Roy vs David: Mehdi Hasan on a political showdown

Labour's former deputy leader strikes back against Labour's former foreign secretary.

In all the hype and hyperbole surrounding David Miliband's latest "attack" on Ed Miliband, it is important to remember that the former foreign secretary's headline-grabbing essay in this week's New Statesman was meant, formally at least, to be a response to a long article on social democracy written by Roy Hattersley and academic Kevin Hickson and published in Political Quarterly late last year.

For example, Miliband writes:

Roy has been pretty consistent in his views over 40 years, even if the framing labels in the party (right, left, new, old, radical, conservative) have swivelled around him. His commentary on politics is born not of self-promotion but out of belief. But that doesn't mean he is right.

In today's Guardian, however, Hattersley responds to Miliband's critique - and he doesn't pull any punches:

Understandably, David bridles at criticism of the governments in which he served. We have no doubt that they did much of which the Labour party can be proud. We said so when we campaigned for its re-election. David makes the tired old jibe about the luxury of "principle without power". But we believe that future office will elude us until we establish a distinctive radical reputation. That requires a leader who has the courage and character to acknowledge the fundamental flaws in New Labour thinking. It is one of the reasons why we voted for Ed Miliband 18 months ago.

You can read Hattersley's full piece here.

Meanwhile, in the Telegraph today, Matthew Norman, in his own inimitable style, lets rip at the elder Miliband:

Little Ed may have lethal presentational problems, but he also has guts. When he wanted the leadership, he rang the doorbell and charged into the house, even though it meant trampling over his poor old mum's heart. David, no lavishly gifted communicator himself, is a castrato. He is the countertenor in the Labour choir, singing a self-pitying requiem to the death of personal ambition at a pitch to shatter glass.

Ouch.

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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In the row over public sector pay, don't forget that Theresa May is no longer in charge

Downing Street's view on public sector pay is just that – Conservative MPs pull the strings now.

One important detail of Theresa May’s deal with the Democratic Unionist Party went unnoticed – that it was not May, but the Conservatives’ Chief Whip, Gavin Williamson, who signed the accord, alongside his opposite number, the DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson.

That highlighted two things: firstly that the Conservative Party is already planning for life after May. The deal runs for two years and is bound to the party, not the leadership of Theresa May. The second is that while May is the Prime Minister, it is the Conservative Party that runs the show.

That’s an important thing to remember about today’s confusion about whether or not the government will end the freeze in public sector pay, where raises have been capped at one per cent since 2012 and have effectively been frozen in real terms since the financial crisis.

Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, signalled that the government could end the freeze, as did Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary. (For what it’s worth, Gavin Barwell, now Theresa May’s chief of staff, said before he took up the post that he thought anger at the freeze contributed to the election result.)

In terms of the government’s deficit target, it’s worth remembering that they can very easily meet Philip Hammond’s timetable and increase public sector pay in line with inflation. They have around £30bn worth of extra wriggle room in this year alone, and ending the pay cap would cost about £4.1bn.

So the Conservatives don’t even have to U-turn on their overall target if they want to scrap the pay freeze.

And yet Downing Street has said that the freeze remains in place for the present, while the Treasury is also unenthusiastic about the move. Which in the world before 8 June would have been the end of it.

But the important thing to remember about the government now is effectively the only minister who isn’t unsackable is the Prime Minister. What matters is the mood, firstly of the Cabinet and of the Conservative parliamentary party.

Among Conservative MPs, there are three big areas that, regardless of who is in charge, will have to change. The first is that they will never go into an election again in which teachers and parents are angry and worried about cuts to school funding – in other words, more money for schools. The second is that the relationship with doctors needs to be repaired and reset – in other words, more money for hospitals.

The government can just about do all of those things within Hammond’s more expansive target. And regardless of what Hammond stood up and said last year, what matters a lot more than any Downing Street statement or Treasury feeling is the mood of Conservative MPs. It is they, not May, that pulls the strings now.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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