As usual, the Blairites bring a knife to a gunfight

by Kevin Meagher

It’s not fair. That seems to be the message from Blairite veterans at how the nascent Labour leadership contest is shaping up. A seemingly co-ordinated attempt to appeal for offside is underway, with complaints about the leading candidates’ campaigning efforts and the role of the trade unions in the process.

Former health secretary, Alan Milburn, was at it on Newsnight the other day, saying that for “one or two candidates being assumed to be the font of all wisdom in this race is just not right.” He wants an open field, which is code for anyone but Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper.

Lady Sally Morgan, Tony Blair’s former political secretary, also weighed in, claiming it’s both “arrogant and plain wrong” for there to be only two candidates in the frame.

Barry Sheerman, the Huddersfield sage, has come over all Inspector Renault and is shocked – shocked – that “Unite’s merry men” have the temerity, as an affiliated organisation for the past 100 years, to have their say in the process.

Meanwhile John Hutton, former DWP secretary, is equally sniffy about union involvement, pointing out that only a  ”tiny proportion of the population are in trade unions.” (Not, though, in the Barrow shipyard he used to represent in Parliament, presumably?)

Moaning that Labour MPs – who are free to back whomsoever they wish –  are currently breaking cover in greater numbers for either Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham is like complaining that rain is wet. Indeed, for a wing of the party committed to consumer choice, it’s a strange gripe to have.

The Blairites – if, indeed, such a description still has any coherence – should perhaps have been better prepared for the possibility that Labour might have ended-up having a leadership contest in the latter half of 2015.

‘Ah, but it would have been disloyal to even countenance defeat’, comes the reply. (Truly, if Labour politicians have stopped endlessly game-playing how they will benefit if their party leader falls under a bus, then we must have entered the realm of ‘the new politics’).

The real problem for the Blairite clan in recent years has been their lack of succession-planning. Their ranks were hollowed-out by the mass exodus of their talented brethren in 2010, with Milburn, Byers, Hoon, Hewitt, Reid and Hutton all choosing to abandon politics (usually in preference for corporate lolly). Charles Clarke fought on, (but the voters had other ideas). Alan Johnson remained, but has opted to stay out of the top flight.

They chose to relinquish their influence over the party and now resent the fact they are struggling to regain it. This helps explain why they are such hopeless plotters and fixers. The CIA was more adept when it came to trying to kill Fidel Castro.

It’s a pattern of ill-preparedness than stretches back to at least 2007 and Blair’s resignation. Back then, none of them had the courage to stand against Gordon Brown in the leadership race, if only to make an alternative argument in the hope of shaping his agenda.

Fast-forward to James Purnell’s resignation from Brown’s cabinet in 2009. There was a momentary sense this would trigger David Miliband’s resignation too and set off a chain-reaction that would see Brown toppled. Predictably, it ended with a whimper. As did the attempted coupled by Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt in 2010.

Then came David Miliband’s leadership campaign. Despite having heavyweight endorsements and more money than all the other candidates, he lost. Yes, he won more MPs and party members, but he didn’t perform strongly enough in the trade union section of the electoral college. So came the narrative of The Great Betrayal. It wasn’t fair because the trade unionists preferred his brother and their votes should have counted for less!

Selective memory is another problem. For today’s camp followers to shed crocodile tears about trade union influence is epically disingenuous. There were no complaints when Ken Jackson was general secretary of Amicus, (Unite’s predecessor) and the fixing and finance and selection battle nominations flowed in the Blairites’ favour.

So we are where we are. Liz Kendall, said to be the main Blairite standard bearer, was first out the traps in announcing she was standing and thinks she has the 35 MP nominations she needs to get on the ballot paper. Fair play to her. Ditto Mary Creagh, who may struggle to make the shortlist but should still set out her analysis, make her pitch and see what happens.

Tristram Hunt, meanwhile, has finally ended his lumbering candidacy-that-never-was by backing Kendall, (proof, perhaps, that Blairites have remembered the need for a Granita deal?)

So the grumbling grandees should take a step back. All that has happened is that the two most experienced candidates in the field – Burnham and Cooper – seem, at the moment, to be accruing more support from MPs. If anyone has a problem with that, surely they should take it up with the individual MPs? Or are candidates not supposed to try and win an election?

Indeed, for a bunch of once super-smart operators to cry foul because they are not as good at politics as they used to be, is pretty desperate stuff. Once again, the Blairites have turned up with a knife to a gunfight.

When will they learn?

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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12 Responses to “As usual, the Blairites bring a knife to a gunfight”

  1. swatantra says:

    Look on the bright side Kevin, we’ll be having another Leadership election in 2 years time anyway, so we’ll be able to go through all this infighting all over again.
    Lets face it Blair and Brown are Yesterday’s Men and Progress and Compass still have a lot of ideas up their sleeves, and the Unions, well their support is dwindling as Barry rightly observes, and Labour must distance itself from McClusky and his like. They are no friends of Labour. Let them stick to what they are there for , their members.
    Chas Clarke was all mouth and no trousers, kept whinging about Brown being a dead loss but didn’t have the guts to mount a challenge. He got what he deserved in Norwich S.

  2. John P Reid says:

    Barry Sheetman A Blairite, remind me,didn’t he vote against military intervention, 6 months ago.

    Patricia Hewitt wasn’t a Blairite, she worked for Kinnock, her coup, condemned by Blairite Anne Selgrove was started by Harriet Harman.

    There’s an assumption, by the Cooper, Burnham camps, that they’d be the two( on Balls defeat) to go into competition this time, and not suggesting that people backing to them are former Blairite or Brownites respectively,or that the two of them share this view, but their camps don’t like the idea a new one is standing.

    unfortunately, there’s more to the electorate than affiliated union members,it would be a shame if MPs look at the top 3 nominations or see the unite Union MPs are backing Burnham and Watson, for their own gain, be it shadow cabinet, London Mayor , or select committees back, those they think will win, rather than Mary Creagh, if they thinks she’s the best but no chance

  3. Mike says:

    The argument is that upto 6 people could be nominated. There is no reason for Burnham or Mrs Balls to have more than 35 nominations. The vote is later this year, when MP’s like party members can vote for whom they like.
    Those two candidates do want to shut down the number of competitors to increase their odds of being elected.

    It was right to criticise how Ed got elected in 2010 – party members and MP’s wanted David, only the block vote (not a democratic way to elect a leader) got Ed in.

  4. 07052015 says:

    With the benefit of hindsight the blairites had it easy -walkover in 1997 and 2001.

    We were so desperate to win ,after four defeats ,we put up with TBs strategic shift into tory territory and his version of neocon foreign policy -result the base goes missing,snp ,ukip you name it.But we won three in a row and many many good things were done.

    Those days are gone- choice is now between the hard right ,the ambitious and the blairite critique.

    I personally take a bit from all -merge social care into nhs budget,build lots of houses,recast welfare on the contributory principle,concentrate on the family,keep on about tax avoidance and evasion ,look at a devolved uk inc pr for the english parliament.Run a separate pro EU campaign.

    2020 will soon be here.

  5. David Walker says:

    You have to assume that the next Labour leader is going to be up against Boris Johnson at the next General Election. That man can stroll in to almost any town/city in the South or the North and be greeted like he was Beyonce promoting the latest tour.

    Unless Labour can themselves find a candidate with genuine star-quality, they won’t even be bringing a butter-knife to a gun-fight. All of the current wannabes are hopelessly grey. The party doesn’t seem to have one MP that isn’t and that includes those that are neither middle-class, white or male.

    Blair, Clinton and Obama – the next Labour leader will probably need to be even more charismatic than those three, to stand any chance. It seems pretty certain that they cannot even find someone to even match Cameron, Sturgeon or Farage.

    Labour desperately needs an interim leader, that can allow time for a genuine star to emerge. An old-hand with a hide like a rhino, similar to Michael Howard. HH seems as good a choice as any and I don’t think that she is anywhere near as unpopular as she used to be.

    The party also needs luck and plenty of it.

  6. Ted says:

    @ David Walker
    Hi David, Am curious r.e. your assertion r.e. Boris. Is he really that popular? I would have thought the opposite as he is too much of a posh buffoon (despite not being at all stupid) to appeal to a lot of people?

  7. Madasafish says:

    NO NO NO

    You are all wrong. It was the voters’ fault”

    “In an impromptu speech to local Labour Party members in Battersea, south west London, one of the angry attacks Mr Khan made on the public was: “Voters are bastards”.”

    Hmm.. and he’s running for London Mayor…:-)

  8. Mike says:

    Harriet Harman is grossly unpopular with the wider public. The feminist who supports women only short lists but parachutes her husband into a safe seat. The fighter against discrimination who rallies against gender discrimination, but defends segregated seating at a Labour meeting. Hypocritical.
    Her history defending PIE is also somewhat worrying and is out of touch with the wider public.

  9. David Walker says:


    He is seen as posh, but that seems to only be a concern to those on the left. His popularity is down to a few factors and I can’t really explain it fully. A mixture of charisma, not being slick, a sense of humour, a touch of devilment and a reasonable record as mayor in London would be my best guess. Certainly, it’s harder to think of a more popular politician, although I accept that he is hated on the left. Those on the left were never going to vote Tory anyway, though.


    Yes I would agree with all that and more. She is one of Labour’s few remaining big beasts though and the press seem to be laying off her, compared to recent years. Right now, Labour needs someone tough enough to lead the party in the house, with both the Tories and the SNP both being full of confidence. The media won’t be kind to Labour either. HH could take the flak and offer a stoic defence of Labour values for a few years, while a new star is uncovered. Men often have trouble laying into women at the dispatch-box, with the same amount of venom (remember Kinnock v Thatcher?) and HH always gives as good as she gets. Alan Johnson just doesn’t have the confidence to face the Tories with their tails fully up. Cooper and Burnham will expect at least one full-term if they get in and probably two. Labour needs to just buy a bit of time and an interim leader would help in that regard, I think.

  10. John P Reid says:

    Mike, I don’t normally defend,Harman but she didn’t defend segregated seating,the PIE stuff, she should have apologized for,and probably resigned when her involvement was revealed,

    07053015′ this idea the 2001 election was a push over,was based on William Hague not being able to present himself, funnily enough most of what he wa stoa.king about ,made up the last election,he did inherit a broken party, and a lack of good shadow ministers,but for labour to get 40.9% of the vote on a low turnout showed hit e reason we won, was partly base do an endorsement of the good work in the first term,

  11. John P Reid says:

    I’m told that Had diane Abbott not made the 33 nominations needed to make e final selection for the 2010 leadership election, then David Miliband would have won on the first round having got the 50% needed.
    I believe that if Mary Creagh fails to get the 35 votes needed then Liz Kendall could get the second position after Andy in the first round and see Yvette disqualified, meaning the second Round Andy would beat Yvette to win, but if Mary get through then Yvette could beat Liz and if the final is between Yvette and Andy ,I know at least 10 people who backed Andy last time. Who said they’re not backing him this time, backing Liz with Yvette second
    Incidentally Mrs John still backing Andy so we’ve got a bit of a showdown in the Reid household,

    Also I’m all for BME or AWS lists, but, the way that A woman automatically get through, despite disqualification for the London mayoral election wreaks of them trying to impose Tessa, despite the majority of London members wanting Sadiq

  12. Mr Akira Origami says:

    “I say your wrong, what do you say?”

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