Burnham and Mandelson: a deadly double act?

Seeing my blog retweeted by Labour supporters, and linked from Labour blogs and websites is a novel experience, and I suspect not a practice that will outlast their election fiasco by very long. The funniest comment was “good analysis, interesting that it has to come from a Tory”. I think both wings of the Labour Party are far too busy to be dispassionate about their condition at the moment. For a party who obsess about their history and traditions far more than the Conservatives do, it is strange that they seem unable ever to make practical use of a vast corpus of historical study and experience.

The weirdest thing is the Mandelson/Burnham “step aside for a unity candidate” manoeuvre. Peter Mandelson is the grandson of Herbert Morrison, a titan of the Labour movement in the 30s and 40s. Morrison constantly chafed at Attlee’s leadership, but by the time Attlee came to step down in 1955, he was considered past it by most of the Party rather than a natural successor.

The outcome was a three-way contest between Hugh Gaitskell, Aneurin Bevan, and Herbert Morrison. There was not much love lost between these last two; however they were united by a loathing of Gaitskell. It dawned fairly early in the contest on Herbert’s supporters that he would not beat Gaitskell and Bevan, but that if the Bevanite anti-Gaitskell vote swung behind him, he might beat Gaitskell. The calculation was that however much the Bevanites disliked Morrison, they disliked Gaitskell even more, and it had a certain rationality to it.

The outcome of this brilliant tactical manoeuvre by Herbert Morrison was that he finished last in the race, and was humiliated by only garnering 40 votes. Bevan refused to take part in a grubby deal, Morrison eventually had to disown it too, and Gaitskell stepped round it like a gent trying not to walk into a puddle of puke in his shiny brogues.

Somehow, it occurred to Peter Mandelson that a variant of this approach would benefit Andy Burnham, in turning him into a “Stop Corbyn” candidate. This is consistent with Mandy’s almost total lack of political judgement, demonstrated time and again over the last thirty years, and I am amazed that Burnham did not immediately spot this for the bullet in the foot that it is.

Burnham is already the only “Stop Corbyn” candidate, and I expect him to scrape home in the end anyway. I think he is a far less scary proposition in the long term for the Conservative Pary than Corbyn, so I am relaxed about it. It is a reason Conservatives are happy to attack Corbyn – we realise that Burnham is nothing to be scared of. Mid Staffs and all that. But such a transparently desperate move as trying to bully Cooper and Kendall out of the race is not going to do him any good, before or after the election. Goodness knows what Labour’s conference is going to be like.

If Burnham only wins on the basis of second preferences, he is in a horrible position to start with. That he has such poor judgment to allow himself to be mollycoddled by Mandy is something that will not be lost on everyone else.  Maybe such a lack of common sense is the result of Andy Burnham never having had a job outside of lobbying and Parliament. He has spent his entire career inside the bubble, so he does not realise it encloses him in all directions. When he says “I am a normal person”, he believes it. He is like a lobster, remaining entirely oblivious to his real condition as the temperature rises and he is boiled alive. Except that most of us would feel some sympathy for the lobster.

Mandelson and Burnham are a strange alliance. Not long after the general election, Mandelson attacked all three “right” candidates saying:

“when they also talk about the need for party unity this sounds like continuity and an unwillingness to make hard policy choices. This is a luxury that is not open to them — not if they want to win.”

Later on in the contest though we find Mandelson and Burnham both plotting for “unity”, albeit in a rather strange way, and the question has to be asked: what is Andy promising Mandy in return for his help?



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