Well red, Alastair Meeks on Labour’s new MPs

Well red, Alastair Meeks on Labour’s new MPs

One in five of Labour’s current MPs did not serve in the last Parliament.  With more than 50 new MPs, the new crop is going to make a big difference to Labour’s political balance.  So what does it look like?

As with the new Conservatives, many of the new Labour MPs have been assiduous in tidying up their online presence.  It’s only human to wonder what indiscretions lurk among the deleted tweets.  I expect we’ll find out in due course.  I expect that some of the new MPs on both sides of the house will find that it isn’t the crime but the cover-up that really causes damage.  Part of the damage that’s caused is that these MPs don’t stand out from the crowd.  If they’ve expressed forthright views in the past, it would be good to hear them.  Who knows, those views might find a ready audience.

There are five returning MPs: John Grogan, Chris Ruane, Tony Lloyd, David Drew and Chris Williamson.  Four out of these five are on the left of the party (John Grogan is the exception), and two are strong supporters of the Corbynite wing of the party.  Four out of these five have immediately been given jobs by Jeremy Corbyn (John Grogan is again the exception).

The new Labour MPs include plenty who come from the traditional routes of Labour power: Parliamentary and union apparatchiki, charity executives, public sector officialdom and a sprinkling of lawyers, teachers and health workers.  But this time there are several new MPs who have significant experience of running small businesses.  This is a departure for Labour and one that might provide an infusion of fresh thinking.  What’s missing?  As with the Conservatives, I can see no significant experience of science, nor any of engineering.  It seems like Britain is going to have to wing it when it comes to really technical stuff.

Nearly half the new intake are women, and it also includes the first turbanned Sikh MP, the first MP of fully Cypriot origin, at least two disabled MPs and at least four gay MPs.  For all the discussion about anti-Semitism in the Labour party, one of the new MPs is in the Jewish Labour movement.  At least two are very committed Christians.

There are two obvious tests for incoming Labour MPs: their attitudes to Brexit and their attitudes to Jeremy Corbyn.  For different reasons, quite a few seem reticent about expressing their views on both fronts.

The new Conservative MPs spanned a wide range of opinion on Brexit.  Not so for the new Labour MPs.  Only David Drew looks like a likely Leave voter.  A couple more seem pretty uninterested in the subject.  The rest were Remain supporters of varying degrees of intensity.  Many Leavers had hoped that Parliament would become much more evenly balanced between Leavers and Remainers after the election.  With no more than a quarter of the new intake originally supporting Leave, that hope has been dashed.

For now, most of the new Labour MPs look set to be quiescent on the subject.  They had their opportunity to make their feelings known when they were given the opportunity to vote on the Queen’s Speech amendment to seek to stay in the Single Market.  Only three took that opportunity.

Almost all the new Labour MPs seem enthusiastic about Jeremy Corbyn for now.  That was not always the case.  Some, like Paul Sweeney, called for him to stand down last year, but are now enthusiastically extolling his virtues – since he has immediately been appointed a shadow Scotland minister it seems that Jeremy Corbyn has a forgiving nature.  On my reading, just 9 or 10 could be called Corbynites and a further two or three seem to be Core Group Plus.  However, when you consider that only 40 of the Parliamentary Labour party supported Jeremy Corbyn last year and only 36 pledged their nomination for him in 2015 (with quite a few of those being loaned), that represents a considerable proportionate increase in his support as compared with the older part of the Parliamentary Labour party. 

I was surprised to see just how strongly many of the newbies had supported the outrageously-named Women Against State Pension Inequality.  This grouping of 50-something women, who contrary to their name wish to retain the preferential state pension terms (relative to men) that they were originally in line to receive, have succeeded in bagging the very active support of more than a fifth of the newcomers.  This should be an inspiration to any group with a grievance, no matter how misplaced – if such a ropey cause can enlist so much Parliamentary support, there’s hope for anyone.

Who should we watch out for?  Jeremy Corbyn is not afraid to promote new talent – in part this has been a necessity for him given the past refusal by old hands to serve under him.  And he has already promoted some brand new MPs into shadow positions.  The most senior is Lesley Laird, his shadow Secretary of State for Scotland.  He looks to have chosen well in this case.  She comes across as a highly capable pragmatist who hasn’t forgotten why she’s in politics.

He has also immediately promoted Afzal Khan, who has a long political pedigree in local and European politics.  Some of his past (and regretted) comments on Israel will not allay concerns among some about the direction the Labour party is taking on that subject but again he comes across as a pragmatist.

Anneliese Dodds has a special interest in tax justice which she has already pursued as an MEP.  It is no surprise to see her already appointed as a shadow treasury minister.

Ellie Reeves (sister of Rachel, wife of John Cryer) is already a very well-known figure on the Labour right.  She is immediately going to be the focus of attention, both friendly and unfriendly.

Laura Smith looks like a doer. She expresses herself clearly and simply, and seems like the type to roll her sleeves up and get on with things.  Ged Killen looks cut from the same cloth.  In a just world, they would be given the opportunity to show what they can do.

You can view a document on the Labour’s new intake by clicking here

Alastair Meeks

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