I have decided to back Yvette Cooper to become leader of the Labour Party, and therefore the next Prime Minister of the UK. If you give me a couple of minutes, I'll try and explain why.
This is not a decision that I have rushed. Although I regretted the haste with which this contest was thrust upon us as party members, I think that, nevertheless, the campaign so far has demonstrated clearly that Cooper is by a long stretch the person most capable of not just rescuing our party from an imminent crisis of identity and direction, but providing a new and credible vision for Labour, for politics, for our nation and our role as a leading member of the wider world.
Like many, I initially lamented the lack of alternatives presented by the four candidates. I would have preferred that some sort of debate took place that set out contrasting visions for our future; a conversation that was not just internal, but reached out to those on the periphery of the Labour movement and, crucially, beyond, and then saw the champions of each thrashing it out and seeking my support as a member. Although it's difficult to picture any workable mechanism by which this might have taken place, I still think we need to have an intense, difficult and honest conversation about what it is we are trying to achieve and the strategy by which we can.
But having listened to the way in which the candidates have described their own beliefs and aspirations for the party, I no longer believe that there is insufficient choice on offer to make a decision over the best person to guide our party to a position to help the most vulnerable and improve the lot of normal people. Nor do I believe that a better candidate would have emerged if the campaign had been organised differently. For it is not Cooper's parliamentary experience that has convinced me of her importance (although I suppose it's would be silly to pretend it's not at all relevant). It's her potential that strikes me as what is supremely relevant.
As with all good leaders, circumstances have put a unique person into a unique position. With the right support, both now and after the election, she will, I believe, prove to be the right person, for the right job and at the right time. Because of the strength of Cooper's candidacy, the debate we need can still take place, but with the involvement and implementation of a capable steward, and without the chaos that has sadly defined our ability to lead the opposition to this arrogant and yet utterly vulnerable government.
I do not think this election is about finding a candidate with all the answers. Politics has become, if indeed it hasn't always been, the ability to achieve partial victories in an atmosphere of an all-encompassing cynicism towards everything and everyone - not entirely without good reason - and I don't think we'll ever be wise as a party to put forward an all-encompassing ideology designed to secure an entirely bought-in section of electoral support (least of all any that has been rejected or discredited in the distant or recent past). This feels like a problem, but I'm not sure it is. The population is so complicated and changeable in need, motivation and loyalty that very few people have been able to fathom it for longer than an instant. This means that for many people, politicians who champion inertia or reaction are much less of a punt than those who champion speculative change; particularly when it is articulated badly and assembled on the hoof. But whatever our conceptions of social relations ten years ago, or perhaps even three months ago, it seems sensible to me for us all to question them again right now, without mercy or any sense of delusion. Any politics based on assumption or generalisation are doomed to fail. But, as ironically Osborne's warped but compelling vision for the economy has demonstrated, this does not mean there is no room for ideas.
I think this election is about finding a leader who will set the tone for debate internally, including arguing convincingly for his or her own beliefs, and be in a position to carry these forward and bring round an electorate that has twice rejected us categorically. It is about choosing someone who can marshal an inclusive decision about our strategy over the next two parliaments to realise our goal of a dramatically more equitable settlement for normal people - here and abroad - and then implement it fastidiously. It is not about finding a candidate who will simply compile a package of policies, however sincere his or her motivations, designed to attract perceived currents of thought within the party, and offset their derision at those policies aimed at others. It is not at all about finding a candidate who believes that the route to success is merely to soften the policies of the Conservative administration, because we don't believe that political parties can lead debate, and should merely reflect established beliefs and rely on tactical responses to circumstances. And it is certainly not about dismissing the idea of taking one step back by taking to our heels and fleeing to the smug and destructive world of denial that characterises periods of our past - however warm the embrace of those who find comfort and personal vindication in abetting our self-destruction.
This is about finding a leader who can both lead and listen. It's about finding a sort of politics that can be open to suggestion, appreciative of consensus but passionate and uncompromising in its championing of what is in the interests of the many, not the few. It's about making sure the definition of what we seek in a leader of our party - and this county - tallies with what both our Labour comrades and the general public will crave in 2020 after ten years of an effectively Conservative government. It's about rediscovering the confidence we as a party once carried so effortlessly in putting forward a vision that was fresh, credible and progressive. A vision that is uniquely and reverently Labour. But a vision that differs measurably from what we have produced in the past.
For me, it is only Yvette Cooper who truly represents the potential leader we need. I don't doubt the sincerity of any of the other candidates, and am convinced that each has an important role in bringing the broad coalition of interests that we will always require to produce the numbers needed to overcome what is a seemingly inherent aversion to progressive ideas among a significant proportion of the electorate. But Cooper is also smart. She is likeable. She is magnetic. She is decent. With a few bold moves as leader she will be free from association from the stigma of our recent and distant past, whilst making it clear that she champions a contemporaneous incarnation of the progressive aspirations that stretch back to the foundation of our party and further; within our national history and beyond the shores of these islands.
She is articulate. She is strong. And yes, she is a woman. This is not at all irrelevant. Tokenism is redundant, and the embarrassment we should all feel as the nation's greatest political champion of equality of never to this date having chosen a non-male leader cannot in itself necessitate a choice to do so in this election without rendering it insincere. But there's no doubt in my mind that the entrenchment and negativity that dominate public perceptions of politics are in part related to a subculture of boorish masculinity that dominates Westminster (and elsewhere) and thereby sullies our party. There are lessons to be learnt from the successes of the SNP under Salmond and Sturgeon, and, less so, the Greens under Lucas and Bennett, as well as the politics of continental Europe. But they are not to submit to petty nationalism or other base interests. And they are not to try to build a movement by merely conjoining causes that are supported passionately by tiny minorities irrespective of feasibility or wider levels of sympathy in the hope that they amount to an all-powerful system of belief: take some environmentalism (but don't talk about it too much); add some traditional socialism; pretend to speak for small business; cosy up to the nationalists; tie round a ribbon all this and call it 'angry at everyone that isn't me'. They are to realise the widespread desire for a reframing of politics in a language and style that is in keeping with a modern, compassionate UK. We've actually been here a couple of times before as a party, although circumstances and the policies we offered were different each time - and won. Cooper's demeanour and her unique potential to present a fresh offer could act as a strong and appealing and yet entirely credible and reasonable antidote to the half-drunk 'raah'ing of the Commons - and the bellowing of the perpetual militant.
She is, crucially, a politician who seems to me a long way from achieving her potential in terms of vision and rhetoric, but who can already take on the best our opponents can offer - and win. Her passion is more convincing expressed as it is with a confident affability than those constrained by a tone of arrogance or desperation. She is therefore the best person to re-join the dots within our own party, heal some of the wounds that we have allowed those who seek to destroy us to reopen, and also reintroduce us to the electorate, making a connection that is meaningful, rational, emotional and deliberate. With the right people around her, and with support and ideas from disparate sources within the movement - and from without - she cannot just navigate us away from the tortuous environs of catastrophic defeat, denial and despondency, but back to a position where we can deliver what we as a party were created to achieve, and what we remain needed for. As arrogant as that sounds, the alternative to Labour is currently largely discreditable, but we cannot assume that it is our right to represent the best hope of progress forever. Perhaps not even by the end of this parliament. The stakes are that high.
With Cooper's leadership, I believe we can return to what we have done best. Awakening a desire for change. Reigniting hope. Assuming government. Yes, destroying poverty. Yes, rewarding aspiration. Lengthening life. Rekindling internationalism. Securing justice and prosperity. But above all, our most urgent priority is to redefine politics, and take the lead as the Labour Party, for the people, once again.
Surely it is Yvette Cooper who is the person for that imperative task?