In this week's New Statesman: Lucky Dave

David Miliband | Alistair Darling interview | Giles Fraser on "Thatcher's bishop," George Carey | Vi

lucky dave

Witney GP: "Nobody supports the NHS changes"

In an exchange over the government's controversial health reforms during Prime Minister's Questions last Wednesday, David Cameron cited "a supportive GP . . . who hails from Doncaster" - Ed Miliband's constituency.

In this week's New Statesman, Sophie Elmhirst travels to David Cameron's own constituency, Witney, in west Oxfordshire, where a senior partner of a local GP practice tells her:

"I would say very few GPs are happy with [the NHS reform] at all . . . Not a question of supporting it, it's a question of going along with it.

"In my practice, nobody supports the changes . . . people think there should be more clinical involvement in commissioning. But I don't think many people think that GPs are the right people to commission. They need input into it - but if we wanted to be managers we would have trained to be managers, not doctors."

The GP adds:

"Most GPs are incredibly worried about conflict of interest. How can you be a patient's advocate and look after the money? A lot of people think the whole thing's designed to fail so they can bring private providers in. It's the one big bit of the economy that hasn't got private money in it."

Of the effects of the health-service overhaul on patients, the Witney GP says:

"The public have just got no idea what's hitting them . . . Things are going to fail, hospitals will close, because the money's not going to be there. Things will get taken over. And if you're going to have to make a profit out of it, you're not going to have the same service."

Exclusive: David Miliband's challenge to his party

In his most significant intervention since the Labour leadership contest in 2010, David Miliband uses a New Statesman essay to lay out a seven-point plan for the party.

Calling for a renewal of the radical, reforming spirit that Labour felt in 1994, he begins his essay with a critique of Roy Hattersley's reactionary definition of social democracy, and denounces the faction he describes as "Reassurance Labour":

For some, [Hattersley's stance] will be seductive. It is what I shall call Reassurance Labour. Reassurance about our purpose, our relevance, our position, even our morals. Reassurance Labour feels good. But feeling good is not the same as doing good - and it gets in the way when it stops us rethinking our ideas to meet the challenges of the time. And now is a time for restless rethinking, not reassurance.

Read the article in full here

Alistair Darling interview

In an interview with the New Statesman, the former chancellor Alistair Darling says the economic crisis "turned out to be worse than even I thought it would be". Of the eurozone, Darling says:

"You particularly need to resolve this problem where you have a rich core around Germany and you have a poor core around the Mediterranean countries. Those imbalances are just not sustainable. If you don't do that, you are consigning yourself to maybe two decades of stagnation in the southern part of Europe, and that would drag down northern Europe . . . [Germans] are worried about inflation, although I don't actually think that's a big problem.

"They would do well to remember that what precipitated the rise of Hitler was deflation, high unemployment and hopelessness, and it's that hopelessness that is beginning to permeate the body politic in Germany. The last quarter of German growth was pretty disappointing. If you start to hit people's aspirations you end up with a pretty lethal combination."

Of Ed Miliband's leadership, Darling says:

"In politics if you make an assertion that something needs to change I think you have to have an example of how you do it . . . In relation to growth . . . I think that's absolutely critical. Do we have to do more to present this in a sharper way? Of course we do.

". . . I'm not arguing that you should publish your manifesto three years before the event. [But] people want to know roughly where you're going with it. You remember in the run-up to the 1997 election we were quite careful about what we promised and when Tony [Blair] took over in 1994 we didn't have the entire thing spelt out. But I think . . . ending assisted places and giving national education to three- and four-year-olds was one of the early ones because that was an indicative promise . . . It sent a clear message that what we were talking about in crude terms was the many against the few. That's the sort of thing that we need to be doing now."

Of his former cabinet colleague, David Miliband, Darling says:

"I would like him back on the front bench. For his knowledge, and his judgement. When I've seen him on various programmes talking about foreign affairs he talks with authority. I understand his reluctance. There's always comparisons. He is probably right to take a rain check. Certainly he would be a gain."

Giles Fraser: George Carey's outlook is "straight from the Thatcherite self-help handbook"

The former canon chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral, Giles Fraser, responds to the recent intervention in the debate over welfare reform made by George Carey, Rowan Williams's predecessor as Archbishop of Canterbury. Carey, Fraser writes, showed "all the intellectual subtlety of Jason Statham trying out ballet" when he inveighed, in an article in the Daily Mail, against a benefits system that rewards "fecklessness and irresponsibility".

Carey's attack, according to Fraser, was "entirely predictable. His outlook comes straight from the Thatcherite self-help handbook. But in the current Church of England, he represents a very limited constituency." Much more representative, Fraser thinks, are the bishops who presented "a common front against legislation that would affect some of the most vulnerable in our society".

The clergymen routinely dredged up by the right-wing press to fulminate against benefit cheats, homosexuality or multiculturalism are, Fraser goes on, "all yesterday's men. It is significant that the go-to bishops - Carey and the former bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali - are both retired (though neither in the golf-playing sense, unfortunately)."

As for Dr Williams's likely successor in Lambeth Palace - the Bishop of York, John Sentamu - Fraser insists that he is:

. . . not a right-wing cleric from Central Casting. For all his instinctive conservatism about homosexuality, [Sentamu] was at one with his fellow bishops on welfare reform. The truth is that there is no longer a plausible George Carey-type candidate in the Canterbury stakes. And that says a lot about whom Lord Carey speaks for. He has become a one-man band, peddling a narrow version of Christianity as old-school as the Iron Lady. So, come on, George, do us all a favour - take up golf.

Elsewhere in the New Statesman

All this plus Rafael Behr's Inside Westminster cover story, "Lucky Dave", in which he asks how much longer voters will give Cameron the benefit of the doubt as his policy failures continue to mount; Vivienne Westwood talks to Jemima Khan about the dark side of fashion, her least favourite politicians and why Prince Charles is her hero; in the Critics, the poet David Harsent writes about the reality of sleeplessness, and the Irish author William Trevor pays tribute in a substantial essay to the short fiction of V S Pritchett.

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Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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As long as Jeremy Corbyn's Labour opponents are divided, he will rule

The leader's foes have yet to agree on when and how a challenge should take place.

Labour MPs began plotting to remove Jeremy Corbyn as leader before he even held the position. They have not stopped since. From the outset, most regarded him as electorally and morally defective. Nothing has caused them to relinquish this view.

A week before the first major elections of this parliament, Labour found itself conducting a debate normally confined to far-right internet forums: was Hitler a Zionist? For some MPs, the distress lay in how unsurprised they were by all this. Since Corbyn’s election last September, the party has become a mainstream venue for hitherto fringe discussions.

Many MPs believe that Labour will be incapable of rebuilding its standing among the Jewish community as long as Corbyn remains leader. In the 1930s, Jewish support for the party was as high as 80 per cent. “They handed you your . . . membership just after your circumcision,” quipped the father in the 1976 television play Bar Mitzvah Boy. By the time of the last general election, a poll found that support had fallen to a mere 22 per cent. It now stands at just 8.5 per cent.

Corbyn’s critics cite his rejection of anti-Semitism and "all forms of racism" (as if unable to condemn the former in isolation), his defence of a tweet sent by his brother, Piers (“Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for Palestine”), and his description of Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”. The Lab­our leader dismissed the latter remark as a diplomatic nicety but such courtesy was not displayed when he addressed Labour Friends of Israel and failed to mention the country’s name. When challenged on his record of combating anti-Semitism, Corbyn frequently invokes his parents’ presence at the Battle of Cable Street, a reference that does not provide the reassurance intended. The Jewish community does not doubt that Labour has stood with it in the past. It questions whether it is prepared to stand with it in the present.

MPs say that Labour’s inept response to anti-Semitism has strengthened the moral case for challenging Corbyn. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of how the fear of “enormous reputational damage” had pushed him to the brink of resignation. As the New Statesman went to press, Corbyn’s first electoral test was looming. Every forecast showed the party on course to become the first opposition to lose council seats in a non-general-election year since 1985. Yet Corbyn appeared to insist on 3 May that this would not happen, gifting his opponents a benchmark by which to judge him.

Sadiq Khan was projected to become the party’s first successful London mayoral candidate since 2004. But having distanced himself from Corbyn throughout the race, he intends to deny him any credit if he wins. Regardless of the results on 5 May, there will be no challenge to the Labour leader before the EU referendum on 23 June. Many of the party’s most Corbyn-phobic MPs are also among its most Europhile. No cause, they stress, should distract from the defence of the UK’s 43-year EU membership.

Whether Corbyn should be challenged in the four weeks between the referendum and the summer recess is a matter of dispute among even his most committed opponents. Some contend that MPs have nothing to lose from trying and should be prepared to “grind him down” through multiple attempts, if necessary. Others fear that he would be empowered by winning a larger mandate than he did last September and argue that he must be given “longer to fail”. Still more hope that Corbyn will instigate a midterm handover to the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, his closest ally, whom they regard as a beatable opponent.

Those who are familiar with members’ thinking describe many as “anxious” and in need of “reassurance” but determined that Corbyn receives adequate time to “set out his stall”. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of being “caught between Scylla and Charybdis” – that is, “a Labour Party membership which is ardently Corbynista and a British electorate which is ardently anti-Corbynista”. In their most pessimistic moments, some MPs gloomily wonder which group will deselect them first. The possibility that a new Conservative leader could trigger an early general election is cited by some as cause for haste and by others as the only means by which Corbynism can be definitively discredited.

The enduring debate over whether the Labour leader would automatically make the ballot if challenged (the party’s rules are ambiguous) is dismissed by most as irrelevant. Shadow cabinet members believe that Corbyn would achieve the requisite nominations. Momentum, the Labour leader’s praetorian guard, has privately instructed its members to be prepared to lobby MPs for this purpose.

There is no agreement on who should face Corbyn if his removal is attempted. The veteran MP Margaret Hodge has been touted as a “stalking horse” to lead the charge before making way for a figure such as the former paratrooper Dan Jarvis or the shadow business secretary, Angela Eagle. But in the view of a large number of shadow cabinet members, no challenge will materialise. They cite the high bar for putative leaders – the endorsement of 20 per cent of Labour MPs and MEPs – and the likelihood of failure. Many have long regarded mass front-bench resignations and trade union support as ­essential preconditions for a successful challenge, conditions they believe will not be met less than a year after Corbyn’s victory.

When Tony Blair resigned as Labour leader in 2007, he had already agreed not to fight the next general election and faced a pre-eminent rival in Gordon Brown. Neither situation exists today. The last Labour leader to be constitutionally deposed was J R Clynes in 1922 – when MPs, not members, were sovereign. Politics past and present militate against Corbyn’s opponents. There is but one man who can remove the leader: himself.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred