Anyone whose nostalgia gene is tickled by the prospect of seeing a band of bedroom pin-ups in the flesh forty years after the torn pages of ‘Look-in’ disappeared from their once-prized position is afflicted with despair when a group containing as little as one (or, in many cases, none) of the original members take to your local pub stage posing as the act in question. They might play the hits with competence, but essentially you’re seeing a tribute band – a bad cover version of the heroes who enlivened adolescent evenings tuned-in to ‘Top of the Pops’. I feel a similar sensation when viewing the current contenders for the Labour leadership. Where are the stars? I’m looking at a bunch of political session musicians.
This curiously lacklustre race has already lost a couple of wannabes I can’t say I’m sorry to see the exit of. Tristram Hunt presented an interesting BBC series on the English Civil War a good ten years back, but I’d rather he’d remained within that world; I might still be confusing him with Dan Snow if that were the case, but at least he can’t do any harm there. His limitations as a politician have already been exposed on ‘Question Time’ more than once, and I seem to recall a commentator somewhere (could well have been on here) saying they’d recently encountered him on a train, observing how many times he uttered the word ‘Cool’ during a telephone conversation. Yes, I also thought of that dim intern on ‘W1A’.
Chuka Umunna was another welcome withdrawal, apparently citing press intrusion into his private life as the main reason; has he got something to hide? After all, this comes with the territory, something he should have been well aware of following the intensive anti-Miliband campaign of certain newspapers over the past couple of years. I’d like to think he was recognising his inability to command authority and convince as a rousing orator, but it seems he merely fancied himself as a British Obama and his vanity got the better of him without taking the realities into consideration.
So, that leaves us with Ringo, Ringo, Ringo and Ringo, AKA Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall and…er…Mary Creagh; can you believe a party with 232 MPs to choose from has nobody more capable of running it – and the country (they hope) – than this uninspiring quartet? The fact that Cooper, Creagh, Kendall and Burnham (yeah, they do sound like a Blackburn Rovers back-four from the early 50s) are all Oxbridge graduates shouldn’t necessarily be held against them, for Oxford and Cambridge Universities between them have produced 41 Prime Ministers out of 55 (Oxford 27 Cambridge 14). The main difference where the four Labour leadership contenders today are concerned is that many of their more illustrious predecessors didn’t travel from academia to politics without a bit of living and working amongst the Proles in between. Yet again, we are confronted by career politicians who have little or no comprehension of what constitutes reality for the majority of the electorate; and for Labour in particular, that should spell disaster.
The 46-year-old ‘dark horse’ Mary Creagh had a relatively ordinary upbringing, daughter of a Coventry car factory worker and a primary school teacher – and she attended (Shock! Horror!) a State school. However, thereafter her life assumes a familiar trajectory: Oxford, European Parliament intern, teaching, local councillor. It was during this spell in 2002 that she accused five Liberal Democrat councillors of cronyism over the appointment of the Islington Council Chief Executive. This led to a long, drawn-out investigation by the Standards Board of England that eventually concluded Creagh’s accusations were without foundation. The Tribunal were especially damning of her motivation, describing her as ‘an insensitive witness, lacking in balanced judgement and one who was prepared to make assumptions about honesty and integrity of others without any proper basis.’ Creagh resigned from Islington Council to fight for (and win) the constituency of Wakefield at the 2005 General Election, whilst the five Lib Dems she’d cast such unpleasant aspersions on all lost their places at the following year’s local council elections. Her actions in this particular case either suggest a potential leader with a not-inconvenient ruthless streak or a shifty shit. Time will tell.
The other little-known contender is 43-year-old Liz Kendall. It’s genuinely difficult to find any remotely interesting fact about Liz Kendall, other than she was recently in a relationship with Greg Davies, the goliath of a comic actor who played the intimidating headmaster in ‘The Inbetweeners’. She went from a Hertfordshire village to Watford Grammar School for Girls and then Queen’s College, Oxford. Her most notable jobs prior to entering Parliament were surprisingly not on the check-out at Wilkinson’s or as a barmaid at a pub with a flat roof, but at the Institute for Public Policy Research think tank and as a SPAD to both Patricia Hewitt and our old friend Harriet. She won the seat of Leicester West at the 2010 General Election and was Shadow Health Minister under Ed. Her position on the Blairite right suggests she will appeal to voters other than inner-city Asians, but her anonymity could well work in her favour, untarnished as she is by the unenviable reputation of the previous Labour administration.
The same cannot be said of Mrs Balls. The 46-year-old munchkin is the daughter of a union leader and therefore did not attend a public school; she did, however, graduate from Baliol College, Oxford, and from there went onto Harvard and the LSE before becoming a researcher for Labour leader John Smith, a brief spell working under Bill Clinton (perhaps I should rephrase that) and a policy adviser for…you guessed it…Ms Harperson! After a short stint on The Independent, she eventually entered Parliament at the 1997 General Election, but it took a further decade before she reached Ministerial status when Gordon Brown made her Minister for Housing. Her husband was also promoted to the Cabinet by Brown and they became the first married couple to hold such a position. They celebrated by buying a four-bedroom house in Stoke Newington and registering it as their second home rather than the one they had back Oop North in Castleford; by doing so, they were entitled to £44,000 to subsidise a £438,000 mortgage (allegedly) via the Commons Additional Costs Allowance – though, to be fair, they only claimed an absolutely bloody paltry £24,400. The expenses’ investigation resulted in them having to return £1,363 in overpayments related to this mortgage.
With Balls now out of Westminster, his missus has seized the chance to run as Labour leader and the only other established competition she faces is the token bloke, Andy Burnham. The 45-year-old former Health Secretary with the Action Man hair and Sindy eyelashes is viewed as the favoured candidate of the unions, which probably bodes as well for him as it did for Ed Miliband. His road to Parliament was interesting – street-sweeper, supermarket shelf-stacker, taxi-driver, call-centre employee of the month April 1998…no, I’m bullshitting, of course. His origins may have been average, but his working life followed a familiar path pre-Parliament, too familiar to repeat again. His stint at the Department of Health was illuminated by his refusal to sanction a public inquiry into the irregular numbers of deaths at Mid Staffordshire Hospital, something of which he must be immensely proud. This is his second attempt to lead his party; but in the age of Sturgeon, will his willy work against him?
So, there you have it. Spot the future Prime Minister or spot the 2020 General Election loser taking responsibility for Labour’s electoral annihilation and announcing ‘it’s time to have a long, hard look at the direction the party must take’.