If anyone was in any doubt where the four Labour leadership candidates landed on the political spectrum before BBC Newsnight’s Labour Debate, their ignorance will surely have vanished.
Early on Liz Kendall tried to brush off being the Blairite candidate, but wasn’t shy about cleaving to the right, with a message that was pro-business, keen on controlled immigration from outside of the EU, and supportive of deficit reduction.
Representing the left was Jeremy Corbyn, flaunting his anti-war stance, whilst defending immigration and those on benefits. He was the most passionate in his exchanges, the least careful in his answers, and the most entertaining. But even he acknowledged that he had borrowed votes from other MPs in order to make it onto the ballot paper.
Lastly, and firmly in the centre, were Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham, former secretaries of state. Whilst it was they who received the greatest backing from the party’s MPs, neither of them made impassioned cases for the leadership. This point was even picked on by the audience, with a handful expressing their frustration at the pair’s failure to be win them over.
Still, of the pair Cooper was the most distinctive, noting she would be Labour’s first female leader and speaking about business – specifically tech. Burnham meanwhile failed to touch on business at all, preferring to focus on fairness, the NHS and benefits.
Yet if anything this was where we saw the shadow health secretary stumble. He seemed unable to get into his stride with answering questions, and his disconnect from the audience was palpable. Whilst Cooper too seemed overly trained – a trait which didn’t go down well with the studio audience – she at least had moments that felt less scripted.
As the above hints, the audience was the fifth star of the broadcast. Those who were vocal came across as much more leftwing than the electorate, but all sides were willing to confront contentious issues such as benefits scroungers, the deficit and immigration. At one point the fated line “I’m not racist, but…” was even spoken.
Judging by social media you’d have thought Jeremy Corbyn won by some margin, whilst Kendall’s message came across as if spoken in a foreign language. But if we learnt anything from the general election it’s that the Twittersphere is even less representative of the public than the polls.
Perhaps instead the most telling moment came towards the end of the show, Burnham said he would always put the party first. “The country comes first,” Kendall snapped back.
It is arguably this dispute that Labour has to move past if it is to again become electable.
Header Image – Andy Burnham, Health Hotel, Sept 2009, by Labour Reception