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Which side will do best out of Labour's parliamentary selections?

Horse-trading and favours will be handed around as the party selects in the handful of vacant safe seats. 

The snap general election has frozen Labour’s internal struggle for power.

Thanks to powers that the party’s National Executive Committee voted itself during Jeremy Corbyn’s first year as Labour leader, when there was a narrow Corbynite majority – now hung after the appointments of the Scottish and Welsh leaders are taken into account – anyone who stood for Labour in 2015, whether they were successful or unsuccessful, will be able to re-stand without going through a full selection. 

In marginal seats, Labour’s candidate pool will look very different. Many Corbynsceptic candidates have no appetite to take 50 days of unpaid leave to lose an election. So if Corbyn can turn around the polls and win the election, the resulting parliamentary Labour party will be a Corbynite one, particularly as the PLP’s centre will fall behind the leader.

If the polls and the pundits are proved correct, however, then what matters most are what goes on in the party’s safest seats. For the most part, many of the party’s old warriors, who planned to stand down in 2020, are extending their parliamentary careers to avoid allowing their seat to fall to the other side.

Of the 12 Labour MPs who have stood down at time of writing, four are in seats that are widely expected to fall to the Tories.

Any vacant seats, whether held by Labour or the Conservatives, will be decided by the nine officers of the NEC; that is Jeremy Corbyn, his deputy Tom Watson, plus Jim Kennedy of Unite, Andy Kerr of the Communication Workers’ Union, Keith Birch of Unison, and Cath Speight of the GMB, with Ann Black, an ever-present on the party’s NEC since 1998, representing the membership. Rounding off the set are Diana Holland, the party’s treasurer, and Glenis Willmott, the leader of the party in Europe.  Holland assistant general secretary of Unite, effectively giving that union two representatives, while Wilmott does the same for the GMB. 

That means that as far as Corbynites and Corbynsceptics are concerned, the officers, like the NEC as a whole, is hung between Corbynites and Corbynsceptics. 

In practice what will happen is that the three big unions will divvy up the seats, with the leader’s office making entreaties on behalf of their favoured candidates. The relationship between Lisa Johnson, political director at the GMB, and Anneliese Midgley, her opposite number at Unite, will be a critical one in deciding who makes the cut. 

Although meetings of the NEC officers will likely be “fractious” as one insider puts it, ultimately the end result will be a deal that leaves the big unions happy. So while the leader’s office has a good chance of getting its people in when they have strong union links – Karie Murphy, Corbyn’s chief of staff and a close ally of Len McCluskey has been described as the “number one priority” as far as seat selections are concerned – for the most part, the big winners of these selections will be not diehard Corbynites, not bitter-end Corbynsceptics, but longtime union officials. 

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

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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder