David Cameron speaks to supporters during the launch of the Welsh Conservative manifesto on April 17, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Tetchy Cameron dials up SNP attack by warning English voters would lose out

The PM suggested that a Labour government reliant on nationalist support would be forced to cancel infrastructure projects outside of Scotland. 

Since the election campaign began, David Cameron has been accused of lacking passion and of being "too posh to push". His manner on today's Andrew Marr show seemed like a conscious attempt to rebut this charge. "I'm angry and animated!" he declared at one point, lest anyone fail to notice. At moments, he rather too closely resembled an under-pressure chief executive or football manager facing the sack (repeatedly interrupting his interlocutor). But Cameron clearly believes that raising the rhetorical stakes is his best means of retaining power. 

The opening of the interview saw him dramatically dial up the SNP attack, warning of the "frightening prospect" of a party that "wouldn't care about what happenened in the rest of the country" holding sway over a Labour government. In an attempt to make the danger less abstract, he suggested that an administration reliant on nationalist support would be forced to cancel infrastructure projects in England, referring to "People thinking in their own constituencies 'Is that bypass going to be built? Will my hospital get the money it needs?'"

But while excoriating Miliband for refusing to rule out a loose arrangement with the SNP (though the Labour leader is more likely, as I wrote on Friday, to simply call their bluff), Cameron took an equally ambiguous stance towards Ukip. Asked to rule out a deal with Nigel Farage, he merely replied: "We're not planning to do deals with anybody". Since polls show that voters are more concerned by Ukip holding influence in a hung parliament than the SNP (42 per cent against 27 per cent in a recent MORI poll), this is a weakness Labour should repeatedly exploit. 

With Cameron currently on course to lose office, the Tories have resolved that their best hope of persuading wavering voters is to repeatedly play the SNP card - in an ever more apocalyptic manner. In particular, they hope that this will win over two key groups: Ukip defectors and southern Lib Dems. Whether or not the fear factor works, it is a disreputable campaign that only further undermines the long-term future of the Union. (As Marr observed at one point, Cameron sounded like an "English nationalist".) The Tories may yet retain power but they have already lost honour. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo:Getty
Show Hide image

Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.