Before the debate about who will be the next elected leader of the Labour Party gets overwhelmed by the X-factor, let's focus on the x-factor - the ones on ballot papers at the next set of elections. There could be another general election in less than 12 months. In any event, there will be some local elections next May, plus Scottish Parliamentary and locals, and the Welsh Assembly all of which are now four-year fixed term events.
Labour is still carrying baggage from its 13-years in government at Westminster, as well as having an extraordinary list of achievements to its credit. New Labour's critical and ultimately lethal fault (in electoral terms) was abandonment of accountability. It started before the 1997 landslide, with the suspension of shadow cabinet meetings six months earlier, and it was all too evident yesterday at a hastily arranged special National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting to hear plans for further talks with the Liberal-Democrats.
You might be wondering whether I have lost my marbles, but yes, while the media was reporting the Lab-Lib talks were over, finito, some 30 member of Labour's ruling NEC were crowded into the Hamlyn Room in 39 Victoria Street with party staff hanging onto a conference call with outgoing Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He set out the mechanisms for deciding the terms of a Lab-Lib pact. Surreal, to the point of farce. Any deal would have depended critically on the 258 women and men freshly elected Labour MPs. Had anyone in the Labour leadership bother to consult even the current chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party? We all know the answer. No. As for the NEC chair, forget it. Events have brought that nonsense to an abrupt and tragic end. The lessons have to be learned if Labour wants more x-factor at the polls.
The Prime Minister and his government did have to go through the constitutional necessity of ensuring continuing, before bowing to the inevitability of electoral arithmetic. But that did not give any of the Cabinet authority to unilaterally decide a negotiating brief or the emissaries that might have taken Labour into coalition. In the well established practices of New Labour a shameless papering over the cracks was proposed at the NEC. (I won't bore you with the detail, but am happy to respond to comments.) I supported the talks about a rainbow coalition as a political necessity, knowing the arithmetic was tight. But I oppose abuse of power and lack of accountability. So a set of tests is needed to judge the credentials of those leadership wannabees that goes beyond what triumphs down a TV lens, especially those who were Cabinet members only 24 hours ago.