It's time Blair's last remaining disciples moved on. Photo: Getty
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The game is up for the Blairites: it's time to abandon the old faith

Even if Ed Miliband fails, there will be no Blairite restoration; it's time the old guard disbanded and reinvented itself.

If Ed Miliband had indeed been toppled last week, or manages to trip and fall under one of those new Routemaster buses in the near future, or even just fails to win next May, which direction will Labour go in? Will a soft-left successor raise the scarlet standard of Milibandism, or would the party look back to its election-winning recent history and opt for a Blairite to lead it?

The problem is that in today’s party, Blairite stock has reached junk status. The brief, flickering hope among some last week that Alan Johnson could be persuaded to take over if Miliband was forced to quit, came to nothing. He was the last, best hope of what remains of the party’s Blairite tribe. And he wasn’t interested. Most of its other chiefs are no longer involved in frontline politics (think David Miliband, Alan Milburn, Stephen Byers, Geoff Hoon, Hazel Blears, John Reid, Patricia Hewitt and Charles Clarke).

There will be no sequel. The circumstances that propelled Tony Blair to the Labour leadership and on to Downing Street were unique, a conjunction of the party’s desperation to win after four general election defeats in a row and Blair’s personal reputation as “the man the Tories most fear”. For Labour, for a long time, winning became all that mattered.

As a result, Blair enjoyed unprecedented latitude in shaping New Labour, fusing together the old right-wing of the party with the metropolitan leftists who had literally shaved off their beards, donned designer suits, binned most of their Eighties posturing and moved to the political centre.

Even the trade unions were on-board in those days, with the then Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (forerunner of Unite) under Sir Ken Jackson, the most loyal of the lot. Only the remnants of the Bennite left were excluded from this big tent, and even a few of them, like Tony Banks and Chris Mullin, jumped ship to serve in Blair’s government.

Fast forward to today and it’s clear just how parlous the prospects are for contemporary Blairites. They enjoy none of the old master’s advantages. There is no working class base to build on. The old Labour right of the party feels short-changed that after 13 years in power, the north and midlands still lag behind London and the south east; demanding a focus on the heartlands rather that the marginals.

The metro-leftists, who flocked to Blair’s cause, have now reached their political dotage. For the new generation of activists, well to the left of the party mainstream, it will take several more years (and election defeats) before they make a similar journey to the centre.

The trade union movement, so important in providing finance, organisational muscle and political cover for Blair, (certainly initially) will no longer accept a policy platform of privatisation, contracting out and spending cuts. They have their own battles to fight, with the centre of gravity in the main affiliated unions, again, now well to the left of Labour’s.

The late Tony Banks, in explaining his own embrace of the New Labour project, once quipped that his members would “eat shit” to see a Labour government. Today’s party grassroots are nowhere near desperate enough to switch off their critical faculties, extinguish their idealism and countenance allowing the party leadership to do absolutely anything to win.

Moreover, Blairites no longer have a figurehead to unite around. None of the assumed frontrunners to become the next Labour leader (should a vacancy present itself in the next 18 months) are what we would describe as Blairites.

Chuka Umunna, a former acolyte of the centre-left Compass movement, has been careful in his brief as shadow business secretary not to do or say anything that falls outside the rubric of Miliband’s “responsible capitalism” narrative.

Andy Burnham, seen in the 2010 leadership contest as a Blair-lite candidate (but in reality, a product of the old Labour right) has done more than any other Labour figure to broaden his appeal over the past four years, using the health portfolio to become a darling of the grassroots, with Unite’s General Secretary, Len McClusky now tipping him as the union’s favoured successor (should a vacancy occur).

Again, Yvette Cooper has deep roots in the Labour movement (her father is a former senior trade union official) and has been careful throughout her long frontbench career to avoid reductive descriptions, but has certainly never been called a Blairite. Indeed, she like the other two surely realises that being described as such is the kiss of death in the modern Labour party.

Indeed, the best thing adherents to this dead religion can now do is abandon the very label “Blairite” and regroup as “modernisers”, building new alliances with other strands of thinking within the party, as Blair and Brown and others did twenty years ago. Eventually, this will distil into a viable new centrist movement within the party.

Tony Blair once joked that he knew his project would be completed when the party learned to love Peter Mandelson. It never did. But it doesn’t love him any more either. Its time his last remaining disciples faced up to that.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut and a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland office. 

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Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.