Labour stances on welfare and free schools prove it wasn't "the Blairites" holding Miliband hostage

The left wrongly assumed that the replacement of Liam Byrne and Stephen Twigg would mean a change in policy.

When Liam Byrne and Stephen Twigg, two "Blairite" figures, were sacked from the shadow cabinet earlier this week, there was undisguised glee on the left. After months of "Tory-lite" policy on welfare and education, it was thought that their departures heralded a new direction.

It is this hope that explains the outrage that has greeted the first interviews given by their replacements Rachel Reeves and Tristram Hunt. Reeves, the new shadow work and pensions secretary, defends Labour's compulsory jobs guarantee and tells the Observer: "Nobody should be under any illusions that they are going to be able to live a life on benefits under a Labour government". She also supports the £26,000 benefit cap provided that it is adjusted to take into account regional variations: "I think it is right that those people who are in work do not feel that those who aren't in work are getting something that they couldn't dream of getting."

Hunt, the new shadow education secretary, announces in the Mail on Sunday that Labour will not close down existing free schools and that it will support its own version in the form of 'parent-led academies'. He says: "We will keep those free schools going. We aren’t in the business of taking them down. We have to clear up this question which has dogged Labour education policy since we entered opposition and since Michael Gove began his reforms, as to what we’d do. We just want to say, 'You are setting up these schools, we are behind you.'"

In neither case has there been any change in policy. Reeves and Hunt's comments are entirely consistent with the positions outlined in Byrne and Twigg's speeches. But for the left this is precisely the problem. With the "Blairites" gone, they assumed that Miliband would be liberated to pursue his own agenda: no to free schools and no to the benefit cap. But the reality is that the 'tough' stances adopted by Byrne and Twigg weren't taken in spite of Miliband but because of him. It was the Labour leader who chose to adapt Conservative thinking on welfare and education, rather than reject it. The belief that he had been taken hostage by a  nefarious "Blairite" clique (frequently espoused by Len McCluskey) was merely wishful thinking by the left. If the reshuffle has finally dispelled this illusion, it is no bad thing.

But with Byrne and Twigg gone, Miliband won't be able to rely on the myth of "Blairite" capture (as he has sometimes been accused of doing) to defend the party's stances on welfare and education. He will need to confront the left himself.

Ed Miliband at the Labour conference in Brighton last month. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Labour MP Sarah Champion resigns over grooming gang piece in The Sun

The shadow equalities minister is standing down after her controversial article sparked accusations of racism.

Sarah Champion has resigned as shadow equalities minister over her incendiary article about grooming gangs in The Sun.

The Labour MP for Rotherham caused controversy by writing a piece about the Newcastle paedophile ring, which the tabloid headlined: "British Pakistanis ARE raping white girls... and we need to face up to it".

This sparked accusations of racism, including from figures in her own party. Naz Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West, wrote in the Independent“Such an incendiary headline and article is not only irresponsible but is also setting a very dangerous precedent and must be challenged.”

Champion initially tried to distance herself from how the article was framed, claiming that the opening paragraphs were edited and "stripped of nuance". The paper, however, said her team approved the piece and were "thrilled" with it.

In her resignation statement, Champion apologised for causing offence: “I apologise for the offence caused by the extremely poor choice of words in the Sun article on Friday. I am concerned that my continued position in the shadow cabinet would distract from the crucial issues around child protection which I have campaigned on my entire political career.”

“It is therefore with regret that I tender my resignation as shadow secretary of state for women and equalities.”

In a comment decrying The Sun's general Islamophobia-inciting coverage, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn warned against "attempts to brand communities or ethnic or religious groups, wittingly or unwittingly".

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.