Gordon Brown’s hot date

Why Brown decided to go for a May election.

The election will be on 6 May, but your correspondent has discovered that the Prime Minister briefly considered other spring dates. Gordon Brown instructed Ray Collins, Labour's general secretary, to send contingency proposals for a contest in March or April to Downing Street. But Broon decided to stick with May when Collins replied that the cash-strapped party had no plan B, let alone a plan C or D. So 6 May it is, by default as well as calculation.

Philip Hammond MP, "Boy George" Osborne's ambitious deputy, must be worth a few bob. A cameraman halted an interview outside Sky's landlocked Osterley HQ after the guest -- me, since you ask -- was drowned out by what sounded like a motorboat. The vessel turned out to be Hammond's enormous Jaguar, a gas-guzzling beast that looked big enough to fit "Two Jags" Prescott in the boot. The Tory era of "Vote blue, go green" is over. Nor is the "Age of Austerity" likely to worry a property developer who moonlights as the shadow bean-counter and would scythe public services.

Campaigning in Doc Martens rather than behind the wheel, meanwhile, will be Hilary Benn. The cabinet minister, a member of the nearest thing Westminster has to a dynasty, has bought only that brand of shoes, originally designed for factory workers, for two decades. His father, Tony, was painted in Doc Martens for a portrait that now hangs in the House of Commons. Persuading him to buy them, sniffs Benn Jr, is the sole political influence he has had on his illustrious forebear.

No sign of Tory wobbles as Michael Gove and Boris Johnson enjoyed what a snout described as a "very jolly" lunch at a pizza joint near City Hall. Is Gove hedging his bets by selling Cameroons and buying BoJos?

You meet the most unlikely sorts in the Strangers' Bar. Howard Crosby, nephew of Bing, popped in for a swifty recently. Burly Brian Binley, Northampton's Tory bruiser, took the amateur crooner-cum-businessman to dinner. Crosby Jr sang for his supper, warbling a few of his uncle's hits, including "White Christmas" and "Pennies from Heaven". Binley likes the sound of his own voice but was persuaded to listen rather than join in, a fellow Tory comparing his vocal style to a backfiring motorbike.

Some MPs find it hard to step aside when retiring. Which may explain why James Purnell is telephone-lobbying Labour members to back his favoured Stalybridge and Hyde candidate. Calling, that is, from India.

Andy "I Knew Nothing" Coulson gets in a tizz most evenings after ringing the Sun (presumably on an unbugged phone) for a sneak preview of the Wapping rag's YouGov daily poll. A Tory mole whispered that the spinner dreads informing Cameron and Osborne of dips and leads that are still stuck in single figures. The Bullingdon Boys have started, I hear, to take it out on the messenger.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

This article appears in this week's special double issue of the New Statesman.

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Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 05 April 2010 issue of the New Statesman, GOD

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How the row over Jackie Walker triggered a full-blown war in Momentum

Jon Lansman, the organisation's founder, is coming under attack. 

The battle for control within Momentum, which has been brewing for some time, has begun in earnest.

In a sign of the growing unrest within the organisation – established as the continuation of Jeremy Corbyn’s first successful leadership bid, and instrumental in delivering in his re-election -  a critical pamphlet by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL), a Trotskyite grouping, has made its way into the pages of the Times, with the “unelected” chiefs of Momentum slated for turning the organisation into a “bland blur”.

The issue of contention: between those who see Momentum as an organisation to engage new members of the Labour party, who have been motivated by Jeremy Corbyn but are not yet Corbynites.

One trade unionist from that tendency described what they see the problem as like this: “you have people who have joined to vote for Jeremy, they’re going to meetings, but they’re voting for the Progress candidates in selections, they’re voting for Eddie Izzard [who stood as an independent but Corbynsceptic candidate] in the NEC”.  

On the other are those who see a fightback by Labour’s right and centre as inevitable, and who are trying to actively create a party within a party for what they see as an inevitable purge. One activist of that opinion wryly described Momentum as “Noah’s Ark”.

For both sides, Momentum, now financially stable thanks to its membership, which now stands at over 20,000, is a great prize. And in the firing line for those who want to turn Momentum into a parallel line is Jon Lansman, the organisation’s founder.

Lansman, who came into politics as an aide to Tony Benn, is a figure of suspicion on parts of the broad left due to his decades-long commitment to the Labour party. His major opposition within Momentum and on its ruling executive comes from the AWL.

The removal of Jackie Walker as a vice-chair of Momentum after she said that Holocaust Memorial Day belittled victims of other genocides has boosted the AWL, although the AWL's Jill Mountford, who sits on Momentum's ruling executive, voted to remove Walker as vice-chair. (Walker remains on the NEC, as she has been elected by members). But despite that, the AWL, who have been critical of the process whereby Walker lost her post, have felt the benefit across the country.

Why? Because that battle has triggered a series of serious splits, not only in Momentum’s executive but its grassroots. A raft of local groups have thrown out the local leadership, mostly veterans of Corbyn’s campaign for the leadership, for what the friend of one defeated representative described as “people who believe the Canary [a pro-Corbyn politics website that is regularly accused of indulging and promoting conspiracy theories]”.

In a further series of reverses for the Lansmanite caucus, the North West, a Momentum stronghold since the organisation was founded just under a year ago, is slipping away from old allies of Lansman and towards the “new” left. As one insider put it, the transition is from longstanding members towards people who had been kicked out in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Neil Kinnock. The constituency party of Wallasey in particular is giving senior figures in Momentum headaches just as it is their opponents on the right of the party, with one lamenting that they have “lost control” of the group.

It now means that planned changes to Momentum’s structure, which the leadership had hoped to be rubberstamped by members, now face a fraught path to passage.

Adding to the organisation’s difficulties is the expected capture of James Schneider by the leader’s office. Schneider, who appears widely on television and radio as the public face of Momentum and is well-liked by journalists, has an offer on the table to join Jeremy Corbyn’s team at Westminster as a junior to Seumas Milne.

The move, while a coup for Corbyn, is one that Momentum – and some of Corbyn’s allies in the trade union movement – are keen to resist. Taking a job in the leader’s office would reduce still further the numbers of TV-friendly loyalists who can go on the airwaves and defend the leadership. There is frustration among the leader’s office that as well as Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, who are both considered to be both polished media performers and loyalists, TV bookers turn to Ken Livingstone, who is retired and unreliable, and Paul Mason, about whom opinions are divided within Momentum. Some regard Mason as a box office performer who needs a bigger role, others as a liability.

But all are agreed that Schneider’s expected departure will weaken the media presence of Corbyn loyalists and also damage Momentum. Schneider has spent much of his time not wrangling journalists but mediating in local branches and is regarded as instrumental in the places “where Momentum is working well” in the words of one trade unionist. (Cornwall is regarded as a particular example of what the organisation should be aiming towards)

It comes at a time when Momentum’s leadership is keen to focus both on its external campaigns but the struggle for control in the Labour party. Although Corbyn has never been stronger within the party, no Corbynite candidate has yet prevailed in a by-election, with the lack of available candidates at a council level regarded as part of the problem. Councilors face mandatory reselection as a matter of course, and the hope is that a bumper crop of pro-Corbyn local politicians will go on to form the bulk of the talent pool for vacant seats in future by-elections and in marginal seats at the general election.

But at present, a draining internal battle is sapping Momentum of much of its vitality. But Lansman retains two trump cards. The first is that as well as being the founder of the organisation, he is its de facto owner: the data from Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaigns, without which much of the organisation could not properly run, is owned by a limited company of which he is sole director. But “rolling it up and starting again” is very much the nuclear option, that would further delay the left’s hopes of consolidating its power base in the party.

The second trump card, however, is the tribalism of many of the key players at a local level, who will resist infiltration by groups to Labour’s left just as fiercely as many on the right. As one veteran of both Corbyn’s campaigns reflected: “If those who have spent 20 years attacking our party think they have waiting allies in the left of Labour, they are woefully mistaken”. 

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