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20 May 2015updated 26 Jul 2021 5:00am

Tristram Hunt’s non-leadership bid, feat. Eric Hobsbawm, the potters of Stoke, and Brian Cox

...and a whole lot of impatient journalists.

By Anoosh Chakelian

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.

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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!

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“…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: