Sunday, 4 July 2010

A Day At The Hustings

Doesn't Andy Burnham look well shady in that photo?!

Anyway, Keir was in attendance at a Labour Leadership Hustings on a typically grey Sunday morning in lovely South Wales. In what was a fantastic turnout of, apparently, over 300 people, members put a range of questions to the leadership contenders.

My brief summary on each candidate, should you be interested, was as follows.

Dianne Abbott was actually really good and got a good response from the Welsh members (and non-Welsh apparently; two of the questions were from English constituents in areas where no hustings are being held). Her passion is clear, even if some of the things she has done and said aren't exactly consistent. What Abbott does have is her voting record, which is a particularly powerful tool in relation to the Iraq war vote. She rightly pointed out that voting against it at the time and constantly speaking out against it is much more noble than changing your mind now. Ed 'n Ed: take note. But other than that, she also does help the debate and makes it a bit wider. Her closing speech was good too.

Ed Balls was much of a muchness. I think his whole campaign has been. Balls is at his best as a street fighter; a guard dog. He will make up an important part of the Opposition front bench, but this man cannot lead the party. At one point he said that Blair and Brown sometimes didn't listen enough, indicating that he would move the party away from the 13 years in which we followed Michels' "iron law of oligarchy." Very doubtful.

The other Ed (you know, David's brother) seemed to start the debate very well, with members responding well to his ideas on how to re-structure the party. But he seemed to fade out. His closing speech was very good until he said, "I'll finish with a pledge...I will not leave the party behind". Didn't quite get that.

Andy Burnham, who has already earned himself the "dark horse" tag, seemed good enough. I admire Burnham's speaking ability and think he will be a hugely important asset for the party for many years. He also had some good things to say, not least when he spoke about the National Care Service which I, like he, believe will be the next major step in health care in this country. It is something I hope he really keeps working on. Burnham's answer to the question about his proudest moment was also quite good. He talked about the Hillsborough disaster and it was clearly something close to his heart. He got a loud cheer when he expressed his disgust about Jeremy Hunt's absurdly ill-advised comments recently. And an even louder one for his comments about selective education, where he said he opposed it with every bone in his body.

You know where this is going, right?

Abbott was good, Burnham was very good, even Balls ticked some of my boxes. But there was one clear difference between the aforementioned candidates and the fifth one. There was only one Prime Minister sitting before the gathered Welsh comrades. As Huw Irranca-Davies MP correctly pointed out afterwards, only one of the 5 candidates genuinely scares the Tories and Cameron. Only one has a proven record of passing innovative, sometimes radical, reforms. Only one of the candidates has started doing the things they say they will do already. Only one cares about the party and it's ideals so much that he is investing money into things that will benefit the party, whoever wins this election. Only one can combine his anger and passion with cutting, constructive argument. If David Miliband wins this leadership election, Labour will be back in power by 2015. Led by a man who knows that the machine is not more important than the movement, the renewal of the party could be such that the Conservatives again have to sit in the wings, trying to change their image and trying to capture the Holy Grail that is the centre-ground voters again. Labour does not have to change it's values or it's image. Our values, unlike those of the Conservatives, will always remain the same. But the restructuring of power in the party that is being carried out already by David Miliband will get Labour back to where it was as the party of the people and by the people. One dodgy joke aside, Miliband was the clear star of the show. At no point was this clearer than when he gave his foreign policy comments that cut through the populist and slightly inexperienced answers that his opponents gave. Having been asked a question about the Israel-Palestine situation, a few of the other candidates said that the answer lay in standing up to the USA when necessary. Miliband disagreed. The situation would only be sorted, he said, when the UK and others engage the whole Arab world in this problem. It was an answer of a man who understands the world.


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