There is a real laziness to much of the commentariat writing about the election of a Labour leader
1. Many simply assume that Corbyn is Foot and that we are back in the 80s. Labour will be laughably unelectable, so ABC – anyone but Corbyn
2. Labour are now where the Tories were during the last Labour government (1997-2010), lost beyond redemption – doomed to the wilderness
Neither of these observations stand up to much scrutiny.
Let’s try and take some learning from what happened in the past, rather than shoe-horning into a convenient template
A) Ed Miliband’s desire to distance himself from Blair, Brown and his brother was a big ask and took up too much energy when the Party needed to be nailing major Tory/media lies such as “Labour broke the economy”. It’s not the economy, stupid – it’s the story…
B) Babies got thrown out with bathwater: so a facet of that distancing was to overlook the huge accomplishments of the 1997-2001 first Blair/Brown term. The challenge was to retell that story, which was while that government pretended to be Tory-lite, it was actually delivering a fair dollop of what might be understood as socialism, but by stealth. Instead any retelling got lost in the rejection of that entire Administration, and the whole post-9/11 Iraq war hubris.
C) This was not subsequently helped by Blair serially trousering obscene amounts of cash for variations on “I’m a global statesman (get me out of here)”.
D) The idea that the contest must only be about government is facile to the point of ludicrousness. The recent Harman line illustrates this only too well. To convince a nation that you can govern, you need first to competently oppose. This is the position we are now in.
E) Of course the goal is government – but not at all costs. See my earlier reflection on the first Blair/Brown term – that happened the way it did partly because beforehand Labour became a better Opposition than the Major Administration were a Government.
F) No candidate will want to emulate Miliband, though I hope we don’t repeat the same mistake in simply rejecting his Opposition wholesale. No candidate will want to simply emulate Blair/Brown as even partial rehabilitation is some way off. This doesn’t leave much ostensible new ground.
G) If Corbyn is elected party leader, despite the commentariat attempting to sink him by painting him as an abject failure – and with him, by implication, those who elected him – we might get a new debate, on what it is to Oppose well, in a very differently configured political and economic climate. From that, there is time and premise to build – whether or not Corbyn remains flag bearer.