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 web editor of the New Statesman.

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Leader: Europe and the long shadow of war

Amid the rancour, it is easy to forget what drove European integration in the first place: the two great wars in the first half of the 20th century.

Amid all the claims and counterclaims about David Cameron’s so-called renegotiation of Britain’s membership of the European Union, it is often forgotten, or conveniently ignored, just how successful the European project has been in helping to create and maintain the post-Second World War peace order.

We support continued British membership of the EU but are sceptical of the imperial ambitions of the European elites. We opposed British membership of the single currency, a decision that the eurozone crisis has vindicated. It is obvious that the Schengen Agreement is unravelling and in all likelihood is unsustainable, as embattled nation states reimpose emergency border controls and the continent grapples with its worst refugee crisis since the end of the Second World War. Like the British government, we are opposed to further political and economic integration and to the creation of a federal or quasi-federal superstate.

However, at a time of profound instability in the world, we accept that it would be foolish for the United Kingdom to retreat from our various multilateral peace alliances – whether that be membership of the EU or, indeed, Nato (as some on the left would wish) – all of which involve some kind of surrender of sovereignty.

Amid the rancour, it is easy to forget what drove European integration in the first place. The two great wars in the first half of the 20th century racked the continent, with neighbouring armies slaughtering each other on a scale that still defies comprehension. As Alistair Horne writes on page 22, “the most atrocious battle in history” began a century ago next week in Verdun, France, on the Western Front. The German army hoped to lure the enemy into a trap and then “bleed the French army white” using its superior firepower. Yet the rivers of blood flowed both ways: in ten months, over 25 square miles, pounded by heavy artillery and poisoned with gas, 300,000 French and German soldiers died.

The lessons of the battle were not quickly learned – the carnage of the Second World War was still to come – yet ultimately they were. In 1963, France’s Charles de Gaulle, who was wounded at Verdun, signed a treaty with the then German chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, binding two countries that had engaged for centuries in tit-for-tat wars in an enduring nexus of co-operation. The aim, as David Reynolds notes in his article on page 28, was “to free the next generation from the vice of nationalism”.

Two decades later, President François Mitterrand, who fought near Verdun in 1940, and Chancellor Helmut Kohl, whose father served there in 1916, attended a commemoration ceremony at one of the battle sites. In what became an iconic image of reconciliation at the heart of Europe, Mitterrand impulsively gripped Kohl’s hand during their national anthems. The two men were later the architects of the Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union under its current name.

These are troubling times for Europe. Confidence and optimism are low. The wars in the Middle East and the rise of Islamic State, Russian revanchism and financial and economic turbulence have dented the morale of even the most committed liberal Europhiles. In addition, the EU seems unable or unwilling to control or police its borders, just as it has been unable to bring an end to the crisis in the eurozone. Nor is it any closer to forging a common foreign policy, let alone forming a common European army that might be necessary in future years to patrol the outer edges of the continent.

“Unless the EU can find solutions to the problems Europe is facing that are acceptable to its members . . . the Union will be on a glide path to collapse,” wrote the historians Brendan Simms and Timothy Less in a recent issue of the New Statesman. And yet, for all its flaws and present difficulties, the EU remains a force for stability in the world. It embodies the liberal, rules-based order without which barbarism and war are never far away, as the centenary of the Battle of Verdun so poignantly reminds us. 

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle