister and yet now it is genuinely quite difficult to imagine Labour being in power again. The resulting leadership contest has left the party hopelessly divided whilst the cruel electoral math of redrawn constituency boundaries and wipeout in Scotland makes Labourâ€™s task especially bleak.
The long road back
Many column inches have been filled on â€˜why Labour lostâ€™. I donâ€™t intend on rehashing that debate here but itâ€™s an important issue because in answering that question Labour will decide its future. In many respects, despite the UK undergoing something of a political realignment, I am not sure Labourâ€™s fundamental issue is actually that complicated.
Labour needs to elect a leader that will be seen as a credible Prime Minister in-waiting, to regain public trust on the economy and to present a unifying, progressive agenda to the country that both inspires but is also seen as credible. If you assume that Labour is not winning 40 plus seats in Scotland any time soon then Labour also needs to become much more popular in England.
When the leadership campaign began my first instinct was that Liz Kendall could be that leader. She immediately grasped that Labour had to be trusted on public spending again to win and was tough on defence. Her ideas on devolution also demonstrated that she is doing some of the hard thinking required to show how Labour might govern in future without being accused of â€˜just spending more moneyâ€™.
However, it became apparent pretty quickly in this contest that Kendall would be unable to take the Labour Party of 2015 with her. Her message of â€˜tough loveâ€™ has shown to be entirely the opposite of what the party wants to hear and I suspect that she has also failed to convince enough moderates in the party that she herself is a winner.
Nevertheless, given that she wonâ€™t win anyway and I think her economic message is important, I gave her my first preference vote.Â I hope she will do better than many think â€“ she deserves it after the vitriol she has endured â€“ but I decided a long time ago that my second preference was the most important decision.
The trouble with Corbyn
The candidate that has clearly grasped the mood of the Labour Party in 2015 is Jeremy Corbyn. It is fairly clear, whoever wins, that Labour members, supporters and affiliates want a party that represents a very clear alternative to the Conservatives (though the debate on what that means in policy terms will continue). You can argue that Corbynâ€™s success owes much to Uniteâ€™s organisation or the weaknesses of other candidates but this message is clear.
Would a Corbyn leadership be as bad for Labour as the pundits make out? I fear it would. Assuming he wins, if Corbyn does not get to grips with the national security question early he will be finished by October. Perhaps not literally in the sense of being removed but in the eyes of the public. Many voters will agree with him on issues such as the Iraq war but this isnâ€™t strictly the point. The Conservatives will seek to paint Corbyn as weak on terrorism and untrustworthy on defence. If this sticks he wonâ€™t get permission to move the conversation on to other areas, or it wonâ€™t matter when he does. Defence will rarely be the top issue in an opinion poll but a candidateâ€™s credibility as a leader is inextricably tied to it â€“ can they protect the nation?
Perhaps Corbyn is savvier than I think. If he addresses the security issue quickly and builds an inclusive Shadow Cabinet maybe Labour can start turning its fire outwards rather than inwards. I am sceptical. I donâ€™t think that Corbyn is used to being that kind of consensus building politician. In fact, I donâ€™t think he ever actually thought he was going to win this contest â€“ he just stood because it was his turn to act as the standard bearer of the left and got lucky. Harsh maybe, but wrong? I donâ€™t think so.
This leaves Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper.Â It is hard to think of a more disappointing campaign than Andy Burnhamâ€™s. He is a genuinely likeable politician and public opinion polls suggest that he connects with the public. I also strongly suspect he is one of the few Labour politicians out there that could unite the party. In the early part of his campaign he made positive noises about how Labour had to regain economic trust and come up with an offer on immigration to win again too.
However, all of this has been undone by a tendency to be all things to all people. Not unusual in politics perhaps but alarming in a potential future Prime Minister. His stance on Corbynâ€™s campaign remains a mystery to me. In one statement he praises the energy he has brought to the campaign and vows to work with him; in another he thinks his policies are wrong. You start to wonder what he really thinks. His might be the pragmatic approach to a Labour leadership campaign but he doesnâ€™t get my second preference because I cannot tell what kind of leader he would be (although he gets my third preference should it get that far).
Cooper is Labourâ€™s best hope
Labour needs to choose a leader that is tough enough to lead the party and that the country will grow to see as a potential Prime Minister. Of the candidates available, I think that person is Yvette Cooper and therefore she gets my second preference vote. Her campaign has not been perfect. It has been cautious in parts and if she doesnâ€™t win it will surely be because she found her voice far too late in the race. However, I think she is Labourâ€™s best hope.
In Yvette Cooper, you start to see how someone could unite the Labour Party and take on the Conservatives. Her message on the economy is fiscal responsibility whilst not accepting that Labour caused the financial crash. This is the right way to take the Conservatives on. She has shown in her reaction to the migrant crisis that she can lead whilst she has also made clear, unlike Andy Burnham, that she has no interest in pandering to the left. She may not give a speech like Barack Obama but there is a steely determination evident that Labour members should find encouraging. I can see her in Number 10, chairing a COBRA meeting, visiting the White House.Â
Itâ€™s also frankly about time that Labour chose a woman to the lead the party. Itâ€™s embarrassing that Labour has yet to do so.Â It isnâ€™t a reason to vote for Cooper alone but I suspect that Labour choosing a woman leader would communicate change to the public immediately and that is no bad thing either.
Yet, if we believe the polls and the pundits Labour will have to wait a little longer to be led by a woman and Jeremy Corbyn will be elected leader on Saturday. I hope not. Deep down we know how his story ends. Yvette Cooper has clearly emerged as the candidate best placed to unite the Labour Party and win a general election â€“ the question is has she left it too late?
Keiran Pedley tweets about politics and polling at @keiranpedley