Five things we learnt from Tristram Hunt

by Jonathan Todd

Having derided Ed Miliband as “a vulture” in his column, David Aaronovitch is not an uncritical Labour observer. Tristram Hunt, the Shadow Secretary of State for Education, was last night brave enough to sit down for an hour of conversation with him at a Progress #InConvo14 event.

We can only wonder what an hour of conversation between Miliband and Aaronovitch would tell us. But five things to take away from last night’s event were:

Labour loves teachers

Blowing smoke up the bottoms of teachers is a Hunt speciality. The policy chat was of lessons to be learnt from Finland and Singapore where a focus on teacher quality has driven improvement in school performance. The political pitch was also clear: for the support of teachers bruised by Michael Gove. Where Gove sought to bend them to his will, Hunt wants to put them on a pedestal. And if the Finnish and Singaporean experiences can be replicated, children and parents will thank Hunt.

Labour doesn’t love faith schools as much – but isn’t going to abolish them

Parental choice and school diversity become Labour virtues under Tony Blair. Last night, though, we debated what kind of divided society we might become if this choice is exercised to create a diversity of schools centred on different faiths and ethnicities.

Hunt recognised the concern but argued that school challenge and collaboration can overcome it. He claimed that these characteristics were present in the successful London Challenge, while their absence goes some way to explaining recent problems in Birmingham schools. A diversity of faith schools, on this argument, is unproblematic if they are challenged by Ofsted and integrated into local networks of both accountability and collaboration.

Labour wants to make a big play out of being pro-EU

“The thing,” according to Chuka Umunna’s recent GQ interview, “business fears most is exit from the EU, not a Labour government”. Umunna made this argument when it was put to him that Labour is anti-business. Hunt did the same last night when similarly pressed. Labour cannot be anti-business, so the story goes, because business values the UK’s EU membership and Labour government guarantees this membership, whereas Tory government doesn’t. Having cast around for business pitch, it appears that Labour has disembarked on what it thinks is a winner.

Hunt is a safe pair of hands but might want to be more nimble

In an attempt to catch Hunt off guard, he was asked if he thinks Labour has made any mistakes in the past six months. He didn’t rise to the bait. Nor did he say anything that deviated from strict party lines over an hour of probing. That’s no mean feat. But it’s a touch dull.

Umunna – I can’t think why I keep comparing the pair – also largely played it safe when interviewed by Jacqui Smith at the Progress Annual Conference this year. But he did reveal that he isn’t a fan of Labour’s ‘shrinking Clegg’ party policy broadcast. Many party members wouldn’t take this gentle criticism as risqué so much as proof of Umunna’s good sense. Hunt might reflect on whether he can be equally unbuttoned, which, of course, isn’t particularly unbuttoned at all.

Rising politicians like Hunt and Umunna proclaim the increased importance of authenticity, while agonising over the slightest dash of candour. By definition, however, it is walking the walk on authenticity that counts more than talking the talk.

Labour thinks equality can trump growth and the deficit

In two separate sessions at the 2011 Progress political weekend Douglas Alexander and Jim Murphy both said that Labour needs a draw on the deficit and a win on growth. Asked whether Labour can be ahead on economic credibility for the general election, Hunt didn’t declare that win. Or even much seek it. As for the deficit, he said even less.

Instead Hunt deployed the equity argument that James Morris has advanced and which I have previously critiqued. This holds that it is not the perception that a party can deliver growth that is electorally decisive but whether they are thought to be on the side of ordinary people.

Advocates of this kind of thinking often cite Bill de Blasio’s victory in New York. But Rob Philpot has explained why this of limited relevance to next year’s general election. In fairness, Hunt didn’t do this. Like Morris, he appealed to President Obama’s 2012 re-election. “It was,” claims Morris, “Obama’s lead on being for ordinary people carried him through”.

In contrast to Miliband, though, Obama was the incumbent. Assuming Miliband is thought to be on the side of ordinary people, and Aaronovitch cast doubt over this, this pits the value of being for such people against the devil we know consolations now held by the Conservatives – which of these forces is most powerful remains to be seen but the analogy to 2012 Obama is imperfect.

Nonetheless, ordinary people – like teachers and the EU – are building blocks toward Miliband’s majority. If this construction should falter – whether for want of growth and deficit stories, seeming acquiescence in being pro EU with the Euro malaise, or a sudden uptick in support for French style absolutism on faith schools – we will enter a different political context. In which, we may reassess Hunt and Umunna afresh.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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7 Responses to “Five things we learnt from Tristram Hunt”

  1. Madasafish says:

    Assuming Miliband is thought to be on the side of ordinary people,

    But that is the problem. Ed is NOT loved or respected. That is NOT my opinion. It’s the Opinion Polls… People just can’t connect with Ed..

  2. Tafia says:

    People just can’t connect with Ed.

    That’s partly because most of the time what he says is unintelligable to ordinary people. He uses ridiculous catchphrases that people are sick of (cost of living crisis etc), complex jargon that may as well be a mix of mongolian and eskimo for all the sense he makes and he surrounds himself with people that the voters do not like – such as Mr & Mrs Balls-Cooper.

    He avoids saying exactly where he stands on any issue in clear and simple language and it’s blatantly obvious he has no real life experience.

  3. Henrik says:

    I’d be amazed if the Leader of your great party, the Shadow Chancellor or his fragrant and formidable wife, not to mention those fine Parliamentarians Messrs Umunna and Hunt, could recognise an “ordinary person” if one bit them on the arse.

  4. Tafia says:

    Another thing we learnt about hunt is that Maureen Lipmann thinks he’s a knob.

  5. john problem says:

    It is astonishing how little charisma our leaders have. The Dumb Rich Kid is always grimacing to make himself look tough, and the two Eds leave one in despair, whilst Nige laughs like the Blackwall Tunnel. Alas, their promises are – how shall I put it – well, not to be vulgar, they are lacking charisma too. I know who I’d vote for if Mickey Mouse were standing next May. BTW, what is Labour’s stance on the dreaded TTIP – which is currently featured in the online magazine

  6. Ralph Baldwin says:

    Farewell and adieu to you, Labour ladies,
    Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spin;
    For we have received orders
    For to sail to old England,
    And we may ne’er see you fair ladies again.”

    🙂 I sand a variant of this to the BNP Councillors before we trapped and beat them. Good – bye Dead Labour 🙂

  7. Mike Stallard says:

    About the EU:
    Nobody in any party wants us to stop trading with Europe. Everybody in every party ought to want us freely to extend our trading agreements with the rest of the world.
    Only a very few people (11%) want us to become part of a European Superstate under unelected Commissioners. But the Grandees of Europe plan to do just that. Read M. Barroso’s Humboldt speech, or Mr Juncker’s election pitch.

    We need to join EFTA and the EEA now. Then we need to play the Article 50 card now.
    Too technical? Too right wing? Please don’t say that! Unless we do this we really do risk becoming Airstrip One.

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