Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary and a strong pro-European, has endorsed Liz Kendall for the Labour party leadership in a move that will bolster her chances of getting on to the ballot and winning the contest.
Umunna pulled out of the contest within days of announcing that he was going to run, citing personal reasons and the unexpected level of media attention. Some of his former mentors went to considerable lengths to make him realise the significance of his decision and the damage it could inflict on the momentum of the Kendall campaign.
He has insisted that he did not seek and was never offered a portfolio by the Kendall team in return for his support. However, if she wins, his position on the EU means he is bound to be a key player with the European referendum already in sight. Kendall was one of the first leadership candidates to accept the party had to drop its opposition to a referendum in the wake of the general election defeat.
Her friends said she was determined to learn the lessons of Labour’s involvement in the Scottish independence referendum and that “she wants Labour to run a distinct and distinctive campaign in the in/out referendum”. They added: “Labour, until the final days of the Scottish campaign, seemed like an adjunct of the government no campaign.”
Although Kendall does not believe that support for Ukip primarily stems from opposition to the EU, she is aware that Labour needs to win back lost Ukip voters before and after the referendum campaign and that the tone of Labour’s campaign to stay in Europe will matter. It is understood that she accepts there will be an umbrella campaign.
Kendall has now won the support of four shadow cabinet members, the others being the shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Ivan Lewis, and the shadow housing minister Emma Reynolds.
She will now be hoping to win the backing of the former cabinet minister Alan Johnson, who has so far declared himself to be a floating voter.
In a statement signed with three other Kendall supporters, Umunna wrote: “The party must move beyond its comfort zone and find new ways of realising its age-old goals of equality and freedom.
“Our movement faces three main, interlocking economic questions that are much more acute now than in the past: how to deliver excellent public services at a time when money is tight? How to harness the technological changes that are disrupting established industries and destroying jobs to create new, better opportunities? And how to remain competitive in a time of globalisation, paying our way in the world over the coming decades?
“It is no longer simply enough to get into power and, from Whitehall, pull the old social-democratic levers: tax rates and regulation, welfare payments and tax credits. They have their place but these alone are inadequate to the task of delivering a fair, united society at a time when technology cycles are speeding up, new economic competitors are on the rise and the makeup and identity of our country are evolving.
“Living up to our age-old mission demands a willingness to grapple with the economic, social and global challenges as they are before us now.”
The statement, written by Umunnna and the MPs Stephen Twigg and Jonathan Reynolds, also called for a reshaping of the state: “Moving towards a more federal United Kingdom, devolving power and money to cities and regions, reforming our electoral system and political bodies to reflect the more open and pluralistic country they represent.
“And it means a new approach to public services: integrating health, mental health and social care services, starting at ‘what works’ and putting the principles of prevention and innovation at the heart of the welfare state.”
They said: “Kendall has asked the tough questions and started to chart a course to the answers. She has been courageous in challenging conventional wisdom. She has no compunction in moving Labour beyond our comfort zone and is determined to build a team ready to chart a route forward.”
In a response to Umunna’s endorsement, the MPs Conor McGinn, Vernon Coaker’s former adviser, and Anna Turley, a former special adviser to David Blunkett, backed Burnham for leader. They wrote: “We can’t have a reverse situation of 2015 in 2020, with people campaigning in the south-east feeling armed with offers, but working-class voters – themselves aspirational and ambitious – failing to see the Labour party as their party, too.
“We cannot have more of the same. But neither can we have our offer for 2020 being caricatured as a back-to-the-future vision that doesn’t understand why we lost in 2010, never mind 2015.
“We won’t win over the voters we lost, or failed to gain, by being a poor imitation of the Tories ... that’s the lesson of New Labour: we don’t have to be like Tories, we have to be different to and better than them. And we are at our best when we have something to offer everyone.”
This article was written by Patrick Wintour Political editor, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 26th May 2015 18.32 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010