Let's hear about housing, not yet more about immigration
For me, the nadir of the Labour leadership election so far was Ed Balls explaining how he and David Miliband differ:
"We all have some similarities but we have some differences: David's been a foreign secretary travelling around the world … I was born in Norwich … [and] I'm a Yorkshire MP. I've had a different set of challenges. Being different's good."
Let's instead have a look at the policy differences which the contest has thrown up.
The "moderate" wing of the party, including both Milibands, Balls and Burnham, identify immigration, and (lack of) welfare reform as key examples of why people, particularly people in work on average or below average incomes, stopped voting Labour. This is an attempt to address the argument of Gillian Duffy that:
"There’s too many people now who aren’t vulnerable but they can claim, and people who are vulnerable can’t claim" and "You can’t say anything about the immigrants because you’re saying that you’re… but all these eastern Europeans what are coming in, where are they flocking from?"
Labour lefties have been pushing back against this argument. As the new MP for Wigan, Lisa Nandy put it:
"I am concerned by the view of some, that the way to respond to the insecurity we are hearing on the doorstep about issues like immigration is by perpetuating the solutions that have failed us in the past.
At best we have failed to explain how the immigration system works and failed to delve beneath the concerns people have raised with us to understand what lies behind the insecurity they feel.
And at worst we have used immigration as an excuse for our own social policy failures - nowhere more so than in the area of housing.
It is no surprise then that we are hearing our own language reflected back to us on the doorstep. Instead of legitimising or ignoring those beliefs and assumptions it is time we challenged them."
It's worth noting that the moderates haven't actually suggested any policy changes which they think are needed to respond to these concerns of the voters. It was perhaps revealing that when pressed on this, Balls suggested that the priority was for Labour to explain better about the points-based system which they introduced, along the lines of "if the voters disagree with us, it must be because they didn't understand what we were doing". The loathsome Phil Woolas has made this argument explicitly.
I think it is also worth noting, since a lot of this seems to have been prompted by "bigotgate", that there is no evidence that "bigotgate" actually damaged Labour's electoral fortunes. Between 28th April, when Gordon Brown called Gillian Duffy a bigot, and election day, the opinion polls showed Labour's share of the vote slowly increasing. Labour's vote might have increased more quickly without "bigotgate", but it is impossible to know.
In fact, the example of Gillian Duffy is quite interesting. Although she was concerned about immigration, she also felt that the local schools were getting better, and appreciated the help that pensioners had got. Indeed, she was planning to vote Labour after she'd spoken to Gordon Brown. And, of course, Labour gained Rochdale from the Liberal Democrats.
Regardless of which individual ends up being Labour leader, this is one policy argument that it is absolutely key that Labour gets right. If the Milibands, Balls and Burnham think Labour should change its immigration policies, then they should set out how and why.
But it would be much better if they took Nandy's advice and instead of trying to put a new spin on old policies, took the time to explain how they would change Labour's policies to sort out the vitally important issues which the last Labour government failed on, starting with housing.