David Miliband wins leadership “primaries”

Two constituency votes favour David, but Brother Ed isn’t far behind.

David Miliband has won his second Labour leadership "primary" in Edinburgh East, securing 39 per cent of the vote. Ed Miliband came second with 34 per cent, and Andy Burnham was the only other candidate to make it into double figures.

This vote was held by the Labour MP for Edinburgh East, Sheila Gilmore, as a way of determining her constituents' intentions before casting her own vote. A similar ballot has also been held in Bassetlaw, and resulted in the local MP, John Mann, switching his support from Ed Miliband (whom he initially nominated) to David after 50.3 per cent of those balloted opted for the elder brother. David also scored well on second preferences, a good sign going into the ballot itself. Another primary is planned for Dudley North.

These so-called primaries will have little meaning in the long run, but in August's political drought they provide something of an indication of how the candidates are perceived. As Mehdi Hasan pointed out weeks ago, the leadership contest is very much a two-horse race.

More interesting, perhaps, is Ed Balls's mediocre showing in these ballots. He came a poor third in Bassetlaw and has now been beaten into fourth place by Andy Burnham in Edinburgh East. Tthis is only going to prompt further discussion about whether Balls will withdraw from the race and back one of the Miliband brothers, perhaps as a way of securing the post of shadow chancellor, as Jim Pickard over at FT Westminster suggests.

All we can really infer from these primaries, then, is that neither Miliband has opened up a particularly strong lead yet, and that the other three candidates have yet to mount a serious challenge.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.

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Why Theresa May can't end speculation of an early general election

Both Conservative and Labour MPs regard a contest next year as the solution to their problems. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as a Conservative leadership candidate was to rule out an early general election. After a tumultuous 2015 contest and the EU referendum, her view was that the country required a period of stability (a view shared by voters). Many newly-elected Tory MPs, fearful of a Brexit-inspired Ukip or Liberal Democrat surge, supported her on this condition.

After entering Downing Street, May reaffirmed her stance. “The Prime Minister could not have been clearer,” a senior source told me. “There won’t be an early election.” Maintaining this pledge is an important part of May’s straight-talking image.

But though No.10 has wisely avoided publicly contemplating an election (unlike Gordon Brown), the question refuses to die. The Conservatives have a majority of just 12 - the smallest of any single-party government since 1974 - and, as David Cameron found, legislative defeats almost inevitably follow. May’s vow to lift the ban on new grammar schools looks to many like an unachievable task. Former education secretary Nicky Morgan and former business minister Anna Soubry are among the Tories leading the charge against the measure (which did not feature in the 2015 Conservative manifesto).  

To this problem, an early election appears to be the solution. The Tories retain a substantial opinion poll lead over Labour, the most divided opposition in recent history. An election victory would give May the mandate for new policies that she presently lacks.

“I don’t believe Theresa May wishes to hold an early election which there is evidence that the country doesn’t want and which, given the current state of the Labour Party, might be seen as opportunistic,” Nigel Lawson told today’s Times“If, however, the government were to find that it couldn’t get its legislation through the House of Commons, then a wholly new situation would arise.”

It is not only Conservatives who are keeping the possibility of an early election alive. Many Labour MPs are pleading for one in the belief that it would end Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. An early contest would also pre-empt the boundary changes planned in 2018, which are forecast to cost the party 23 seats.

For Corbyn, the possibility of an election is a vital means of disciplining MPs. Allies also hope that the failed revolt against his leadership, which Labour members blame for the party’s unpopularity, would allow him to remain leader even if defeated.

Unlike her predecessors, May faces the obstacle of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (under which the next election will be on 7 May 2020). Yet it is not an insurmountable one. The legislation can be suspended with the backing of two-thirds of MPs, or through a vote of no confidence in the government. Alternatively, the act could simply be repealed or amended. Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who have demanded an early election, would struggle to resist May if she called their bluff.

To many, it simply looks like an offer too good to refuse. Which is why, however hard May swats this fly, it will keep coming back. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.