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 web editor of the New Statesman.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.