Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper sing the Red Flag at the Labour conference in Brighton last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Exclusive: Jon Cruddas calls for end to Labour leadership "Top Trumps"

"It’s not about Andy, or Ed, or Yvette," Labour's policy review head tells the New Statesman.

In recent weeks, Ed Miliband's worsening personal ratings have become the subject of increasing concern in Labour. Even some of those loyal to his vision are starting to doubt whether he has the ability to sell it to the country. In these circumstances, discussion among MPs inevitably turns to whether an alternative leader would perform better and who would replace Miliband in the event of defeat. 

But in an interview with me for this week's New Statesman, Jon Cruddas offers a staunch defence of Miliband's style and calls for an end to what he describes as "a game of Top Trumps across the leadership". The party's policy review head adds that "it’s not about Andy [Burnham], or Ed [Balls], or Yvette [Cooper]", becoming the first shadow cabinet member to publicly name some of those regarded by Labour MPs as positioning themselves for a future contest. Burnham, Balls and Cooper were not named by the NS“If people think the solution to this is X rather than Y, they are deluding themselves," Cruddas says, commenting that "this won’t be resolved by throwing someone else in front of the train."

When I asked Cruddas whether he was troubled by Miliband's unpopularity, he told me: "I see him at close quarters. He has a different form of leadership, which I quite like, actually, it’s more inclusive, it’s quite plural ... We have to expose that in terms of the country. We’re laying down the stuff to make sure that he will have an agenda to articulate."

He added: 

You ain’t going to do it by having a game of Top Trumps across the leadership, it’s not about Andy [Burnham], or Ed [Balls], or Yvette [Cooper] ... If people think the solution to this is X rather than Y, they are deluding themselves.

He continued: "There’s a deeper story about what Labour is now and has it got the game to navigate through, in a contemporary way, the challenges that people are facing. That’s why this policy job is absolutely fascinating because it allows you to paddle in this pool." 

Elsewhere in the interview, Cruddas told me that he was not certain that his policy vision would survive contact with Labour's political machine, speaking of "tripwires", "cross-currents" and "tensions".  He identified the "essential conservatism" of organisations and the party’s "centralised" and even "authoritarian" tendencies as the main obstacles to change. "Have we got the political agility and the game to mainline it into our formal policy offer and the architecture of the party? The jury’s out on that, but I’m pretty confident," he said. 

On his past support for a guaranteed in/out EU referendum, which Miliband has ruled out, Cruddas said that he accepted "the settled view" but added that he advocated the policy "to try and get ahead of this question". He concluded: "I’m not non-opinionated on these things, but you have to sacrifice some of that for your seat in the game. That’s all I’d say on that one!"

Here's the full quote:

I used to have the view, before I joined the shadow cabinet, that an in/out referendum could be very useful in terms of some of the deeper issues of democracy and alienation, I come at this as a radical democrat, primarily. I support the settled view within the shadow cabinet about the strategy, I can see the point now. If we dashed for an in/out referendum it would look somewhat gratuitous as a political landgrab and it would be reactive. I was advocating this a few years ago to try and get ahead of this question.

We’re now in a fairly settled position on it being contingent on treaty reform and the timing not being good anyway, with what’s been ricocheting around the eurozone the last few years, so I’m not exercised about it. Even though my position has been fairly clear in the public domain for a while.

I’m not non-opinionated on these things, but you have to sacrifice some of that for your seat in the game. That’s all I’d say on that one!

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why is it called Storm Doris? The psychological impact of naming a storm

“Homes being destroyed and lives being lost shouldn’t be named after any person.”

“Oh, piss off Doris,” cried the nation in unison this morning. No, it wasn't that everyone's local cantankerous old lady had thwacked our ankles with her stick. This is a different, more aggressive Doris. Less Werther’s, more extreme weathers. Less bridge club, more bridge collapse.

This is Storm Doris.

A storm that has brought snow, rain, and furious winds up to 94mph to parts of the UK. There are severe weather warnings of wind, snow and ice across the entire country.

But the real question here is: why is it called that? And what impact does the new Met Office policy of naming storms have on us?

Why do we name storms?

Storm Doris is the latest protagonist in the Met Office’s decision to name storms, a pilot scheme introduced in winter 2015/16 now in its second year.

The scheme was introduced to draw attention to severe weather conditions in Britain, and raise awareness of how to prepare for them.

How do we name storms?

The Name our Storms initiative invites the public to suggest names for storms. You can do this by tweeting the @metoffice using the #nameourstorms hashtag and your suggestion, through its Facebook page, or by emailing them.

These names are collated along with suggestions from Met Éireann and compiled into a list. These are whittled down into 21 names, according to which were most suggested – in alphabetical order and alternating between male and female names. This is done according to the US National Hurricane Naming convention, which excludes the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z because there are thought to be too few common names beginning with these letters.

They have to be human names, which is why suggestions in this list revealed by Wired – including Apocalypse, Gnasher, Megatron, In A Teacup (or Ena Tee Cup) – were rejected. The Met Office received 10,000 submissions for the 2016/17 season. According to a spokesperson, a lot of people submit their own names.

Only storms that could have a “medium” or “high” wind impact in the UK and Ireland are named. If there are more than 21 storms in a year, then the naming system starts from Alpha and goes through the Greek alphabet.

The names for this year are: Angus (19-20 Nov ’16), Barbara (23-24 Dec 2016), Conor (25-26 Dec 2016), Doris (now), Ewan, Fleur, Gabriel, Holly, Ivor, Jacqui, Kamil, Louise, Malcolm, Natalie, Oisín, Penelope, Robert, Susan, Thomas, Valerie and Wilbert.

Why does this violent storm have the name of an elderly lady?

Doris is an incongruous name for this storm, so why was it chosen? A Met Office spokesperson says they were just at that stage in their list of names, and there’s no link between the nature of the storm and its name.

But do people send cosy names for violent weather conditions on purpose? “There’s all sorts in there,” a spokesperson tells me. “People don’t try and use cosy names as such.”

What psychological impact does naming storms have on us?

We know that giving names to objects and animals immediately gives us a human connection with them. That’s why we name things we feel close to: a pet owner names their cat, a sailor names their boat, a bore names their car. We even name our virtual assistants –from Microsoft’s Clippy to Amazon’s Alexa.

This gives us a connection beyond practicality with the thing we’ve named.

Remember the response of Walter Palmer, the guy who killed Cecil the Lion? “If I had known this lion had a name and was important to the country or a study, obviously I wouldn’t have taken it,” he said. “Nobody in our hunting party knew before or after the name of this lion.”

So how does giving a storm a name change our attitude towards it?

Evidence suggests that we take it more seriously – or at least pay closer attention. A YouGov survey following the first seven named storms in the Met Office’s scheme shows that 55 per cent of the people polled took measures to prepare for wild weather after hearing that the oncoming storm had been named.

“There was an immediate acceptance of the storm names through all media,” said Gerald Fleming, Head of Forecasting at Met Éireann, the Irish metereological service. “The severe weather messages were more clearly communicated.”

But personalising a storm can backfire. A controversial US study in 2014 by PNAC (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) claimed that hurricanes with female names lead to higher death tolls – the more “feminine” the name, like Belle or Cindy, the higher the death toll. This is not because female names are attached to more severe storms; it is reportedly because people take fewer steps to prepare for storms with names they perceive to be unintimidating or weak.

“In judging the intensity of a storm, people appear to be applying their beliefs about how men and women behave,” Sharon Shavitt, a co-author of the study, told the FT at the time. “This makes a female-named hurricane . . . seem gentler and less violent.”

Names have social connotations, and affect our subconscious. Naming a storm can raise awareness of it, but it can also affect our behaviour towards it.

What’s it like sharing a name with a deadly storm?

We should also spare a thought for the impact sharing a name with a notorious weather event can have on a person. Katrina Nicholson, a nurse who lives in Glasgow, says it was “horrible” when the 2005 hurricane – one of the fifth deadliest ever in the US – was given her name.

“It was horrible having something so destructive associated with my name. Homes being destroyed and lives being lost shouldn’t be named after any person,” she tells me over email. “I actually remember at the time meeting an American tourist on a boat trip in Skye and when he heard my name he immediately linked it to the storm – although he quickly felt guilty and then said it was a lovely name! I think to this day there will be many Americans who hate my name because of it.”

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.