Just when we thought we knew who was in the running for the Labour leadership, one of the favourites has dropped out. Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, has pulled out of the race a few days after he announced he would be standing. Apparently his decision is based on the level of scrutiny he, his family, and girlfriend have come under since he threw his hat in the ring. Well, what did he expect? This suggests his decision to stand was ill thought through.
To be leader of a party that has clearly lost its way, will of course mean heavy scrutiny. If all goes according to the Labour plan, the new leader will take the party into the next election campaign and into No 10 Downing Street in 2020. In the period before this year’s election, Umunna proved not to be quite as sharp as his trouser creases. He performed poorly in a number of interviews, including on the World at One in early April, at a time when Labour needed to impress.
It was unlikely that Umunna would have garnered the required level of support from Labour MPs. He was also unlikely to have got much support from the union members, who will now vote individually under new rules introduced by Ed Miliband. If the unions are able to mobilise their members to affiliate to Labour they could have more power than under the former electrical college system.
Umunna would have be seen as too much of a Blairite by the unions. Unite’s general secretary, Len McCluskey, has been dismissive of claims that Labour lost the election because it was too left wing. But a move back to the left of centre appears to be where Labour needs to be to attract the middle-class voter – and to get elected.
Questions must also be asked about the remaining leadership candidates’ ability to get Labour out of the doldrums. Frankly, none of them strikes me as having the charisma and experience to become the next prime minister. The two most experienced candidates currently in the race are Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham.
Cooper entered Westminster in 1997. Her experience is the most impressive of all candidates, having been chief secretary to the treasury and secretary of state for work and pensions under Gordon Brown. In opposition she has been shadow foreign secretary and shadow home secretary, as well as shadow minister for work and pensions and for women and equalities.
While the most experienced, the problem for Yvette Cooper is whether she can be separated from her husband, Ed Balls, in the eyes of the leadership electorate.
Andy Burnham has, like Yvette Cooper, considerable experience in government. He has 14 years as an MP behind him. During Brown’s administration he held the posts of chief secretary to the treasury, secretary of state for culture, media and sport, and latterly, health. Under Ed Miliband he was shadow secretary for education and shadow secretary of state for health. But does he have the makings of a prime minister? I think not.
Liz Kendall, another Blairite, is the most inexperienced of them all. Like Chuka Umunna, she entered Westminster in 2010 and has only held the office of shadow minister for care and older people for three and a half years. She cannot be seen as a real contender.
The most recent person to join the race is Mary Creagh, who entered parliament in 2005. Since 2010 she has been shadow secretary for environment, food and rural affairs, transport, and more recently international development. Shadow posts don’t provide the same level of experience as doing it for real. That puts Creagh behind Burnham and Cooper, but in front of Liz Kendall. She’s still an outsider.
Over the years Labour has been plagued by poor leaders. Whether people agreed with his New Labour approach, Tony Blair had the necessary qualities. He was a credible performer on the world stage, just as Margaret Thatcher was and David Cameron is.
Neil Kinnock and Gordon Brown didn’t have what it takes and neither did Ed Miliband. To lead a party into government requires special attributes and experience. Looking at the current candidates, none appears to be any better than Ed Miliband.