Assessing the media reaction

Much of Fleet Street’s coverage of the Budget focuses on the introduction of the new 50p top tax rate, no doubt partly because newspaper editors are among those affected.

The Daily Telegraph’s front page depicts Gordon Brown as Lenin and howls that Labour has reignited the ‘class war’. The paper’s flagship columnist Simon Heffer rather counter-intuitively declares that the Budget was an assault on “Middle England”, despite the fact that the new top rate will only hit the richest 1 per cent.

The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, the most visible champion of progressive taxation in recent years, hails the decision to “soak the rich” but laments that it has come so late. “This last social democratic flag may be drowning, not waving,” she writes. While the same paper’s leader warns that the rises in income tax will produce all too little revenue since they were “not combined with measures on property or capital.”

Far from a budget for the people, this was a budget for Switzerland, declares the Times’s leader . While some bankers will cough up, many more will be sent “scurrying to Geneva”, it claims. The decision to tear up the manifesto pledge not to raise income tax marks the death of “Mr Blair’s political project”, it adds. But the Independent’s reliably contrarian Steve Richards detects a quintessentially “new Labour dimension” to the decision. He notes that new Labour “never acted without checking the opinion polls and the focus groups first”, and suggests that Brown was persuaded to act after surveys showed the move would be popular.

However, it is one policy likely to swing Fleet Street against Labour come election time and Andrew Neil, former editor of the Sunday Times, declares that the Budget marks the end of new Labour’s romance with the Murdoch press. There is now “no doubt” that the Times and the Sun will back David Cameron at the next election, he writes on his blog. Elsewhere, the Financial Times’s political columnist Philip Stephens says that Cameron’s Budget response was “that of a politician on the threshold of Downing Street.”

A recent survey of senior editors and journalists by the ConservativeHome blog found that only the Daily Mirror was likely to offer unambiguous support for Labour at the next election and the press reaction does little to dispel this suggestion. Though few go as far as the Daily Express, whose front page flatly declares “They’ve Ruined Britain”.

Some rare words of comfort come from the influential economist Will Hutton in the Guardian, who writes that Alistair Darling’s “considered calmness is becoming a considerable economic and political asset.” But Peter Oborne's withering dismissal of the Chancellor is far more typical. “Darling ducked the challenge. He ran away from the sound of gunfire. He failed the nation and he failed himself,” he declares in the Daily Mail.

Darling’s admission today that “the headlines were never going to be good…I was reconciled to that”, reflects a stoicism that will be much needed over the coming months.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Stella Creasy targeted for deselection

Organisers on the left believe the Walthamstow MP is the ideal target for political, personal and geographical reasons.

Stella Creasy, the high-profile MP for Walthamstow and defeated deputy Labour leadership candidate, is the first serious target of an attempt to deselect a sitting Labour MP, the New Statesman has learnt.

Creasy, who is on the right of the party, is believed to be particularly vulnerable to an attempt to replace her with an MP closer to the Labour party’s left. Her constituency, and the surrounding borough of Waltham Forest, as well as the neighbouring borough of Leyton and Wanstead, has a large number both of new members, inspired either to join or return to Labour by Jeremy Corbyn, plus a strong existing network of leftwing groupings and minor parties.

An anti-bombing demonstration outside of Creasy’s constituency offices in Walthamstow – the MP is one of around 80 members of Parliament who have yet to decide how to vote on today’s motion on airstrikes in Syria – is the latest in a series of clashes between supporters of Creasy and a series of organized leftwing campaigns.

Allies of Creasy were perturbed when Momentum, the grassroots body that represents the continuation of Corbyn’s leadership campaign, held a rally in her constituency the night of the Autumn Statement, without inviting the MP. They point out that Momentum is supposedly an outward-facing campaign supporting Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party towards the 2020 general election and the forthcoming local and European elections. Labour holds 27 out of 27 council seats in Creasy’s constituency, while Creasy herself has a majority of 23,195 votes.

“If you look at the seat, there is nothing to win here,” said one Labour member, who believes that Momentum and other groups are planning to depose Creasy. Momentum has denied any plot to remove Creasy as the MP.

However, Creasy has come under pressure from within her local party in recent weeks over the coming vote on bombing Syria. Asim Mahmood, a Labour councilor in Creasy’s constituency, has called for any MP who votes for bombing to face a trigger ballot and reselection. Creasy hit back at Mahmood on Facebook, saying that while she remained uncertain of how to vote: “the one thing I will not do is be bullied by a sitting Walthamstow Labour councilor with the threat of deselection if I don’t do what he wants”.

Local members believe that Mahmood may be acting as the stalking horse for his sister, the current mayor of Waltham Forest, Saima Mahmud, who may be a candidate in the event of a trigger ballot against Creasy. Another possible candidate in a selection battle is Steven Saxby, a local vicar. Unite, the recognized trade union of the Anglican Communion, is a power player in internal Labour politics.

Although Creasy has kept her own counsel about the direction of the party under Corbyn, she is believed to be more vulnerable to deselection than some of the leader’s vocal critics, as her personal style has led to her being isolated in her constituency party. Creasy is believed to be no longer on speaking terms with Chris Robbins, the leader of the council, also from the right of the party.

Others fear that the moves are an attempt by Creasy’s local opponents to prepare the ground for a challenge to Creasy should the seat be redrawn following boundary changes. The mood in the local party is increasingly febrile.  The chair of the parliamentary Labour party, John Cryer, whose Leyton and Wanstead seat is next to Creasy’s constituency, is said to fear that a fundraiser featuring the shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, will take an acrimonious turn. Cryer was one of just four shadow cabinet ministers to speak against airstrikes in Syria.

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