Labour MPs need to learn to work together. Going it alone can only get you so far
Ed Miliband’s lack of “Milibites” – his own loyal band of followers – has its roots partly in the nature of the 2010 intake.
Stella Creasy breaking ranks over “One Nation Labour”. Tristam Hunt wandering insouciantly across a picket line. These are just two of the most recent examples of younger Labour MPs taking their cue from those who have established an independent reputation outside their parties.
Think Boris, Farage, and (in the past) Ken Clarke. The new generation of Labour MPs is focusing on building a personal reputation especially in social media, seeing this as key to success in politics. This may explain why Mr Miliband is struggling to build a coherent team of loyalists.
What’s interesting and surprising about this is the contrast with the newer Conservative MPs. Because while the new generation of Labour MPs are behaving like rampant individualists, the newer Conservative MPs are cosying up to each other in solidarity. This raises the question: which strategy will be the most successful? The jostling personalities within Labour or the competing visions within the Conservatives?
It takes time for political movements to develop. What Britain looks like two elections from now, in 2020, will depend on who wins the battles over alliances, personalities and philosophies going on at the moment in the corridors of Westminster.
The election victory of 1997 and the advent of New Labour led to a blooming of ideas that had been carefully crafted for many years. Similarly, the Thatcherite revolution was the product of meticulous thinking conducted in some of the UK’s oldest free market think tanks for decades.
One of the most interesting battlegrounds in this Parliament has been that of the 2010 intake of new MPs in both Labour and the Conservatives.
So much for being the socialist party, Labour’s rising stars have been the rugged, hardcore individualists – Stella Creasy, Chuka Umunna, and Tristram Hunt among the group that are already making their mark.
Rather than working together, they have selectively campaigned for issues that have also helped invigorate their own personal standing. Stella Creasy’s one-woman crusade against payday loan companies was so successful that even the Prime Minister ended up bowing to the pressure she generated. They have set about differentiating themselves wherever possible, almost creating mini Empires within the Labour Party’s broad umbrella. These hand-crafted, self-styled images have been immensely successful.
Not content with the odd dig at Mariah Carey or Coldplay, Stella Creasy has her own hashtag #indiemp, which expresses both her musical taste and her politics. Chuka Umanna’s affections lie elsewhere, however, in the world of house music. Again, he has successfully used social media to broadcast these interests.
They have determinedly focused on what sets them apart rather than what unites them. So far at least they’ve expressed little in the way of ideological commitment, allowing us to know hardly anything about what any of them stands for.
What is striking is how differently the new Conservative MPs have gone about things. Almost from day one, these so-called “children of Thatcher”, have been far more collegiate in their approach, building themselves into strategic alliances and forming blocs rather than going it alone.
This has lead to a proliferation of groups. There’s the 2020 Group, with its focus on creating a more progressive conservative agenda, set up by Greg Barker and George Freeman. Meanwhile those espousing the merits of limited government and greater freedom like Elizabeth Truss, Kwasi Kwarteng and Sajid Javid have been instrumental in the establishment of the Free Enterprise Group, which led the way on bank account portability.
Then there are those committed to a different relationship with the EU. Andrea Leadsom, George Eustice and Chris Heaton-Harris founded the Fresh Start Group, which has helped with the Government’s thinking on renegotiating Britain’s relationship with the EU. There is also Renewal, a campaign group led by Robert Halfon and David Skelton, aimed at broadening the appeal of the Conservatives to working-class voters.
These groups have created space for thought, allowing MPs to develop their thinking and examine themes that they want to advocate both now and in the future. It is abundantly clear what these Conservative MPs stand for and who stands with them.
The different groups of Conservatives have a clear vision of what they think the country should look like five, 10 or 20 years from now. They also have a plan for the policies needed to get there.
And this is the difficulty, not just for Mr Miliband now, but for the Labour party over the coming years. The political leaders who have accomplished truly great things, no matter which party they represented, have had a clear sense of what it was they wanted to achieve and a strong and committed team around them that also bought in to that vision.