Chuka is a Blairite? Since when…?

January 22, 2013 12:05 pm

In the last two weeks I’ve read several articles in national newspapers stating (in passing and never with any clarification) that Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna is a “Blairite”.

Usually this description has come in the form of fairly transparent and clumsy briefing (i.e. “Come back David Miliband or Chuka might end up being leader”) but it’s still worth questioning the terminology at play here.

If Umunna is a Blairite, then he’s certainly arrived there in an unusual way (and, considering the passing of New Labour, at an unusual time). There’s certainly no hint of it in his time before entering Parliament. Before being elected, Chuka was best known as a prominent member of Compass – no Blairites they – and as a close ally of Jon Cruddas (who worked for Blair but has also been critical of much of his later record).

But perhaps Umunna has had a change of heart? When I interviewed him last year he was keen to praise Peter Mandelson (as well as Lord Heseltine). Perhaps that was the sign of some nascent Blairism that some have detected?

Yet if Umunna is a Blairite then so surely is Ed Miliband. Umunna has been inextricably linked with the Labour leader since 2010, backing him in the leadership election, serving a few months as his PPS and staying in ideological lockstep ever since. (Indeed, Ed Miliband could be said to be more of a Blairite than Umunna, and with verifiable proof – after all, Ed was seen as one of the most Blair-friendly members of Team Gordon, and is a former Vice-Chair of New Labour pressure group Progress.)

What attempts to brand Umunna a “Blairite” shows is that “Blairite” is an increasingly redundant term. It is nearly six years since Blair stood down as Labour leader, and no-one would suggest that we are still in the same political paradigm post-financial crash. Blairism is part of the Labour Party’s history now (and necessarily as a doctrine that won three general elections, is a part of the party’s DNA) – but it’s no longer an adequate way of describing what people are (if it ever was – often it was thrown around in the party as an insult).

I learned that a few weeks ago when I described some members of the Shadow Cabinet as Blairites. Within minutes of posting I realised how nebulous and inadequate the term was, so I’ve resolved to try and avoid using it too. I’ll lock it in the special geeky Labour Party words bin (only for use on special occasions) – and I suggest for the sake of clarity, you do too.

  • AlanGiles

    Yet if Umunna is a Blairite then so surely is Ed Miliband.”

    Got it in one.

    “What attempts to brand Umunna a “Blairite” shows is that “Blairite”
    is an increasingly redundant term. It is nearly six years since Blair
    stood down as Labour leader, and no-one would suggest that we are still
    in the same political paradigm post-financial crash. Blairism is part of
    the Labour Party’s history now”

    But it’s a sort of “he’s dead but he won’t lie down” situation. We still have Blair-worshippers writing for and commentating on LL (just a week or so ago Marchant was yet again doing his “Tone was right on Iraq” rubbish). Blair himself minces back into the limelight from time to time to bask in his Olympic “legacy” last June. Prior to that in March he had appointed a new press secretary at enoromous cost to assist his “re-engagement” with domestic politics. Luckilly for us, the sign on the door still says vacant rather than engaged

    As for Umunna, he would perhaps be best advised to ration his press quotes. last week for example he told us that “people were upset” they couldn’t use their HMV vouchers (they can from today of course it seems Hilco have ridden to the rescue), but is it really necessary to make such banal comments?. Most of the shadow cabinet try to remain mute and invisible, Umunna is quite the opposite, but much of what he says isn’t worth saying or so obvious as not to need saying. He is by no means the worst of the bunch – far from it, but a bit of circumspection would not come amiss.

    • Chilbaldi

      Agree with you on the rent-a-quote point, and the banality of some comments.
      But re the Blairism stuff… only amongst hardened lefties would you hear this conversation. The rest of the country doesn’t give a stuff, honestly.

    • PaulHalsall

      Umunna is sometimes a bit too smooth, but I expect to see him as Labour leader someday. Charisma is, obviously, not a major requirement for British politicians. Thatcher acquired; Blair pretended to it; but few of the the current lot could make any such appeal. Umunna clearly is in a different league.

  • Amber_Star

    It’s time for Brown & Blair to get with the programme: They need to ‘kiss & make-up’! One Party may not be a requirement for being a One Nation government but it would surely help!

  • trotters1957

    The term Social Democrat is the most accurate term but is seen as too close to the old Gang of Four and the Libdems to be used.
    In reality the modern Labour Party is a Social democratic party no longer a socialist party.

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