Excellent post by Don Paskini at LibCon that sums up why I’m delighted Diane Abbott is on the ballot for the Labour leadership.
As Paskini argues, Diane Abbott is no token candidate – that honour belongs to Andy Burnham – but a “serious contender”:
She occupies the centre ground in policy terms – anti-Iraq war, anti-NHS privatisation, pro-equality and in favour of reducing the deficit by taxing the rich rather than cutting public services.
Paskini also acknowledges that Abbott has serious weaknesses. In particular, her lack of support among MPs (with most of her nominations being “donated” by other contenders, notably David Miliband) is I think fatal. As the Tories discovered to their cost with Iain Duncan Smith, it is a big mistake for the wider membership to elect a leader who lacks support in parliament.
But as Paskini points out, Abbott’s candidature will confront the “establishment” candidates with “an articulate populist politician” making “reality-based soft left arguments”, as happened when Jon Cruddas stood for deputy leader. The result is likely to be a lot of “I agree with Diane” (or whatever euphemistic paraphrase David and the Eds can come up with to avoid using that precise form of words!).
I agree with Paskini that “Abbott’s challenge can only be a good thing for the Labour Party”. It will increase engagement both within and outside the party, move the conversation away from immigration to underlying issues such as housing and employment, and force the other candidates to raise their game as they respond to Abbott’s arguments (a point also made very well by the Guardian yesterday).
It will also be both an opportunity and a challenge for the Labour left, as Abbott puts forward “leftie arguments which the people in charge of the party have ducked out of debating for all these years”:
We’ll be able to find out which leftie policy ideas capture the public’s support and which ones belong in the dustbin of history.
I’m not one of those who believe that “the masses are to the left of Labour”, but I still suspect we’ll be more surprised by how many ideas belong to the former category rather than the latter – particularly as the radically right-wing nature of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition becomes more apparent over the coming weeks.