Otto English is the pen name used by Andrew Scott, a writer and playwright based in London.
LONDON — In March 2016 filming began on a Channel 4 series called “Eden” in a remote corner of the Scottish Highlands. This was to be classic reality TV fare. Twenty-three contestants, cut off from the modern world, would forge a community and battle against the elements and each other. Uniquely, for a show of this kind, the footage would be entirely gathered using Go-pros, CCTV and footage shot by participants.
Things started well and interest was piqued, but within weeks everything had gone wrong. There were accusations of bullying; several participants left and the rest spectacularly fell out with each other. Matters weren’t improved by rumors that junk food was being smuggled into “Eden” from takeaways in a nearby town.
The British public, otherwise preoccupied with Brexit, were too busy fighting among themselves to be bothered with the intrigues of a bunch of wannabe reality stars in a remote highland enclave. Ratings plummeted and after four episodes, the show disappeared from the schedules.
But nobody told the contestants.
For months they carried on. Bickering, scavenging, filming each other and imagining that viewers in the rest of the country were following their every move. All the time blissfully unaware that none of it was being broadcast.
The calamitous self-indulgence of Brexit, followed by five years of internecine Tory fighting, should have been catnip to the Labour Party, but they failed.
Much the same has been the case with the current Labour leadership contest, which reaches the season climax on Saturday.
As the coronavirus crisis has swamped the political agenda, Britain has been too busy dealing with lockdown and fear to pay much attention to the singularly unexciting saga of three candidates sweating it out for the leadership of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition.
Voting in the contest ended on Thursday, and the result of the ballot will be announced on Saturday morning by email to party members. But in a further Eden-like reality TV twist, the nominees have been asked to pre-record acceptance speeches.
Keir Starmer remains the clear favorite to replace the incumbent Jeremy Corbyn, but given the seismic political upsets of the last five years, nothing can be taken for granted.
So he, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy have presumably spent the last week filming themselves in domestic broom cupboards trying to look like they are responding spontaneously to the various potential outcomes.
This is the farcical endgame to a drawn-out contest that was triggered by Labour’s catastrophic performance in the December 2019 election. That abysmal result — suffered in a climate of deep political crisis, against a party that had unleashed a decade of austerity and chaos on Britain — made the humiliation all the more resonant.
The calamitous self-indulgence of Brexit, followed by five years of internecine Tory fighting, should have been catnip to the Labour Party, but they failed — and failed monstrously.
There is little doubt that that disaster was down to the stewardship of Corbyn and those who enabled him long after it was clear that he was not up to the job. For decades, Corbyn had heckled from the safety of the backbenches, telling everyone where they were going wrong. But once in the driving seat, he demonstrated himself to be spectacularly unfit for the job.
Instead of taking the fight to the Tories, Corbyn preferred to wallow in the reassuring comfort of the political allotment, digging unicorn-shaped turnips and arguing about definitions of Zionism.
Corbyn’s flagrant ineptitude was further empowered by a hard core of die-hard disciples — principle among them the activists of Momentum — who saw him as a messianic figure, sent from Islington North to deliver salvation from the Blairites.
Online and in the media they would attack anyone who dared to criticize the dear leader, driving life-long Labour supporters into the political wilderness. As their grip extended over the party, it was turned from a mighty political engine, in need of an overhaul, into a two-stroke Trabant resting on a pile of bricks.
Things started badly and went downhill from there. As a lifelong Euroskeptic, Corbyn had seemed unwilling to campaign in the EU referendum. His failure to step up to the mark on that issue sparked civil war on his benches and the parliamentary party arguably never recovered from the mass resignations that followed.
In Starmer there is at least some hope. He is that rarest of creatures in modern front line politics: a serious man.
As the years went by, he failed to address charges of anti-Semitism against members of his party and failed to offer a clear vision to voters. In 2017, he lost an election to the insipid and lackluster Theresa May, but instead of doing the noble thing and standing aside, he ludicrously claimed that this failure had been a kind of a victory and dug his heels in ever further even as his party slid in the polls.
Following his humiliation in December, Corbyn argued that despite driving the Trabant off the white cliffs and into the sea, he had “won the argument.” The truth was that he had won nothing and at a considerable cost to his party and the nation at large. Labour now faces a long and torturous climb back out of the wreckage.
In Starmer there is at least some hope. He is that rarest of creatures in modern front line politics: a serious man, unencumbered with the trappings of populism who understands briefs and who would bring much needed intelligence and competence back into British politics. If he wins on Saturday, his party might finally find its way back to relevance.
What happens next is important, not just for the Labour Party, but for Britain. That this semi-invisible contest has been lost in the all-consuming wave of coronavirus news might not matter so much in the long run. But who wins and what happens next will come to define the future of Labour — and quite possibly Britain.