Whoever wins the Labour leadership must distance the party from Murdoch

In defence of Caroline Crampton

I have been surprised by the number of Labour people who have got in touch today to question the wisdom of my colleague Caroline Crampton's blog last night suggesting that David Miliband should look into the relationship between New Labour and the Murdochs. Surprised because the very idea of Labour distancing itself from the mogul's empire appears to be a non-starter int he eyes of many.

The ultra-close relationship between New Labour and Murdoch -- needless because Murdoch does not, contrary to conventional wisdom, determine the result of elections; he merely backs the winner -- is something I have been pursuing through the Freedom of Information Act for some time.

Any reflection on that relationship leads to the conclusion that it was one that -- as Neil Kinnock rightly and colourfully warned Alastair Campbell in the early days of Blair's premiership -- was a bad one for Labour. The support of the Sun, and the importance attached to that by New Labour figures, finally came back to haunt Labour dramatically at the last general election. But the poisonous effects of New Labour's courting of a right-wing press whose agenda was always diametrically opposed to Labour's could be seen well before that.

It would be to the credit of any new Labour leader to pursue his own agenda and not let it be influenced unnecessarily by outside forces ultimately out to get him. If the party can't get that at this stage then it has no hope of "moving on" from the Blair-Brown years.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

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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