Young Labour battle commences

December 24, 2006

The biennial battle for the yoof spot on Labour’s NEC is ready to kick off in the New Year, bringing a nostalgic tear to this correspondent’s eye for some of the hilarious antics through which previous elections were stitched up by the powers that be.

This year’s “official” candidate is Stephanie Peacock, whose main claim to fame is her public defence of top-up fees on these grounds: “It’s only fair that if you use a service you should pay towards it.” Let’s hope they don’t let her anywhere near the rest of our public services.

Standing from the moderate wing of the party is young trade union activist Daniel Carden. The Daily hopes he mounts a credible challenge, if just in the hope that there will be some entertaining constitutional contortions by Labour Students’ fixers in their efforts to stop him.


Ann Black vs Hayden-Phillips

December 18, 2006

Ann Black published her report of last week’s NEC over the weekend. The account shows how wide the NEC consensus was against the Hayden-Phillips proposals and how members were alarmed at the apparent double dealing from No. 10.

Party Funding: Facts and Rumours

Mike Griffiths and Hazel Blears summarised the story so far.  In the wake of the loans affair, Sir Hayden Phillips was charged with reviewing party funding.  A working group chaired by Jack Straw oversaw the drafting of Labour’s submission, agreed by the NEC and by conference.  On 16 November Hayden Phillips published an interim report posing specific questions, including whether there should be a limit on donations.  The Labour party responded in line with conference policy.  On 4 December Hayden Phillips issued more detailed proposals. 

Some were regarded as acceptable, including increased transparency, better enforcement, national and local spending limits, and state funding for purposes such as training candidates and improving feedback from Partnership in Power. 

Others were alarming.  All donations, from individuals and from organisations, would be capped.  Trade unions would no longer operate a collective system of affiliated membership through their political funds.  Instead affiliation would become “individualised”: the party would have to write to over 3 million union members, every year, explaining how their contribution had been spent and reminding them that they could choose to stop paying. 

As Hayden Phillips said, in a masterpiece of understatement, “the proposals will be especially demanding for the trade unions.  They will need to introduce new systems and new accounting arrangements”.  And for the party, the average affiliation payment of £3 a year would be entirely consumed by paperwork.  A Thatcherite dream come true.

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Blair’s legacy: a break with the unions?

December 13, 2006

If reports in the Guardian (twice), Times and Telegraph are right, Blair’s Christmas present to the Labour party is set to be a proposed break with the trade unions.  Hayden Phillips – the man asked to looked into funding issues surrounding big businessmen buying peerages – seems to have gone off on one and come up with radical proposals on all aspects of party funding. 

Reports have dribbling out of Westminster like undercooked fat out of a turkey’s backside this week, but piecing everything together, Hayden Phillips looks set to propose:

* Capping trade union and corporate donations, lumping collective organisations of millions, with democratic structures and accountability, in the same boat as the spivs and fat cats in the city.

* Ending collective affiliation of trade union members to the Labour party, replacing it with individualised membership for levy payers, direct with the party – not through the union.

* Forcing unions (or the party itself) to check in with members every single yearif they want to continue their new indivdualised membership of the party.  (Unions currently have to consult members in a ballot on continuing collective membership every ten years.)

* BUT – cleverly, Phillips will allow individual members of unions to give “up to £50,000”, just like rich businessmen.  Which is, we’re sure, a huge relief to dinner ladies in UNISON and bus drivers in the T&G.

The proposals have the “sympathy” of the Prime Minister and according to the Guardian, “Mr Blair and Mr Cameron discussed the inquiry during a private meeting last month”.  Labour MPs are apparently up in arms and – the Telegraph tells us – held a meeting on Monday night to discuss the issue.

If MPs are “ballistic” about these proposals, they might want to do something about it.  Someone in the government or in the unions is telling the Guardian, the Times and the Telegraph what is going on — but from where party members are sitting, it looks like all MPs have done so far is having a bit of a meeting.  MP Kevan Jones, in the Telegraph, stuck his head above the parapet, calling TU donations “the most democratic and transparent money of all”.  However, Nick Palmer busy commenting on politicalbetting.com, tells us that the rumours are so bad that they can’t be true. 

That’s not good enough.

Labour people don’t agree on every issue, but there is real consensus across the whole party on the importance of the party-union link.  The bottom line is that if we end the union link – which these proposals would do – then the party is over.  

Since 2003, reports have suggested Blair has been worried that his legacy will the disasterous mess which is Iraq.  But Blair now has a cunning plan to erase that from memory – instead, he is going to leave us a disastrous mess of a Labour Party in meltdown.


Polling and the deputy leadership

December 6, 2006

Harriet Harman’s campaign were so pleased with their specially-commissioned YouGov poll last week that Harman cheerleader Joan Ruddock has sent out their analysis of the results to every member of the PLP in a round-robin email. So far, the only public reaction has been an interrogatory reply from John Spellar (the PLP’s answer to Luke Akehurst) questioning whether Harman is sufficiently in love with nuclear missiles to be worthy of his consideration, regardless of her supposed electoral appeal.

But when you cut through the spin, what do the polling results actually mean? Mike Smithson has already written a pretty solid rebuttal of Harman’s main line of argument over at pb.com and we would (belatedly) echo his points. 

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By popular demand… Hain Pt 3

December 6, 2006

In today’s exert from the interview that keeps on giving, Peter Hain ponders on his own status as an international man of mystery, and expresses some John Reid style views on Muslims…

More importantly, I wonder if a Brown/Hain double act will appeal to the electorate. ‘Neither of you are English,’ I say. ‘In the light of a public mood favouring an independent England, do you think voters will put up with two foreigners running the country?’

Hain answers meditatively: ‘I have asked myself this question long and hard, because whoever takes the deputy leadership has to help win the election. So I consulted Labour MPs in marginal seats.

‘I concluded that most people think of me as international and classless. I have integrated. When I see Muslims not making the effort, I worry — it’s dangerous.’

Suggesting Muslims are “dangerous” cannot be the most sensible thing that a politician can do.  Mind you, it doesn’t seem to have done Jack Straw a huge amount of harm.

More from the Hain Petsy Wyatt face-off same time tomorrow.


Wonks: Fight for hospital closures

December 5, 2006

The IPPR’s Richard Brokes argues today that, “people should be out on the streets campaigning for changes to NHS services to protect the health of their families, not to keep services the way they are.” 

This highly controversial argument will be a boon to the Government, who, it is revealed today, are very worried about the public’s rejection of NHS market reforms.

The IPPR argue that campaigns to save hospital departments may be causing “1,000 unnecessary deaths” a year. To do this they take Lancet research that shows that patients fare better in new, specialist units, and say that if patients were taken to specialist units, instead of local hospitals, more lives would be saved.

This sounds like research that will have to be looked at very closely, but one thing springs to mind immediately. Surely any benefit that can be gained from specialist units will be lost from the fact that patients have to travel further. If heart attack victims face a greater delay for treatment then surely more will die before they even get to the modern units.

It missed out on another thing. Cardiac units are just one service offered in local hospitals. Once services are shipped out of local hospitals, they tend to lose more and more. Surgery is diverted elsewhere, and so are A&E departments. Once those are gone, a community really does face problems in getting to other hospitals that can be many miles away.

There is nothing wrong with genuine modernisation. It is good to have specialist units backing up good local hospitals. It is also good for minor procedures to be moved out into well trained doctors’ centres. However, the research carried out by the IPPR seems questionable and aimed to give political cover, rather than being part of a genuine debate about which services are best provided where.


When interviews go wrong (part 1)

December 4, 2006

Today’s Daily Mail (no link) contains an excellent example of why, no matter how desperate a Minister is for publicity, there are some interviews that should be refused. Peter Hain’s interview with Petronella Wyatt should be taught in Spin Doctoring 101 as an example of how not to do it.

The appalling results of the decision to speak to Wyatt are not online (and we hope readers don’t buy the Daily Mail) so The Daily has decided to offer highlights through the week.

Today’s gem comes in response to a question on his use of Hillsborough Castle, the Northern Ireland’s Secretary’s stately home:

‘We all play football in the throne room,’ he boasts.

‘Are you trying to be cool and rebellious?’ I ask censoriously.

‘No,’ he says hastily. ‘We have great respect for the throne room — we were very careful. It was a very small football.’

More of that sort of cutting edge chit-chat same time tomorrow.