If you've read this before you might remember that I backed David Miliband to be the next leader, for reasons that I'll put later. But I'd kind of like to go back on that. Not that I've turned against him, I still currently think he's the best for the job, but I realised its wrong for me to declare so strongly before the others have really had a shot at persuading me. That means I can watch the debates with an open mind and should someone put forward a good argument I'd have no problem switching if I think they'd make a better leader.
First, let's get the criticism out of the way, because there's been a lot of scoffing at the fact that four of the five candidates are middle-aged white males. Yes, I'd prefer there to be more diversity in the campaign, but you can't tell people to stand or not to stand based on how they look. Labour has plenty of very good women MP's who chose for one reason or another not to stand. Both Harriet Harman and Yvette Cooper would have been very credible candidates and are still at the highest level of politics.
The idea that David Cameron can mock Labour for this would be laughable if it wasn't so hypocritical. I don't remember too many women standing for the Tory leadership?
In fact there was only Theresa May who even bothered to rule herself out, no other women were even considered a potential candidate. Cameron must have a very short memory if he thinks his party is so high and mighty on the equality front, especially considering that Labour have more female and ethnic minority MP's than the rest of the parties put together.
Anyway, back to the candidates. I thought all of them performed reasonably well, whilst none of them delivered a real knock out blow. I think that's to be expected though in a debate where you share so many of your ideas and principles with your contenders. Diane Abbott was surprisingly strong, and I think her inclusion as representative of the left of the party was a very good thing indeed. It stimulated debate and in the end whoever wins is going to have to represent both the left and the more central wings of the party so have to learn to listen and understand their respective qualms.
I'm not a massive fan of Ed Balls, he's very passionate about what he says, but I'm not sure he has enough radical reforming spirit for my taste, he seem's to be the consistency candidate. I've always liked Andy Burnham, he did very well as Health Secretary and he speaks on a level that resonates well with many members who feel the leadership was too distant and elitist. His plans for a National Care Service are excellent and really the kind of thing that Labour should be putting forward more, a radical state solution to an area where leaving the problem to market forces is harming people in a big way. Ed Miliband would be my second preference at the moment, he's a very approachable character and his decision to centre his campaign around the living wage was a good one, again another idea that should be bread and butter stuff for Labour.
But, despite saying earlier I don't want to jump to a decision, David Miliband is still my preferred leader. He's an intelligent guy, but more important than that he's willing to listen to any opinions. He quoted Obama when he said 'we should be able to disagree without being disagreeable.' I couldn't agree more, not just in terms of the party but the whole country. The left and the centre-left of the party should realise that they are fighting the same fight and that by working together we can provide the country with a progressive left that not only is business-friendly as New Labour made it, but still stands up for the unions which were after all the reason for its creation. I think David is the man who can deliver this best.
It will be interesting to see what more solid policy decisions come out over the next few weeks and months, what with their positions on civil liberties, Iraq and some other areas coming to light recently.