Gillian Duffy backs David Miliband

Woman at the centre of Gordon’s Brown’s “Bigotgate” blunder supports Miliband to succeed him as Labo

Like Gordon Brown before him, David Miliband had tea with Gillian Duffy this weekend. During the May general election campaign, the 65-year-old Rochdale resident came to epitomise the perception that Brown was out of touch with ordinary people. Conversely, Miliband used his visit to Mrs Duffy to try to demonstrate that he is the "grass-roots candidate" for the Labour leadership, supported by ordinary Britons.

In an interview with the Daily Mirror, Duffy said:

He's a really nice man and obviously very intelligent but also down-to-earth. I think he would be a great prime minister. I felt David really listened to my points of view and shared my concerns on the issues that matter to working people.

Miliband used the meeting to continue to push the line that he represents ordinary people, saying:

We need to win the confidence of many more voters like Mrs Duffy if we are to be serious about winning the next election. This new government is not on the side of people like Gillian Duffy. I am determined the Labour Party will be.

Though a conveniently media-grabbing stunt, the meeting itself is meaningless in terms of the actual contest. However, it is interesting for the questions that it raises about the kinds of voting patterns we can expect in September.

Duffy is a member of the Unite union, and will be voting on a Unite ballot. Unite came out in favour of Ed Miliband this weekend, but the endorsement carries no obligation for the union's members to vote a certain way. Duffy is living proof that while endorsements might be useful indicators of members' intentions, they are not by any means to be considered absolute (rendering the rumours that Ed Balls is going to drop out following his failure to secure Unite's endorsement rather less plausible).

Similarly, David Miliband's campaign have been very keen to highlight that their candidate is ahead on constituency party nominations, with 158 to his brother's 146. But again, each member of each party still has an individual vote, and as the membership of each party varies hugely, this isn't a reliable predictor of actual votes, either.

In addition, as Mark Ferguson points out on LabourList, David Miliband's team seems keen to impress upon us that his endorsements from local councillors confirm his status as a "grass-roots candidate". In fact, these councillors are elected officials and, as such, are just as much part of the Labour establishment as MPs are.

Miliband may still experience a surge of support from the true grass roots of the party, but it isn't apparent yet. Tea with Gillian Duffy and boasting of his endorsements is not going to convince anyone otherwise.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.