First of all I must congratulate the organisers for choosing to hold this event at Elland Road in Leeds, right next to the once famous football stadium. Well okay, it may still be home to a half-reasonable championship side but even when I was a teenager watching Leeds United play in the old second division it felt much more special than it does today. However, the actual venue opposite the stadium was perfect and people could park adjacent to it without having to pay, which was a great start to what turned out to be a rather interesting day. I thought that I was only going to get to hear each of the four nominees for the Leadership present their case for why I should support them but I was pleased to learn that the nominees for the Deputy Leader were also taking the stand. My report on the Deputies is in part two but so far, so fantastic, I’ve had free parking, free entry and a pint of John Smiths Bitter which was quite palatable at £3.60p. There was even some good music being played whilst we waited for the show to begin, mainly Southern Soul which I love.
There were a lot of people in attendance but as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t describe them as the usual suspects although, there were those who turned up near to the time that the event was due to start and then moaned when they couldn’t find a seat near the front. And there were those women who believe it is trendy to drink beer straight from the bottle and those men wafting through the pages of Saturday’s Guardian pretending they could read although, being The Guardian it probably helps to be dyslexic. However, it was a bright, sunny day, I was in my best linen suit and I wasn’t prepared to be seen as anything less than some cool guy out to enjoy a few hours in the company of serious politicos and their acolytes [whoever they were]. Talking of which, on my way into the conference hall, I was stopped by one of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters who thrust a leaflet towards me which I declined. “Not exactly my cup of tea” I said only to be told in no uncertain way that he was going to win the contest anyway. Oh well, I smiled back in response with my slightly enlarged eyes; I had not seen that coming.
As it transpired, I was very impressed with Jeremy Corbyn’s performance/presentation as was the rest of the audience judging by the applause. We were asked before the nominees took their places at the microphone, not to applaud too much as this would slow down the proceedings and there was a lot to get through. Obviously, excited by Jeremy’s unapologetic criticism of Labour’s alleged shift towards the Right, the audience ignored the facilitator’s request and cheered to their hearts content. However, to be fair, Corbyn does represent the core values of the Labour Party and whilst you may disagree with him on any number of issues, most of what he said simply echoes the reasons why we continue to support The Labour Party. Where Corbyn doesn’t come over well and why I personally, could not support his nomination, is when he is not sitting, or standing, amongst a group of like-minded individuals. I have seen him several times in the media on programmes such as Question Time where he simply fails to impress anyone that he could one day be leader of the party, so I wonder why he has put his name forward this time. I suspect that he has been encouraged to do so in order to have a more balanced choice of candidates but I hope that he isn’t being used in some way and that he does have a future in the next Labour shadow cabinet.
Liz Kendall on the other hand, could not be more different from Jeremy Corbyn which is great. We don’t want a party made up entirely of identical personalities. We want a party that resembles The Rolling Stones rather more than it resembles Kraftwerk with a charismatic leader surrounded by highly individual but equally talented players. Now, I’m not suggesting that Ms Kendall is charismatic although she is very photogenic or, that she would make the better leader. However, Liz is a fresh pair of eyes and the party could benefit from having a leader who is not tainted by past associations. Some critics have labelled her a Blairite which I think is ridiculous whilst others have been even more disrespectful and called her a Tory. There have even been several vicious attacks on Kendall via social media which quite frankly, people should be prosecuted for and if found to be members of The Labour Party, should be sent packing. However, I did feel that Kendall’s presentation today whilst it certainly had passion, lacked in substance. It’s all very well saying that Labour has to be seen as the friend of business, it does. However, whilst Labour needs to support the business sector we need to realign how that sector is perceived by the public at the same time. We need to show that capitalism/business can produce social benefits as well as profits and that not all successful business models adhere to the hire and fire image of say, Alan Sugar or those mean-spirited, carpet-baggers who appear on Dragon’s Den.
Andy Burnham, MP for Leigh is currently the favourite to win the Leadership race and as far as I know, has not had to endure any vitriolic abuse on either Facebook or Twitter although, there’s plenty of time yet. Seriously though, the guy’s okay. Not, in my opinion, as charismatic or as good looking as Ed Miliband but he speaks well and I’m pretty confident that given a bacon butty to consume he would make a better job of it than Ed but then again, he probably eats them most days of the week. In the knowledge that the largest UK Trade Union is backing him, Andy presented himself with great confidence and in common with Jeremy Corbyn, managed to engage with the grassroots of the party. However, whilst I found nothing to dislike in Andy’s swagger and I did laugh at his comment about this being the biggest crowd at Elland Road in a long time, I just didn’t buy into it. I do genuinely feel angry with myself for not warming to him more but it must be all those years of seeing Liverpudlians, [ scousers ] portrayed as “scallys” or militant neer-do-wells on television that has prejudiced me against him. I didn’t even like my favourite Sci-Fi programme, Doctor Who, when they gave the role to one of the McCann brothers although, I didn’t mind Christopher Eccleston in the same role. The other thing I noticed about Andy was how much he reminded me of my late father-in-law, a man who had been a labour supporter all his life, who worked as a Docker all his life and who retired at the age of 65 with naff-all to show for it. He also paid into a Trade Union all his working life for what good it did him.
And so to the final candidate, Yvette Cooper. I like Yvette, not a lot but enough to want to hear what she had to say for herself. I suppose, in a way, I feel some sympathy for Ms Cooper having had to stand in the shadow of her husband, Ed Balls, for so long that her own particular strengths have never really been given fair examination by the political elite. Her husband on the other hand, proved himself to be useless in every ministerial post he occupied and yet was referred to many times as a potential leader of the party, so much for equality. However, whilst her spouse is enjoying himself over in the States Yvette has been busy trying to establish herself as a genuine candidate for the party leadership and she’s not doing a bad job of it. Her presentation today relied very much on the fact that Yvette is a woman and therefore understands the difficulties that women, especially mothers, face in this country today, or in fact, yesterday, as very little has changed over the past fifteen years. Now I’m not one of those stupid people [usually men] who think here we go again whenever a feminist view is expressed. I truly believe that women do actually hold a different perspective on family life compared to their menfolk and those with children hold a different view based on experience, to those women who are not mothers. Yvette makes a good case for women without ever diminishing the important role that men play in our society, it’s just that with over half the UK workforce being female and a similar percentage of women being dependent on benefits to support their families there has to be something wrong with the system. Yvette reckons that if she was leader then she could help make society fairer by addressing those faults in the system, by ensuring that families get the support and care they require in order to become healthy contributors to the wider society rather than the maligned underclass that they are often portrayed as being. She believes that she is more than capable of taking on George Osborne however, in order to slay the Conservative dragon you need to take off the head which is why we need a leader who can out wile Cameron.
I did enjoy listening to what each of the four nominees had to say and even as I write, my mind is not made up as to who I will vote for. I might even vote for Liz Kendall who impressed me the least just to spite those morons who attacked her on social media or I might vote for Jeremy just to get him out of his comfort zone, Islington North otherwise known as Leninville. However I vote, the task facing the next leader of The Labour Party is not going to be made any easier by the fact that the British public are becoming less concerned about society, just as Thatcher predicted and more about themselves. All this talk about austerity, benefit scroungers and feckless politicians just seems to have made people intolerant towards the truth. The last Labour government did not create the mess that we are now in, the Coalition did that and that fact is backed up by the figures. People always want a scapegoat, someone to blame for their misfortune and yet many remain over confident about their own abilities to prosper when in reality a large number of those hard working people as Cameron likes to call them, are only two pay-checks away from disaster. We remain a charitable nation though, especially towards children’s charities or the elderly who we tend to think of as blameless whilst people remain ambivalent about the Homeless. However, this lack of empathy is not confined to Britain, it is a social problem that has been labelled by Barack Obama as the “empathy deficit” following a US study showing the ability to imagine how others feel, had declined in college students by 40% over the past three decades. In Britain, Europe and the USA, sociologists have always regarded empathy as the social glue that holds society together. Empathy is the reason why we hold the principles of freedom and fairness so dearly and why we will always need The Labour Party, if not in government then in strong opposition.