Ed Miliband speaks at the launch of Labour's local and European election campaign. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour tensions over election strategy are growing

There is increasing division over the party's alleged "35% strategy".

After Labour's much-derided assault on the Lib Dems last week, one does not have to look far to find despondency within the party's ranks. "I believed them when they said there wasn't a 35 per cent strategy," one MP tells me. "Now I'm convinced there is". By this, he means a strategy that consists of uniting Labour's core vote with Lib Dem defectors in an attempt to crawl over the electoral finish line, rather than a more ambitious "40 per cent strategy" that also seeks to win over blue collar non-voters and Conservative supporters. 

Those who advocate the latter despair at what they regard as the crude negativity and vacuity of last week's election broadcast on Nick Clegg ("The Un-credible Shrinking Man"). They worry about the apparent degrading of the "One Nation" frame in favour of an approach that one figure characterises as "cost-of-living, bash the Lib Dems and 'you can't trust the Tories with the NHS.'" Rather than "The Un-credible Shrinking Man" it is Labour's "Incredible Shrinking Offer" that troubles the party's radicals. 

The surge of Ukip in the polls, with the party now regarded as almost certain to win the European elections, has led to open divisions over how to combat the Farageiste threat. While Ed Miliband has focused on attacking Ukip as "more Thatcherite than Thatcher", Jon Cruddas, Labour's policy review co-ordinator, eschewed such language in his piece for the Guardian on Thursday ("Ukip isn't a Tory movement. It's a party of the disenfranchised English") advocating a positive approach that recasts Labour as a patriotic "party of the people" and more explicitly addresses anxieties over immigration and welfare. 

Other shadow cabinet members complain of the party's failure to promote its commitment to reform the EU, which they regarded as a quid pro quo for Miliband's refusal to guarantee an in/out referendum under a Labour government.

I'm told that attempts are now underway to try and bridge the divide, which one MP described as "a fundamental difference of outlook". But if the party suffers a poor result on 22 May, becoming the first opposition party in the last 20 years not to win the European elections, Labour's tensions could once again burst into the open. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.