Donald Macintyre's Sketch: With flashes of mischief, Blairite Liz Kendall slayed Labour’s sacred cows

She needed to show she was serious, as well as likeable

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Talk about a week being a long time in politics: Two Shadow Cabinet carriers of the Blairite torch, Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt decide not to contest the Labour leadership. And suddenly the new girl in town is announcing: “As prime minister I will restore our position as a nation that protects our citizens.”

“Will” not “would”. Chutzpah? Maybe not. Liz Kendall needed to show she was serious, as well as likeable. As serious as the crisis that she was proposing to rescue Labour from. For all those party members who thought things couldn’t get worse after what she described as its “epic” and “catastrophic” defeat, she cheerfully explained they could. A lot worse. Labour didn’t have a “God given-right” even to exist.

Which is where Kendall believes she comes in, plunging with – relatively – cool deliberation her assegai into the backs of several current Labour sacred cows. Sticking to spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence (which might cause George Osborne a severe headache if she were to win); abandoning the belief Britain had moved left when in her view it hadn’t; being as “passionate” about creating wealth as distributing it; support for free schools and disdain for “obsessing” about structures rather than quality in education; the voters didn’t “believe” in Labour’s energy price freeze. And so on.

Some of it was a bit wispy round the edges. She read out her mission statement; but while she then gamely took a lot of questions not all the answers were, well, fully formed. Giving people “hope” won’t wholly tackle the Ukip problem. Nor is she above the politician’s non-answer. She declined to say whether she would campaign on the same platform with David Cameron for the continued British EU membership she said Labour should be “passionately” – that word again – committed to. Or whether she would welcome the Blair endorsement that is surely there for the asking.

But there were mischievous flashes of colour; mourning the loss of the Shadow Chancellor, she added: “although most people thought we’d lost our balls before the election”.

And she sounded rather confident she could do it if elected. Indeed, when she said she had asked Hunt to “lead” on constitutional policy it was almost as if she was already doing it. In one answer she non-committally said a proposal for the Labour leader to be replaced in 2018, if not thought up to it, was “interesting”. Perhaps more interesting, she didn’t say, if Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper win this time around than if she does.