Tristram Hunt MP at the Financial Times 2015 Summer Party. Photo: Flickr / Financial Times Tristram Hunt MP at the Financial Times 2015 Summer Party. Photo: Flickr / Financial Times

As the Labour MP announces his resignation, Cameron Panting takes a look at the man and what he stood for

So far, the coverage of Tristram Hunt’s resignation as Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central has been that it is a massive blow to Corbyn and the political project he represents. It isn’t.

In the 2015 election, UKIP moved into second place in Hunt’s marginal seat, so this is now seen as a test of how much UKIP can take Labour down in what has been dubbed as the Brexit capital of the UK, due to it having the highest proportion of Leave voters.

Of course, there is the possibility that Labour will lose the seat (he was likely to lose it anyway because of boundary changes), but surely UKIP’s gains in that area have much to do with Hunt himself, who represents exactly the kind of posh elite UKIP pretend to stand against. He is the least popular MP in parliament, as only 19 percent of his constituents voted for him.

The son of a Baron, Tristram was educated at Cambridge University and before being parachuted into the Stoke seat to become an MP, worked for think-tanks, alongside being a historian and lecturer.

He is probably most well-known for telling a group of Oxbridge students that the ‘top one-percent’ need to take control of Labour again. He also once crossed a picket line to give a lecture on Marxism. The irony need not be explained.

An ardent opponent of Corbyn, he followed Harriet Harman’s lead in abstaining on the vote against the government’s welfare cuts and refused to vote against Osborne’s fiscal charter.

Following Hunt’s announcement, Osborne himself praised him as being a ‘brilliant and bold choice’ by the V&A. I am sure the museum will agree – Hunt wrote an article for the Guardian arguing for museums and galleries to start charging again. The Victorian values that dominate his books will at least find a home.

Various commentators have praised him as a great orator, and talented MP, which more often than not just means he’s a man, posh, careerist and did Latin at school. What impact he has had on the people of Stoke-on-Trent is not particularly clear. In wider politics, all he seemed to do was attack the left at every opportunity and bang on about Englishness.

How he can have the temerity to suggest that Corbyn is one of the reasons the country voted to Leave, whilst failing to convince most of his own constituents of his position is tribute to his arrogance. It was New Labour (a tradition Hunt comes from) disregarding the core working class support over the Blair years, that laid the foundations for Brexit to happen, as so many were let down.

Labour took a load of Lib Dem voters in his seat in the last election, although Corbyn’s recent waver over free-movement may prove a problem with regard to holding the more liberal edge of his support. Let’s face it, he’s not going to out-do UKIP or the Tories on immigration, so why try?

The Tories look to be more of a threat, as UKIP unsurprisingly seems to have blown up since the referendum, and the Tories are picking up more of their support than Labour. This could however change, with Corbyn’s more full-blooded recent cry for a People’s Brexit, and the Tories in crisis over both Brexit and the NHS.

However, marginal seats are always going to be difficult for a party that is attempting to re-write the rules of politics and offer a genuinely transformative program. This is very difficult to get across with by-elections, and they are won and lost on a wide-range of factors.

More likely than not, Labour will retain the seat, but if they don’t, it won’t be because they have lost the least popular MP in parliament. 

Cameron Panting

Cameron Panting was formerly National Organiser for Counterfire. He is active within the People's Assembly and Stop The War.