Labour leadership candiates Liz Kendall, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Jereny Corbyn

Who’s got the L-Factor?

A recent poll shows Jeremy Corbyn in the lead in the Labour Party leadership election. I blame The X-Factor.

We’re bombarded with polls and votes these days. Websites use them all the time to increase reader engagement. Talent shows and reality shows are amongst the most popular prime time TV programmes, and most of them feature some kind of vote. We’re used to voting.

The talent show vote has evolved significantly over the years. When they first started, it was pretty simple — you voted for whichever act you liked best. But over time, the reason for voting has changed — these days you vote for whatever outcome you think will make better TV. The joke contestant on X-Factor who can’t sing a note; the fat bloke on Strictly Come Dancing; the argumentative one in Big Brother who you know will stir it up if they stick around. Or the one that will wind up one of the judges (in a carefully-orchestrated way).

I believe that this continual diet of low-grade polls and votes has devalued the process of voting in the public’s mind. And they’re beginning to approach the business of electing a councillor, an MP, or a party leader in the same way as they do deciding who should leave X-Factor at Sunday teatime.

Electing a new leader of the Labour party is a very serious business. We’re not choosing someone who can produce good sound-bites and trade insults with David Cameron at PMQs — we’re choosing someone who can pick the party up from its recent defeat, dust it down, get it back into shape in time to put in a good performance in the 2020 General Election — and someone who the public will believe could be an effective Prime Minister in the next Labour government.

I believe many people are saying they’ll vote for Jeremy Corbyn for all the wrong reasons. He’s an attractive candidate to some because he’s Old Labour, and stands for policies which are as far removed from the current government’s as it’s possible to get. Much as his supporters would like it to be different, they’re also policies which if adopted by the Party, would ensure that it stands a near-zero chance of getting elected ever again. The electorate isn’t capable of the sudden U-turn in political thinking that would be needed.

Instead, the Party needs a leader who brings two things — firstly, electable policies. There’s no point sticking doggedly to your ideology if it means you’re doomed to perpetual opposition. Progressive policies acknowledge their roots but need to be able to be delivered in the current political context. Candidates in the next election need to be able to sell them to the electorate. This will mean some compromise. Every successful party in every general election wins on a manifesto that is in some way a compromise between its ideals and something it can convince the electorate to vote for.

Secondly, the leader needs to be credible. A big factor in the collapse of the Labour vote in the 2015 general election was the Milliband factor — the public couldn't see him as a potential prime minister. The party’s next leader must be a confident, sure-footed politician who is seen as serious, statesmanlike and appropriate on the domestic and the international stage. They must be capable of building a team around them whose support they can rely on, whose own views don’t differ wildly from the leader’s. They must be someone that the PPCs can sell on the doorstep.

Fellow Labour Party members: firstly, make sure you use your vote. It’s important. Secondly — please, please think about why you’re voting. You’re helping to choose a leader who can form the next Labour government. Think about electability as well as doctrine. Whoever you vote for, do it for the right reasons.

(The author is a member of the Labour Party and a supporter of Andy Burnham’s campaign to be leader)

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