Archive for the 'Labour leadership' Category

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The star who plays a LAB MP in tonight’s new BBC political thriller is worried about state of the party

Monday, February 12th, 2018

Why Don Brind thinks he shouldn’t be

David Mars is a Labour MP worried about the state of his party and at odds with his leader. Described as a “frustrated but hard-working member of the shadow cabinet” the central character in tonight’s BBC2 thriller Collateral “despairs at the state of the Labour Party and many of its policies .. he’s not afraid to be outspoken and on more than one occasion he finds himself in hot water with the party leader.”

John Simms, the man who plays the fictional MP, is also worried about what he sees as Labour’s ineffectiveness. He told the Big Issue  “Everything is all fucked. And until Trump leaves the Oval Office, I will not think we are not fucked,” he says.

“Every day I am expecting the end of the world. It is terrifying. I despair. Like most people, I am horrified by all of it at the moment.

“This government is in disarray, and I can’t see any immediate challenge from Labour, really. They are standing in front of an open goal and no one is really putting it in the net.”

You wouldn’t have to go far at Westminster to find a real life Labour MP to echo the worries of John Simms and his character. Even before the run of recent polls showing the Tories in the lead there was a nagging concern that Labour is level pegging with this uniquely incompetent government.

“Why, then, is the leadership not more depressed? The question is posed and answered by the New Statesman’s Stephen Bush, the journalist you turn to for the best insights into what is going on in Team Corbyn.

The leader’s inner circle, he says, reckon last year’s election realigned politics – the trouble is “that realignment wasn’t enough to deliver a Labour government.” The reason they remain upbeat, says Bush, “is a belief that time favours Labour. The government will have to deliver a Brexit deal that falls short of May’s rhetoric, the public realm, particularly the NHS, will continue to be under growing pressure, and the housing market will continue to shut out growing numbers of voters under 45.”

    Another way of putting it is that Team Corbyn believe are doing the right things and will eventually get the reward.

For instance, having recently chided Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott for not campaigning hard enough on crime I was delighted to see her boss get stuck into the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions – winning this plauditfrom Tony Blair’s biographer John Rentoul: “ I never thought I’d say it but Jeremy Corbyn manipulates PMQs brilliantly. Simply by raising the subject of crime, Corbyn is winning.”

More substantially there is a great deal of policy development going on, some of which was on show at last weekend’s Alternative Models of Ownership conference. The top line was the assertion by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell that public ownership would have zero cost for taxpayers.

A friend who attended the conference was mightily impressed by John McDonnell’s “careful and reasonable-sounding presentation”.

For the record, my friend is not easily impressed – definitely not a Corbynista rather a very savvy, business-friendly former MP.

What came across was that “while the Tories were obsessing about Brexit and who was going to be their next leader, Labour was putting together a serious agenda for government.”

The plan is to use Labour’s powers at council level effectively (especially if Labour win more in May’s elections) to make the blueprint for municipalisation work. “This would improve Labour’s electoral chances even more.”

On the issue of privatisation and outsourcing “McDonnell accused the Tories of dogma and an ideological commitment to an idea they knew didn’t work. The alternative model being presented was free of dogma and ideology but was looking at “what works” (very Blair).”

The verdict on the conference — “The Labour Party seems to have a very clear strategy of what it needs to do between now and the general election while no-one else seems to.

So how to answer John Simm’s point that Labour can’t put the ball into an empty net? What more could Team Corbyn be doing at the moment?

The answer, rather boringly, is Not Much.

Don Brind



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Jon Trickett – Labour’s man to sort out the outsourcing mess?

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

Don Brind on the politics of the post-Carrilion world

When Jon Trickett was leader of the Leeds City Council in the early 90s he had a regular Friday date with finance department officials. He got them to bring along every bill the council had paid that week. He then pulled out at random a number of bills to prompt a discussion on whether the ratepayers had got value for money from suppliers.

“I hate waste” declares Trickett and his hands-on approach to public procurement was designed to inculcate a tight-fisted culture of amongst councillors and officials. He says they indentified lots of savings that were reinvested in council services.

He took that mindset to Westminster when he was elected at the Hemsworth by-election in 1996. And it informs his thinking now as the member of Team Corbyn tackling what he describes as the “rigged system” of outsourcing and privatisation.

He is leading the charge over the collapse of Carillion and the troubles at Capita but Trickett has been on the case for the best part of five years. Under Ed Miliband’s leadership he drew up radical plans to ensure that social as well as financial criteria were used in public procurement. The near £200 billion a year of national and local government spending on private contractors would be used to drive policies like the Living Wage, apprenticeships, equal pay and to fight tax fraud.

In the Commons  the junior Cabinet Officer minister Oliver Dowden trotted out the standard defence for privatisation and outsourcing. These companies “have a specialty in delivering such services, so they can deliver them more efficiently. That means there are savings for the taxpayer.”

Not so, says Professor Colin Crouch of Warwick Business School. He argues firms win contracts in fields where they have no track record or professional knowledge because “their core business” is “knowing how to win government contracts: how to bid and how to develop contacts with officials and politicians.”

It is, of course, true that the private sector was widely used to deliver services by the last Labour government and Tories have a favourite quote from Gordon Brown that “It simply would not have been possible to build or refurbish such a number of schools and hospitals without using the PFI model.”

The implication is that Labour is divided and that Trickett is speaking for only the Left of the party. The contributions in the Commons by John Spellar, Luciana Berger and Rachael Reeves,– none of them Corbynistas — put the lie to that.

Spellar said there there are “two separate but linked problems: the business model and the performance of these companies? Like Carillion, Capita seems to be part of the over-concentrated, over-leveraged, dividend-and-bonus-exploiting culture that relies on the state to bail out failure. Capita incompetence is only too clear from its lamentable performance on the recruitment contract for the armed services.”

Berger said Capita’s £1 billion contract for the delivery of NHS England’s primary care support services was beset with serious problems including “patient safety, GP workload and an effect on GP finance …The service falls far short of what is acceptable”.

Reeves, the chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee said there were striking similarities between Capita and Carillion – “both have debts of more than £1 billion and pensions deficits in the hundreds of millions; both paid out dividends of more than £1 billion in the past five years; both rely on the public purse for half of their contracts; both were audited by KPMG; and both grew through acquisition and not through organic growth.

“Jobs, pensions, small businesses and vital public services now depend on these outsourcing companies, but it is time we rethought the whole strategy for public service provision. How many more warning signs do the Government need?”

Although Trickett has been working in this area for several years Labour’s policies are still work in progress. The party holds an important conference in Glasgow this week on Alternative models of ownership . A background paper for the conference says “The predominance of private property ownership has led to a lack of long-term investment and declining rates of productivity, undermined democracy, left regions of the country economically forgotten, and contributed to increasing levels inequality and financial insecurity. Alternative forms of ownership can fundamentally address these problems.”

Although old-style nationalisation will be part of the menu, as I have argued here previously it will be a relatively small part of Labour’s economic programme.
Under a Corbyn government the state will continue to be a purchase of goods and services on a massive scale. As the veteran Labour MP Barry Sheerman “there is nothing wrong with a public-private partnership: what is important is getting the contract and the relationship right. What went wrong in many PFIs was rotten contracts that still bedevil local hospitals and local schools.”

That’s the task facing John Trickett. I think he’s the right man for the job.

Don Brind



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A woman leader could give LAB the polling breakthrough that it is looking for

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

Don Brind on Corbyn’s successor

I was on holiday last week with an old mate who is intensely proud of his northern roots. Born a scouser he made his mark on Yorkshire newspapers before his well-honed shorthand, bulging contacts book and nose for news earned him a transfer to Westminster.

He became a popular and respected member of the lobby but decades after his arrival there it still rankles with him that his accent was mocked by a southern, middle class colleague.

That snobbery is alive and well, according to research showing teachers often feel under pressure to change their accents. Surveys by Alexander Baratta, lecturer in English Language at the University of Manchester / revealed that “many teachers – notably those from the North and Midlands – are being told by mentors to adopt a more general (less broad) version of their accents to help construct a more professional identity.”

The country has a wide variety of accents, she said, “but not all are created equal – with some accents deemed to be more socially acceptable than others.“

It’s an issue dear to the heart of Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner who popped up Twitter Angela Rayner?Verified account @AngelaRayner to declare “it’s important that regional accents are celebrated & not “poshed up” … I have myself faced attacks on my accent but have no plans to change it”. Rayner is undoubtedly a contender to become Labour’s first woman leader, especially if you share my assumption that the next leader must come from the Corbyn wing of the party to have any chance of being elected.

By chance, another person who fits the bill, Emily Thornberry was also taking about accents. “You sound posh” said the BBC’s Nick Robinson  in a podcast interview with the Shadow Foreign Secretary. The Today presenter observed that she has none of the shrillness that some women are accused of. Thornberry explained that being sent off to a choir at the age of seven taught her to breathe properly and project her voice, which also “benefited” from years of smoking. Twenty years as a criminal barrister have also given Thornberry the confidence and poise which she displays to great effect in the Commons espcially when standing in at Prime Minister’s questions.

So Thornberry probably has the edge but, for the record, I would be happy with either. Or both. How about a new dream team of a female leader and deputy leader?

“In your dreams. Jeremy is here to stay”, could well be the response of  loyal Corbynistas to my musings. And indeed, Corbyn’s position has seemingly moved from unassailable to impregnable, with the triumph of Momentum candidates, including founder Jon Lansman, in the elections to the expanded National Executive Committee.

And yet. And yet.Unconscious of the irony that he polled just 65,000 votes Lansman  hailed his victory as a landslide, tweeting that that he was “really honoured to now represent almost 600,000 members on the national executive”. His vote was 11% of the total membership and less than a third of the “200,000 supporters” claimed by the Momentum website. Some landslide.

    A much more serious question for Team Corbyn, though, is why, given everything that’s happened to Theresa May and her ministers the Tories are still level pegging in the polls.

Corbyn is rightly credited with performing well in the General Election but we can be sure the next election, whenever it comes, will not be a straight re-run, especially if the Tories can arrange of change of leader.

It’s worth recalling what happened in the early 1990s. The poll tax had made Margaret Thatcher deeply unpopular. Guardian ICM polls in 1990 shows that Labour, under Neil Kinnock’s leadership, enjoyed double digit leads throughout the year, peaking at 24% in the April.

The polls at the time almost certainly had a Labour bias but the key point is that the election of a new leader, John Major, in the November transformed Tory fortunes.

Should Labour now wait and see what happens if the Tories change leader — or should we get in first?

The Labour benches are packed full of talented women. They form 45% of the PLP and Corbyn has ensured that this is reflected in his front bench team.

He would earn his place in Labour history if he stood down voluntarily and declared that he wanted his successor to be a woman.

Don Brind



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Laura Pidcock – the 33/1 newbie MP who is being tipped as Corbyn’s successor

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

A small flutter might be worthwhile

Following what was perceived to be a success at the last general election, although Labour finished 58 seats behind, there have been few questions about the future of Jeremy Corbyn. He looks pretty secure and the biggest issue he faces is that he will be in his early 70s if the next election does take place, as planned, in 2022.

Will LAB want to go into the election with their flag carrier being in his late 70s if the next parliament runs a full term?

One indicator of his strength was this week’s elections to Labour’s NEC with the Corbynites having strengthened their position within the party. All three of those elected were part of his support group and we must expect the party to remain like this for least as long as Corbyn is at the top.

The big question is how long he will stay and who will succeed him.

A good sign of who is in favour have been Corbyn’s shadow cabinet changes which went to plan and haven’t been given much attention. Surely JC’s successor could be one of those who have been promoted?

There is a general mood within the party that the next leader will be a woman and one of those who we should expect to see a lot more of is Laura Pidcock.

Stephen Bush in the New Statesman noted

“….One emerging candidate who could unite them all is Laura Pidcock, the 31-year-old newly elected MP for North West Durham. She arrived in Westminster already respected by the big trade unions but with little profile beyond them. She quickly made a splash by telling the left-wing website Skwawkbox that she had no intention of making friends with Tory MPs.

Pidcock has been given the role of shadow minister for labour, a coup twice over. The first boost is that Corbyn is committed to creating a fully fledged ministry of labour, which means the position is effectively that of a secretary of state in waiting. The second is that it gives her licence to deepen her ties with trade union officials, something that has not gone unnoticed…”

I’ve had a small bet at 33/1.

Mike Smithson




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It was a big CON to LAB Remain voter swing that cost the Tories their majority

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017

It’s possible that LAB could’ve fared better with a unequivocal Remainer as head

More serious analysis of the extraordinary GE2017 result is now coming out and is reflected in the Tweets above from leading political scientist Rob Ford of Manchester University who works closely with Prof John Curtice.

The big expectation throughout the campaign was that the Tories would benefit from Leave supporters and the collapse of UKIP. As it turned out that proved to be insignificant. What is striking is that amongst Remain voters the CON vote went down by 5 points while the LAB vote went up by 13.

This, of course, all happened in spite of the GE17 policy of Corbyn’s Labour which was in many ways pro-Brexit. Yet that was not how it was perceived and did not seem to inhibit a big swing amongst Remain voters to the red team.

The main data that’s available on this at the moment is featured in the Ford tweets. But the big message should be very worrying for Theresa May and her party. Many of the 16.1m Remain voters were Tories and the party cannot assume that they will continue to back the party. In many ways it is quite extraordinary that they were ready to use their votes to back Labour.

We’ll never know this, of course, but I wonder how many Remain backing Tories were put off from switching by Mr. Corbyn.

Mike Smithson




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Following her Boris paternity test joke Emily Thornberry becomes favourite to succeed Corbyn

Wednesday, October 4th, 2017

She might be the one facing TMay at the next election

In the last few days there’s been a move to Emily Thornberry in the LAB leadership betting where she’s now favourite almost across the board.

This all started with the suggestion a few weeks that she had the backing of UNITE’s Len McCluskey to succeed Corbyn whenever that happens.

She then got a superb reception at last week’s Labour conference in Brighton (watch the video) particularly with her Brexit paternity joke about Boris. In a party that has never looked on female leadership contenders favourably Thornberry looks very established.

What is striking watching the clip is the totally different atmosphere that there was in Brighton compared with the Tories in Manchester.

Of course there is no vacancy but the fact that there is a capable McCluskey approved alternative in the wings puts her in a strong position. McCluskey has also indicated that Labour’s next leader should be a woman. Corbyn will be 73 in 2022 when the next general election will take place if this parliament runs its full course. My guess is that if there’s no earlier election he will have stood down before them.

Thornberry is the regular stand-in for Corbyn at PMQs and has put up some good performances. If she was leader now TMay would struggle even more at PMQs.

Mike Smithson




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Labour joy and Tory gloom

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

Don Brind reflects on the conference season

A few weeks ago I was helping a front bencher prepare for a TV appearance and we guessed that one of the questions might be “Do you agree with Laura Pidcock?” She is the newbie MP who declared she wouldn’t hang out with Tory women because she regards them as “enemy”.

The more emollient reply we came up with was: “There are some Tories I like. I just don’t want them running the country.”

For me a perfect example of this approach is former MP and whip, Michael Brown who I lunched with recently. He is great company but the Tory government he was part of – John Major’s – made a bit of a hash of ruling Britain.

With the help of some great talent spotting by veteran lobby correspondent Colin Brown, the ex-MP reinvented himself as the Independent’s parliamentary sketch writer. He still dines in Tory circles – with among others David Davis and Patrick McLoughlin– but he sounds like a journalist.

“I told the party chairman, the longer Theresa May hangs on in Downing Street the bigger Jeremy Corbyn’s majority will be.”

“Jeremy Corbyn will save the Tory party. Young people need to find out that Labour governments always make a mess of things.”

This familiar Tory belief that they are better than Labour at running the economy doesn’t square with the facts — as the public finance expert Professor Richard Murphy of City University, has shown.

Labour government’s are more prudent than Tory governments — Tories have been the biggest borrowers since the war  and that picture holds good if you run the numbers from 1979.

The Big Lie in British politics is the one peddled by George Osborne, with support from Nick Clegg, that the Labour government – rather than American banks — caused the crash of 2007/8. Equally mendacious is the Tory claim to have created a “strong and stable” economy. The claim rests solely only on the jobs numbers, which were subjected to a searching analysis  by Alastair Meeks of this parish a couple of weeks ago.

A genuinely strong economy would be producing rising livings standards and be capable of properly funding vital public services including health and education. That is manifestly not true after seven years under a Tory Chancellor.

The economy is shaky because there are fundamental weaknesses which the Conservatives have neglected including the productivity gap of around 30% with key competitors, a failure to invest enough in infrastructure and skills where the jobs of the future come from, a persistent deficit of around £100 billion a year in trade with the rest of the world and dangerously high household debt.

The question of how a Labour government will deal with the dismal inheritance from the Tories lurked behind the rapture of fans of Jeremy Corbyn in Brighton. They understandably took the chance to celebrate after standing by their man against sceptics like me.

The mood was extraordinary. I’ve seen nothing quite like it before and I’ve been conference-going since 1972.

Despite the buzz my judgement is that Corbyn’s “government in waiting” is not ready yet. I am, however, more sanguine than some other Corbyn sceptics inside and outside the party. I offer three bits of evidence for believing the party is moving in the right direction.
Firstly, I believe that Labour is developing an industrial strategy that will deal with both the opportunities and threats created by the digital revolution. An interesting meeting organised by Labour Business and Fujitsu was addressed by two of the smartest people on Corbyn’s front bench, Chi Onwurah and Liam Byrne. They are people to watch.

Digital is already pervasive across most industries and services and the impact on the future employment market will be huge. I was, therefore, encouraged that Corbyn and his Shadow Health Education Secretary cast their “cradle to the grave” national education service as a part of economic policy – vital to reskilling workers as new jobs are developed.

My third reason for optimism was a line in John McDonnell’s speech.

“And, yes, in 1997, after 18 years of Thatcherism, when whole industries and communities across our country had been destroyed by the Tories and our public services were on their knees, it was the Blair/Brown Government that recognised and delivered the scale of public investment that a 21st century society needed.

“We should never forget that we are part of that great Labour tradition and we should be so proud of it.”

Wow. Praise for New Labour from a Corbynista.

What I take from this is that McDonnell is rightly desperate to become Chancellor and to realise that ambition he’s willing to take lessons from wherever they come.

Don Brind



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McCluskey’s comments on Corbyn’s successor help move Emily Thornberry to 2nd favourite

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

The Unite boss’s backing could be crucial

While all the focus has been on the Tory leadership there’s been a shake up in the Next LAB leader market after a report from Paul Waugh at HuffPost. He wrote:

“Emily Thornberry is being backed by Unite boss Len McCluskey to become Labour’s first woman leader, HuffPost UK can reveal.

The general secretary of the UK’s biggest trade union has told friends that he thinks Thornberry is a unifying figure who can carry on Jeremy Corbyn’s work when he eventually decides to step aside.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary already stands in for Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Question Time and has built up a fanbase within the rank and file membership for her loyal defence of the leader over the past year.”

Certainly her PMQ appearances have been impressive and there is a growing view within the Labour movement that the next leader should be a woman.

Emily attracted a lot of publicity during the 2014 Rochester by election when she Tweeted a picture of a house with a white van outside and 3 Flags of St George draping from a window. Her comment “Image from Rochester” was deemed to be elitist. The outcome was that she quit as shadow Attorney General.

The big issue with Labour leadership betting is that we have no idea when there will be a vacancy. Corbyn has looked as though he has been enjoying himself since the general election and looks set, possibly, to continue in the role until the next general election. In that time a lot can happen and someone who looks promising now might not be in such a position when the battle actually commences.

For me as a punter this has become a nightmare market having shared the assumption that the general election result would be so bad for Labour that Corbyn would resign or forced out in the immediate aftermath. My money has been on Yvette Cooper at what looks like ridiculously tight odds now.

A big question over Thornbury is weather McCluskey will have as much influence when the contest takes place.

Mike Smithson