Introducing Alastair Campbell

Shortly to guest edit the <em>New Statesman</em>, Tony Blair's former press secretary explains why h

I’m very grateful to the New Statesman for giving me the chance to be guest editor for a week. It has not always been my favourite reading, and no doubt there are some regular readers for whom I would not be Number 1 choice as guest editor.

But it continues to hold a significant place in the political and media landscape and I hope that for the week I am in charge, with the help of the usual NS team, we can put together something that is interesting, provocative and makes a contribution to debate on the progressive side of politics. I have already commissioned a few pieces from people as varied as myself, my partner and friends and colleagues in places high and low. But there are a couple of ideas, as I mentioned on my website, when I first announced I would be doing this, that will require reader input. First, I am on the lookout for three young people, 16-18, to tell us why they have joined one of the three main parties.

It angers me when middle-aged middle class people routinely say that young people are not interested in politics. My sense is that in many ways the young are more interested in political debate than the old. They’re just turned off by the way politics is debated and covered.

The second idea, which has already had some good ideas sent to my blog, is to ask readers to complete this sentence ...

"If I had one sentence to put into Labour’s manifesto for the next election, it would say this –"

The Tories may be ahead in the polls, but I still think the battle of ideas and serious policy debate on the left has more energy. I hope your response shows this. I have set one page aside already but if the response merits more, then I may have to spike one of my own pieces. If that isn’t an incentive ....

Contribute your own one sentence ideas for the Labour manifesto on Alastair Campbell's blog.

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.