Saturday, 15 August 2015

A Labour leadership that is facing growing 'reality gap' - my Catholic Universe column


This week rather than simply commenting on the news, as I usually do, for a short time I actually found myself being tangentially involved in it. Let me explain. 

As I sat reading my copy of The Times the other morning I found myself being astonished by a story which reported a police force who had stopped visiting attempted burglaries if they had been carried out at odd numbered houses. It wasn’t until I read down the page in question that I realised the force in question was my own Leicestershire one. 

As you will imagine astonishment changed to incredulity and I contacted our Police and Crime Commissioner, Sir Clive Loader, via the medium of twitter to ask more about the situation. 

Although Sir Clive and I are from different political parties, he is a Conservative PCC, he is a thoroughly decent man for whom I have the highest regard. As I fully expected he responded to me very quickly informing me that he had not been aware of the trial alluded to in the newspaper report but had he been he would have informed the Chief Constable ‘strongly against’ running it. 

I found my comments on twitter, and much more relevantly those of Sir Clive,  were subsequently reported in other outlets of the national media as the apparent lunacy of the story gained traction worldwide. 

Simon Cole is the Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police and is a man I admire greatly. He and his team have done a great job of managing ever decreasing resources with the lowest degree of impact  in tough financial times. For a man of his very senior rank he is extremely accessible, kind and has a great sense of humour. I have no doubt that Simon was a worthy recipient of the Queen’s Police Medal, an award he was given in the 2013 New Years Honours. 

As it turned out the reporting of the story was a little skewed. In all cases of attempted burglary a police officer would attend, however, on the basis of a three month trial, it was only forensics officers who would be deployed to even number properties unless it was thought there was a specific reason to send them to other homes in the event of a specific crime.  

I have no doubt that in managing the operational aspects of the force Simon Cole  was well aware that if a prospective burglar was unsuccessful at one property they would go on to others until they did manage to break in somewhere or other.. The argument goes that it would therefore be statistically almost certain that evidence would be picked up from some of the burglars attempts and successes and therefore perfectly arguable that there would be no need to deploy stretched resources to every incident. Indeed, I understand, that is what the evidence of the trial period confirmed. 

Both the PCC and I, as well as countless others, were however concerned about the perception of the force. If you happen to live in an odd numbered house, as my elderly mother does, you would be understandably concerned that you were not receiving the same level of service as someone living at number 22 down the road. There may well be a case for forensics attending some crimes but not others but doing so on the basis of house numbers all seemed a little too arbitrary. 

In the 1980’s I was a big fan of the comedian Ben Elton. He had a term for a problem such as this, he called it ‘the reality gap’. 

Of course we all pay taxes and would  like it very much if the full resources of the police, possibly alongside Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple and Inspector Morse were used on our case but the reality is somewhat different.  

There is very much a gap between what we may like and what we can reasonably expect.  

Which takes me on to my other point today. Ben Elton used to say that ‘the reality gap’ was all around us and indeed it is and with that in mind I shall have my very final word on the seemingly endless Labour leadership contest. 

The Labour leadership election has now been running for more than 3 months. Although the ballot does not close until some time in September if you are a member or are a  registered supporter by the time you read this you will have received your voting papers. 

As you will have seen in the pages of this newspaper over the past few weeks your columnists are not the biggest fans of Jeremy Corbyn, although I fully accept that there are a number of readers who are very much in his camp. 

I must admit I am from the third way tradition of the Labour Party who counts being electable as being rather important. For that reason I want to see a leader who is very clear about winning a parliamentary majority and speaking to the voters and issues which matter to achieve that. For that reason I have supported Liz Kendall throughout this whole interminable process. 

Liz was very clear early on that she was not too concerned about party political dogma but rather focussing on ‘what matters is what works’. She isn’t ideologically opposed to the ideas of, for example, academies or free schools. If they are already established and they are delivering a good education  for our children then it would be stupid to get rid of them. 

I honestly think that type of pragmatic approach is what most parents and just as importantly most voters actually want. 

During the whole leadership process Liz has been continually barracked from some quarters of the party in some nasty ways. She must have lost count of the number of times she has been called ‘a Tory’, some rather sad people have even gone to the trouble of creating websites on the sole basis of this ‘joke’. Others have questioned Liz’s suitability for leadership because she is not a mother, talk about clutching at straws. 

The truth is in the Labour leadership race we have a reality gap. As much as I like Liz, or for that matter the other candidates, I am not truly convinced that any of them can win in 2020. 

Whilst they all have their strengths they all have significant weaknesses too,  which may well be insurmountable in 5 years time.  

In an election when a big swing will be needed for Labour to take control it may well be that Jeremy is too ‘left’, Andy has too much baggage, Yvette is too nondescript and Liz has difficulty taking her party with her. 

In reality because of the electoral maths, a new Tory leader and a supportive media, unless there any seismic shifts, Labour will not be winning in 5 year times. 

The challenge for Labour is handling that reality. With Liz, or for that matter Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper, it will be possible to get Labour closer to winning.. With Mr Corbyn you can easily add 5 years on to that aspiration. 

If you have a vote in this leadership election as much as you might like Jeremy, and I do, please mind the reality gap, sometimes what we like isn’t the best thing for us. I shall say no more.

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