Why McCluskey's statement of support is bad for Miliband

By choosing to answer the question "who runs Labour?" the Unite general secretary has suggested the answer was in doubt.

After David Cameron devoted most of PMQs to attacking Unite, Len McCluskey has returned fire, rightly criticising Cameron for cheapening "the office of prime minister" by responding to a question on food banks with a diatribe against the union. He said: 

David Cameron showed today that he has nothing to say to the people of this country who are suffering because of his government's shambolic handling of the economy. 

He dismissed questions on food banks in order to point score and cheapened the office of prime minister by signalling loudly and clearly that he does not care about people's real worries. 

He may have an obsession with me and Unite the union, but I can assure him it’s one that is not shared by the one million young people stuck on the dole, or at the food banks turning people away or among the patients being treated in hospital corridors. 

He also reminded the millions of trade unionists in this country that they are not welcome in the Conservative party, and indeed that they hold trade union members in contempt. 

McCluskey has also declared that "There can be absolutely no question about who runs the Labour party: it is Ed Miliband and he has my full support". But while this might appear to be a supportive statement, it is not one Miliband is likely to welcome. By choosing to answer the question posed by the Tories - who runs Labour? - ("it is Ed Miliband"), McCluskey has suggested that the answer was somehow in doubt. And that, to borrow Cameron's word of choice, certainly makes Miliband look "weak". 

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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David Cameron’s starter homes: poor policy, but good politics

David Cameron's electoral coalition of buy-to-let retirees and dual-earner couples remains intact: for now.

The only working age demographic to do better under the Coalition was dual-earner couples – without children. They were the main beneficiaries of the threshold raise – which may “take the poorest out of tax” in theory but in practice hands a sizeable tax cut to peope earning above average. They will reap the fruits of the government’s Help to Buy ISAs. And, not having children, they were insulated from cuts to child tax credits, reductions in public services, and the rising cost of childcare. (Childcare costs now mean a couple on average income, working full-time, find that the extra earnings from both remaining in work are wiped out by the costs of care)

And they were a vital part of the Conservatives’ electoral coalition. Voters who lived in new housing estates on the edges of seats like Amber Valley and throughout the Midlands overwhelmingly backed the Conservatives.

That’s the political backdrop to David Cameron’s announcement later today to change planning to unlock new housing units – what the government dubs “Starter Homes”. The government will redefine “affordable housing”  to up to £250,000 outside of London and £450,000 and under within it, while reducing the ability of councils to insist on certain types of buildings. He’ll describe it as part of the drive to make the next ten years “the turnaround decade”: years in which people will feel more in control of their lives, more affluent, and more successful.

The end result: a proliferation of one and two bedroom flats and homes, available to the highly-paid: and to that vital component of Cameron’s coalition: the dual-earner, childless couple, particularly in the Midlands, where the housing market is not yet in a state of crisis. (And it's not bad for that other pillar of the Conservative majority: well-heeled pensioners using buy-to-let as a pension plan.)

The policy may well be junk-rated but the politics has a triple A rating: along with affluent retirees, if the Conservatives can keep those dual-earner couples in the Tory column, they will remain in office for the forseeable future.

Just one problem, really: what happens if they decide they want room for kids? Cameron’s “turnaround decade” might end up in entirely the wrong sort of turnaround for Conservative prospects.

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