Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten-must read pieces from this morning's papers

1. If you're disillusioned with Obama, you don't understand how he won (Guardian)

Gary Younge says that the distance between the aspirations Barack Obama raised and his record a year on is the distinction between the electoral and the political. Now he must move beyond lofty rhetoric to make a real difference.

2. Gordon Brown's election strategy is doomed, but you have to admire the cheek of it (Daily Telegraph)

The PM's bare-faced efforts to scare Mondeo Man away from the Tories will make this a roller-coaster election, says Matthew d'Ancona, discussing Brown's speech at the Fabian New Year Conference.

3. Don't blame the Haitians for doubting US promises (Independent)

Isabel Hilton asks whether the fate of this quake-ravaged nation will once again be decided by outsiders, and looks at its history to understand the context.

4. Fear of the poor is hampering Haiti rescue (Times)

Meanwhile, at the Times, Linda Polman argues that one reason aid is taking so long to get to those in need is that American views rule amid the rubble of Port-au-Prince.

5. Flu, fear and floods: how to avoid excessive precaution (Financial Times)

Money spent on preparing for disasters that do not occur -- or have a lower impact than anticipated -- is not all wasted, say Andrew Jack and Clive Cookson.

6. Polls dictate the state of play. And sometimes get it wrong (Guardian)

Julian Glover looks at the British poll, saying that the possibility of error in tracking voting intentions is increased by a spiral of silence. Labour shouldn't write off the election yet.

7. Put happiness on the election agenda (Independent)

We should consider the effect of policies on people's well-being, says Geoff Mulgan of the Young Foundation, citing research showing that public policy which considers happiness is much more effective.

8. They know it's all over bar the shouting (Times)

William Rees-Mogg discusses a new, critical report by the Institute for Government. After 13 years of personal infighting, even this academic study says, No 10 is out of control.

9. The full, sapping cost of the Blair-Brown war is now clear (Guardian)

Over at the Guardian, Jackie Ashley largely agrees. She says there are late signs of life, but years of infighting have drained Labour of the energy, ingenuity and imagination to rule.

10. A tale of two types of city (Independent)

The Independent's leading article discusses the widening economic gap between different conurbations in the UK.


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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.