Recently, I joked in an article that the next leadership contest within the Labour party could be between Chuka Umunna and a weathered copy of “The Communist Manifesto”, demonstrating facetiously my lack of faith in the depth of talent contained within the parliamentary Labour party. However, there is one frontbencher who has of late begun to make me think that perhaps all is not dire for the future of said organisation. Liz Kendall, Shadow Minister for Care and Older People, is one to watch.
For a start, she is the only major figure, and I do mean the only one, within the Labour party to be speaking any sense at all when it comes to the NHS – and indeed, the only one who appears to be telling the whole truth on the subject. She is also the only Labour MP who has admitted that, although she didn’t like the Health and Social Care Act, repealing it would be lunacy.
“We’re not going to have another massive reorganisation”.
Further more she says:
“We always wanted to involve GPs more. If we had got back into government, that’s what we’d have done.”
This is universe away from the “we’ll repeal it” Andy Burham line that makes no sense, and that cannot be taken at face value. Liz is correct in asserting that a Labour government, looking to put as much money into frontline health services as possible, would not spend billions of pounds getting the NHS back to where it was in 2010 in terms of back office staff. Like I say, that would be insane. I think the Burnham line is a sop to activists, and they figure when they get in, they’ll work it out then. At least Kendall is telling the truth here and now.
She’s also a very able media performer; unlike a lot of the Labour frontbench, who often stiffly roll through the messaging like robots whenever they are on television, Liz actually is able to deliver the messages without sounding like she’s on autopilot. This is, worryingly, a rarer and rarer quality in politicians these days.
Strikes against her: she only came into parliament in 2010 and thus would be very green in terms of becoming top of the pile. Clegg became leader of the Lib Dems after only being an MP for two and a half years. But that’s the Lib Dems; it is normal in Labour to have to have been around forever to become the leader. This is partly to do with the way the party is structured – very horizontally, so there’s a lot of people you need to impress, which tends to take time. Ed Miliband had only been an MP since 2005 when he became leader, but he’d been in the Treasury as a SpAd forever up until then. And he was still considered to have been a dark horse.
However, the biggest strike against her becoming leader is that I’m a liberal and she’s the kind of Labour leader that would make me think about the party differently, in a much more positive light, immediately. Given the average Labour activist is my precise political opposite, this probably means Liz Kendall’s leadership bid is ultimately doomed. Still, one can live in hope.