Former SDP leader David Owen said he had donated to Labour to help it "rescue our NHS". Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

David Owen joins Miliband's big tent with donation to Labour of more than £7,500

With the former SDP leader, Tony Blair and Len McCluskey all backing his reforms, Miliband has built an impressively large coalition of support.

David Owen is so impressed by Ed Miliband's party reforms that he's donated more than £7,500 to Labour (the exact figure has not been announced but £7,500 is the legal threshold for declaration). As party treasurers estimate the cost of Miliband's reforms, it's money that will be gratefully received. Labour figures have long hoped that the former SDP leader, who has previously spoken of his admiration for Miliband (and is close to him and his strategist Stewart Wood), could be persuaded to rejoin the party. He hasn't (yet) - he will now sit as an "independent social democrat" rather than a crossbench peer in the House of Lords - but his decision to donate is still a significant endorsement of Miliband.

Owen's stated reason for giving money is to help Labour "rescue our NHS". He was one of the fiercest opponents of the coalition's health reforms (as a former GP) and warned in the New Statesman in 2011 that "[if] the Liberal Democrats cannot call a halt to or, at the very least, slow down, these ill-conceived health reforms they will no longer be able to claim to be the heirs of Beveridge" (they did not). He said last night:

This is a brave and bold reform ... and one I strenuously argued for as a Labour MP at the special conference on Saturday 25 January 1981. This very desirable change, nevertheless, threatens to weaken Labour's financial support at a critical time, when I and many others are hoping to see the party produce a plan for government from May next year to rescue our NHS. Saving the NHS is my main political priority, and I suspect that of many others.

To help Labour reverse the 2012 NHS legislation without yet another major reorganisation, I have made a declarable contribution of over £7,500 to Labour funds. Unless there is a change of government, the NHS in England will be completely destroyed by 2020.

In response, Miliband said:

Today Labour has come together and shown the courage needed to change our party. The reforms agreed today are supported across the party, by trade union general secretaries, grassroots activists and former prime ministers.

In the 80s and 90s these reforms were seen as impossible but there is broad consensus within the Labour Party that change must happen. That is testament to how far we have come as a movement.

Lord Owen’s support today is welcome. It is 33 years since he left our party and much has happened since. In our many conversations over the past few years, I have come to value his friendship and insight into politics. I value his support and respect his decision to remain an independent member of the House of Lords.

With Tony Blair, Len McCluskey and Owen all enthusiastically backing the reforms, Miliband has built an impressively large tent (as I said last night). One of the quiet successes of his leadership has been maintaining the support of all wings of the party, while also attracting support from former Lib Dems and other progressives.

Before he announced that public spending would be cut under a Labour government, many predicted that the unions would break with the party and run their own candidates. Others warned that Miliband's repudiation of New Labour would lead to Blairite resignations. But both fears proved mistaken. Miliband has retained the support of all Labour's affiliated unions and leading Blairite figures (Stephen Twigg, Jim Murphy, Liam Byrne) have chosen to accept demotions, rather than retreat to the backbenches. The maintenance of party unity is one of the key reasons why he is in a strong position to win the general election next year.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

As a Conservative MP, I want Parliament to get a proper debate on Brexit

The government should consider a Green Paper before Article 50. 

I am very pleased that the government has listened to the weight of opinion across the House of Commons – and the country – by agreeing to put its plan for Brexit before Parliament and the country for scrutiny before Article 50 is triggered. Such responsiveness will stand the government in good stead. A confrontation with Parliament, especially given the paeans to parliamentary sovereignty we heard from Leave campaigners during the referendum, would have done neither the Brexit process nor British democracy any good.

I support the government’s amendment to Labour’s motion, which commits the House to respecting the will of the British people expressed in the referendum campaign. I accept that result, and now I and other Conservatives who campaigned to Remain are focused on getting the best deal for Britain; a deal which respects the result of the referendum, while keeping Britain close to Europe and within the single market.

The government needs to bring a substantive plan before Parliament, which allows for a proper public and parliamentary debate. For this to happen, the plan provided must be detailed enough for MPs to have a view on its contents, and it must arrive in the House far enough in advance of Article 50 for us to have a proper debate. As five pro-European groups said yesterday, a Green Paper two months before Article 50 is invoked would be a sensible way of doing it. Or, in the words of David Davis just a few days before he was appointed to the Cabinet, a “pre-negotiation white paper” could be used to similar effect.

Clearly there are divisions, both between parties and between Leavers and Remainers, on what the Brexit deal should look like. But I, like other members of the Open Britain campaign and other pro-European Conservatives, have a number of priorities which I believe the government must prioritise in its negotiations.

On the economy, it is vital that the government strives to keep our country fully participating in the single market. Millions of jobs depend on the unfettered trade, free of both tariff and non-tariff barriers, we enjoy with the world’s biggest market. This is absolutely compatible with the result, as senior Leave campaigners such as Daniel Hannan assured voters before the referendum that Brexit would not threaten Britain’s place in the single market. The government must also undertake serious analysis on the consequences of leaving the customs union, and the worrying possibility that the UK could fall out of our participation in the EU’s Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with non-EU countries like South Korea.

If agreeing a new trading relationship with Europe in just two years appears unachievable, the government must look closely into the possibility of agreeing a transitional arrangement first. Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief negotiator, has said this would be possible and the Prime Minister was positive about this idea at the recent CBI Conference. A suitable transitional arrangement would prevent the biggest threat to British business – that of a "cliff edge" that would slap costly tariffs and customs checks on British exports the day after we leave.

Our future close relationship with the EU of course goes beyond economics. We need unprecedentedly close co-operation between the UK and the EU on security and intelligence sharing; openness to talented people from Europe and the world; and continued cooperation on issues like the environment. This must all go hand-in-hand with delivering reforms to immigration that will make the system fairer, many of which can be seen in European countries as diverse as the Netherlands and Switzerland.

This is what I and others will be arguing for in the House of Commons, from now until the day Britain leaves the European Union. A Brexit deal that delivers the result of the referendum while keeping our country prosperous, secure, open and tolerant. I congratulate the government on their decision to involve the House in their plan for Brexit - and look forward to seeing the details. 

Neil Carmichael is the Conservative MP for Stroud and supporter of the Open Britain campaign.