The moment we will know who won Labour's leadership contest

The faces of the candidates and their aides may reveal all

We know that the result of the Labour leadership contest will be announced between 4pm and 5pm on Saturday 25 September, at the start of the party's annual conference in Manchester. We do not, however, know much more than that. The Labour party is being understandably vague about the details of who will know what when, and how exactly the announcement will be made. The party's press office indicates it will be putting out a fuller statement in due course. Privately, leadership candidates -- including those most likely to win -- are confused and apparently in the dark about the details. At least they say they are. Most people expect them to be sitting in a row, with other politicians and the media, at Manchester Central, in an Oscars-style ceremony as they announcement is made, probably by the party's General Secretary, Ray Collins.

However, I'm told that around ten minutes before the announcement is made public the contenders will be ushered into a room backstage to be told first. I'm told, too, that they are each allowed a "plus one" to accompany them, quickly to think through the political implications of the result and practice the message each candidate -- including the winner -- will have to deliver to the party and the public (all candidates will have to have prepared a speech). I gather that Ed Miliband has chosen his aide Stuart Wood, the former adviser to Gordon Brown, to be his plus one. David Miliband will be accompanied by his long-standing aide, Madlin Sadler. The other camps are remaining tight-lipped. What is clear however, is that it will be worth looking out for the faces of not just the candidates but their aides.

Meanwhile, a senior Labour source declines to comment on rumours that Gordon Brown wants to be involved in the announcement, passing on the Labour torch as Tony Blair did to him in 2007. But the source does confirm that, "Gordon will be involved in the conference in some way. The party will be given the opportunity to thank him for his years as prime minister and his many years as chancellor."

UPDATE: a Labour source has called back to confirm that the candidates will hear the result before the official announcement, with plus ones.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
Getty
Show Hide image

Boris Johnson is right about Saudi Arabia - but will he stick to his tune in Riyadh?

The Foreign Secretary went off script, but on truth. 

The difference a day makes. On Wednesday Theresa May was happily rubbing shoulders with Saudi Royalty at the Gulf Co-operation Council summit and talking about how important she thinks the relationship is.

Then on Thursday, the Guardian rained on her parade by publishing a transcript of her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, describing the regime as a "puppeteer" for "proxy wars" while speaking at an international conference last week.

We will likely never know how she reacted when she first heard the news, but she’s unlikely to have been happy. It was definitely off-script for a UK foreign secretary. Until Johnson’s accidental outburst, the UK-Saudi relationship had been one characterised by mutual backslapping, glamorous photo-ops, major arms contracts and an unlimited well of political support.

Needless to say, the Prime Minister put him in his place as soon as possible. Within a few hours it was made clear that his words “are not the government’s views on Saudi and its role in the region". In an unequivocal statement, Downing Street stressed that Saudi is “a vital partner for the UK” and reaffirmed its support for the Saudi-led air strikes taking place in Yemen.

For over 18 months now, UK fighter jets and UK bombs have been central to the Saudi-led destruction of the poorest country in the region. Schools, hospitals and homes have been destroyed in a bombing campaign that has created a humanitarian catastrophe.

Despite the mounting death toll, the arms exports have continued unabated. Whitehall has licensed over £3.3bn worth of weapons since the intervention began last March. As I write this, the UK government is actively working with BAE Systems to secure the sale of a new generation of the same fighter jets that are being used in the bombing.

There’s nothing new about UK leaders getting close to Saudi Arabia. For decades now, governments of all political colours have worked hand-in-glove with the arms companies and Saudi authorities. Our leaders have continued to bend over backwards to support them, while turning a blind eye to the terrible human rights abuses being carried out every single day.

Over recent years we have seen Tony Blair intervening to stop an investigation into arms exports to Saudi and David Cameron flying out to Riyadh to meet with royalty. Last year saw the shocking but ultimately unsurprising revelation that UK civil servants had lobbied for Saudi Arabia to sit on the UN Human Rights Council, a move which would seem comically ironic if the consequences weren’t so serious.

The impact of the relationship hasn’t just been to boost and legitimise the Saudi dictatorship - it has also debased UK policy in the region. The end result is a hypocritical situation in which the government is rightly calling on Russian forces to stop bombing civilian areas in Aleppo, while at the same time arming and supporting Saudi Arabia while it unleashes devastation on Yemen.

It would be nice to think that Johnson’s unwitting intervention could be the start of a new stage in UK-Saudi relations; one in which the UK stops supporting dictatorships and calls them out on their appalling human rights records. Unfortunately it’s highly unlikely. Last Sunday, mere days after his now notorious speech, Johnson appeared on the Andrew Marr show and, as usual, stressed his support for his Saudi allies.

The question for Johnson is which of these seemingly diametrically opposed views does he really hold? Does he believe Saudi Arabia is a puppeteer that fights proxy wars and distorts Islam, or does he see it as one of the UK’s closest allies?

By coincidence Johnson is due to visit Riyadh this weekend. Will he be the first Foreign Secretary in decades to hold the Saudi regime accountable for its abuses, or will he cozy up to his hosts and say it was all one big misunderstanding?

If he is serious about peace and about the UK holding a positive influence on the world stage then he must stand by his words and use his power to stop the arms sales and hold the UK’s "puppeteer" ally to the same standard as other aggressors. Unfortunately, if history is anything to go by, then we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Andrew Smith is a spokesman for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.