The future of the centre left in a post-Brexit world: the thoughts of Tristram Hunt MP

Labour MP Tristram Hunt delivered a thought-provoking talk to the School’s Politics Society, covering Brexit, the current impact of Jeremy Corbyn and the legacy of Tony Blair.

Tristram Hunt has been the Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central since 2010 and Shadow Education Secretary until Jeremy Corbyn’s election in 2015; his constituency was announced as one of the ones to be abolished in the forthcoming boundary changes. The talk was organised by Year 13 student Adrian Burbie (pictured below) as part of a series of talks by politicians and political journalists, and was well-attended by pupils and staff from across the School.

Mr Hunt, 42, who read History at Trinity College, Cambridge, is also a historian, having published a number of books and lecturing at Queen Mary University of London, specialising in urban history, particularly of the Victorian era.

""His talk started by looking at the causes of Brexit, saying that ‘those who voted ‘out’ must not be labelled as ignorant, racist xenophobes’. People in deprived areas, such as his constituency of Stoke-on-Trent Central (which voted 70-30 in favour of ‘out’), were clearly not feeling the benefits of globalisation; they had lost heavy industries and were uncomfortable with the pace of immigration. He therefore assessed the Brexit vote as a vote against globalisation.

Mr Hunt then looked at the ‘hollowing out’ of the centre-left across Europe since the financial crisis, which he called ‘Pasokification’ after the centre left Greek political party’s collapse in support. He described the left as being fragmented between the white, traditional, blue collar workers (who were more likely to vote ‘out’) and the more cosmopolitan, urban, liberal voters (who were more likely to vote ‘in’). Jeremy Corbyn exacerbated this divide rather than healed it. In Mr. Hunt’s opinion, the only real hope for the centre left is a model such as Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party in Canada.

""When asked by a member of the audience about Tony Blair and his legacy, Mr. Hunt was very complimentary about Blair’s domestic record in office, declaring him to be one of the great modernising Labour leaders and on a par with Harold Wilson. Tony Blair had transformed Britain for the better in the late 1990s and early 2000s, introducing equality legislation and the minimum wage. Mr. Hunt recognised that this was an ‘unfashionable’ view to take within Labour at the current time.

Mr Hunt criticised Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and the direction that the Labour Party was taking. Corbyn had only campaigned half-heartedly during the EU referendum., and he was critical of Corbyn’s policy of condemning Tory voters as ‘sinful’ and for believing that he could win an election simply by appealing to young voters, Green voters and the hard left; there simply weren’t the numbers to support this. Corbyn’s approval ratings were currently 60 points behind Theresa May’s. There was therefore a need for a more centrist platform like Tony Blair’s to appeal to the wider public.

""Mr Hunt was of the opinion that Corbyn and his supporters were so committed to making Labour a social movement as opposed to an alternative government that they had shunned Tony Blair as a ‘traitor' because the current leadership prioritised pure ideological socialism and viewed Blair’s pragmatism as something ‘dirty’. They weren’t prepared to make any of the compromises necessary to win power.

This was why Mr Hunt had resigned from the Shadow Cabinet and signed the motion of ‘no confidence’ in Jeremy Corbyn; Corbyn was incapable of providing the effective scrutiny of the government needed during Brexit negotiations.

Mr Hunt was also heavily critical of the anti-Semitism which he said did exist within the upper echelons of the Labour party, and of Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of adequate response. Although Corbyn was not an anti-Semite himself, he had created an environment within which it could grow.

""Despite backing Owen Smith in the recent leadership contest, Mr Hunt was unimpressed with his plan to have a second EU referendum to give voters ‘a second chance’ and treat the first referendum’s result as merely advisory. This would only lead to further fragmentation of the Labour vote and more haemorrhaging of working class support to UKIP.

Mr. Hunt was critical of boundary review, perhaps unsurprisingly, and especially of the way it was mainly going to affect Labour MPs. He did not support Theresa May’s grammar school plans, stating that there needed to be much better quality vocational options offered which were a feasible alternative to an academic route, and that the grammar school debate was a ‘distraction’ – politicians needed to simply focus on improving schools generally, especially early primary education.

Mr. Hunt signalled that he was open to the prospect of rail renationalisation but did not lend full support to it. He said that the East Coast Main Line, which had been state run, was run well and made good money for the Exchequer. However, renationalisation was not a panacea and would require major investment for there to be any improvement in the railways. He suggested that privatised and nationalised railways should be compared side-by-side and the government opt for whichever delivered the better service.

Tristram Hunt MP finished his address by encouraging everyone to be more involved and engaged in politics.