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. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.