Ed Miliband delivers a speech at the Policy Network Conference held in the Science Museum yesterday. Photograph: Getty Images.
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On rail policy and more, Labour is leaving space to its left

Miliband has asked radical questions but the answers have been too cautious for some.

Labour's stance on rail, the subject of speculation for months, has now been resolved. As today's Guardian reports, it will allow a public sector comparator to bid for franchises as they expire (seven are up for renewal in the next parliament), but will not pledge to automatically return them to state control. This is in line with the approach outlined by Ed Balls on The Andrew Marr Show last weekend, when he said the public sector should be free to compete with private companies "on a level playing field" but ruled out an "ideological" commitment to state ownership in all cases.

Earlier this year, Andrew Adonis, the shadow infrastructure minister and former transport secretary, similarly told me: "I don’t use the language of renationalisation but of fair competition. My view is that the performance of East Coast [which was renationalised in 2009 after National Express defaulted on its contract] as a state company is sufficiently strong that it would stand a good chance of being able to win future franchises on a fair basis. And, of course, because it doesn’t have to pay dividends, it has a substantial financial advantage."

The party's stance will disappoint those unions and parliamentary candidates who have been pushing for it to commit to bringing expired franchises back into the public sector in a process of incremental renationalisation. They will point to opinion polls showing majority public support for a return to full state ownership and to the success of East Coast as evidence in favour of their position. But Labour, which Ed Miliband has always emphasised will take a "pragmatic" approch, has decided to act on a case-by-case basis (thus limiting the financial risk to the state).

The position is an example of what the Labour leader describes as balancing "radicalism" with "credibility" (a theme explored in my column this week). On this issue, as on others, he has adopted a stance to the left of the Tories, but to the right of the unions and some activists. He has, for instance, pledged to widen use of the living wage, but has ruled out making its payment compulsory, he has promised to end "exploitative" zero-hours contracts, while opposing a full ban, and has committed to reintroducing the 50p tax rate, while vowing not to go any higher.

As Labour resolves its final policy positions, space is more clearly emerging to its left. The Greens, for instance, have used today's rail story to remind voters that they are committed to full renationalisation. They also favour a statutory living wage and a ban on all zero-hour contracts. To the disappointment of the Tories, who have long hoped for the emergence of a "Ukip of the left", the Greens and others have largely proved ineffective at exploiting the territory to Miliband's left. But as the election approaches, it is worth asking how those voters who welcomed the radical questions he asked, but have been disappointed with the answers, will behave.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.