Tristram Hunt will fuel speculation that he intends to stand for Labour leader with a major speech tomorrow (Tuesday) about where the party has failed, and outlining how he thinks it must do better. In particular, the Shadow Education Secretary will take aim at the “timid, institutionalised caution” of Labour’s policy offer and electoral strategy. However, he will claim that Labour “did not lack for ideas […] we lacked was political courage.”
Hunt has not yet said whether he will join the leadership contest or not – but he did join a panel debate with the four declared candidates this weekend, and his speech will be seen as the clearest sign yet that he will put his name forward.
He will warn the party against “an echo-chamber discussion” over the coming months, and make it a priority “to stop haemorrhaging support in our traditional heartlands.” However, he will also stress the importance of cultivating a message that is well received across the country:
“But we must ensure that same heart sends our message – pumps the blood – to parts of our country we no longer reach. We need to win in Scotland. We need to win against UKIP. And we need to win whole swathes of Southern England where, early New Labour aside, we have long since lost any pretence at an emotional connection. If we turn further inwards now, we could wither away.
And there is no surer way to let down the people of our heartlands.”
The Stoke MP will make the most specific policy recommendations of any potential candidate so far: encouraging a greater contributory principle to the welfare system, with higher rates paid to those with strong employment records; introducing universal free childcare for working parents of 2-4 year olds, paid for by a freeze or cut to child benefit; and extending the devo-max principle to English cities and regions.
Hunt, seen as a potential ‘Blairite’ candidate, will also make what appears to be a thinly-veiled jibe at Andy Burnham. During his campaign launch video, Burnham said that the party cannot be seen to speak “only to shoppers at John Lewis” – a reference to a comment Hunt had made a couple of days earlier. In what appears to be a response to this, Hunt will say that merely rediscovering “the beating heart of Labour” (Burnham’s campaign slogan) will not be enough to win back voters from UKIP, the SNP and the Conservatives.
There will also be praise for Ed Miliband’s leadership, especially for his focus on devolution and tackling inequality. Hunt will say:
“We showed how economic efficiency and social justice could march successfully hand in hand. It was a project rooted in a belief that the fundamental task of progressive politics is to make sure the freedom and opportunity enjoyed by the powerful is spread to the powerless. It is a just cause. And a winning argument.
“But I also believe that Ed Miliband was right to say we became too relaxed ourselves about inequality. It loosens the ties that bind, scars our social fabric, and threatens individual aspiration and wealth creation. Economic efficiency and social justice not only can march hand in hand, they need to do so if either are to advance.”
On the timidity of Labour’s offer in the election, Hunt will propose changing tack completely and ensuring the party does not attempt micro-targeting different groups in an attempt to win back support. Instead, he will suggest “100% strategy” big offer:
“We are fighting on three fronts. But micro-targeting policy solutions for each will not work. Instead, our plan for every front the battle ahead must be rooted in the same mission: you need to demonstrate you are on people’s side and earn the right to be trusted with their future.
I believe that only comes when we offer a broad-based, forward-looking Labour project. A 100% strategy. Not the timid, institutionalised caution which led so many to believe we had a 35% strategy.”