This week Labour Party members and supporters will be receiving their ballot papers to vote for a new Leader and Deputy Leader. The contest has certainly been enlivened by the presence of Jeremy Corbyn who has gone from 100-1 outsider to odds on favourite within a few weeks. His rallies up and down the country are jam packed with people fervently in support of him, scenes that haven’t been seen in British politics for many years. So how has someone who has been in Parliament for over 30 years, a rank outsider who has never held a major Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet role managed to get into this position?
I suspect there are many reasons contributing to this but the fact that he isn’t part of the established political order may be a large part of the attraction. His willingness to say exactly what he thinks is seen as a breath of fresh air for those who have become tired of politicians carefully managing their statements in the media. Some of his policies are ones that haven’t been espoused by the Labour Party for some time and represent a clear difference to the established political orthodoxy. I have often heard people tell me on the doorstep that politicians are all the same and there is little to choose between the mainstream parties. Whilst I would strongly dispute that, someone like Jeremy Corbyn is able to clearly demonstrate with his track record that he represents something different to that which has gone before. In the context of a shock defeat at the General Election that is always going to hold some attraction and I know speaking to many party members locally he has significant support. Talk of lots of new members signing up just to vote for him is wide of the mark; many of his supporters have been party members for decades. What has happened is that we have had a massive increase in in new members and supporters since immediately after the election which has continued ever since. The totals nationally are now probably greater than every other political party combined which is a great boost to morale.
What all this tells me is there is a great appetite for change. Whilst Jeremy Corbyn is now the bookies favourite, just as many local party members have told me they will be voting for Andy Burnham as will be voting for Jeremy Corbyn. I believe Andy represents the best opportunity for the Labour Party to strike a radical note but also command sufficient support across the board to deliver a Labour Government. That is reflected in the few opinion polls that have been taken and by conversations I have had with constituents who are not party members. The desire to appeal to ordinary voters may be part of the reason why so many feel all politicians are clones of one another, but there are few who connect convincingly and with an authenticity that cannot be manufactured. When I knock on peoples doors I want a Leader who constituents feel has some understanding of the challenges and pressures they face but who is also able to convince them that they have some of the answers. To me that person is Andy Burnham but whoever wins the contest we have seen an incredible upsurge in membership and interest which will hopefully provide the successful candidate with a re-energised party ready to win the next election.