Conference 2010 Lookahead | Tuesday 5 October

The who, when and where of today's Conservative party conference.

Look out for

Today's big speech will be from Iain Duncan Smith this afternoon at 14:30. Following George Osborne's announcement yesterday that universal child benefit would be cut, he will be under pressure to articulate his plan for the future of the entire benefit system. Critics of the child benefit cut, including from within the Conservative Party and the right-wing media, have called for the cut to be "softened", so Duncan Smith's response today will be closely scrutinised for signs of this.

In addition, David Cameron hinted in an interview this morning that child benefit would not be included in the planned "universal credit", as it would be tantamount to a "means testing system for every single family in the country", where as Iain Duncan Smith has previously suggested that child benefit would be part of the universal credit.

Signs of trouble

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, due to speak this morning, could be a source of concern for coalition operatives -- always unpredictable, this weekend he went on record to register his concern that Britain could be heading for a double-dip recession, striking a pessimistic note ahead of a conference at which the Tories will be striving to strike an optimistic note.

In addition to his economic pronouncements, the former chancellor will use his conference speech today to announce new plans to create jobs for prisoners. He is expected to announce plans to involve private companies in creating jobs for prisoners, and perhaps even the creation of special "workplace prisons". Tory grassroots are already reported to be unhappy with Clarke's previous announcements that rehabilitation and community sentences will be used to ease the burden on prisons, and today's speech, with its rhetoric about jails providing "a regime of hard work", will be an attempt by Clarke to appease his critics within his own party.

On the fringe

The New Statesman hosts a panel discussion, chaired by Mehdi Hasan, entitled Gaza life support: Is aid a failure of politics?, with Alan Duncan MP, Robin Kealy from Medical Aid to Palestine, NS contributor Ed Platt, and Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding. 1pm, Cullinan Suite, Copthorne Hotel.

Elsewhere, David Davis MP, Alex Deane of Big Brother Watch, and Matthew Elliott, founder of the Taxpayers' Alliance and campaign director for the No2AV campaign, come together for an event entitled Civil Liberties under the Coalition. 3.15pm, Austin Court.

Today's agenda

10:00 Public services - Andrew Lansley and Michael Gove

11.30 Cutting crime, reforming justice - Ken Clarke and Theresa May

14.30 Reforming welfare - Iain Duncan Smith

15.45 Tackling global poverty - Andrew Mitchell

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

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