Is Barry Gardiner running for Labour leader or not? The question is almost as confusing as whether Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have resigned from the Royal Family. In the former case, two journalists had the story that Gardiner was standing and would be backed by Len McCluskey, who has become unhappy with Rebecca Long Bailey’s current prowess. In the latter, the couple issued a statement saying they would step back as ‘senior royals’ and work to become financially independent. But then in both cases, the story took a very awkward twist. Buckingham Palace then issued a statement saying the discussions were at an ‘early stage’, with briefings suggesting the couple hadn’t consulted any other royals on their announcement. Meanwhile Len McCluskey insisted he’d just spoken to Gardiner, who was ‘as surprised as I am by this’, though Gardiner himself has said he is considering standing for the leadership but hasn’t yet decided.
In both instances, it sounds as though someone is trying to get their way by pushing out an announcement before everyone is ready, thus forcing those they are negotiating with to move towards them in an effort to save face. There have been mutterings from those on the left of the party that they aren’t fully happy with Rebecca Long Bailey’s campaign, whether because she hasn’t hired the people they prefer or because they simply want to ensure total control over what she says. Whether one of those unhappy people is Len McCluskey isn’t clear.
Thus far, Long Bailey’s campaign has basically been a variation of the old saying ‘real socialism has never been tried’ with the shadow business secretary giving Jeremy Corbyn 10 out of 10 as a leader, highlighting her involvement in writing Labour’s manifesto pledges, and arguing that the leader was subject to relentless attacks. Gardiner was similarly loyal to Corbyn, and a campaign run along those lines could have strong appeal to those members who still believe in the direction the Labour Party was moving in, but think the only problem was that voters didn’t like the leader. Given the way the voting system works in the party, it also might be worth senior figures on the left working to get more than one candidate representing their politics onto the ballot paper.
As with the monarchy, though, it might not be particularly beneficial to the overall institution if the various people pushing announcements tonight get their way. Harry and Meghan may well deserve a private life and one that doesn’t involve being criticised for every single move. But their attempt to effectively resign from the Royal Family is also one that threatens the institution itself. Labour MPs who lost their seats may feel the same about an attempt by the hard left to keep control of a party that is already in the fight of its life.