Now that the three main candidates in the Labour leadership contest have established themselves, they are vying to be the ones who set the agenda and the terms of debate. This suggests, they hope, that others, including rival candidates, respect them so much that they cannot help but following their lead.
So Yvette Cooper’s campaign believe that Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham have been following in the Shadow Home Secretary’s wake, pointing to interventions she has made on business, tax, the benefit cap, the party’s response to the election and the possibility of a break clause for the party to dump or renew its support for a leader. All of these, they claim, have been followed by one or both of the other two candidates agreeing.
So for instance, Burnham had a bit of an ‘I agree with Nick’ moment at the weekend, telling John Pienaar that ‘Yvette puts it very well’ on the 50p tax after the Shadow Home Secretary said it should stay for the time being.
And again, on 19 May, Cooper said ‘Labour has to show we want to build business up, not knock them down’, which was followed by Kendall telling the Lobby lunch on 21 May that ‘I want Labour not just to ‘understand’ business but be the champion of people who take a risk, create something, build it up and make a success of it’. Then Burnham said on 29 May ’I am clear that no political party can win a British General Election if they convey any sense of bring anti-business, wealth creation or success’.
Burnham’s stance is a little odd. He had already been flaunting his brand new pro-business credentials in his interview on the Marr Show on 17 May, to be fair, but he did spend some time under Ed Miliband’s leadership saying things like this which suggested his definition of pro-business might be a rather specific one.
A Cooper campaign spokesperson says:
‘The last week has really highlighted how Yvette is setting the agenda in this contest. From rebuilding our relationship with business to new childcare policies and moving on from the past, Yvette has been first out of the blocks.
‘And she has been clear to set out a new policy platform as opposed to focusing on political positioning. She is the only candidate to say we should end our opposition to cutting corporation tax and support free universal childcare as a key way to invest in Britain’s economic infrastructure. Voters need to know what kind of party each leadership candidate will build. Yvette is setting this out area by area.’
Now, this is the same claim that Liz Kendall’s supporters have been making, too, arguing from the very beginning that she has set the terms of the debate on aspiration, and so on.
But what is interesting is that the three candidates are swimming around one another quite so much, rather than striking out on their own territory. They have all made interventions on aspiration and on their pro-business credentials. As Sebastian reported at the weekend, Cooper has turned on the other two candidates for swallowing the Tory manifesto (Kendall) and using the ‘wrong’ language on benefits (Burnham). Now she seems keen to argue that she has her own strong position from which to attack the others on – something she has been criticised for lacking thus far.
There are still a good number of MPs who haven’t yet decided who to support, as this post shows. In many cases, they are waiting for two sets of hustings: the first held this coming weekend by the Fabian Society, and the second for the PLP next Monday.