A Labour Party worker canvasses for votes in Battersea on January 31, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour's manifesto: who's writing it and what happens next

There is concern within the party at the failure to agree a date for the crucial Clause V meeting. 

In advance of the start of the short campaign on 30 March, all parties are working on completing their election manifestos. The Conservatives', overseen by Jo Johnson MP (Boris's younger brother), is said to be nearly finished, while David Laws is refining the Lib Dems'. Ukip, meanwhile, recently replaced its manifesto chief Tim Aker with Suzanne Evans after he failed to meet an agreed deadline. 

What of Labour? Unlike in 2010, when its manifesto was written by Ed Miliband, the party has not publicly announced an official author. But I can reveal the key figures involved in the document. The text is being written by academic Jonathan Rutherford, an adviser to Jon Cruddas, and Marc Stears, Miliband's chief speechwriter and a friend from his Oxford days. The three politicians at the heart of the process are Jon Cruddas, the head of the party's policy review, Angela Eagle, who is leading internal consultation, and Jon Trickett, who is leading external consultation. Torsten Bell, Labour's director of policy and rebuttal, is handling the technical policy detail. 

As well as the usual debate over which policies make the cut, one issue that remains to be resolved is when the party will hold its Clause V meeting: the event at which the NEC, the shadow cabinet and other stakeholders agree the contents of the manifesto (one source described it to me as "a parliament of Labour"). The meeting is usually held within 72 hours of a general election being called, but the innovation of a fixed-term parliament means the election date (7 May) has long been known.

Despite this, a date has yet to be agreed for the party to meet. There is fear among some that this reflects a desire for the centre to maintain maximum control over the process, making it easier to exclude radical proposals. Were a date to be agreed now, the trade unions and others would, in the words of one source, know the point at which to "pile in". There is concern that measures such as worker representation on remuneration committees have yet to be confirmed as final policy. How this argument is resolved could yet determine whether Labour's manifesto is as "radical" as billed. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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