Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from the Sunday papers.

1. The coalition counts on blaming Labour for everything. Bad move (Observer)

Rafael Behr notes that David Cameron's strategy depends on voters forgetting the good times, however illusory. But they won't.

2. Nick Clegg's Lords reforms could destroy the authority of the Commons (Sunday Telegraph)

The Deputy Prime Minister's passion for constitutional change has been written off as harmless Lib Dem pottiness – but it could do immense damage to our system of government, argues Peter Oborne.

3. Willetts banks on the silver vote (Independent on Sunday)

Many older people will gain under the coalition, and be unaffected by its most draconian measures, says John Rentoul.

4. That's our cash leaking from Ulster's pipes (Sunday Times)

Northern Ireland has more rainfall than most of the UK and it gets its water from a lake that is full at this time of year. So how did it run out of water?

5. What can David Cameron learn from Margaret Thatcher? (Sunday Telegraph)

The Iron Lady's reign could teach our Prime Minister a thing or two, believes Tim Montgomerie.

6. Who will confront the hatred in Hungary? (Observer)

The European Union seems happy to ignore the repression that is happening under Viktor Orbán, says Nick Cohen.

7. What's green about encouraging us to drive? (Independent on Sunday)

Steep fare increases today and an uncomfortable return to work on crowded trains will galvanise a rebellious new movement, says Alexandra Woodsworth.

8. You cannot hide, so fight the web spies (Sunday Times)

Jenni Russell argues that the technologies that exposed diplomats during the WikiLeaks revelations have the capacity to do the same to us, too.

9. My New Year's prediction: the coalition won't collapse – just be hated (Sunday Telegraph)

All the contortions and concessions required to keep the alliance going will lead to irreparable dissatisfaction, says Janet Daley.

10. Afghanistan: our mandate for action is finally exhausted (Observer)

This editorial argues that we will be withdrawing our troops not because we have won or lost in any conventional sense.

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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.