That Tessa Jowell rumour: the truth

Resignation threats, the NS and lazy misreporting

Pleasing to see's exclusives here and here about Tessa Jowell picked up last night and this morning by the wires, the Daily Mail and other online outlets, including Iain Dale.

Less gratifying to see it misreported by Sky News and -- more wildly -- the Guardian.

The former implies that Jowell denies our story, and that our story was that Jowell was set to resign. The latter, pretty outrageously, claims that: "Tessa Jowell, the cabinet office minister, was wrongly named on a website, and forced to ring No 10 to deny she was leaving the government."

This has been "wrongly" reported, to coin a phrase. Anyone who actually read either my very brief initial story or my subsequent analysis will have seen straight away that my line was precisely that Jowell was not quitting government; that instead she had spoken by telephone to No 10 to deny the rumour which already centred around her.

So, just to be clear: it is reporting the facts "wrongly" to say that she called No 10 after my report appeared. I was the one who reported that call. I even reported a well-placed source -- who knew about the contents of the call -- saying that "Tessa is in a good place with Gordon at the moment".

I hope that is clear. Forgive this obscurity, but the Labour leadership question is a complicated one, and with events moving fast it is important to clarify the details. Incidentally, I received a call late last night from a very senior rebel who said that "Brown will be gone by the end of the week". I still doubt that, for the same reasons I outlined yesterday and, similarly, at the turn of the year, but we shall see.


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James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

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