Having just read the full report on Labour’s loss in May 2015, helpfully supplied by Stephen Bush at the New Statesman (the report, not the election result, just to be clear), I have come to finally understand what it was that the Labour Party should have done after losing the election.
Some have speculated that Ed Miliband should have stuck around as leader for a bit until the dust settled. The theory goes that if the membership could have been given another year to chill out a little, they wouldn’t have voted in anger, thus resulting in a semi-obscure backbencher with no ministerial experience, shadow or government, winning the leadership of the party. While I think delaying the leadership contest is indeed what should have happened, I don’t think Ed was the guy to lead Labour during this period.
I know I keep coming back to it, but all of Miliband’s faults as leader are naked in his resignation speech. The smugness. The “I could take or leave this country, you know” attitude that was so harmful to his prospects of ever becoming prime minister. No, Ed had to go. So who should have been interim leader then?
The person who was already doing it. Harriet Harman. Labour should have let her lead as interim leader for a year and then called a leadership contest. The report on Labour’s loss, while clearly starting from an HH bias, confirms that Labour would have almost certainly been able to rebuild under her short term leadership. It would have given Labour a year to recover its balance. Perhaps at the end of Harman’s stewardship, the far left still would have won the leadership. But at least it would have come at the end of a thought out bout of soul searching as opposed to a knee-jerk reaction. In other words, the far left might have won still, but would have probably carried more MPs and senior figures of the soft left with them so that the divisions which have beset the party since Corbyn became leader could have been mostly avoided.
I have no idea if Harriet would have wanted to do it for that long, even if everyone else had wanted her to. God knows, I can’t think of any other Labour MP that would have had that perfect combination of no actual leadership ambitions herself and the competence needed for the task in question, so if she had declined there wouldn’t have been another decent option to hand. And obviously, it’s all academic now. But how history – and the future of the Labour Party – might have been different had they held off on a leadership election for a little while and let HH run the show.