Labour needs its own 1922 Committee

Why shouldn’t Labour have its own backbench committee?

David Cameron's attempted reforms to the 1922 Committee may have led some Tory MPs to compare him to Robert Mugabe and Kim Jong-il, but his efforts were really a bid to turn the backbench group into the Conservative equivalent of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Cameron eventually backed down and ruled that while ministers would be allowed to attend meetings, they would not vote for executive positions. Yet the presence of frontbenchers at the meeting is still likely to mute debate and, as Tim Montgomerie has written, it is rather like inviting the management to "sit in on all of the private meetings on the shop floor".

But throughout this debate, I've yet to hear anyone ask why Labour doesn't have its own backbench committee. The principle of a backbench forum, where MPs can discuss and debate issues without fear of ministerial interference, is a good one. The creation of a 2010 Committee would go some way to reversing the progressive centralisation of the party under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

May I modestly suggest that at least one of the leadership candidates take up this proposal?

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.