Yvette Cooper claims another Tory PM for Labour: Robert Peel

The Tory love-in continues as Cooper praises Peel's "powerful principles".

Listening to Labour, one could be forgiven for wondering why anyone should have opposed the Conservative Party in the 19th century. After Ed Miliband's paean to Benjamin Disraeli yesterday, Yvette Cooper used her conference speech to pay tribute to another past Conservative prime minister - Robert Peel. The shadow home secretary said:

Down the road from here in Piccadilly Gardens stands a statue.

Sir Robert Peel, son of Bury, founder of the British police over 180 years ago.

Peel established powerful principles. Ed, you could call them One Nation principles – just a few decades earlier than Disraeli’s Free Trade Hall speech.

He said, “The police are the public, the public are the police.”

Able to uphold our laws not because of coercion but because of consent.

British police are not guards they are guardians.

Like Miliband, she invoked the Conservatives' past in order to damn their present.

Whatever happened to the party of Peel?

People used to think the Tories backed the police and supported law and order.

Not any more.

Weak on crime, weak on the causes of crime – that is David Cameron’s Conservative Party.

Elsewhere, channelling The Communist Manifesto, Cooper delivered the best line we've heard on "pleb gate".

So come on Conference, let’s bring on the plebiscite.

Plebs of the world unite, we have nothing to lose but this Government.

One trusts that Boris Johnson, who in his speech last year called for those who swear at the police to be arrested, is already preparing his own bon mots.

Yvette Cooper praised Robert Peel for establishing "powerful principles". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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What's going on in Northern Ireland?

Everything you need to know about why Northern Ireland is heading for an early election - and how it all works. 

Northern Irish voters will elect a new government, just seven months after the last election. Here’s what you need to know.

It all starts with something called the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), a scheme designed to encourage businesses to switch to renewable sources of heating, by paying them to do so. But the plan had two flaws. Firstly, there was no upper limit to how much you could receive under the scheme and secondly there was no requirement that the new heaters replace the old.

That led to businesses installing biomass boilers to heat rooms that had previously not been heated, including storage rooms and in some cases, empty sheds.

 The cost of the scheme has now run way over budget, and although the door has been closed to new entrants, existing participants in the scheme will continue collecting money for the next 20 years, with the expected bill for the Northern Irish assembly expected to reach £1bn.  

The row is politically contentious because Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, and the First Minister of Northern Ireland, was head of the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) when the scheme was rolled out, putting her at the heart of the row. Though there is no suggestion that she personally enriched herself or her allies, there are questions about how DETI signed off the scheme without any safeguards and why it took so long for the testimony of whistleblowers to be acted on.

The opposition parties have called for a full inquiry and for Foster to step down while that inquiry takes place, something which she has refused to do. What happened instead is that the Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, resigned his post, he said as a result of frustration with the DUP’s instrangience about the scheme.

Under the rules of the devolved assembly (of which, more below), the executive – the ministers tasked with running the government day-to-day must be compromised of politicians drawn from the parties that finish first and second in the vote, otherwise the administration is dissolved.  McGuinesss’ Sinn Fein finished second and their refusal to continue participating in the executive while Foster remains in place automatically triggers fresh elections.

Northern Ireland uses the single transferable vote (STV) to elect members of the legislative assembly (MLAs). Under STV, multiple MLAs are elected from a single constituency, to more accurately reflect the votes of the people who live there and, crucially, to prevent a repeat of the pattern of devolved rule under first-past-the-post, when prolonged one-party rule by the Unionist and Protestant majority contributed to a sense of political alienation among the Catholic minority.

Elections are contested across 18 seats, with five MPs elected to every seat. To further ensure that no part of the community is unrepresented in the running of the devolved assembly, the executive, too, is put together with a form of proportional representation. Not only does the executive require a majority in the legislature to pass its business, under a system of “mandatory coalition”, posts on the executive are allocated under the D’Hondt system of proportional representation, with posts on the executive allocated according to how well parties do, with the first party getting first pick, and so on until it comes back to the first party until all the posts are filled.

Although the parties which finish third and lower can opt out of taking their seats on the executive and instead oppose the government, if the first and second party don’t participate in the coalition, there is no government.

As it is highly unlikely that the DUP and Sinn Fein will not occupy the first and second places when the election is over, it is equally unlikely that a second election will do anything other than prolong the chaos and disunity at Stormont. 

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