Labour’s first leadership hustings revealed a party detached from reality



Watching the Labour Party’s first leadership hustings on Saturday stirred a deep sense of déjà vu. I couldn’t help but watch, transfixed with morbid fascination as all five candidates on stage spoke about Jeremy Corbyn’s brilliant manifesto. The same manifesto that sunk the party to its worst electoral performance since 1935. At some points it almost felt as the general election hadn’t happened.

This is a party that simply hasn’t learned.

Perhaps it is incapable of learning. Without any sense of irony one by one the contenders spoke of how brilliant their policy agenda was in 2019. The new consensus from those vying to replace Jeremy Corbyn seems to be that the only problem with their general election offer was the packaging. The bizarre consistent theme from all the candidates is that all it will take to win is a fresh lick of paint on the old manifesto and a younger fresher salesman.

This fails to understand the country. Socialism isn’t British. The overwhelming tune of public opinion in this country favours property rights, low taxes, home ownership, and people’s immutable individual sovereignty over themselves. In short, people like having control over their own lives.

What Labour fails to understand is that their much touted cherry picked polling responses to various forms of the question “would you like some free stuff” are utterly meaningless without the context of trade-offs. When the trade-offs and consequences associated with nationalisation are discussed, as they were in the general election, the policy proposals suddenly drop from the superficially attractive heights they enjoy in abstract.

At one point Lisa Nandy came tantalisingly close to realising people’s need for individual sovereignty. She described the Brexit vote as “a clamour for power, agency, and control”, which it was. But then, of course, almost as if she was correcting herself, the Wigan MP went on to argue for policies that strip individuals of agency and treat people as faceless collectives. It is quite an impressive feat of mental gymnastics to argue that people voted for more control over their own lives, and Labour’s answer to that should be handing more control to the state.

Even more ludicrous was the baffling spectacle of Rebecca Long-Bailey’s use of the Nye Bevan quote that “the whole point of gaining power is to be able to give it away.” Yes, that line that was genuinely trotted the co-author of Labour’s plans to hike taxes, run the internet, seize ten per cent of every company, and have the government take over energy supply networks, water, and mail. 

If Labour are ever to win power again, their squabbling potential leaders will have to stop relentlessly finding new ways to strip individuals of autonomy and power in order to hand it to the state.

Tom Harwood is an award-winning journalist and commentator. Follow him on twitter: @tomhfh