Darling's most damaging claim

His claim that Labour had no "credible economic policy" is a gift to George Osborne.

Of all the claims from Alistair Darling's memoir (£), it is his assertion that Labour went into the last election without a "credible economic policy" that is most damaging for the party. Darling all but accuses Gordon Brown of deficit denial for refusing to accept the level of cuts and tax rises needed to ensure fiscal sustainability. Christmas has come early for George Osborne.

Darling told Andrew Marr this morning: "You need a credible economic policy. It really hampered us at the election". Some would reply that a party without a credible economic policy is unfit to govern and it was notable that Darling refused to dissent when Marr suggested as much.

The former chancellor is right to argue that Labour's economic policy wasn't credible but for the wrong reasons. Rather than pandering to Conservative demands for savage cuts, the party should have offered a distincitve economic policy based on investment to stimulate growth and reduce the deficit. It should have argued for more targeted tax rises on the wealthiest in our society. The Brown government's most popular policies were the bankers' bonus tax and the 50p tax rate. It is hardly surprising that when offered a choice between Labour cuts and Tory cuts, voters decided they wanted the real thing.

In agreeing to stick to Darling's pledge to halve the deficit over four years (while replacing a cuts-tax ratio of 67:33 with one of 60:40), Ed Miliband has met the former chancellor's definition of a credible policy. But that won't stop the Tories from claiming that Labour's policy is as uncredible now as it was then.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.