There is a division between Labour's priorities in Westminster and Scotland. Photo: Getty
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Labour pains: Scotland's heading left while London's heading right

Branch office politics.

Ed Miliband’s move to cut his “One Nation” slogan from his recent party conference speech seems a prescient move. After all, we aren’t one nation in any meaningful sense. The disintegrative effects of devolution mean different parts of the UK are increasingly looking to find local solutions to local problems and to meet local desires.

It’s a reality being played out right now in the Labour party itself. As the race begins to find a new leader for the party in Scotland, it is clear that the political landscape north of the border is now forever changed following the independence referendum.

Indeed, a poll for The Herald yesterday found that 66 per cent of Scots want another referendum on independence within a decade. Meanwhile, the latest opinion polls in Scotland make grim reading for the Labour, training a resurgent SNP by 29 points, following the resignation of Scottish party leader Johann Lamont.

The answer, according to many in the party, is for Labour to define itself to the left of the SNP. Already, the train drivers’ union Aslef has come out for the left-wing challenger to succeed Lamont, Neil Findlay. Others are expected to follow.

But while it looks like Labour in Scotland is heading left, the party in London is moving right.

Tessa Jowell and Margaret Hodge – both possible contenders for Labour’s nomination for London mayor – have been quick to complain about Ed Balls’ proposed mansion tax.

Granted, it’s effectively a “London mansion tax” given the clustering of properties worth over £2m in the capital, but is it conceivable that a Labour London Mayor would not seek to be as redistributive as the party at large?

To be fair, they are not alone in expressing doubts. Other Labour MPs and local authorities have made criticisms about the operation of a tax on valuable property, pointing out people can be asset rich but cash poor. However, the subliminal message seems to be that the move risks positioning Labour as anti-aspirational. But if a social democratic party doesn’t tax unearned wealth to fund the NHS, how does it raise revenue fairly in straitened times?

Given the next election for London mayor takes place on the same day as elections to the Scottish Parliament in May 2016, could we see a Scottish Labour campaign calling for tax increases for higher earners, while a London campaign soft-pedals on millionaires?

This is the real “new politics”. In our fragmenting system, it looks like the main parties will need distinct approaches and offers in different parts of the UK for different audiences. Not in a duplicitous way, but merely to reflect the fact they are effectively becoming local franchises.

In his history of the Labour party, ‘Speak for Britain!’ the historian Martin Pugh points out that the early party was itself a collection of distinct regional and national groupings:

The tactics that worked in Lancashire were less relevant in County Durham; Labour was not the same party in London as it was in Yorkshire; its advance in the West Midlands came later than in South Wales.

Johann Lamont’s complaint that the national Labour party has treated Scotland like a “branch office” was telling. Indeed, she may be about to have the last laugh as Tip O’Neill’s famous dictum that “all politics is local” increasingly becomes a defining characteristic of British politics.

After 25 years of top-down centralisation, what will the control freaks in Labour make of that?

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut and a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland office. 

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This week, a top tip to save on washing powder (just don’t stand too near the window)

I write this, at 3.04pm on a sticky Thursday afternoon, in the state in which Adam, before his shame, strolled in the Garden of Eden.

Well, in the end I didn’t have to go to Ikea (see last week’s column). I got out of it on the grounds that I was obviously on the verge of a tantrum, always distressing to witness in a man in his early-to-mid-fifties, and because I am going to Switzerland.

“Why Switzerland?” I hear you ask. For the usual reason: because someone is paying for me. I don’t think I’m going to be earning any money there, but at least I’ll be getting a flight to Zurich and a scenic train ride to Bellinzona, which I learn is virtually in Italy, and has three castles that, according to one website, are considered to be “amongst the finest examples of medieval fortification in Switzerland”.

I’m not sure what I’m meant to be doing there. It’s all about a literary festival generally devoted to literature in translation, and specifically this year to London-based writers. The organiser, who rejoices in the first name of Nausikaa, says that all I have to do is “attend a short meeting . . . and be part of the festival”. Does this mean I can go off on a stroll around an Alp and when someone asks me what I’m doing, I can say “Oh, I’m part of the festival”? Or do I have to stay within the fortifications, wearing a lanyard or something?

It’s all rather worrying, if I think about it too hard, but then I can plausibly claim to be from London and, moreover, it’ll give me a couple of days in which to shake off my creditors, who are making the city a bit hot for me at the moment.

And gosh, as I write, the city is hot. When I worked at British Telecom in the late Eighties, there was a rudimentary interoffice communication system on which people could relay one-line messages from their own computer terminal to another’s, or everyone else’s at once. (This was cutting-edge tech at the time.) The snag with this – or the opportunity, if you will – was that if you were not at your desk and someone mischievous, such as Gideon from Accounts (he didn’t work in Accounts; I’m protecting his true identity), walked past he would pause briefly to type in the message “I’m naked” on your machine and fire it off to everyone in the building.

For some reason, the news that either Geoff, the senior team leader, or Helen, the unloved HR manager, was working in the nude – even if we knew, deep down, that they weren’t, and that this was another one of Gideon’s jeux d’esprit – never failed to break the monotony.

It always amused us, though we were once treated to a terrifying mise en abîme moment when a message, again pertaining to personal nudity, came from Gideon’s very own terminal, and, for one awful moment, for it was a very warm day, about 200 white-collar employees of BT’s Ebury Bridge Road direct marketing division suddenly entertained the appalling possibility, and the vision it summoned, that Gideon had indeed removed every stitch of his clothing, and fired off his status quo update while genuinely in the nip. He was, after all, entirely capable of it. (We still meet up from time to time, we BT stalwarts, and Gideon is largely unchanged, except that he’s now a history lecturer.)

I digress in this fashion in order to build up to the declaration – whose veracity you can judge for yourselves – that as I write this, at 3.04pm on a sticky Thursday afternoon, I, too, am in the state in which Adam, before his shame, strolled in the Garden of Eden.

There are practical reasons for this. For one thing, it is punishingly hot, and I am beginning, even after a morning shower, to smell like a tin of oxtail soup (to borrow an unforgettable phrase first coined by Julie Burchill). I am also anxious not to transfer any of this odour to any of my clothes, for I will be needing them in Switzerland, and I am running low on washing powder, as well as money to buy more washing powder.

For another thing, I am fairly sure that I am alone in the Hovel. I am not certain. To be certain, I would have to call out my housemate’s name, and that would only be the beginning of our problems. “Yes, I’m here,” she would reply from her room. “Why?” “Um . . .” You see?

So here I lie on my bed, laptop in lap, every window as wide open as can be, and looking for all the world like a hog roast with glasses.

If I step too near the window I could get arrested. At least they don’t mind that kind of thing in Switzerland: they strip off at the drop of a hat. Oh no, wait, that’s Germany.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times