Miliband forgets name of Scottish Labour candidate

Labour leader refers to frontrunner Ken Macintosh as "the third candidate".

File this one under "embarrassing political videos." In a BBC interview this morning, Ed Miliband was unable to name all of the candidates for the Scottish Labour leadership (he should have read The Staggers).He correctly identified Labour MP Tom Harris and MSP Johann Lamont, but then referred to "the third candidate who is putting himself forward". The "third candidate" is Ken Macintosh, who, unfortunately for Miliband, is the bookies' favourite to win the election.

Miliband's gaffe is symptomatic of Labour's complacent attitude towards Scotland. In a leader published before the Scottish election last May, the NS warned Miliband not to underestimate the SNP and argued that it was a profound mistake to treat the contest as a referendum on the Westminster coalition. As we predicted, Alex Salmond's party went on to win a majority, an extraordinary feat given that the AMS voting system was adopted with the explicit intention of preventing any party from doing so.

Since then, support for the SNP has continued to surge, with polls putting them on 49 per cent in Holyrood (to Labour's 28 per cent) and 42 per cent in Westminster (to Labour's 33 per cent). Salmond's party has replaced Labour as the hegemonic force in Scottish politics. In the meantime, support for independence has reached its highest level for nearly three years, with 39 per cent of Scots in favour and 38 per cent opposed. For Labour, Scottish independence would be politically disastrous. It would deprive the party of 42 of its 256 Westminster seats in a single stroke.

For this reason, it is essential that Labour elects a leader capable of challenging Salmond, a brilliant politician and a formidable campaigner. How dispiriting then that Miliband appears so uninterested in the race.

Hat-tip: James Kirkup.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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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.