Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Cameron's speech on Europe makes it less likely he will be Prime Minister after the next election (Independent)

His position on Europe means that another coalition with the Lib Dems is impossible, says Steve Richards. Given the likelihood of another hung parliament, that spells danger for him.

2. Cameron may have finished off the Tories – but he had no choice (Daily Telegraph)

David Cameron's Conservative Party gamble over Europe has been tried before, by Labour. It fatally split the party, writes Peter Oborne.

3. By offering an in/out referendum, Cameron made Ukip stronger (Independent)

It is Ukip which will be leading the campaign for independence, says Nigel Farage.

4 Can Netanyahu survive Israel's middle-class revolt? (Guardian)

The election has given Israel a new kingmaker in Yair Lapid, writes Aluf Benn. But Binyamin Netanyahu is a master of survival.

5. From outside, it's clear why Britain has to stay in Europe (Guardian)

Cameron's speech could have been a lot worse, but five years of anxious uncertainty are bad news for Europe and the world, writes Timothy Garton Ash.

6. Davos: infotainment, not a conspiracy (Financial Times)

Most people here spend their days debating corporate social responsibility and the global economy, writes John Gapper. 

7. The speech of his life! And if the PM can follow through, he might just seal a historic triumph (Daily Mail)

Cameron fulfilled the foremost duty of a Prime Minister by articulating every anxiety felt by his people about Europe, says Max Hastings.

8. In-out EU referendum: Cameron's hokey-cokey (Guardian)

The real concern of  the PM's speech was not economics but politics – the politics of a restive Tory backbench, an insurgent Ukip and a mostly Europhobic press, says a Guardian editorial.

9. At last, voters are trusted to choose Britain’s future (Daily Telegraph)

David Cameron has given Britain a far better chance of securing a satisfactory settlement with the European Union, says a Telegraph editorial.

10. Our island must stop living in the Tudor past (Times) (£)

While we celebrate progress over Catholics and the succession we should also ask why we are so slow to change, says David Aaronovitch.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.