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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 British politics.

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The NS leader: Cold Britannia

Twenty years after the election of New Labour, for the left, it seems, things can only get worse. 

Twenty years after the election of New Labour, for the left, it seems, things can only get worse. The polls suggest a series of grim election defeats across Britain: Labour is 10 points behind the Conservatives even in Wales, putting Theresa May’s party on course to win a majority of seats there for the first time in a century. Meanwhile, in Scotland, the psephologist John Curtice expects the resurgent Tories, under the “centrist” leadership of Ruth Davidson, to gain seats while Labour struggles to cling on to its single MP.

Where did it all go wrong? In this week’s cover essay, beginning on page 26, John Harris traces the roots of Labour’s present troubles back to the scene of one of its greatest triumphs, on 1 May 1997, when it returned 418 MPs to the Commons and ended 18 years of Conservative rule. “Most pop-culture waves turn out to have been the advance party for a new mutation of capitalism, and so it proved with this one,” Mr Harris, one of the contributors to our New Times series, writes. “If Cool Britannia boiled down to anything, it was the birth of a London that by the early Noughties was becoming stupidly expensive and far too full of itself.”

Jump forward two decades and London is indeed now far too dominant in the British economy, sucking in a disproportionate number of graduates and immigrants and then expecting them to pay £4 for a milky coffee and £636,777 for an average house. Tackling the resentment caused by London’s dominance must be an urgent project for the Labour Party. It is one that Mr Corbyn and his key allies, John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry and Diane Abbott, are not well placed to do (all four are ultra-liberals who represent
London constituencies).

Labour must also find a happy relationship with patriotism, which lies beneath many of the other gripes made against Mr Corbyn: his discomfort with the institutions of the British state, his peacenik tendencies, his dislike of Nato and military alliances, his natural inclination towards transnational or foreign liberation movements, rather than seeking to evolve a popular national politics.

New Labour certainly knew how to wave the flag, even if the results made many on the left uncomfortable: on page 33, we republish our Leader from 2 May 1997, which complained about the “bulldog imagery” of Labour’s election campaign. Yet those heady weeks that followed Labour’s landslide victory were a time of optimism and renewal, when it was possible for people on the left to feel proud of their country and to celebrate its achievements, rather than just apologise for its mistakes. Today, Labour has become too reliant on misty invocations of the NHS to demonstrate that it likes or even understands the country it seeks to govern. A new patriotism, distinct from nationalism, is vital to any Labour revival.

That Tony Blair and his government have many detractors hardly needs to be said. The mistakes were grave: the catastrophic invasion of Iraq, a lax attitude to regulating the financial sector, a too-eager embrace of free-market globalisation, and the failure to impose transitional controls on immigration when eastern European states joined the EU. All contributed to the anger and disillusionment that led to the election as Labour leader of first the hapless Ed Miliband and then Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time rebel backbencher.

However, 20 years after the victory of the New Labour government, we should also acknowledge its successes, not least the minimum wage, education reform, Sure Start, a huge fall in pensioner poverty and investment in public services. Things did get better. They can do so again.

The far right halted

For once, the polls were correct. On 23 April, the centrist Emmanuel Macron triumphed in the first round of the French election with 24 per cent of the vote. The Front National’s Marine Le Pen came second with 21.3 per cent in an election in which the two main parties were routed. The two candidates will now face off on 7 May, and with the mainstream candidates of both left and right falling in behind Mr Macron, he will surely be France’s next president.

“There’s a clear distinction to be made between a political adversary and an enemy of the republic,” said Benoît Hamon, the candidate of the governing Parti Socialiste, who had strongly criticised Mr Macron during the campaign. “This is deadly serious now.” He is correct. Mr Macron may be a centrist rather than of the left but he is a democratic politician. Ms Le Pen is a borderline fascist and a victory for her would herald a dark future not just for France but for all of Europe. It is to Donald Trump’s deep shame that he appeared to endorse her on the eve of the vote.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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