TALKING POLITICS: In the Labour Party’s game of thrones, you win or you die

Liz Kendall. Picture: John Stillwell/PA Wire
Liz Kendall. Picture: John Stillwell/PA Wire

If you’re not familiar with the cult TV show Game of Thrones, it centres around the scheming machinations of rival kings and queens all vying to lead a fantasy realm loosely based on England’s distant history.

Much like the Labour leadership contest.

The show is famous for its ruthlessness in dispatching key characters at unexpected moments. As a rule, the more idealistic the contender the swifter and more brutal their demise.

And so it is proving among Labour’s crop of hopefuls.

The unexpectedly decisive nature of Ed Miliband’s electoral defeat, coupled with the decapitation of his heir apparent Ed Balls, created a power vacuum and set the ambitious rivals jostling to gather their armies.

There was Yvette Cooper, fighting to continue the political ambitions of her family. An early favourite, she has faded somewhat, the whiff of Balls still about her no matter how much fallen husband Ed tries to lie low.

There was Dan Jarvis: a handsome, charming family man with a military background, seemingly the perfect leader for our image-obsessed times . But the contest came too soon for him so he made a strategic withdrawal. His turn will come soon enough.

There was Chuka Umunna: young, ambitious, charismatic, a man lazily described as the British Barack Obama. He lasted just three days before he withdrew, crumbling to dust under the glare of the media spotlight.

Which leaves two main contenders: Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall.

Kendall has the disadvantage of anonymity while former minister Burnham has the disadvantage of being associated with Gordon Brown’s administration.

What both share in common is a desire to modernise the Labour Party, broaden its appeal and make it electable again which directly echoes Tony Blair’s ‘big tent’ approach as he rebuilt the party in the mid-1990s.

The world has moved on since then and there is a strong case to be made for remodernising a party that last had a long, hard think about its policies in a world before mobile phones and internet use became widespread.

Burnham may be too encumbered with the party’s past to be able to drive this change through, not least with the mixed blessing of trade union backing.

Whoever wins, there seems little doubt that something about the Labour Party does have to change.

Because it’s one thing to be king in the north, but you also need to keep the prosperous south onside if you want to avoid a Red Edding.