Miliband’s new spinner offers fire and fury

Tom Baldwin is a mad, bad but inspired choice for Ed Miliband’s press supremo.

Tom Baldwin is a mad, bad but inspired choice for Ed Miliband's press supremo. Those proclaiming that the new Labour leader should dispense with a sultan of spin should avert their eyes now. Ed has appointed a cross between Alastair Campbell, Hunter S Thompson and Rasputin.

When he worked for the Times, Tom Baldwin occupied that strange twilight world between hack and spinner. By day he adopted the pretence of loyal Thunderer scribe. But by night, when the bars, alcoves and corridors of Westminster grew dark, Tom Baldwin, New Labour tribune came to the fore.

He was totally unabashed about his support for the party. "I see my job is to keep Labour in power as long as I can," he once told me. It wasn't just the drink talking. Tom is a Labour man. Not as rooted in its culture and history as, say, a Campbell or a Routledge, but a true believer nonetheless.

He was also a brilliant journalist. His skill, which no one else mastered, was to win the trust and intimacy of the Blairite and the Brownite camps simultaneously. This was no mean feat, especially given that his own political instincts pulled him towards Blair, and the Brownite radar invariably flipped to alert mode when it detected someone not firmly anchored within the Brown sphere of influence.

His success was embedded in his innate sense of mischief. He revelled in causing trouble, regardless of the source or the victim. If the Blairites gave him a good story, he would launch it against Brown. If the Brownites responded, as they invariably did, he would send a salvo right back again.

Tom was a gun for hire. But always a Labour one.

When the party was in government, Tom almost became an extension of the Whitehall spin machine. When I was working for the GMB, and running hard against Blair's PFI policy he caught me in the bar. "Just to let you know, we're going to have to have a real go at you and [John] Edmonds. Nothing personal." "The Times?" "Oh no, the government."

His loyalty to Blair reached its peak during the Hutton inquiry. Journalists tasked with reporting the day's events would return to the office to find Tom passionately downplaying the day's most damning revelation: "It's just not a story. It's not a story." When Blair and Campbell were vindicated, so was Tom Baldwin.

His new role with Ed Miliband is apparently yet to be defined. Some reports are that his position will be primarily strategic. Don't believe it. Tom has good political antennae, but he is no blue-skies thinker. He will not be able to rise above the fray.

Ed has selected a spin doctor of the old school. He will want to roll up his sleeves and get stuck in where the bullets and briefings are flying. Tom Baldwin will shoot first and ask questions when the next election's over.

Most importantly, he will bring some fire and fury to Team Ed. At last.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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Leader: The unresolved Eurozone crisis

The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving.

The eurozone crisis was never resolved. It was merely conveniently forgotten. The vote for Brexit, the terrible war in Syria and Donald Trump’s election as US president all distracted from the single currency’s woes. Yet its contradictions endure, a permanent threat to continental European stability and the future cohesion of the European Union.

The resignation of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, following defeat in a constitutional referendum on 4 December, was the moment at which some believed that Europe would be overwhelmed. Among the champions of the No campaign were the anti-euro Five Star Movement (which has led in some recent opinion polls) and the separatist Lega Nord. Opponents of the EU, such as Nigel Farage, hailed the result as a rejection of the single currency.

An Italian exit, if not unthinkable, is far from inevitable, however. The No campaign comprised not only Eurosceptics but pro-Europeans such as the former prime minister Mario Monti and members of Mr Renzi’s liberal-centrist Democratic Party. Few voters treated the referendum as a judgement on the monetary union.

To achieve withdrawal from the euro, the populist Five Star Movement would need first to form a government (no easy task under Italy’s complex multiparty system), then amend the constitution to allow a public vote on Italy’s membership of the currency. Opinion polls continue to show a majority opposed to the return of the lira.

But Europe faces far more immediate dangers. Italy’s fragile banking system has been imperilled by the referendum result and the accompanying fall in investor confidence. In the absence of state aid, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, could soon face ruin. Italy’s national debt stands at 132 per cent of GDP, severely limiting its firepower, and its financial sector has amassed $360bn of bad loans. The risk is of a new financial crisis that spreads across the eurozone.

EU leaders’ record to date does not encourage optimism. Seven years after the Greek crisis began, the German government is continuing to advocate the failed path of austerity. On 4 December, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, declared that Greece must choose between unpopular “structural reforms” (a euphemism for austerity) or withdrawal from the euro. He insisted that debt relief “would not help” the immiserated country.

Yet the argument that austerity is unsustainable is now heard far beyond the Syriza government. The International Monetary Fund is among those that have demanded “unconditional” debt relief. Under the current bailout terms, Greece’s interest payments on its debt (roughly €330bn) will continually rise, consuming 60 per cent of its budget by 2060. The IMF has rightly proposed an extended repayment period and a fixed interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Faced with German intransigence, it is refusing to provide further funding.

Ever since the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, declared in 2012 that he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the single currency, EU member states have relied on monetary policy to contain the crisis. This complacent approach could unravel. From the euro’s inception, economists have warned of the dangers of a monetary union that is unmatched by fiscal and political union. The UK, partly for these reasons, wisely rejected membership, but other states have been condemned to stagnation. As Felix Martin writes on page 15, “Italy today is worse off than it was not just in 2007, but in 1997. National output per head has stagnated for 20 years – an astonishing . . . statistic.”

Germany’s refusal to support demand (having benefited from a fixed exchange rate) undermined the principles of European solidarity and shared prosperity. German unemployment has fallen to 4.1 per cent, the lowest level since 1981, but joblessness is at 23.4 per cent in Greece, 19 per cent in Spain and 11.6 per cent in Italy. The youngest have suffered most. Youth unemployment is 46.5 per cent in Greece, 42.6 per cent in Spain and 36.4 per cent in Italy. No social model should tolerate such waste.

“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has often asserted. Yet it does not follow that Europe will succeed if the euro survives. The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving. In these circumstances, the surprise has been not voters’ intemperance, but their patience.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump