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9 May 2015updated 25 Jul 2021 6:41am

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.

By Anoosh Chakelian

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.

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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”.

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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.