by Kevin Meagher
Tristram Hunt is off to run a museum rather than fight for the soul of the Labour party. We should not be surprised. He is one of a band of would-be leaders who would rather like to be Prime Minister, but don’t want to put in the work required to get there.
Labour’s shiny leadership hopefuls don’t want to get their shoes wet in the swamp of party reform. They want someone else to deliver them an electable Labour party to lead. So they’ll go and sit on the hillside until that happens.
They will be waiting a long time.
Here’s the hard reality. No Labour MP over the age of 45 is ever going to be Prime Minister.
The party will do less badly than many predict in 2020 (the Labour brand is stronger in its heartlands than the chatterers and scribblers of Westminster presume) but it will still be bad. The earliest Labour recovery is at the election after.
It’s easy for those on the right to daydream that they will rub the Left’s nose in the manure of defeat in 2020, snatch back ‘their’ party and march to victory, but it’s an idle fantasy.
Even if Corbyn makes way for a more centrist leader, no-one is going to be given carte blanche to reform the party the way Tony Blair was. The late Labour MP Tony Banks once said his members were so desperate for victory after the party’s fourth successive general election defeat in 1992 that they were willing to ‘eat shit to see a Labour Government.’
Labour members are nowhere near that desperate. Not yet. Reforming a party is a slow, incremental process. Last time, it took Labour fourteen years from the debacle of 1983 until victory in 1997 – from peak unelectability to eventual victory. Of course, that shears off the extra four years from actually losing power in 1979.
So, 2030, perhaps? Even to meet that far-off timeline, the party would need a new leader to push through the changes necessary to reposition Labour on the centre-ground. It needs someone to act as a bridge between where Labour is now under Jeremy Corbyn and where it needs to be to ever win again, (sans Scotland, in all probability).
A leader who can work with left and right and is prepared to do the heavy-lifting of party renewal, winning all those small internal battles in order to take the steps forward that are vital in modernising a political party.
The problem for the Labour Right, is that everybody wants to be Tony Blair. No-one wants to be Neil Kinnock.
But the task of modernising Labour is even harder this time around because of the necessity of keeping the Left on-board. In the 1990s, Tony Blair calculated that the Left had nowhere else to go and could be safely ignored.
Clearly that’s not an option any longer. Even if a bout of pragmatism break out after suffering multiple election defeats, the party’s grassroots will still remain anchored on the centre-left. A Blairite restoration is now impossible.
In our system of big, agglomerated parties, it will need a persuader of genius to keep everyone together – post-Blairite and post-Corbynite alike. Its an exhausting prospect.
So the question is ‘who?’
Which of Labour’s big names: Dan, Yvette, Chuka, Lisa, (or whoever) is prepared to, in all probability, forego the chance of leading Labour in government in order to take the brickbats and endure the hard slog required to lead Labour’s modernisation and save the party?
Who aspires to be the new Neil Kinnock?
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut