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 deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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The biggest divide in politics is not left against right, but liberals against authoritarians

My week, including a Lib Dem membership rise, The Avalanches, and why I'm putting pressure on Theresa May over child refugees.

It is a boost for us that Nick Clegg has agreed to return to the front line and be our Brexit spokesperson. I hadn’t even had a chance at our meeting to make him the offer when he said: “Before we start, I’ve been thinking about this and want to take on the fight over Europe.”

With Labour apparently willing to give the Tories a free pass to take us out of Europe, the Liberal Democrats are the only UK-wide party that will go into the next election campaigning to maintain our membership of the EU. The stage is remarkably clear for us to remind Theresa May precisely what she would be risking if we abandon free trade, free movement, environmental protection, workers’ rights and cross-border security co-operation. More than a month on from the referendum, all we have heard from the Tories is that “Brexit means Brexit” – but they have given us no clue that they understand what that means.

 

Premature obituaries

Not long ago, the received wisdom was that all political parties were dying – but lately the supposed corpses have twitched into life. True, many who have joined Labour’s ranks are so hard left that they don’t see winning elections as a primary (or even a desirable) purpose of a party, and opening up Labour to those with a very different agenda could ultimately destroy it.

Our experience has been happier: 20,000 people joined the Liberal Democrat fightback in the wake of the 2015 general election result, and 17,000 more have joined since the referendum. We now have more members than at any time this century.

 

Breaking up is hard to do

Journalists have been asking repeatedly if I want to see the break-up of the Labour Party, with moderates defecting to the Liberal Democrats. I have been clear that I am not a home-wrecker and it is for Labour to determine its own future, just as I focus on advancing the Liberal Democrat cause. Yet I have also been clear that I am happy for my party to be a home for liberals of whatever hue. I enjoyed campaigning in the referendum with a variety of progressive figures, just as moderates from different parties shared platforms in 1975. It struck me that far more unites us than divides us.

That said, not all “moderate” Labour figures could be described as “liberal”, as John Reid demonstrated as Labour home secretary. The modern political divide is less left v right than authoritarian v liberal. Both left and right are looking increasingly authoritarian and outright nasty, with fewer voices prepared to stand up for liberal values.

 

What I did on my holidays

Time off has been virtually non-existent, but I am reading A Wilderness of Mirrors by Mark Meynell (about loss of trust in politics, the media and just about everything). I’m also obsessively listening to Wildflower by the Avalanches, their second album, 16 years after their first. It’s outstanding – almost 60 minutes of intelligently crafted dialogue, samples and epic production.

During the political maelstrom, I have been thinking back to the idyllic few days I spent over half-term on the Scottish island of Colonsay: swimming in the sea with the kids (very cold but strangely exhilarating ­after a decent jog), running and walking. An added bonus is that Colonsay is the smallest island in the world to have its own brewery. I can now heartily recommend it.

 

Preparing for the next fight

The odds are weirdly long on an early general election, but I refuse to be complacent – and not merely because the bookies were so wrong about Brexit. If we have learned one truth about Theresa May as Prime Minister so far, it is that she is utterly ruthless. After her savage cabinet sackings, this is, in effect, a new government. She has refused to go to the country, even though she lectured Gordon Brown on the need to gain the endorsement of the electorate when he replaced Tony Blair. Perhaps she doesn’t care much about legitimacy, but she cares about power.

You can be sure that she will be keeping half an eye on Labour’s leadership election. With Jeremy Corbyn potentially reconfirmed as leader in September against the wishes of three-quarters of his MPs, Mrs May might conclude that she will never have a better chance to increase her narrow majority. Throw in the possibility that the economy worsens next year as Brexit starts to bite, and I rule nothing out.

So, we are already selecting candidates. It is vital that they dig in early. As we are the only party prepared to make the positive case for Europe, such an election would present us with an amazing opportunity.

 

Sitting Priti

David Cameron pledged to take an unspecified number of unaccompanied children from camps across the Continent. I am putting pressure on Theresa May to turn that vague commitment into a proper plan. Having visited such camps, I have been fighting for Britain to give sanctuary to a minimum of 3,000 unaccompanied children, who are currently open to the worst kinds of exploitation. We have heard nothing but silence from the government, with underfunded councils reporting that they are not receiving the help they need from Whitehall.

Meanwhile, it remains government policy to send refugees to Turkey – whose increasingly authoritarian government has just suspended human rights protection.

As if all of this were not grim enough, we have a new Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel, who has said that she thinks aid should be used largely to promote trade. As someone who wants our country to be respected around the world, I find this plain embarrassing. Actually, it’s worse. It’s shaming. As with Europe, so with the world: the ­Conservative government is hauling up the drawbridge just when we need more than ever to engage with people beyond our shores.

Tim Farron is the leader of the Liberal Democrats. To join the party, visit: libdems.org.uk/join

Tim Farron is leader of the Liberal Democrats.

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue