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Commons Confidential: Donald gets trumped

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

Downing Street is fretting over Donald Trump’s reaction to the glaring absence of an invitation to the Windsor nuptials of Harry Wales and Meghan Markle. The US ogre’s mother was Scottish and, with typical understatement, the reality-TV president views himself as America’s number one royal fan.

Nigel Farage speaks approvingly of Don expressing his love for an unelected hereditary monarchy during their cosy right-whinges. My No 10 snout groaned that Theresa May is fully aware of the ticking diplomatic time bomb. Markle has denounced Trump as “misogynistic”, previously threatening to remain in Canada, where the TV show Suits is filmed, rather than return to the US. Her hubby-to-be can’t be fond of a sexual predator who slavered that he could have “nailed” his mother, Diana.

The Whitehall whisper is that the Foreign Office is floating a compromise: invite First Lady Melania, who met Harry at the Invictus Games in Toronto, or Trump’s daughter Ivanka. Anybody but Trump himself, though Windsor has a McDonald’s for the catering.

In Jeremy Corbyn’s office, a list of potential new peers includes, I’m informed, the veteran black activist Martha Osamor. Blocked by Neil Kinnock from standing for the party in the 1989 Vauxhall by-election, won by Kate Hoey, she’s also the mother of the shadow international development secretary, Kate Osamor. Labour is anxious to avoid another row when it sends reinforcements to an unelected House of Lords it opposes. Shami Chakrabarti wears the only ermine tailored by Citizen Corbyn. The ennoblement triggered controversy by coinciding with her authorship of a report clearing Labour of widespread anti-Semitism.

Farage passed on a rumour that UK MEPs could remain in the European Parliament for a two-year transition period beyond Brexit day on 29 March 2019. With a £73,000 pension, the Ukip motormouth surely couldn’t continue enjoying a first-class seat on the Brussels gravy train he’s supposed to detest?

That wannabe prime minister and Brextremist, the Tory MP James “not very” Cleverly, was seen googling “Erasmus” on a think-tank panel to discover what Britain would leave. It’s an EU student exchange scheme – another Brexit fail.

Forget Brexit, poverty and the NHS: the Banbury mover Victoria Prentis is creating an all-party group on reeling, the Scottish country dance. Never let it be said that Tories don’t live in the reel world.

Bottom-numbed MPs call PMQs the “director’s cut” when the Speaker ignores a scheduled 12.30pm finish to nudge 1pm. It’s John Bercow’s revenge on Andrew Neil, starving the BBC presenter of Daily Politics airtime to discuss proceedings.

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 07 December 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special

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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.