Labour peer and shadow infrastructure minister Andrew Adonis. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Andrew Adonis: mansion tax is "socially just" and I support it

Labour peer corrects Conservative claims that he has come out against the policy.

Andrew Adonis's recent comments on a mansion tax, reported in today's FT, have attracted much attention this morning. The Labour peer and shadow infrastructure minister told an IPPR/Policy Network event: "The single policy that Labour has which is most unpopular – that every time I meet anybody who is at all well off I get it in the neck with clockwork regularity – is the mansion tax." 

The Tories, who have long opposed the policy ("our donors will never put up with it," said David Cameron) have pounced on his words as evidence of a Labour split. Grant Shapps said: "Lord Adonis is right. Labour's demand for a new tax on the family home would be economic vandalism. It would hurt poorer pensioners the most.

"It would also be the thin end of the wedge. It would quickly become a tax on ordinary homes, hitting families in their pay-packets each month. It would clobber renters too, as the costs would simply be passed on to them."

But when I spoke to Adonis, who has just begun his week-long tour of London's bus routes (riding 50 in total), he was keen to rebut Shapps's claims. He told me: 

I support the mansion tax, it's socially just. The very well off don't support it, as I said, but that's not a surprise since they'd pay it. 

Adonis also emphasised, however, that it was important that the policy, which would take the form of a 1 per cent levy on property values above £2m, was introduced "in a fair way", "particularly in respect of existing homeowners whose houses have appreciated dramatically in value." 

Several of Labour's potential London mayoral candidates, of whom Adonis is one, have recently come out against the policy. Diane Abbott and David Lammy both criticised it as "a tax on London", while Tessa Jowell said she favoured higher council tax bands instead. But Adonis made it clear that he won't be joining them. As he noted, "I was the only person at the Progress event [on London after Boris Johnson] to support it." 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

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