Can I just say what we’re all thinking? Watching this Labour leadership contest is about as exciting as watching various shades of red paint dry.
I’m sat here trying to come up with an interesting, fresh angle on this election, but I’m about two (okay, five) drinks in and all I can muster is:
“Liz Kendall isn’t all that bad,”
“Jeremy Corbyn reminds me of my grandpa,”
“Yvette Cooper is also standing,” and
“Andy Burnham has pretty eyes.”
It’s a far cry from 2008, when Barack Obama galvanised the US Democratic Party with a sense of hope and a promise of a better tomorrow. Though I championed Hillary Clinton in that year’s primary, I remember watching his acceptance speech at that year’s convention with a sense of awe and genuine excitement.Even the 2010 Labour leadership contest seemed to offer some sense of renewal. There was, of course, the brothers Miliband, fighting to take the party in different directions. And Diane Abbott, that stalwart London socialist who provided a breath of fresh air—an actual leftist! A woman, and Black!—that is sorely lacking this go round.
That’s the problem. Cooper and Burnham, both either tarnished or bolstered by their roles in in the last Labour government, depending on who you ask, are stuck quietly in the middle, mostly ignored and largely forgotten. Kendall and Corbyn would both have you believe that a bitter civil war is raging, with the soul of the Labour Party at stake. Each is positing themselves and their opponent as the devil and angel on your shoulder.
But Kendall isn’t David Miliband, and Corbyn isn’t Diane Abbott. Both lack the charisma, the gravitas, and the star quality of their 2010 counterparts. And when the majority of Labour MPs can’t even bring themselves to vote against Tory austerity, you have to wonder what the whole point of the party is. If Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition can’t even be counted on to do a bit of opposing, it might make people question whether they’re worth voting for at all.
The LGBT community certainly seems to be asking itself this question. In a YouGov poll conducted back in March, the Tories were in a dead heat with Labour when it came to LGBT vote share. Meanwhile, the Greens were increasing their support amongst our community, with The Guardian reporting a 16% increase in support from 2010 to 2015.
Used to be that Labour was the natural home of our community. However, the Labour Party is no longer the only sanctuary for queer and trans Brits, as it was in the 1980s and 1990s. The Conservatives have softened their rhetoric, if not their voting record, on LGBT issues. Prime Minister David Cameron and Equalities Minister Nicky Morgan both champion equality, even if the former couldn’t convince his backbenchers (including the latter) to vote for same-sex marriage. On the opposite end of the political spectrum, many LGBT voters are flocking to the SNP and Green Party.
This would seem to give credence to the civil war scenario Corbyn and Kendall present. After all, it does appear that, at least in terms of LGBT voters, the party is bleeding support on both ends of the political spectrum. And while all four candidates are touting themselves as champions of LGBT equality, with Burnham and Kendall having given exclusive and in-depth interviews to PinkNews, not one candidate seems to be capturing the hearts and minds of LGBT Labour.
Our community seems mildly disinterested, but genuinely divided, if the rainbow avatars supporting Kendall, Cooper, and Corbyn on my Facebook feed are any indication. I’ve seen people come out in favour of all three candidates, but only because they have to support somebody. Not a single one of them seems to have the kind of zealous acolytes of Obama in 2008 or the Milibands in 2010.
Anecdotally, at least, the only candidate not receiving ringing LGBT endorsements seems to be Burnham, whose record on LGBT rights is often described as tepid, at best. He missed a vote on gay adoptions in 2002, which he contends was due to paternity leave, and as Benjamin Butterworth wrote last month at the New Statesman, he twice voted for amendments which would require lesbians receiving IVF to name a father figure, despite the fact that in a lesbian relationship there really isn’t one.
A look at their voting records—which you can see here —shows that all four candidates are at least marginally progressive on LGBT rights, though all four have offered more platitudes than policy at improving our lot in life. And not a single one of them appears to be galvanizing the support of LGBT Labour voters. This may be why LGBT Labour has said it won’t endorse any candidate.
Of course, that may also be for strategic and political moves—the group has to work with whomever is elected leader, after all—but I can’t help but wonder if it’s not because they’re all so dreadfully dull, too. Of the four candidates, only Corbyn, who barely garnered enough parliamentary nominations to even make the ballot and who the Parliamentary Labour Party is now scrambling to defeat, seems to be generating any sort of real excitement among the party base.
I use the word “excitement” loosely, because even those of us supporting Corbyn (which I do, and which you can read more about next week) do so with the most tepid of enthusiasm. He’s no Mhairi Black, with rousing rhetoric and fresh-faced tenacity. But he’s at least offering hope, which can’t be said for the others. While Kendall, Cooper, and Burnham keep talking about what Labour did wrong, about why it lost, and about lessons to be learnt. It’s an important conversation to have, but it’s also incredibly demoralising to a base which desperately needs inspiration and, dare I say, leadership.
Corbyn offers a bit of that, but questions as to his electability remain, and are certainly worth asking. It’s not just down to his socialist pedigree, either. Jeremy Corbyn is a fine left wing MP, but he’s about as exciting and relevant as Leon Jackson’s latest album. Don’t know who or what I’m talking about? Yeah, exactly.
Which basically sums up this leadership contest. The one candidate many of us can be passionate about has all the electability and relevance of a Womble, two of them (Cooper and Burnham) are like rocks at Stonehenge—around forever, thick as stone, and mired in the past—while Liz Kendall is basically your mum or dad criticising every choice you’ve ever made.
None of which inspires confidence in the base, and none of which brings out the passions of supporters. This contest is proving to be as long and drawn out as an EastEnders anniversary plot: annoying, trite, and done before. We can only hope that, despite our lowered expectations, it has a payoff nobody saw coming.
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Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.