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Wednesday, June 09, 2010 

Postponing the inevitable.

It seems that I should make rash predictions more often: after expelling nigh on 1,800 words centred on neither of the "left" candidates getting the required nominations to run for the Labour leadership, Diane Abbott duly did scrape together the 33 required, although only after it seems a number of former ministers felt they had to support her to ensure that they themselves weren't heavily criticised for all but silencing the entire left of the party.

Diane nonetheless wouldn't have got on the ballot if it hadn't been for John McDonnell stepping down, something which, as usual, he doesn't seem to be getting enough credit for. If anything, it was Abbott who should have stood down having 11 nominations at the beginning of the morning to McDonnell's 16, just one of the things which Dave Semple is quite rightly bitter about, but McDonnell perceived, almost certainly rightly, that Abbott's support wouldn't then back him.

You can either view these last gasps from such notable socialists as Chris Bryant, Denis MacShane, Jack Straw and Phil Woolas as noble attempts to allow the left the say, even as they have vehemently disagreed with it in the past and even attempted to crush it, or as a simple way to show that the parliamentary Labour party is representative and a wide church after all, despite all the naysaying. And we shouldn't completely dismiss Abbott as the token candidate. As Don Paskins argues convincingly, it's more likely that Andy Burnham will come last than Abbott will, and it's even possible she could come ahead of Ed Balls, neither of whom have anywhere near the appeal or mass support of the two Milibands, nor are they likely to gain much support from the trade unions. It will also ensure that this will not completely be a leadership election based around the politics and policies of the centre-right, as Diane will inevitably pull the debate leftwards.

None of this will however make up for the fact that yet again a genuine socialist voice with real grassroots support has been completely excluded from the wider leadership debate. It's almost as if the party hierarchy is frightened of even the mention of the "s" word, let alone someone representing those values. As welcome as Diane Abbott's inclusion on the ballot is, and how she will definitely energise it far beyond how it would have been if it was the four white Oxbridge educated middle aged males, there's no getting away from the fact that she's become a media luvvie who is now on the left of the soft left rather than in the ever dwindling socialist grouping. We needed a true left voice with the nous and real courage to take on and attack those only interested in the status quo, as was evidenced by the tensions at the hustings on Monday when McDonnell and the elder Miliband clashed.

We may well have been saved from a debate along the terms of that outlined by John Denham in a speech to the Fabians last night, which was an even harsher and even more deluded take on why Labour lost the election - namely, that through not turning the welfare state into a social insurance scheme Labour lost the support of the comfortably well-off, the "aspirational" voters who were outraged by the inequities of the benefits system, of those beneath them getting something for nothing, of the eastern Europeans claiming tiny amounts of child benefit as is required under EU regulations, when obviously it should be them the state should be helping. Labour is often accused by the right-wing press of envy politics, yet Denham seems to be suggesting that the party should take up the class war waged by the Mail and Telegraph in favour of the middle classes. Equally though, we shouldn't pretend this won't be the ultimate result. The best realistic result we can hope for is Ed Miliband to triumph rather than his brother. All the party has done is postpone the inevitable.

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