An open, if rather personal, letter to Liz Kendall:
You don't know me, but I see you alone in your beige and featureless office, and listen to you struggling to form sentences without having the courage to actually say anything, and I know you're not a happy person. And I think you need somebody. And if you want to call it a friend, you can call it a friend. You and I may be very different politically, for I am supporting your rival Mr Corbyn, but I strongly believe that what unites us as human beings is much stronger than what divides us. When I saw that shot pull out to reveal no personal effects whatsoever to leaven the drabness, only a similarly beige map of the UK, I knew this was a cry for help. And if I can help, I will.
My second open letter to Liz Kendall:
I'm sorry to write to you again so soon, but I watched your video another time, and it struck me that we may share something. That at a deep level those words you are tapping into your product-placement computer all mean nothing to you, as they do to me, and to so many of the unkind commenters on the film. I seriously advise you to get away from your keyboard in that depressing room. I know it's hard to face up to the fact that you won less than one in twenty CLPs, and I'd like to share that I also know how hard it is to be ignored. Often I write on facebook expecting likes and shares, but am only met with silence. Maybe we should both just stop doing it. There's a big world out there, Liz, where you wouldn't have to try so hard not to talk about policies. If I see you in another of these desultory promos, without even a radio for company, I'll know you haven't taken my advice, but please give it some thought.
Very best wishes
My third open letter to Liz Kendall:
I hope you'll forgive me for yet another letter, but I wanted to temper the negativity of some of my earlier comments. Although we are poles apart politically, as I support the front-runner for Labour Party leader Mr Corbyn, I wanted to say that I find you a lot more honourable than your rival Mr Burnham, for instance over the Tories' Welfare bill. He said he opposed it, but nevertheless abstained, which seems to me dishonest, whereas I know that you do not oppose welfare cuts for the poorest at all, and would vote with the Tories if you were allowed. I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to guess that you see yourself as doing for the Labour Party what Margaret Thatcher did for the Tories. But I think we all know that's not going to happen, and I think you should therefore leave that computer alone and get out a bit more. You could try going to one of Mr Corbyn's rallies, and get energised by the young people clambering up the windows to catch him speak. But that may be a bit close to the bone. How about a salsa class (a lot more lively than that sub-Philip Glass music on your video), or a friend of mine swears by tantric yoga? Another lonely friend joined a skiffle band, and has never looked back. You wouldn't need to know how to play anything exotic like the washtub bass or the cigar-box fiddle - a normal guitar would be fine.
Open Letter No. 4 to Liz Kendall
I'm writing to you again because a couple of things have been troubling me, and as ever I have some suggestions I hope you may find helpful. Firstly, I do wish the dinosaurs from Old New Labour such as Messrs Blair, Straw and Campbell would actively distance themselves from your campaign. It can't help for you to be associated with these yesterday's men, especially as many people think they are war criminals who should be arraigned at the Hague. I feel that if they want to campaign for the leadership, they should run themselves, rather than tarnishing your campaign.
Secondly, I hope you don't mind me asking, but I have a friend who is a big fan of the great stage and screen actress Felicity Kendall, and we wondered if you two were in any way related. Who can forget the delightful comedy "The Good Life"? In any case, I'm upset to hear that the opinion polls don't look very good for you, so I wondered if you'd considered leaving politics like Mr David Miliband did when he lost to his brother Ed. If so, with your origins in the great town of Watford, a career in suburban situation comedy might be ideal.
Best wishes in these difficult times
Open Letter to Liz Kendall No. 5:
Let's forget about this terrible video for a moment, with its complete absence of policy. I prefer to blame your communications team rather than you personally. For I know you do have quite specific policies, even extending as far as foreign affairs. I have to say, though, that your desire to remove Parliament's ratification of statehood for the Palestinian people I found really shocking. Again, Mr Corbyn has a distinct, even unfair, advantage here, as he has many Israeli and Palestinian friends. I can only think that you've never been to Gaza. I have, and I can tell you it is an unforgettably tragic experience, which I'm sure would cause you to revise your current policy if you witnessed it. I know you're very right-wing, Liz, but surely that's not the same as being cruel to these suffering people. Or is it? Please please reassure me on this matter.
Open Letter to Liz Kendall No. 6:
I can no longer forbear to comment in detail on the video attached, which completely fails to promote you as potential Labour leader. I am a film maker myself, so offer my skills to suggest improvements. In the strangely inert dialogue scene between you and your computer (strange, that is, after the film "Her"), a great opportunity was missed. Why oh why did we not see some moving images on the screen for you to relate to? Maybe a jolly montage of white working class people NOT on benefits, such as plumbers or taxi drivers, but definitely not electricians, who tend to be committed trade unionists. Or you could have gone the full "Tessa Jowell", with her vision of "One London", everyone from mansion dwellers in Kensington to flat dwellers in Newham (as long as none of them claim benefits). Technically you would have to exclude bankers from this sequence, as they are the largest recipients of state aid, but I leave that as your call. I'm sorry that now we need a bit of film theory. If this is too high-falutin, please pass it directly to your comms team. The crucial concept is Lacanian suture, whereby viewers are "stitched" into your story and ideas by editing, by the juxtaposition of images. Here there was a golden opportunity to achieve suture in a single image, such as Professor Slavoj Zizek finds in the work of Polish master Kieslowski. You could have been reflected in the screen, as a ghostly presence in the lives of all your subjects. Thus as viewers we would have been stitched into your fantasy of power at any cost, and you could have won by a landslide. As it is, all we remember from the sequence is that infernal Apple logo, which makes you appear to be merely a servant of big Capital. Please tell me that isn't so. And Liz, change your comms team!
Best wishes as ever
Open Letter to Liz Kendall No. 7:
I wanted to clarify something in my last letter, as I fear you haven't replied yet to any of my letters because I've inadvertently offended you. When I referred to your "fantasy of power at any cost", I did not mean this in the popular sense of that word. I did not mean that in your wish to be Labour leader you were what people call a "fantasist", rather I meant it in the Freudian sense where fantasies are positive. As Dr Freud himself said, we "cannot subsist on the scanty satisfaction which (we) can extort from reality." He added that the energetic person is "one who succeeds by their efforts in turning their wishful phantasies into reality." Whether that will prove to be the case for you in the coming election is, I regret to say, rather doubtful. I only wish that you had appeared more "energetic" in that awful video, instead of looking like a late-night internet surfer, which always has a rather depressive air. I'm sure I too would be a more productive person if I didn't find myself writing to you in the early hours of the morning. I'm sure we can stop doing this if we try a bit harder, Liz. We could make a pact.
All the very best
Open Letter No. 8
I apologize for returning to the subject of that misguided video, and I promise I won't mention it again. One of the most disturbing aspects of it, though, is how the producers have no idea how to make you shine when moving. Instead you lurk in the shadows, behind the door, facing away from us. It reminds me of the grainy photos of the murder in Antonioni's 60s masterpiece "Blow-Up", but unfortunately I'm not sure whether you're the killer or the corpse. Killer, I hope, because although, as you know, I want Mr Corbyn to win, rather like the 35 MPs who originally nominated him, I'd like there to be a contest. Do you have the instinct, Liz? Aspiration may not be enough, as suggested by this scurrilous satirical site.
If I were directing you in a video, Liz, I would try a much more dynamic scenario. You can't beat the cinematic masters of the 70s, so maybe we could get you out of that computer chair and give you a (female?) friend, walking down the street, with you talking fervently, like in early Woody Allen. Something like this:
LIZ: (gesticulating madly) I mean, he's antIE-nooclear, he's so 80s my mother gets her shoulder pads out of the trunk when he's on TV. ETC
(Can you do a decent Brooklyn accent?).
These ideas are just early drafts, Liz, and we're only brain-storming here. But I'm sure I can do better for you than your current comms team. I would even offer my services for free.
Open Letter No. 9:
In my last letter I suggested a video campaign where you walk down the street dynamically like Woody Allen, putting the world to rights, with a girlfriend at your side. I just found out that you and Ms Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow, are drinking pals, even "bezzies". I read this in a newspaper, so it must be true. I was thinking she might be ideal to be your foil in these scenes. She could be your "Annie Hall", if you like. I am a bit concerned, though, that her tilt-headed, slacker hipster style might put you in the shade. We may have to dress her down a bit, though probably not as far as Mr Corbyn. On the other hand, to quote my friend Barry Watt, "Has anyone ever mastered the art of the empty platitude better than Stella?" Come on, Liz, you're not going to take that lying down, are you?
As ever, working to lift your campaign
Open Letter No. 10:
I have to confess I'm having second thoughts about the "street-talking" scenario, with or without your charming hipster friend Ms Creasey. It's time we admitted it. We have a major image problem. I don't mean you, perish the thought, any more than the rest of your New Labour comrades. I just mean that Mr Corbyn is quite brilliant at images which resonate with the public. How can any of you compete with that speech he made atop a fire engine in Camden. It said "open air", "spontaneous", "unguarded", "on the level", and "too popular for a mere hall". It also associated him with one of the strongest trade unions, the FBU. Perfect! So let's forget trying to make you into a motor-mouthed nebbish. That was silly. What resonant image could you have, which would work for your voters? How about Queen Boudica, repelling the migrant hordes? I like the idea of you as Labour's warrior queen. The problem which is always at our backs, however, is that Mr Corbyn does all of this without spin doctors or image consultants like me. So we need to do something "authentic". You'll need to cast off everything you've learnt of the dark arts of Mr Campbell, who has schooled young MPs such as you and Stella in the art of caution, vapidity and the infamous "triangulation". And I need to learn how to write "authentic" without inverted commas. Stella and her infernal "irony" can't help us now. Over to you, Liz. Give us the real you. I mean, nothing too scarey for either middle England or for the core voters. Something we could "focus-group". Omg, I'M doing it now. I'll just shut up for a while.
Your retiring helper
Open Letter No. 11:
I'm not just shocked, I'm angry. First of all, they spread a rumour about you, that you were having a relationship with a recently divorced fellow MP Mr John Woodcock. My reaction was incendiary:
1. Who cares?
2. Why is it appropriate for a female candidate such as yourself to suffer this tittle-tattle?
Was this coming from the campaign team of Ms Yvette "I'm a Mum, so I understand your problems" Cooper (barf), trying to take you out of the running because you are single? They deny it, but it must have come from somewhere. We know it didn't come from Mr Corbyn's campaign, because he famously "doesn't do personal". It reeks of the rancid legacy of New Labour, where Blair's people would brief against other ministers, and Brown and Blair would brief against each other. Liz, I only ask, is this what happens when politics is replaced by politicking? I'm so sorry that you should have been similarly traduced.
But even worse was the reaction of Mr. Woodcock himself. He replied that such claims were "not true, have never been true and WOULD NEVER BE TRUE”. Never say never, John. What can you mean? I'm sorry, Liz, I know I'm rather old-fashioned, but I think he's a cad, and in a bygone century I would have challenged him to a duel.
In your defence
Open Letter No. 12:
OK, we've got a problem. I wouldn't be a friend if I didn't tell you that your BBC interview today was a car-crash. I'm sorry, but saying that "we must support the disabled, but we must support ordinary people as well" has wound up a lot of folk. People with disabilities have responded "How dare she say I'm not ordinary!" and the able-bodied have responded "How dare she call me ordinary!". Oh dear. If you'll allow me, I think I've got a solution. It's no good sitting on it, hoping it'll go away. We need to respond now, so I've written you a small, concise retraction (sometimes we just have to do that).
"I realize I could have been misunderstood when I spoke about the disabled today on BBC News. I did not mean to imply that there was any conflict between the interests of people with disabilities and those of the rest of the population. I do not for a moment accept this false argument used to divide people by the Tories. I have always supported disabled rights both in my constituency and in the wider society."
How about it. Liz? Press release it now, and we will have achieved the desired "damage limitation". I know you will say that arguing that to give equal opportunities to the disabled requires state aid makes you sound a fulminating Marxist extremist like Mr Corbyn. But I think we need to recognize that the whole discourse has moved left because of his campaign, and there just aren't enough die-hard Blairites remaining for you to win like that. Disabled people and the unemployed can't easily be blamed for the deficit any more. Get the statement out, Liz, or the kind of picture you see here will continue to shoot around social media:
Open Letter No. 13:
I'm obviously upset that you didn't take my advice to clear up the matter of you seeming to discriminate against people with disabilities and thinking that everyone else is "ordinary". You actually did the next best thing by appearing on the World At One, which under the stewardship of the redoutably reactionary Martha Kearney, is one of the safest media ports for right-wing views to go unchallenged. So let's move on.
We need to think of other ways of bolstering your flagging image. In fact, I'm sorry to say, we need to talk about clothes. This may sound a bit rich coming from a guy who has dressed for years like a slightly sinister 1940s detective. But the point is that here again Mr Corbyn is trouncing his opponents with his now famous "Oxfam-chic", which plays very well with the growing constituency of artists in my part of East London. And, you know, by his not giving a f***. There was a time when a workerist cap indicated a Trotskyite "Dave Spart" you wouldn't want to get caught in a lift with, but now it's just so hip. And his beard will attract all the hipsters in my area, because for them, you know, that is SO political. Anyway, the fact is that the New Labour merchant banker suit just won't cut it any more. It provokes reactions of distrust, disgust, and "What the f*** did you do with my pension?" Your rival Ms Cooper has bagged the "mumsy" look, which is rumoured to be a kind of kid-scoring competition with you (Cooper 3 Kendall 0). Outrageous! Mr Burnham is always well turned-out, but when he opens his mouth you realize he's that Liverpudlian estate agent you met, a bit out of his depth, and battling to keep his job. How would you break away from the Blairite sharp-practice suit, Liz?
Open Letter to Liz Kendall No. 14:
I hope you don't think I'm being presumptuous, but I do wish you'd take my advice occasionally. I warned you about that dreadful sequence in your Open Letter to the Labour Party, the one where you smile at the computer screen, and the screen doesn't smile back. Well, now you've only become a twitter meme! #WhatisLizLookingAt
And I told you to apologize about the disabled vs ordinary people cock-up when you had the chance, and now you've provoked an e-petition. So it's no longer just me asking you to retract, at the last count it's 1,828 people.
I have to confess, Liz, I got sucked into signing it myself.
Open Letter to Liz Kendall No. 15:
I'm glad to hear that you're proud to join "The Resistance", led by those fearless guerrilla fighters Mr Chuka Umunna and Mr Tristram Hunt. I know you will lead a courageous rearguard action if Mr Corbyn wins, as bookmaker Paddy Power is certain he will. You know I liked the idea of you as Labour's warrior queen, but if my man Mr Corbyn wins, it will no longer be possible for you to wield your battle-axe in public on the fields of middle England. You will have to go underground, with only the mewlings of the conservative and liberal press, and old-fashioned, non-social-media broadcasters such as the BBC and Sky, to support you. By the way, I don't think Mr Umunna's earlier withdrawal from the leadership contest, which some people saw as cowardly, should count against him. Then he was facing only the British press, whereas now he fights for the soul of the Blue Labour Party itself. Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
But once again, I offer some advice. Is "The Resistance" really the ideal name for your group? OK, it's better than the earlier attempt, "Labour for the Common Good", which sounds like a particularly uninteresting meeting of the Cooperative Society. But the problem with "The Resistance" is that it evokes the fight of the French resistance in World War Two, and however much Mr Corbyn is attacked across the media, no one has yet suggested he's a Nazi (I am treating Cathy Newman's attempt for C4 to frame him as a supporter of holocaust deniers as, erm, exceptional journalism. Yes, that's the word - exceptional).
So, given that Mr Corbyn is closer to being a communist than a fascist, shouldn't you be called "Samizdat" or "The Dissidents" or something? The "Alexander Solzhenitsyn Appreciation Society" is too long, but you know what I mean.
Open Letter No.16:
I'm in a bit of a panic, actually, and I wonder if you could help me. I know that normally I'm trying to assist you, but this is an emergency.
Many many friends have been excluded from voting in the leadership ballot, and they all seem to have one thing in common. They all wanted to vote for Mr Corbyn. People included in the #Labourpurge include longterm full party members and ex-local councillors, in other words people with much better qualifications than me. So let me make my case to you. Labour is the only political party I have ever belonged to. I left in 1994 when Mr Blair became leader, but I found his government a mixture of the good (the minimum wage, tax credits) and the awful (PFI and the invasion of Iraq). I never rejoined until now, but that was partly because I couldn't afford the suit. I've always voted Labour. And I've never been a stand-up comedian, because they seem to be the most suspect. But there seems be a kind of Blairite Stasi, sorry "rigorous checking regime", excluding people for dissident facebook posts and tweets. It all sounds a bit like China in the 50s, when Mao Zedong announced "Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom" to encourage critical thought, then purged and arrested anyone who came forward. My fevered brain is now imagining that Mr Corbyn may in fact be a stalking horse to root out all the remaining socialists in the party.
So I'm announcing a change of heart. I've decided that I've so enjoyed our conversations, albeit they've been rather one-sided, I'm going to vote for YOU. I've decided the party needs modernising to attract aspirers who live in your home town of Watford, people who like their local Indian restaurant, but for whom that's quite enough, thankyou very much. Furthermore, I really hate the films of notorious Trotskyite Ken Loach, and would much rather watch Downton Abbey. Liz, if I have any trouble with my vote, could you possibly put in a good word for me?
By the way, just checking, this ballot is SECRET, right?
Open Letter No. 17
I hope you're holding up as we reach the fag-end of this tiring campaign. I know it must be hard. In the Sky debate, Mr Corbyn gained over 80% in their viewers' poll, so that must seem like a nadir. But I want to bolster your spirits a bit. You came second! Let's ignore the fact that you only got 9.1%. You were twice as popular as Mr Burnham, and now the attention of all three of you must be focussed on what happens after the leadership election. It's a shaky launching pad, Liz, but like other viewers, I thought you came over as more honest and straight-talking than either of your Blairite rivals. Let's move on, as Mr Blair himself said about the Iraq war.
I think you should continue to emphasise the gulf between you and Mr Corbyn, as Mr Burnham's attempt to face both ways seems to be so much spin he must be dizzy. One of the most crucial fora for political debate these days is that focus for middle-class anxiety and prudent shopping, Mumsnet. They asked you all for your favourite book, and Mr Corbyn gave a most un-focus-grouped answer, James Joyce's “Ulysses”. This will be because, once again, he doesn't give a f*** what people think, and just answers honestly. For the rest of us, though, “Ulysses” is one of the those books that most of us pretend we've read, like Woody Allen's Zelig. (If you remember, Zelig's clinical need to conform starts with him pretending to have read “Moby Dick”.) Your rivals' choices were incredibly dull: Ms Cooper's “Middlemarch” is middle-brow for middle England, and Mr Burnham completely copped out with the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Nothing can be made out of nothing, Andy. But Liz, I have to say I found your choice of Hemingway's “The Old Man and the Sea” a bit disappointing. I hope you don't mind me asking, but was this an O-level set text for you at school, as it was for me? Anyway, it's just a bit too literary to contrast enough with Mr Corbyn's Joycean modernism. I'd suggest something much more popular. “50 Shades of Grey” is probably a bit risqué, and for the uninitiated might sound like a book about the Parliamentary Labour Party. Jeffrey Archer is possibly too Tory even for you, and frankly is just too awful. Bridget Jones I always found a bit wet, but what about something of that ilk? Sophie Kinsella's “Confessions of a Shopaholic” would have a positive underlying economic message. Or how about going further down that line with some proper “shopping and f**king”. Julie Burchill's “Ambition” would show that you were a lot more than merely damp New Labour aspirational. And Liz, I've got a lot more sub-literary suggestions. Just let me know if you need any more help.
With my Booker Prize specs on.
Open Letter No. 18
I enjoyed your final speech today, where you did the superb "triangulation" of arguing for party unity while at the same time trying to kick Mr Corbyn in the teeth. He seems to be quite a stoical type, so I don't think you should stress about any real harm done. There was a nice hint of self-criticism too, where you wondered if you'd been too harsh on Labour Party members who think the party is here to represent the poor. As you know, I'm rarely shy to offer my advice, so I do question if your emphasis on foreign policy was really necessary. You have views for instance on the Middle East which would make a number of Tories blanch, but above all, you know, I don't think the voters care very much.
When we sum up the campaign, it's probably best if we put the politics and those dull debates to one side. Instead, let's look at the positive. We can see that both you and Mr Corbyn have been much hipper and more street-wise than the rather strait-laced Ms Cooper and Mr Burnham.
What do I mean? Well, Mr Corbyn has his own Latin following here in London, and here he is playing the congas, seemingly not as a photo-opportunity, but just because he enjoys it:
And the latest version of your letter-writing video is so much better than the first, now you've re-worked it with one of your favourite rappers:
Liz, we can finally put that ill-fated letter to bed with the words of the great Eminem: "It was probably a problem in the Post Office or something."
Signing off, I can only adapt his words a bit: "I got a room full of Jez's posters and his pictures, man, but I'm your greatest fan. Anyways, I hope you get this, ma'am. Hit me back, just to chat, only yours, your biggest fan. But the problem is, Liz, #JezWeCan."