Daily catch-up: Labour’s needless defeat – where is the anger?

The Labour leadership candidates were asked to give yes or no answers yesterday, and two of them failed to do so

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The Independent Online

1. The webcast of yesterday’s Labour leadership hustings at the GBM Congress in Dublin is recommended viewing: it was lively and revealing (it starts at 3h 22m 30s, and went on for nearly two hours).

The audience was, I tentatively suggest, fantastically unrepresentative of the views of GMB members: every slogan of what I call the anti-left from Jeremy Corbyn was cheered loudly; the more it would guarantee the re-election of a Conservative government, the louder the cheers.

The part where Kevin Maguire of the Mirror, who chaired, tried to get a yes or no answer from the five candidates on whether they supported the principle of a benefit cap at £23,000 a year was tense (3h 55m 30s). Andy Burnham, who went first, refused to say yes or no, saying that Maguire’s demand was unfair and that the subject is more complicated than that. For his obvious evasion, and his failure to recite the hard-left catechism, he was booed and jeered. Embarrassed, he tried to give a more definite answer, coming close to saying that he supported the principle that people on benefits should not be paid more than average earnings, for which he was booed some more.

Mary Creagh and Liz Kendall said yes, to silence, Corbyn said no, to cheers, while Yvette Cooper equivocated and fudged along with Burnham.

Corbyn’s unsuitability as a Labour MP let alone leader was demonstrated by his railing against “social cleansing”, an unpleasant phrase suggesting a parallel between a limit on British welfare spending and the semi-genocidal policy of Slobodan Milosevic in Kosovo.

The most telling thing said by any of the candidates, though, was Burnham’s assertion that 2015’s “was the best manifesto that I have stood on in the four general elections in which I have been a candidate” (4h 04m 57s).

This is lala land. Labour has just lost an election that it could have won because it had the wrong leader and the wrong policies and the front runner to take over says how totally marvellous it all was and that perhaps if everyone tries a bit harder next time the British electorate will put its palm to its face and say, Oh yes we meant to vote Labour all along.

Where is the anger at five wasted years and the country betrayed by Ed Miliband’s vanity project?

Well, David Miliband feels it. He speaks, perhaps unwisely, of his “frustration and anger” to The Times today (pay wall), because of what a Conservative government means for Britain.

He said that the defeat was “doubly painful” because of his brother’s involvement. “I don’t want him to be hurt and I don’t want him to be vilified,” he said. “There is no consolation in any sense of vindication, frankly, because I care about the country and I care about the party.”

The only leading person in the party in Parliament who seems to understand the problem is Harriet Harman, the acting leader. I have always had a lot of time for her. As Gordon Brown’s deputy in 1994 told him to his face that she would be backing Tony Blair as leader. She has always understood that winning is what matters and has had the courage to say so.

Two days ago she had the courage to tell Andrew Grice of The Independent the truth, which is that some Labour supporters were relieved that Labour lost. This wasn’t some random insult to the people who worked hard for a Labour victory: it was what some – not all, but a significant proportion – people were telling Deborah Mattinson’s focus groups.

I think most Labour Party members understand that too. I don’t think the craven appeasement of a so-called left-wing audience of trade union activists would impress them. I don’t think they would criticise Harman for telling it like it is. I think they will be rightly angry with Burnham for saying that a manifesto that lost an election was better than those that won them.