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.

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Harriet Harman: “Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister”

The former deputy leader of the Labour Party urged women to unite across the divided party.

The day-long women's conference is usually the friendliest place at Labour party conference. Not only does it have a creche and a very clear emphasis on accessibility, but everybody who attends starts from a place of fundamental agreement before the sessions have even begun. For that reason, it's often ignored by political hacks in search of a juicy splits story (especially since it takes place on Saturday, before the "real" conference action really gets underway). But with the party divided and the abuse of women on and off social media a big concern, there was a lot to say.

This year, kick off was delayed because of the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn's victory in the leadership election. The cheer for the renewed leader in the packed women's conference hall was far bigger than that in the main hall, although not everybody was clapping. After a sombre tribute to the murdered Labour MP and former chair of the Labour Women's Network Jo Cox, Harriet Harman took to the stage.

As a long-time campaigner for women's rights, veteran MP and former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harman is always popular with women's conference - even if her position on the current leadership and her status as a former Blairite minister places her out of sync with some of the audience. Rather than merely introducing the first speaker as the agenda suggested, Harman took the opportunity to make a coded dig at Corbyn by doing a little opposition of her own.

"Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister," she declared, going on to describe the way that May, as shadow spokesperson for women and equalities under William Hague, had been a "drag anchor" on Harman's own efforts to enact pro-women reforms while Labour were in government. The Thatcher comparison for May is ubiquitous already, but Harman made it specific, saying that like Thatcher, Theresa May is a woman prime minister who is no friend to women.

Harman then turned her attention to internal Labour party affairs, reassuring the assembled women that a divided party didn't have to mean that no advances could be made. She gestured towards the turmoil in Labour in the 1980s, saying that "no matter what positions women were taking elsewhere in the party, we worked together for progress". Her intervention chimes with the recent moves by high profile former frontbenchers like Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper to seek select committee positions, and Andy Burnham's campaign to become mayor of Greater Manchester.

Harman's message to women's conference was clear: the time for opposition to Corbyn is over now - we have to live with this leadership, but we can't let the equalities legacy of the Blair years be subsumed in the meantime. She ended by saying that "we have many leaders in the Labour party," pointing to Jess Phillips, the chair of the women's PLP, and Angela Rayner, shadow minister for education, women and equalities. Like Burnham, Cooper et al, Harman has clearly decided that Corbyn can't be unseated, so ways must be found to work around him.

Rayner followed Harman onto the stage. As one of Corbyn's shadow ministerial team, Rayner is far from in agreement with Harman on everything, and rather than speak about any specific policy aims, she addressed women's conference on the subject of her personal journey to the front bench. She described how her mother was "born on the largest council estate in Europe and was one of twelve children" and "never felt loved and didn’t know how to love, because hugs, cuddles and any signs of affection just wasn’t the norm". She went on to say "mum won't mind me saying this - to this day she cannot read and write". Her mother was in the audience, attending her first Labour conference.

As a former care worker who became a mother herself when she was just 16, Rayner is a rarity at the top of Labour politics. She told the Guardian in 2012 that she is used to being underestimated because of her youth, her gender and her northern accent: "I'm a pretty young woman, lots of red hair, and everyone expects me to be stupid when I walk into a meeting for the first time. I'm not stupid and most people know that now, but I still like to be underestimated because it gives me an edge. It gives me a bit of stealth."

The mass shadow cabinet resignations in June propelled Rayner to the top sooner than an MP only elected in 2015 might have expected, and she has yet to really prove her mettle on the grind of parliamentary opposition and policy detail. But if Labour is ever to win back the seats in the north where Ukip and Brexit are now strong, it's the likes of Rayner that will do it. As Harriet Harman herself shows, the women and equalities brief is a good place to start - for even in turbulent, divided times for Labour, women's conference is still a place where people can find common ground.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.