It was, if you like, my Liz Kendall moment
Just as Kendall has been told sheâ€™s a Tory I was told â€œYou should go and join the SDPâ€. It was wounding â€“ the more so because it came from a friend. It was the 80s and we were on opposite sides of one of the many controversies inspired by or centred on Tony Benn.
Happily she is still a friend and says now â€œThe 80s were a mad time. We all realise that now.â€ Over lunch we are discussing Jeremy Corbyn who she has known for the best part of 40 years and regards with great affection. â€œHeâ€™s a lovely guy â€“ but heâ€™s not a leader of the Labour party and certainly not a Prime Minister. And he knows it.â€
She is backing Andy Burnham. Sheâ€™s surprised to hear that although I’d be happy with Burnham or Yvette Cooper I am thinking of making Liz Kendall my first preference.
â€œI donâ€™t like her tone,â€ says my friend. â€œwhy does she have to be so insulting to Jeremy?â€ In truth, there are doubts about Kendallâ€™s ability to bring people together. But I think sheâ€™s a radical who has been hurt by being perceived as the â€œBlairiteâ€ candidate. An impressive email from Gloria de Piero, one of her campaign team, sets out Kendalâ€™s ideas for tackling inequality — Ed Milibandâ€™s signature issue.
I put my thought into action on Wednesday at a meeting of Tooting Labour Party. I voted 1.Kendall, 2.Cooper, 3. Burnham. Kendall led at one stage but was overtaken by Cooper in the final round.
Mine is essentially a tactical vote. I think a poor showing for Kendall would be bad for the Labour party. My vote for her is an investment in party unity â€“ just as, back in the 80s, I lined up with Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock against Tony Benn. Those struggles are chronicled in Peter Kellnerâ€™s Prospect magazine homage to Neil Kinnock which is coupled with a plea to the former leader to intervene to save the party from Jeremy Corbyn.
Quoting from the YouGov poll for the Times Kellner says Corbynâ€™s support is strongest among party voters under 40â€”â€œthose that were either not born or young children during Labourâ€™s wilderness years. But Kinnock still holds an iconic status, even for them.
â€œNeil: your party needs you. Speak out for sanity and explain why a Corbyn triumph would undo the victories that led, in time, to 13 years of Labour rule. If you do, the party can still pull itself back from the edge of disaster.â€
If that â€œdisasterâ€ comes about â€œmilitant Blairitesâ€ will have to accept responsibility for creating the conditions in which Corbynâ€™s campaign could flourish, according to the Independentâ€™s Steve Richards.
In a typically insightful piece he says they ignored the complexities of the election result, in which the SNP won by outflanking Labour on the Left and the Cleggite liberalism â€œa creed much admired by some Blairitesâ€ led to the slaughter of the Lib Dems.
Despite the complexities they pushed a narrative that Labourâ€™s defeat was the result of being recklessly Left wing. Ironically, says Richards, â€œit was a narrative made for the left-wing Jeremy Corbyn.â€ Richards says Corbyn â€œmight win almost by accident. If he were to do so his election would be a seismic event in British politics and mark the biggest crisis for Labour since the split with the SDP and probably much bigger than that.â€
The Telegraphâ€™s Mary Riddell doesnâ€™t share that concern â€“ â€œthe radical Left-winger is a beacon of modernity in tune with young voters.â€She reckons Corbynâ€™s anti-austerity line may allow him â€œto harness the fury that will surely erupt in Britain when the Chancellor implements spending reductions of 40 per cent in unprotected departments, with the aim of saving Â£20 billion in this Parliament.â€
Perhaps. But perhaps not.
Itâ€™s a paradox that to be a strong opposition you need to be perceived as an alternative government. And itâ€™s hard to be that unless your leader looks like a potential Prime Minister. The importance of leadership was underlined by the YouGov poll for the Times reported here on PB this week
The answer from Corbyn supporters is that their man offers â€œcollective leadershipâ€. Kate Osamor the new MP for Edmonton asserts â€œWith Jeremy as leader it’s clear that women will be listened to and will play an equal part in a collective leadership. â€œIt’s not all about him – he knows that the model of the suited and booted media star leader is over. People are no longer interested. Instead Jeremy is about getting everyone together and working collectively.â€
I have a high regard for Osamor. Sheâ€™s one of the many talented new MPs elected on May 7th. But sheâ€™s asking the party to take a leap of faith. To me it looks like being beckoned into the abyss. Iâ€™m now convinced that Corby can win. But if he does I think we will have to go through it all again in two or three years time.