Drowning in an ocean of sleaze

Owen Walker rounds up blog reaction to the week's revelations of dodgy dealings in Westminster

As the parliamentary sleaze-fest continued, with Labour passing the baton to the Tories over monetary irregularities, the blogosphere was quick to pounce. Bloggers from all quarters united in their condemnation of the Derek Conway & Sons revelations.

But Iain Dale outlined his reasons for not commenting on the Conway affair, and received a barrage of rebuttals from posters and bloggers alike. He writes: “I have no hesitation in telling you that Derek Conway is a friend of mine. Anything I have to say about his conduct, I will say to his face.”

Labour stalwart Phil Dilks sees hypocrisy in Dale’s stance: “Only a few days ago, Iain was quite happy to personally lead ‘the baying mob’ attacking Peter Hain for late reporting of private donations to fund an internal Labour Party election.”

Dizzy Thinks warns the financial misdemeanours of both parties could have murkier permutations: “Parties like the BNP will use these incidents and point out that they are not tainted by such things. You may think that people won’t vote in droves for the bigots and that is probably true, but the more they see the non-bigots acting so appallingly the more they will ponder of spoiling their ballots or protesting.”

While Chris Paul seeks to dispel any comparisons made over sleaze between Labour and the Tories, Recess Monkey has dug up a three-year-old Daily Telegraph article on Conway Junior mk 2 and his extravagant taste in clothing. He concludes: “I can’t help feeling pity for the boy unable to buy £2,000 suits. Perhaps he should have asked his boss for a pay rise?”

Paul Walters highlights the lack of sleaze on the PMQ agenda over recent weeks, with Labour and the Conservatives avoiding the issue for fear of what skeletons may lurk within their own party’s cupboards: “The parliamentary equivalent of dancing round the handbags or ‘don’t mention the war’. The three party ‘beasts’ have bitten so many chunks out of each other than there is now an uneasy truce.”

Finally, Nich Starling reflects on the Conservatives’ former criticism of student grants because they saw students being subsidised to earn a higher income at tax payers’ expense. He comments: “It is perhaps a real throwback that Derek Conway also appears to me to see his parliamentary allowance as a means of subsiding students, even if they are his sons.”

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.
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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.