A view from the Left: Where’s the candidate for the Labour left?

By Sam Blainey June 1, 2015 3:14 pm

It’s a strange world indeed in which a candidate for the Labour Party leadership can stand up in the offices of Ernst & Young, laud ‘wealth creators’, decry people being handed everything “on a plate” and tell the audience the last Labour Government spent too much money – yet still be the candidate of the Labour left.

Yet this is the world we’re in, at least for now. Andy Burnham, who made those comments as part of a speech which, in Labour shorthand, must surely be classed as Blairite, has attracted considerable left-wing support. That bellwether of Labour left thought (at least on Twitter) Eoin Clarke is behind him; the trade unions have made supportive noises. It’s all set up for another push for the Labour left to gain the leadership, with the small problem being that Andy Burnham is not a left-winger.

Mr Burnham may have made plenty of leftish noises over the years. He was fierce in his denunciation of the Health and Social Care Act and, indeed, any use of private providers in the NHS and the Labour Party loved him for it. Yet not many people outside the Party really did, partly because it was Mr Burnham himself who, as a distinctly centrist Health Secretary, had introduced some private provision into the NHS.

People on Labour’s left know this and, though they may be falling behind him, they are hardly wild about Mr Burnham. But the truth is that they have nowhere else to go. They are hardly going to back Liz Kendall, who has spent the past few weeks trampling all over Labour shibboleths, and as for Yvette Cooper – well, she’s yet to really set out her agenda.

So where is the left’s candidate? There are plenty of MPs who are on that wing of the party and they could probably unite behind one name to ensure that he or she got the 35 signatures required to be on the ballot. Yet there is no stand out candidate, not even anybody from the 2010 intake – indeed, it is noticeable that the most talented and ambitious of the MPs elected five years ago are on the centre or the right of the party. And nobody seems to fancy being the no-hoper who’s there to inspire a broader discussion (the Diane Abbott of 2015 let’s call it).

That’s a bit of shame. There is plenty of debate going on about the future of the Labour Party, on social media, blogs and in more traditional forums – pubs – but there is seemingly nobody to represent a chunk of this thought.

The Labour left can be infuriating; like the Tory right, they are surprisingly arrogant for a section of the Party that hasn’t seen one of ‘its’ leaders elected as Prime Minister for decades. You can’t, however, be a centre-left party like Labour without having the left bit – for the good of the contest and the Party, the substantial section of Labour that leans that way deserves and needs its voice heard. So where is its candidate?

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