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.