Former Liberal Democrat peer Matthew Oakeshott, who was expelled from the party for attempting to oust Nick Clegg.
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Former Lib Dem Lord Oakeshott donates £300,000 to Labour candidates

Peer also gives £300,000 to 15 Lib Dems and £10,000 to Caroline Lucas in attempt to build a "progressive alliance". 

Labour has long conceded that it will be heavily outspent by the Tories at the election (while arguing that its superior ground operation will compensate) but the party has recieved a rare financial boost tonight. The former Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott, who was expelled from the party after his attempted coup against Nick Clegg, has given £300,000 to 30 Labour parliamentary candidates in an attempt to "help save our country from a Tory government cringing to Ukip". Twenty nine of the candidates are contesting Conservative-held marginals and one, Melanie Onn, is seeking to hold Great Grimsby against Ukip. 

Oakeshott, a multimillionaire property investor, who now describes himself as a "non-party social democrat", has also donated £300,000 to 15 Lib Dem candidates, including eight MPs, and £10,000 to Green MP Caroline Lucas. His declared ambition is to build a "progressive alliance" to secure the election of a "Labour-led government headed by Ed Miliband as prime minister". He said:

Britain stands on the edge of a cliff with the general election only 105 days away. Will we vote Tory or Ukip for Euro referendum chaos, lasting two years at least and putting thousands of businesses, millions of jobs and our long term peace and security at risk?

Or will Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and all progressive voters come together in the marginal seats that matter to elect a Parliament for progress and reform and a Labour-led Government with Ed Miliband as prime minister? He has stood firm against the clamour for a referendum with considerable courage and nous. Scotland shows how referenda, even with 55-45 vote, can settle nothing, just open a can of worms.

Oakeshott's donations bring the traditional issue of tactical voting to the fore. Of the Lib Dems' 56 seats, the Tories lie in second place in 37. If the left divides in these constituencies, the danger is that the Conservative will make enough gains to remain the largest single party. While Labour cannot be seen to advocate support for rival candidates (not least given the Lib Dems' role in government and Miliband's ambition to build a "One Nation" party), shadow cabinet ministers acknowledge that it is a concern. 

Although the left is currently more fragmented than for decades, with the Greens and the SNP eating into Labour's vote, Oakeshott's donation is an example of how Miliband has partially succeeded in reuniting progressives. The peer's gift is the second from a former SDP figure after David Owen donated to the party last year. It would have been unthinkable for either man to aid New Labour in this way. 

Here is the full list of candidates backed by Oakeshott.

Labour 

Jessica Asato (Norwich North)

Catherine Atkinson (Erewash)

Nick Bent (Warrington South)

Louise Baldock (Stockton South) 

Polly Billington (Thurrock) 

Lisa Forbes (Peterborough) 

Victoria Fowler (Nuneaton) 

James Frith (Bury North) 

Sophy Gardner (Gloucester) 

Jamie Hanley (Pudsey) 

Rupa Huq (Ealing Central & Acton) 

Sarah Jones (Croydon Central)

Uma Kumaran (Harrow East)

Peter Kyle (Hove) 

Amina Lone (Morecambe and Lunesdale)

Jo McCarron (Kingswood) 

Natasha Millward (Dudley South) 

Lara Norris (Great Yarmouth) 

Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) 

Sarah Owen (Hastings & Rye) 

Nancy Platts (Brighton Kemptown) 

Lucy Rigby (Lincoln) 

Will Scobie (Thanet South) 

Lee Sherriff (Carlisle) 

Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) 

Joy Squires (Worcester) 

Will Straw (Rossendale and Darwen) 

Sharon Taylor (Stevenage) 

Janos Toth (Cannock Chase) 

Julia Tickridge (Weaver Vale) 

Liberal Democrat

Norman Baker MP (Lewes)

Lorley Burt (Solihull)

Helen Flynn (Harrogate & Knaresborough) 

Martin Horwood MP (Cheltenham) 

Ros Kayes (Dorset West) 

Tessa Munt MP (Wells)

Julie Porksen (Berwick-upon-Tweed) 

Jackie Porter (Winchester) 

John Pugh MP (Southport) 

David Rendel (Somerton & Frome) 

Dan Rogerson MP (North Cornwall) 

Adrian Sanders MP (Torbay) 

Vikki Slade (Mid Dorset & North Poole) 

Dorothy Thornhill (Watford) 

Jenny Willott MP (Cardiff Central) 

Green 

Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion)

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Junior doctors’ strikes: the greatest union failure in a generation

The first wave of junior doctor contract impositions began this week. Here’s how the BMA union failed junior doctors.

In Robert Tressell’s novel, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, the author ridicules the notion of work as a virtuous end per se:

“And when you are all dragging out a miserable existence, gasping for breath or dying for want of air, if one of your number suggests smashing a hole in the side of one of the gasometers, you will all fall upon him in the name of law and order.”

Tressell’s characters are subdued and eroded by the daily disgraces of working life; casualised labour, poor working conditions, debt and poverty.

Although the Junior Doctors’ dispute is a far cry from the Edwardian working-poor, the eruption of fervour from Junior Doctors during the dispute channelled similar overtones of dire working standards, systemic abuse, and a spiralling accrual of discontent at the notion of “noble” work as a reward in itself. 

While the days of union activity precipitating governmental collapse are long over, the BMA (British Medical Association) mandate for industrial action occurred in a favourable context that the trade union movement has not witnessed in decades. 

Not only did members vote overwhelmingly for industrial action with the confidence of a wider public, but as a representative of an ostensibly middle-class profession with an irreplaceable skillset, the BMA had the necessary cultural capital to make its case regularly in media print and TV – a privilege routinely denied to almost all other striking workers.

Even the Labour party, which displays parliamentary reluctance in supporting outright strike action, had key members of the leadership join protests in a spectacle inconceivable just a few years earlier under the leadership of “Red Ed”.

Despite these advantageous circumstances, the first wave of contract impositions began this week. The great failures of the BMA are entirely self-inflicted: its deference to conservative narratives, an overestimation of its own method, and woeful ignorance of the difference between a trade dispute and moralising conundrums.

These right-wing discourses have assumed various metamorphoses, but at their core rest charges of immorality and betrayal – to themselves, to the profession, and ultimately to the country. These narratives have been successfully deployed since as far back as the First World War to delegitimise strikes as immoral and “un-British” – something that has remarkably haunted mainstream left-wing and union politics for over 100 years.

Unfortunately, the BMA has inherited this doubt and suspicion. Tellingly, a direct missive from the state machinery that the BMA was “trying to topple the government” helped reinforce the same historic fears of betrayal and unpatriotic behaviour that somehow crossed a sentient threshold.

Often this led to abstract and cynical theorising such as whether doctors would return to work in the face of fantastical terrorist attacks, distracting the BMA from the trade dispute at hand.

In time, with much complicity from the BMA, direct action is slowly substituted for direct inaction with no real purpose and focus ever-shifting from the contract. The health service is superficially lamented as under-resourced and underfunded, yes, but certainly no serious plan or comment on how political factors and ideologies have contributed to its present condition.

There is little to be said by the BMA for how responsibility for welfare provision lay with government rather than individual doctors; virtually nothing on the role of austerity policies; and total silence on how neoliberal policies act as a system of corporate welfare, eliciting government action when in the direct interests of corporatism.

In place of safeguards demanded by the grassroots, there are instead vague quick-fixes. Indeed, there can be no protections for whistleblowers without recourse to definable and tested legal safeguards. There are limited incentives for compliance by employers because of atomised union representation and there can be no exposure of a failing system when workers are treated as passive objects requiring ever-greater regulation.

In many ways, the BMA exists as the archetypal “union for a union’s sake”, whose material and functional interest is largely self-intuitive. The preservation of the union as an entity is an end in itself.

Addressing conflict in a manner consistent with corporate and business frameworks, there remains at all times overarching emphasis on stability (“the BMA is the only union for doctors”), controlled compromise (“this is the best deal we can get”) and appeasement to “greater” interests (“think of the patients”). These are reiterated even when diametrically opposed to its own members or irrelevant to the trade dispute.

With great chutzpah, the BMA often moves from one impasse to the next, framing defeats as somehow in the interests of the membership. Channels of communication between hierarchy and members remain opaque, allowing decisions such as revocation of the democratic mandate for industrial action to be made with frightening informality.

Pointedly, although the BMA often appears to be doing nothing, the hierarchy is in fact continually defining the scope of choice available to members – silence equals facilitation and de facto acceptance of imposition. You don’t get a sense of cumulative unionism ready to inspire its members towards a swift and decisive victory.

The BMA has woefully wasted the potential for direct action. It has encouraged a passive and pessimistic malaise among its remaining membership and presided over the most spectacular failure of union representation in a generation.

Ahmed Wakas Khan is a junior doctor, freelance journalist and editorials lead at The Platform. He tweets @SireAhmed.