Antifrank considers what the Blairites could do if Liz Kendall comes last

Antifrank considers what the Blairites could do if Liz Kendall comes last

Blair Faith

Go fourth and multiply

The Labour leadership election hasn’t gone according to the Blairites’ plan, to put it mildly.  Dan Jarvis declined to run and Chuka Umunna launched an in-and-out campaign that prefigured the performance of England’s top order in the last Test, leaving Liz Kendall as the sole standard bearer of the right of the Labour party in the contest.

She has chosen, probably unwisely, to drop some truth bombs on her electorate.  This has not gone down well.  Social media amplifies the voice of the left wing, which has freely characterised her as a Tory.  Many have suggested that with her views she ought to decamp to the Conservative party, often with an invitation of sex and travel thrown in.

For whatever reason, her campaign has not ignited.  Right now it seems probable that she will finish last: Paddy Power are quoting 1/6 on this and given the one published opinion poll has placed her a distant fourth, that price is hard to argue with.

Let’s assume that Liz Kendall indeed comes a poor fourth and that Jeremy Corbyn does well.  (Those assumptions are consistent with all the evidence we have, so we should plan on that basis).  How should the Blairites react to such a comprehensive rejection of everything they stand for?

They effectively have five choices.

1) Knuckle down quietly

The Blairites could accept office under a new leader taking a more leftwing direction, hoping to influence policy direction rightwards in whatever ways they can.  This is what most Blairites did under Ed Miliband, hoping by their loyalty to secure a more favourable candidate on the other side of the general election.  But far from deciding that the party had swung too far to the left, the membership appears to have concluded that the party was too right wing or was simply led too ineffectually.

Even before the leadership election is over, there is talk of a second leadership election in 2018 or even sooner.  Some Blairites will hold out for that hope.  There is no evidence at present that the party will then take a more Blairite view of the world at that point.  Nor, given the way in which British politics focuses on the party leader, is there much hope of dragging policy rightwards in any very significant way.

2) Sulk

The Blairites may feel that the new leadership direction is too leftwing for them and decline to serve in the shadow Cabinet, but remain quietly on the backbenches, occasionally giving coded speeches.    This would again be on the premise that at a later date the party would swing back in their direction.  As noted above, there is no particular reason to assume that this will happen any time soon.

3) Noisily oppose within the party

The Blairites may decide to fight, fight and fight again to save the party they love.  Tony Blair obviously thinks this would be the way forward.  In his conversation with Progress on 22 July, he said that ” ‘Unity’ does not work if you’re all together in the bus going over the edge of the cliff”.

If the Blairites are going to fight, they need to decide what victory looks like.  Right now, it’s not at all clear that they know the answer to that question.  It’s still less clear that they can win any battle that they pick.  They may do better fighting a guerrilla war, ambushing the leadership on specific topics where they can more easily command popular support.

This type of action would need sustained co-ordination among the Blairites.  To date they have not shown any organisational skills in opposition.  If this is their option, they need to caucus.

4) Leave the Labour party

If the Blairites decide to caucus, might they do so in a different party where their aims might be achieved more effectively?  That again begs the question what their aims are.  I identify the guiding thread of Blairites as the pursuit of power to implement social justice by pragmatic means and by building broader public confidence in the means of implementation.  Given the parlous state of the Lib Dems, they are not going to offer power any time soon.  The Conservatives do not focus on the plight of the poor to the extent that most Blairites believe necessary.

Might the Blairites found a new party?  Any defectors will be doing so without the blessing of Tony Blair, who has said that he would not leave the Labour party if Jeremy Corbyn wins, declaring himself Labour through and through.

The SDP was founded by a similar breakaway group, but the circumstances were more conducive to success.  Three of the four founding members of the SDP were more considerable than any of the current Blairites active in politics (the same is not true of the eminences grises, of course).  Secondly, the SDP was founded at a time when the Labour party were heading left and the Conservative party were heading right simultaneously.  Right now, the Conservatives at least are trying to look as if they are occupying the centre ground.  Nor have the current generation of Blairites exhibited organisational prowess.  And even in much more favourable circumstances, the SDP fizzled in seat numbers at the 1983 election.

The odds are firmly stacked against those seeking to found new parties and none of the current crop of Blairites looks to have the appetite for such a challenge.  While individual MPs may defect to other parties, I do not expect them to do so en masse.  In point of fact, I suspect that defections to the Lib Dems by disillusioned MPs not traditionally identified as Blairites are more likely.

5) Retire

Being a politician is not compulsory.  The Blairites aren’t obliged to keep staking out a position without wider support.  Many of them are young and ambitious.  If politics is not going to help them achieve their ambitions, they may choose to look at new opportunities in the private sector or in senior NGO positions.  Rather than do anything dramatic, they may simply fade away.

If they follow this course of action, the left of centre of British politics will hollow out.  Nature abhors a vacuum and the question will be whether their voters get co-opted by the Lib Dems or by the left of the Conservative party or whether the new left Labour can hang onto them.  None of those three options will look attractive to Blairites.

Which way will they jump?

All the options right now will look invidious to the Blairites.  On the most optimistic outlook, their star is going to be occulted for some years.  They are not a homogeneous group and they may well take different options.  But my best guess is that the greater portion of them will seek to oppose the new leadership from within.  If that is correct, the Labour party is going to look divided for some years to come.  Plan your long term betting accordingly.


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