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.

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.

Propaganda and Spin

I receive a weekly newsletter from my MP, Mary Creagh, which is sometimes fascinating and sometimes so crammed with propaganda and stupidity that it makes me cringe. Yesterday’s newsletter slid firmly into the latter category, mainly due to the section that covered the by-elections last week. Creagh – or whoever writes this thing – is falling into the trap of spreading lies about their enemies and not saying much about themselves, which seems to be Labour’s line at the moment. Here are the offending paragraphs:

Last Thursday we saw a Tory Party in retreat, losing in their own backyard in Clacton and losing ground on what used to be their frontline in the North West. David Cameron has seen the worst Tory defeat in a by-election ever, with a huge swing against them and a 28% fall in the Tory vote in a seat that was one of their safest.

This seems to me a regurgitation of Ed Miliband’s statements on the by-elections. Fair enough, I suppose, if you’re trying to spin a coherent party line. (I don’t believe in ‘coherent party lines’ but that’s another matter.)

UKIP are more Tory than the Tories. UKIP want to introduce charges to use key NHS services, including your GP. Tim Aker, UKIP Head of Policy has said he wants to abolish the top rate of tax – giving the wealthiest another tax break, while raising taxes for working people. UKIP want to abolish your rights as a worker, including parental leave, maternity pay, holiday pay, sick pay, and even redundancy pay.

Okay, now we get to it. The NHS charges lie that Labour keep throwing around here has been repeatedly refuted by UKIP. The quotes Labour use from personal views, not policy documents. And are Labour folk forgetting that it was one of their own advisers who said just a few months ago that GP visits should be charged at £20 a go? That’s not their policy, of course, and I’m not suggesting it is but that fine distinction between rhetoric and actual policy has bypassed some Labour supporters as they foam at the mouth about the UKIP threat to the NHS.

On the tax issue, Labour comes from as ideological a standpoint as they imply UKIP do – if tax receipts can be increased by having a more punitive top rate of tax then, by all means, go ahead, but the evidence has shown this isn’t the case. There’s a threshold where the people targeted believe it’s too punitive and actively look for ways to avoid it. Perhaps the answer here is cracking down on tax avoidance. Perhaps but let’s not forget that France’s ridiculous 75% top rate of tax led to an exodus of the rich. Oh, I know some people will say ‘good riddance’ but, for a start, those tax receipts will disappear too. Also, while we’re on the subject, Labour only raised the top rate to 50p prior to the 2010 election, knowing full well a Tory government would lower it and therefore give them a stick to beat the government with for five years.

I’ll give them the ‘rights’ line. My understanding is that UKIP want to cut red tape, though I don’t agree with the specific proposals on this one. However, I think Labour’s hypocrisy on employee rights is risible given the number of people their MPs and councils employ on zero-hours contracts. Barricade your own houses before throwing stones.

I understand people are worried that their hard work isn’t rewarded, they fear their kids will have a worse life than them and they see their public services under threat. But UKIP isn’t the answer. I support Ed Miliband’s new approach: change in our economy so that it works for working people, change for our party on immigration.

The fears here are real. I know they are. However, I’m seeing very little from Miliband and company to combat either the economy problem or the (rather tagged on) immigration issues. You can’t forget to mention the economy in a conference speech and still expect people to believe it’s top of your priority list. Equally, you can’t make appeasing noises on the one hand and condemn your ‘racist’ supporters on the other. That’s exactly the thing that’s driving Labour voters to UKIP.

You know, I personally like my MP. I met her when she came to deliver a leaflet a year ago and she comes across very well. I want to be able to vote for her but I can’t bring myself to vote for Labour. The latest edition of this newsletter just reiterated why.

News: A Wakefield View of Westminster – Available Now

(Cross-posted at Secluded Charm, my writing blog)

Dartside Press have just published a compilation of my political blog posts and articles, gathered from four years of observation and irritation. Spanning 2010-2014, the pieces in A Wakefield View of Westminster have been collected from various sites, edited and, where appropriate, commented on. It’s rather fun looking at predictions from three years ago and seeing where we’ve actually ended up. Well, fun and depressing in some cases.

I’m fairly non-partisan, though I have to admit that Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg come in for quite a lot of criticism throughout the collection. On issues such as Europe, HS2, the bungling of welfare reform, democracy and party politics, I’m very vocal – and unapologetically so. These are just my opinions, of course, but I hope they’re an entertaining read.

The book can be bought from Amazon here.

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Wakefield Council Opposes HS2

I think my local MP might be in a bit of trouble.

Today, Wakefield Council voted to oppose the plans for the second stage of the HS2 project which will go from Birmingham to Leeds and cut through our city in a manner that is nothing short of destructive. It’s not the council being petty-minded and contrary for the sake of it – they have consulted widely and barely a week passes where a letter in the local paper isn’t drawing attention to how little Wakefield will benefit from HS2 and how much damage it’s potentially going to cause. The current proposals cut through some extremely valuable countryside, threatening local ecosystems for a railway that won’t even stop here. I know every affected area along the route has trotted out these arguments but it doesn’t make them any less important on a local level. I think that’s why the council have voted against the proposals – even though the people in charge are unlikely to listen, at least they’ve tried to represent the interests of their constituents.

Which brings me to that ‘trouble’ I mentioned.

The Labour MP for Wakefield is Mary Creagh – you might know her better as the Shadow Transport Secretary.

Creagh is in the hilarious situation of her own area council, of the same political colour, opposing something she apparently adores. When she was moved to the shadow transport brief, I hoped that it might signal a retreat from Labour on a project that is doomed to failure. Why else would Ed Miliband risk putting somebody in a constituency so adversely affected by the proposals into the position? I honestly didn’t think he was that stupid but he’s miscalculated this one. And, frankly, so has Creagh herself.

I admire my MP, mainly due to her work with the shadow environment brief. I like her but she’s far too close to the core of the Labour machinery, dancing to their tune and very rarely opposing. I’ve often lamented the fact that my MP is a member of the shadow cabinet and therefore I know exactly what she’ll respond to any given issue so why bother asking?

The trouble is, her majority is only 1600 votes. I wonder if she realises that HS2 is potentially the issue that’s going to ruin her career. Blithely supporting an issue her local Labour council thinks will be detrimental to her constituency won’t end well. HS2 is likely to be a local bone of contention in 2015 and it looks like Labour- led Wakefield Council just (rather justifiably) shot and maimed their own candidate.

A Solution For David Cameron

Now the dust has settled after last week’s local elections, the Tory party still seem on the back foot. They’ve wheeled out some of the big guns – Theresa May and William Hague – who promise ‘greater certainty’ on a referendum in response to the UKIP threat but, I think, they’re being overly optimistic about the limited appeal of UKIP. A ‘cast iron guarantee (for want of a more fitting phrase) might’ve have quelled the UKIP problem a few years ago but now I don’t think it’s going to be so easy any more. UKIP now have many more councillors than the Tories would like. Come 2015, as everyone keeps pointing out, these will be footsoldiers. UKIP suddenly have a stronger army at a local level and the Tories are that little bit weaker.

What Cameron needs to do is think about the wider picture. He can’t bring forward legislation to guarantee his referendum in 2017 because of his coalition partners (the way I see it, Nick Clegg is sulking in a corner with his arms crossed threatening to leave – but go where?). If the Tories had a majority I think they’d squeeze this legislation through but they don’t. So what’s the solution? Get a backbencher to propose a bill.

Think about it. A proposal for legislation guaranteeing a referendum is debated in the House of Commons and then voted on. It will probably be defeated but, here’s the point, in this country (unlike the EU MEPs who can shield themselves if they wish) we can see exactly who voted for a bill and who voted against it. Come the next election, voters will be able to see whether their own MP voted for them to have a say in the future of the UK or whether they neglected to trust their constituents. One thing that characterises UKIP’s rise is that they listen to the fears and concerns of ordinary people. The main criticism of the career politicians who litter the benches at Westminster is that they are out of touch with everyday life. How better to make them confront it?

In such a scenario, Ed Miliband would face a dilemma. He clearly wants us to stay in the EU and would, I think, be inclined to whip his MPs to agree with him. Why would he allow a bill he detests the thought of to slip through via the backing of some of his own MPs? It’ll be a test of two things – the loyalty of MPs to their constituents and the strength of Miliband’s leadership. I think whichever way you look at this, Ed Miliband loses.

In my own constituency of  Wakefield, Labour’s Mary Creagh (currently Shadow Environment Secretary) is only sitting on a majority of 1,613 votes. The Tory candidate was snapping at her heels in 2010 but, crucially, UKIP neglected to stand in the area because the Tory candidate was a Eurosceptic. I wonder if such a decision will hold in 2015? Nevertheless, Creagh is one of those MPs who needs to think long and hard about where her responsibility lies – to her leader or to her constituents. However, I fear I know which side she will land on and it’ll be one that’ll cause her some problems come 2015. If a Tory leaflet drops through my door proudly proclaiming that Creagh voted against giving her constituents a say in the running of our country, that she didn’t trust us to have an opinion, I doubt I’ll be surprised.