Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Diane Abbott should not be dismissed so lightly

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.

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.


Sunder Katwala said...

I would like to see DA get the nominations to run. I disagree with her on lots of things - and she is very critical of my take on race politics - but she would open up the debate. it is explicitly a candidacy to extend the debate, so I find the idea she would have a crucial role in the voting less likely. She wouldn't really running from an analogous position to either Harriet Harman or Jon Cruddas in the 2007 deputy race.

And the AV vote does not help Diane Abbott. She would probably do better in an FPTP election rather than a transferable one, since most people who would vote for her would probably do so on first preferences - eg as a left candidate, perhaps in some cases to express support for their being a woman in the race, to back an outsider in a transferable system, etc. So one can imagine reasons for people to be 1. DA 2. EM/EB, etc but fewer reasons for people to be 1. EB 2. DA
in a way that could count.

To the extent that there is an ideological spectrum in play (which is not the only consideration) then votes will tend to transfer towards the centre of the race: for example, from Jon Cruddas (moderate soft left) who topped the poll on 1st prefs, towards Harriet Harman (moderate soft centre-left) though a reasonable share of his votes also went to Alan Johnson (moderate centre-left to centre) in the final round.

Emma Burnell said...

I think Diane running is a good thing for the Labour Party and our democracy. There needs to be a candidate from the hard left running to ensure that part of the party is represented.

However, for the same reason that I think David Miliband is less secure than people think, Diane is too divisive a figure to get enough second preference votes. People will mostly put her first or last.

MatGB said...

Sunder; one way in which it does help her, at least in terms of being listened to. Harman won on transfers, obviously. She did a good job during the campaign of appealing to Cruddas supporters, picking up a lot of his transfers.

By running, she forces the other candidates to listen to her position and als appeal to her supporters. Simply by being on the ballot paper, she wins.

Given her positions are substantially different to the leadership, especially on some of the issues that drove me away, that's probably a good thing.