The Non-Corbyn Candidates

According to Rachael Ward at the Independent, “neither Burnham, Cooper nor Kendall has shown any evidence that they can command confidence outside the Labour Party”.[1] In a rather spineless way, Larry Elliott says in the Guardian, “Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall… have decided the line to take is that while Labour did not do anything wrong” economically (according to the neoliberal consensus) during its time in power, “political reality means they need to apologise anyway”.[2] And that capitalisation to Tory rhetoric is precisely why the campaigns of these three candidates struggled to attract mass support from the public. And, when it became clear they were unpopular with most voters in the leadership election, all three “sent a joint letter [to Labour HQ] alleging that unfair processing of affiliated supporters” was bringing “the integrity of the election into doubt”.[3]

In spite of the poor campaigns of the non-Corbyn candidates, however, Media Lens[4] spoke[5] of how “no journalist in the Guardian has sought to identify the right ‘truncheon’ to ‘neutralise’ Burnham, Cooper or Kendall” (words the paper had used to talk about Corbyn) – insisting that Corbyn had been treated horrifically even in the ‘liberal’ mainstream media.[6] Let’s have a look, then, at the actual contributions of the three robotically uninspiring candidates, just to even things out.

Andy Burnham

Whilst trying to portray himself as a ‘more electable’ version of Corbyn, he focussed primarily on criticising his main opponent’s supporters, rather than defending him against the childish and libellous comments of his detractors. When the Communication Workers Union (CWU) called Corbyn the ‘antidote’ to the Blairite ‘virus’ in the Labour Party, for example, Burnham said that Corbyn supporters’ “provocative language” risked splitting the party (whilst failing to criticise the horrifically patronising comments by Tony Blair which had sparked the CWU’s comments).[7] Invoking the idea of ‘unity’ after harsh right-wing attacks on Corbyn (rather than condemning them), Burnham insisted that “there are some echoes of the early 80s” in the party, and that he was the best candidate to keep the right-wing of Labour from abandoning ship.[8]

Mark Steel has joked that Burnham would “make Labour electable again by supporting all the different policies” so that the party could “win votes from everyone”.[9] In fact, says Matthew d’Ancona at the Telegraph, even Conservatives saw Burnham and Cooper as just different ‘shades of grey’.[10]

For Ash Burt at the Independent, Burnham represented “soft populism”, positioning himself primarily as a “more normal Ed Miliband”. His hopes of getting progressive votes, however, “quickly unravelled with the welfare bill”, when he abstained in line with the party whip and opened himself to criticisms of “blowing a little too easily with the wind”.[11]

Nonetheless, Burnham managed to stay in a distant second place in the polls, beating the two female candidates to his right (though not by much). While Kendall was doomed to failure from the start for advocating (essentially) a return to Blairism, Burnham and Cooper (who were “not Blairites”), simply “fought unforgivably empty campaigns”, according to the New Statesman.[12]

Perhaps Burnham’s saving grace in the campaign, though, was his refusal to ignore the significance of Corbyn’s popularity. For example, he warned in mid-August “against Labour figures dismissing the frontrunner”, saying they had seriously “misread the mood of the party” – whose members and potential members were “crying out” for “something different”. His assertion that the right’s “dire predictions” about a Corbyn victory were “not helpful” showed, at the very least, that Burnham was beginning to distance himself from attacks on Corbyn.[13] In fact, he even admitted that it “was “possible” for Corbyn to win the 2020 election”.[14]

On August 15, however, Burnham repeated (once again) his argument about the need to avoid a repeat of the 1980s split, and sources close to him even suggested he could eventually defeat Corbyn “after picking up most of Ms Cooper’s second preferences”.[15] And, while Corbyn seemed to win the majority of popularity polls, a Survation poll released on the same day appeared to suggest that 25% of the general public thought Burnham would “make the best prime minister” (compared to Corbyn’s 24%) and (together with Corbyn) was the “most likely to win the next general election” (with both on 26%).[16] A day later, it was revealed that Liz Kendall had unsuccessfully “urged Yvette Cooper to stand down because Andy Burnham [was] the only candidate who [could] win” against Corbyn[17]. Her “own phone-bank data” had apparently shown that only Burnham “had any realistic chance of stopping Corbyn”.[18] When this plan failed, however, both Kendall and Cooper “urged their supporters to use their second and third preference votes to back any candidate other than Mr Corbyn” (something that Burnham chose not to do).[19]

As Ian Dunt wrote at, though, Burnham simply seemed to have “no ideas about how he would change the party beyond those of the last person he spoke to”.[20] And it would be that lack of inspiration or passion that would stay with the ‘Corbyn-lite’ leadership hopeful until the end of the campaign.

Yvette Cooper

When the Guardian asked its readers in late July “which candidate they [intended] to vote for in the Labour leadership election”, readers generally focussed on Cooper as someone who “could steer the tiller for a few years until a more promising leader came along” rather than as a truly inspirational candidate.[21] However, the Guardian stressed, a “generation of senior Conservatives” believed in the importance of ‘listening to civil servants’ (who generally rated Cooper as a politician), and were therefore “ever so slightly frightened of the personable Ms Cooper”.[22]

For Ash Burt, Cooper’s campaign strategy was “the most mysterious of them all”, as she chose “to say and do nothing”, thus copying Ed Miliband’s approach of ‘talking about fairness’, not saying “anything particularly offensive”, and hoping “that the electorate [would] eventually be scared off by the clear villainy of Conservative politicians”. In short, she would seek to portray herself as the candidate of “party unity” rather than proposing anything that would genuinely change the political path that had seen Labour lose two consecutive elections.[23] Her “boast of presenting the “radical centre””, for example, summed up everything she represented.[24]

Far from the “easy-to-grasp language” used by Corbyn, Ian Dunt asserts, Cooper’s language needs decoding” if we hope to truly understand it. Furthermore, he insists, “she plays the factually and morally inaccurate game of pretending one can conduct politics with no losers, by saying “employees, business and industry” all need the same thing”. In short, he says, her language “is that of a middle management presentation”.[25]

According to Alan Johnson, Cooper was the “most qualified candidate” who “happens to be a woman”. In other words, the reason why people were expected to vote for her was purely on the basis that she had experience in government and did not have male genitalia – both very inspiring credentials according to Johnson.[26] And Dunt agrees that being a female human was one of her main proposals, saying “the only political ideas Cooper is willing to discuss are the fact she is a woman and that Sure Start should be expanded”.[27] Polly Toynbee, meanwhile, spoke of how Corbyn offered “virtue” but how Cooper offered “an infinitely better hope of success” – without of course using any evidence to back up her empty assertion. At the same time, Media Lens accused the Guardian’s interview with Cooper of being “deferential to the point of [becoming] cringe-making idolatry”.[28]

Trying to delegitimise Corbyn’s campaign, Cooper herself claimed the leading candidate was offering “old solutions to old problems” (whilst neither explaining what these were nor outlining what an alternative would look like).[29] As an ‘economist’, she argued that people’s quantitative easing would “never be credible” (without explaining why). Essentially, she was giving up on the challenge of convincing people the policy was credible and instead following the policies of the country’s powerful neoliberal cheerleaders in the hope they would notice her.

With the help of Toynbee, meanwhile, for whom Corbyn’s foreign policies were to be seen as a sort of “anti-internationalism”, Cooper argued that the frontrunner’s desire to leave NATO and make demands of the EU were trashing Labour’s “reputation as an internationalist party”.[30] Somehow, then, the two were describing imperialism (in the form of New Labour’s oversees military interventions and propping up of ‘friendly’ dictators) as internationalism, whilst calling real internationalism (the fight for universal workers’ rights and military de-escalation) anti-internationalism. It would perhaps be funny if it weren’t so tragically depressing!

Then, if the above wasn’t enough, the Guardian officially backed Cooper for leader. In spite of saying that her, Burnham, and Kendall had all “failed to inspire” (representing “a triple-headed embodiment of the well-dressed, smooth-talking Westminster class”), the supposedly progressive paper insisted that Cooper was somehow “more steadfast” in her economic criticisms of George Osborne than Corbyn (even though her own economic ‘solutions’ varied very little from those of the chancellor).

Her “down-to-earth feminism”, the Guardian stressed (without explaining which elements of her uninspiring policies were meant to be feminist), would in some way help her to “harness young people’s passion” (which lay overwhelmingly with Corbyn and his progressive principles) by appealing “to the middle ground as well as the left”.[31] And in that rather lazy manner, avoiding the fact that Cooper’s policies had failed to attract any real interest from either youngsters or the left, the Guardian concluded its spineless endorsement of an unexciting and unappealing candidate.

Samuel Hooper summarises the Guardian’s behaviour on his blog by saying it made “perfect sense”. Like other false progressives, he stresses, the paper’s writers like to “make themselves feel better by railing against the inhumanity of the Evil Tories while actively supporting policies which are detrimental to the working class”. In other words, while “drumming up sympathy for the poor and the dispossessed”, they then turn around to use “the resulting political capital to further the interests of the new middle class” in charge of the Labour Party. Cooper, he says, is the type of person who “can say all of the right things about how nasty the Evil Tories are being, while reassuring the liberal elite that she will do nothing to rock the boat unduly”.[32]

Cooper, meanwhile, claimed (like Burnham) that, according to “internal polling”, she was “clearly on course to beat Jeremy in the final round” of voting.[33] However, she was clearly having problems reaching out to voters supportive of Corbyn, with a 29-year-old grilling her “on her decision not to oppose the Government’s Work and Welfare Reform Bill, her defence of tuition fees and Corbyn’s ability to identify with young voters alienated by career politicians like Cooper”.[34]

Liz Kendall

Kendall, who has been “funded by lobbyists… that work to influence parliament on behalf of arms manufacturers, autocratic regimes and multinational corporations”, was the candidate that Labour should really be concerned about, according to Charles B. Anthony at Counterfire.[35] Fortunately, however, her clear lack of popularity among Labour voters meant that “the Blairite faction” in the party “effectively left [her] stranded behind enemy lines”.[36] Essentially, Ash Burt argues, “Liz’s Tony Blair impersonation act failed to mimic the master’s success”, even though her candidacy was supposedly “based on her brilliance at winning elections”. In fact, he suggests, the failure of each non-Corbyn candidate was due to their retention of different aspects of Ed “Miliband’s contradictions”. While Burnham was the ‘soft populist’ and Cooper the ‘great unifier’, Kendall was the ‘advocate of austerity’.[37] Kendall was not completely out of touch, however, and even admitted “party members are desperate for an alternative” (although she didn’t appear to recognise that she did not offer such an alternative).[38]

With complaints from Labour’s right-wing about “people from the Green party and hard-left groups” supposedly trying to “hijack the contest to ensure Labour elects a socialist leader”, the question of democracy began to shine through.[39] Surely, if the followers of Blair and his New Labour ideology were so widespread in the country, they would easily be able to ensure a victory for Kendall in spite of some left-wingers trying to vote for Corbyn. That would be the democratic choice of Labour supporters. The reality, however, is that Corbyn’s views were simply much more popular than Kendall’s, and the only way the latter could ever hope to beat the former in a free, democratic contest would have been through the suppression of democracy. And, sure enough, having long argued that the left-wing of Labour had to respect the will of pro-Blair voters even if they didn’t agree with them, the Blairites were now calling Corbyn’s supporters idiots and telling them they had to grow up and vote for Kendall. The simple fact is, though, that this kind of harsh, authoritarian rhetoric doomed Kendall to failure from the outset. Neglecting the need to “talk to her electorate as equals rather than as dim schoolchildren”, Kendall (and her supporters) “said almost nothing except that, “Our way is the electable way””.[40] Rather than playing to people’s feelings like a good politician, she very effectively patronised her way right to the bottom of the polls. In fact, in a poll of 1,411 Labour voters and supporters, “just four per cent” of women said they would vote for her.[41]

For Helen Coffey at the Telegraph, “Liz Kendall seemed to be ever competing with Yvette Cooper and “safe choice” Andy Burnham for who could say the most words with the least content”. In fact, she argues, both Kendall and Cooper “chanted their empty slogans like a DVD stuck on repeat”, with Kendall’s “A fresh start” clearly trying to hide her desire to “exactly replicate Tony Blair’s now 20 year old path to power”. Originally hopeful about the chance to vote for a female candidate, Coffey notes that she “kept waiting and desperately hoping for Kendall or Cooper to say something exciting about women’s issues… but the day never came”. The shouts of both women for voters to choose “anyone but Corbyn!” were the icing on the flavourless cake, she says, showing how “unbelievably negative and patronising” the candidates were. Having hoped for “boldness and strength”, they instead came out with “petty personal attacks”. If they wanted her vote, she stresses, they should have given her a “positive reason” to do so.[42] But Kendall clearly had no such reason in mind, instead hoping to “do whatever the Tories are doing until Labour wins over the press”.[43]


Overall, says Ian Dunt, the three non-Corbyn candidates for leader consistently revealed “tiny ideas, expressed without inspiration”, and their main promise was essentially to undertake the “administration of pre-existing economic relations” rather than any kind of meaningful process of change.[44] At the same time, insists Ash Burt, Corbyn’s opponents each looked “like a reject from the cast of Thunderbirds”, with their polished images and emotionless words.[45]

For Helen Coffey (and no doubt thousands more voters), Jeremy Corbyn was simply the only candidate “with answers to questions that did not feel like they’d had all the meaning and personality stripped out by a crack team of lawyers and PRs, before being delivered by an automaton disguised as a human”.[46] And, essentially, that’s all we need to know about the non-Corbyn candidates.





[5] In response to comments made by Zoe Williams in the Guardian











[16] and




[20] and





[25] and


[27] and
















[43] and

[44] and



About Ed Sykes

Independent journalist. Co-founder of Phoenix Media Co-operative. Author of Rojava: An Alternative. Ex-Canary editor and writer (2015-2020). Aka 'Oso Sabio' - see @ososabiouk on Twitter.
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4 Responses to The Non-Corbyn Candidates

  1. Pingback: Corbyn’s Summer Shake-Up (Part One) | Resistance Is Fertile

  2. Pingback: The Independent’s 16 Reasons Why Corbyn Can Win | Resistance Is Fertile

  3. Pingback: Corbyn’s Policy Documents | Resistance Is Fertile

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