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Commons Confidential: BoJo’s Latin lesson

Plus Ed’s “come back, all is forgiven” message to the trade unions for them to help the No campaign in Scotland. 

Ed Miliband is performing a reverse ferret in his Battle for Britain, with 40 Labour MPs in Scotland at stake. He has never forgiven trade unions the favour they did him in persuading members to vote for him for Labour leader, distancing himself from organised labour and marginalising it within the party. So imagine the incredulity when Desperate Ed rang Len McCluskey, Dave Prentis and other union general secretaries to beg for help to defeat Alex Salmond’s separatists. Unite in Scotland remembers Miliband’s office reporting a couple of innocent activists to the cops in the overblown Falkirk parliamentary selection row. Unite is neutral, as is Unison. Word in the two big unions is they might be in the Yes campaign if their Scottish regions called the shots. Ed should have realised he’d need the unions before he stabbed them in the back.

My advice to the Tory candidate for Easington, Chris Hampsheir, is don’t bray on trains. Passengers on a London-to-Glasgow service endured his boasts until he got off at Carlisle. If he’s reading this, I was sitting in front of you. So enjoy your £125-a-head “champagne and unlimited wine” Michael Howard fundraiser, though I doubt it’ll go down well in a deprived corner of County Durham. And next time you’re asked whether canvassing involves drinking cups of tea, don’t answer: “Pints of beer. This is the north. I have to drink them under the table.” Such a tired old stereotype.

Latin-quoting Tory and Old Etonian Buller Boris Johnson has met his match in Labour’s Coventry comp girl Mary Creagh. The party’s shadow transport secretary intended to put her school Latin to good use by urging caveat viator, let the traveller beware, when Boris Island sank under a tsunami of scorn in Howard Davies’s airports report. Alas, a spinner in Labour’s propaganda unit vetoed Creagh’s Latin lark, ruling that plain English was required. It would have been a refreshing change to the double Dutch spouted by many politicians.

Back to Hampsheir, the human foghorn in seat E36. I calculate his estimate of a 3 per cent Tory fall nationally in 2015 would result in a No 10 exit for Dave. Hampsheir doesn’t expect to overturn the Labour MP Grahame Morris’s 14,982 majority. Finishing second is his goal. “The locals want somebody young and energetic,” he declared, “to stir things up before they slumber for the next five years.” Charming.

What would Bob Crow have made of this? To save money on a hotel, the RMT hired a couple of flats for the TUC in Liverpool. The apartment block was called “Posh Pads”.

Finally, hapless Hampsheir’s verdict on the north-east: “They don’t like – properly ‘hate’ – Conservatives.” Especially in Easington. 

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 10 September 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Britain in meltdown

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David Blunkett compares Labour membership to failed revolution “from Ukraine to Egypt”

The Labour peer and former home secretary says new members need a “meaningful political education”, and accuses unions of neglecting their “historic balance”.

There are three sorts of opposition. There’s the civil society opposition, with people campaigning in their own specific areas, people who’ve got an interest group or are delivering social enterprise or a charity. I don’t think we should underestimate that because we're going to have to hang on to it as part of the renewal of civil society.

The second is the opposition formally, within the House of Commons: those who have agreed to serve as the formal shadow ministerial teams. Because of what I’d describe as the turmoil over the last two years, they’ve either not been able to be impressive – ie. they’re trying very hard but they don't have the coherent leadership or backing to do it – or they’ve got completely different interests to what it is they’re supposed to be doing, and therefore they’re not engaged with the main task.

Then there’s the third, which is the informal opposition – Labour linked sometimes to the Lib Dems and the SNP in Parliament on the opposition benches as a whole. They’re not doing a bad job with the informal opposition. People getting on with their work on select committees, the departmental committees beginning to shape policy that they can hopefully feed to the National Executive Committee, depending on the make-up of the National Executive Committee following this year’s conference. That embryo development of coherent policy thinking will be the seed-bed for the future.

I lived through, worked through, and was integrally involved with, what happened in the early Eighties, so I know it well. And people were in despair after the ‘83 election. Although it took us a long time to pull round, we did. It’s one reason why so many people, quite rightly in my view, don't want to repeat the split of 1931 or the split of 1981.

So they are endeavouring to stay in to argue to have some vision of a better tomorrow, and to persuade those of goodwill who have joined the party – who genuinely believe in a social movement and in extra-parliamentary non-violent activity, which I respect entirely – to persuade them that they’ll only be effective if they can link up with a functioning political process at national level, and at townhall and county level as well.

In other words, to learn the lessons of what’s happened across the world recently as well as in the past, from the Ukraine to Egypt, that if the groundswell doesn’t connect to a functioning party leadership, then, with the best will in the world, it’s not going to achieve its overall goals.

How do we engage with meaningful political education within the broader Labour party and trade union movement, with the substantially increased rank-and-file membership, without being patronising – and without setting up an alternative to Momentum, which would allow Momentum to justify its existence as a party within a party?

That's the challenge of the next two years. It's not just about someone with a vision, who’s charismatic, has leadership qualities, coming forward, that in itself won’t resolve the challenge because this isn't primarily, exclusively about Jeremy Corbyn. This is about the project being entirely on the wrong trajectory.

A lot depends on what the trade unions do. They command effectively the majority on the National Executive Committee. They command the key votes at party conference. And they command the message and resources that go out on the policy or programmes. It’s not just down to personality and who wins the General Secretary of Unite; it’s what the other unions are doing to actually provide their historic balance, because they always have – until now – provided a ballast, foundation, for the Labour party, through thick and thin. And over the last two years, that historic role has diminished considerably, and they seem to just be drifting.

I don’t think anybody should expect there to be a party leadership challenge any time soon. It may be that Jeremy Corbyn might be persuaded at some point to stand down. I was against the challenge against him last year anyway, purely because there wasn't a prepared candidate, there wasn't a policy platform, and there hadn’t been a recruitment drive to back it up.

People shouldn’t expect there to be some sort of white charger out there who will bring an immediate and quick end to the pain we’re going through. I think it’s going to be a readjustment, with people coming to conclusions in the next two years that might lead the party to be in a position to fight a credible general election in 2020. I’ve every intention of laying down some good red wine and still being alive to drink it when the Labour party is elected back to power.

David Blunkett is a Labour peer and former home secretary and education secretary.

As told to Anoosh Chakelian.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition