There is something about Liz Kendall that scares a lot of people within the Labour Party, and the reaction to that fear appears to be to self-destruct.
This week, a Labour activist was disowned by Yvette Cooper’s campaign team after creating a Facebook smear campaign under the page ‘Liz Kendall for Conservative leader’ and today, a ‘Liz Kendall for UKIP leader’ page has risen to the surface in yet another social media smear operation.
At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn has thundered into second place in the leadership race among constituency Labour parties, notching up 40 nominations, just eight behind Andy Burnham while Kendall trails last in the race among CLPs with just five. The rising tide of left-wing opinion within the party is undeniable, but its utility to Labour is questionable.
The whole point of Corbyn being on the ballot, Labour types were at pains to tell us a few weeks back, was to have ‘a broad debate’ as a party. With the supposedly Blairite Kendall, to the hard Left Corbyn, and everyone in between; all strands of Labour opinion would be represented within this ‘big debate’. Yet the question arises: Are Labour really having a debate of any kind, big or otherwise? If they are, they’re doing a good job of keeping it internal.
Last week, Yvette Cooper made what looked very much like an extremely thinly-veiled attack on Liz Kendall and an attempt to win the working mother vote on the grounds that she is herself a working mother, while Kendall has no children. Yesterday, Andy Burnham took the opportunity to slam Cooper for this perceived attack, describing the suggestion that “candidates who aspire to this job have to have children” is “complete nonsense”. He also retaliated to being shot down in a shadow cabinet meeting by acting leader Harriet Harman over his suggestion that Labour offered to little opposition to austerity by slamming her decision to back the government’s welfare plans and referred to the “George and Harriet two-parent test”.
A cynic would say that the shadow Health Secretary was tapping into the rising tide of popular opinion not only against Kendall but also against Harman, which has seen both of them smeared as ‘closet Tories’ in recent days. Burnham’s comments were certainly thought-provoking, given that one of his main supporters, shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves, was yesterday believed to have signed off on the plan not to oppose the two child limit, as did shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie, who is backing Cooper.
Liz Kendall spent much of yesterday attacking George Osborne’s welfare plans in a bid to prove her definitely-not-a-Tory credentials and this morning took the opportunity to lash at the Tories for their plans to effectively making striking illegal in a crackdown on the unions.
Yet the combination of Jeremy Corbyn’s rising popularity at grassroots level, the smearing of Kendall and Harman, and the lack of any kind of debate around the leadership election reflects a party that thinks it should be left-wing, but doesn’t quite know why.
Harman’s refusal to attack the Tories’ welfare plans does not make her a Tory. It probably doesn’t even mean she agrees with them. Resisting at all costs the urge to mansplain, it does not seem beyond the realms of possibility that Harriet Harman is trying to do what no Labour leadership candidate is and actually open up a debate and reinforce the point that she made to Burnham in the shadow Cabinet meeting, to which he had no response.
Labour stood on its most left-wing platform for 23 years in this year’s general election. Coincidentally, it suffered its worst defeat for 23 years.
Too many within the party cannot see that correlation and react furiously to everyone who can see it and realises the need for change. The fury with which the left of the party attack everyone airing views which aren’t obviously left wing puts me in mind of the bile suffered by J.K Rowling, Jim Murphy and others during the Scottish independence referendum.
Labour is not working, because it doesn’t want to work together. There is no debate about the future for the party and until it happens, they had better get comfy on the opposition benches.