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Hunt backs Kendall leadership bid

Published 20/05/2015

Tristram Hunt will use a keynote speech to criticise
Tristram Hunt will use a keynote speech to criticise "timid, institutionalised caution" under Ed Miliband

Tristram Hunt has urged MPs to back Liz Kendall as Labour's next leader, as he ruled out standing with a warning that the "disproportionate" influence of trade unions could rob members of a sufficiently wide choice.

The shadow education secretary conceded that he could not count on the support of the 34 fellow MPs required to get on the ballot paper and said most appeared already committed to "a couple of candidates".

With ex-Cabinet ministers Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper said to be confident of passing the threshold, he said he did not want to "split" nominations and risk Blairite favourite Ms Kendall not making the cut.

A supporter of the Kendall campaign said: "We've got the numbers. We're in the race."

Mr Hunt's comments appeared to suggest that the fourth declared hopeful - shadow international development secretary Mary Creagh - might also struggle to get the necessary signatures to join the race to succeed Ed Miliband and try to rebuild the Opposition in the wake of a crushing general election defeat.

In a speech putting a lid on days of speculation over whether he would throw his hat in the ring, the TV historian said it was vital the party was presented with an "effective choice" of candidates to deal with "the greatest crisis the Labour Party has ever faced".

"I haven't got the necessary numbers. I want as broad a range of candidates on the ballot as possible. And in order to do that I myself need to step back," he said at the headquarters of the thinktank Demos.

He said he hoped that, as a result, "we have a good conversation over the coming months and those from different wings of the party put their views to party members".

"It is surprising that the nomination process to select a leader for at least the next five years appears to have been largely decided within, at most, five days of a devastating general election defeat," he said.

"But it is clear to me that I do not have sufficient support to be certain that I can run for the leadership myself. And it is also clear to me that in trying to gather the names I need, there is a real risk that I might help restrict the choice for the party.

"That is not a risk I am prepared to accept. Instead, I am offering my endorsement to my colleague, Liz Kendall.

"Liz appreciates the nature of the crisis, she speaks effectively to large parts of the country that we need to regain. I think she marries a determination about economic efficiency and social justice and also, like me, she shares a real belief in addressing inequality in the early years."

In a barely-disguised swipe at perceived efforts of trade unions such as Unite - and its leader Len McCluskey - to consolidate support around shadow health secretary Mr Burnham, he said: " We need more of the D emos - the individual members, supporters and affiliated supporters who make up our party.

"And we need less dictation by individuals and individual factions that still seek to wield an influence that is both disproportionate to what they deserve and contrary to the egalitarian principle of one member, one vote."

In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Hunt criticised the "timid, institutionalised caution" which he said characterised the party's general election campaign under Mr Miliband.

He called for the adoption of a "100% strategy" to gain support across the country, rather the so-called "35% strategy" aimed at winning just enough voters to get them back into power.

In comments likely to be seen as being aimed at Mr Burnham, he warned that if the party turned "further inwards", it could "wither away" altogether.

"We did not lack for political ideas, what we lacked was political courage. In our strategic straitjacket we refused to accept them, to make the argument for them, or to build them into a new sense of mission," he said.

It was up to others to decide whether he was guilty of "naivety or inefficiency" in falling short, he said, but hinted that others had been preparing their bids while he and other colleagues were focused on winning the general election.

"What I will say is that I certainly was not as prepared as I could have been for the aftermath of the general election," he said when asked directly.

"There are others with longer, more established connections within the party who perhaps could draw on those more swiftly than I could but I focused on trying to get a Labour government into Downing Street."

He added: "I don't think it's a crime to work right up to when the polls closed to deliver a Labour government. My thinking was focused on that."

Ms Kendall said: "Tristram is a big talent. I am delighted to have his backing to be Labour's next leader.

"Tristram's support and ideas will be important as we seek to change so Labour can win back the trust of the British people."

Mr Hunt also backed the need for the party to reform its rules to allow sitting leaders to be challenged.

There should be an " escape valve if there are fears about the future of the party so that there is a route to avoid some of that instinctive sentimentality that the party has within it", he suggested.

"Whether that's a break clause or putting yourself up as leader to a vote of confidence.

"You need to judge it carefully because you do not want these things happening all the time and undermining the leadership, but you could get to a position where, if there is a lack of confidence among a certain number of MPs, then you have a trigger process."

Ms Cooper announced shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker and shadow chief secretary Shabana Mahmood will be co-chairs of her leadership campaign.

Mr Coaker said he was backing the shadow home secretary because " she is the candidate who can win the next election and give us a Labour Government", while Ms Mahmood said: " For Labour to form a government in 2020 we need to be winning in those areas we failed to gain support this time round. Yvette is the leader to do this and her campaign will be the start of that process."

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