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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Who will win in Copeland? The Labour heartland hangs in the balance

The knife-edge by-election could end 82 years of Labour rule on the West Cumbrian coast.

Fine, relentless drizzle shrouds Whitehaven, a harbour town exposed on the outer edge of Copeland, West Cumbria. It is the most populous part of the coastal north-western constituency, which takes in everything from this old fishing port to Sellafield nuclear power station to England’s tallest mountain Scafell Pike. Sprawling and remote, it protrudes from the heart of the Lake District out into the Irish Sea.

Billy, a 72-year-old Whitehaven resident, is out for a morning walk along the marina with two friends, his woolly-hatted head held high against the whipping rain. He worked down the pit at the Haig Colliery for 27 years until it closed, and now works at Sellafield on contract, where he’s been since the age of 42.

“Whatever happens, a change has got to happen,” he says, hands stuffed into the pockets of his thick fleece. “If I do vote, the Bootle lass talks well for the Tories. They’re the favourites. If me mam heard me saying this now, she’d have battered us!” he laughs. “We were a big Labour family. But their vote has gone. Jeremy Corbyn – what is he?”

The Conservatives have their sights on traditional Labour voters like Billy, who have been returning Labour MPs for 82 years, to make the first government gain in a by-election since 1982.

Copeland has become increasingly marginal, held with just 2,564 votes by former frontbencher Jamie Reed, who resigned from Parliament last December to take a job at the nuclear plant. He triggered a by-election now regarded by all sides as too close to call. “I wouldn’t put a penny on it,” is how one local activist sums up the mood.

There are 10,000 people employed at the Sellafield site, and 21,000 jobs are promised for nearby Moorside – a project to build Europe’s largest nuclear power station now thrown into doubt, with Japanese company Toshiba likely to pull out.

Tories believe Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on nuclear power (he limply conceded it could be part of the “energy mix” recently, but his long prevarication betrayed his scepticism) and opposition to Trident, which is hosted in the neighbouring constituency of Barrow-in-Furness, could put off local employees who usually stick to Labour.

But it’s not that simple. The constituency may rely on nuclear for jobs, but I found a notable lack of affection for the industry. While most see the employment benefits, there is less enthusiasm for Sellafield being part of their home’s identity – particularly in Whitehaven, which houses the majority of employees in the constituency. Also, unions representing Sellafield workers have been in a dispute for months with ministers over pension cut plans.

“I worked at Sellafield for 30 years, and I’m against it,” growls Fred, Billy’s friend, a retiree of the same age who also used to work at the colliery. “Can you see nuclear power as safer than coal?” he asks, wild wiry eyebrows raised. “I’m a pit man; there was just nowhere else to work [when the colliery closed]. The pension scheme used to be second-to-none, now they’re trying to cut it, changing the terms.”

Derek Bone, a 51-year-old who has been a storeman at the plant for 15 years, is equally unconvinced. I meet him walking his dog along the seafront. “This county, Cumbria, Copeland, has always been a nuclear area – whether we like it or don’t,” he says, over the impatient barks of his Yorkshire terrier Milo. “But people say it’s only to do with Copeland. It ain’t. It employs a lot of people in the UK, outside the county – then they’re spending the money back where they’re from, not here.”

Such views might be just enough of a buffer against the damage caused by Corbyn’s nuclear reluctance. But the problem for Labour is that neither Fred nor Derek are particularly bothered about the result. While awareness of the by-election is high, many tell me that they won’t be voting this time. “Jeremy Corbyn says he’s against it [nuclear], now he’s not, and he could change his mind – I don’t believe any of them,” says Malcolm Campbell, a 55-year-old lorry driver who is part of the nuclear supply chain.

Also worrying for Labour is the deprivation in Copeland. Everyone I speak to complains about poor infrastructure, shoddy roads, derelict buildings, and lack of investment. This could punish the party that has been in power locally for so long.

The Tory candidate Trudy Harrison, who grew up in the coastal village of Seascale and now lives in Bootle, at the southern end of the constituency, claims local Labour rule has been ineffective. “We’re isolated, we’re remote, we’ve been forgotten and ignored by Labour for far too long,” she says.

I meet her in the town of Millom, at the southern tip of the constituency – the opposite end to Whitehaven. It centres on a small market square dominated by a smart 19th-century town hall with a mint-green domed clock tower. This is good Tory door-knocking territory; Millom has a Conservative-led town council.

While Harrison’s Labour opponents are relying on their legacy vote to turn out, Harrison is hoping that the same people think it’s time for a change, and can be combined with the existing Tory vote in places like Millom. “After 82 years of Labour rule, this is a huge ask,” she admits.

Another challenge for Harrison is the threat to services at Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital. It has been proposed for a downgrade, which would mean those seeking urgent care – including children, stroke sufferers, and those in need of major trauma treatment and maternity care beyond midwifery – would have to travel the 40-mile journey to Carlisle on the notoriously bad A595 road.

Labour is blaming this on Conservative cuts to health spending, and indeed, Theresa May dodged calls to rescue the hospital in her campaign visit last week. “The Lady’s Not For Talking,” was one local paper front page. It also helps that Labour’s candidate, Gillian Troughton, is a St John Ambulance driver, who has driven the dangerous journey on a blue light.

“Seeing the health service having services taken away in the name of centralisation and saving money is just heart-breaking,” she tells me. “People are genuinely frightened . . . If we have a Tory MP, that essentially gives them the green light to say ‘this is OK’.”

But Harrison believes she would be best-placed to reverse the hospital downgrade. “[I] will have the ear of government,” she insists. “I stand the very best chance of making sure we save those essential services.”

Voters are concerned about the hospital, but divided on the idea that a Tory MP would have more power to save it.

“What the Conservatives are doing with the hospitals is disgusting,” a 44-year-old carer from Copeland’s second most-populated town of Egremont tells me. Her partner, Shaun Grant, who works as a labourer, agrees. “You have to travel to Carlisle – it could take one hour 40 minutes; the road is unpredictable.” They will both vote Labour.

Ken, a Conservative voter, counters: “People will lose their lives over it – we need someone in the circle, who can influence the government, to change it. I think the government would reward us for voting Tory.”

Fog engulfs the jagged coastline and rolling hills of Copeland as the sun begins to set on Sunday evening. But for most voters and campaigners here, the dense grey horizon is far clearer than what the result will be after going to the polls on Thursday.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.