Mary Creagh Standing for Labour Leader

The news that Mary Creagh, my local MP, has thrown her hat into the ring for the job of Labour leader didn’t exactly surprise me. In fact, reading back over a post I wrote in November about the bizarre decision to move Creagh from the transport brief, I’m wondering if I stepped into a time-machine for a little while. I certainly made some apt predictions:

Well, as a Wakefield resident, I believe that Creagh will be re-elected on an increased majority because of the split in the vote caused by UKIP standing against the dedicated Eurosceptic Tory. They didn’t stand in 2010 and he was only a few thousand votes away from taking the seat. I can see it being messy this time. Equally, I think Miliband needs to worry more about his own seat and that of his shadow chancellor. The other possibility is that Miliband sees Creagh as a threat – don’t discount that one. Finally, it could just be that Miliband’s incompetent. Place your bets, folks. Place your bets.

So Creagh did increase her majority because of the UKIP/Conservative split (though the Eurosceptic candidate I expected to stand did not) and Miliband should’ve worried more about Ed Balls’s seat (if you listen to news stories today, it seems he might’ve seen it coming but that’s a thought for elsewhere). Did Miliband see Creagh as a threat? Well, I’m still not sure given his loose grip on reality in the last few months. However, it’s pretty obvious that she saw herself as one and that she certainly considered the top job.

As I wrote in that post in November, I have respect for Creagh as a hard-working minister, whether I agree with her policies or not. I also do admire her recent support for the family at the inquest of the two Wakefield children who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in Corfu in 2006. She’s articulate and dedicated but, despite that, I don’t feel like I ‘know’ her.

I’ll have to think long and hard about the pros and cons of all the candidates in the coming months. I have to say, though, I’m not sure I can see the benefits of having a Labour leader as my local MP. I don’t think it’s done a lot for Doncaster in the last five years.

The SNP’s Latest Command

I know I witter on a fair bit about democracy and accountability, call it a bug-bear. I don’t believe, for instance, that a coalition agreement should be implemented following the 2015 election without being put to the voters. You can sense, then, what my attitude on Nicola Sturgeon’s latest comments about the possibility of an SNP-Labour coalition might be.

Sturgeon has said that the SNP would be prepared to join forces with Labour, even if they didn’t have more MPs than the Tories following the election. It’s not a rule that the party with the highest number of MPs form the government, but it’s a standard that hasn’t been broken since the 1920s. Of course, this comes with a price – at the moment that’s a £180bn spending spree, though I expect that to increase the more desperate Labour look as the election nears. Whatever your view on austerity, it’s a pretty neat subversion of democracy on the part of the SNP.

The trouble with Labour at the moment is that they simply reek of desperation. That means the SNP can name their price (don’t be fooled, they’re aiming for independence either via another referendum or by the back door) and the Lib Dems too. The prospect of a Labour/SNP/Lib Dem coalition is terrifying, not least because it will have no legitimacy in the eyes of much of the country. We’ve had five years of back-room deals between the Tory-Lib Dem ‘quad’ and it’s left a sour taste. If anything, it’s served to distance the electorate further from their MPs – after all, does it matter who we all vote for if they decide what’s ‘best’ for us in the end? It stinks, and the stench is only going to get worse until May.

Mini-Reshuffle Madness: Creagh to International Development

My local MP, Mary Creagh, was moved from her post as shadow transport secretary last night to take up the role of shadow international development. To be honest, I was astounded then more than a little irritated.

Most of the time my views don’t exactly correlate with Creagh’s. I’ve discussed that on this blog before so I won’t go into detail but one thing I will say is that, aside from perhaps Andy Burnham, Creagh is one of the hardest working and most knowledgeable members of the shadow cabinet. She fully immerses herself in her portfolio and, while I sometimes regret the fact that since she’s a part of the inner circle she won’t utter a word of dissent, I respect her hard work and dedication.

When she knocked on my door a year or so ago it was just after Miliband’s energy price freeze promise and she was shadow environment secretary. While I didn’t agree with the policy, her championing of it, both on the doorstep and through other mediums, was high profile and involved. Then, in a move I found bizarre at the time because she was working hard with that announcement, she was shifted to the transport role.

In the last year she’s made it her own. I read a very interesting interview last week (no links since I have the memory of a goldfish) where her enthusiasm for her job shone through and she’s just launched an initiative on buses. In fact, yesterday she was hosting a ‘bus summit’ at Westminster. Then…suddenly she’s been shifted again.

Of course, this is how modern politics works but I can’t help but feel it’s counter-productive. I’ve got no doubt that she’ll throw herself into her new role as enthusiastically as she has the others but, given all her talk of how transport links could prove pivotal in some seats, it seems stupid to move somebody obviously so immersed in her brief a few months before an election.

I suppose there could be a couple of ‘reasons’ alongside the actual necessity for a mini-reshuffle to free Jim Murphy up for his Scottish adventure. It could be that Miliband’s concerned about Creagh’s meagre majority collapsing at the next election and thinks transport is too important to be sucked into that. Well, as a Wakefield resident, I believe that Creagh will be re-elected on an increased majority because of the split in the vote caused by UKIP standing against the dedicated Eurosceptic Tory. They didn’t stand in 2010 and he was only a few thousand votes away from taking the seat. I can see it being messy this time. Equally, I think Miliband needs to worry more about his own seat and that of his shadow chancellor. The other possibility is that Miliband sees Creagh as a threat – don’t discount that one. Finally, it could just be that Miliband’s incompetent. Place your bets, folks. Place your bets.

EU Issues

It was good to see on Friday that the EU Referendum Bill (to enshrine a 2017 referendum in law) jumped its latest hurdle in the House of Commons with no problems. Though Labour MPs spoke against it, it was pushed to a symbolic vote where nobody voted against the democratic principle of giving the public a say on our EU membership. Labour have realised that putting their names on the record as being anti-democratic cowards is a bit of a vote-loser, especially with UKIP on the rise, but it won’t last. There are three alternatives I see occurring next. First, Labour block the bill on its next reading, actively enshrining their distaste of democracy in Hansard for everyone to see. Secondly, that they ‘talk the bill out’. The reason I think this didn’t happen on Friday was that it was scheduled first and there were other bills, including one on circus animals, that Labour wanted to get to and they couldn’t justify jamming up in the system. Talking the bill out would still be active disdain of the electorate but it’s harder to prove and you can’t just say ‘your MP voted against you having a say’ on the doorstep. It’s a sneaky trick, of course, but that’s just what politicians excel at. The third option, though, is the sneakiest. Suppose Labour let this bill through? They don’t vote for but they don’t oppose it – they let it become law. And, then, once they win the 2015 election (or, more likely go into coalition with the lapdog Libs) they just repeal it. There’s nothing the public will be able to do about it at that point. Think about it. We have five year fixed-term parliaments with ridiculous thresholds for votes of no confidence. We don’t have a proper recall mechanism where MPs could be brought to account for repealing such a law. It would be acceptable for Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg (or his successor) to combine and repeal the legislation. Is that Labour’s plan? I do wonder.

The other EU-related occurrence over the weekend massively aided the Eurosceptic cause. In the wake of Downing Street rumblings about curbing freedom of movement, the outgoing President of the European Commission has been doing the rounds. Jose Manuel Barroso has poured cold water over David Cameron’s attempts to limit freedom of movement, calling it an ‘essential’ component of EU membership. Well, that’s us told, isn’t it? In addition, he’s brought out the big guns, saying we’ll have ‘zero influence’ in the world if we leave the EU. He cited the response to the Ebola crisis which made me wryly chuckle: while the EU has been having meetings about it (in my understanding), our little isolated island nation has been a little bit more proactive. Not only has a ship loaded with supplies just set off, we’ve had soldiers in Sierra Leone building treatment centres for several weeks now. I’d love to see a breakdown of what the EU has been doing. The only thing I recall is a meeting last week where they discussed the response to the crisis and basically tried telling us what we should be doing about it. We’re already acting, I’m afraid. Don’t like it? Kick us out.

Cameron is either being impressive putting himself out on this limb or extremely sneaky. He wants to appeal to those voters who have abandoned him to UKIP and recognises freedom of movement raises hackles all over. But does he just want to be seen as the underdog who tried? Since he doesn’t want us to leave the EU, I can only see that being a precursor to an acceptance of the status quo. I wonder if Downing Street has thought through all the permeations of this. There is, of course, the possibility that Cameron is making these noises with no expectation of a 2015 victory and so no need to renegotiate properly on the tough points.

Can it be that both David Cameron and Ed Miliband are hoping to knife voters in the back after the 2015 election? Surely not.

Those By-Elections

The dust has settled a bit over the weekend after those too very interesting by-election results on Friday. Douglas Carswell holding the seat as a UKIP candidate was quite predictable but the strength of his vote startled me. My hope in Clacton is that people voted for the man, which is what I believe politics should be all about. Carswell’s aim is to serve his constituents and, by most accounts, he’s very good at that. It will, of course, be interesting to see if this holds sway at the General Election or whether people will be content to become party political sheep again. One thing Clacton proved is that UKIP can win a seat outright – the odds were in their favour because of Carswell’s popularity but it’s a message to other areas that if they vote UKIP then they stand a chance of getting UKIP. That blows a cannon hole in David Cameron’s ‘vote UKIP, get Labour’ strategy. That’s not to say that the ‘vote Farage, get Miliband’ line is unreasonable – the two are different lines of attack. The first relates to particular constituencies where it’s plausible UKIP can win outright; the second relates to the possibility that electing UKIP MPs or splitting the Tory vote could let Ed Miliband into Downing Street.

Labour’s problems are different. While the Tories seem to at least understand why their voters are deserting them for UKIP, Labour are bemused. The disconnect between the elite in the party and the average person they expect to vote for them is astronomical. A lot of people are concerned about immigration. That doesn’t make them racist – one of the left’s most frequently used accusations – but these people encounter the front line of services and they’re not happy with what they see in terms of pressures and demands. Schools are struggling, as is the NHS. Case in point, I was in a queue in A&E last night and there was a (I think) Polish man at the front of the queue taking up a lot of time, asking questions in broken English and baffling the receptionist with what he was asking. The woman in front of me turned to her daughter and said ‘if it wasn’t for the f***ing foreigners’ things would be moving at a decent speed. Of course, I understand the irony of this given the dependence of the NHS on foreign workers but this woman was a typical working-class mum in a deprived area – the kind of voter Labour is supposed to represent. Dismissing her irritation as ‘racist’ would no doubt irritate her more. People who use services day in, day out are far more qualified to comment on the effects of immigration on them than the cosseted politicians who hire an adviser to do their thinking for them.

Labour can’t seem to see past the end of their nose on this. That’s why Miliband’s response to the close-run result in Heywood and Middleton was to say that the Tory vote had collapsed in the North West. Well, yes, it has but that’s not really the point, is it? He followed it up by saying that Labour wouldn’t be ‘complacent’ but that’s just what they are being. People have been predicting that UKIP could affect Labour’s vote for a long time, several by-elections have put the theory to the test and come out in UKIP’s favour. If Labour haven’t ‘got it’ by now then why should this latest shock make a difference?

The implications of UKIP’s surge are best left for another day. Because the prospect of Miliband getting into Downing Street scares me too much to contemplate right now.

Labour – Picking Suits Over the Average Supporter

The Independent have picked up on a story I was following on Twitter from the moment it broke. Right before Ed Miliband’s speech on Tuesday, a few disabled delegates were told to move from their front row seats and, in the transit process, one who walks with a crutch fell. They were replaced in the front row by ‘bright young things’ in suits and, sure enough, Miliband walked that way on his exit from the venue. Stewards tried to explain that the seats were reserved for disabled delegates but were overruled by conference organisers.

First of all, let’s dispense with all this ‘alleged’ rubbish. I’ve followed the woman in question on Twitter for quite some time and know her to be a decent, hard-working carer and mum who has been very vocal with her criticisms this year about the Labour conference being unaffordable for less affluent party members. By sheer bad luck, the organisers couldn’t have budged a more committed and outspoken member of the audience.

What message is Labour trying to send out here? That when Miliband walks from the hall they want you to see young people in suits and not the vulnerable who the party still claims is their priority? That corporatism trumps need? I think if I was a member of the Labour Party (grassroots, not that extortionate number who live in Greater London according to some figures yesterday I can’t lay my hands on) I’d want to see a representative audience. I’d want to see people who spoke to the average Labour vote, not the politicos who will go back to an expensive lunch with their think tanks.

Maybe it’s just, as I keep saying, the lack of a coherent overarching message that’s the problem. I’m glad that the Labour Party is taking these complaints seriously but I’m not sure it goes much way to fixing the damage done.

Ed Miliband’s Speech

I do wish Ed Miliband understood knew how much I wanted him to succeed as Labour leader. He was my first choice, an alternative to the shininess of his brother and the arrogance of Balls. I thought he had a vision back in 2010 when he was elected. You know what? I think he did. But four years of being insulated in that Westminster hole has knocked it out of him. I think he’s listened to too many advisers (and leadership competitors), and let the party as a whole slip from his grasp. There’s no coherent plan involving every shadow minister. Everybody just seems to be doing their own thing. Some of them are doing it well – most are not. But I don’t get the impression there’s a man at the helm who knows where all this is leading. That’s desperately sad at this point.

Yesterday’s speech is being criticised for the things it left out (the deficit, immigration) rather than for the things it said. Poor Miliband doesn’t have too much luck though: the beginning of his speech was overshadowed by the Dave Lee Travis verdict and then Obama stole his thunder a little late with a press conference. When the speech of the Leader of the Opposition (in the conference before an election) only gets eight minutes on Channel 4 News and is shunted down to the fourth item (I think) then there’s trouble ahead.

From looking at the full text of the speech, I can see that he’s continued the ‘we’re not the Tories’ line. That nearly lost them Scotland a week ago, I don’t know why he thinks it’s going to be successful now. Saying what you’re not is only part of the challenge; you need to say what you are. I don’t get the impression the Labour Party in 2014 knows. They aided a lot of the fragmentation they’re now railing against (academics, PFIs that are crippling the NHS, substandard welfare reform) and their spending plans don’t seem to be backed up with coherent figures. Missing out the lines about reducing the deficit may have been a good idea for Miliband because there’s no way he can do it. The savings already identified are tiny and he’s pledging any money raised from things like a Mansion Tax will go elsewhere.

Of course, Labour doesn’t want to be seen as the party of austerity by its supporters who are fed up of austerity. It also doesn’t want to give the Tories the stick of ‘they haven’t changed’ to beat them with. That leaves them in this middle ground where they’re pleasing no one. The 35% strategy to secure the traditional Labour voters and not bother wooing anyone else only works if your supporters believe in what you’re saying. From what I’ve seen, the NHS vows are very popular but the rhetoric on the economy offered by Balls is not. With Miliband not really endorsing his Shadow Chancellor’s plans, the implication is that the Labour Party doesn’t know what it wants to be.

I think that pretty much sums up their problems over the last four years. And it may be too late to do anything about it.