Labour MP submits Queen's Speech amendment on NHS privatisation

John Mann respectfully regrets that "a bill to call a referendum on reversing NHS privatisation was not included in the Gracious Speech".

Inspired by the Tory EU rebels, the pugnacious Labour MP John Mann has submitted his own amendment to the Queen's Speech. The amendment is identical in wording to the Tories' but substitutes the words "EU referendum" for "a referendum on reversing NHS privatisation" (you can see both below). 

A rather lengthier amendment has been submitted by Green MP Caroline Lucas, requesting that the government "recognise that its programme fails to address either the worsening climate crisis or that austerity is failing; call on your Government to heed warnings that urgent and radical cuts in emissions are needed to prevent global temperature rises of 4℃ or more by the end of the century; urge your Government to recognise that, to fulfil its own commitment to keep warming below 2 degrees, around 80 per cent of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground; further call on your Government to end austerity and instead reduce the deficit through an economic programme that prioritises investment in jobs, especially in labour-intensive green sectors and that pursues a goal of 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050, with policies for rapid deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies; and further call on your Government to lift the council borrowing cap to promote council house building, to tackle the cost of public transport starting with bringing the railways back into public ownership, to end cuts to welfare and take other steps to build a resilient and stable economy."

If the EU referendum amendment, which has been signed by 53 MPs, is selected for debate by the Speaker, a vote will be held on Wednesday evening. 

Demonstrators protest against the government's Health and Social Care Bill in central London, on January 31, 2011. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Leader: The divisions within Labour

Labour’s divisions have rendered it unfit for government at a moment of profound political change.

Labour is a party torn between its parliamentary and activist wings. Since Jeremy Corbyn, who this week appealed desperately for unity, was re-elected by a landslide last September, Labour has become the first opposition in 35 years to lose a ­by-election to the governing party and has continually trailed the Conservatives by a double-digit margin. Yet polling suggests that, were Mr Corbyn’s leadership challenged again, he would win by a comfortable margin. Meanwhile, many of the party’s most gifted and experienced MPs refuse to serve on the front bench. In 2015 Mr Corbyn made the leadership ballot only with the aid of political opponents such as Margaret Beckett and Frank Field. Of the 36 MPs who nominated him, just 15 went on to vote for him.

Having hugely underestimated the strength of the Labour left once, the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) will not do so again. In the contest that will follow Mr Corbyn’s eventual departure, the centrists could lock out potential successors such as the shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey. Under Labour’s current rules, candidates require support from at least 15 per cent of the party’s MPs and MEPs.

This conundrum explains the attempt by Mr Corbyn’s supporters to reduce the threshold to 5 per cent. The “McDonnell amendment” (named after the shadow chancellor, who failed to make the ballot in 2007 and 2010) is being championed by the Bennite Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and Jon Lansman of Momentum, who is interviewed by Tanya Gold on page 34. “For 20 years the left was denied a voice,” he tweeted to the party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, on 19 March. “We will deny a voice to no one. We face big challenges, and we need our mass membership to win again.”

The passage of the amendment at this year’s Labour conference would aid Mr Lansman’s decades-long quest to bring the party under the full control of activists. MPs have already lost the third of the vote they held under the electoral college system. They face losing what little influence they retain.

No Labour leader has received less support from his MPs than Mr Corbyn. However, the amendment would enable the election of an even more unpopular figure. For this reason, it should be resolutely opposed. One should respect the motivation of the members and activists, yet Labour must remain a party capable of appealing to a majority of people, a party that is capable of winning elections.

Since it was founded, Labour has been an explicitly parliamentary party. As Clause One of its constitution states: “[The party’s] purpose is to organise and maintain in Parliament and in the country a political Labour Party.” The absurdity of a leader opposed by as much as 95 per cent of his own MPs is incompatible with this mission. Those who do not enjoy the backing of their parliamentary colleagues will struggle to persuade the voters that they deserve their support.

Labour’s divisions have rendered it unfit for government at a moment of profound political change. Rather than formalising this split, the party needs to overcome it – or prepare for one of the greatest defeats in its history.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution