X marks the spot where the new Labour leader should be, says Roger Ratcliffe

X marks the spot
where the new Labour leader
should be, says Roger Ratcliffe

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One factor being considered in the current Labour leadership contest is whether Jeremy Corbyn’s successor should, as a minimum requirement, be a northern MP. After more than four years of being led by a member of the so-called London metropolitan elite, runs the argument, the party needs to be directed by someone north of Watford.

For it was in northern seats like Great Grimsby and Scunthorpe, Don Valley and Dewsbury, Burnley and Leigh that Labour suffered its biggest humiliation. To have any chance of returning to power, it is said, these Red Wall heartlands must be won back, and choosing a northerner would be the first step to victory at the next election.

This means that among the hopefuls only Wigan’s Lisa Nandy and Salford and Eccles’ Rebecca Long-Bailey should have applied for the job, while it’s thanks but no thanks to Sir Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry, who both represent London constituencies.

So as the leadership campaign progresses might we look forward to hearing Nandy and Long-Bailey making an effort to drop their aitches? Or extolling the virtues of Lancashire hotpot over organic quinoa or grilled polenta, said to be the staple diet of metropolitan elites? Hopefully things won’t come to that.

It has also been mooted that Labour’s next leader should be a woman. Once again, self-evidently Nandy and Long-Bailey fit the bill, and while Thornberry also stays in the contest I’m afraid it’s another bye-bye to Starmer, despite being the bookies’ favourite for the job.

Then there’s the question of purity of socialist vision. Who more closely represents the views of Labour’s membership? The answer to that seems to be Long-Bailey, according to a Survation poll by the Labour List website, which found that she would win 42 per cent of first preference votes to Starmer’s 37 per cent.

To me, though, the qualities said to matter in this leadership contest do not strike me as the ones that are best suited to winning a general election. The four candidates who were still standing when I put pixels to screen for this column are all brilliant fliers of the party flag, but in modern politics that’s not enough.

A general election is decided on television rather than by people reading the minutiae of party manifestos. It didn’t matter that Labour promised a lot more cash for public services that would particularly help people living in Red Wall towns after a decade of Tory-driven austerity. No, the message on the doorstop from Grimsby to Burnley was that Labour voters didn’t like Jeremy Corbyn. Pure and simple. They just wouldn’t buy him.

So why did they buy Boris Johnson instead? A big reason, in my opinion, is that Bumbling Boris is a showman just like Donald Trump is in the US. If Johnson were a stand-up comic – some would say he is already – he would probably perform to sell-out theatres.

Elections are like TV talent contests, and the biggest personality wins. So perhaps the Labour leadership shortlist should have been chosen by a panel consisting of Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh and Sharon Osbourne. Labour certainly needs a leader with the X factor that was so manifestly not present in Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn. Whether any of the leadership contenders can rise to that challenge remains to be seen.

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe

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