I’d like to think the Labour Party’s leadership will be important to me because whoever is chosen as leader will be the Prime Minister of the next UK government.
I don’t really think that, though, which horrifies me because I don’t want the Tories to win a majority again in May 2020 – and yet: none of the Labour analysis about why they lost so catastrophically in Scotland or why they failed to win in England and Wales, looks to be on the mark: and all of the candidates for leadership seem to think that Labour lost because it was not sufficiently right-wing: which means I shall be still less inclined to vote Labour after five more years of the new leader than I was with the last.
If you are a Labour Party member and all set to snort with indignation and demand to know how I plan to get a Labour government if I won’t vote Labour, well: if you are a Labour Party member, why aren’t you snorting with indignation that your party is heading off down a path away from left-wing voters?
According to unverifiable rumour (via a friend heard from a friend who’s a Labour MP), Labour MPs don’t expect to win a majority in 2020: they want an interim leader who will get the Labour Party back on the right track after Ed Miliband’s failed experiment in steering it leftward, and then the new Tony Blair will step up after 2020 to become Labour’s next Prime Minister. If they are thinking like this I think they are hopelessly wrong: and I also think they are hopelessly insulated from the real-world problems that fifteen years of Tory governance will create in this country.
The Tories won by slightly increasing the margin of their vote in precisely targeted constituencies. Labour lost because they didn’t do that. (Yes, it’s more complicated than that. But not much more.)
Labour lost because in Scotland they were too busy campaigning with the Tories for Better Together to worry about the General Election, and too busy demonising the SNP and putting on nationalistic facepaint to remember that the Tories, not the SNP, are the Opposition in Westminster elections. Labour lost because, across and up and down the UK, they failed to convince working-class voters that Labour was the party that would represent them.
I’ve voted Labour more often than not since the first general election when I had the vote. I voted Labour in 2010, and in 2011, and voted No in 2014. I’m not remotely a nationalist. I’m not a fan of the SNP. But I didn’t vote for Labour in 2015, and it seems unlikely I’d want to vote for Labour in 2020, if they go on as they’ve been doing.
There are four candidates for Labour leader: Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Mary Creagh, Liz Kendall. Because each candidate needs to be nominated by at least 15 per cent of Labour MPs, that sets the maximum number of candidates at six – and in 2015, each candidate must get 35 nominations by 15th June to stand. (Andy Burnham is so far the only candidate who has already reached this target, but over 120 Labour MPs are yet to declare.)
For those of us who were considering voting for the next Labour leader, noon on Wednesday 12th August is the deadline to join as a party member or to have a vote as an affiliated or registered supporter.
I could have been an affiliated supporter, as a member of an affiliated trade union (Unite). You could be a registered supporter, providing you are on the UK electoral register and you are willing to commit to say you “support Labour’s aims and values and want to make it official” that you back them, and you are “not a supporter of any organisation opposed to it.”
You cannot be a Labour Party member if you have publicly declared that you support another party: but if you wish to vote in the Labour leadership elections as a registered or affiliated supporter, it seems to me that it is left to your conscience whether the party you support counts as “any organisation opposed” to Labour.
I think the Labour Party have a right to expel from membership people who have openly endorsed another party. I agree with Andrew Ducker, who noted that if “people who actively paid to be a member of my party had voted for someone else, my priority would be to get them to change their vote, not their membership”. My guess would be that the intent of the Labour Party is to expel members before the UK Labour and Scottish Labour leadership elections: Scottish Labour will begin their leadership election process when Jim Murphy resigns in June.
The weblink to register at is: support.labour.org.uk
Labour’s aims and values today include sympathy with the Conservative plan to reduce the benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000.
Do I support Labour’s aims and values in 2015?
Seventy years ago the Labour Party published its 1945 manifesto, and I do largely support the aims and values of that Labour Party.
In 2013, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Liam Byrne, helpfully made time for Iain Duncan Smith to pass retroactive legislation to make lawful the unlawful benefit sanctions that had been applied to people on workfare schemes, and Ed Miliband applied a three-line Whip to ensure Labour MPs abstained from voting against this legislation. Such are the Labour Party’s aims and values today: I do not support them.
But Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Mary Creagh, and Liz Kendall all believe that the right thing to do to someone on benefits is to force them into workfare and sanction them if they can’t or won’t work for nothing: they none of them voted against the retrospective legislation on workfare. Their aims and values are not mine: I do not support them.
I want to vote for a Labour Party where every single MP belonged to a trade union before they were elected (and no, the National Union of Students doesn’t count) and who appreciates the value of trade unions in working life. I want a Labour Party leader who would refuse to cross a picket line.
Andy Burnham (37 endorsements) doesn’t have a work history that suggests any trade union background: after he graduated from Cambridge he was a researcher for Tessa Jowell (MP for Dulwich in South London) from 1994 to 1997, which would have included the period from October 1995 to July 1996 during which Jowell was Shadow Minister for Women: and then he spent a couple of years working for the NHS Confederation – the body that represents organisations which commission and provide NHS services, founded in 1990 – and then for the Football Task Force, which had just been founded by the new Labour government. In 1998 he was employed by Chris Smith, MP for Islington and Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, as his ministerial Spad, until Burnham was chosen as the parliamentary candidate for a Labour safe seat in Greater Manchester in 2001.
In his campaign launch speech on Youtube, Andy Burnham says he wants “not to go left or right” but to rediscover “the beating heart of Labour”: “And that is about the aspirations of everyone, speaking to them like we did in 1997.” ….. “And it needs a leader whose voice can carry into all the nations and regions of the UK. Be heard in every home, someone who people can relate to, who understands their lives. I am that person. I can unite this country.”
Yvette Cooper (31 endorsements) might at some point in her career have been a member of a trade union, the National Union of Journalists, but I don’t find any evidence that she was. After she graduated from Oxford she was an economic policy researcher for John Smith (MP for Monklands East in North Lanarkshire) in 1990, when he was Shadow Chancellor, and then in 1992 worked for Bill Clinton in Arkansas when he was the Democratic Presidential candidate. After Clinton was elected President, Cooper became a policy advisor to Harriet Harman (MP for Peckham in South London): in 1994 she was employed as a research associate at the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics. Then in 1995, The Independent hired her as their chief economic correspondent, until Cooper was chosen as the parliamentary candidate for a Labour safe seat in Yorkshire in 1997.
In her campaign launch speech at Tech City in London, Yvette Cooper says “People want to feel ambitious for their future, not fearful about what tomorrow will bring. Yet, in the end, Labour couldn’t convince enough people we would deliver the jobs, business growth, opportunities or the security they wanted in future. “We couldn’t reassure those who felt threatened by change, nor could we convince those who wanted to be optimistic for their children that we had a strong enough plan. In the end the messages of fear, of division and of blame were louder – they won, we lost.”
Mary Creagh (6 endorsements) does have a trade union background (she set up a trade union branch when working in Brussels). After she graduated from Oxford she did a PhD in European Studies at the London School of Economics and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Linguists. After her PhD she was an intern in Brussels at the European Parliament and then at the European Youth Forum. Back in the UK, at Cranfield University in Bedfordshire (a postgraduate/research university) she taught “entrepreneurship” at their School of Management (where I would hope she joined the UCU, though she doesn’t mention it) and she was a trustee for Rathbone, a UK-wide voluntary youth sector organisation. She was elected to the Islington Borough Council as the councillor for Highbury West in 1998, and retained her seat on the council until Creagh was chosen as the parliamentary candidate for a fairly safe seat for Labour in Yorkshire in 2005.
In her campaign launch article in the Mail Online, Mary Creagh wrote “I want to earn back the trust that Scotland has lost in the Labour Party where people were angry and felt that Westminster politics wasn’t working for them.”
Nobody ever “won back my trust” by anything published in the Daily Mail.
She went on “People felt that Labour didn’t understand their aspiration to earn money and provide a better life for their family. People trust Labour to look after their schools, hospitals and council services. But they simply do not trust us to run the economy and make them better off. That must change.”
Liz Kendall (22 endorsements) also doesn’t have a work history suggesting any trade union background. After she graduated from Cambridge she worked for the Institute for Public Policy Research: she was employed by Harriet Harman as a ministerial Spad from 1996 to 1998 (during which Harman was Shadow Secretary of State for Social Security and then Secretary of State for Social Security and Minister for Women) and after which Kendall was awarded a fellowship of the King’s Fund and wrote several research papers for IPPR. She was also Director of a health charity, Maternity Alliance. In 2001 Kendall wanted to be the Labour candidate for Chesterfield in Derbyshire, Tony Benn’s old constituency (but Reg Race, who’d been a Labour MP for Wood Green in north London from 1979-1983, got the place – and lost to a Liberal Democrat). Quitting Maternity Alliance (the charity shut down in 2005) Kendall worked for Patricia Hewitt, MP for Leicester West and then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and Minister for Women from 2001 to 2005, and then moved with Hewitt when she was reshuffled to become Secretary of State for Health until 2007. Kendall then became Director of the Ambulance Services Network, which is part of the NHS Confederation, until she was selected to stand for Patricia Hewitt’s constituency in 2010 when Hewitt stepped down.
In her campaign launch speech at De Montfort University in Leicester, Liz Kendall promised to begin an “Inspiring the future” project, “bringing together businesses, voluntary and community activists and union members, to encourage them go into state schools and show how education can transform children’s lives.” She concluded “our economic credibility will be based on having a plan that starts before children are born and follows them through the ups and downs of their lives.
And it will be based on a simple truth – that a Labour Party that isn’t talking about education and social mobility has forgotten what it exists for. The Labour Party I lead will always remember its purpose. And we will act on it. Starting from day one.”
The Labour Party’s purpose
I think the Labour Party’s purpose was to ensure that people living without the benefits of privilege get to vote for a party that makes policy for them when in government and speaks up for them in Opposition.
I want to vote for a Labour Party where parliamentary candidates are chosen first of all because they live and work in the constituency where they’re standing: where the party membership are looking for a representative who’s a union member with experience of work in minimum-wage or less-than-minimum wage jobs, experience of claiming benefits, experience of struggling to get by. I don’t want to vote for a Labour Party where appropriate parliamentary candidates have decided they want a “career as an MP” and have done their time working as interns or researchers or Spads to get there.
Burnham, Cooper, and Creagh were all selected to stand for safe Labour constituencies for which they had no previous apparent connection other than their work for the Labour Party. (Kendall did have a connection with Leicester West via her work as a Spad for Leicester West’s previous Labour MP between 2001 and 2007.)
Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper have their MP expenses stories exposed in the 2009 leak: as were Mary Creagh‘s both before and since. (Mary Creagh has one of the highest expenses claimed for bicycle use.)
The Leicester Mercury published a story in September 2013 of the amount of expenses claimed by the ten Leicester and Leicestershire MPs: Liz Kendall claimed the second-highest expenses in 2011/2012, £156,079.87 (the highest was Keith Vaz, £162,959.38). In 2012/2013 she claimed £171,607.40 but moved down to third place – Keith Vaz moved down to second place – because the highest claim was made by Jon Ashworth, £184,363.78, though he asserted this was due to a temporary increase in staff costs. The lowest claims were made by Andrew Robathan, (£91,915.84 the first year and £91,547.30 the next).
One of the most appalling lies ever told in British politics – huge in scope and gamechanging in implications – has been the claim by the Conservatives and LibDems that the Labour Government’s spending and borrowing was responsible for the financial crisis which led to banks “too big to fail” getting trillions in bailout.
This lie was repeated, routinely and consistently, by Conservative and Liberal Democrat pundits and politicians, again and again – and Labour politicians, busy picking the next Labour leader, never seemed to find the time or energy to contradict the lie until it had become firmly installed as “everyone knows”. And because – so the Conservatives claimed and LibDems joined in – “high government spending” was responsible for the financial crisis, and “high government borrowing” an inevitable consequence, austerity became – so David Cameron and Nick Clegg told us in chorus – a necessary regime. Cut services, cut staff, raise VAT, cut income tax.
I’d like to vote for a Labour Party leader who’d be challenging that lie: who’d speak up with solid arguments for government spending against austerity.
But not one of them will. All four of them – Burnham, Cooper, Creagh, and Kendall – have accepted the Tory myth that the Labour government’s overspending is to blame for the 2008 financial crash and austerity is necessary to “fix” the problem.
Andy Burnham accepts the negative view of people claiming benefits that the Tories and LibDems were fostering for the past five years: “I was talking about an impression on the doorstep and there is that feeling, some people say, that Labour want to be soft on people who want something for nothing. We’ve got to be honest about that. That is a feeling that’s out there, that was still being replayed at this election.” He told business leaders at Ernst & Young “Labour must be “a pro-business party,” that he feels Labour will not be re-elected “unless it showed people it was on the side of those who wanted to “get on” and succeed.” Like Harriet Harman, he’s “sympathetic” to the idea of the Conservative government lowering the cap on benefits to £23,000 a year.
Mary Creagh talks of a “progressive coalition” and “economic competence” and says she’s spent nine years “working with small businesses”.
Liz Kendall emphasises the importance of Labour reaching out to white working-class voters: “teach girls and boys, particularly from white working class communities, about the chances in life they may not even know exist” and in another speech promised Labour would “be doing the best for kids, particularly in white-working class communities”.
Yvette Cooper says Labour needs to re-set its relationship with business, offering to back Conservative plans to cut corporation tax and promising that “prominent businesses” will get to advise her as party leader.
All four of them are talking to businesses rather than voters because voters only have a say in 2020: businesses can donate money to the Labour Party any time.
As the Electoral Reform Society notes about donations to the 10 UK parties in the year before the 7th May election:
What we’ve seen in this election, and in recent years, is a race to rake in the most, with parties increasingly relying on a small number of powerful wealthy backers – whether that’s big organisations or rich individuals. 75% of the public believe big donors have too much influence on our political parties, and 61% believe the system of party funding is corrupt and should be changed.
Immigrant workers and the right to strike
In 2014, the Labour Party promised to curb in-work benefits paid to EU immigrant workers for two years after they entered the UK. Andy Burnham’s said we should have an early in-out EU referendum, and said that David Cameron would need to deliver a “tough but fair” renegotiation of the EU right to free movement across borders before the referendum to keep Britain in the EU.
As the TUC pointed out: the 2015 Queen’s Speech sets government against working people with draconian restrictions on the right to strike.
How many Labour MPs stay in hotels in London? How many of them will be supporting the hotel workers strike when it happens? Where is the candidate to lead Labour who would stand on a picket line with hotel workers and refuse to stay at a hotel that didn’t pay a living wage?
About 100,000 people work in the London hotel sector, which includes small boutique hotels but also large global chains such as Hilton, InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG) and Meliá. The sector is often referred to as the Bermuda triangle of union organising. No collective agreement has been signed since the 1980s. Any attempt to unionise can lead to wholesale outsourcing of a department, job cuts and repercussions.
London has more than 136,000 hotel rooms and, according to accountant PwC, they have an occupancy rate of 84% and a mean cost of £145 (£5 higher than last year). This means a potential yield of £122 per room per night. Yet room attendants are paid between £2.30 and £3.75 per room.
One woman tells how she worked for a cheaper chain and, illegally, was paid a piece rate – £2.17 a room, 25 rooms a day. Another says that if her allocated rooms are not completed in time because guests are late departing, she has to work the extra time, unpaid.
I don’t see Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham or Mary Creagh or Liz Kendall standing up for the right to strike and I certainly don’t see them speaking out for the right of underpaid and overworked immigrants to demand fair pay for fair work.
The least-bad choice
I began this blogpost a couple of days ago, having been amassing the material for it since Ed Miliband resigned. I intended this to be a public discussion with myself about which candidate for Labour leader I could decide to vote for – and whether I could still call myself enough of a Labour Party supporter to cast a vote.
In the end, as I wrote and cited, I came to a different conclusion. I won’t be voting in the Labour Party leadership election: I can’t call myself a Labour supporter any more. Whichever of the four of them becomes the leader, I don’t see them leading Labour anywhere I want to go. I can’t bring myself to pick the least bad of four options.
If any one of the four were to become Prime Minister, they would echo the UK’s most consistent recent tradition: to become Prime Minister you need to have graduated from either Oxford or Cambridge.
Between 1905 and 1955, the UK had 11 Prime Ministers, of whom five didn’t graduate from Oxbridge: David Lloyd George (1916 to 1922) trained as a solicitor (which didn’t then require a university degree); Bonar Law (1922 to 1923) worked in his family’s merchant bank; James Ramsay MacDonald (1924 to 1924, 1929 to 1935) was a teaching assistant and then a journalist; Neville Chamberlain (1937 to 1940) went to Mason College in Birmingham, left without graduating and became an accountant; and Winston Churchill (1940 to 1945, 1951 to 1955) went to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst.
Between 1955 and 2005, the UK had nine Prime Ministers, of whom only two didn’t graduate from Oxbridge: James Callaghan (1976 to 1979), who left school at 17 to work in the Civil Service, and John Major (1990 to 1997), who left school at 16 to work for an insurance brokerage firm. (If I were to count Prime Ministers from 1955 to 2015, Gordon Brown graduated from Edinburgh, making three PMs out of 11 in sixty years not to graduate from Oxbridge.)
Who would I vote for Labour leader?
Glenda Jackson stood down in May 2015.
There was only one party whose manifesto in the 2015 election had aims and beliefs that I wholeheartedly supported, and it wasn’t Labour.
Today I took a short break from writing this blogpost and joined the Scottish Green Party.
I’ll be voting for none of the above.