Cross-posted from Political Betting.
Early on in the Labour leadership battle, Mike [Smithson] drew what I thought was potentially a good analogy between David Cameron’s succesful campaign for the Tory leadership in 2005 and Andy Burnham’s candidature for Labour this time round.
Young Burnham, he surmised, could turn out to be the Cameron of this campaign - a relative unknown coming from behind to win while better-known front-runners faltered.
As it is, Burnham has hardly achieved lift-off. He has fought an oddly Old Labour sort of campaign, of which the last straw - no pun intended, Jack - has been his opposition to the proposed AV referendum which Labour supported in its manifesto.
But that’s not my main point. My question is: is there actually room in this race for any of the candidates to ‘do a Cameron,’ or is the nature of the contest such that the prospect of anyone springing a surprise is already closed-off?
One major difference between this and the Tories’ 2005 race is that the candidates are not being subjected to the pressure-cauldron of a party conference hustings.
When the Tories did this, it enabled them to weed-out a front-runner in David Davis who, whatever his other virtues, was clearly incapable of making a decent platform speech, in favour of someone who wowed his audience by speaking without notes.
Another key difference is the nature of the two parties. As I have pointed out on my own blog, the Tories are historically much more open to making unexpected choices of leader - Margaret Thatcher over Ted Heath in ‘75, William Hague over Ken Clarke in ‘97, Iain Duncan Smith over the same opponent in 2001.
Labour, by contrast, almost always sticks to the front-runner, sometimes because the front-runner is clearly the best candidate (Neil Kinnock in 1983, Tony Blair in 1994) but sometimes out of sentimentality or a resdual belief in ‘Buggins’ Turn.’
My hunch is that most of Labour’s electorate has already made its mind up about this election, and it is now a contest between the brothers. While it is not yet clear which of them will win, it is clear that one of them will.
I’m not sure what current prices are available on Burnham, Ed Balls and Diane Abbott, but whatever they are, my candid advice to PB aficionados would be: ignore them.