Time to rein in the wreckless

Former Labour minister turned thinktank chief Chris Leslie gives his reaction to Alistair Darling's

Alistair's speech to conference today may not be the talk of the bar at the Midland Hotel - most delegates wanted far more radicalism - but there's no doubt that it was the most significant contribution to the actual debates so far.

He didn't detail a raft of policy specifics, nor did he commit to new spending plans. But the Chancellor did signal that the normal market orthodoxies which have let rip in the city are at last facing the prospect of restraint and accountability.

This is seismic stuff and Labour's leadership would do well to capture the imagination of the vast majority of the British public by acting decisively to curb excessive speculation and the perverse bonus culture that has fuelled the recent financial turmoil.

It's not only morally right that Labour reins in those wrecklessly gambling with the livelihoods of others, it is essential if we are to rebuild an efficient and successful economy.

Short-selling stocks and talking down the prospects of companies can become a cancer that deters long term investment and destabilises rationale investment choices.

We are witnessing the dawning realisation that markets have their limits, that at the edges of economics there are vital political interests, and that those advocating sturdy regulation and transparency have been right all along.

Britain now has an opportunity to lead the world in the design of a fairer and more open system of international checks and balances. And Labour should highlight the reliance of the Tories on the old laissez faire paradigms now wholly defunct.

Gordon will need to maintain early momentum and strike while the iron is hot. In the new circumstances we find ourselves in there is a real chance to put Cameron on the back foot, especially if hypothecating some tax revenues from the very richest and giving a tax break to the vast majority.

The Tories like to talk about "sharing the proceeds of growth". Those whose wealth has ballooned unfairly during the boom times should be asked to share some of the proceeds of their privileged growth with ordinary working people.

The Tories cannot afford to oppose any reasonable moves to tax and regulate the super-rich. There is a new licence to act boldly in the air and Labour must capitalise on that new mood.

Hinting at changes and chiming with some of the instincts of Labour's delegates is sufficient for this week, but the real test will be on policy activism in Alistair's pre budget report.

Chris Leslie is chair of Labour's backbench Treasury committee.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.