Archive for the 'Labour leadership' Category


Men of Honour?

Monday, August 13th, 2018

In Peter Hennessey’s Reflections radio series, Margaret Beckett was asked why she abandoned the Catholic faith of her childhood.  The event which crystallised her disenchantment was John Freeman asking Cardinal Heenan what one word summed up the Church.  Margaret waited, expecting something like “charity”or “love”. The Cardinal’s answer was “Authority”.

Perhaps not a surprising answer for an institution long steeped in hierarchy and an acute sense of its own magisterium.  But in light of the revelations over recent years of the criminal, un-Christian activities of too many of its priests and nuns, most recently in this story (which has received surprisingly little attention) the Cardinal’s answer was revealing about what really mattered to its leaders.

To its shame, the Church has yet to show that it really understands that the appalling conduct by some, and its cover up by others, is not, sadly, an exception but the almost inevitable consequence of it placing the maintenance of its authority above other values.

This is what is likely to happen when people in authority feel unchallenged and unchallengeable.  For an institution founded by a man who said, “Suffer little children to come unto me” it will be a long time before many will be able to look at a sentence with the words “church” and “children” without thinking of matters quite other than what Jesus intended.

When an institution becomes more concerned about its own reputation, even at the expense of covering up or condoning behaviour deeply at odds with its professed values, about preserving its brand, about protecting its leader or staff from criticism, however justified, then there seems to be nothing which cannot be justified to protect the institution’s honour, even as its conduct becomes more and more dishonourable.

The same responses to allegations of scandal have been seen in: the Anglican church (Bishop George Bell), charities; some parts of the Muslim community, understandably (on a human level) unwilling to countenance the possibility that their religion may have been used to justify atrocious crimes; the NHS (most lately, Gosport); the Labour party, parts of whom have been desperate to ignore any suggestion that their leader is anything other than perfect;

Trump and his supporters treating anything even remotely critical as “Fake News”; the Leave campaign refusing to engage with allegations about its funding; even banking where, contrary to Bob Diamond’s tin-eared and premature “The time for apologies is over” most people felt (and probably still feel) the time for apologies has yet to start.

Curious that, in an age of PR, branding and the “message”, it seems to come as a surprise to many that the only long-term effect of acting dishonourably while focusing on image, of a culture of denial and cover up is to stain an entity’s or person’s reputation, perhaps irretrievably. Worse: the longer the denial lasts, the longer it will take to recover one’s reputation.  Long after a clean-up has occurred the entity will still be dealing with the harm caused by events long before.

You would have thought that the Tory party would have understood this lesson.  Its description as the “nasty” party has a half-life almost as long as the material stored at Sellafield.  The flirtation of Johnson and Rees-Mogg with Bannon, their apparent desire to copy the Trump playbook risks tainting once again their party, whatever its short-term advantages. 

Even if they are careless of their own reputation, surely they should have a care for the party?  Labour too seems intent on repeating the same mistake.  Not just in failing to address its issues with anti-Semitism but in giving the impression that the current leader’s reputation is more important than that of the party he leads. 

Corbyn is echoing the hubris shown by May last year when her battle bus had her name prominently displayed rather than that of the party she led.  One day they will no longer be leaders but their parties will live on.  When leaders forget that they are not more important than the institution they serve, disaster is rarely far away.

In an article in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on 4 September 2004, shortly after the Beslan massacre, Abdel Rahman al-Rashed wrote this: “It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorist, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslim…….It would be easy to cure ourselves if we realise the seriousness of our sickness. Self-cure starts with self-realisation and confession. 

We should then run after our terrorist sons, in the full knowledge that they are the sour grapes of a deformed culture.”  Substitute “Catholics” and “child abusers” and “abusive priests” for “Muslims”, “terrorists” and “terrorist sons” in the above passage and this could – and should be – addressed to the church with which this header started.  There is profound pain and shame in these words but also an appeal to people’s better nature, to remember, and act on and according to, the real values which once motivated the entity’s creation.

What might the travails of religious groups teach those in public life?  The obvious one is that describing oneself as good does not makeone so.  But, ironically enough, one lesson is not to place so much emphasis on a star politician, a saviour who will lead the party to the promised land of huge majorities and electoral hegemony.  As is being clear that even the best politicians are flawed human beings, needing people and processes around them to limit their power.

But perhaps the most important one – and for voters, not just politicians – is to realise that, while  there is honour in public life, in seeking to speak up for unpopular groups or causes, in trying to make life better for the forgotten and vulnerable, in wishing to remove injustices, in seeking to improve our political arrangements, remembering the values which motivated you and acting honourably in trying to achieve your aims is the only, the best way of achieving anything worthwhile and lasting. 

There is a price to be paid for short-term victories achieved in a dishonourable manner.  Cynicism, disillusionment, worse: a perception that reprehensible means are a useful tactic.  Might we get better politicians were we to reward honourable behaviour?  Or, like Caliban, are we raging at our own face in the glass?



Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson feels the heat after publicly attacking Jezza on antisemitism

Monday, August 6th, 2018

Corbynistas are now fighting the man who triggered the 2006 move against Blair

Perhaps the biggest development within Labour’s antisemitism row over the weekend has been the assertion by the deputy leader, Tom Watson, that he does not follow the Corbyn line.

Of all the people within the movement Watson is in a unique position because he owes his role within the party to his own mandate. He was elected deputy leader in 2015 at the same time as Corbyn won the leadership.

Corbyn is simply not in a constitutional position to sack him and Watson can remain pretty much as long as he wants. The same rules that make it so difficult to oust a party leader within Labour apply also to the deputy.

This doesn’t, however, mean that he is immune from a social media onslaught as the Tweet above suggests that he has had to endure following his remarks.

For in a biting observation over the weekend Watson warned that LAB will “disappear into a vortex of eternal shame and embarrassment” if it failed to resolve the row on antisemitism. He told the Observer that Labour should adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism in full – something Mr Corbyn is refusing to do.

    Watson was always regarded as one of the key figures behind Gordon Brown and older PBers might recall the part he played in September 2006 in getting Labour’s three-times election winner, Tony Blair, to commit to an exit time-table.

Team Corbyn underestimate Watson at their peril. It is not good for them that he and Corbyn are not on the same page.

In the betting punters rate it as a 64% chance that Corbyn’s exit will be 2020 or later.

Mike Smithson


Sean Fear looks back to the Jewish boys during his school-days and wonders just what has happened to LABOUR

Saturday, August 4th, 2018

The row that just won’t go away

Between the ages of 11 and 18, I went to University College School in Hampstead. UCS was founded by Jeremy Bentham in the early nineteenth century. Jeremy Bentham is probably most famous today for having had his body embalmed and placed in a display cabinet at University College London. It used to be a tradition for students at other London colleges to steal the body and carry it off as a trophy.

Bentham was an agnostic. As a result, UCS was and remains non-religious in nature, unlike the large majority of private schools at the time. As a result, from the late nineteenth century onwards, it attracted a large Jewish intake, at a time when some other private schools either barred Jews completely, or else operated an informal quota system to limit their numbers. It remains the case today that many boys are Jews. When I was there, they probably made up about a third of the pupils.

Although some were religious, the majority were secular Jews. Their parents tended to be intellectuals, such as writers, artists, journalists, university lecturers, and they were predominantly Labour-supporting (Labour comfortably won UCS when we held a mock election in 1983). To them, supporting the British Labour Party was as natural as supporting its Israeli counterpart, and spending the Summer holidays at a kibbutz.

I often think of them, now, and wonder what they make of the modern Labour Party. One of them, Jonathan Freedland, has written at length of his despair at Labour’s behaviour and I’m sure he’s representative of the opinions of this group. What they must feel is not just anger at what is happening, but a real sense of betrayal that the party they strongly identified with now contains people who hate them, and whose behaviour is tolerated by the party leadership.

Ten years ago, if someone had told me that a political party contained activists who praised Hitler , accused Jews of drinking the blood of children , branded the holocaust a hoax, insisted that Hitler was a Zionist told Jews to get out of the country or claimed that it was up to the Jews to mend fences with such a party, I would have assumed that the party in question was the British National Party. Although I have never been a Labour supporter, it would never have crossed my mind that such views would be expressed by some of its members.

Many people on the left (including many of the people I was at school with) are very critical of the Israeli government, and sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians. But, it is surely not hard to express such criticism without having to resort to the sorts of arguments that are expressed on websites like Stormfront. In general, mainstream socialists have agreed with August Babel that “anti-semitism is the socialism of fools”, and for many years, Labour was the party of choice for British Jews.

Mainstream socialists and social democrats detest anti-semitism, but it is rife on the extreme left. Anti-semitism is an unusual form of racism in that is based on envy, rather than contempt. Jews tend to be successful, and the extreme left, by and large, hates successful people. Unfortunately, many of the people who have joined Labour since 2015 are on the extreme left, rather than being mainstream socialists.

Never having supported Labour, I don’t share the same sense of betrayal that many of my classmates must do. It’s more that I’m just baffled at seeing beliefs that were, until recently, limited to the lunatic fringe, now becoming almost mainstream.

Sean Fear


The other upcoming leadership contest – Who will replace Jeremy Corbyn?

Friday, July 27th, 2018


Alastair Meeks looks at the LAB leadership

Considering how little support Jeremy Corbyn has in his Parliamentary party, it is astonishing that the subject of leadership succession never comes up any more. Part of this is about airtime: there’s so much discussion about Brexit and the travails of Theresa May that no one has the energy to look at what’s going on in the Labour party.

For the moment, Jeremy Corbyn is safe from challenge. The membership have twice emphatically demonstrated that they support him and his surprisingly good performance in the general election last year has ensured that he is unquestionably the master of the Labour party.

Still, the question needs to be looked at. While Donald Trump has shown that there isn’t an upper age limit to running a democratic government, Jeremy Corbyn turns 70 next year and in the event that he became Prime Minister, a far left leader gripping the reins of power indefinitely would conjure up images of the twilight of the Soviet Union. (For the benefit of those Corbynites currently boasting of their Communist allegiances, that is not a good look.) A succession plan is needed.

As always with such markets, the first question to consider is not “who?” but “when?”. The possibilities are as follows: he steps down before the next election to hand over to an anointed successor; he steps down at some point in the next term after a general election victory; he steps down at some point in the next term after another general election defeat; or he continues as Labour leader beyond the end of the next term (whether or not he becomes Prime Minister after the next election).

How likely is each of these scenarios? Let’s take them each in turn.

Stepping down soon

I suggest that this is more likely than is generally considered. Rumours that he works a four day week have been dismissed but similar rumours that he takes time off in lieu whenever he appears on the Andrew Marr show have not. He certainly believes in a work-life balance, making time to tend his allotment. It seems entirely possible to me that he might have a retirement age in mind and intend stepping down when he reaches it. Jeremy Corbyn is apparently in reasonable health but he does turn 70 next year. If he feels able, he might well step down.

You can form your own view of this possibility but I’d say it’s at least a one in five chance. If Jeremy Corbyn does step down, he will presumably be confident of handing over to someone who he is confident will continue the project (my biggest reservation is that to date no one has obviously been groomed for the role). The obvious contenders are John McDonnell or just possibly Rebecca Long-Bailey.

The rest of the shadow Cabinet (from where an anointed successor must surely be drawn in such circumstances) either lack sufficient loyalty or lack sufficient ability or experience. Neither defect is completely insuperable. It may be that a loyal if bovine protégé might be chosen to act as a figurehead.

What of the more independent-minded? Well, Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity is uniquely personal and his endorsement of any candidate is likely to be decisive. The winner will don the mantle of his support like a lead cloak and will struggle to move freely. So Emily Thornberry, Jon Ashworth or Angela Rayner might be chosen to carry on the cause, whether or not they fully subscribe to it, if the obvious candidates are in some way seen as unsuitable. Emily Thornberry, being on personally good terms with Jeremy Corbyn and perfectly competent and presentable, might well fit the bill nicely.

Leaving in the next term after victory

This would work quite similarly. The list of potential approved candidates might be longer, though John McDonnell becomes less and less likely, given his own age. Given the turnover in the shadow Cabinet it is far from clear who might be in the mix, even if you take the view that the preferred successor must be drawn from its ranks. To the names already suggested you might add Clive Lewis and Lisa Nandy, who in this scenario have time to rehabilitate themselves with the inner circle.

Again, I see this as a significant possibility given Jeremy Corbyn’s age and given that the Parliamentary Labour party looks likely to be unruly. His age would become increasingly important: he would be 77 at the time of a hypothetical 2027 election so questions of the appropriateness of him being put forward to serve as Prime Minister for a further five years would be ever louder. I make it a 50% chance that Labour will form the next government and a 75% chance that Jeremy Corbyn will step down during that term if he wins. That makes this a 30% chance (allowing for the possibility that he has stepped down by the next election).

Leaving in the next term after defeat

This is the most interesting permutation. Corbynites have followed the old rule that if at first you don’t succeed, redefine success. They treated last year’s defeat as a victory. Will they do so a second time? If so, they will see no need to change course. The non-believers will disagree and if Jeremy Corbyn does not step down voluntarily he will probably be challenged again. My best guess is that he would not stand again but would nominate a preferred successor. In these circumstances the preferred successor would not inevitably win but would have a big head start.

Of those completely outside the circle of trust, the obvious candidate is Keir Starmer, who is Labour’s Remain figurehead. While the Labour membership is much less cult-like than popular myth would have you believe, they are looking to be the foot soldiers of a moral crusade, and no one else on the Labour centre or right currently looks capable of leading one. The far left’s grip of Labour can be broken by a charismatic figure, but charismatic figures are not in superabundance in the Parliamentary Labour party.
Given the greater pressure on Jeremy Corbyn if Labour loses, I make it a higher probability that he will step down in these circumstances, something like a 90% chance. This makes this permutation a 36% chance.

Staying in office beyond the end of the next term

At this point Labour could fairly be labelled a Corbynite cult, with jokes about ageing politburos entirely justifiable. You will see that I make this a roughly one in seven chance. Who might succeed him in these circumstances would be wholly imponderable.

To the betting markets. I got rather excited when I first looked at this, because the Betfair market has an underround. However, when I looked closely, no fewer than seven shadow Cabinet ministers were not listed on the market (they have now been added). Always be aware that the eventual winner might not yet be listed.

Despite that warning, it still seems to me that there is value to be had. Even after all the events of the last three years, the prices on Jeremy Corbyn’s Parliamentary opponents remain far too short. While it is very possible that Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umunna or Hilary Benn might get put before the membership, nothing in Labour’s recent history suggests that they would stand an earthly chance of winning in any currently foreseeable circumstances. I also discount anyone who is not currently in Parliament or likely to be in the next Parliament. David Miliband, Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham all fall down on this basis. All of these figures look like lays at current prices (if like me you have a green book from past gyrations of this market).

So who is worth backing? Emily Thornberry is justly favourite, given her personal closeness to the leader and her seniority. Her price (6.8 on Betfair at the time of writing) looks about right to me in a volatile market: this is not a favourite to lay. Rebecca Long-Bailey is available to back at 21 and that looks like value to me. I first backed her at odds of 320 to 350 in October 2016 and I’ve topped up now.

This is a market where long shots are well worth considering. You can back several shadow Cabinet ministers at three figure odds: for example, John Healey at 300 might well be a better choice than other centre figures, given his decision to work with rather than against Jeremy Corbyn. Kate Osamor is currently available at 100 and that looks worth a flutter. But I continue to believe that Lisa Nandy is the Labour figure who is thinking most deeply about what is needed next and talking about what that might mean. It has to be a better than a 28/1 shot that Labour will alight on the best choice, surely?

Alastair Meeks


Why one ex-LAB member has decided to rejoin the party

Saturday, April 7th, 2018

The UK will never get a credible, electable opposition unless the centre-left commits to the Labour party, argues Joff Wild

Has there been a more depressing time to be on the centre-left of British politics than now? The Labour party’s descent into institutionalised anti-Semitism is no huge surprise to those of us who have been watching the far-left for years, but the speed with which it has happened, the extent to which has occurred and the willingness of so many to ignore it have been shocking.

As Saturday’s Guardian makes clear, loyalty to Jeremy Corbyn will buy anti-Semites a free pass from many in leadership positions and elsewhere in Labour today. For a party that was built on anti-racism and solidarity, it does not get more shameful than that.

Of course, one of the main reasons why so many of us on the centre-left have always had a major problem with Corbyn and others on the far-left is their total failure to challenge or condemn the anti-Semitism of people they have shared platforms with for decades. It is not opportunism now that drives us, it is principle – just as it always has been.

The simple fact is that implacable, uncompromising opponents of racism do not stay silent in the face of those who speak of Jewish blood libels, conspiracies and driving Jews into the sea; they do not talk of them as friends or invite them for tea in Parliament. Instead, they say loudly and unequivocally: “Your views are disgusting, you are wrong, and I want nothing to do with you.” Jeremy and the rest of the far-left have never done this.

It is this silence, as well as a proclivity to back any cause or regime, no matter how tyrannical, murderous or cruel – just so long as it is anti-UK, anti-US and/or anti-Israel – that has meant so many on the centre-left have been opposed to the far-left for years – not just since Corbyn became Labour leader. The far-left’s world view is not the world view we have. This is not a life or death struggle about renationalising the railways or tax and spend; it is a deep-seated, long-running philosophical difference firmly rooted in principle.

So what are we to do? I left the Labour party last year as the anti-Semitism I saw and heard became too much to live with. How could I stick with a party that tolerated it? But over the last week or so, I have been thinking again.

The fact is that under the current electoral system, the only alternative to the Conservative party is the Labour party. If this miserable, half-cocked, desperately mediocre, clueless government is to be replaced, it can only be replaced by a Labour one. The problem, though, is that the British electorate is smart enough never to put into power a party led by the far-left. This means a stark choice: either accept permanent Tory rule or try to change the Labour Party. After a lot of soul-searching, I have decided in favour of the latter.

That’s why I have rejoined Labour. I am sickened by its institutional anti-Semitism, I disagree vehemently with the leadership on foreign policy and have major reservations about its economic policies; but, having benefited from it, I also believe passionately in wealth redistribution to deliver equality of opportunity, am convinced the state is a force for good and put great store by solidarity and internationalism. If I want to see a government that shares these values, I need to see Labour become electable again. And that will not happen if I sit on the side lines.

By rejoining Labour I get a vote. The next general election may be four years away, but the next NEC election is in June. When the time comes, I will have a say in who becomes the next Labour leader. I can influence who chairs my constituency party and who fills other local roles. I can help to choose candidates, I can take part in debates. If enough others with similar views to my own do the same, in time we might have an impact. The price is just over £5 a month. For me, the opportunity that gives to join with others in groups like Progress to make a difference somewhere down the line makes it money well spent.
Don’t get me wrong, I am under no illusions here. The far left has a vice-like grip on the Labour party from the top down and is not going to release it any time soon. For as long as Jeremy Corbyn remains leader, it will hold sway. I go into this knowing I will be on the losing side more often than not, perhaps almost always at the start.

As far as I can see, though, the alternative is to do nothing except to howl into the void on Twitter. A new party is a non-starter for as long as we have first-past-the-post. Some will say that by joining I am helping to push Jeremy Corbyn closer to becoming Prime Minister. My response to that is that I am signing up because I do not believe a Labour party controlled by the far-left can ever win power – and I want a Labour government.

The UK needs a strong, credible, electable opposition just as much as it needs a competent, united government. We have neither at the moment. I will leave it to those on the centre-right to drag the Conservative party back to some semblance of sense, but I invite all patriots on the centre-left to join me in trying to build a Labour party that is fit to take office once more. For £5 a month it’s not a vast amount and the obligation is not huge. Out in the real world, there are more of us than there are of them. Together we can – eventually – prevail.

Joff Wild posts on Political Betting as SouthamObserver. You can follow him on Twitter at @SpaJW


Labour candidates fear doorstep questions about Corbyn and the Kremlin

Monday, March 19th, 2018

Labour members on the front line are worried about how voters will react to Jeremy Corbyn’s equivocal response to the attempted assassination in Salisbury of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, and his daughter.

The front line in this case is the May local elections, including polls in the 32 London boroughs where the Tories fear they are in for a drubbing.

But at a training session last week for new candidates in one of those boroughs the very first question was about how to respond on the doorstep to perceptions that the Labour leader is soft on the Kremlin.

The candidates were advised to focus on the fact despite his apparent scepticism Corbyn had backed Theresa May’s expulsion of Russian diplomats. Furthermore, a host of Labour figures including their local MP and Shadow Ministers Nia Griffiths, Emily Thornberry and Keir Starmer had firmly laid the blame on the Kremlin.

Worried local campaigners will also have noted that the Shadow Chancellor, John Mc Donnell strongly condemned President Putin. He told Robert Peston 
“We support exactly what the Prime Minister said and we condemn Russia for this. Whichever way you look at it (Vladimir Putin) is responsible … All the evidence points to him”.

McDonnell denied that he was contradicting his leader who he said had given what he described as a “constructive critique” which had been “misread” by others.

In my view McDonnell’s description is valid when applied to Corbyn’s Guardian article  in which he said “the use of military nerve agents on the streets of Britain is barbaric and beyond reckless” and attacked the Putin regime for “its conservative authoritarianism, abuse of human rights or political and economic corruption.”

But the damage had been done by his inept presentation of his case in the Commons on Wednesday which dismayed Labour MPs on the front and back benches and, of course, delighted Tories and their media allies who plan to make Corbyn’s alleged lack of patriotism an election weapon.

There are obvious dangers for Labour that this could work in a General Election. The question of whether Corbyn measures up as a Prime Minister could be a bigger issue than it was in 2017.

But will it be a lifeline for the Tories on May 3rd — Will the fears of the Labour candidates I was with last week be realised?

To an extent that will depend on the effectivenesss of Labour’s counter attack. They will highlight the Tories’ fondness for Russian cash. Boris Johnson confirmed to Andrew Marr  that he did take tennis match with David Cameron for which the wife of a former Putin minister had paid £160k at a Tory fundraiser.

Laboiur will also seek to show that they have been making the running on tackling dirty foreign money while the Tories have been dragging their feet. McDonnell told Peston that his proposed levy on properties owned by foreign companies would didn’t just apply to Russian oligarchs, but Russians made up “at least a quarter” of those who would be affected.

Perhaps Labour’s best hope is that the elections are genuinely local and that health, education and housing will be at the top of voters’ minds.

I’m still optimistic that on May 4th it will be the Tories looking for alibis for bad results, especially in London.

Don Brind


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


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