The Labour Party is less than a week from a shattering election defeat, and already the leadership election appears to be in full swing. Soundings are being taken, domain names registered, and backers recruited. But is the party in a position to choose the right candidate to lead it to victory in five years time?
What do we know about the 2020 election?
It will be held on 7th May 2020.
The world and the country will be a very different place five years on. Politically, we will have had the EU referendum. If we vote to leave there are huge political implications, not least the potential for Scotland to leave the UK in order to stay in the EU.
We also know that by 2020 there will be a new leader of the Conservative party, and therefore a new Prime Minister with a new leader bounce.
Plenty more will have changed. What will be the state of our economy, our public services, our security? If Labour needs a new leader to appeal beyond former coalfield areas, university towns and London, can we predict now the politics of coast and country five years out?
In any other walk of life the new leader would be appointed for around three years. She or he would stabilize the party, lead an effective Parliamentary opposition, and build a good electoral platform through the Scottish elections, the London mayoral elections and the EU Referendum.
There is much to do in terms of listening to neglected parts of the country, raising money, succession planning and changing the party structures to reflect the fragmentation of British politics.
When Tony Blair won in 1997 he had been leader for three years – not a full Parliament. John Smith had done vital preparatory work such as OMOV before he tragically died. This made Tony’s job and reforms considerably easier.
My political friends will call me naïve. But I would love to have a candidate declare that he or she will do the job we need doing for the next two or three years and then will open up a new leadership election. He or she may run again and can be judged on a record of reviving the party’s fortunes, and in comparison with the likely new Prime Minister.
The upside is that those who are dismissed as experienced but too associated with the past, have the chance to use that experience and maybe redefine themselves as leaders for the future. It would also give a chance for candidates that offer a break from the past to build experience and prove through campaigning around the country that they are the one to win in 2020.
The downside is if it became a three-year feeding frenzy for journalists. Potential leaders would need to know they would be judged on their discipline, their positive record and their ability to work with colleagues.
This is not a proposal for a caretaker leader. It is a proposal for a renewable fixed term contract. It is counter cultural, but with the known known of the next General Election and the very many known unknowns of the next five years, I think it may work.