Sir Peter Tapsell "keeping his seat warm for Boris"

The Father of the House would apparently be willing to give up his safe seat to allow Boris to return to the Commons.

The "Boris for Tory leader" mutterings continue in today's Sunday Telegraph, where Patrick Hennessy and Robert Watts report that Sir Peter Tapsell has apparently been overhead by Tory MPs telling David Cameron that he would be prepared to give up his seat to allow Boris Johnson to return to the House of Commons.

Tapsell, who is 83, holds the constituency of Louth and Horncastle in Lincolnshire with a majority of 13,871. He's also the longest continuously-serving MP in Parliament, having been in the Commons non-stop since 1966 as well as having served from 1959 to 1964.

The Sunday Telegraph says:

Last night the MP denied being part of any Boris “camp” and said his Louth and Horncastle constituency in Lincolnshire, where his majority is nearly 14,000, could be too far from London to suit Mr Johnson. However, he said the Mayor would be an “excellent” leader of the Opposition and “perhaps” a good prime minister.

It's probably wise not to give too much credence to Tapsell's remarks - after all, over the past few years there have been a number of rumours about how Boris is going to get back into Parliament - his brother Jo Johnson, Richard Ottaway and Zac Goldsmith have all been said at one time or another to be willing to step aside to allow him an eventual shot at the Tory leadership. Tapsell might be willing to resign, but whether Boris is as keen to take his place is another matter. As George observed earlier this week, he's keen to succeed Cameron, but playing a long, safe game.

It's less clear whether Boris would even want to return to Parliament at this juncture - after all, being Mayor of London is a far more high-profile position from which to audition as a potential leader of your party. Barring accidents, I, for one, would doubt that we'll see him departing from City Hall before his term is up in 2016.

 

Boris Johnson. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

Len McCluskey. Photo: Getty
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Unite leadership race: What Len McCluskey's victory means

His margin is smaller than expected, but you only need to win by one. 

Come at the king, best not miss. And they did miss, albeit by a smaller margin than many expected. Len McCluskey has defeated Gerard Coyne, his Corbynsceptic rival, by 59,067 votes to 53,544 to remain as Unite's general secretary. Ian Allinson, running to McCluskey’s left, did surprisingly well with 17,143 votes.

A couple of things to note. The turnout was low – just 12.2 per cent – brought down by, among other things, the need to cast a postal vote and the view of the McCluskey camp that the smaller the turnout, the more important the payroll vote would be. But more significant is that Unite has shed about half a million members, confirming that it is anachronistic to refer to it as “Britain’s largest trade union”. That is, for the moment, Unison, a public sector union. (Unison actually had a lightly larger general fund membership by the close of 2015 but this decisively confirms that trend.)

The shift attests to the bigger – and neglected – story about the labour movement: that it is getting smaller, older, and more concentrated in the public sector. That’s a far bigger problem for the Labour party and the labour movement than who leads Unite or the Labour party.

That aside, the small margin is a shock – as I wrote last month, Unite is quite well-run these days, so you’d make McCluskey the favourite even before factoring in the ability of the incumbent to make life easier for himself. Most in the trade union movement expected McCluskey to win and win well for precisely that reason. As one senior official from another union put it: “Jaguar workers are earning more because of Len. That’s what it’s about, really.”

So the small margin means that Coyne may be found a role at the TUC and gently eased out the door rather than removed hastily. (Though the TUc would be highly unlikely to accept that arrangement.)Ian Allison, however, will be less lucky. One McCluskey loyalist said that the leftist would be “hunted with dogs” – not only was Allison expected not to do well, allies of McCluskey believed that he had agreed to tone down his campaign. Instead Allison's success contributed to the close-run result. (Unite uses first past the post to decide its internal contests.)

What does it mean for the struggle for control within Labour? Well, as far as the finely-balanced national executive committee is concerned, Unite’s nominees are elected at annual conference so any changes would be a way off, in any case.

The result does however increase the chances that Jeremy Corbyn will be able to stay on after a defeat. Removing Corbyn would mean handing control back to Tom Watson, with whom McCluskey's relations are now at an all time low. “I think there’s a feeling of: you came for me, you bastard, now I’m coming for you,” a trade union official says. That means that the chances that Corbyn will be able to weather a defeat on 8 June – provided Labour retain close to what one figure dubbed the “magic number” of 200 seats – have now considerably increased.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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