Last night, the government succeeded in forcing their much-maligned Welfare Bill through the House of Commons despite 48 Labour MPs, including leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn, defying interim leader Harriet Harman by voting against the Bill.
Corbyn was the only leadership candidate to break ranks, which provoked widespread anger within the Labour rank-and-file. Andy Burnham was particularly mocked for abstaining, having previously criticised Harman for her acquiescence with the Tories on the Bill.
Liz Kendall did not vote against the Bill, a decision that in many people’s eyes epitomised her supposed 'Blairite' credentials. Yet, earlier in the day, the Leicester West MP announced a plan for something much more significant than voting against a Bill bound to succeeded no matter how she voted.
Speaking alongside her Shadow Cabinet colleagues Tristram Hunt, Emma Reynolds, Gloria de Piero and Chuka Umunna in Brick Lane yesterday afternoon, Kendall announced her support for an English Labour Party.
Ed Miliband had previously expressed support for giving England a form of home rule, but Kendall has now made clear her desire to go even further. Her policy is designed to tackle the SNP head-on, and at the same time address the sense of grievance amongst English voters who plumped for the Tories in May.
Jeremy Corbyn is backed by so many Labour supporters because he is seen as the radical candidate. But, aside from a sweeping opposition to austerity, what radical change is he actually proposing? If the Islington MP becomes Labour leader, he may well claw-back a few traditional socialist SNP voters , but he offers nothing to the masses who turned their backs on Labour to vote Tory or UKIP.
Yvette Cooper is arguably the most natural leader out of the four candidates, and unquestionably has the ability to unite a divided party, but she still appears to be unsure on her leadership platform and lacks a coherent message to sell to the party and the electorate.
Andy Burnham was openly mocked last night on the Commons terrace by Labour MPs, some of whom had nominated him for party leadership. Burnham's platform is constructed on the narrative that Labour must move out of the ‘Westminster bubble’. Yet, Burnham’s flip-flop fiasco on welfare, his visibly manufactured debating style, and his careerist-orientated CV may cause doubts to arise about the credibility of this message.
Liz Kendall is the only leadership candidate who has demonstrated that she, like Harriet Harman, is aware of how much trouble Labour are in, and what kind of change is needed to stop the rot.
When Johann Lamont resigned as Scottish Labour leader earlier this year, she did so complaining bitterly of the party at Westminster treating Scottish Labour as its “branch office”. Labour needs a complete rethink in Scotland. Appointing the eminently talented Kezia Dugdale as Scottish Labour leader, perhaps the only of the party’s MSPs capable of standing up to Nicola Sturgeon during FMQs, would be a start, but broader change for Labour across Britain is needed. Kendall has shown that she understands this and has a plan to deliver.
Speaking at Westminster barely a fortnight after Labour’s general election humiliation, Kendall said that the party had to “face head-on the issue of nationalism and the rise of identity politics”, and stated that further devolution was needed in England. Kendall’s announcement yesterday is far from a comprehensive proposal, but it is a viable solution, in theory, to several problems Labour faces.
A common platitude in this leadership election is that Labour requires several narratives, rather than a single dialogue with the electorate. This is true and is, of course, the danger with the creation of an English Labour Party. Yet, further devolution to England would soften the anger of former Labour voters who opted for UKIP at the general election after becoming disillusioned with Westminster’s focus on delivering more powers for Scotland.
Concurrently, the creation of an English Labour Party which took the same format as the Scottish Labour Party would placate those who believe that Labour at Westminster has indeed treated the Scottish Labour Party as a “branch office”. Smaller political organisations where people feel valued as individuals tend to generate much more engagement and, consequently, support than larger ones where the leaders seem a world away.
So far, the Labour leadership election has been bereft of ideas. An over-reliance on superficial posturing has created a banal, tiresome debate. An English Labour Party may well not be the unqualified solution to Labour’s troubles in Scotland and across the entire United Kingdom, but it represents a move in the right direction. As a result, Liz Kendall deserves credit for attempting to drive change in the face of short-sighted opposition from many who claim to be progressives.