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. 

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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