YOU know the feeling – all the popular ones have gone and only a few stale rejects remain in the tub of chocolates.
The post-Christmas choice is dire. Which will it be? The acidic lime-barrel, the chewy coconut caramel or the tooth-shattering walnut swirl?
Labour Party members face that sort of dilemma this week.
The contest to be their next leader will begin properly today when MPs return to Westminster. Defeat in last month’s General Election has left the party’s ranks depleted.
The choice of candidates is hardly appetising.
If you were talking about Quality Street, you’d say they’re all a bit nutty.
Will it be wonkish Sir Keir Starmer, a legal oddball who never blinks, or will it be prolier-than-thou Jess Phillips, veering all over the political piste like Austrian ski legend Franz Klammer after lunch?
Could it be Lady Wobbles? I talk, naturally, of Emily Thornberry, who may or may not be the lovechild of Hattie Jacques and Boris Yeltsin.
Her snobbery about White Van Man will probably knock la-di-dah Emily out of the running, although she is probably the one the Tories fear most.
What about tough guy Clive Lewis, an unknown fashion dude from East Anglia whose only criticism of Jeremy Corbyn is that he wasn’t really left-wing enough?
Wigan lass Lisa Nandy — so earnest she looks as if she could burst into tears at any moment — is also in the contest. Then there is Rebecca Long-Bailey, she of the Mrs Merton spectacles, fancied (in the political sense, please) by Corbyn’s old Marxist sidekick John McDonnell.
Long-Bailey is untested. But so are the others. I was going to shock you by noting that Thornberry, having once been a ministerial aide, is the only candidate to have had a sniff of Whitehall experience.
Then I realised that she is the only one of them to have actually sat on the governing side in the House of Commons.
Nandy became an MP in 2010, when Labour left office.
The rest entered the Commons only in 2015.
OK, let’s look on the bright side. They should all have a certain novelty value.
So how come they feel so unexciting? It’s because they represent old ideas.
Tony Blair is nowadays a discredited figure but when he was leader of the Opposition in the 1990s, he did something shrewd.
PROUD OF BRITAIN
He wrenched his party into the modern era by producing a pledge card with five basic promises. They helped him win a landslide in the 1997 General Election.
Blair’s five pledges reflected the electorate’s priorities: Smaller class sizes for primary schools, quicker punishment of young offenders, shorter NHS waiting times, getting younger people off benefits by using a windfall tax on privatised utilities, and a promise not to raise income tax.
Blair grasped how Labour was seen by the voters. His pledge card helped address those worries. The policies themselves were only part of the trick. Equally important was the idea that Blair’s Labour was prepared to listen.
A quarter of a century on, the next Labour leader should repeat Blair’s trick and be honest about how the party is seen.
Here are five basic philosophical pledges that might help to address the problem.
PLEDGE 1: Saving is a virtue. One reason Jeremy Corbyn bombed in last month’s election was that his spending plans were seen as madly extravagant. Voters may not like government “austerity” but they aren’t mugs. They know state spending has to be paid for.
If you are a government or an individual, you can’t live for ever on the never-never.
It’s time Labour reacquainted itself with prudence.
PLEDGE 2: Patriotism is honourable. Wouldn’t it be amazing to hear a Labour leader say this?
Yet since the decline of the British Empire, the Left has regarded patriotism as a dirty word. This is electorally crazy.
Patriotism is merely an expression of civic pride, of communal values channelled into the identity of the democratic nation state and its Queen.
Working-class former Labour voters love American patriotism (and they quite like Donald Trump, too).
They applaud the Aussies and South Africans when they wave their flags.
What is so wrong with being proud of Britain?
PLEDGE 3: Stable families strengthen us all.
I’m not making a point about marital infidelities — MPs are the last people who should preach about sex! — but Labour’s promotion of metropolitan lifestyles has created an idea it disapproves of “normal” family set-ups.
Add to that its reluctance to give families tax breaks and its strange cultural suspicion of adoption. Former Labour seats are often areas with the strongest notion of traditional family solidarity.
A wise leadership candidate would acknowledge that.
PLEDGE 4: Brexit is irreversible. Please. This matter has been settled.
And yet that fool Jess Phillips is hinting that she wants us to rejoin the EU. Electoral suicide.
PLEDGE 5: No more jobsworths. Bigger than everything else is the suspicion that officialdom is an ass.
PROVE A POINT
The British people are wonderfully tolerant but they are driven mad by petty regulation — particularly when it comes to minority grievances.
“Jobsworths” who say that ignoring daft political-correctness is “more than my job’s worth” are the bane of Britain.
Who is more intolerant: A provincial baker who hesitates to ice a wedding cake for a gay couple, or the gay couple who take that baker to the High Court to prove a point?
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We all know whose side Labour politicians would have been on.
A would-be Labour leader who cheerfully made these pledges would be a Labour leader who could connect with the electoral mainstream.
But will any of them do so? Don’t hold your breath.
Sir Keir Starmer, a legal oddball who never blinks, wants to become Labour leader[/caption]
Up against him, prolier-than-thou Labour MP Jess Phillips[/caption]
White Van Man snob Emily Thornberry is the only candidate with Whitehall experience[/caption]
Clive Lewis would make Red Jez look …erm, pink, if he had a crack at Labour’s top job[/caption]
Rebecca Long-Bailey, she of the Mrs Merton spectacles, is Marxist Mac’s favourite[/caption]
Jeremy Corbyn led Labour to a crushing defeat on December 12, 2019[/caption]
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