There are plenty of things people do that are utterly inexplicable, but nothing is stranger than some people's desire to become the next leader of the Labour party. The last leadership challenge, the Battle of the Milibands, was a fratricidal Greek tragedy as performed by the Chuckle Brothers. This one is just pathetic. In the scarred and pitiless desert that is the political landscape post-May 7th, these candidates are the mangy, emaciated, mad-eyed scavengers, gnawing at the whitened bones of their party out of sheer desperation, scrapping over a corpse.
These people are fighting for a chance to spend five years as a loathed and powerless leader of the opposition, enduring the constant screaming hatred of the right-wing press and becoming an object of mass national ridicule, before inevitably losing to Boris Johnson in 2020 and sinking back into obscurity. Why on Earth would anyone want to do something so incredibly pointless to themselves, when life is finite and every wasted day is another slow plod towards oblivion? What's wrong with these people?
The Labour leadership contest is a parade of sad, ugly, gormless idiots. But they're also monsters on a mission. After their undignified kerb-stomping at the polls, the party is once more being visited by the ghost of Tony Blair, possibly the only person to haunt his survivors while not being technically dead (although of course Tony Blair was never really alive either). Blood glugs from his pores. His madman's grin burns like the Eye of Mordor when you try to close your eyes. New Labour is back.
All the carrion-eaters are now crawling out from their holes, to tell us that Miliband lost because he was too left-wing – because contemporary Marxist praxis is apparently defined by putting the words "tighter controls on immigration" on a banner and a mug and a big stupid rock. These people are "modernisers" – which means, in other words, that they want to take the party back to where it was two decades ago.
Never mind that most British people actually want the renationalisation of major utilities and an NHS free of private interference. What's the point of the Labour party? For the people that vote for it, it's to be a centre-left voice in British politics. For the people who run it, it's to get into government by appealing to an imagined public of mawkish, venal idiots. To regain power, Labour must put away the politics of envy and embrace a new message of aspiration, with "aspiration" now meaning each individual's battle to the death with all physical reality. It must reconnect with working-class voters, with "the working class" now signifying some politician's feverish nightmare of a fat racist in a rural pub. It must move into the future, so long as "the future" is understood to mean "fascism".
The general population hates politicians, and it's not hard to see why. They have shiny skin and they talk in soundbites; they very fundamentally don't feel like normal people. They seem to think that all this "aspiration" pap is going to endear them to the country at large, as if we're already a nation of Nightcrawler-style psychopaths. Under current conditions, there's something incredibly brutal about the insistence that Labour can make things better, that life could ever be good. If they really wanted to sound like actual humans, they'd throw up their hands and admit that everything's utterly fucked, and Labour lost the last election because they're crap. But they won't, because all they have is the frenzied, spittle-sucking hunger of a scavenger under a murderous sun.
Here, then, are your candidates for the leadership of the Labour party.
Andy Burnham has previously served as health secretary, culture secretary and chief secretary to the Treasury. He is also the voice of the normal bloke. He is regular and everyday, just like you, and he agrees with whatever you think. Accordingly, Burnham has a face that's so instantly forgettable it looks like an e-fit average of every mopey and impotent 45-year-old man in the country. He has 2.4 children, and regularly brings them out to campaign events. The two children smile and wave, the 0.4 of a child stands motionless, his upper body connected by tubes and wires to the vast bank of machines that are required to keep this fragment of a body alive, and his tiny black void of a mouth flaps uselessly as he silently begs someone to flip the switch and end his suffering.
Burnham has the most backing from the trade unions, because he's vaguely conceived to be the most left-wing candidate. In any case, he's refusing to take any union funding because he's part of a new and energetic generation of Labour politicians that cringes in horror at the thought of his party being dependent on the people who actually created it.
Andy Burnham thinks Labour must support the "aspirations of everyone". The thing about saying "everyone" is that "everyone" includes people who aspire to tear foxes to grisly shreds from horseback, people who aspire to fuck their sisters, and people who aspire to carpet-nuke the Middle East.
Liz Kendall, current shadow health minister, is regarded as the candidate of the party's Blairite right-wing, which essentially means that even though she looks human, she's solid, plasticky and flesh-coloured all the way through.
She's positioning herself as the candidate of sensible pragmatism, arguing that Labour should sensibly oppose a top 50p tax rate, pragmatically support a hard limit on total benefits allowances and sensibly feed the homeless into a giant, pragmatic meat-grinder.
Despite Labour losing almost all of its seats in Scotland to the (nominally) anti-austerity SNP, she's declared the idea that Britain is moving leftwards to be "a fantasy" and criticised the party's proposed freeze on energy prices as "not believable". But the fact that her politics come across as essentially inhuman – a simple mechanical fix to problems in the system, the sort of bug-clearing a computer would do – makes it hard to believe that she isn't an evil robot dictator from a science-fiction nightmare, a creature you can't believe is actually real even as she stares at you through the television screen with her empty, hungry eyes.
Like a sentient android built by a reclusive genius to keep her company in her lonely Gothic mansion in the Swiss Alps, Yvette Cooper is one of those things that exists without having any compelling reason why. She's currently the shadow home secretary and is married to the former shadow chancellor, failed leadership contender and annoying internet meme Ed Balls.
Pathologically afraid of offering any opinion on anything whatsoever, her main role is to warn against the dangers of lurching to the left or the right, or indeed of making any movement in any direction. Given the choice between a bowl of ice-cream and a punch in the face, she'd caution against either extreme. Yvette Cooper thinks restricting the mad venality of the plutocrat class is "ultimately anti-worker", so she also presumably thinks doing too much to fight climate change would be ultimately anti-sunlight. Without anywhere to go, she sinks into nothingness. She is the ideologue of the heat death of the universe. She is death itself.
Mary Creagh is also standing, but as the interview above shows, it doesn't matter.
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