David Blunkett rallies support in the Park Hill Area on May 6, 2010 in Sheffield. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Blunkett's farewell shows there'll be no return for "the greybeards"

MP announces decision to stand down at the next election and says "it is clear that the leadership of the party wish to see new faces".

David Blunkett has tonight told a meeting of his Sheffield constituency party that he intends to stand down as an MP at the general election. What makes his decision politically notable is the explanation he offers in his statement.  He does not hide his unhappiness at Ed Miliband's refusal to invite him to join the shadow cabinet, stating that "it is clear that the leadership of the party wish to see new faces in ministerial office and a clear break with the past" (although he later reflects "there does come a time when a fresh approach and the energy that goes with it outweigh other considerations").

Last year he revealed that it was "made clear earlier in the year that the oldies wouldn't be coming back", adding that he and other New Labour grandees would have to find "new ways of being able to contribute" (he led a recently published review of education policy).

Blunkett's comments are a reminder that we're unlikely to see figures such as Alistair Darling and Alan Johnson (and other "greybeards") rejoin the shadow cabinet before the general election. As Miliband's team have long emphasised, and as his last reshuffle demonstrated, they want the frontbench to look fresh, rather than appear as a set of retreads from the last Labour government.

Here's Blunkett's letter to local party members in full:

In making the decision as to whether to step down at the next General Election after what will be 28 years in Parliament (and 45 years in total as an elected representative in the area), I have done my best to balance my own personal considerations with those of both our local party and the electorate of Brightside and Hillsborough.

This has been by far the most difficult political decision I have ever made, in a lifetime of extremely difficult decisions.  Not least because members (and it is true of the majority of local people) have always given me unconditional but not uncritical support.  I owe so much to so many people who have made it possible for me to play a significant part in public life and to have the privilege of eight years in the Cabinet of a Labour Government, of which I remain extremely proud.

Next year will see ten years on the backbenches, five in opposition.  Whilst I have been able to use the experience and the clout which came from having been a Cabinet Minister for the benefit of the constituency in getting a hearing, contributing to policy and providing a voice for local people and for Sheffield at national level, it is clear that the leadership of the Party wish to see new faces in Ministerial office and a clear break with the past.

For me, being in a position to make decisions and thereby make a difference, has always been paramount, and I hope in future to continue to promote our success and values, and to make a continuing contribution to public service and the social and voluntary sector.

Working with people to enable them to change the world for the better and therefore to practise what I preach about participation and active citizenship has been fundamental.  It is the Labour Party working with and in the community that brings about lasting change.

Yet there does come a time when a fresh approach and the energy that goes with it outweigh other considerations, and I believe that for the Party and for the constituency, as well as for me personally, that moment has come. Whilst I still have the drive, enthusiasm and commitment I have always had, sustaining this for a further six years (and a year before the General Election and with fixed term Parliaments, that is what staying on would mean) would not only be challenging but could lead to a less effective service to constituents.  In simple terms, I would rather leave while I am still giving 100%.

He added:

I was privileged to be able to lead on ground-breaking policies, from the introduction of universal early years and nursery provision, to the transformation of education in our schools, and the security of the nation post the 11th September attack in the United States in 2001.

It was a privilege to enable young people to have a job, to access higher education frozen under the previous Government, and to be able to oversee the most substantial fall in crime in recent history.  All of us build on what has come before and learn the lessons that change often takes more time and greater patience than is acceptable to any Minister intent on immediate improvement and early outcomes.  Many of the seeds I was able to sow, from welfare reform to lifelong learning and from the new challenge of cyber security to the debate on values and citizenship, are only now bearing fruit.

Above all this is a moment when we need to offer hope, a belief in Government as a means of supporting people in making their own decisions and coping with unprecedentedly rapid change in an increasingly global political environment. Helping with the transitions of life, providing greater security and overcoming the fears generated by uncertainty, can only be achieved by a Labour Government committed to giving a voice to those excluded from the power which comes with wealth and privilege.

Ed Miliband is committed to leading Britain through the challenges ahead, to offering that hope and transforming our country in order to take on both the opportunities and pitfalls of globalisation, and to hear and respond to fears and concerns of men and women across the country. That is why all of us have an obligation to ensure that we elect a Labour Government and put Ed Miliband in Downing Street on May 7th next year.

And here's Miliband's response:

David Blunkett is a man whose commitment and determination have carried him to the highest positions in politics with one purpose: to serve the people of our country. He will be hugely missed.

David can take great pride in all he has done to improve the lives of people in this country. He has been an amazing asset to the Labour Party and to Britain and I know he will continue to serve the country and the Labour Party with great distinction.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why Labour's dismal poll ratings won't harm Jeremy Corbyn's re-election chances

Members didn't vote for him on electoral grounds and believe his opponents would fare no better.

On the day of Theresa May's coronation as Conservative leader, a Labour MP texted me: "Can you imagine how big the Tory lead will be?!" We need imagine no more. An ICM poll yesterday gave the Tories a 16-point lead over Labour, their biggest since October 2009, while YouGov put them 12 ahead. The latter showed that 2.7 million people who voted for the opposition in 2015 believe that Theresa May would make a better prime minister than Jeremy Corbyn (she leads among all voters by 52-18).

One might expect these subterranean ratings to reduce Corbyn's chances of victory in the Labour leadership contest. But any effect is likely to be negligible. Corbyn was not elected last summer because members regarded him as best-placed to win a general election (polling showed Andy Burnham ahead on that front) but because his views aligned with theirs on austerity, immigration and foreign policy. Some explicitly stated that they regarded the next election as lost in advance and thought it better to devote themselves to the long-term task of movement building (a sentiment that current polling will only encourage). Their backing for Corbyn was not conditional on improved performance among the public. The surge in party membership from 200,000 last year to 515,000 is far more worthy of note. 

To the extent to which electoral considerations influence their judgement, Corbyn's supporters do not blame the Labour leader for his party's parlous position. He inherited an outfit that had lost two general elections, neither on a hard-left policy platform. From the start, Corbyn has been opposed by the majority of Labour MPs; the latest polls follow 81 per cent voting no confidence in him. It is this disunity, rather than Corbyn's leadership, that many members regard as the cause of the party's malady. Alongside this, data is cherry picked in order to paint a more rosy picture. It was widely claimed yesterday that Labour was polling level with the Tories until the challenge against Corbyn. In reality, the party has trailed by an average of eight points this year, only matching he Conservatives in a sole Survation survey.

But it is Labour's disunity, rather than Corbyn, that most members hold responsible. MPs contend that division is necessary to ensure the selection of a more electable figure. The problem for them is that members believe they would do little, if any, better. A YouGov poll published on 19 July found that just 8 per cent believed Smith was "likely to lead Labour to victory at the next general election", compared to 24 per cent for Corbyn.

The former shadow work and pensions secretary hopes to eradicate this gap as the campaign progresses. He has made the claim that he combines Corbyn's radicalism with superior electability his defining offer. But as Burnham's fate showed, being seen as a winner is no guarantee of success. Despite his insistence to the contrary, many fear that Smith would too willingly trade principle for power. As YouGov's Marcus Roberts told me: "One of the big reasons candidates like Tessa Jowell and Andy Burnham struggled last summer was that they put too much emphasis on winning. When you say 'winning' to the PLP they think of landslides. But when you say 'winning' to today's membership they often think it implies some kind of moral compromise." When Corbyn supporters hear the words "Labour government" many think first of the Iraq war, top-up fees and privatisation, rather than the minimum wage, tax credits and public sector investment.

It was the overwhelming desire for a break with the politics of New Labour that delivered Corbyn victory. It is the fear of its return that ensures his survival. The hitherto low-profile Smith was swiftly framed by his opponents as a Big Pharma lobbyist (he was formerly Pfizer's head of policy) and an NHS privatiser (he suggested in 2006 that firms could provide “valuable services”). His decision to make Trident renewal and patriotism dividing lines with Corbyn are unlikely to help him overcome this disadvantage (though he belatedly unveiled 20 left-wing policies this morning).

Short of Corbyn dramatically reneging on his life-long stances, it is hard to conceive of circumstances in which the current Labour selectorate would turn against him. For this reason, if you want to predict the outcome, the polls are not the place to look.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.