As of this morning, this is the state of the Labour leadership nomination race. It’s hard to be certain exactly what’s going on, but let’s speculate anyway…
Was it a mistake for both John McDonnell and Diane Abbott to stand? Probably. They are fishing in the same extremely small pool of Labour left-wingers, and by getting in each other’s way, they have probably made it impossible for either of them to get on the ballot.
That is a shame, I think, but not much of a surprise.
Labour has been undergoing a dramatic internal transformation ever since the rise of Tony Blair. There can be no doubting that he pulled the rug out from under the left of the party, and since that point, election by election, the old guard have been retiring and not been replenished. Reliably left-wing cities like Liverpool that used to produce firebrand socialist MPs are now seen as the perfect place to launch the careers of people like Luciana Berger or relaunch defeated candidates like Stephen Twigg.
What has happened to the Labour Party at the grassroots level?
It’s probably related to the demise of the real working-class, blue-collar jobs that used to be a reliable path from workplace activism, into unionism, into socialist politics. Now everyone works in cushy white-collar office jobs, and don’t feel the same fraternal affinity for their fellow workers. This has cut off Labour’s blood supply. Local candidates in these seats, from the traditions of the Labour Party, are now almost non-existent.
Meanwhile, there is a different process going on in the intellectual breeding ground of the Labour Party: the universities. Once militant, hostile to 80s Thatcherism, they now swim along in a sea of debt and self-absorption. Perhaps it’s the commercial age where nothing but ourselves is important. Or maybe students just spend too much time drinking these days. I don’t know.
Whatever the reason, based on my experience, I’m pretty sure that the Labour tradition in the universities is no longer socialist either. University Labour people are reliably centrist, sensibly mainstream, and very much in tune with what the New Labour project was all about: cosmopolitan, metropolitan, and lots of other -itans that mean nothing much at all. They will all be backing the Milibands. Ed Balls, not really. Andy Burnham, possibly, if anyone knows why he’s running.
But definitely not Diane or John. That’s the past, and the New-New Labour members are just not interested in that any more. Even more so now they can get their teeth into opposition.
So fare-thee-well, the Labour Party. Thatcher did indeed destroy it after all. That’s one hell of a legacy.