Anthony Calvert was Parliamentary Candidate for Wakefield at the 2015 General Election.
She may only be in her party’s leadership contest to cling onto her place in the Shadow Cabinet, but that Mary Creagh is in the contest at all suggests huge problems for Labour.
I don’t know what it is with me and Labour candidates that I lose to but, for the second leadership election in a row, I am seeing my opponent put up. Back in 2010, it was Ed Balls who had a crack after I fought Morley and Outwood. He came a respectable third, and was rewarded with the shadow chancellorship (after a brief stint shadowing Theresa May).
Three weeks or so ago, I lost to Mary Creagh in my home town of Wakefield. A few days later my phone pinged, and a text from a friend of mine said that she had declared herself a candidate for the leadership. I have to admit that I needed to do a double take on that text message. Mary, though having occupied a number of shadow cabinet positions, is not leadership potential. She is hopelessly out of her depth.
To be honest, she appeared out of her depth even as a Labour parliamentary candidate during the campaign. Out of the six hustings all the candidates were invited to, Mary made just three. She ducked out of a TV debate with me giving the broadcasters a disrespectful two hours notice.
Of those debates she did attend it was pretty clear she was struggling. In one event, at Wakefield College, she looked over the heads of the students present when giving her introductory remarks. Any body language expert will tell you that this is a tactic you employ when very nervous. Creagh was petrified of looking that audience in the eye.
On a separate occasion she somehow managed to contrive an accusation that David Cameron was responsible for the awful deaths of 1,500 refugees in the Mediterranean in an answer to a question about lobbying. The assembled audience of voluntary and charity groups were not impressed. In the magnificent setting of Wakefield Cathedral, Creagh confused the debt with the deficit – albeit to rapturous applause from her campaign staff who clearly had similar misunderstandings. Not a cardinal sin, and one regularly made by many others, but surely not a error that a putative Leader of the Opposition would make?
Now this article is not designed to be a blow by blow attack on one Labour MP. It is making a general point about the shallow talent pool that the Labour Party now possesses, and the reasons behind it. In 1997, we were in much the same condition, though I suspect that all our 165 MPs knew what a cyclical deficit was. That year, we were decimated in areas in which Middle England lived. We were smashed in the cities, the suburbs and even in the provincial towns previously thought to be strongholds. Our remaining seats were mostly in the shires. Having MPs from those areas in the shadow cabinet was great for securing big majorities in those seats, but not good for getting back into the constituencies that Thatcher and Major won.
Labour now has the same problem – but less a numeric one and more through a process of self-inflicted talent drain. Our 1997 defeat ushered in 13 years of pretty solid Labour administration able to govern for much of the time without a substantial opposition. But Labour can now only point the finger of blame at themselves for the shockingly weak calibre of opposition that they will now be providing.
It is clear that an obsession with political correctness has damned Labour. They have a parliamentary party that has been artificially constructed through a mix of trade union patronage and the seeming prerogative over the last 20 years to have a ‘representative mix’. Meddling with selections is all well and good if you want to create a party that may look good on TV, but the cost to Labour’s talent pool of sub-standard candidates has been increasingly corrosive.
Twenty years ago Labour had genuinely talented MPs. Apart from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Labour had the likes of Alan Milburn, John Reid, Robin Cook, Mo Mowlam, David Blunkett, Jack Straw and Alistair Darling – political Goliaths of their age, and all very capable of leadership. Fast forward to now, and retreads like Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper are bad enough, but in addition we have utter political lightweights like Liz Kendall and Mary Creagh believing they can assume the mantle of leadership.
Labour has been reduced to fewer seats than they have had in over 20 years. This has clearly contributed towards the draining of Labour’s talent pool; a lot of good MPs simply lost their seats. However, it is surely also the case that years of positive discrimination by a party seemingly placing cosmetic gimmickry above sound, studious political minds has contributed far more. Talented white, male Labour candidates have been sacrificed over the last 20 years at Harriet Harman’s high altar of political correctness. All women shortlists and selection quotas have wreaked their reward – for the Conservatives.
Did you see, for example, the recent performance of Stella Creasey on Question Time? Mangled sentences, poor logic and a total lack of understanding on any of the issues discussed. Not stellar at all. Gone are the days of Labour politicians of the calibre of John Smith and Donald Dewar. I remember them during the early 1990s routinely shredding the Tory big beasts. Even John Prescott landed some punches in debates with Conservatives (metaphorically and not literally, at least not on Question Time).
Labour is now reduced to a rump of superficial political amateurs content with merely playing politics rather than making a proper and deliverable case for government. Not one of the Labour leadership candidates will lay a glove on David Cameron during this parliament. Prime Minister’s Questions will be an embarrassment for Labour. As far as 2020 is concerned, the Tories should be considered bang on favourites already.
Thank goodness the all-women shortlists and drives towards getting quotas for different representative groups were resisted by successive Tory chairmen. There is no substitute for quality – irrespective of how the candidate looks. As someone who has seen a lot of our 2015 intake at close quarters over the last few years, I can absolutely attest for its quality and depth of experience. We have got these candidates elected through totally open and fair selection contests. We don’t need positive discrimination in our party and it should never come.
Paradoxically, the one person who could conceivably save Labour won’t be standing this time. Assuming that whoever succeeds Ed Miliband will lose in five years time (or will perhaps be manoeuvred out before then) then the 52 year old newly-elected former Director of Public Prosecutions (see, a real job!), Sir Kier Starmer, will be the red hot favourite for Labour.
Ironically, the one person who typifies everything the Harmans of this world so detest could be the only person to save Labour from itself.