Tony Blair talks with Ed Miliband during a Loyal Address service to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee at Westminster Hall on 20 March 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why the Blair-Brooks revelations are useful for Miliband

The contrast between Blair's bid to save Brooks and Miliband's call for her resignation is a reminder of how Labour has changed for the better since 2010.

There were some Tories who reacted with glee when the news broke that Tony Blair advised Rebekah Brooks at the height of the phone-hacking scandal (a week after the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone was revealed). For them, anything that reminds voters of New Labour's infatuation with the Murdoch empire is politically valuable. It makes it easier to spin the narrative that all politicians were too close to the media and that there was nothing exceptional about David Cameron's ties. Labour, they hope, will also be damaged by the phone-hacking trial. 

But this analysis ignores the fact that Labour is now led by a man who has unambiguously repudiated the Murdoch clan. When Ed Miliband called for Rebekah Brooks to resign and for the BSkyB deal to be abandoned, it was viewed as a huge political gamble. But it has turned out to be one of the shrewdest decisions of his leadership. By distancing himself from News International at a time when it was still politically risky to do, he ensured that he would be able to speak with moral authority on the subject of phone-hacking. 

The Blair revelations are a reminder of how much the party has changed under his leadership. While Blair was telling Brooks to "tough up", Miliband was calling for her resignation (the coincidence of these events is rightly being seen as an act of disloyalty to Labour). It is unthinkable that Miliband, who treats his party with far greater respect and courtesy than Blair, would ever devote such attention to forces so hostile to Labour (note that Blair's pro bono advice followed the Sun's "Labour's lost it" front page). 

The latest events are also a reminder, contrary to what many commentators claim, of why Labour was right to elect Miliband, rather than his brother, in 2010. David Miliband, who served in Blair's cabinet and who was long regarded as his heir apparent (Blair memorably dubbed him the "Wayne Rooney" of his government) would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to distance himself from his party's past. But Ed, who stood on a platform of radical change, was able to offer the clean break with New Labour that was so desperately needed. By doing so, and winning back many of those voters who were so alienated by Blair, he has ensured that Labour has a far greater chance of victory in 2015 than it would have had under a continuity candidate. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Who really controls the Labour Party now?

Jeremy Corbyn's allies will struggle to achieve their ambition to remove general secretary Iain McNicol.

Jeremy Corbyn's advance at the general election confirmed his place as Labour leader. Past opponents recognise not only that Corbyn could not be defeated but that he should not be.

They set him the test of winning more seats – and he passed. From a position of strength, Corbyn was able to reward loyalists, rather than critics, in his shadow cabinet reshuffle. 

But what of his wider control over the party? Corbyn allies have restated their long-held ambition to remove Labour general secretary Iain McNicol, and to undermine Tom Watson by creating a new post of female deputy leader (Watson lost the honorific title of "party chair" in the reshuffle, which was awarded to Corbyn ally Ian Lavery).

The departure of McNicol, who was accused of seeking to keep Corbyn off the ballot during the 2016 leadership challenge, would pave the way for the removal of other senior staff at Labour HQ (which has long had an acrimonious relationship with the leader's office). 

These ambitions are likely to remain just that. But Labour figures emphasise that McNicol will remain general secretary as long he retains the support of the GMB union (of which he is a former political officer) and that no staff members can be removed without his approval.

On the party's ruling National Executive Committee, non-Corbynites retain a majority of two, which will grow to three when Unite loses a seat to Unison (now Labour's biggest affiliate). As before, this will continue to act as a barrier to potential rule changes.

The so-called "McDonnell amendment", which would reduce the threshold for Labour leadership nominations from 15 per cent of MPs to 5 per cent, is still due to be tabled at this year's party conference, but is not expected to pass. After the election result, however, Corbyn allies are confident that a left successor would be able to make the ballot under the existing rules. 

But Labour's gains (which surprised even those close to the leader) have reduced the urgency to identify an heir. The instability of Theresa May's government means that the party is on a permanent campaign footing (Corbyn himself expects another election this year). For now, Tory disunity will act as a force for Labour unity. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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