Can everyone please put their spades down?

Denis Healy’s droll advice to stop digging when you find yourself in a hole seems lost on the current Labour frontbench. Just when it appeared that the party had officially reached Peak Disaster in May’s general election, it seems there is always more that can be done to frighten away potential voters.

Let’s take just four interventions from last week.

On Wednesday, at Prime Minister’s Questions, acting leader Harriet Harman casually committed the Labour benches to supporting a third runway for Heathrow, the central recommendation of Sir Howard Davies’ long-anticipated Airports Commission.

This is slightly surprising because there is no such commitment in the recent Labour manifesto. Indeed, there has been no discussion in the party about the change in policy. If there had been, it might have been pointed out that without ameliorative measures, a third runway will lock-in, rather than reduce, regional economic imbalances between Greater London and the North and Midlands. But, hey, it was a good line for PMQs.

Next up was Gloria de Piero, the party’s shadow equalities minister. She announced that companies employing more than 250 people (note: not the public sector) will be subject to a new regulation compelling them to undergo an “annual equal pay check” and publish information on the pay gap between their male and female employees in order, it seems, to be publicly shamed for any disparity.

Labour’s charmless offensive with business continues unabated. If there is evidence that employers pay women less for working at the same level as men, in the same organisation, on the same hours, then it’s a simple matter of enforcing the 1970 Equal Pay Act, which has outlawed such practices for the past 45 years.

Yes, women are disproportionately clustered in low-paid occupations and those trying to juggle work with caring responsibilities face a dearth of decent part-time opportunities (this is what, in reality, we understand by the gender pay gap). So rather than simply finger-wagging at business, Labour could have led the way by urging the public sector, in particular, to do much more to promote part-time working.

Back to Harriet Harman. She also found time last week to voice her support for Camilla Batmanghelidjh, the head of the Kids Company charity, following a series of damning allegations by Buzzfeed and Newsnight into its management and financial practices, (which has apparently led the Cabinet Office to withhold funding).

Harman (in whose constituency Kids Company is based) described Batmanghelidjh as an “inspirational leader”, warning ministers that they had previously pledged funding for her charity and “should keep their promise.”

So Labour’s (interim) leader is now lashed to the fortunes of an organisation facing troubling allegations and a spate of resignations from senior staff. Rather than rushing in with fulsome praise, might Harriet have been wiser to have been a tad more circumspect?

Lastly, and not to be outdone by his colleagues, Chuka Ummuna wandered into the minefield marked ‘Politicians’ Privileges,’ suggesting the Palace of Westminster be turned into a museum while we get a brand new, shiny, parliament building.

Although Westminster is “a beautiful building” it “often feels like you are in a museum”, so why not turn it into one, he suggested. Furthermore, a new building would help to “change the nature of debate”.

For good measure, the new debating chamber should be a horseshoe design, because rumbustious political debate, emanating from people with different political principles passionately advocating their cause, is like, soooo 20th Century.

So there we have it, a week of unforced errors, uncosted spending commitments and gesture politicking. When exactly are Labour frontbenchers going to realise that they lost the election because they were seen as a bunch of bossy, interfering, anti-business, spend-a-holics? And will someone please prise that spade out of Harriet’s hands?

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6 Responses to “Can everyone please put their spades down?”

  1. swatantra says:

    And we have to suffer another 2 more months of this shambolics? Gawd help us!
    HH should never have continued on as DL, but let someone else take over as interim Leader, some one like Margaret Beckett, whose done that job before.
    I’d agree with your first 3 balls ups; but Chukka has a point, which I myself have suggested, that the HP be turned into a kind of Living Museum, a Mde Taussaud’s a relic of a bygone age ;we could still keep the Lords in there as living waxworks, giving 2 performances a day and matinees on Saturday.
    While the real seat of Govt moves to Battersea Power Station or somewhere like that.
    With a proper Chamber and a Senate.

  2. Mike Stallard says:

    The Conservaitve Party went through exactly this dead stage when Mr Blair was first in control.
    The foundations need restoring. May I suggest:
    1. Looking at the working class. No. I mean the real working class. Where actual human beings work. Many of them are not able to speak English very well. Others are very poor. But many are actually quite well off and they have normal families to look after too. It seems to me that the Labour Party has completely lost touch with the real working class, being largely composed of people who reckon they have risen above it and who look down on the poor who they see as the “vulnerable” in “need”. Actually, real working class people have a lot of pride.
    2. With this in mind, what is wrong with Grammar Schools? What is wrong with a lot of tax breaks? What is wrong with freeing up shopkeepers, transport people, police and firefighters, nurses and doctors a bit? Give them a bit of a break from oppressive taxation. Give them a bit of a break from regulation? Make paying their taxes easier by simplifying the tax codes?
    3. Real workers hate being in debt. We are not that silly. We know the friends who have been visited by thugs wanting their money back. The country is deep in debt. When will the whole thing crash? Greece?
    4. Why is the Labour Movement so against tracking? I thought it was the party of industry?
    5. Why does’t it seem to care about Europe? The Greek Socialists and the Spanish Socialists (Podemos) are both against Europe aren’t they?
    It seems that the Labour Movement just swallows everything people shout at it without examining it. this has never been the case when it has been in the hands of thoughtful and sensible people who have led it to success.

  3. Carol says:

    I think Labour has lost people like myself who were once part of, and will always care about working people, for good.

    Briefly, on the subject of the HOC, for me the real question is why the chancers, ideologues and expenses cheats who inhabit it did not care enough to see that it was kept in good repair. This should have been done years ago. Working class people are patriots and a patriot would not wish to see the building which is the core of our political history reduced to a vermin ridden Miss Havisham type slum. I want a modern Kate Hoey and there is no-one like that on offer.

  4. swatantra says:

    And the latest, a cat-fight between Liz and Yvette maybe Chukka was sensible to pull out earlier, because I can see this descending into a pub brawl, with JayCee’s supporters displaying an arrogance that they can win it. And if they do, then I can see
    As I’ve suggested many times before, the job of leader should not be for Life. So lets just have Andy B, and Caroline F, for two years and have another election. I’m calling for biannual elections in future. And an elected Chair of the LP by OMOV, who has the reserve power of dismissing any Leader who is bringing the Party into disrepute, or is simply not up to it. We need constitutional change in the LP.

  5. Reality check says:

    “it might have been pointed out that without ameliorative measures, a third runway will lock-in, rather than reduce, regional economic imbalances between Greater London and the North and Midlands. But, hey, it was a good line for PMQs.”

    The only beneficiaries of holding back London’s growth as an international city are going to be competitor cities across Europe and the world; not the North + Midlands.

    A Labour opposition to Heathrow expansion really would be living the dream of short-sighted, Milibandite, tactical opportunism and would be the height of economic illiteracy as well.

  6. Landless Peasant says:

    Everyone in the country should. put their spades down, & shovels & other tools. Labour should have called for a. National General Strike 5. Years ago !

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