THE BLOG

How the Labour Leadership Contest Went Horribly Wrong

25/08/2015 16:20 BST | Updated 25/08/2016 10:59 BST

The agonising wait for a new leader of the Labour Party is almost over, but Ed Miliband's successor will now have to fix a broken party.

The Labour leadership contest was launched with the intention of preparing a fight back after the disappointing election defeat in May. Recruiting new, enthusiastic members that were inspired by Labour's defeat should have empowered the Labour Party and made them a modern political force. But, as the contest drags on for yet another month and into September, Labour members are turning on one another.

The party is becoming more divided as the contest goes on, with many refusing to put second preferences on their ballot papers, which were sent out last week. The increase in mud-slinging and lack of policy debate is leading the party to a dark place, much resembling the 1980s. By no means will there be a formal split of the party in September, but it will be extremely difficult for the new Labour leader to unite the party after such a bruising and personal contest.

Much of the personal attacks have been aimed at Jeremy Corbyn, with the Blairite wing of the party in a state of panic at the amount of support he has gathered. But make no mistake, personal attacks work both ways and it is not just the right wing of the party that is making these petty remarks. While right wing commentators have claimed Mr Corbyn is "unelectable" and disastrous for Labour's future, the hard left have also accused Liz Kendall of being "Torylite" and Andy Burnham as "robotic".

On the doorstep of Labour members and affiliated supporters, personal comments have been made about all the leadership candidates, with some voters stubbornly rejecting anything other than their first preference.

Labour have been the victim of a seriously mismanaged leadership election from the very top of the party and, something which should have been completed in the most quiet and concise way possible, has dragged on for five months. The Liberal Democrat leadership election was over and done with before any media attention could even get started, and this allowed the Lib Dems to rebuild with their new leader, Tim Farron.

This week, leadership candidate Andy Burnham has been heavily critical of the contest, claiming that "thousands" of Conservative members could have infiltrated the contest. Surely, a cut-off point for new members being eligible to vote in the leadership election would have successfully dispelled any discontent amongst party members.

Acting leader Harriet Harman has claimed the party is "robustly" verifying the authenticity of Labour members and registered supporters. But the fact still remains that, the shear length of the contest has fuelled a divided party and hindered any chance of a credible opposition to some of the government's most important legislation.

Labour's farcical abstention on the Welfare Bill vote was embarrassing at best, with 48 MPs defying the party whip to vote against Labour's reasoned amendment to the bill and having it defeated. Shadow cabinet rows have raged on between Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham and Harriet Harman, who clashed on how Labour should deal with the Welfare Bill in the Commons.

As the contest goes on, the government faces no united opposition to benefit reforms, which could see disabled people lose up to £300 a month. Iain Duncan Smith has been accused of punishing societies most vulnerable. But, opposition to this cannot gather any momentum, as the majority of media attention is focussed on a divided Labour Party and the shambolic leadership contest.

Should the contest have been wrapped up during parliament's summer recess, Labour may have been able to oppose from a position of strength from the reconvening of the Commons in September. But, with the result not due until 12 September at the Labour Party conference, the new leader will then have to build their shadow cabinet and, rather rapidly, unite the party.