I’ve voted Keir Starmer 1 Lisa Nandy 2

Keir Starmer is the clear front runner in the never ending election of the Leader of the Labour Party. Despite reservations about a number of his ‘pledges’ and declared policy positions I have voted for Keir because I believe he is the best candidate and has the best chance on taking Labour on the journey it needs to follow once gain to have the chance of winning. 

Nominated by more than twice as many CLPs as his nearest rival, with the bulk of Labour MPs supporting him, important support for affiliates and the polls with the best track record confirming his lead, Starmer looks an odds-on favourite.

But the Labour Leadership contest is far from over. The timetable extends a ludicrous 114 days since Oh Jeremy Corbyn announced he would step down. Concerns exist over missing ballots. Though I have little doubt that if the Stalinist clique who surrounded Corbyn could facilitate the election of St Jezza’s successor they most certainly would, my instinct leans to incompetence rather than conspiracy. There has, after all, been a surfeit of incompetence from that crowd.

So why Keir, after all he stuck with team Corbyn when others walked away and he isn’t exactly vocal on their manifest failures? 

I remember well the last time Labour sought to turn its fortunes round after a disastrous period of poor leadership, implausible policies and infighting. What distinguished Neil Kinnock was not his policy agenda, nor his desire to resolve Labour’s internal disputes - it was his desire to get Labour back to winning ways. Keir Starmer’s most obvious asset is that same determination. The understanding that without power not only Labour’s policies but its very existence is meaningless is the X-factor from which everything else follows. Starmer’s campaign has demonstrated that same uncompromising will to win above all else and that bodes well.

Secondly, Keir Starmer is the clear choice of Labour voters. He is the candidate more voters can see as a future Prime Minister. He is the most likely potential Labour leader to attract back to the party those voters who for one reason or another deserted the Party. That matters more than the sensibilities of Labour members - including mine.

Third, as an MEP I saw Keir Starmer operating as shadow spokesman on Brexit. He commanded a level of respect well above any other Labour front bencher. He was taken seriously in every EU institution, learned very fast and was comfortable in the most difficult imaginable brief. Once of the centeral criticisms of Labour’s last two leaderships has been their manifest incompetence - Keir Starmer is visibly competent. That really matters - through the media and to people who vote. 

Those three reasons ought to be enough and for me they mark Keir Starmer out as the best candidate - but in this a very different election where the issues facing Labour are much more difficult than any in living memory. So let’s deal with the key criticisms of Keir.

I took the Labour MEP mandate when Mr Corbyn was Labour Leader knowing I would never positively endorse him. I took the view, however, that allowing one of his supporters to take my place would not do any good and that I was fleet of foot enough to dodge the bullets on my personal view of Corbyn*. I was prepared to bury my view to have the platform to campaign against Brexit and for the outcome of negotiations to be put back top the public. That could only happen with Labour onside. The greatest issue of my lifetime took precedence over my view of Corbyn as incompetent and ideologically bankrupt. So I was glad Keir stayed in post when walking away would have been so much easier. His decision was akin to my own, politics is rarely about ideal choices - you do you best in the situation in which you find yourself.

In 1983 some saw Roy Hattersley as the better choice - a clearer, faster break with Labour’s disastrous stances. But whatever his merits, could he have delivered the chance that was needed? I doubt it. Kinnock may have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in 1992, but he delivered the changes that made it thinkable.   

During this contest Lisa Nandy has, as I suspect was her intention, written herself into a major role in Labour’s next phase. She was never going to win, but her performance on the hustings has been excellent - demonstrating ability and a refreshing directness. It is so much easier to be direct and honest when you are not likely to have to justify the view as leader. That, and my view that Lisa made the wrong call at a key point in the Brexit catastrophe, means that she was my second preference. If there was any logic to Labour’s leadership election, Lisa would become Keir’s deputy. She may not hold the title, but de facto I expect she will be.  

A few words on the titular Deputy Leader. I nominated Rosena Alain-Khan and accordingly she received my first preference. Her energy, back story and undoubted ability is persuasive - Rosena is a true force of nature. I could, equally, however have voted for Ian Murray, who articulates a convincing case and gets Labour’s plight. He was my second preference, at number three, I backed Angela Rayner - who will probably end up winning. I like Angela and it is important Labour has working class women among its leadership, but she has not put sufficient distance between herself and the disasters oif Corbynism to get my direct support. Finally I gave a pointless fourth preference to Dawn Butler - pointless that is other than indicating that in a direct choice with the lamentable Richard Burgon it wouldn’t even be close. 

Labour can’t start its journey from where we would like it to be. We are where we are and it is not a good place. There are people on the train who have no business being there and who’s preferred destination is not one in which right thinking people wish to buy a ticket. As the driver Keir Starmer has the best chance of getting Labour on the track to reality. Fighting every battle at once would probably lead to derailment. 

Politics is about priorities. The top internal priority for Labour is dealing effectively with the crisis created by manifestations of anti-semitism. Sadly but entirely understandably, many Jewish people will never forgive Labour, but without firm action on this toxic issue the Party cannot move forward. On that Keir Starmer has been very clear. The next priority is to demonstrate an effective opposition. This inevitably means holding the Government to account on Brexit where national self-harm is reaching new levels. Keir Starmer is best placed to do so both that and to develop a plausible European engagement policy for both Labour and the country.

Many more members seem to have understood the existential nature of Labour’s challenge. It the Party savable? I’m really not sure. Is it, under Britain’s prehistoric electoral system, easier to save Labour than to start again - clearly it is. For the people who need Labour and for ther best chance of turning from the far right populists, I’m prepared to play the percentages and give Keir the chance to prove anther future is possible.

JH 12.3.2012


* In the event I was. I didn’t make any direct public criticisms of Mr Corbyn till the polls were closed on 12 December. When asked by broadcast media I was always able to deflect, address the policy questions and was still able to address issues like the manifest collective failure on antisemitism. I made criticisms of the collective failure of leadership after the European Election polls had closed but I chose my words carefully. My reason was simple - it wasn’t going to do any good. The stupid, doomed, knee-jerk challenge to Corbyn’s leadership in 2016 had sold the pass and strengthened his position.