The 2015 Labour leadership election is much more open contest than 2010. Five years ago, the election was a two horse race between the Brothers Miliband, and the view quickly formed that it was a contest between Blarites and Brownites – with the latter ultimately claiming victory by the narrowest of margins. Framing the debate in these terms contributed to the ability of the press to portray the outcome as a victory for “Red Ed” and as a sharp leftward turn which went far beyond Labour’s actual policy.
But the clashes between the Blarites and the Brownites were always about personality as much as politics, and the 2015 leadership race provides Labour the opportunity to move beyond this divide. This may work to the disadvantage of candidates like Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper – having been elected in 2001 and 1997 respectively, they are more closely associated with one camp or the other. Coming from the 2010 intake, candidates like Liz Kendall and Chuka Umunna may be better able to present themselves as a fresh start for the Party, moving beyond old divisions and considering the direction the Party needs to take to win again in 2020.
This author would be very happy to never hear the words ‘Blairite’ or ‘Brownite’ ever again. The fundamental question the next Labour leader needs to answer is how the Party can win back soft Tories and those who defected to UKIP, without losing its more metropolitan supporters along the way. As well as finding the answer to this fiendishly hard question, the next leader also needs to be an MP who can communicate this answer clearly and connect with voters outside the big cities which remain loyal to Labour. So far, an obvious candidate has not stepped forward – but the contest should prove to be a very interesting one.