This week in an interview with the Sun, the Labour leadership contender, Liz Kendall criticised her opponents of being, in her words, ‘continuity Miliband’. As of yet, Kendall has not made significant gains in her attempt to become the next guiding beacon to lead the Labour Party to election victory in 2020, with competitors Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper edging their way ahead of her in internal party polls.
What kind of angle is Kendall aiming at in trying to blame her competitors for not publicly declaring that they are not a change from Miliband? Kendall’s negative campaigning here is certainly not going to be effective in the long run – she will have to actively prove how she is different from Miliband to win support, yet it seems that ditching her label of ‘Blairite’ may be harder to shake off.
Kendall certainly does not appear to have the complete backing of her parliamentary party, as the contender only gained 41 votes from MPs to make it onto the ballot – that’s 27 votes behind Burnham and 18 votes behind Cooper. However, Kendall craftily made her way onto the ballot by rallying some of those Blairite MPs whom she has now possibly disaffected after firmly declaring to BBC Radio Four, ‘I’m not a Blairite candidate, I’m my own candidate’. To some extent, this is true as Kendall was not elected until 2010 by which time New Labour had been buried in a shallow grave. However, an anonymous source from a rival camp – thought to be linked to Burnham or Cooper – has claimed that Kendall’s campaign is ‘Taliban New Labour’ with promises to remain relaxed about free schools and commitment to further defence spending, undoubtedly reflecting a Blue Labour-edged, Blairite attitude.
Many are not convinced however that Kendall is completely divorced from New Labour. Her dedication to regaining votes from ‘aspirational’ low and middle-income voters reflects New Labour’s philosophy of social justice. Whilst her commitment to introducing the living wage, almost directly parallels Blair’s advocation of the introduction of the minimum wage before the 1997 General Election. While these promises are indeed commendable, to what extent could Kendall be trusted to deliver on these issues?
Kendall’s campaign on the whole does not appear entirely original, with her comment that Britain needed to deal with inequalities in order to gain ‘A stronger economy and fairer society’ directly mirroring a Liberal Democrat slogan in the run-up to May’s election. Indeed, Kendall’s campaign ‘menu’ appears to serve a main course of Blairite ideology with sprinklings of Lib Dem influences as well as a side of Tory ascendancy. The impact of the Tories on Kendall’s campaign can be most aptly seen in her statement to the House Magazine where she stated that there would, ‘remain a role’ for private firms within Britain’s health sector where they would be able to, ‘add extra capacity to the NHS or challenge to the system’.
To determine Kendall on the political spectrum would appear tricky as her apparent commitment to introducing the living wage would place her centre-left, yet her attempts to increase defence spending and maintain a continued role for the private health sector would certainly see her positioned as centre-right. The majority of Parliament do consider Kendall to be a right-wing contender in the leadership contest, with many political commentators noting that Kendall on the surface does indeed appear to be an ideological ‘heir to Blair’. Was this not the same label that Cameron was given upon his election to the leadership? In many respects, it seems as if Kendall and Cameron would be able to agree on a number of issues, thus it would seem that her leadership might not actually offer voters a great difference between her and the incumbent in 2020. Although Kendall claims that she is the only contender that will ‘break free’ from Miliband’s Labour, could her leadership prove to be all too similar to that of Cameron’s?
So, where should Kendall go from here? The obvious answer seems to be that she has to passionately prove how her leadership would differ from that of both Miliband and Blair. Yet, personally, I believe that Kendall might be wise to distance herself from the Cameron ideology she unknowingly associates with and illustrate how Labour, under her leadership, would be a force to be reckoned with in the lead-up to the 2020 General Election. The main focus now is improving her image amongst the parliamentary party and Labour Party members. Whether she will be able to do this will be fascinating to observe.