Tristram Hunt won't be running for Labour leader. Photo: Getty Images
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Tristram Hunt's non-leadership bid, feat. Eric Hobsbawm, the potters of Stoke, and Brian Cox

...and a whole lot of impatient journalists.

As Tristram Hunt stands up to speak at the think tank Demos – where he interned, by the way, in those “giddy pre-1997 days”. You remember ’97. Labour landslide, with that song called Things Can Only Get Better, which is by D:Ream. And did you know Brian Cox was in D:Ream? That scientist one who’s always on telly? Yeah him! He was the keyboard player! – the gathered press pack is impatiently awaiting a very big announcement.

The last potential Labour leadership candidate who hadn’t yet declared his ambitions, Hunt is giving a speech “dedicated in no small part to explaining how things can also get even worse”. Gettit? Because it’s a contrast with the song, which goes, “Things can only get better/Can only get/Can only get...” And it carries on like that for a little while. But the verses have different lyrics. Anyway, I digress!

He’s all prepared to give a searing analysis of his party’s failings, and to declare his leadership bid. Or not to declare his leadership bid. But enough about Tristram, for goodness’ sake! What about his great aunt Peggy Jay, eh? She was a Labour councillor on the London County Council. Did you know that?

And her husband, called Douglas, was Labour MP for Battersea! No, Labour doesn’t have that one any more. And it doesn’t have Stevenage, or Harlow, or Swindon. “Thank God for Slough,” sighs Tristram. Though of course he learnt more about politics from Chicago’s South Side. Or was it Stoke-on-Trent Central?

Either way, it was the poverty he saw that radicalised him. What he saw outside of the Ivory Tower. The Ivory Tower is that place where people lived called Milton Friedman, George Stigler, Gary Becker, Ed Miliband and Eric Hobsbawm. Tristram loves Eric. In fact, he reread his 1983 essay “Labour’s Lost Millions” recently. A far better pastime than ringing round the entire parliamentary Labour party all the time.

Anyway, Hobsbawm wrote: “Unless Labour can once again become the party of the majority of the working class it has no future, except as…”

A wave of muttering from the assembled reporters. BBC Breaking News is reporting that Hunt won’t be standing for the leadership and is endorsing Liz Kendall.

But do pay attention!

“…a coalition of minority pressure groups and interests. Yet there is only a modest future for a party which represents only such groups, and social forces on the decline,” wrote Hobsbawm.

The journalists fidget and rustle. Sky News is also reporting that Hunt will not be running.

Interesting you should mention sky, actually, for it is under that very blue expanse that progressives built a vibrant civic democracy, confronted vested interests, and created the great age of Victorian and Edwardian civic pride.

Just look at Stoke. The pits and the pots. The politicos and the pundits. Prospect and Progress. The pressurised public purse.

“Let’s be blunt,” says Tristram. “There is no quick fix.”

As the media begins to wonder whether there is a man imitating Tristram (Zac Goldsmith, maybe?) giving interviews elsewhere about his lack of leadership ambitions, he gets to the point:

“It is a leadership that prioritises the organisational changes the party desperately needs – transforming our industrial model of party management, born of the 1890s, into something that resembles the modern world – more digital, embedded in civic society and better funded…”

WILL YOU RUN TRISTRAM?

“And it is a leadership hungry to project an optimistic, future vision of Britain confident about its ability to manage the challenges of mechanisation, globalisation, climate change and an ageing society…”

ARE YOU HUNGRY TO PROJECT THAT VISION?

“The way in which that Labour leader is chosen needs to reflect the seriousness of the crisis in which our parry finds itself. We need a debate that is open, vigorous, iconoclastic, fraternal and sisterly…”

The sound of stories being written up straight from the BBC copy echoes around the conference room.

“We need more of the Demos – the individual members, supporters and affiliated supporters who make up our party. And we need less dictation by individuals and individual factions that still seek to wield and influence that is both disproportionate to what they deserve and contrary to the egalitarian principle of one member, one vote…”

Journalists eye the exit.

“I want party members, registered supporters and affiliated supporters from the trade unions to have an effective choice about Labour’s future. And it is why this morning I am announcing that I will not be entering the race to be Leader of the Labour Party.”

No quick fix, indeed.

Now listen to Anoosh’s dramatic reading of this piece on the NS podcast:

 

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Will Euroscepticism prove an unbeatable advantage in the Conservative leadership race?

Conservative members who are eager for Brexit are still searching for a heavyweight champion - and they could yet inherit the earth.

Put your money on Liam Fox? The former Defence Secretary has been given a boost by the news that ConservativeHome’s rolling survey of party members preferences for the next Conservative leader. Jeremy Wilson at BusinessInsider and James Millar at the Sunday Post have both tipped Fox for the top job.

Are they right? The expectation among Conservative MPs is that there will be several candidates from the Tory right: Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and potentially Owen Paterson could all be candidates, while Boris Johnson, in the words of one: “rides both horses – is he the candidate of the left, of the right, or both?”

MPs will whittle down the field of candidates to a top two, who will then be voted on by the membership.  (As Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, notes in his interview with my colleague George Eaton, Conservative MPs could choose to offer a wider field if they so desired, but would be unlikely to surrender more power to party activists.)

The extreme likelihood is that that contest will be between two candidates: George Osborne and not-George Osborne.  “We know that the Chancellor has a bye to the final,” one minister observes, “But once you’re in the final – well, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Could “not-George Osborne” be Liam Fox? Well, the difficulty, as one MP observes, is we don’t really know what the Conservative leadership election is about:

“We don’t even know what the questions are to which the candidates will attempt to present themselves as the answer. Usually, that question would be: who can win us the election? But now that Labour have Corbyn, that question is taken care of.”

So what’s the question that MPs will be asking? We simply don’t know – and it may be that they come to a very different conclusion to their members, just as in 2001, when Ken Clarke won among MPs – before being defeated in a landslide by Conservative activists.

Much depends not only on the outcome of the European referendum, but also on its conduct. If the contest is particularly bruising, it may be that MPs are looking for a candidate who will “heal and settle”, in the words of one. That would disadvantage Fox, who will likely be a combative presence in the European referendum, and could benefit Boris Johnson, who, as one MP put it, “rides both horses” and will be less intimately linked with the referendum and its outcome than Osborne.

But equally, it could be that Euroscepticism proves to be a less powerful card than we currently expect. Ignoring the not inconsiderable organisational hurdles that have to be cleared to beat Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and potentially any or all of the “next generation” of Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan or Stephen Crabb, we simply don’t know what the reaction of Conservative members to the In-Out referendum will be.

Firstly, there’s a non-trivial possibility that Leave could still win, despite its difficulties at centre-forward. The incentive to “reward” an Outer will be smaller. But if Britain votes to Remain – and if that vote is seen by Conservative members as the result of “dirty tricks” by the Conservative leadership – it could be that many members, far from sticking around for another three to four years to vote in the election, simply decide to leave. The last time that Cameron went against the dearest instincts of many of his party grassroots, the result was victory for the Prime Minister – and an activist base that, as the result of defections to Ukip and cancelled membership fees, is more socially liberal and more sympathetic to Cameron than it was before. Don’t forget that, for all the worry about “entryism” in the Labour leadership, it was “exitism” – of Labour members who supported David Miliband and liked the New Labour years  - that shifted that party towards Jeremy Corbyn.

It could be that if – as Brady predicts in this week’s New Statesman – the final two is an Inner and an Outer, the Eurosceptic candidate finds that the members who might have backed them are simply no longer around.

It comes back to the biggest known unknown in the race to succeed Cameron: Conservative members. For the first time in British political history, a Prime Minister will be chosen, not by MPs with an electoral mandate of their own or by voters at a general election but by an entirelyself-selecting group: party members. And we simply don't know enough about what they feel - yet. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.