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PMQs review: Emily Thornberry torments Damian Green

Labour's shadow foreign secretary further discomforted Theresa May's deputy. 

Damian Green, who is still being investigated over alleged sexual harrasment, deputised for Theresa May at today's PMQs (the Prime Minister is in Jordan). Though Green's appearance could be seen as a vote of confidence by May (the PM has received an interim report), Emily Thornberry was determined to exploit the First Secretary of State's discomfort. 

Thornberry (who, as before, deputised for Jeremy Corbyn), began with a series of well-crafted jokes. With an eye to May's appearance with Donald Trump, she quipped that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were "one Anglo-American couple we on this side will be delighted to see holding hands". And, before anyone else could, Thornberry added that she would "of course" be waving her St George's flag for England's rugby team. 

Her first question to Green was ruthlessly scripted: "Is he happy to be held to the same standards in government that he required of others while he was in opposition?" A notably nervy Green replied: "I think all ministers should respect and obey the ministerial code and I think that's a very important part of confidence in public life." As Thornberry reassured him that she wasn't "going there", the First Secretary of State despondently shook his head.

The shadow foreign secretary, well-armed by that master of the political dark arts, Damian McBride, continued: "I merely wonder if he remembered the question he asked 17 years ago...'what percentage of new nurses recruited in the last 12 months are now working full-time?'" 

A hesistant Green made a banal defence of the government's record and, as usual, condemned Labour's record in Wales. Though Thornberry's delivery was variable, she had several potent statistics ("More than 40 per cent of newly-recruited nurses are leaving full-time employment within their first year"), and revealed that a hospital in Green's constituency had warned of the crisis caused by the Conservatives. 

She concluded: "Only £350m to cope with the winter crisis and [the Chancellor] was able to find 11 times that amount to spend on a 'no deal' Brexit. Isn't that the very definition of a government fiddling away whilst the rest of the country burns?" Though Green returned rhetorical fire by declaring that while Labour wasn't preparing for Brexit, it was preparing for "a run on the pound", his muted performance spoke of his political enfeeblement. 

In contrast to Thornberry, the pugnacious Labour MP John Mann, did "go there", inviting Green to apologise to the victims of sexual harassment who the government had been "letting down". He replied: "I absolutely agree that both this place as an institution and all the political parties need to improve complaints procedures and other aspects of the culture of politics to make sure young men or young women interested in politics are not in any way deterred from playing an active role in it."

Though Green may yet survive, today's performance confirmed that he will rise no higher. Thornberry, however, once again demonstrated why she could. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Labour’s renationalisation plans look nothing like the 1970s

The Corbynistas are examining models such as Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and John Lewis. 

A community energy company in Nottingham, a credit union in Oldham and, yes, Britain's most popular purveyor of wine coolers. No, this is not another diatribe about about consumer rip-offs. Quite the opposite – this esoteric range of innovative companies represent just a few of those which have come to the attention of the Labour leadership as they plot how to turn the abstract of one of their most popular ideas into a living, neo-liberal-shattering reality.

I am talking about nationalisation – or, more broadly, public ownership, which was the subject of a special conference this month staged by a Labour Party which has pledged to take back control of energy, water, rail and mail.

The form of nationalisation being talked about today at the top of the Labour Party looks very different to the model of state-owned and state-run services that existed in the 1970s, and the accompanying memories of delayed trains, leaves on the line and British rail fruitcake that was as hard as stone.

In John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn’s conference on "alternative models of ownership", the three firms mentioned were Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and, of course, John Lewis. Each represents a different model of public ownership – as, of course, does the straightforward takeover of the East Coast rail line by the Labour government when National Express handed back the franchise in 2009.

Robin Hood is the first not-for-profit energy company set up a by a local authority in 70 years. It was created by Nottingham city council and counts Corbyn himself among its customers. It embodies the "municipal socialism" which innovative local politicians are delivering in an age of austerity and its tariffs delivers annual bills of £1,000 or slightly less for a typical household.

Credit unions share many of the values of community companies, even though they operate in a different manner, and are owned entirely by their customers, who are all members. The credit union model has been championed by Labour MPs for decades. 

Since the financial crisis, credit unions have worked with local authorities, and their supporters see them as ethical alternatives to the scourge of payday loans. The Oldham credit union, highlighted by McDonnell in a speech to councillors in 2016, offers loans from £50 upwards, no set-up costs and typically charges interest of around £75 on a £250 loan repaid over 18 months.

Credit unions have been transformed from what was once seen as a "poor man's bank" to serious and tech-savvy lenders where profits are still returned to customers as dividends.

Then there is John Lewis. The "never-knowingly undersold" department store is owned by its 84,000 staff, or "partners". The Tories have long cooed over its pledge to be a "successful business powered by its people and principles" while Labour approves of its policy of doling out bonuses to ordinary staff, rather than just those at the top. Last year John Lewis awarded a partnership bonus of £89.4m to its staff, which trade website Employee Benefits judged as worth more than three weeks' pay per person (although still less than previous top-ups).

To those of us on the left, it is a painful irony that when John Lewis finally made an entry into politics himself – in the shape of former managing director Andy Street – it was to seize the Birmingham mayoralty ahead of Labour's Sion Simon last year. (John Lewis the company remains apolitical.)

Another model attracting interest is Transport for London, currently controlled by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. TfL may be a unique structure, but nevertheless trains feature heavily in the thinking of shadow ministers, whether Corbynista or soft left. They know that rail represents their best chance of quick nationalisation with public support, and have begun to spell out how it could be delivered.

Yes, the rhetoric is blunt, promising to take back control of our lines, but the plan is far more gradual. Rather than risk the cost and litigation of passing a law to cancel existing franchises, Labour would ask the Department for Transport to simply bring routes back in-house as each of the private sector deals expires over the next decade.

If Corbyn were to be a single-term prime minister, then a public-owned rail system would be one of the legacies he craves.

His scathing verdict on the health of privatised industries is well known but this month he put the case for the opposite when he addressed the Conference on Alternative Models of Ownership. Profits extracted from public services have been used to "line the pockets of shareholders" he declared. Services are better run when they are controlled by customers and workers, he added. "It is those people not share price speculators who are the real experts."

It is telling, however, that Labour's radical election manifesto did not mention nationalisation once. The phrase "public ownership" is used 10 times though. Perhaps it is a sign that while the leadership may have dumped New Labour "spin", it is not averse to softening its rhetoric when necessary.

So don't look to the past when considering what nationalisation and taking back control of public services might mean if Corbyn made it to Downing Street. The economic models of the 1970s are no more likely to make a comeback then the culinary trends for Blue Nun and creme brûlée.

Instead, if you want to know what public ownership might look like, then cast your gaze to Nottingham, Oldham and dozens more community companies around our country.

Peter Edwards was press secretary to a shadow chancellor, editor of LabourList and a parliamentary candidate in 2015 and 2017.