Modernising Chuka is so hard to please

by Kevin Meagher

Is there anything about British politics that Chuka Umunna likes?

Hardly a month goes by without a pronouncement from him about how some institution or part of our political fabric is not hopelessly outdated and in need of massive reform – or scrapping entirely.

He was at it again yesterday, arguing that our first-past-the-post electoral system leaves voters “remote and unrepresented” and should be replaced with the Additional Member system used in the Scottish Parliament.

It follows his call in the summer for a federal UK, predicting, with a hyperbolic flourish that we are witnessing “the end of British electoral politics as we know it.”

Modernisation is Chuka’s favourite riff. In case we hadn’t noticed.

Prime Minister’s Questions is a “circus” while the Palace of Westminster is Ground Zero for everything that’s wrong with our political culture: “It’s a beautiful building and it often feels like you are in a museum. So why don’t we turn it into a museum?” he suggested back in July.

Pimp my parliament, so to speak.

But it’s not just the décor that so offends: “How can we continue with a chamber that nurtures the ridiculous tribalism that switches so many people off?” His solution? Introduce a passion-sapping horseshoe design instead.

Political partisanship is a regular target of Chuka’s exasperation. “I am not the most tribal politician” he once told GQ magazine (the kind of publication he seems to like appearing in).  “Party affiliation among the public is not what it was, so just putting on an old party label or old-style tribalism will not win you elections.” (Apart from the small fact that it so clearly does. Ask Mr. Cameron – he’s just won one!)

Political debate, meanwhile, is usually “ridiculously adversarial” and parties “urgently need to move with the times.” Yet tribalism is what binds politicians to their parties. It’s just another term for loyalty and shared assumptions. While seeking to stand apart from the party he (briefly) wanted to lead in the summer, is a strange signal to keep sending out.

It explains, though, his proposal back in 2012 to fast-track business executives into parliament. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging more people from business to play a part in politics, but to elevate their interests over those who have earned their spurs with years of campaigning for the party shows how little feel he has for the  grassroots or Labour’s traditions.

And reveals how unlike Tony Blair he is, despite the superficial comparisons. For all his modernising zeal, Blair took care to regularly touch base with the party he led. (His emotional final conference speech as leader being a case in point).

Chuka is certainly fluent and thrusting, but he is also impatient and rootless. If he ever hopes to stand for leader again, he needs to show he understands ordinary people, (beyond the rarefied circles where his tetchy hyper-modernism is lauded). Perhaps he would now be better off finding a few things about politics and the Labour tribe that he does like?

But if his quest to modernise all he surveys must continue, perhaps he could start a bit closer to home.

The ‘latest news’ section of his website hasn’t been updated since March.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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29 Responses to “Modernising Chuka is so hard to please”

  1. not nick cage says:

    This is one of the rare times that I agree with him, and I’m sure the last general election was the straw that broke the camels back for many.

    Here’s the vote per seat table:

    Conservatives: 34,244
    Labour: 40,277
    UKIP : 3,881,129
    LibDem: 301,986
    SNP: 25,972
    Greens: 1,154,562

    This system is totally bonkers, and it’s definitely time to replace it with something that allows more representation of the population.

  2. paul barker says:

    This article actually does a brilliant & unintentional summing up of the central problem of British Politics : for the past century we have had 2 conservative parties. Labours primary slogan, if it had been honest, would have been “Reformism without Reforms.”
    Of course its all changed now that Labour has been taken over by Revolutionaries but they dont want Reform either.
    In fact Chuka is right, British Politics is in desperate need of major reforms & neither Tories nor Labour are likely to offer them.

  3. TB says:

    I’m sure Chuka, once he faces the prospect of deselection will begin to start making sense.

  4. Robert says:

    Chuka happens to be right about the need to change our voting system. It is a pity that Kevin did not explain why we should keep that system. I assume that is his view.

  5. Genuine questions here, Kevin.

    Would you agree that, if there had been some form of electoral reform, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell would have left Labour long ago for a new socialist party?

    That would have meant Labour could have become a fully social democratic party. Wouldn’t that be a *very* good thing? And a strong enough reason to want electoral reform?

    So why the hostility to Chuka’s proposal?

  6. Tafia says:

    Voting for 2020 will be changed – constituencies will be levelled in sice, resulting in the Labour bias being removed, meaning that Labour will need a near 10% swing to win the next election.

    And for all you PR fans, the last election , if it had been PR, would have resulted in a Tory/UKIP coalition, far more right wing than Cameron.

  7. Mike Homfray says:

    I think Labour would have remained the Socialist party but there may well be a realignment of politics with a proportional system.

  8. Kevin, somebody has to represent GQ magazine readers. Leave Chukka alone!

  9. @ George Kendall

    That would have meant Labour could have become a fully social democratic party.

    Would that be a social democratic party in this sense?

    Social democracy originated as a political ideology that advocated a peaceful, evolutionary transition from capitalism to socialism using established political processes in contrast to the revolutionary approach to transition associated with Orthodox Marxism. Encyclopædia Britannica

    Or a misuse of the term where you mean a socially and economic liberal party, like for instance the Liberal Democrat Party? Only we had a bit of that between 2010 and earlier this year from the Orange Bookers and it wasn’t very inspiring.

  10. Stephen W says:

    Electoral reformers would do better being more positive about FPTP but saying it just needs tweaking to remove its worst features that almost everyone admits are ridiculous e.g. UKIP’s 1 MP and the SNP’s 56. A switch to AMS could gain more support if it was stressed as a matter of continuity and not massively oversold.

  11. Tafia says:

    AMS would only be acceptable if it were regionalised – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would want their share of the seats allocated on the votes cast within their respective countries, not just lumped into a UK bucket that would see all but the national parties wiped out. Probably England’s nine regions would expect likewise.

    The public would also expect the PR element to replace the House of Lords.

    And always remember, the list element is picked by the party centrally. And the centre of Labour is far more left wing than the Parliamentary Labour Party and would thus be at loggerheads with it half the time.

  12. @Danny Speight

    You missed out the end of that Encyclopædia Britannica entry about historical social democracy:
    “Increasingly, social democracy adopted the goal of state regulation, but not state ownership, of business and industry as sufficient to further economic growth and equitable income”

    It is in this current meaning that I am using the word.

    Prior to 12 September 2015, I regard the Labour party as having been a social democratic party. After that date, I regard it as socialist, because, although they aren’t explicit about it at present, from their expressed views prior to being elected, the new leadership are clearly socialist.

    I know these terms are used and defined in different ways, but, for future reference, that’s what I mean when I use the terms.

    Regarding the coalition of 306 conservatives and 57 Liberal Democrats, I don’t regard that as having been a social democratic government, as was inevitable, given the respective size of the two parties. It did, however, have some social democratic influences, as described in the following guardian article:

  13. Madasafish says:

    I find it amusing that a Labour supporting blog wants to change the electoral system – when it cannot even manage its own system for appointing a leader.

    It would appear that Labour has a basic problem: it is incompetent at everything it does..

  14. Fred says:

    I’d love to know how lefties feel when they have to type Blair into the anti spam box…. eh Mike?

  15. Tafia says:

    e.g. UKIP’s 1 MP and the SNP’s 56.

    That’s because the SNP did extraordinarily well in Scotland – a place where UKIP lost every single deposit.

    Strangely, Plaid Cymru won no seats in Scotland either. Nor did Sinn Fein.

    In fact no party received any votes anywhere. You can only vote for a named candidate not a party and only within your constituency.

  16. Ian says:

    The trouble with Labour is that you are only ever in favour of reforming the voting system when you are losing. As soon as the unfair system delivers you a win, everything changes, until you return to losing again by which time it is too late.

  17. TCO says:

    Tafia says “And for all you PR fans, the last election , if it had been PR, would have resulted in a Tory/UKIP coalition, far more right wing than Cameron.”

    To which I say – if the electorate had had the choice of voting for a Tory / Lib Dem coalition, which had broad support, it would have done.

    Besides – proportional systems change the game completely and many people who currently vote Tory (or Labour) as the “least worst choice that is likely to win” will change to parties that more better represent their views.

  18. Leviathan says:

    Chuka is the latest in a long line of politicians who think the general public give a flying fig. Have you noticed how the parties that win elections and/or who manage to enact their policies think the system is fine while those that don’t, don’t.
    Stop mucking about with this nonsense, make sure all would-be politicians have had (10 years?) paid employment – outside politics – before being eligible for election, maintain MPs’ salaries but cut pension entitlements, forbid lobbying & disallow ex-MPs from taking lucrative directorships. Perhaps then we’ll get decent, honest politicians who are prepared to serve rather than rule. The rest will take care of itself.

  19. @ George Kendall

    Ah, yes, the politician’s answer. I was expecting that, the Humpty Dumpty argument that is.

    “When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

    ’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    ’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

    I suspect the truth is the Liberals can’t be both economically liberal and believe in more government regulation at the same time. We just went through 5 years of laissez-faire economics with very little attempt to regulate the system. We saw it from day one with the withdrawal of the loan offer to Sheffield Forgemasters.

    Still George, you may be right in saying the Liberals are an obvious home for Blairites, although what is going against that is your appalling election result, and that there is a strong public perception that you are liars; a rod you made for your own backs. Certainly your time in government seems to have done you no good at all. Was having the government limos for five years really worth it?

  20. I should add the quote is from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.OK, Alice in Wonderland to us kids.

  21. Tafia says:

    On more important issues (more important than a vain politician who routinely and publicly had the piss taken out of him by the very business community he thought he spoke for anyway), we have now not dropped any munitions on Syria for 10-11 days from the date of this post. Saudi Arabia has not even flown a flight and has no intention of doing so until Yemen is sorted out, diverting it’s air assets to there as it regards that as the more pressing issue (it doesn’t really regard Syria as ‘arab’). The slow down-sizing of the US Air Force committment to Syria continues. The much-trumpeted 34 nation arab coalition is in fact it turns out a western fantasy that not one arab nation acknowledges.

    Al-Nusra (the al-Queada affiliate and Saudi backed and financed group and also the third strongest armed group in Syria after the government group then ISIS), has turned on the largely no longer combat effective FSA and intends to wipe it out as not only does it view them as little more than a springboard for western interests, but also opposes democracy. The FSA meanwhile, has also been exposed as riddled with extremists, not averse to beheading people themselves.

    The Kurds have re-iterated their position – they will not mount operations outside of areas they regard as Kurdish, and also they intend to hold what they have got after any ceasefire. The Turks (who now now occupy part of kurdish northern Iraq, in breach of sovereignty guarentees we gave the Baghdad government), have in turn announced they have no intention of withdrawing, intend to build a brigade sized permanent base there, and will oppose the setting up of any independent Kurdish state by force if necessary. Strategically, the base sits between the northern Iraq oilfields and any fledgling Iraqi-Kurd capital, effectively hamstringing it should it ever come into existance.

    Meanwhile Russia continues to ready a rumoured 50,000 strong ground force in southern Russia that many commentators believe is bound for one place and one place only – a ground occupation of northern Syria. (Analysts point to the huge and rapid expansion of logistic facilities at the Latakia airbase and also the Tartus naval facility, along with what appears to be forward storage of kit and equipment at bases all over southern Russia). the S-400 AA missile envelope is now starting to be operational both at sea and on the ground, giving a near 600km radius anti-aircraft envelope from each launch system. It can also hit cruise missiles and ballistic missiles far more effectively than the US Patriot system and is even effective to a degree against stealth. It basically seals off southern turkey and northern Syria and the whole of Cyprus is under it’s envelope.

    Meanwhile we are sending 1000 ‘trainers’ to Libya to counter ISIS who are slowly conquering the country. This in actual fact will be a battalion sized battle group guarding a small handful of SASC small arms/infantry heavy weapons instructors and SchInf tactics wing instructors supplemented by a handful of training NCOs from our recruit depots. To a country we claimed to have freed. ROFL.

    Meanwhile in another country we have famously liberated, more Taleban commanders are swearing allegiance to the black flag, and ISIS is now actively fighting in 20 of the 24 Afghan regions.

    And in yet another country we have liberated – Iraq, southern and eastern Iraq is now basically an autonomous region of Iran and the Baghdad government little more than a branch office of Tehran – which in turn is leaning ever more towards Moscow, with Iranian nuclear scientists openly on secondment to Russian nuclear facilities. Wonder what they are doing there that – under the terms of the UN agreement, they can’t do in Iran but legitimately can do elsewhere.

    Worryingly, ISIS has started to become active in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

    Other than that and the minor hiccups, it’s going stunningly according to plan.

  22. Fred says:

    He’s going to be seriously upset when the deselections start. Oh yes….. Coming to a constituency near you soon.

  23. 07052015 says:

    Chuka is right about electoral reform but I cant see his current colleagues ever voting for that -they believe against all the evidence that Labour can rise again in Scotland .

    However his call for a federal uk which I could see a future tory leader negotiating with the snp would lead to PR.

    One of tony blairs greatest achievements was to impose different forms of proportionality on the new devolved institutions.Labour would have no alternative but to adopt pr if it gets faced with an english or english and wales parliament. S chuka is a head of the game.

  24. 07052015 says:

    Chuka believes we are headed for a federal uk and faced with only english and welsh seats then Labour couldnt win under FPTP.

    If he is right eventually his colleagues will either catch on or face perpetual opposition.

  25. Hi Danny,

    If you’re interested on my feelings about the coalition, do look at my articles in Lib Dem voice. However, as this is a centrist Labour blog, I won’t continue the discussion here.

    Regarding Labour centrists, I think you’re wrong. As with all political groups, there will be careerists among them. But I think there will be many with deep principle, who care passionately about the country.

    They’ll partly be motivated by a desire to prevent the damage that will be caused by 20 years of Tory rule, and so the need to create an electoral coalition that has some chance of defeating them.

    But they’ll also think the beliefs that underpin Jeremy Corbyn and in his inner circle would mean it would be a disaster if they were put into power in this country.

    These folk are struggling with a dilemma. Should they stay and fight for their beliefs in the Labour party? Or, if that fight is hopeless, should they help form a centre-left political grouping that *can* beat the Tories?

    If they have given decades of their life to building up the Labour party, to give it up to the far left must be an appalling prospect.

    I don’t envy them that choice.

  26. Madasafish says:

    The issues about voting reform and the federalised state of Britain are quite simple.

    Labour created the current system thinking it would ensure a Labour majority in perpetuity. And then manged to so obviously misgovern Scotland that it nearly lost all its MPs. Wales is going the same way: the Welsh education system and NHS are a byword for poor results.

    And in England Labour refuse to offer any devolved powers. And surprise, they have effectively lost control of England as well.

    There’s a message ther…

  27. Madasafish says:

    If Chuka was really concerned about his voters, he would be calling for restrictions on immigration:

    Mass migration has driven down the wages of workers in low-skilled jobs in the service industries, according to research by the Bank of England.
    The influx of a huge number of eastern Europe migrants into jobs in catering, hotels and social care has led to an average 2 per cent cut in pay for workers in these sectors.

    Instead he talks about reforming something he has no chance of doing… because if he’s in power to do it, he will not want to change the system that gave him power, and if he’s not in power, he can do nothing.

    So it’s an exercise in self promotion..

    Now if he campaigned on immigration affecting wages.. but of course he will not.

  28. Matthew says:

    What a snide and trivial article this is.

  29. @ George Kendall,

    We do often see comments like your “But they’ll also think the beliefs that underpin Jeremy Corbyn and in his inner circle would mean it would be a disaster if they were put into power in this country.”

    But when I ask “like what” and to please be specific, there’s never anything of any substance.

    Of course, it is fair enough to argue that railways or the RM or the public utilities should or shouldn’t be nationalised, or that we should follow Keynesian economic principles or those of Milton Friedman, or that we should or should not be as active as we have historically been in intervening in the internal affairs of other countries, etc etc.

    Anyone can argue whatever point of view they like within the Labour Party, at least within the limits of what’s acceptable to both our parties I would say, but if they don’t agree with party policy they need to explain just what they don’t like, why they don’t like it and suggest a better alternative.

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