15 May 2015

Chuka Umunna quits Labour leadership race. Make it stop


Another frontrunner has pulled out of the race to lead Britain’s struggling Labour party. Chuka Umunna has scrapped his campaign, citing excessive media scrutiny, although I do wonder if the real reason is that he has taken delivery of a time machine and travelled to 2020 only to watch himself and Labour being heavily defeated by the Conservatives and Boris Johnson.

You cannot blame Chuka too much for quitting now. Imagine five years of leading an opposition party that has gone backwards. That’s five Labour party conferences. Five years of shadow cabinet meetings and endless policy reviews that embarrassed journalists have to pretend to take seriously. Five years of failing to face up to the dramatic transformation in the UK economy, with the spread of self-employment, small business start-ups and an entrepreneurial revolution which the Tories are just starting to tap into. That’s five years of trade union leader and epic bore Len McCluskey, or whoever succeeds him, wittering on endlessly about the need for Labour to become much more socialist, to win in those English hotbeds of Leninist revolutionary fervour such as Nuneaton and Swindon.

Throughout it all, whoever becomes Labour leader will know that he or she needs a swing of more than 8% at the next general election, and that is before the Tories adjust the boundaries to equalise the size of constituencies, making the Labour task even more difficult.

Only an economic disaster, which of course the Tory party is more than capable of arranging if it gets too cocky, is going to give Labour a way back any time in the next decade. But that leaves Labour sitting in the departure lounge of history, hoping that somehow a bond market blow-up or the unravelling of QE leads British voters to declare that what they really want is Yvette Cooper and a rehabilitated Ed Miliband (by then shadow local government spokesman) back in charge of the country.

I can sympathise with Chuka. Politics is a cruel and difficult business and he has decided that leadership is not for him. The war hero Dan Jarvis – who might have been great – also decided not to go for it.

However, their decisions leave Labour with a rapidly shrinking pool of serious candidates. It means that Britain in the years ahead may lack a credible opposition, which is always a dangerous state of affairs that can breed arrogance in a ruling elite. That is, unless the impressive Liz Kendall can convince the dinosaurs that they are headed for extinction unless they pick her, or Jarvis changes his mind.

Most of all, Chuka’s decision adds to the sense of ennui around an exhausted Labour party. There are four months of this leadership contest left. Then there are the five years ahead that I described earlier. Make it stop.

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX.