Keeping it in the family

There’s nothing <em>that</em> unusual about Miliband <em>v</em> Miliband

That the Labour leadership contest seems destined to end in a race to the finish between David and Ed Miliband has excited many, some to the point of fever -- such as the Observer's Tim Adams, who, in an entertaining piece a couple of Sundays ago, raised the examples of the Brothers Karamazov, Romulus and Remus and even Jacob and Esau (evidently Cain and Abel was a comparison too far).

However, the Labour Party has a great history of prominent politicians not necessarily owing their positions to family connection, but certainly being related to each other. In his 2006 study Britain's Power Elites: the Rebirth of a Ruling Class, the historian Hywel Williams -- an occasional NS contributor -- details this most thoroughly. Parts of the relevant passage, which I'm going to quote in full, will be familiar, others not:

Roy Jenkins had a significant career start as the son of Arthur Jenkins, a Labour MP, who was close to Clement Attlee. Peter Mandelson's grandfather was Herbert Morrison -- a dominating party manager of post-war Labour London and a looming figure of consequence within the postwar Labour cabinet. Estelle Morris, the former education secretary, is the daughter of a former deputy chief whip as well as the niece of Alf Morris, a life peer and former minister whom she has now joined in the House of Lords. Hilary Armstrong is not just the Chief Whip, but is also the daughter of a long-serving Labour MP who also served in the Whips' Office. Charles Clarke shows a political-administrative continuity at work, being the son of Otto Clarke, a permanent secretary with an invincible confidence in the rectitude of his own judgement.

When Bob Cryer died it seemed only natural that his widow should take his seat in the House of Commons, where her son also sat as a member until 2005. Hilary Benn, the Overseas Development Secretary, is the son of Tony Benn, and Gwyneth Dunwoody's career starts with the fact that her father was Morgan Phillips, general secretary of the Labour Party (1944-62), while David Miliband is an august member of the Labour aristocracy, being the son of Ralph Miliband as well as the brother of Ed Miliband who in 2005 was elected the Labour MP for Doncaster North.

The career of Llinos Golding (Baroness Golding of Newcastle-under-Lyme) is a fine paradigm of familial politics, since she is the daughter of Ness Edwards, the Labour MP for Caerphilly (1939-68), and succeeded her husband, John Golding, as the member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (1968-2001) having previously been his aide.

There are of course family connections on the Tory benches. George Osborne's father-in-law, Lord Howell, is a Foreign Office minister and served in Margaret Thatcher's cabinet.

Bernard Jenkin may now be known better for his keen espousal of naturism than for the shadow cabinet, er, briefs, he held under Iain Duncan Smith and William Hague, but the Harwich MP's father, Patrick Jenkin, was also a cabinet minister under Mrs T. The same goes (not the naturism) for the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, whose father, Angus, nicknamed "the Mekon", had a two-year stint as paymaster general. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is the son of a former Tory MEP, and his brother Jo is the new MP for Orpington. (Advanced students of Johnsonology may like to refer to the NS cover story Brian Cathcart and I wrote in March 2008 -- "Who is Boris Johnson?" -- for a full explanation of how those Johnsons are related.)

These, however, Williams argues (or argued in 2006), are exceptions rather than the rule. "Among past and present members of the opposition front bench," he wrote, "Nicholas Soames and Dominic Grieve are very rare examples of significant Conservative politicians who have been reared from Tory political families." His view is that: "Beneath all the sentiment about what used to be referred to as 'this great movement of ours', there are some strikingly continuous facts of patronage and family connection which make New Labour the heir to the Hanoverian-Whiggish elites of the 18th century."

That does not sound terribly like a compliment -- or, at least, one cannot imagine a Labour politician publicly professing to take it as such. Worse for the Milibands, however, is the example of another political family in which two sons of a prominent father both served in the cabinet and both aspired to the premiership. Let us hope they do not follow in the footsteps of the Chamberlains: of Joseph, who helped destroy the Liberal Party, and of his sons Neville, forever remembered as the great appeaser of Hitler, and Austen -- who had the distinction, until William Hague, of being the only Conservative leader in the 20th century not to become prime minister.

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

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