Election 2010 Lookahead: Friday 23 April

The who, when and where of the campaign.

With another 15 days to go in this election campaign, here is what is happening today:

Labour

Recovering from last night's debate Gordon Brown will hold a press conference alongside Business Secretary Lord Mandelson and Deputy Labour Party leader and Equality Minister Harriet Harman in central London (9.45am). Labour candidate Sam Townend will debate with Charlotte Leslie (Conservative) and Paul Harrod (Liberal Democrat) in a City-centre debate for the three-way marginal constituency of Bristol North West at College Green, Bristol (12.30pm).

Conservatives

Conservative candidate Charlotte Leslie will take part in a debate with Sam Townend (Labour) and Paul Harrod (Liberal Democrat) for the three-way marginal constituency of Bristol North West at College Green, Bristol (12.30pm). David Cameron will face a grilling from Jeremy Paxman later on this evening (See below).

Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg returns to the campaign trail, visiting Newcastle Aviation Academy in Woolsington with Lib Dem candidate for Newcastle North Ron Beadle (11am) before heading south to meet staff at Morrison's supermarket on Albion Way in Norwich with Lib Dem candidate for Norwich South Simon Wright (2.30pm). Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat candidate Paul Harrod will debate with Sam Townend (Labour) and Charlotte Leslie (Conservative Party) in a City-centre debate for the three-way marginal constituency of Bristol North West at College Green, Bristol (12.30pm).

In The Media

BBC Radio 4's Today Programme included interviews with representatives of the BNP, UKIP, Green Party, SNP and Plaid Cymru following yesterday evening's televised election leaders' debate. Nihal's Asian Network Election Special (1pm) on BBC Asian Network will feature a panel of politicians from the three main parties: Ajmal Masroor (Liberal Democrats), Priti Patel (Conservative Party), and Transport Minister Sadiq Khan (Labour Party). David Cameron gets the Jeremy Paxman treatment tonight when he is grilled by the veteran political broadcaster for a BBC election special, Jeremy Paxman Interviews: David Cameron, (8.30pm).

Other parties

The BNP will reportedly launch its 2010 general election manifesto in Stoke-on-Trent today. Party leader Nick Griffin is currently standing for election in Barking on against Labour Party incumbent Margaret Hodge.

Away from the campaign

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Five things we've learned from Labour conference

The party won't split, Corbynite divisions are growing and MPs have accepted Brexit. 

Labour won't split anytime soon

For months, in anticipation of Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election, the media had speculated about the possibility of a Labour split. But the party’s conference confirmed that MPs have no intention of pursuing this course (as I had long written). They are tribally loyal to Labour and fear that a split would prove electorally ruinous under first-past-the-post. Many still expect Theresa May to hold an early general election and are focused on retaining their seats.

Rather than splitting, Corbyn’s opponents will increase their level of internal organisation in a manner reminiscent of the left’s Socialist Campaign Group. The “shadow shadow cabinet” will assert itself through backbench policy committees and, potentially, a new body (such as the proposed “2020 group”). Their aim is to promote an alternative direction for Labour and to produce the ideas and organisation that future success would depend on.

MPs do not dismiss the possibility of a split if their “hand is forced” through a wave of deselections or if the left achieves permanent control of the party. But they expect Labour to fight the next election as a force at least united in name.

Neither the Corbynites nor the rebels have ultimate control 

Corbyn’s second landslide victory confirmed the left’s dominance among the membership. He increased his winning margin and triumphed in every section. But beyond this, the left’s position is far more tenuous.

The addition of Scottish and Welsh representatives to the National Executive Committee handed Corbyn’s opponents control of Labour’s ruling body. Any hope of radically reshaping the party’s rule book has ended.

For weeks, Corbyn’s allies have spoken of their desire to remove general secretary Iain McNicol and deputy leader Tom Watson. But the former is now safe in his position, while the latter has been strengthened by his rapturously received speech.

Were Corbyn to eventually resign or be defeated, another left candidate (such as John McDonnell) would struggle to make the ballot. Nominations from 15 per cent of MPs are required but just six per cent are committed Corbynites (though selection contests and seat losses could aid their cause). It’s for this reason that allies of the leader are pushing for the threshold to be reduced to five per cent. Unless they succeed, the hard-left’s dominance is from assured. Were an alternative candidate, such as Clive Lewis or Angela Rayner, to succeed it would only be by offering themselves as a softer alternative.

Corbynite divisions are intensifying 

The divide between Corbyn’s supporters and opponents has recently monopolised attention. But the conference showed why divisions among the former should be interrogated.

Shadow defence secretary Clive Lewis, an early Corbyn backer, was enraged when his speech was amended to exclude a line announcing that Labour’s pro-Trident stance would not be reversed. Though Lewis opposes renewal, he regards unilateralism as an obstacle to unifying the party around a left economic programme. The longer Corbyn remains leader, the greater the tension between pragmatism and radicalism will become. Lewis may have alienated CND but he has improved his standing among MPs, some of whom hail him as a bridge between the hard and soft left.

Elsewhere, the briefing against McDonnell by Corbyn allies, who suggested he was an obstacle to recruiting frontbenchers, showed how tensions between their respective teams will remain a story.

Labour has accepted Brexit

Ninety four per cent of Labour MPs backed the Remain campaign during the EU referendum. But by a similar margin, they have accepted the Leave vote. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, both long-standing eurosceptics, confirmed that they would not seek to prevent Brexit.

Owen Smith called for a referendum on the eventual deal during his leadership campaign. But with some exceptions, such as Angela Eagle, most of his backers have rejected the idea. Though 48 per cent of the electorate voted Remain, MPs emphasise that only 35 per cent of constituencies did. Some still fear an SNP-style surge for Ukip if Labour seeks to overturn the outcome.

The debate has moved to Britain’s future relationship with Europe, most notably the degree of free movement. For Labour, like Theresa May, Brexit means Brexit.

Corbyn will not condemn deselections 

The Labour leader could have won credit from MPs by unambiguously condemning deselection attempts. But repeatedly invited to do so, he refused. Corbyn instead defended local parties’ rights and stated that the “vast majority” of MPs had nothing to fear (a line hardly reassuring to those who do). Angela Eagle, Stella Creasy and Peter Kyle are among the rebels targeted by activists.

Corbyn can reasonably point out that the rules remain the same as under previous leaders. MPs who lose trigger ballots of their local branches face a full and open selection. But Labour’s intensified divisions mean deselection has become a far greater threat. MPs fear that Corbyn relishes the opportunity to remake the parliamentary party in his own images.  And some of the leader’s allies hope to ease the process by reviving mandatory reselection. Unless Corbyn changes his line, the issue will spark continual conflict. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.