New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Election 2024
10 March 2016

Dan Jarvis offers himself as a tougher Ed Miliband as he pitches to Labour’s soft left

The favourite to succeed Jeremy Corbyn criticised his leader only in code. 

By George Eaton

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all” runs Thumper’s law. Dan Jarvis’s speech this morning applied this principle to Jeremy Corbyn. Keir Hardie, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Rachel Reeves (Jarvis’s shadow chancellor-in-waiting), Tom Watson and Alan Johnson were all namechecked by the Barnsley Central MP. But Labour’s current leader was entirely absent. An outsider would never have guessed that he existed. It couldn’t help but feel as if Jarvis had filled the post himself. 

His address at Demos (where he was introduced by former Blair speechwriter Philip Collins) contained plenty of criticism by implication. Hardie, he noted, once remarked that “the British are a practical people, not given to chasing bubbles.” Jarvis, the bookies’ favourite to succeed Corbyn, added: “The people I meet, the people I am talking about, don’t attend economic seminars [a rebuke to John McDonnell]. They don’t follow the doctrinal discussions of the Labour Party. They want to vote for a party that doesn’t just oppose the government. They want a party that beats the government. A party that gets into power for a purpose: to work on their behalf.” When he insisted during the Q&A that “The remarks that I’ve made today are in no way seeking to be a critique of anyone in the Labour Party”, one audience member muttered: “bollocks”. But since Jarvis will need the support of at least some of those who voted for Corbyn, he was wise to speak in code (deploying the leader’s call for “an open debate” as cover). 

The former paratrooper’s backstory is well-known and he used it to good effect in the opening of his speech (though his military past may be less of an asset among Labour’s selectorate). What Jarvis has lacked, one senior party figure, recently told me is a “front story”. Today’s address was aimed at filling the blank page. 

If Jarvis’s analysis of New Labour’s flaws felt familiar it’s because it was. The party he said, in a dig at Peter Mandelson, was “intensely relaxed about things” it “shouldn’t have been intensely relaxed about.” So reminiscent of Ed Miliband was this line that one of his former aides was asked by three people whether he wrote the speech (he didn’t). Channeling Blair in order to repudiate him, Jarvis declared that “Labour needs to be tough on inequality, tough on the causes of inequality” (though he may be wise to avoid any association with the former PM altogether). The “capitalist system”, he added, should operate “as servant, not as master” – another Miliband-esque flourish. 

With this message, Jarvis is pitching directly at Labour’s soft left: the section of the party that voted for Miliband and (in some cases) voted for Corbyn but is open to change if JC proves not to be the messiah. Andy Burnham was often dismissed as a “prettier Ed Miliband”; Jarvis is offering himself as a tougher one (one feared by the Tories) – and a more rooted one. In an echo of Blue Labour, a project that Miliband flirted with but never embraced, he declared that the party must offer the “dignity of work, support for the family, prosperity for the community” (a line that bore the hallmark of former Cruddas aide Jonathan Rutherford, now working for Jarvis). 

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Jarvis’s policy prescriptions were sound: delegating infrastructure decisions to an independent National Infrastructure Commission (though at the cost of reducing accountability), encouraging long-termism in business through corporate tax and shareholder reform and rebooting trade unions for the age of automation (there was praise for these influential members of Labour’s selectorate). But Jarvis as yet lacks a defining idea or campaign capable of giving him national presence. The front story has begun but there are many chapters left to write. 

Content from our partners
<strong>The future of private credit</strong>
Peatlands are nature's unsung climate warriors
How the apprenticeship levy helps small businesses to transform their workforce