Chuka Umunna dissects what went wrong for Labour. Photo: Getty
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Chuka Umunna calls for Labour to target Conservatives and "aspirational, middle-class voters"

The shadow business secretary gives a clear pitch for the Labour leadership, decrying the party's narrow appeal.

Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary and MP for Streatham, is likely to run for the Labour leadership. And he has made a clear pitch in an article for the Observer. It is based on broadening Labour's appeal to "aspirational, middle-class voters" rather than relying on a "core vote" strategy.

He is scathing about who the party has been targeting:

We tried to cobble together a 35% coalition of our core vote, disaffected Lib Dems, Greens and Ukip supporters. The terrible results were the failure of that approach writ large. We need a different, big-tent approach – one in which no one is too rich or poor to be part of our party. Most of all, we need to start taking large numbers of votes directly from the Conservatives.

He blames Labour's defeats in England on the party's impression that it didn't side with "those who are doing well". He even hits out at Labour for allowing the perception that it favoured ideological taxation: "Sometimes we made it sound like we saw taxing people as a good in itself, rather than a means to an end."

It's a pitch that reflects what he told George in a recent interview about the 50 per cent top rate of tax not being a permanent measure.

This appears to be a Blairite pitch, calling for a "big tent" approach, speaking up for the middle classes, championing "aspiration", not pandering to anti-immigration sentiment, and warning the party against being anti-business.

But I think it's more nuanced than that. Umunna for a while has been discussing how much he hates PMQs, and the trappings of traditional Westminster politics. In this piece, he goes further. He recommends parliament leaving the Palace of Westminster and moving into a "new, modern, accessible site fit for purpose". And he calls for an "end to machine politics".

It was the New Labour years that cemented machine politics, by which I take to mean top-down discipline, water-tight whippery, on-message sloganeering, what shadow health minister Jamie Reed calls a "professional, clinical political force".

So it's worth noting that, while Umunna's pitch for the party's direction sounds unashamedly Blairite, he is looking to change the way it does politics. This element might play well with those MPs whose first choice for leader wouldn't be a metropolitan liberal like Umunna (figures like Jamie Reed, Simon Danczuk, Liam Byrne, maybe), but who would like a more straight-talking, authentic party in order to salvage its message to blue collar voters.

UPDATE 10/5/15 11:31

Paul Flynn, cantankerous leftwing firebrand and author of the popular How to be an MP, has thrown his weight behind Umunna. 

As the only MP to vote for Ed Miliband as his fifth choice in the 2010 leadership election, Flynn has always been a critic. In an interview I did with him, he asked:“One Nation – what the f*** does that mean?”

In a new post on his blog, he laments that Labour is "too nice to dump its leaders" and calls Miliband "an electoral liability".

He concludes:

To restore public trust in Labour we need an eloquent, charismatic personality strengthened by intellectual depth and debating skills.

I have made my choice. It's Chuka.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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How the Democratic National Committee Chair contest became a proxy war

The two leading candidates represent the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders factions.

While in the UK this week attention has been fixed on the by-elections in Stoke-upon-Trent and Copeland, in the US political anoraks have turned their eyes to Atlanta, the capital city of the state of Georgia, and the culmination of the Democratic National Committee chairmanship election.

Democrats lost more than a President when Barack Obama left the White House - they lost a party leader. In the US system, the party out of power does not choose a solitary champion to shadow the Presidency in the way a leader of the opposition shadows the Prime Minister in the UK. Instead, leadership concentrates around multiple points at the federal, state and local level - the Senate Minority and House Minority Leaders’ offices, popular members of Congress, and high-profile governors and mayors.

Another focus is the chair of the national party committee. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is the formal governing body of the party and wields immense power over its organization, management, and messaging. Membership is exclusive to state party chairs, vice-chairs and over 200 state-elected representatives. The chair sits at the apex of the body and is charged with carrying out the programs and policies of the DNC. Put simply, they function as the party’s chief-of-staff, closer to the role of General Secretary of the Labour Party than leader of the opposition.

However, the office was supercharged with political salience last year when the then-chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was exposed following a Russian-sponsored leak of DNC emails that showed her leadership favoured Hillary Clinton as the party’s presidential nominee to Bernie Sanders. Schultz resigned and Donna Brazile, former campaign manager for Al Gore in 2000, took over as interim chair. The DNC huddled in December to thrash out procedure for the election of a permanent replacement – fixing the date of the ballot for the weekend of February 24.

The rancour of the Democratic primaries last year, and the circumstances of Schultz’s resignation, has transformed the race into a proxy war between the Clinton and Sanders factions within the party. Frontrunners Tom Perez and Keith Ellison respectively act as standard bearers for the respective camps.

Both are proven progressives with impeccable records in grassroots-based organizing. However Perez’s tenure as President Obama’s Labor Secretary and role as a Hillary booster has cast him as the establishment candidate in the race, whereas Ellison’s endorsement of the Sanders campaign in 2016 makes him the pick of the radical left.

The ideological differences between the two may be overblown, but cannot be overlooked in the current climate. The Democrats are a party seemingly at war with its base, and out of power nationwide.

Not only are they in the minority in Congress, but more than a third of the Democrats in the House of Representatives come from just three states: California, Massachusetts, and New York. As if that weren’t enough, Democrats control less than a third of state legislatures and hold the keys to just sixteen governors’ mansions.

Jacob Schwartz, president of the Manhattan Young Democrats, the official youth arm of the Democratic Party in New York County, says that the incoming chair should focus on returning the party to dominance at every tier of government:

“The priority of the Democratic leadership should be rebuilding the party first, and reaching out to new voters second," he told me. "Attacking Donald Trump is not something the leadership needs to be doing. He's sinking his own ship anyway and new voters are not going to be impressed by more negative campaigning. A focus on negative campaigning was a big part of why Hillary lost.”

The party is certainly in need of a shake-up, though not one that causes the internecine strife currently bedevilling the Labour Party. Hence why some commentators favour Ellison, whose election could be seen as a peace offering to aggrieved Sanderistas still fuming at the party for undermining their candidate.

“There's something to be said for the fact that Ellison is seen as from the Bernie wing of the party, even though I think policy shouldn't be part of the equation really, and the fact that Bernie voices are the voices we most need to be making efforts to remain connected to. Hillary people aren't going anywhere, so Ellison gives us a good jumping off point overall,” says Schwartz.

Ellison boasts over 120 endorsements from federal and state-level Democratic heavyweights, including Senator Sanders, and the support of 13 labor unions. Perez, meanwhile, can count only 30 politicians – though one is former Vice-President Joe Biden – and eight unions in his camp.

However the only constituency that matters this weekend is the DNC itself – the 447 committee members who can vote. A simple majority is needed to win, and if no candidate reaches this threshold at the first time of asking additional rounds of balloting take place until a winner emerges.

Here again, Ellison appears to hold the edge, leading Perez 105 to 57 according to a survey conducted by The Hill, with the remainder split among the other candidates.

Don’t write Perez off yet, though. Anything can happen if the ballot goes to multiple rounds and the former Secretary’s roots in the party run deep. He claimed 180 DNC supporters in an in-house survey, far more than suggested by The Hill.

We’ll find out this weekend which one was closer to the mark.

Louie Woodall is a member of Labour International, and a journalist based in New York.