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By M. Babajide-Alabi
By the recent events in the Labour Party in the United Kingdom, observers are concluding the party has got a lot to contend with in the run up to announcing a leader on the 12th of September. It is less than a month before the new leader emerges, but last week saw the heightening of activities by the contenders in the party.
One thing that has emerged so far from these activities was the fact that the contest will not be an easy one for the party on one hand, and the candidates on the other hand. The focus and the heat is on the party already. This time around though it seems it is not only the media and a section of the public that are interested in the contest. Curiously, the closest rival party, the Conservative Party is sitting on the sideline and watching the events in the other camp unfold.
The Tories have been accused of “dipping” their noses into the internal affairs of the opposition party. To be honest, they have not pretended in any way to be disinterested in who becomes the next Labour leader. This is understandable, because by the nature of British politics, the leaders of the political parties determine to a large extent their performances at the polls. So for the Tories, a weak or less popular leadership candidate for the Labour Party will definitely be an asset to them.
To many observers, the Labour Party lost the 2015 General Elections mainly because of the lackluster leadership style of Ed Miliband. Not a few of the party faithfuls hid their resentment for his leadership. Apart from this, the British public had gotten tired of the party accused of alienating the people by what is described as “thirteen years of misrule”, starting from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown eventually resulting in the defeat in the 2010 General Elections.
It was no surprise when immediately after the elections, Miliband took the cue and “jumped” the ship before he could be pushed off. He did not take too long a time to announce his resignation as the leader. Observers believed he had no choice though, as the calls for his resignation were loud and clear even before the final results of the elections were announced.
It was the resignation that has brought about a leadership vacuum that needed to be filled by a charismatic leader who can reverse the losses of the party in future elections. This is the process that is ongoing right now, as the campaign by the candidates are in high gear ‘cajoling’ members to vote for them. This has brought the party on the front pages of the media again. However, this time around, it look like it is for the wrong reasons, as the contest is looking set to rock the party to the bottom of its foundation.
Ever since the call for nominations opened on June 9, 2015, controversies have followed the process and progress so far. Last week has been a particularly busy one for the party, for the contestants and members. Going by the timetable released by the National Executive Council, on Wednesday the registration of new members, affiliates and supporters closed. And on Friday the party begun the distribution of ballot papers to registered members who are eligible to vote.
On Friday in far away Scotland as well, the regional Labour Party concluded its election for its leader. A post left vacant following the resignation of Jim Murphy after losing forty of the party’ forty one seats in the May elections. The leadership race was a straight contest between 53 year old Ken Macintosh and 33 year old Kezia Dugdale.
For the national leadership position, the contest has been among leading labour leaders. There was no shortage of contestants as many who have been waiting in the shadows of Miliband took no time to throw their hats in the ring. Initially there were six candidates, with Chuka Umunna, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and MP for Streatham throwing in the towel a few days after his declaration. Following in his steps on June 12, Mary Creagh, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development and MP for Wakefield also withdrew after getting a mere 10 nominations. The candidates left in the running are Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, Andy Burnham, the shadow Health Secretary, Liz Kendall, the shadow Minister for Care and Older People and the surprise candidate Jeremy Corbyn, the left wing Member of Parliament.
A few weeks ago, it could be predicted that it was going to be an easy win for Andy Burnham until Jeremy Corbyn came along and has turned the table against the leading candidate. By all estimation, Mr Corbyn is reported to be coasting home to victory. The “entrance” of Corbyn into the race has brought more than a normal attention to the outcome of the contest. The surge of support for the MP in recent weeks is causing some members serious headache as they are screaming “blue murder” that the party is going to the “dogs”. By all estimation, Mr Corbyn is reported to be coasting home to victory.
This popularity has surprisingly brought out the worst in the other candidates and their supporters. Speaking in Manchester last week, Yvette Cooper had accused Corbyn of lack of economic credibility and that his policies would keep the party away from 10 Downing Street for a long time to come. Cooper’s comments was in step with Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister’s view that with Corbyn’s candidature “the party is walking eyes shut, arms outstretched over the cliff’s edge to the jagged rocks below.”
Corbyn has dismissed these comments about him as fears by anti-democratic elements within the party. While advising his co-contestants not to indulge in personal abuse, he stressed that he should be taken seriously. No matter what some leaders of the party may be saying about the candidature of Corbyn, he definitely is strolling comfortably to victory. His support base is expanding every minute that it has even been suggested that the other contestants should “collapse their ambitions” and present a single candidate to fight Corbyn. The possibility of this is remote though.
In apparent support of his candidature, the party has witnessed a drastic rise in its membership. According to figures released by the party, the members rose from 200,000 at the time of the general elections to 290755, while189,703 signed up as ‘affiliates’ from trade unions and other organisations linked to the party. In addition, 121,295 paid £3 to register as supporters without becoming full members. All these shall receive one vote each in the elections, according to reforms initiated by Ed Miliband.
Is Corbyn the man to take the Labour Party out of the electoral wilderness? Are the other candidates unduly worried by Corbyn’s popularity? Only time will tell.
Published in Sunday Vanguard, August 16th, 2015. CLICK HERE