The Labour leadership election is an oasis of boredom

This article is more than 5 years old
Frankie Boyle

Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham talk like hostages, Liz Kendall has the air of an Apprentice candidate and Jeremy Corbyn is like an old pub drinker in a revamped bar

Liz Kendall
Liz Kendall … will she be hired or fired? Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/
Liz Kendall … will she be hired or fired? Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/

Last modified on Sat 25 Nov 2017 02.25 EST

Interesting times in British politics. We can look forward to David Cameron’s merciless manoeuvring against his rivals – “It’s a touch unconventional, Boris, but I’m appointing you Israel’s ambassador to Syria!” – and a London mayoral race between a group of characters you would normally expect to see arguing about how to deal with Batman. And yet we know that none of this is good, in the same way we know that seeing a beautiful mural on the side of a building just means that you’re in a really shit neighbourhood.

At least the Labour leadership election offers a reassuring oasis of boredom. The candidates have few redeeming features, or features of any kind. They work most successfully not as politicians, but as a sort of broad-ranging challenge to satire. Yvette Cooper has a broken, downbeat delivery that could make Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah sound like a cancer diagnosis. Andy Burnham sounds like he wishes that there were speedbumps in Mario Kart. They both give interviews with the halting, guarded intonation of a hostage. Liz Kendall at least has the alarming air of an Apprentice candidate, and surely that show’s unique dynamic – where you can be fired without actually having a job – meshes neatly with the party’s increasingly colourful views on workers’ rights.

Of course, none of the frontrunners are proper socialists; they don’t even hate each other. Jeremy Corbyn did scrape together enough nominations to stand, causing the left of the party to get quite excited that it is still allowed to lose. One of the few decent politicians remaining in the Labour party, he reminds me of those old drinkers you see haunting a new bar because they used to go to the pub that was there before.

Much of the contest so far has involved the candidates fretting about how the party can be more pro-business. It is not even clear what they mean by this word “business”. Are they worried about small businesses that care about being able to borrow money; manufacturing businesses that care about high growth; transnational businesses that care about you taking your tax bill and shoving it up your arse; or the banking business, which doesn’t care whether anybody lives or dies but would like a lot of hot Russian mafia money to flash about the dying nervous system of the finance industry as though we’re treating Aids with cocaine? Obviously, those are all interests that sometimes oppose each other in various ways. I’m reduced to imagining that “pro-business” is simply a rhetorical code for “rightwing”, and that we are watching leadership contenders wonder aloud whether they are being rightwing enough.

We’re told that they are responding to the concerns of voters. Labour keeps saying: “We’re concerned about immigration because that’s what people say on the doorstep.” You’re a political party. You’re not asking people if they want anything down the shops – you’re meant to have guiding principles. Also, it is a mistake to think that British people say what they mean. We’ll tell you that our core value is hard work, but nobody actually means it. People know that there is no social mobility any more; hard work doesn’t help you get ahead. Working hard just means that you finish early and get given more work. Hardworking is a word we came up with to describe people at work who we like but are a bit thick. We don’t remember hardworking footballers. We celebrate the ones who were unbelievably brilliant but died at 26 when heading an effort against the crossbar dislodged a fatal dose of ketamine from the back of their nose.

There is a very simple case to be made against austerity, but Labour doesn’t have the guts to make it. This seems strange when it was wiped out by an anti-austerity party in Scotland. The SNP trounced them so emphatically that Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish scriptwriters had to desperately search their memories for words that express pleasure. “Hang on! I think my mum said something when I got my degree … ‘not bad’, I think it was – write down ‘not bad’.” There is every chance that the changes in Scotland are structural and Labour is gone for ever, like cholera or Rangers.

A third of the electorate didn’t vote at the last election, and many who said they were going to vote Labour didn’t vote at all. Can it really be easier to convert Tories than to reconnect with your own core support? Perhaps these prospective leaders simply live in a class bubble, and their understanding of real people lacks nuance. One thing about being pro-business and working with business is that you spend a lot of time with, well, Tories. Perhaps you spend a lot of time with other politicians, and at the echo chamber of party events. So you get your information about people from polls (which can be misleading) and the media (which is deliberately misleading), and we end up with a leadership campaign aimed at a public who hate benefits, immigrants and shirkers. Labour’s candidates seem to have the same estimation of the public as a tabloid editor. Still, they must know that they are not going to win the next election, barring some kind of apocalyptic meltdown of the banking sector. I make them about 3-1.

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