Where's the shadow cabinet? Mehdi Hasan asks

If Ed Miliband is under fire, doesn't he need public and visible backing from his frontbench colleages?

The NS blogger Dan Hodges has referred to it as Ed Miliband's "Bloody Sunday" -- Sunday 12 June. It was the day that the Independent on Sunday, the Observer, the Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday -- which ran extracts from my new biography of the Labour leader -- all contained stories about plots, coups and threats to Miliband's leadership, specifically from his elder brother, David.

In my feature in tomorrow's New Statesman, I point out that the real damage to Ed Miliband may have been done by his frontbench colleagues, who were nowhere to be seen that Sunday.

From my piece:

The fallout from the book's revelations and the Guardian splash were handled badly by Team Ed. Why was it left to Charles Falconer, the former lord chancellor and close ally of David -- who, admittedly, has since become an informal adviser to the younger Miliband -- to come out in defence of the Labour leader on the BBC?

"The responsibility lies with the shadow cabinet," says a former Labour cabinet minister. "When they were the victim of 'plot' and 'coup' rumours, Tony and Gordon would always use the trick of sending four or five cabinet heavyweights on to the airwaves to shut the story down. If I were Ed, my eyes would be swivelling to Douglas Alexander, Yvette Cooper and Caroline Flint. Why haven't they come out to defend him?"

Good question. Where is the shadow cabinet?

On a side but self-promoting note, you can pre-order my new book Ed: the Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader, co-authored with James Macintyre, here.

UPDATE:

It has been pointed out to me that the shadow health secretary, John Healey, appeared on Sky News's Murnaghan show and BBC1's Politics Show last Sunday. He also penned pieces in the Independent on Sunday and the News of the World -- though these were on his health brief and not on his leader. He was, therefore, out and about. Nonetheless, I think the wider point still stands. There has been a clear sense that Miliband is on his own, fending for himself at the top of the Labour Party. If he is to succeed over the lifetime of this parliament, then that has to change. A shadow cabinet has to be more than a cabinet of shadows. The leader of a party needs the loud and constant support of his party.

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Taking back control... in the workplace

It’s time to reboot dignity and respect at work, says Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC

Jess* lives in a small town in the north-west and is on a zero-hours contract. Some weeks she could work up to 50 hours, but others she works as few as 30. And when she got ill, her company refused to pay her sick pay. Sarah* is 38 and lives in a big city. She is employed through an agency and although she has worked more than 12 weeks for the same employer, she feels like she’ll never get the same status as permanent staff. She told the TUC: “I feel frustrated at the lack of permanent jobs in the market and how little control you have as an agency worker. Everything in my life feels temporary at the moment. My experience of agency working is that you are on the bottom rung. You can’t speak out or you won’t get work.”

Wherever you go in the UK, the story is the same. Too many working people are stuck in jobs that don’t offer enough pay or enough security to build a life on – in short, there’s not enough control. Working for the TUC, I hear these stories every week. Stories of workers who don’t know from one day to the next whether they’ll work that day. Working people in all sorts of jobs who can’t raise problems at work, because on today’s “flexible” contracts: the boss doesn’t need to sack you, he can just take away next week’s hours. Delivery drivers who have found themselves deactivated without warning. Warehouse pickers red-flagged by a gadget that decides they are too slow. And stories from careworkers whose work lives are governed by the ping of an app – but who never get enough time to meet their elderly clients’ needs.

This is the reality of work for too many people now. Isolated from colleagues and at the beck and call of their boss. Without the small measure of security granted by a permanent contract and some basic employment rights. It all leaves hard-working people with precious little dignity or control. The time is ripe for a new deal for working people – and that’s what must be on offer at this election. For a start, as we leave the European Union, every party must guarantee that our rights at work don’t go backwards. Hard-won rights such as holiday pay and protection from pregnancy discrimination came from the EU. We can’t afford to lose these rights after we leave – and we need to know that they can’t be watered down on the quiet by judges or by parliament.

And in the years to come we have to make sure that hard-working Brits won’t miss out on new protections that Dutch, Spanish and German workers get. That’s why the final Brexit deal has to include a level playing field on workers’ rights – making sure they will always be as good as or better than what’s on offer to the rest of the EU. Second, the rules to protect working people haven’t kept up with how working lives have changed. One in ten workers is already in insecure work – and if nothing changes, 290,000 more people will join them by the next general election in 2022. That’s the equivalent of 13 extra Sports Directs, or the entire working population of Sheffield.

These jobs don’t pay enough and they push all the risks on to the workers. Paying rent and bills can be a nightmare when you don’t know how much you’ve got coming in each month. Britain’s 900,000 zero-hours contract workers earn a third less per hour than the average worker. And every worker pushed into false self-employment loses their rights to sick pay and paid holiday. If Britain aspires to become a high-skill, high-productivity economy, the next government must drag the rules about work into the 21st century. Promising a review isn’t enough; every party must make real commitments to crack down on zero-hours contracts and bogus self-employment, and make sure agency workers always get the going rate for the job.

And Britain still needs a pay rise. Rising inflation and slow wage growth means a new living standards crisis is coming. And we’re still in the longest pay squeeze since Victorian times: workers are on average over £1,000 worse off each year in real terms than they were in 2008. Over the coming parliament, the minimum wage needs a serious boost, so that it reaches £10 per hour as soon  as possible. We need to get more people covered by collective bargaining agreements that raise wages and skill levels. And it’s time for the government to stop artificially holding down public servants’ pay. By 2020, midwives and nurses will have seen their real pay fall by over £3,000 – scarcely the right reward for years of dedicated public service.

Of course, the best way to raise wages is to bring great jobs to every corner of the country. In both 2014 and 2015, London’s growth was double that of the average across the rest of the UK. We still lag behind our competitors on the infrastructure we need to help the whole country – such as modern transport links and fast broadband. And our investment in infrastructure is the lowest in the OECD. More than ever we need an industrial strategy that delivers good jobs to the parts of the UK where they’re needed most. Improving the lives of ordinary working people and giving them back control of their rights – that’s what all of the major parties should be prioritising this election.

** Names have been altered to protect people’s anonymity.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC. 

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