LABOUR’S TRISTRAM HUNT has resigned as an MP to become the new Director of the V&A museum. There will have to be a by-election in his Stoke Central constituency and already political commentators in the mainstream media are frothing at the mouth at the thought of another opportunity to knock Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn. Are they right to do so?
Hunt was Shadow Secretary of State for Education when Ed Miliband was Labour Leader. Having nailed his colours fast to the mast of the Labour people and policies who and which lost the last General Election, Hunt wants to keep them there. Remember: Miliband supporters believe they lost the last General Election because the voters got it wrong, not because the Labour Party made any mistakes. Hunt is therefore dismayed that Corbyn has won two leadership contests in a row and that the party membership in the country is so far out of step with the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). He can’t see much future for himself in the Labour Party.
Given up on Parliament?
However, it’s not as simple as saying that Hunt saw no future for himself in Parliament. Far from it: if Labour loses the 2020 General Election and there is another post-defeat leadership election, Hunt would probably have fancied himself as a runner. What will be more of a daunting prospect for Hunt is that his Stoke Central seat will disappear in the boundary changes due before the next General Election. He wouldn’t have a seat to contest – unless he took on one of his colleagues or moved to another party of the country.
And as he is beginning to face up to the uncertainty, along comes his dream job, running a museum which specialises in exhibits from the period of history which he is absolutely nuts about. Is it really a surprise that he took the job? It’s a whole new challenge for a man who, at 42, is still plenty young enough to start a new career. It’s exciting and it puts him in charge in a way he might want to be in the Labour Party but could not guarantee to achieve.
Finally: it’s not as if Hunt flounced out. He made a point of saying that he had not wanted to rock the boat and that his disagreements with Corbyn were behind him. That’s not the attitude of a man who is trying to teach Corbyn a lesson – it’s the attitude of a man who is genuinely heading off for a new career. Peter Mandelson, o course, immediately appropriated the resignation and said it was all Corbyn’s fault – but that is another matter.
Can Labour win?
Having said all of which, there is no doubt this all leaves Labour in a pickle. Hunt held Stoke with a majority of just over 5,000 – that’s not a large majority to defend at a by-election. Worse: UKIP came second. Just at a time when right wing populism is on the ascendancy, they will poor resources into Stoke and try to get a second MP. Just at the time when UKIP is pouring its resources into Stoke, the voters may decide that voting UKIP is a sound way of making an anti-establishment protest vote.
This is where Corbyn’s Party may struggle. To win this by-election, it needs to be the party of protest – the party that everyone fed up with the established parties and the Government in particular can vote for. But now is just when it is getting maximum pressure from bighead MPs in Parliament and from the press to tack to the centre or even the right. If the Party does try to go to the centre, they will be derided in the press for not having gone far enough fast enough or being dishonest. If they do not head back to the centre, they will be derided in the press for not having tried and for being unelectable.
The Parliamentary Labour Party – the MPs – could rally round and help by embracing a new future of policies that are clearly different from the Tories. They won’t – and thus they will pave the way for their own demise. And so the scene is set. If Stoke is lost and if there is a poor showing in May’s elections in the regions of England (always a poor area for Labour), there may yet be a third Labour leadership election for a third summer in succession.