Labour Party leadership contest

The Labour Party in the UK is holding a leadership contest at the moment to find a successor to Mr Brown. But, as someone told me, who cares?

Not many people seem to care, other than those who are interested in politics or belong to the Labour tribe. It hasn’t caught the public’s imagination (if there were such a thing to begin with). The public, it seems, are more worried about the economy and what the government does, rather than who will be leading Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

One major reason why people aren’t excited about this election is that all candidates, with the exception of Ms Abbott, were members of the last government and indeed the cabinet. The party is almost certainly going to be led by someone who was closely associated with the government that lost the last election, given Ms Abbott’s chances are slim. That means he will carry the baggage from the dying days of the previous government. Media and people know these politicians and will pigeonhole them into being a Blairite, Brownite, neo-Blairite, neo-Brownite, New Labour, Old Labour, etc.

The new Labour leader will have problems breaking with the past, since he was at the centre of decision-making when Labour was in power. He cannot easily convince people that he believes differently now, and holds opposite views to what he claimed or feigned to believe while in government, since that will raise the question about his honesty and integrity: why did he serve Mr Brown, if he did not agree with his policies so much? Given many people blame the Labour government for the current economic woes, could the new leader come up with a coherent narrative that enables him to cherry pick the last government’s achievements which he was part of, as well as claiming to be different? It sounds like a hard thing to sell.

Another reason why a new leader may find the role of the leader of the oppoistion difficult is that, with the exception of Ms Abbott, none of them have the experience of being in the opposition, having entered the Parliament in 2001 or later. Life in the opposition is a lot different from being in government, and sometimes the candidates give the impression that they haven’t really grasped that Labour has lost, and they are continuing as if nothing much has changed.

Labour’s losses were not as catastrophic as the Tories’ losses in 1997, however that does not mean Labour will recover quickly. It took the Conservatives a long time to find a new leader who succeeded (partially according to some) in ‘decontaminating’ the Tory brand. Much of the time, the Conservatives could not find a potent political narrative against Mr Blair’s government. Now, the Labour brand has been tarnished, and it needs to find a new, convincing political narrative. It’s possible that the current coalition government will crumble, or that the economy worsens, but it’s also possible that Labour’s fortunes will not recover. Whoever becomes the next Labour leader, it is not going to be easy.