Labour leadership contest turns nasty

Andy Burnham attacks “malicious briefing” against him as Ed Balls comes under suspicion.

Andy Burnham's claim that he has been the subject of "malicious briefing" is one of the first signs of mutual antagonism in what has otherwise been a comradely Labour leadership contest. As the former health secretary explains, he "nearly fell out of his chair" when he read that he was set to make an early exit from the contest to avoid the humiliation of finishing in fifth place.

His campaign team is refusing to point the finger at anyone, but Ed Balls is widely thought to be the culprit. Balls, who has run a strong campaign, has done much to try to shed his reputation as a hostile briefer. The former schools secretary has even seized the opportunity to moralise by accusing the Miliband brothers of briefing against each other.

He said: "Between the brothers there has been a little bit of off-the-record briefing going on. Hopefully, the two of them will say to their supporters to stop it. It is pretty unedifying." He added: "There will be no off-the-record briefings from anybody involved with me."

Should Balls be up to his old tricks again it will do him no favours. He has impressed in recent weeks with his Question Time demolition of Vince Cable, his fierce protest against the rise in VAT (a tax increase he has long warned about) and his exposure of Michael Gove's school building errors.

Let's hope that Burnham's warning shot prevents any further briefing in a contest that could turn very nasty indeed.

UPDATE: This from my colleague Mehdi Hasan - Ed Balls responds to the latest "smear" claim

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Supreme Court gives MPs a vote on Brexit – but who are the real winners?

The Supreme Court ruled that Parliament must have a say in starting the process of Brexit. But this may be a hollow victory for Labour. 

The Supreme Court has ruled by a majority of 8 to 3 that the government cannot trigger Article 50 without an Act of Parliament, as leaving the European Union represents a change of a source of UK law, and a loss of rights by UK citizens, which can only be authorised by the legislature, not the executive. (You can read the full judgement here).

But crucially, they have unanimously ruled that the devolved parliaments do not need to vote before the government triggers Article 50.

Which as far as Brexit is concerned, doesn't change very much. There is a comfortable majority to trigger Article 50 in both Houses of Parliament. It will highlight Labour's agonies over just how to navigate the Brexit vote and to keep its coalition together, but as long as Brexit is top of the agenda, that will be the case.

And don't think that Brexit will vanish any time soon. As one senior Liberal Democrat pointed out, "it took Greenland three years to leave - and all they had to talk about was fish". We will be disentangling ourselves from the European Union for years, and very possibly for decades. Labour's Brexit problem has a long  way yet to run.

While the devolved legislatures in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will not be able to stop or delay Brexit, that their rights have been unanimously ruled against will be a boon to Sinn Féin in the elections in March, and a longterm asset to the SNP as well. The most important part of all this: that the ruling will be seen in some parts of Northern Ireland as an unpicking of the Good Friday Agreement. That issue hasn't gone away, you know. 

But it's Theresa May who today's judgement really tells you something about. She could very easily have shrugged off the High Court's judgement as one of those things and passed Article 50 through the Houses of Parliament by now. (Not least because the High Court judgement didn't weaken the powers of the executive or require the devolved legislatures, both of which she risked by carrying on the fight.)

If you take one thing from that, take this: the narrative that the PM is indecisive or cautious has more than a few holes in it. Just ask George Osborne, Michael Gove, Nicky Morgan and Ed Vaizey: most party leaders would have refrained from purging an entire faction overnight, but not May.

Far from being risk-averse, the PM is prone to a fight. And in this case, she's merely suffered delay, rather than disaster. But it may be that far from being undone by caution, it will be her hotblooded streak that brings about the end of Theresa May.

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