Many of us believe that if Labour is to have a future, it must embrace decentralization and attack managerialism. The very way in which the leadership election is beling conducted, however, suggests that managerialism remains entrenched.
What I mean is that the election is bundling together two questions: what narrative/vision/message should the party have? And: who is best at winning the party votes?
But these are separate questions. It's perfectly possible that the leader most capable of "connecting" with voters is not the one best able to formulate policy and vision. In fact, it might be that no particular individual is better at the latter than the wisdom of the Labour membership crowd.
I suspect it would be better for the party to spend a few months thinking about its message and identity - at least in outline - and only then ask: who is best able to win support for this message?
Instead, in conflating the two issues, Labour is doing what I have accused the left of- the Bonnie Tyler syndrome: it is holding out for a hero, a single charismatic figure who can solve its problems.
But what if there's no such person? Labour is not conspicuously overstocked with political geniuses. And looking at its last two leaders suggests that the membership is not necessarily equipped to select the best candidate*.
Labour, then, must put less faith in leaders. Granted, a great leader - if one comes along - might transform the party. But it's perhaps more likely that a leader who has false ideas buttressed by the groupthink of a coterie of lackies can do real damage.
You might object that I'm demanding that the leader be a mere frontperson, advocating for a programme which s/he doesn't believe. I'm not sure this objection is decisive. For one thing, politics should not be an ego-trip for power maniacs: the party could reasonably expect the leader to subordinate his own ideas to the collective good. And for another, any big dissonance between the party's vision and the beliefs of a candidate would count against him/her in a leadership election.
Herein, though, lies a paradox. I've claimed that Labour's obsession with leadership is a symptom of managerialism. And yet well-run businesses avoid the error which the party is making. One of the key functions of a good CEO is to identify what the organization is best at doing - its core competences - and to ask how best to deliver them. Labour is not doing this, but instead engaging in what I've called cargo cult management. There's a world of difference between managerialism and good management - and Labour shows no sign of learning this.
* Yes, the way of selecting leaders has changed, but I'm not sure this solves the problem.