The questions for #Lab14

by Jonathan Todd

In 2010, Ed Miliband won the Labour leadership and started talking about the squeezed middle. The following year he gave us producers and predators. 2012 was the year of One Nation Labour. And last year the energy price freeze was the big thing.

Party conferences, as Kierkegaard might have understood, must be lived forwards but only understood backwards. There are various questions to reflect upon as we think how we might come to look back on this year’s conference:

Will Labour’s line on a constitutional convention hold?

“The vow” jointly made by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband poses questions for Labour. The issues are whether the powers promised to Scotland will be granted and what the implications for the rest of the UK will be if they are. Cameron is clear that Scotland can have these powers but they will need to be accompanied by balancing reforms elsewhere, in particular provisions to ensure that MPs for non-English seats cannot vote on matters only impacting England.

Tom Freeman has explained why English votes on English laws could be destructive of good government and potentially even the UK. He’s also proposed what appears a sensible solution, which responds to concerns raised outside of Scotland by “the vow”, while avoiding the problems associated with English votes on English laws.

Freeman’s solution is not yet Labour’s solution. Labour doesn’t yet have a solution. Labour proposes a constitutional convention to find a solution. Such a slow paced approach is consistent with the preference of Vernon Bogdanor, Cameron’s ex university tutor, for not rushing. It’s not clear, though, that those outside of Scotland will have the patience for this.

Many have seen “the vow” and want to know how their rights and interests can be reconciled with it. Labour can’t tell them. Cameron can. With a response that creates the dangers Freeman flags. If Labour wants our line on a constitutional convention to hold, we might want to stop talking about “two classes of MP”, which we’ve had since 1999, and start talking in the terms of the problems Freeman describes.

How to play the A-Team away from Westminster more often ?

Keeping the UK together was arguably Gordon Brown’s finest honour. Jim Murphy also emerges enhanced. If they’d left the fight to Labour MSPs, Yes might well have won. Alex Salmond was given over a decade to dismantle the B-Team that Labour kept fielding in Scotland. We would be foolish if we think that we can allow Salmond’s successor the same easy ride.

It would, therefore, be great if Brown and/or Murphy were to go full-time into Scottish politics. But getting the A-Team out of Westminster shouldn’t end there. Siôn Simon’s decision to give up a seat to campaign for an elected mayor in Birmingham remains the exception to our rule that the political top can only be reached through Westminster.

If Labour wants to devolve more power away from Westminster, we need to get more of our A-Team permanently out of Westminster too. This has happened in London, where leading Labour figures are prepared to give up Westminster for City Hall. It’s not just London and Scotland that would benefit from Labour A-Teamers leading demands for extra powers and utilising them to build a bottom-up socialism.

Should Labour act in anticipation of a reassertion of “the fundamentals”?

On Friday morning, following the referendum result, market commentators reported markets were reverting to focusing on “the fundamentals”, the strength of economic growth and the likelihood of interest rate rises. The political focus has lingered longer on “the vow” and its implications. But two political fundamentals were much stressed in advance of the Scottish referendum: Who is best suited to be prime minster? Who has the best economic policies?

That Cameron, not Miliband, is favouring in opinion polls on the first and George Osborne, not Ed Balls, the second threatens Labour’s chances in 2015. But James Callaghan, rather than Margaret Thatcher, was the preferred prime minister in 1979, while there are reasons to conclude that, perversely in such economically turbulent times, the economics may not be decisive in 2015.

Labour victory, nonetheless, remains perilous without improving against at least one of these two key indicators. And a constitutional convention may be too insubstantial a response to contribute toward turning things around in terms of who is best suited to be prime minister.

Will the pre-1997 buzz be felt?

Tristram Hunt says – perhaps in a punt at a self-fulfilling prophecy? – he can feel that buzz. But if Labour’s line on a constitutional convention fails to hold water in the court of public opinion and/or the fundamentals reassert themselves without Labour having acted to counter this, this might be wishful thinking.

At least in the early stages of conference, Scotland is likely to be a dominant theme of conference chat. And the referendum reminded us that the spectrum of the politically possible is wide, which gives both Labour optimists and pessimists mileage.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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5 Responses to “The questions for #Lab14”

  1. Mike Stallard says:

    OK, so everyone hates UKIP and everyone hates YES.

    But what they have shown is that the major parties are almost totally disconnected from us, the plebs down here. The Party Conference, which used to be our way of joining in has now been made into a TV op and plebs are excluded. We sit and gawp at the TV; we are not there getting excited – and listened to. Only the TUC still have normal people in it.

    In order to survive and prosper, the Labor and Conservative Parties need to do a UKIP or a YES. They need to come out of their bubble and really mix with local people and really listen to us. The party that manages to fix the local feelings and which actually connects with our representatives (not just the pushy and ambitious ones) will win hands down even if it is the Monster Raving Loonies.

    So let us not be afraid! The race is on.

  2. Madasafish says:

    Having read the proposal by Tom Freeman referenced above, it’s farcical. Appoint members to a second chamber – which can be overruled by the HOC. – yes that will work nicely – to ensure the current status quo.

    Why beat around the bush?

    Why not sort it out in the simplest way possible?

    Oh,, I forget, Labour lose an unfair advantage.. (after all, if the positions were reversed…)

    I regret whilst you are avoiding the simple solution, you appear to be more interested in political advantage than the interests of your country..That bodes well for the next Labour Government then.

    And of course any opponent with half a brain will target all your “safe” seats in Northern England with the message “Labour cares more for the Scots than voters in the North of England.. who are poorer than the Scots (fact) but get less Government spending (fact)”

    So a perceptive politician could see Labour losing seats in England AND losing Scottish MPs’ votes anyway.. A lose-lose scenario.

    Sounds about right for Mr Miliband’s leadership.

  3. Ex labour says:

    Here’s what I wrote on Freemans blog…

    “You mention democracy several times, yet having Scottish (Labour) MP’s dictate a policy applicable to England only is clearly undemocratic. More so when English MP’s cannot do the same for Scottish legislation.

    How is that democratic and fair ?

    The root of this is that a light has been shone on the Midlothian question and Labour and its apperatchiks are furiously rubbishing it from ever possible angle, knowing that Labour are effectively dead in the water.

    The English people have woken up to what has been going on, Pandora’s box is open, and as a Scot I sincerely wish that England and its people get the changes they deserve and some equality in the devolution process.

    Blair dodged the question last time round in self preservation, but not this time I’m afraid.”

    Milibands big idea of a constituational convention is yet more of his ponderous overthinking and inaction on this and other previous issues. Labour has effectively moved into self preservation mode and bugger the electorate of England. Who do they think they are wanting to decide on their own legislation? Dont they know there are lots of Labour people wanting to spend their money?

  4. Tafia says:

    Yesterday (Mon 22nd) the Lib Dems were reporting that Labour’s mebership in Scotland was deserting, with over (and remeber Scotland has a smaller population than London), 20,000 new members to the SNP, 3000 new members to the Scottish Greens and 2000 new members to the Scottish Socialist Party. Scottish LibDems further believe that Labour will be lucky to hold half it’s seats in Scotland next May.

  5. John Reid says:

    Ex labour is right

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