13 Jul 2015

Tristram Hunt: Labour needs to talk to the SNP

Harriet Harman’s decision to use her acting leadership role to steer the party’s direction has been shocking and enthusing Labour MPs depending on where they are in the party.

One Labour frontbencher said Labour’s Shadow Cabinet tomorrow would be a “bloodbath” and Harriet Harman would face an uprising of Labour MPs who refuse to abstain on the Budget welfare proposals and insist on voting against them.

Frank Field, who wrestled uncomfortably with his role as her deputy when she was Welfare Secretary under Tony Blair, now praises Harriet Harman as a glimmer of light in a drab and fairly hopeless leadership contest.

Possible Labour Leadership Contender Tristram Hunt Gives Post-election SpeechOthers who praise Harriet Harman’s intervention include the Shadow Schools Secretary Tristram Hunt.

He shares her concern that the Party’s leadership contest is not remotely bold enough and is taking place in Labour’s comfort zone.

He tells me that Labour needs to think, for instance, about the relationship with the SNP. It should get away from the hostility of recent years, accepting the reality that Labour for some time will be dealing with an SNP-dominated Scotland.

Dr Hunt says that instead of knee-jerk hostility Labour should search out the “philosophical alliances” that may exist with progressive forces like the SNP and the Liberal Democrats. He says that “everything should be on the table” for Labour in a “summer of hard truths.”

Another who praises Harriet Harman’s intervention is Lord Glasman. He tells me Labour is facing an “existential crisis,” and “Labour’s got this Parliament to sort itself out otherwise it could become irrelevant.” He says the leadership contest so far shows no signs of producing a future Prime Minister.

One senior Labour figure told me he thought that the last 24 hours could’ve tipped Andy Burnham into the leadership.

His rationale was that Jeremy Corbyn supporters will have clocked how quickly Andy Burnham opposed Harriet Harman on the tax credits switch and how Yvette Cooper took most of the day to do the same.

If Jeremy Corbyn does as well as some expect, his second preferences could be the key to who actually wins the Labour leadership. Exactly the kind of preoccupation which is worrying Harriet Harman and, I’m told, many officals at the Party’s Brewer’s Green HQ.

Worth mentioning perhaps that one of the lines much repeated in political circles is that a huge amount of the damage done to Labour in the last election was actually inflicted in the early months of the Coalition as Labour turned inwards, preoccupied with a leadership contest, allowing the Tories to dominate the political and media landscape painting Labour as the authors of all the country’s economic woes.

The acting leader of the Labour Party back then was none other than Harriet Harman. One who watched her throughout that time and throughout the Ed Miliband leadership believes her current hands-on interventions will be driven by a desire to make sure that mistake is not repeated.

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