Friday, 21 May 2010

What are the difficult questions the leadership candidates need to answer?

The longer contest, with the result announced at the party conference, means there should be the chance to have a full and open debate about the Labour party’s vision and values, the record of the government since 1997, why Labour lost the General Election and how to shape an effective future agenda.

The Fabian Society is one of the Socialist Societies who make up the affiliates section of the electoral college: Fabian members will be balloted as part of the leadership contest. (Those who are Labour party members will also vote in that section too). New members can join up here.

So far, Diane Abbott, Ed Balls, Andy Burnham, John McDonnell, David Miliband and Ed Miliband have all announced their candidacies and are seeking to secure enough nominations from MPs to get onto the ballot paper. The Fabian Society does not, as an organisation, endorse individual candidates in leadership contests - and we look forward to heading from them all during the contest.

Many of our members will want to hear what the candidates have to say before making up their minds about who to support.

But we also want your help to identify the difficult questions which you want the candidates to answer.

We will publish these for discussion on the Next Left blog, and also put a selection of the best questions to the candidates themselves.

Please let us have your questions (in just a sentence or two). If you would like to do so, please include a short comment (of up to 100 words) on why you think it is an important issue for Labour’s future and the leadership contest

Leave questions and comments on the blog here - or email them to


Guido Fawkes said...

Why do you think you are better able to lead the Labour Party to victory than your comrades standing for election?

PhilH said...

Guido, that makes no sense. Did you even read Sunder's post?

Guido Fawkes said...

You don't think it important that the leader of party is able to bring victory? You guys may be in more trouble than I thought..

Sunder Katwala said...

Guido's question is in order. I take it you are not planning any Labour entryism to vote for a candidate?

Sunder Katwala said...

I will be adding some emailed questions too. This is from Stuart, who asks:

What lessons do the candidates think we need to learn from the failure of Neighbourhood Renewal?

He provides this link,

a job half done which is a PDF file.

Sunder Katwala said...

This question, from somebody who wishes to remain Anon, but was a popular theme at Saturday's Fabian conference:

"If you become Labour party leader, what will you do to ensure labour becomes more open and democratic in party structure, to ensure Labour never becomes out of touch with members, movement, and the public while in office?"

Comment: The reason why Labour lost the 2010 general election, is because the party leadership and hierarchy became out of touch with popular opinion amongst members, progressives and the electorate in general. This was due to democratic deficits in the party. Labour needs mechanisms to ensure every new leader is elected in a contest amongst plp, members and affiliated societies. Labour also need mechanisms to ensure party leadership listens to popular opinion on key issues, like civil liberties.

Sunder Katwala said...

Here are three questions from Brian Barder:

(1) Do you accept that human rights are universal, indivisible, and not conditional on acceptance of social or other responsibilities? If so, will you ensure as leader that the Labour opposition campaigns hard against the Coalition's plan for a British Bill of Rights, replacing the HRA, in which rights will be "balanced by responsibilities", basically a Leninist concept?

(2) Do you agree that Indefinite Sentences for Public Protection (IPPs) constitute an indefensible injustice, involving indefinite preventive detention after an offender has paid his debt to society and putting the onus on him to satisfy the authorities about his future behaviour (which is usually impossible)? Or do you think that injustice for the few is justified if it adds marginally to the safety of the many?

(3) Which do you regard as a more important objective for the Labour party: equality of opportunity, or equality of outcomes?

PhilH said...

Ah, I just realised Guido's question was directed at the leaders rather than Sunder. That's why I was so confused.

Sorry. I'm a massive thicko, obviously. I should resign as a teacher or feel very silly. Probably the latter.

Tom Freeman said...

(1) What evidence do you have about why Labour lost votes?

I ask because everyone seems to think that their own personal complaints about Labour are the same complaints that the wider electorate has. It all feels a bit short-sighted and self-serving.

(2) How should we cut the deficit over the next few years?

Ambitious Mamas said...

Guido and PhilH, I have laughed myself silly at your exchanges. We need more humour.

PhilH said...

You're welcome.

Oh, I have thought of a question. It's quite open-ended:

A lot is said about the national deficit, but in recent years personal debt has also become an acceptable and even expected way of life. It's seen in credit cards, in tuition fee loans, in the debt consolidation ads on the TV. What sorts of approaches do you think need to be taken to change this culture?

P.S. I'm not a member of the Labour Party. I'm left-leaning but I don't feel any tribal affiliation, though I would love to see an effective Labour Party in opposition. Just so we're clear.

Sunder Katwala said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
adam said...

Do you believe it is more important to reach out to the whole electorate or to consolidate the core vote?

Sunder Katwala said...

Robert Page asks:

Instead of skirmishing with the Conservatives and Liberals over `ownership' of the `progressive' label do you think that that the Labour Party should define itself unambiguously as a socialist party which believes that the state has a positive and active role to play in creating a more equal society?

Sunder Katwala said...

Question from Nan Wiliams

"One hundred years on from the height of the Suffragette movement, it remains nothing short of scandalous that we have such unequal representation of women at the top of business and the top of politics. How will the leadership candidates address this once and for all and in what timeframe?"


Despite a range of attempts within the party itself and by the party in government I fear that it is now clear that without specific, binding changes to bring about equal access for women to the top jobs in business and politics we will not be able to achieve these fundamental goals any time soon.

In the past I have always been in favour of the 'evolutionary'. 'organic' measures put in place. But we are clearly getting nowhere after decades of this approach. I have held the top job in my own field for thirteen years now and certainly feel I got there on merit. But I remain in a significant minority after all this time. Indeed, in so many industries and in politics overall we are moving backwards not forwards.

I feel we need to be brave enough to make a significant, one-off change through legislation. Of course, it will be controversial.

Of course it will be unpopular. And it will be criticised as the opposite of egalitarian while we go through the process. But we must now be radical and courageous to achieve proportional representation for women in this country - in business and in politics.

Sunder Katwala said...

Questioner who would prefer to remain anon asks:

In light of overwhelming evidence of the social harm done by income inequality, do you agree that promoting greater 'equality of outcome' (rather than merely 'equality of opportunity') should now move to the very top of Labour's agenda? And how do you think greater income equality could best be achieved with public support?


Labour's quiet redistribution of wealth during its years in power appears to have mitigated increases in income inequality, but the UK remains an exceptionally and desperately unequal society. Key targets (e.g. on reducing child poverty) have been missed, partly because the incomes of middle and high earners have continued to 'pull away' from the incomes of the poorest even as these have been raised through government action.

Meanwhile, overwhelming evidence - as presented in Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett's book The Spirit Level - demonstrates that promoting greater income equality would be the single most effective way to tackle a range of social problems that have traditionally been addressed in a case-by-case, sticking-plaster fashion.

Surely it is time to acknowledge that 'equality of opportunity' is not enough - we must find ways to reduce the income gap between the poor and the better-off, and to do so with public support.

Sunder Katwala said...

Graeme Cleugh asks:

What steps would the candidates take to rebalance the British economy so that manufacturing and the regions become as important to the economy as the City of London's financial sector?

Sunder Katwala said...

A question from Ian Graham:

"The Labour Party is now the only party with a significant presence in each of England, Scotland and Wales, while the new government's base turns the West Lothian Question on its head: the Coalition's partners hold 12 of 59 seats in Scotland, and 11 of 40 in Wales. What creative ideas do the leadership candidates have for the future development of the Union?"

MJ said...

1. What is an acceptable level of inequality in the UK and what are your plans to reach that level? How long will this take?

2. How do you propose to reduce reliance on the financial sector for wealth creation in Britain?

3. Regardless of whether you address it this year or next, how do you propose to address the deficit and level of govt. debt?

4. What do you think a truly sustainable society looks like? How do we get there and how long will it take?

Sunder Katwala said...

Questions from Anne Reyersbach

1.How will you lead a radical reform of the organisation of the party so that members’ voices - even if they dissent from yours (especially when they dissent from yours!) -are heard, listened to and valued?

2. How will you assure members and the public that Labour MPs will never again become so dissociated from reality and so institutionalised by Westminster that they do anything on a par with home flipping, expenses rigging, agree to lobby for money or do anything at all that brings the party into disrepute?

3. How will you shackle the control freakery’ that obsesses the Labour Party apparatchiks and that can lead to shortlists for PPCs being dictated by head office rather than by the membership?

4. Will you admit it when you get things wrong and then apologise?

5. How will you ensure that women are never so marginalised within UK politics again?

James said...

"Which elements of the new Government's approach will you endorse and emulate?"


Labour only became re-electable once it embraced elements of the Conservative approach, and shunned the Foot/Benn old Labour mentality. Likewise, the Conservatives only became re-electable once they had embraced under Cameron a Blairite sense of comfort with modern values (e.g. on gay rights, ethnic minorities, the environment). So, assuming the new Government have hit the nail on the head in at least some areas where Labour failed, what are these?

Cantab83 said...

1) The first question any leader should have to answer is the BIG one. It is this:
Why do you want to be leader? It is also the question from Roger Mudd of CBS that floored Ted Kennedy when he ran for US President in 1980.

2) The next question is one that follows on naturally from Q1. What is YOUR big idea? What do you see as the fundamental structural problems in British society and what would you do to correct them?
We need a leader with a vision, not someone whose sole aim is to manage things a bit better, or is driven by his own hubris, vanity and lust for power and status.

Then we need to get into specifics regarding what a future leader would do if they became PM.

3) Housing
Do you fully understand the role the housing bubble played in cauing this recession? How would you control house price inflation in the future? If you don’t know the answer then I suggest you look here. Do you appreciate the effects that shortages of affordable housing have on distorting the labour market and reducing the mobility of labour? Do you recognise that inequalities in housing inevitably lead to inequalities in health, wealth and education? Do you understand that booming house prices lead to underinvestment in productive industry, and therefore to stagnating GDP and excessive private sector debt? How would you ensure that more houses were built in the future? Would you support the building of more Council Houses, or social housing?

4) Wealth and Mansion Taxes
Would you support a Mansion Tax of the type outlined by Vince Cable? Such a tax is far more redistributive than income tax and could generate up to £20bn, as I pointed out a few months ago. That is nearly ten times that derived from inheritance tax.

5) Bank/financial reform
Would you be prepared to reform the banking system to make it more competitive and reduce the risk of another financial collapse? Are you prepared to break up big banks? What other financial measures would you introduce? Should access to a bank account be a fundamental right or civil liberty in 21st century Britain?

6) How would you improve shareholder democracy and Company Law in order to reduce corporate fraud, tax evasion and avoidance, and excessive executive pay and bonuses? How would you regulate takeovers in order to maintain market competition, improve consumer choice and protect British businesses and jobs from unfair competition and commercial predators?

7) Electoral Reform
Do you support a fairer voter system for the Commons and a fully elected Lords?

I think that these seven issues represent a good starting point. These questions would hopefully give us some idea of where the candidates stand on a number of important issues, and what sort of imaginative ideas they may have (if any). There are of course many other issues one could chose, but I will leave those to another post.

Cantab83 said...

As promised, here are a few more issues that I think need to be debated.

8) Civil Liberties
Which should take priority under the law: the civil liberties of the individual, or the right of the state to maintain its own security?

9) Constitutional reform
Do you support the need for referenda on all EU treaties? How would you reform Parliament and its procedures?

10) Reforming the Benefits system
How would you make it easier for those on benefits to find work without losing too much of those benefits too quickly? How would you simplify the system and make it fairer? How would you ensure that means testing doesn’t end up destroying the principle of universal benefits?

11) How would you invigorate local democracy? How much power would you devolve to local councils, and how much extra control of local taxation would you give to them?

12) How will you rebuild Labour Party membership and support, particularly in England?

13) Do you believe that there is a need for new laws to protect workers rights, or trades union rights? If so, what should those rights be? Or do you want to remove rights from workers to ‘de-regulate’ business more?

14) How would you reduce inequality?

15) Science and Technology
What measures would you bring in in order to improve the amount and quality of scientific research conducted in the UK and to expand manufacturing industry?

16) Do you support the UK joining the euro? If so when, and under what conditions? If not, why not?

17) Education
How can education be improved or reformed without introducing selection, or increasing social segregation? How should our universities be funded?