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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Why Clive Lewis was furious when a Trident pledge went missing from his speech

The shadow defence secretary is carving out his own line on security. 

Clive Lewis’s first conference speech as shadow defence secretary has been overshadowed by a row over a last-minute change to his speech, when a section saying that he “would not seek to change” Labour’s policy on renewing Trident submarines disappeared.

Lewis took the stage expecting to make the announcement and was only notified of the change via a post-it note, having reportedly signed it of with the leader’s office in advance. 

Lewis was, I’m told, “fucking furious”, and according to Kevin Schofield over at PoliticsHome, is said to have “punched a wall” in anger at the change. The finger of blame is being pointed at Jeremy Corbyn’s press chief, Seumas Milne.

What’s going on? The important political context is the finely-balanced struggle for power on Labour’s ruling national executive committee, which has tilted away from Corbyn after conference passed a resolution to give the leaders of the Welsh and Scottish parties the right to appoint a representative each to the body. (Corbyn, as leader, has the right to appoint three.)  

One of Corbyn’s more resolvable headaches on the NEC is the GMB, who are increasingly willing to challenge  the Labour leader, and who represent many of the people employed making the submarines themselves. An added source of tension in all this is that the GMB and Unite compete with one another for members in the nuclear industry, and that being seen to be the louder defender of their workers’ interests has proved a good recruiting agent for the GMB in recent years. 

Strike a deal with the GMB over Trident, and it could make passing wider changes to the party rulebook through party conference significantly easier. (Not least because the GMB also accounts for a large chunk of the trade union delegates on the conference floor.) 

So what happened? My understanding is that Milne was not freelancing but acting on clear instruction. Although Team Corbyn are well aware a nuclear deal could ease the path for the wider project, they also know that trying to get Corbyn to strike a pose he doesn’t agree with is a self-defeating task. 

“Jeremy’s biggest strength,” a senior ally of his told me, “is that you absolutely cannot get him to say something he doesn’t believe, and without that, he wouldn’t be leader. But it can make it harder for him to be the leader.”

Corbyn is also of the generation – as are John McDonnell and Diane Abbott – for whom going soft on Trident was symptomatic of Neil Kinnock’s rightward turn. Going easy on this issue was always going be nothing doing. 

There are three big winners in all this. The first, of course, are Corbyn’s internal opponents, who will continue to feel the benefits of the GMB’s support. The second is Iain McNicol, formerly of the GMB. While he enjoys the protection of the GMB, there simply isn’t a majority on the NEC to be found to get rid of him. Corbyn’s inner circle have been increasingly certain they cannot remove McNicol and will insead have to go around him, but this confirms it.

But the third big winner is Lewis. In his praise for NATO – dubbing it a “socialist” organisation, a reference to the fact the Attlee government were its co-creators – and in his rebuffed attempt to park the nuclear issue, he is making himeslf the natural home for those in Labour who agree with Corbyn on the economics but fear that on security issues he is dead on arrival with the electorate.  That position probably accounts for at least 40 per cent of the party membership and around 100 MPs. 

If tomorrow’s Labour party belongs to a figure who has remained in the trenches with Corbyn – which, in my view, is why Emily Thornberry remains worth a bet too – then Clive Lewis has done his chances after 2020 no small amount of good. 

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