I only ever voted once in a Labour leadership contest, back in 1994, and it wasn’t for Tony Blair. People who are members of that party now have their choice coming up and I would expect Andy Burnham to win the contest. He has positioned himself as a Labour centrist, with every candidate positioning themselves to the right of Ed Miliband.
What does that tell us about Labour’s trajectory politically? In Scottish terms it marks an acceptance that under First Past the Post Labour may at best win back a handful of seats from a Social Democratic SNP, that is to the left of Labour on most issues. Anything else would be a bonus, but barring some appalling SNP scandal, it is the best they can hope for.
All eyes are on “middle” England now for Labour. If you are looking at the politics purely in terms of number crunching, it is the UKIP surge that cost Labour the election, with UKIP votes far more than the margin of victory in many constituencies. So it appears that is where Labour’s focus is going for the next five years, whether that is Burnham, Cooper or Kendall.
To categorise all UKIP voters as right wing is to make a mistake. Many of them back rail renationalisation and support the NHS, with a vote for UKIP a clear two fingers up at the establishment. However, it is clear that there is a strong anti-immigrant factor in many UKIP voting decisions and that the older generations are much more likely to vote UKIP than younger ones. How Labour believes it can win these voters back will be interesting.
What is increasingly clear is the absolute mountain in electoral terms the Labour Party has to climb, and that is before boundaries are redrawn, which will stack things further in favour the Tories under First Past the Post. Here in Liverpool, Luciana Berger and Steve Rotherham are backing Andy Burnham and Stephen Twigg is backing Liz Kendall (probably not the most popular decision with some councillors and activists in West Derby).
Whoever emerges as their leader, they are tasked much more with a Kinnock role than one of winning an election. To win now, Labour needs to accept that it is fighting as one of the bigger parties in a multi-party system, rather than pursuing a First Past the Post majority. If they insist on a one more push strategy, it will not work, however it will take a brave leader to move them to a position in favour of Proportional Representation. We shall see.