There isn’t too much to say regarding the candidates for deputy leader. Prospect Magazine, for example, made it very clear that “none of the candidates were among the left-wing rebels who defied the Labour whip to vote against Tory welfare reforms”. In other words, Jeremy Corbyn was the only candidate of all the leadership and deputy leadership candidates to stand up against the reactionary whip.
Considering that the debate between the deputy candidates was focussed on “practical party management”, there were no big ideological arguments in the contest. Nonetheless, unions generally backed Angela Eagle and Tom Watson, even though the latter seemed to back the right-wing leadership candidate Liz Kendall (saying she was “courageous”). According to Labour List, Eagle was “reliable and highly capable”, whilst being a “vocal defender of LGBT rights”. Watson, meanwhile, was “known for his campaigning” and, like Eagle, considered to be “on the left of the party”.
Although some right-wing MPs decided to back Stella Creasy (a Labour Co-Op MP), she is the one that stood out the most for me as a candidate for change in the structure of the Labour Party – with a focus on “community-centred politics” and grassroots campaigning. As “a popular member of the 2010 intake”, she was not steeped in the factionalism dominant during New Labour’s time in government, and focussed much more on “party unity” and engaging with community activists. For Thomas G. Clark at Another Angry Voice, Watson and Creasy were the “outstanding candidates” of the race, while the latter was the “the only one of them with really good leadership potential”.
Caroline Flint and Ben Bradshaw, meanwhile, who were generally considered to be the right-wing candidates in the contest, were “gaffe-prone disasters”, according to Clark. Nonetheless, a number of Labour right-wingers rallied around Flint (the “leading Blairite in the deputy leadership contest”) when the popularity of Corbyn was becoming an inescapable fact. By doing so, they hoped to “prevent a left-wing takeover” of the party by strengthening what they considered to be a “centrist counterweight to Mr Corbyn”. Flint, though, was not as hostile to the left as other right-wingers, saying “let’s not lose sight of where the real battle lies” (i.e. in the fight against the Tories).
Is Creasy the Best Bet?
Helen Lewis at the New Statesman speaks about how Creasy “rages against the political machine”, arguing that Labour “needs to connect more with single-issue campaigns… and other political movements”. Her “uncompromising” approach to feminism, meanwhile, showed she was “fearless” and had “a streak of iron running through her”, according to Lewis. Furthermore, she is “not interested in smoothing off her edges in order to get on”, and refuses “to rely on networks of patronage in the party”. And this anti-tribal outlook was represented in her “vision for a less factional party”, and suggested she had the “ability to bring disparate groups together for a common cause”. In short, Creasy criticises the Westminster establishment and believes in “people power” (calling for Labour politicians to be “out in the field on the front line with people”), being prepared to work “on progressive campaigns with anyone who will muck in”.
By August 7, Creasy had overtaken Watson in the polls, though by a small margin. The support of Neil Kinnock may have been a slight dampener on her progressive credentials, but her insistence that she took her lessons “from the trade unions” and wanted Labour “to organise” were promising assertions. “When we stand for what we believe in, and we fight together, we can and we will win”, she stressed, hoping Labour would “become a movement again”. For her, the “fire and the faith that Labour can and does make a difference” needed to be regained, and that required the involvement of all members and sympathisers.
Regarding the new election system in the Labour Party, Creasy said a ‘trick had been missed’, suggesting the organisation ought to have learnt from the primary system in the USA, “where you register as a supporter so that you can vote in one selection but not in another”. She did not, however, call for the vote to be stopped or talk about ‘infiltration’. Instead, in her new capacity as frontrunner, she insisted “I’m not tribal, I’m ideological”. Stressing that “it’s fine to disagree and debate”, she regretted that “most of my adult life in the Labour party has been defined by people being in tribes and therefore cut out – ‘you’re Blairite, you’re Brownite, you’re a Trot’”. That, she said, was not acceptable, and needed to change. “Jeremy Corbyn is tapping into that feeling that people want more than a leaflet round – they want it to mean something”, she asserted. And, following that line of thought, she highlighted that she was committed to working towards forging a party that was “not just an opposition” but “an alternative”.
In fact, her commitment to grassroots organisation and involvement got a number of people considering the benefits of a Corbyn-Creasy leadership team. The ‘Bemolution Will Not Be Televised’ blog, for example, asserted that Creasy “tries to find common ground with anyone in Labour, and doesn’t think about inter-party left and right very much”. Arguing that she is “decent, principled, and passionate, with a genuine commitment to making Labour a democratic movement again”, the blog nonetheless expressed concern at “the stridently anti-Corbyn sentiments among a lot of the people involved” in the Creasy campaign (a “comedian and senior Creasy aide”, for example, was allegedly seen “ranting about ‘Trots’ and ‘commies’” in a very tribal manner).
For The Bemolution, Creasy was probably “the closest candidate to Corbyn” even though her moderate language made her “far more amenable to the neoliberal mainstream”. The reason for this assertion was that both essentially saw Labour as “an organ of popular democracy that ordinary people can and should use”. Furthermore, as “the only prospective deputy really saying anything”, she had “an actual critique”, believing the party had “become a machine – bureaucratic, over-centralised, and with far too shallow and one-sided a relationship with its activists, councillors, voters and supporters”. The blog stresses, meanwhile, that there was “nothing from either [Watson or Eagle] to suggest they’re the obvious left-wing choice”. Therefore, Creasy was left as the only candidate inspiring any sort of hope for change in the party, as the “most likely to do something about the big (non-ideological) failing of the modern Labour Party – that Labour members and councillors are treated like leaflet-distributing drones, denied any meaningful say on policy… [and] often treated with unveiled disdain by party elites”.
Political Sift, meanwhile, insisted that, while “on their own there are no ‘ideal’ candidates for deputy leader”, the “best person to compliment Jeremy Corbyn” would be Stella Creasy. The reason for this stance was that her “genuine desire to cooperate with, and promote the importance of, grassroots movements” showed that, like Corbyn, she believed it was “through the people, not Westminster, that we can bring about change”. Furthermore, although “she is to the left” in the grand scheme of things, “she doesn’t seem keen to label herself as either ‘left’, ‘right’ or ‘centre’”. Instead, her focus is on the “involvement of society” and on “inspiring movements rather than about her own personal views – which is what a politician should do”. Being “open minded and flexible” about how to enact principles, Political Sift asserts, is a very important thing in politics. And her membership of a number of different groups (on both the right and left) suggests that, while “there are things within all of them that she agrees/disagrees with”, she fundamentally “feels it is important not to exclude any opinion or argument”.
For Creasy, insists Political Sift, “politics is for everyone to participate in”, and together with Corbyn she would be likely to foment “a huge rise in the political engagement of society”. In addition to “the principles and integrity of Jeremy Corbyn”, the blog says, “the passion, proactive-ness and belief in public engagement and debate of Stella Creasy” would be the perfect compliment.
In her own words, “too many people now see politics as an elite sport”, meaning that politicians “miss out on their ideas and actions as they get put off taking part”. To remedy that situation, she insists, and thus “harness their passion for social justice”, politicians “have to offer them more than a leaflet round or a three hour procedures committee”. To make the Labour Party “a movement and not a machine”, then, she says that “the energy, enthusiasm and experience of every man and woman who wants to speak up for a different kind of Britain” must be channelled democratically and effectively.
Criticising “a way of thinking… that the only way to win is through strict uniformity and unquestioning control”, Creasy said that “stitch-ups, petty cliques, back-room deals, and selection fixes” had simply fed “the hostility to those in our movement with whom we maybe don’t agree all the time or who are not members at all”. For her, “factional battles” had “come before party interest… for too long”.
Even though we may be right to doubt the politics of some of the people who have got behind Creasy, it is difficult to disagree with many of the things that she herself has said. Therefore, in the interests of judging a person by their own words and actions rather than by some of the company they keep, I still believe Creasy is, at the very least, the most progressive of the deputy candidates on offer.