What did Galloway and Miliband really discuss?

The Respect MP has threatened "to tell the whole truth" after Labour figures dismissed claims he could rejoin the party.

Ed Miliband's recent meeting with George Galloway in his Westminster office, revealed in the Mail on Sunday, has unsurprisingly caused consternation in Labour circles. Galloway, who was expelled from the party in 2003 for allegedly urging foreign forces to rise up against British troops (not, as is often mistakenly said, for his opposition to the war), is loathed by MPs and activists for defeating Labour in Bethnal Green and Bow in 2005 and in Bradford West last year, and, more recently, for suggesting that Julian Assange had only been accused of "bad sexual etiquette". 

The line from the party is that the meeting was to discuss the recent vote on the constituency boundary changes, rather than any possibility of readmission. But one problem with this claim is that the vote in question was held on 29 January, while the meeting is said to have taken place a few weeks ago. Galloway is certainly hinting that there was more to the tête-à-tête than Labour suggests. After shadow international development secretary Ivan Lewis tweeted: "Re Galloway being allowed to join Labour,more chance of finding Lord Lucan riding Shergar! @Ed_Miliband abhors his values+divisive politics", Galloway replied: "better not tell lies about the meeting Ivan. Or I will have to tell the whole truth...". He later added: "oh......don't tempt me. Ed, rein these people in". 

Incidentally, while Galloway vehemently denies that he has any desire to return to Labour, it is worth recalling what former Respect leader Salma Yaqoob had to say about the subject last year. She told the Guardian:

This is the irony – he's always said to me, 'if you have an approach, just make sure that I can come back in'. Ironically, that has not been on the cards. I think it's a great sadness to him, understandably, that he was expelled

That the meeting lasted for nearly an hour and that Miliband asked Galloway why he left Labour ("I didn’t leave, I was thrown out," he replied") certainly suggests that his relationship with the party was discussed. 

George Galloway poses for a photograph in front of the Houses of Parliament. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images
Show Hide image

Harriet Harman: “Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister”

The former deputy leader of the Labour Party urged women to unite across the divided party.

The day-long women's conference is usually the friendliest place at Labour party conference. Not only does it have a creche and a very clear emphasis on accessibility, but everybody who attends starts from a place of fundamental agreement before the sessions have even begun. For that reason, it's often ignored by political hacks in search of a juicy splits story (especially since it takes place on Saturday, before the "real" conference action really gets underway). But with the party divided and the abuse of women on and off social media a big concern, there was a lot to say.

This year, kick off was delayed because of the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn's victory in the leadership election. The cheer for the renewed leader in the packed women's conference hall was far bigger than that in the main hall, although not everybody was clapping. After a sombre tribute to the murdered Labour MP and former chair of the Labour Women's Network Jo Cox, Harriet Harman took to the stage.

As a long-time campaigner for women's rights, veteran MP and former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harman is always popular with women's conference - even if her position on the current leadership and her status as a former Blairite minister places her out of sync with some of the audience. Rather than merely introducing the first speaker as the agenda suggested, Harman took the opportunity to make a coded dig at Corbyn by doing a little opposition of her own.

"Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister," she declared, going on to describe the way that May, as shadow spokesperson for women and equalities under William Hague, had been a "drag anchor" on Harman's own efforts to enact pro-women reforms while Labour were in government. The Thatcher comparison for May is ubiquitous already, but Harman made it specific, saying that like Thatcher, Theresa May is a woman prime minister who is no friend to women.

Harman then turned her attention to internal Labour party affairs, reassuring the assembled women that a divided party didn't have to mean that no advances could be made. She gestured towards the turmoil in Labour in the 1980s, saying that "no matter what positions women were taking elsewhere in the party, we worked together for progress". Her intervention chimes with the recent moves by high profile former frontbenchers like Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper to seek select committee positions, and Andy Burnham's campaign to become mayor of Greater Manchester.

Harman's message to women's conference was clear: the time for opposition to Corbyn is over now - we have to live with this leadership, but we can't let the equalities legacy of the Blair years be subsumed in the meantime. She ended by saying that "we have many leaders in the Labour party," pointing to Jess Phillips, the chair of the women's PLP, and Angela Rayner, shadow minister for education, women and equalities. Like Burnham, Cooper et al, Harman has clearly decided that Corbyn can't be unseated, so ways must be found to work around him.

Rayner followed Harman onto the stage. As one of Corbyn's shadow ministerial team, Rayner is far from in agreement with Harman on everything, and rather than speak about any specific policy aims, she addressed women's conference on the subject of her personal journey to the front bench. She described how her mother was "born on the largest council estate in Europe and was one of twelve children" and "never felt loved and didn’t know how to love, because hugs, cuddles and any signs of affection just wasn’t the norm". She went on to say "mum won't mind me saying this - to this day she cannot read and write". Her mother was in the audience, attending her first Labour conference.

As a former care worker who became a mother herself when she was just 16, Rayner is a rarity at the top of Labour politics. She told the Guardian in 2012 that she is used to being underestimated because of her youth, her gender and her northern accent: "I'm a pretty young woman, lots of red hair, and everyone expects me to be stupid when I walk into a meeting for the first time. I'm not stupid and most people know that now, but I still like to be underestimated because it gives me an edge. It gives me a bit of stealth."

The mass shadow cabinet resignations in June propelled Rayner to the top sooner than an MP only elected in 2015 might have expected, and she has yet to really prove her mettle on the grind of parliamentary opposition and policy detail. But if Labour is ever to win back the seats in the north where Ukip and Brexit are now strong, it's the likes of Rayner that will do it. As Harriet Harman herself shows, the women and equalities brief is a good place to start - for even in turbulent, divided times for Labour, women's conference is still a place where people can find common ground.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.