Ken Clarke sits in the stands at The Kia Oval on September 4, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Cameron's reshuffle will cull the last of the One Nation Tories

The departure of Ken Clarke and George Young from the cabinet will mark the end of a long political tradition. 

Reshuffle fever has taken hold at Westminster, with both David Cameron and Nick Clegg expected to make changes to their top teams early next week. Most of the commentary to date has focused on the likely elevation of female Tory ministers (Esther McVey, Liz Truss, Nicky Morgan and Andrea Leadsom) as Cameron moves to increase the number of full-time female cabinet members from the dismal level of three (Theresa May, Justine Greeening and Theresa Villiers. Yes, there are more women called Theresa than there are women not called Theresa). 

But there's something else worth noting too: the reshuffle will mark the extinction of that venerable political species: the One Nation Conservative. The last remaining cabinet representatives of that tradition - Ken Clarke and George Young - are both certain to depart next week. Clarke, nicknamed "the sixth Lib Dem cabinet minister", has already been demoted from Justice Secretary to minister without portfolio and Cameron has long been under pressure from the right to remove the 73-year-old europhile entirely. His recent contrarian outbursts bear all the marks of a man who is demob happy. 

Young, who reluctantly took on the post of chief whip following Andrew Mitchell's resignation in 2012, is expected to make way for his deputy Greg Hands, the MP for Chelsea and Fulham and a close ally of George Osborne (one of the most reliable indicators of promotion). By removing him and Clarke, Cameron will sever the last remaining links with the Major government, now fondly recalled by some as an era of gentler conservatism.  

The problem for what remains of the Tory "wets" is not so much Clarke and Young's imminent departure, but the failure of younger moderates to take their place. Not one of the patrons or vice-presidents of the Tory Reform Group (the keepers of the One Nation flame) will sit in the cabinet after the reshuffle. Instead, the Conservatives' team will increasingly be dominated by the turbo-Thatcherites of the new right (Sajid Javid and Liz Truss being the first to rise). The man who once cast himself as a "One Nation Conservative" is now about to adminster the last rites to that honourable movement. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo:Getty
Show Hide image

Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.