The Times's bizarre attack on Ed Miliband

Miliband criticised for not packing the House of Lords with party donors.

Another day, another anti-Ed Miliband story in the Times. The paper, which was a firm supporter of David Miliband, has been running a series all week on divisions within the Labour Party. But today's splash (£) is more bizarre than most. The paper effectively criticises Miliband for not packing the House of Lords with party donors.

It reports:

The Labour leader was allowed to nominate ten people for a new list of working peers published yesterday. But he decided against handing seats in the House of Lords to Nigel Doughty and Sir Ronald Cohen -- who have given more than £6 million to the party since 2005 -- as well as Jon Mendelsohn, Labour's fundraising chief.

All three had been on a list drawn up by Gordon Brown, but The Times can reveal they were later told they would not be nominated. Sir Gulam Noon was the only significant donor on the new list, to show "Generation Ed was drawing a line under the past".

After reading that, one feels moved to state the obvious: party donors do not have, and should not have, any automatic right to sit in the legislature. As Sunder Katwala points out, given the damage that the "cash-for-honours" inquiry did to Labour, it's rather surprising to see Miliband under fire for not rewarding vested interests. Indeed, had he, like David Cameron, packed the upper house with party donors, one suspects he would soon face accusations of "Labour sleaze".

New Conservative peers included prominent party donor Sir Michael Bishop, the former boss of the BMI airline and Stanley Fink, the Tory treasurer who has given millions to the party. Cameron also chose to ennoble Robert Edmiston, the multi-millionaire car salesman, whose appointment was blocked in 2005 amid concerns over his tax affairs. He was later questioned by the police during the cash-for-honours affair and led the secretive Midlands Industrial Council. As Martin Bell rightly argued: "This can only add to the public's perception that high honours can be bought. We are back to the situation we were in with cash-for-honours."

The Times would do well to turn its attention to this. Does it really want a political system even more in hock to vested interests?

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Emmanuel Macron offers Theresa May no comfort on Brexit

The French presidential candidate warned that he would not accept "any caveat or any waver" at a press briefing in London.

Emmanuel Macron, the new wunderkind of French politics, has brought his presidential campaign to London. The current favourite to succeed François Hollande has a natural electoral incentive to do so. London is home to 300,000 French voters, making it by France's sixth largest city by one count (Macron will address 3,000 people at a Westminster rally tonight). But the telegenic centrist also took the time to meet Theresa May and Philip Hammond and to hold a press briefing.

If May hoped that her invitation would help soften Macron's Brexit stance (the Prime Minister has refused to engage with his rival Marine Le Pen), she will have been left disappointed. Outside No.10, Macron declared that he hoped to attract "banks, talents, researchers, academics" away from the UK to France (a remark reminiscent of David Cameron's vow to "roll out the red carpet" for those fleeing Hollande). 

At the briefing at Westminster's Central Hall, Macron quipped: "The best trade agreement for Britain ... is called membership of the EU". With May determined to deliver Brexit, he suggested that the UK would have to settle for a Canadian-style deal, an outcome that would radically reduce the UK's market access. Macron emphasised that he took a a "classical, orthodox" view of the EU, regarding the "four freedoms" (of people, capital, goods and services) as indivisible. Were Britain to seek continued financial passporting, the former banker said, it would have to make a significant budget "contribution" and accept continued immigration. "The execution of Brexit has to be compliant with our interests and the European interest".

The 39-year-old avoided a nationalistic tone ("my perspective is not to say France, France, France") in favour of a "coordinated European approach" but was unambiguous: "I don't want to accept any caveat or any waver to what makes the single market and the EU." Were the UK, as expected, to seek a transitional arrangement, it would have to accept the continued jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

Elsewhere, Macron insisted that his liberal economic stance was not an obstacle to his election. It would be fitting, he said, if the traditionally "contrarian" France embraced globalisation just as its counterparts were rejecting it. "In the current environment, if you're shy, you're dead," he declared. With his emotional, straight-talking approach (one derided by some as intellectually threadbare), Macron is seeking to beat the populists at their own game.

But his views on Brexit may yet prove academic. A poll published today showed him trailing centre-right candidate François Fillon (by 20-17) having fallen five points since his denunciation of French colonialism. Macron's novelty is both a strength and a weakness. With no established base (he founded his own party En Marche!), he is vulnerable to small swings in the public mood. If Macron does lose, it will not be for want of confidence. But there are unmistakable signs that his forward march has been halted. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.