John Prescott to run for party treasurer

Former deputy PM wants to tackle the difficult task of improving Labour’s finances.

John Prescott has announced that he is seeking nominations to become treasurer of the Labour Party when the newly elected MP for Birmingham Erdington, Jack Dromey, vacates the position at the conference in September.

It is a surprising decision on Prescott's part, considering he is nearly 72 and is expected to be named a life peer in Gordon Brown's forthcoming resignation honours list. The position of party treasurer is usually a stepping stone to greater prominence, Bevan, Callaghan and Foot all having contested it in their time, rather than a cushy retirement number for a former cabinet minister.

This is not an honorary title with attractive perks, but a challenging and relatively low-profile seat on the committee that must steer Labour back into power. Yet here is Prescott, putting himself forward for what could be the biggest challenge of his political career -- that of attracting donors to fill Labour's empty coffers.

The cost of this month's general election, in votes and in cash, will make the task very difficult.

There is no political or personal gain for Prescott in this position. It carries no salary. So we can only assume that his motives stem from loyalty to the party. Prescott has pointed out that he has long experience both in and out of government, and there's no doubt he would make an energetic fundraiser.

His own account of his activism during the election demonstrates that he is not ready to retire yet, and still has a vision for the future of the Labour Party:

During the general election I travelled 5,000 miles on my Prescott Express battle bus, campaigning for candidates in more than 70 constituencies . . . It became very clear to me during my journey that we have an enormous job to do in rebuilding our party, reconnecting with the electorate and getting Labour ready as an effective opposition party and the next government-in-waiting.

If he is successful in rejuvenating the party's finances, he will ensure that it won't be for just Jags and punches that he's remembered.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.