There has been much mirth on Twitter and elsewhere this morning at the news that Diane Abbott has decided to put herself forward as a candidate in the Labour leadership contest. It is clear that some see her as a joke candidate who has no hope of winning.
Thursday, 20 May 2010
Perhaps we should first look to history though. Long serving female MP not given a chance by many in the commentariat throws her hat into the ring for a leadership bid. Sound familiar?
Margaret Thatcher was equally widely seen as not a credible candidate when she ran against Ted Heath for the Tory party leadership in 1975. Before a load of Tories jump down my throat for daring to compare the two, I know circumstances and personalities are very different but there are some striking similarities.
We can also look to much more recent history. In 2007, Harriet Harman was also seen as an unlikely winner in the Labour deputy leadership election. Indeed candidates like Alan Johnson, Peter Hain and Jon Cruddas were perceived as more likely to succeed. In the end, Harman won. It did go down to the last round of voting but that demonstrates how unpredictable Labour leadership contests can be - the leadership contest uses the same Alternative Vote method. If Abbott is the only really left wing candidate standing she could do much better than people are suggesting right now.
I would not put money on her winning. She is still clearly a long shot. However even just by being in the contest she will raise her profile and also ensure that some of the more left-wing issues that she cares about will be given a good airing. This is exactly what the Labour Party needs, to ensure that the debate at the highest level is as wide-ranging as possible.
Abbott's candidature really should not be so easily dismissed. It could make a big difference to how this contest plays out.