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.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.