Some of the reasons put forward in the papers for supporting leadership contenders are just plain daft: ‘he can look the part’ or ‘he’s up to the job’ – not even ranking style over substance can justify such silly comments. But it’s all part of the digital age that presentation in a 1-minute television clip rates more with the viewers than what you say. It chimes too with the collapse of political education and the loss of public meetings as a forum for detailed and participative debate on political issues. It debases politics into a popularity fanfare which has the enormous advantage for the power brokers who really rule Britain that it distracts attention away from the democratic abuses they perpetrate day in day out which hobble the ambitions and prospects of so many millions below them. So, given that the whole purpose of the Labour Party is to transform the power structure so that all sections of society can prosper whilst at the same time dealing with the grotesque inequality and power domination at the very top, the first requirement in choosing a leader is that he or she must be a vigorous proponent of these principles.
The importance of this has just been highlighted by a survey of Labour identifiers which found that, lethally for the party’s chances, 3 millions of them didn’t vote. When one then adds in those Labour identifiers who did vote, but decided to vote at the end for UKIP, it starkly demonstrates how far Labour has lost its traditional working class vote by concentrating exclusively on middle class aspiration and ignoring the causes of the increasing polarisation of income, opportunity and power throughout British society in the last 30 years. This growing away from the party at the grassroots has been further consolidated by the perception of Labour as a metropolitan London-based elite ensconced within the Westminster bubble and enjoying far too cosy a relationship with their Tory antagonists whose values and ideology they seem to share. Sticking with austerity, unregulated banks, markets let rip, privatisation and suppression of the trade unions only causes potential Labour identifiers to wonder that Labour is now for.
This is of course the legacy of Blairism which has still not yet been convincingly discarded. It matters because it has left the Labour Party so middle-class oriented, more than any time in its history, that it behaves as though the working class no longer exists or could safely be taken for granted. As long as this profound chasm exists between the party and its central voting base, particularly its deeply discontented poor white working class on Council estates and in the (un)affordable private rented sector, it is hard to see how Labour will ever win a general election again.
So where does that leave the leadership contest? It points to one man who alone has the potential among the current contestants to heal these wounds. Step forward, Andy Burnham.