Picking a new Leader of the Opposition – a potential prime minister – isn’t easy. Labour is right to take its time. April will be soon enough for a party trying to recover from a demoralising defeat. My choice, Aston-under-Lyne MP and Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner chose to run only for Deputy Leader (‘Policies are not enough’, 4 January 2020). This was a mistake, however understandable her personal reasons, both for her and for the party. Five candidates have reached the shortlist. In casting my vote, I shall by influenced by
1. A non-metropolitan voice
Labour must speak for the whole country. Its options include: setting the Scottish party free; setting a bold programme for devolution; electing a woman leader; choosing a non-London MP.
2. A pleasing media presence
There is no substitute for this. Younger candidates should have been advanced under Jeremy Corbyn. Many MPs sought to destabilise him by going on strike. Others simply courted media coverage with opposition, crudely pandering to anti-Labour prejudice. If they hadn’t, we would already know our best leader.
3. Away with the market
There is no way round it. Labour must stand for something. New Labour’s path to power meant dropping policies offending the powerful and rich, ‘triangulating’ against the membership. This brought office, not power. It fed the anti-democratic notion that all politicians are the same.
4. Evidence of ability
There is no way round this either. Some on the Left seem to see leadership as a box-ticking exercise. In reality voters will come to long for a personable alternative to the odious Johnson. His faults – laziness, vagueness, callousness, preference for American solutions, inattention to detail, eventual policy failure will become more evident.
5. A sense of humour
We all need to laugh a lot more. This grim sense of battling against a sea of troubles must end. Labour’s new leader should be quick-witted (and confident) enough to crack jokes. A little less seriousness, while remaining in deadly earnest about the need to shift power, would open closed ears.