The Labour Leadership: the longest election night in history

With the ballot papers out, the Labour Leadership is finally almost over. Matt Tidby asks who will win and what happens next.

Apathetic? Some genuine young folk supporting Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: lewishamdreamer via Flickr CC

Pokemon Yellow. Natalie Imbruglia. SM:TV Live. The Labour Leadership Election. Sven Goran Eriksson. Fame Academy. George Galloway and Rula Lenska. The Labour Leadership Election. One Direction. Coalition. Arab Spring. The Labour Leadership Election. Austerity. Bae. Caliphate. The Labour Leadership Election.

What I’m saying is — it’s been going on for a bloody long time.

And it shows no sign of stopping just yet. Just like an interminable season in the Big Brother house, we’ve been condemned to spend the summer bound in a grey dystopian netherspace, in the company of people we’d normally actively avoid. With the ballot papers being sent out this week — but the result still almost a month away — it’s time to settle in for the longest election night in history.

So, friends (and I mean that in the welcoming, collective sense), let’s review the runners and riders, competing for the haunting honour of losing an election to the future prime minister — a time travelling Victorian schoolmistress, a malodorous swamp log or a pile of rapidly melting ice cream.

Andy Burnham

Andy Burnham is an earnest, sad prefect; desperately trying to be jovial with the proles and joining in with their bon homie, before retiring to his room to polish his ex-minister’s badge and help Lord Prescott find the nearest branch of Pieminister.

His fixation with criticising the Westminster bubble as if he’s not one of said bubble’s chief producers of hot air is curious. Maybe he genuinely is an outcast? Maybe he sits in Victoria Wetherspoons on the free WiFi, nursing a lukewarm pint and sending Stella Creasy his favourite Ben Howard tracks? We just don’t know.

Liz Kendall

Liz Kendall rocking the mic. Photo: dallscar via Flickr CC

With a name like mint cake but a political dynamism nowhere near as fresh or potent, Kendall was considered one of the front runners when this thing kicked off — shortly after the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. Other than some pleasingly spiky retorts to sexist journo requests, she has spent much of the campaign so far trying to not look too amused when Jeremy Corbyn talks about socialism and agreeing with Harriet Harman’s unhelpful attempt to support the government’s welfare reforms. She’s David Miliband’s candidate of choice — which should be enough of a reason to avoid her like she’s, well, a Tory. She can go and work at International Rescue with David instead — maybe she can pilot Thunderbird 4?

Jeremy Corbyn

I had several history teachers who remind me of Jeremy Corbyn, so obviously I find him immensely endearing and want to keep him safe from harm. When Krishnan Guru-Murphy started on him on Channel 4 News, I clicked and bobbed at the screen like a maternally enraged barn owl. Jez has become the dark horse of the competition, elevated by the beguiling virtue of being a politician of integrity and principle. Of course, the majority of the press have reacted to his arrival with their typical nuance — “You thought Ed Miliband’s dad was bad? THIS MARXIST IS STILL BREATHING OUR AIR AND HANGS OUT WITH HEZBOLLAH!”

But after little impact on the success of Corbyn’s campaign, the sniping has turned into fear very rapidly. Blair and Brown have been cajoled out of their luxurious irrelevance to cast aspersions, whilst ‘Entryism’ has rocketed up the ‘Meaningless Buzzwords of 2015’ chart. Rumours abound that the young people are listening to his toxic words on their iPods, quietly plotting unilateral nuclear disarmament and dramatic wealth distribution in the style of the Bitch Better Have My Money video. An alternative has been offered — and it seems to be exciting quite a lot of people.

Yvette Cooper

She’s solid new Labour fodder, with a spark of vim and vitality. She’s the Marks and Sparks food hall since they glammed it up. She’s the nice bits of Norwich.

Yvette taking on Iain Duncan Smith. Photo: UK_Parliament via Flickr CC

Yvette Cooper is the most experienced minister in the contest and likely to hoover up a lot of votes. She’s clearly hard as nails, but also strikes me as the kind of person who collects beautiful wall hangings and wouldn’t look entirely out of place at boutique folk festivals in Pembrokeshire. Her recent ‘radical but credible’ line has been picked up as the most coherent ABC (Anyone But Corbyn) line — which probably means she’ll win, or get outflanked by Burnham if you can keep him out t’pit for long enough.

And What Happens Next?

With plot and counter-plot rumoured, the party isn’t covering itself in glory as the contest meekly stumbles on. Even the Liberal Democrats, boasting fewer members than the East Grinstead branch of the WI, are excited by the prospect of a Labour collapse — soiled marionette Tim Farron was positively popping with excitement at the prospect of robbing votes from ‘Comrade Corbyn’ come 2020.

The only winner from this? Ed Miliband. Having made the electoral changes that opened up the leadership contest, he can now strut around Westminster like a #relatable DILF in early retirement — being sassy on Twitter, taking his teenage fans out for lunch and dropping hot takes in parliament like he’s promoting a Kickstarter campaign to put the Ed Stone into orbit around the Moon. Hells yeah.

Suddenly, despite the fact he was never going to win, we miss the dim, flickering hope that he fostered — our gentle candle in those gentle North London geek hands. Ooh err.

Ed, having the time of his life. Photo: The Fabian Society via Flickr CC

The lasting result of this campaign may be that Labour has finally understood the need to engage with the people for whom politics does not work. Turnout fell in both the 18–24 and 25–34 demographics in 2015 — with only 42% of 18–24 year old men voting. At the same time, there was an accumulated 9% rise in those over the age of 45 casting their vote — who disproportionately favour the Conservatives.

The political memories of those leaving education and entering work in 2015 do not include a government, or an opposition, committed earnestly to the cause and support of the young. Their minds recall illegal wars and the fall of Blairism, tuition fees protests, benefit cuts, the end of the EMA and the creaking public services of the austerity era.

If Labour wants to return to power in 2020, it must provide a different narrative to inspire first, second and third time voters, or face a political wilderness in long term opposition. It’s a mess — and one that may take more than this parliament, and these potential leaders, to clear up.


Originally published at abstractmag.com on August 18, 2015.

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