Ed Miliband speaks at the Scottish Labour conference on March 21, 2014 in Perth. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour's poor Euro election result will intensify shadow cabinet row

The party finished just one per cent ahead of the Tories.
 

Owing to its strong performance in London (where the result was interminably delayed due to Tower Hamlets), Labour has narrowly beaten the Tories into second place in the European elections - polling 25 per cent to the Conservatives' 24 per cent - a dismal result.  It was bad enough to become the first main opposition party not to win the contest since 1984, but it's even worse for it to barely avoid third (although I warned of the danger two weeks ago). The Tories may have finished third in a national election for the first time in their history but they will be delighted to have run the opposition so close.

Here's the final result:

Ukip 27.5 per cent - 24 seats (up 11)

Labour 25.4 per cent - 20 seats (up 7)

Conservative 24.0 per cent - 19 seats (down 7)

Green Party 7.9 per cent - 3 seats (up 1)

Lib Dems 6.9 per cent - 1 seat (down 10)

SNP 2 seats (N/C)

Plaid Cymru 1 seat (N/C)

Labour sources are emphasising that the election tends to favour eurosceptic parties but expect plenty in the shadow cabinet to reply that it should have expressed more scepticism. As I've previously reported, senior figures, most notably Ed Balls, were angered by Ed Miliband's failure to put the need for EU reform at the centre of the campaign. Having accepted the promise of a more sceptical stance on Europe as a quid pro quo for Miliband's refusal to guarantee an EU referendum (which a majority of shadow cabinet ministers were in favour of), they felt the Labour leader failed to follow through on his commitment by barely mentioning the issue.

The argument from the Miliband camp is that it made sense for the party to focus on the "cost-of-living" issues - housing, prices and wages - on which it polls best. But that judgement will be questioned today. The result will also bolster those, such as Balls, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham, who argue that the party needs to be far more vocal on immigration.

The European elections are a historically poor indicator of the general election result. In 1989, the Greens finished third with 15 per cent of the vote but won just 0.5 per cent at the national contest three years later. In 1999, William Hague's Tories triumphed but went down to a landslide defeat against Labour two years later. Ukip polled 16 per cent in 2004 and 17 per cent in 2009 yet failed to exceed three per cent in the subsequent general elections.

But Labour's defeat has deprived it of what would have been an opportunity to project Miliband as the next prime minister. With just under a year to go until the general election, the party is desperately short of the momentum it needs to be confident of victory next May.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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