Not even Paine could make Cameron a progressive

David Marquand is wrong to suggest that reading Thomas Paine could transform the Tory leader into a

I blogged last week about Thomas Paine's influence on Barack Obama, noting that the man once dismissed by Theodore Roosevelt as a "filthy little atheist" had been quoted several times by the US president.

In today's Guardian, David Marquand appears to suggest that Paine's revolutionary works could inspire David Cameron to undertake a thorough overhaul of Britain's archaic constitution.

Would a close reading of Common Sense or Rights of Man motivate the Tory leader to become a "true progressive" as Marquand hopes?

Cameron has previously cited Tony Benn's Arguments for Democracy as one of the books that triggered his interest in politics, so there's no reason why Paine couldn't make it on to his next summer reading list.

But less promisingly, Benn's text, which advances a number of Paine-type arguments for the abolition of the monarchy and hereditary peers as well as the disestablishment of the Church of England, seems to have had remarkably little influence on Cameron's politics.

I'm rather less optimistic than Marquand that Paine -- who famously declared that hereditary rule was "as absurd as a hereditary mathematician, or a hereditary wise man" -- could succeed where Benn failed.

Cameron has repeatedly made it clear that the removal of the remaining hereditary peers from the House of Lords is very much a second-order issue for his party.

As for Marquand's suggestion that Cameron could capture the "spirit of Milton and Paine", is he really suggesting that the Tory leader could take up the "good old cause"?

At a time when the Conservative Party has aligned itself with some of the most reactionary forces in Europe and Cameron has adopted the arguments of deficit hysterics, Marquand's contribution is sadly misguided.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech on the arts in north London on September 1, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Can Labour MPs force Corbyn to bring back shadow cabinet elections?

It is not up to the parliamentary party whether the contests are reintroduced. 

Soon after Jeremy Corbyn became the frontrunner in the Labour leadership contest, it was reported that he intended to bring back shadow cabinet elections. But as I later wrote, that's not the case. Corbyn has resolved that he will maintain the right to appoint his own team, rather than having it elected by MPs (as was the case before Ed Miliband changed the system in 2011). As he wrote in the NS: "Whoever emerges as leader on 12 September needs a shadow cabinet in place as soon as possible. I will appoint a strong, diverse shadow cabinet to hold this government to account from day one."

Now, ahead of his likely victory a week on Saturday, Corbyn is under pressure from some MPs to reverse his stance. Barry Sheerman, the former education select commitee chair, told me that he wanted a "serious discussion" within the PLP about the return of the elections. While some support their reinstatement on principled grounds, others recognise that there is a tactical advantage in Corbyn's opponents winning a mandate from MPs. His hand would be further weakened (he has the declared support of just 14 of his Commons colleagues). 

But their reinstatement is not as simple as some suggest. One senior MP told me that those demanding their return "had not read the rule book". Miliband's decision to scrap the elections was subsequently approved at party conference meaning that only this body can revive them. A simple majority of MPs is not enough. 

With Corbyn planning to have a new team in place as soon as possible after his election, there is little prospect of him proposing such upheaval at this point. Meanwhile, Chuka Umunna has attracted much attention by refusing to rule out joining the left-winger's shadow cabinet if he changes his stances on nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation (a lengthy list). Umunna is unlikely to remain on the frontbench but having previously pledged not to serve, he now recognises that there is value in being seen to at least engage with Corbyn. Were he to simply adopt a stance of aggression, he would risk being blamed if the backbencher failed. It is one example of how the party's modernisers recognise they need to play a smarter game. I explore this subject further in my column in tomorrow's NS

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.