How to rebuild a Party

Labour people won’t take advice from me, and I’m ok with that. In fact, given what I’m about to say, please don’t read it at all. Carry on in your assurance that telling voters they’re wrong, telling voters they’re fools who fell for lies, will win you power in 2024.

I am a Tory. I’m not a member anymore, but I’ve been a member, an association officer, a party staffer, a council candidate and a councillor. I joined the party under John Major. I endured Hague and his baseball cap, IDS and his “turning up the volume” and Howard’s relentless messaging without human instinct. So I know a little bit about how a party can reinvent itself after an electorate wipeout.

Labour has to own why it lost.

It didn’t lose because the Tories lied. Though they weren’t entirely honest. It didn’t lose because the BBC is biased against them. It didn’t lose because of Russian interference. It didn’t lose because its leader was hammered in the media. Importantly, it didn’t lose because of Brexit or because of Corbyn.

Labour lost its soul.

The loss last week has been a long time coming. You could argue it started under Blair. I think it started earlier than that. I think it started in 1992, for the same reasons Labour won in 1997, 2001 and 2005.

Since 1992, Labour have been losing working class voters. It’s happened at every election, and it’s the flaw that Jeremy Corbyn was supposed to stop.

The Labour Party is supposed to be the party of the working class. The Tories are supposed to be the party of the boss class. That’s politics 101. But, here’s a little secret. The Tories have always needed working class votes to win elections. And Labour has always needed middle class votes to win.

Blair, Brown and Labour’s new generation were shell shocked by 1992. They were so sure Kinnock was going to beat Major. The Welsh orator versus the South London auditor. It should have been a walkover. But the Middle Class didn’t trust Labour. The 1992 election was won by the Tories because they painted Kinnock and John Smith as being high tax, high spend Socialists.

When John Smith tragically died, in 1994, his successor, Blair, knew that he had to create a coalition of voters that would include middle class voters if he wanted to implement Labour’s policies. The 1997 Labour victory was built on a campaign that went relentlessly after the middle class. Slowly, over the following 10 years, the middle class became a core demographic for Labour. But as the policies focussed on the middle class, the cynical politics of Blairism meant that the working class – especially the Northern working class – were left behind. Blair effectively said who else are they gonna vote for?!!

The warning signs should have been there much earlier. Indeed, under Gordon Brown we heard much about how his Premiership was going to empower working people. But then the fiscal mistakes he’d made over the previous two terms started to come home to roost; borrowing at a time of boom just to keep the lights on meant the UK haemorrhaged cash when the crash came. The resulting austerity devastated Northern communities, but for the most part they kept voting Labour, for historical reasons.

Then under David Cameron, Labour’s failures were truly given form. In 1998, Labour had introduced devolution to Scotland and Wales, and Scottish devolution had been designed to protect Labour’s predominant position as the Party of Scotland. In 2007, a crack appeared in the Scottish edifice, with Alex Salmond’s SNP winning 47 seats to Labour’s 46. In 2011, facing a Tory/Lib Dem coalition in London, the Scots once again backed the SNP, this time giving them an out and out majority.

The 2010 UK General election saw Gordon Brown and 40 other Labour MPs elected in Scotland. The Lib Dem’s got 11, and the SNP won just 6 seats. Yet a year later the SNP won a majority in the Holyrood Parliament, and with it the right to an Independence Referendum.

Referenda may not be popular these days, but in the first part of the decade they were all the rage. We had an AV referendum, which the Tories won. We had an In/Out referendum on Scottish Independence. Which ostensibly the UK Government won. And of course then we had the EU In/Out referendum, which Leave won.

I argue it was the second of these referenda which has proven fatal to Labour’s electoral chances.

Labour lined up alongside the Tories and the Lib Dem’s and just about everyone, favouring the Union. It did so for a number of reasons: the 41 seats Labour held in Scotland at that time were the reason the Tories didn’t have a majority; and it would be hammered by the Tories for failing to stand by the Union in the rest of the country.

This meant that for Scots it was clear: if you were part of the 45% or thereabouts who voted for Independence, only the SNP was on your side.

The following year, at the General Election, disaster struck Labour north of the border. While 45% is never enough to win a referendum, it is pretty much always enough to win a Westminster constituency under First Past the Post.

Labour won just 1 of the 41 seats it had held in Scotland prior to the 2015 General Election.

Ed Miliband promptly resigned, and a new Labour leader was called forth – but from a radically different part of the party.

Jeremy Corbyn. The man who could walk on water. The man who would revive the party’s fortunes. The man from the left who could inspire the young to turnout and back his form of socialism.

At first he was treated as a joke. But then a movement was inspired to support him. He DID get the young involved. Maybe he was the answer? He started to get momentum, and suddenly the joke was winning. A Labour movement crying out for change decided it didn’t want more of the same, and seized upon the mirage of hope.

Things became a bit of a farce from the start. Corbyn had no support in the Parliamentary party, and swiftly faced a vote of no confidence which was overwhelmingly backed by his Parliamentary colleagues. They knew then what we would come to know; that his crank ideas and less than wholesome friends were just part of the reason that he had remained on the back benches through six party leaders and 13 years of Labour Government.

There is no need now for an in-depth article about what a mistake Corbyn was. Many have been written most were ignored and it is clear that the man himself is leaving the stage in just a few weeks time. What is much more important, at least for the Labour Party, is an understanding of what the next leader needs in his or her skill set.


 The first thing the new leader has to do is apologise. Not just to the Jewish community, although clearly that will be a vital component of any apology. But also to the thousands of people who are suffering hardship under a Tory government that for nine years has failed to run an economy that levels up and supports the poorest in our society. Labour’s historic loss will have left people who need a Labour government in need. They were sacrificed at the altar of the cult of Corbyn.

Rebuild the party

The far left and the party within a party, Momentum, have taken control of the party. Labour’s National Executive Committee is dominated by Momentum. But also local CLP’s have been infiltrated by Momentum and in many cases will need this parasitical movement removed. Those who are around in the 1980s, when Neil Kinnock took on Militant, will know how difficult and how nasty this fight will be.

Re-focus the party

As I said at the beginning, Labour is the party of the working class. If it is to win power, then it must be once again the party of the working class, without losing those middle-class votes which it needs to win power.

Working-class voters are not a homogenous block. They cannot be spoken down to or patronised in the way that the Labour leadership have tried since 1992. They have shown this election that when pushed too far, they are prepared to vote against the party which is supposed to be looking out for them. Labour have to rebuild the trust of these working-class voters. It may be that a London middle-class remain voting Waitrose shopping lawyer is the person to reconnect with the north of England. As I said working class voters don’t like being patronised, but I’m pretty certain that a quick way to get their attention is to appoint a leader who understands northern communities, Leave communities and working-class communities. That leader is neither Sir Kier Starmer, nor Jess Phillips.

The Labour leader capable of winning in 2024 is which ever leader answers not the 2019 general election question but the question for that election. The question most likely to be asked at that next election will be how the economic effects of dealing with climate change are mitigated for the working class.

There are tens of thousands of workers in car plants in Sunderland and Birmingham and Bristol and Oxford and all across the nation who will be facing uncertainty as we head towards a carbon neutral future. In 15 years time manufacturing Diesel engines will no longer be a profitable business. As a result, those thousands of workers are facing an economy moving away from them at a rate the working class haven’t seen since the switch from coal to nuclear power. The devastation of the coalfields will be nothing against the enormous changes coming to our economic sectors as a result of a mitigation of climate change. The political leader who can identify a way through this minefield is the leader who can regain power for Labour.

Dump the socialism

The key change in 1994 was that Labour went from being a Democratic Socialist party to a social Democratic party. To many that may seem like dancing on the head of a pin. But it is an important distinction.

Socialism is an economic theory which has been repeatedly found wanting in practice. Every single country that has tried socialism, has failed to introduce “proper socialism” and has seen their economy collapse. Fundamentally, it is an economic theory which does not work. The acceptance of that failure by the Blair government allowed them to take power in 1997, retain that power in 2001, and retain that power in 2005. socialism does not work, and anyone who says it does needs to read a history book.

There is, however, clearly a space for a social Democratic party in British politics. The worst excesses of the Conservatives in power will need to be repaired. Indeed the Tories will focus on the economy to the exclusion of the environment. While many Tories would say that is unfair to charge, history has shown that when the environment gets in the way of economic growth, the ‘green crap’ gets dumped.

So the new leader of the Labour Party needs to make very clear, once and for all, that the Labour Party is a social Democratic movement for change, not a democratic socialist movement trying to reinstate a failed economic theory. Without making this change clear, their economic plans will never be credible, and those who are just about managing or just getting by will not take the risk of voting for them. It also happens to be the right thing to do, but when as a politician ever followed that role!

For Labour, rebuilding after this disastrous election will be a painful and difficult process. It took the Tories 13 years and three leaders. Labour are now approaching their third leader and their 10th year out of power. Yet they are further away from a return to government than they were 10 years ago. it may be that there is no obvious leader now who can create that social Democratic movement for change which will answer the conundrum of the 2020s and 2030s. It may be that Labour have to go through a third failed leader before they find a winner. Indeed, the challenge faced by any incoming leader will be such that it may feel impossible to make sufficient gains in one go. but if Labour once again selects a leader based on what its middle-class activists want rather than its working-class core vote, it will be failing to read the ruins of this election.

Bombing Syria is a mistake

Tornado power

Two RAF Tornado GR-4s pull away from a KC-135 Stratotanker after refueling on Sunday, May 14, 2006. The Tornados and crews are from the 617th Squadron at RAF Lossiemouth, England. The KC-135 and crew are deployed to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron from the 905th Air Refueling Squadron at Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)

I’m still very uncertain about the right outcome from tonight’s vote in the House of Commons on expanding military action against Daesh from Iraq to Syria.

It is a bit of an odd position for me to be in. Barely a year or so ago I was fully in favour of air strikes against Bashar al Assad and the Government of Syria, with the aim of supporting the Free Syrian Army. Assad had crossed a red line by using chemical weapons, but the move to war faltered when Ed Miliband whipped Labour MPs against the plans. When the British Government lost the vote in the House of Commons, the US Government also pulled out of plans to bomb Assad.

Now we’re bombing a group who were not around in these numbers back then. Daesh, or ISIS, or ISIL, or IS, or whatever they are called today, took control of half of Syria and a third of Iraq almost overnight.

It is important to note that this is not a new war – this is instead a war which only 43 MPs voted against when we started it. This is instead mission creep. This is the expansion of our military strategy in Iraq.

The House of Commons debated the extension of war as though it were a new war, for the most part, with many of the questions now being asked perhaps more properly aimed at the vote last year. There were powerful speeches from former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, and an historic speech from Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn. There were some less helpful interventions, including the summing up by Philip Hammond, which misjudged the mood of MPs after Mr Benn’s terrific oratory.

The convention of House of Commons votes on military action has been brought about because of the opposition to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Before Tony Blair’s adventure, the Prime Minister would use the Royal Prerogative to authorise military action. Why does it matter that this is no longer how it is done? Well because the last time this Prime Minister, David Cameron, went to the House of Commons and asked for authorisation to take military action against Syria, back when he wanted to bomb Assad, the House of Commons said no.

It was that no that led to today. Firstly, you can draw a direct correlation between our failure to deal with Assad and the rise of Daesh. Secondly our allies, especially the United States, began to question whether we had become an unreliable ally. It was as much to deal with that perception that the Government wanted to extend military operations.

This particular operation has the benefit of being legal – whatever Len McLuskey might want to suggest – by virtue of an authorising resolution by the United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2249. I think that it is also warranted; Daesh are, in the words of Hilary Benn, fascists. Just look at what they have been doing in the territory over which they hold sway.

Mr Benn summarised it thus: “We know that in June four gay men were thrown off the fifth storey of a building in the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor. We know that in August the 82-year-old guardian of the antiquities of Palmyra, Professor Khaled al-Assad, was beheaded, and his headless body was hung from a traffic light. And we know that in recent weeks there has been the discovery of mass graves in Sinjar, one said to contain the bodies of older Yazidi women murdered by Daesh because they were judged too old to be sold for sex.

“We know they have killed 30 British tourists in Tunisia, 224 Russian holidaymakers on a plane, 178 people in suicide bombings in Beirut, Ankara and Suruc. 130 people in Paris including those young people in the Bataclan whom Daesh – in trying to justify their bloody slaughter – called ‘apostates engaged in prostitution and vice’. If it had happened here, they could have been our children. And we know that they are plotting more attacks.”

These people are modern day Nazis. And just like the Nazis they must be defeated. It is right that the world – including Jordan and Saudi Arabia and Iran and Qatar and Bharain – take action against them.

There are those who say that we shouldn’t take action against Daesh in Syria because it will make things less safe for people here at home. I hold absolutely no truck with that argument. Seven times this year the security services have disrupted advanced attempts by Daesh to attack us here. We’ve been bombing Daesh positions in Iraq for a year. It is luck, and good policing, more than anything else that has kept them from attacking us in London. With luck we will stay safe; but the terror threat in the UK has been “a terror attack is likely” for at least ten years.

Daesh are actively trying to attack us here at home, where we live. It is for this reason that action against them is legal under Article 51 of the UN Charter – the doctrine of self-defence.

So the law says that we are justified in attacking them where they live. Certainly humanity suggests that we are justified in assisting attempts to remove these fascists from their mastery over so many people. But this is where my support for our military operations falls apart; I simply do not believe we have the capacity to make an effective difference.

Our military campaign in Iraq has been successful. Despite the fact that our aging Tornado fleet barely has half a dozen operational aircraft, we have used our Brimstone missiles alongside the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi army to push Daesh out of Sinjar, and back away from Baghdad. But crucially the only way you can take and hold territory is with ground troops. You cannot win anything with air power alone. And in Syria the ground offensive is very different to that in Iraq.

Militarily of course it is ridiculous to say that if Daesh fighters cross an imaginary line in the sand, they cannot be attacked by British aircraft. That ruling has no doubt caused real problems for the coalition. If an aircraft is providing close air support to troops on the ground, who are in pursuit of Daesh fighters, yet that aircraft is British, there comes a point when suddenly it has to break off any attacks. It will take a while for another aircraft to arrive on station, so that then allows the Daesh fighters to melt away across the border.

It must also be frustrating for pilots who are flying missions over Iraq to see Daesh fighters who are the wrong side of a line on a map that Daesh don’t recognise, and not be able to attack them.

All of this is improved by the decision taken by the House of Commons tonight. Where the Government’s strategy falls down is the mythical 70,000 ground troops who will take on Daesh in Raqqa.

Without ground troops the air campaign cannot work. But the ground troops simply don’t exist in Syria. Sure, if you exclude the Syrian army, Hezbollah, Al Nusra, and any element of the Free Syrian Army with whom we will not work you still get a figure of around 75,000. But these fighters are not an army, like they are in Iraq. They are a disparate band of tribesmen who mostly hate each other more than they hate Daesh. These tribal hatreds run deep in Syria, and the wounding of the Assad regime has allowed them to boil over.

The Government will come to regret using the number 70,000. It will end up being like Tony Blair’s infamous 45 minute charge against Saddam Hussein. It simply isn’t credible to expect them to discontinue their fight to the death with Assad’s Government troops and turn around and attack Daesh.

Given the flaws of the Government’s strategy, I cannot support active targeting of military targets in Syria. Last night the Government made a mistake, and embroiled us further in a fight that cannot be won, where the best outcome is unclear, where our strategic partners have differing objectives, and where military strategy is at best confused.

We should not be bombing Syria.

Human Rights Act is Magna Carta 2.0

HRA 1998

800 years ago the King met with his Barons and Bishops at Runnymede in Surrey, where he signed a “Great Charter” which guaranteed the Rule of Law, rules around property rights and inheritance, as well as details such as fishing rights on the River Thames.

It was not the first such charter, and none of the rights it guaranteed was new – indeed it was merely an expression of English law as it was viewed by the Barons at the time. All they were seeking to do was to get King John to abide by the law. It was a struggle that was by no means new, and clearly didn’t end with the signing of Magna Carta, otherwise the case of Prohibitions del Roi would never have been needed.

The King never intended that it should be binding on him, and promptly ordered all copies destroyed. It was his son, Henry III, who signed it again, after the Barons insisted that was their price for supporting his accession to the throne.

Magna Carta fell into disuse during the late middle ages, and it was the 17th century resurrectionists such as former Lord Chief Justice Sir Edmund Coke who imbued it with some mystical power to represent a fundamental element of English law – in reality not one of the provisions of Magna Carta is enforceable in an English court.

There have been many recent comparisons between Magna Carta and the Human Rights Act. Indeed given their importance as fundamental elements of the UK’s unwritten constitution, it is unsurprising that such comparisons are being made. Yet the Human Rights Act is not a modern Magna Carta – because it is actually far more important than that.

There is a lot of rot written about both documents. It is amusing, in some ways, that those who write so passionately about the ability of Magna Carta to act as a brake on the tyranny of the State then criticise the Human Rights Act as unnecessary because ‘this country doesn’t need a brake on a tyranny that couldn’t exist here.’ It is ironic that those who declare Magna Carta fundamental to Britain don’t understand that the HRA is a modern expression of Magna Carta and is just as fundamental to our nation.

A lot of Magna Carta was about preventing foreign laws from being imported into England by our foreign King – and so is the Human Rights Act. The HRA incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into UK national law, meaning that the Convention Rights can be considered by British Judges, rather than the obscene sight of British Citizens having to go to a foreign court to enforce what are the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by being British.

Critics of HRA say that these rights already exist. And so they do. They existed long before Magna Carta, long before Prohibitions Del Roy, long before the Bill of Rights in 1699, and long before the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was written by a Nuremburg Prosecutor who went on to be a (highly illiberal) Tory Home Secretary and Lord Chancellor.

So why do we need the Human Rights Act to guarantee these rights, if they have existed since before 1066 and the Norman Conquest? Well try taking the Magna Carta into an English court of law and relying on its provisions. Try doing the same with the Bill of Rights, which was actually passed as a Statute, and is therefore Statute law. Yes, if you needed to rely on the case law of Prohibitions Del Roy then you could, though there is much better and much more recent case law and statute upon which to rely.

The Human Rights Act requires state bodies, including the courts system, to consider the articles of the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. That’s all it does. If a decision is lawfully taken but is in contravention of those Convention Rights, then an English court can issue a declaration of incompatibility. Which the UK Government could choose to completely ignore.

So why do so many people blame the Human Rights Act for all their woes? I would point the finger of blame at certain national newspapers, who have been burned by the need to balance Article 8 rights (the right to respect for a private family life) with Article 10 (the right of freedom of expression). The Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Sun, the Mirror, even the Times, have all lost court cases based on decisions in English courts that a private individuals Article 8 rights trump a national newspapers Article 10 rights. They have lost a lot of money through this, and they (rightly) think that without the ECHR they would have been able to print whatever they liked about private individuals who couldn’t afford an expensive libel suit.

Combined with a Tory party obsessed with hatred towards anything with the word European in the title – the ECHR is actually nothing to do with the EU, but try finding an opponent who understands that – this aggressive campaigning by the national media against the HRA has persuaded the public that they want to see it go.

Don’t be conned by the national media into doing their work for them. The Human Rights Act protects your fundamental freedoms from the tyranny of a state who already hack your phones, your email, your internet browser history, the GPS data from your phone, bug your homes, arrest and detain you without trial, kettle you in the street, and in at least one case shoot you dead without cause, reasonable suspiscion or fair trial (Jean Charles de Menezes).

Without the Human Rights Act this would be a much more dangerous state for the freedom loving, law abiding citizen.

So who should Labour choose?


Labour lost the General Election, much more heavily than they realise. To win a majority at the next election, one of the seats they need to take is Chingford. Currently held by Iain Duncan Smith, this was the stomping ground of Bury St Edmunds’ resident Lord Tebbit. It has NEVER been held by Labour.

Who you think should take over the Labour Party will depend on why you think Labour lost. And of course whether or not you have the Labour Party’s best interest at heart – certainly the Tories think that Andy Burnham would be the best candidate from their point of view, something Labour should bear in mind.

There are three realistic candidates for the Labour leadership. As nice as Mary Creagh might be, she is not going to make it onto the list, and is clearly hanging in there to make sure that whoever she ends up backing gives her a damn good job in the Shadow Cabinet – she’s fed up with being at International Development.
Realistically the election is between front-runner Andy Burnham, solid Yvette Cooper and dark horse Liz Kendall.

Burnham clenched fistAndy Burnham
I have no doubt that a great many Labour members want Andy Burnham to be their new party leader. I have no doubt that a great many Labour members of Ipswich Borough Council want Andy Burnham to be Prime Minister. In their heart, I suspect most Labour members want Mr Burnham to win.

Mr Burnham is a formidable campaigner. He has sewn up the largest number of the Labour Parliamentary Party, no doubt because he started he election campaign for leadership many months ago. He has been a dangerous opponent for Jeremy Hunt as Shadow Health Secretary, during which time he has successfully shed his entire political philosophy (he was a Blairite, once) and his own record in Government (he privatised more of the NHS than any Health Secretary in the last 20 years) to reclaim the NHS as an issue for Labour. Remarkably so bad had his tenure at Health Secretary been, in 2010 the Tories led in the polls on who was most trusted with the NHS.

Mr Burnham described himself as the beating heart of Labour. He is certainly the only candidate not afraid to use the word Socialism. But having just spent five years listening to Ed Miliband expand on his concept of intellectual socialism, only to have it comprehensively rejected by the electorate, will Labour fall for the same desire a second time?

One other thing to consider with Mr Burnham is that he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury just before the worldwide financial crash. While he might now say Labour should admit having overspent, the Tories will not find it hard to point out that he was in charge of controlling public spending at the time.

Yvette Cooper
The Shadow Home Secretary is second in the race to the ballot paper, with more MPs publicly backing her than Liz or Mary. She has been solid in opposition, though she is more in the mould of a Jack Straw a Roy Jenkins. She was Secretary of State for Work & Pensions, and would have been involved in appointing Atos Healthcare to administer the Work Capability Assessments which became so hated. She was also Andy Burnham’s successor as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, in January 2008, so while she was marginally less responsible for the overspending, she can be tarred with that brush. Not only that but her husband, Ed Balls, is a hate figure for the Tories and the right wing press – something I’ve never understood because I actually like the guy.

Liz KendallLiz Kendall
Liz Kendall is the Shadow Minister for Health, not even a member of the Shadow Cabinet. However she has huge experience in Government, having been a Special Advisor to first Harriet Harman and then Patricia Hewitt. She succeeded Hewitt in her constituency of Leicester West. She is considered to be the “Blairite” candidate, which is yet more evidence that Labour are still fighting the fight of 2005, ten years on. Realistically she shouldn’t be in this contest. It is ridiculous that someone who isn’t even in the Shadow Cabinet, who has just five years in Parliament, who had no national public profile, should be considered a potential party leader. And yet… There is something about Ms Kendall’s campaign. She’s attracted support from failed leadership candidate Chucka Umunna – the man the Tories really feared – and Tristram Hunt, who realised that he wasn’t going to make it onto the ballot and so settled for hoping to improve on his Education brief. How would the Tories attack her? Well they’d start by saying she had no experience. They’d take some of her own words – her focus on white working class voters for instance – and they’d attack her for racism. And yet…

Who would I back? Kendall, without a doubt. Her communication might be a little strained at times – she came across a teeny bit student politics debater when putting Andrew Neil on the back foot, but at least she put him on the back foot…

Burnham might be the beating heart of Labour, but as Philip Collins said in the Times that is better than being the bleeding heart of Labour. He will attract millions of voters to Labour, but not in seats they need to win, merely in seats they won in 1992 or 2015. Why did Neil Kinnock lose? Because he stacked up huge Labour majorities in all the wrong seats. Blair’s focus on the marginal seats he needed to win in was what made him successful – that and a focus on the economy.

Yvette Cooper is boring. And shrew-like. And shrill. I’m sorry, it’s really unfair, but it happens to be true. Will she attract floating voters in marginal seats? I can’t see it. However she was an economist before entering Parliament, and boring is what you need in a Shadow Chancellor.

Liz Kendall has no baggage from the last Labour Government. Some people consider her to be a Shy Tory, or Tory-lite. She’d almost certainly have to create a federal Labour Party, because she’d be about as popular in Scotland as anthrax. But that’s probably going to happen anyway.

Elections in this country are won from the centre ground. They are won on the economy. Don’t listen to me as I whisper it, but Liz Kendall is the candidate the Tories fear now.

Stella CreasyPS I realise there is a Deputy Leadership race as well. Whatever you do, Labour, resist the temptation to elect Tom Watson. He’s great, he’s popular in your party, but he is hated by the media even more than Miliband was. So what? Well if you cannot communicate your message without it being distorted by a hostile media, you’re dead in the water. Stella Creasy is simply the best communicator in the Deputy race. And as a London MP she has one thing the leadership candidates don’t – a constituency south of Watford.

Labour shouldn’t despair. 2020 is a very long way off.

Labour Party Logo 2014

There has been a lot written in the past few days about how difficult it will be for Labour to win the next General Election in May 2020, with an article in the New Statesman claiming Labour would need a 13% lead in the polls to win a majority.

Yes, the scale of Labour’s defeat was disastrous for the party. They lost one of their biggest beasts until the next Labour safe by-election in Ed Balls. The situation in Scotland is unprecedented. The job faced by the next Labour leader, be it Burnham, Kendall, Cooper, Creagh or someone like Tris Hunt, is daunting to say the least.

But all is not lost. Those commentators who confidently predicted that there would be another coalition, right up to the close of polls, and even beyond the exit poll which ended up underestimating the scale of the Tory victory, are now busy implying that the Tories will be in perpetual Government, just like a 1980s rerun.

And every single one of them is wrong. Again. It was Harold Macmillan who coined the phrase “events, dear boy, events.” This Tory Government has a tiny majority – smaller than that of John Major between 1992 and 1997. There are hundreds of issues that will come up which could cause the Tories problems. Two of these “events” are already known and expected: Cameron will not be the Tory leader in 2020, and they have to get through a potentially disastrous Euro-referendum in 2017.

Taking the Euro-referendum first.

Cameron was seen by many Tories to have pulled off a stroke of genius when he promised an attempt to reform the EU followed by an In/Out referendum. This is potentially a massive banana skin for the Tories. Europe is the issue that Cameron has wanted to avoid ever since he became Leader. It is the issue that still tears the Tories asunder.

Yet between now and 2017 it will be all many in the Tory party wants to talk about. And as we get closer to the referendum that desire to focus on their differences will get stronger.

There are a number of potential scenarios, all of which offer huge problems for the Tories. Let’s assume for one second that Cameron manages to get detailed and substantial reform of the EU, including reform of fundamental principles such as the supremacy of the Courts of Justice of the EU or Freedom of Movement. He will then, presumably, go to the country proposing that we stay in the EU. That will make Nigel Farage, or whoever takes over from him if the coup plotters get their way, the head of the Out campaign. Many Tories in the Cabinet, and many more in the Parliamentary Party, and the voluntary party across the country, would have more sympathy with the Out campaign regardless of any reform that Cameron can deliver. So the Tories split, half the Cabinet campaigns with Nigel Farage, and UKIP get the sort of massive boost to their numbers that the SNP got after they lost their Independence referendum last year. A disaster for the Tories, because the country will not reward a Government so obviously split.

What about the reverse scenario. Cameron goes to Europe and comes back with absolutely nothing in reform. He’s already said he won’t go on until 2020, so potentially this could be the point when the Parliamentary Party says go, you failed to get EU reform, give a new leader the right to campaign on an Out ticket and they elect a new leader. There are a small number of the Parliamentary Party who do not believe we should leave the EU. These Tories campaign with Labour for an In vote – and the new Labour leader looks Prime Ministerial, reaching across the aisle, while the Tories look split to the nation. A disaster for the Tories, because the country will not reward a Government so obviously split.

I cannot think of a scenario under which the Tory party doesn’t split over the Euro-referendum. They may all be pretty united in the concept of having a referendum, but members of the Government have radically differing views on whether we should come out of the EU, and that’s before you add in any potential reforms.

Labour, on the other hand, will either benefit from pro-European Tories campaigning alongside their new leader, or from anti-European Tories campaigning alongside UKIP. In the first case they are shown to be the centrist party while the Tories are painted as extremists, in the second case many Tory members of Better Off Out hive off to UKIP. Either way, Labour will see a big advance because of this.

The other reason Labour shouldn’t despair is that Cameron will not be leading the Tory party come 2020. David Cameron is still more popular than the Conservative Party, some 10 years after he started the detoxification process of the Tory brand by hopping on a husky across the Arctic circle. It was long thought that this process could only be completed by a period in Government during which the Tories didn’t carve up the NHS and scrap all benefits. The need to deal with the deficit means that they are scrapping benefits and are being accused of carving up the NHS for the benefit of their posh mates. Some of that can be put to bed, but some of it will be exacerbated. In other words, Government is likely to retoxify the Tories for another new generation of voters, those who cannot remember Mrs Thatcher or even a majority Tory Government – it is 18 years since Labour kicked John Major out of Downing Street.

Without Cameron, the Tory Party will be damaged, at least in the short term. Now it is possible that Boris Johnson wins that election, and he is popular in parts of the country, but there is a difference between being a faintly comic figure who people feel is a bit of a joker and electing him as our next Prime Minister. George Osborne is, if anything, posher than Cameron, but also more metropolitan liberal elite, and is said to be the man who persuaded Cameron of the need to reform the Tories. Could he become Cameron Mk II? Possibly. And there are wild card potential leaders – like Education Secretary Nicky Morgan or Business Secretary Sajid Javid – who we know little about at the moment.

But whoever Labour pick as their next leader on September 12th, they will not be facing the same situation in 2020 as they face now. And they will not be facing David Cameron.

All is not lost for Labour. Both they, and the Tories, should remember that.

The people have spoken. What did they say?

Well the polls are closed and the people have spoken. It will be a few hours before we know what they said (and probably several days until we work out what the bloody hell that means) but here at Ipswich they’re busy verifying that the number of votes in the ballot boxes is the same as the number of votes issued. That should be finished by about 1.30am and then we’re expecting a result some time after 5am.

Last night Ed Miliband put party before country – and I condemn him for it


I’m confused. Apparently we should fear an Ed Miliband led Government because it would have to be propped up by the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon would be pulling the strings, we’re told. This would be a disaster for Britain, we’re told.

So frightened by the way this has polled in England, Mr Miliband has ruled out a coalition with the SNP. Then he ruled out a confidence & supply deal with the SNP. Last night he went on television and told the country that he would rather not be Prime Minister than make a deal with the SNP.

This is ridiculous. Firstly, Nicola Sturgeon is not even standing in this election. She won’t be a Member of Parliament at Westminster. If the next Government needs a deal over a particular vote, it won’t be Nicola Sturgeon who they take to one side in the lobby.

Secondly, we have just spent five years with a coalition Government. Has Nick Clegg held David Cameron to ransom in the coalition? I know some Liberal Democrats would say if only. No, they agreed on a programme and then delivered it – at some considerable political and personal cost to the Liberal Democrats.

Of course the Tories warn that it was the process of deal making that would make the SNP dangerous. They might be right there. But it is Ed Miliband’s response last night that I want to return to.

Mr Miliband said that he would rather not be Prime Minister than accept a deal with the SNP. Think about that statement for a moment. Is he really saying that if the election throws up a result where Mr Miliband could form a stable Government, just by dealing with the SNP, he would tell the Queen that he was sorry, but the future health of the Scottish Labour Party was more important than the nation? Would Miliband really become the first man since Lord Halifax in 1940 to refuse the offer to become Prime Minister?

In 2010 the country faced an immediate financial crisis. The meltdown in the Eurozone was happening as a backdrop to the coalition talks. People laugh now at comparisons with Greece, but there was a very real chance that we could have struggled to borrow money to keep the lights on.

Faced with that situation, Nick Clegg, the “Kingmaker” of that election, chose to go into a coalition that worked. The more stable of the two options. That brave decision has almost destroyed his party, but he took it because it was, in his view, the right thing to do. The country needed a stable Government, and that’s what he provided.

Yet, even before the election has finished, Ed Miliband has conceded that he won’t do the right thing. He would rather see a minority Government limp along without the ability to govern than do the right thing. He would rather see David Cameron as Prime Minister than form a stable Government.

Some will call his announcement that he’d rather not be PM than deal with the SNP one of principle. I can’t do that. I condemn him. His words condemn him. He is putting his partisan interests ahead of the nation. For that he deserves to lose.

Do the Tories think they’ve held Ipswich?

Next Prime Minister & MP for Ipswich? The Tories don't think so...

Next Prime Minister & MP for Ipswich? The Tories don’t think so…

In a week’s time the polls will be closed. We’ll be a few hours away from the first results – and the oft promised Tory crossover appears to be showing through.

Ipswich is one of the marginal seats that Labour has to win in order for Ed Miliband to be Prime Minister. Mr Miliband’s candidate, David Ellesmere, has to overturn a 2,079 majority – the largest that the Tories have achieved here since World War Two.

Another marginal seat is Waveney, where Tory Peter Aldous looked doomed to be replaced by his predecessor, Bob Blizzard.

Yet last Friday the Prime Minister popped up in Lowestoft. It rather surprised me that he didn’t come to Ipswich – but Mr Miliband had been here just two days earlier, so Mr Cameron may have not wanted to appear to be following him around the country.

Today, however, George Osborne has been to Waveney. But not to Ipswich. And I think that is significant.

The local newspaper here in Ipswich had what it called a “poll” which indicated Mr Gummer had sneaked ahead in the fight for Ipswich. Now there are a number of problems with calling it a poll – a sample size of 200, no past vote weighting, no weighting for likelihood to vote – but essentially I think the Tories, and perhaps Labour, believe that it is right.

The Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are two of the most powerful weapons the Tories can muster when it comes to election visits. They guarantee media coverage. Every word they say is newsworthy. To have the PM and the Chancellor stood alongside a candidate adds some of that shine to that candidate.

That shine goes both ways. You do not see the PM and the Chancellor spending time alongside candidates who have no hope of winning. Which implies that the Tories think they can still hold Waveney.

More interesting is the fact that neither of them came to Ipswich – which has a much bigger Tory majority for Labour to overturn. Now that could indicate that the Tories have given up on Ben Gummer. Given how relaxed and cheerful he seems, I very much doubt that’s the case. Given the number of Cabinet visits away from the top two, I very much doubt that’s the case.

Labour say that they believe they have 4 of their 8 target seats sewn up. One of those has to be Norwich South – the Liberal Democrats may come fourth in a seat they currently hold. One was almost certainly Waveney – yet the Tories seem to think this is still winnable. They have privately accepted they are unlikely to win Harlow. Cambridge, Ipswich, Norwich North, Gt Yarmouth and Thurrock are the other target seats.

Yarmouth looks set to re-elect Tory Brandon Lewis, and Thurrock looks set to elect Tim Aker of UKIP, it was expected that the four seats Labour thought they had sewn up were Ipswich, Cambridge, Norwich South and Waveney.

Yet the indications are that the Tories think they’re going to hold Ipswich, with Waveney back in play, and apparently the Lib Dems think Julian Huppert will hold on in Cambridge.

If Labour don’t take back at least 4 of their 8 target seats in the East, they have to seriously rethink their strategy – and that of their leader.

Election amusement leaves candidates feeling blue

Hancock Cock Picture

Elections often throw up the most ridiculous posters and leaflets. In the East of England, two Tories have been left red-faced by inappropriate use of their names. Business Minister and West Suffolk Conservative candidate Matthew Hancock is unlikely to suffer the ignomy of not being returned to Parliament – West Suffolk is a fairly safe seat. But he has been a laughing stock after his leaflet was folded rather inappropriately.

And then there is Chelmsford Tory candidate Simon Burns – whose fued with Mr Speaker has been so amusing – who apparently takes a particular hardline with his fellow Conservatives. Indeed, when I saw this poster my reaction was… he does WHAT to them?

Simon Burns

Election campaign gets under way

Today was the first day of the election campaign. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was the hundredth day, but the official campaign begins with the prorogation of Parliament.

The campaign here in Ipswich kicked off with both Labour & the Tories heading to Ipswich railway station to hand out literature to commuters using the Great Eastern Main Line to get to jobs in London. Transport is a vital issue in this campaign, recognised as such by BBC Suffolk who held a recorded election hustings on the subject, which was broadcast this lunchtime.

Ben Gummer, the Conservative incumbent, trumpets his role in the GEML Taskforce, which has resulted in some direct funding for refurbished trains and some infrastructure alterations, and has led to significant proposals as part of the new rail franchise which will be let early in the next Parliament; new faster trains, a regular 60 minute service from Ipswich rather than the occasional one we have now, and crucially a more reliable service.

Mr Ellesmere counters that Labour will match any funding the Government puts forward, but given Labour’s transport spokesman, Michael Dugher, has pledged to scrap the franchise system if he takes power in May – he says he’ll bin it within weeks of taking office – it is difficult to see how Mr Ellesmere thinks most of the improvements, which are reliant on the new franchise, will be anything apart from delayed. Indeed, when asked specifically to explain it, Mr Ellesmere declines to respond.

Mr Gummer’s much vaunted wet dock crossing – itself an idea that the Borough Council has repeatedly backed in local plans – is beginning to attract some funding, but whether it will be delivered is still in question. Mr Gummer claims he can deliver it within five years, though he would no doubt insist that this was dependent on a Conservative Government being returned. For his part, Mr Ellesmere says that the £2 million bung from the Chancellor – Mr Ellesmere is good enough not to call it a bung but I will – would be better spent on a proper transport study, including the options for a northern bypass.

There are, of course, lots of other issues that are vital to this election. Ben Gummer won the 2010 election mostly on the back of concerns that Labour were running down Ipswich Hospital; services had been transferred to Norfolk & Norwich or Addenbrookes time and again. After the privatisation of Community Healthcare under the 2012 Health & Social Care Act, Mr Gummer is unlikely to have such an easy ride on healthcare, despite the fact that Ipswich Hospital is now amongst the best in the country.

Alongside the NHS, there are real differences between the two parties on benefits and welfare. The Conservatives have promised another £12 billion in cuts to welfare after the election. These cuts will fall on some of the poorest in society; I’m still yet to work out how making the poor and vulnerable even more poor and vulnerable helps them. However with unemployment at the lowest rates on record here in Ipswich, and full employment just around the corner, the Tories plans to get people into work do seem to be working. Sadly many of those now in work remain on benefits, effectively a subsidy to business for refusing to pay decent wages.

Labour say they would work towards an £8/hour minimum wage, and encourage more businesses to pay the living wage. David Ellesmere has proudly ensured that Ipswich Borough Council becomes a living wage employer. The Tories prefer to use the tax system to reward work, pledging to increase the basic allowance – the part of your wages you don’t pay tax on – to £12,500.

Ultimately while the commentariat and politicians will spend the next 38 days arguing about personalities and knocking down straw men, there are only really two issues – the economy and the NHS. If people, walking into polling stations, decide that the economy is the most important question of this election, Mr Cameron is likely to be returned as Prime Minister, and Ben Gummer may well be the first Tory to win a second term in Ipswich since the war. If voters decide instead that the NHS is the key question of this election, Mr Miliband is likely to be returned as Prime Minister, and David Ellesmere will become the new Member of Parliament for Ipswich.

Other candidates are standing in this election, including Chika Akinwale (Lib Dem), Barry Broom (Green Party) and Maria Vigneau (UKIP).

In 38 days these debates will be moot; voting will have started and we’ll be awaiting a result.