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10 March 2016

Dan Jarvis isn’t ready. And it’s all David Miliband’s fault

Labour's attempts to "skip a generation" are part of the problem. 

By Stephen Bush

David Cameron became an MP in 2001. He became Prime Minister in 2010. Tony Blair became an MP in 1983. He got the top job in 1997.

Harold Wilson, Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher waited for two decades before they got to Downing Street.

And whichever Conservative politician succeeds Cameron when he steps down (whether that is in 2016, 2017 or a few months before the 2020 election) will have been an MP for at least a decade, and in the case of the bookies’ favourite, Boris Johnson (first elected 2001), close to a decade more. (Theresa May, who could still reach the very top, has been an MP since 1997). And if, in defiance of the polls and the bookmakers, Jeremy Corbyn becomes Prime Minister in 2020, he’ll have done so, like Labour’s last two Prime Ministers, having first been elected in 1983.

All this is a long-winded way of saying: it’s far too early to be talking about Dan Jarvis as a contender for the Labour leadership (and not just because there is no vacancy at present, although seeing as there is no path to the Labour leadership that doesn’t run through the votes of some who previously voted for Jeremy Corbyn, cheesing off his voters is not the best start). He’s not ready. Of course he’s not ready.

The big problem, as one senior trade union official pointed out to me shortly after Corbyn’s victory, is that “the 1992 intake was not strong enough or long-lasting enough. They should have made up the bulk of the candidates in 2010. Instead you had the Milibands. David Miliband wasn’t strong enough, didn’t want it enough. If he had, he’d have done a deal with Ed Balls [for his second preference vote and that of his MP supporters, which would have swung the result in the elder Miliband’s direction]”.

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Then, following his entirely avoidable defeat at the hands of his brother, David Miliband left for New York – just as the 1992 intake largely quit after the 2010 election or in 2015.

Or as one MP put it, “we’ve had this division in the party among the moderates for years that the Goldenballs went one route and us plebs went another, but it hasn’t made for strong candidates”.

It may be that Jarvis is, eventually, the answer to Labour’s problems. But the historical trend suggests that Labour’s next Prime Minister is most likely in the 2015 intake – if they’re in Parliament at all, yet.