Posts Tagged ‘Jon Ashworth’

Covid has put the NHS front and centre. But Labour needs to beware, 2019 showed that support for the NHS does not equal votes for Labour

12/06/2020, 09:45:56 PM

by David Talbot

On the morning after consigning the Labour Party to a fourth and devastating general election defeat, the Prime Minister addressed the nation from the steps of Downing Street. In the early glow of election victory, Boris Johnson informed the party faithful and, more importantly, the millions of converted Labour voters that the “NHS is this One Nation government’s top priority”.

Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party had tried awfully hard during the preceding six weeks to make the NHS the central focus of the election. Chants of “not for sale!” reverberated around campaign rallies as a dossier exposing the “secret agenda” to sell off the NHS to US corporations was thrust into the heart of the campaign.

It was easy to understand Labour’s desire to move the debate from the Conservatives’ favoured ground of Brexit, and its pithy slogan, to the one policy area the party led on. Indeed, at the start of the campaign, the NHS was cited by more (60%) of the population than Brexit (56%) as the most important issue facing the nation. 68% of Labour’s 2017 voters also named the NHS as their number one priority, and Labour retained a lead, albeit small, on the party best placed to protect the health service.

The NHS was not only an important election issue, but it united a party which was allergic about talking about Brexit and acted as a galvanising vehicle for activists to campaign upon, whilst gnawing at the Conservative’s traditional Achilles’ heel.


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Labour’s vow to ban fast food ads on Saturday night TV totally misses the point

16/05/2017, 10:17:46 PM

by Lucy Ashton

Labour‘s vow to make our nation’s children the “healthiest in the world” by banning fast food advertising during Saturday night TV is the worst kind of artificial sweetener for voters. 

No one is arguing with the facts – children nowadays are more obese at a younger age, have worst tooth decay and rising mental health problems. 

But does Shadow Health Minister Jonathan Ashworth seriously believe banning a KFC advert during the X Factor will solve such a huge, complex issue? 

Ashworth says: We will end the scourge of child ill health with bold, decisive and targeted action aimed at making our children the healthiest in the world.”  

And how exactly do we quantify this? Are we basing it on BMI index? Fewer hospital admissions? Lowering the number of diabetics? It’s also dangerous to lump physical and mental health together as the two can be completely separate issues with different solutions. 

His theorbehind banning certain adverts is that kids will then stop pestering their parents to buy junk food. The ban would only be during prime time TV so it’s fine to watch sugar-loaded cereal advertised on children’s channels in the day time.  

We’re also taking a quaint 1950’s view that the whole family is watching Britain’s Got Talent together when the reality is families are viewing Netflix, downloaded films and YouTube. 


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It’s time for Labour MPs to stop moping and muck in

06/01/2017, 10:33:50 PM

by Kevin Meagher

If you think it’s cold wherever in the country you are reading this, just imagine how cold it is running a by-election campaign in Copeland in West Cumbria in the winter.

For those unfamiliar with the area, the answer is, of course, bloody cold. Not a place, certainly, to find yourself at this time of year, trudging the highways and byways, in the teeth of an icy Cumbrian gust.

Nevertheless, this is the lot of Andrew Gwynne for the foreseeable future.

The intrepid shadow minister without portfolio, has be despatched this week to run Labour’s by-election campaign to hold onto the seat Jamie Reed is set to vacate and stop the Tories overturning his slender 2,564 majority.

It’s a tough gig.

Lots of jobs reliant on Sellafield. And a suspicion, no doubt, that Labour is not particularly enamoured with the very industry that pays the wages of thousands of Copeland’s voters.

Joining Gwynne up there to kick start the campaign the other day was Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth.

He was visiting West Cumberland Hospital to campaign against the downgrading of its services, which will see consultant-led maternity services moved 40 miles up the road to Carlisle.

This was a smart spot. A solid, resonant local issue to base a campaign around that helpfully plays to Labour’s strongest card.


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Advantage Alexander in Labour’s campaign team reshuffle

04/07/2014, 08:02:33 AM

Three new faces join Labour’s campaign team as deputies to Labour’s chair of campaign strategy, Douglas Alexander: Gloria de Piero, Toby Perkins and Jon Ashworth to improve broadcast coverage, field operations and work with candidates. Cue warm fraternal regards from all and sundry on Twitter, nothing to see here, all just run of the mill announcements.

Except of course, they aren’t.

The essential background is that Michael Dugher – responsible for campaign communications – and Douglas Alexander, are not on speaking terms. We know because of this. Quite possibly the most extraordinary example of red on red briefing since the low point of the TB-GBs a decade ago.

The overlapping nature of their briefs was always likely to cause friction, a function of Ed Miliband’s reluctance to pick a single campaign boss. Now, the Alexander-Dugher antipathy has become so entrenched that even by Labour’s dysfunctional standards (see recent comments by J Cruddas about unreconciled camps), something had to be done.

Rather than fix the original mistake and unambiguously choose a single campaign lead, Ed Miliband has opted for a fudge.

The primary role of the new appointments is to form a human shield between Alexander and Dugher.

In the original campaign structure, Dugher and Alexander had an executive function: their role was to discuss the recommendations from the staff team and make decisions. But in a world where the two aren’t talking, and the leader refuses to choose between them, a buffer was needed.

Enter the new deputies.

It’s notable that on the Tory side of the fence, there is no comparable proliferation of MPs in campaign roles. They have a single official at the helm, Lynton Crosby, who is accountable to Cameron and Osborne and that’s it. Everyone else does as they are told.


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Whip’s notebook: Does Cameron now have two Chief Whips?

28/03/2013, 05:56:03 PM

by Jon Ashworth

Any self respecting whip has to go and see the superb This House by James Graham at the National Theatre bringing to the stresses and strains as Labour whips tried desperately to keep the Wilson/Callaghan show on the road while their Tory counterparts plot to bring it all crashing down.

While the lapels might have changed and the culture is certainly less macho, there still is a lot that remain the same.  We all work the phone and prowl the corridors to make sure all our flock are there to vote at the right time because simply as John Smith used to say ‘votes is the currency of politics.’

A prime minister can’t govern if he or she can’t command a majority. David Cameron has already lost big major votes on Europe, on the boundaries and everyone knows he would have lost on Leveson. With a group of Tory backbenchers more rebellious than ever Cameron desperately needs a whips office he can trust but who also crucially enjoy a the goodwill of his backbench troops.

But we all know that his troops aren’t happy. Whispers persist that 20 odd Tory MPs have fired off missives of no confidence to the Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee. The rebels openly talk with Tory MPs and Labour MPs (me included) of their frustrations with the prime minister in Commons corridors.

Meanwhile the chancellor who used to be cheered to the rafters by Tory MPs looks increasingly deserted at his Commons outing at Treasury questions and budget debates. Incidentally I’ve noticed more Tory MPs showing up for the Home Office questions.

Perhaps it’s rumblings and low morale that has forced the prime minister to switch John Hayes from his role as energy minister to become his “senior parliamentary adviser.” But it’s not entirely clear how the role differs from the unpaid post of prime minister’s parliamentary private secretary. I’m surprised therefore that Jeremy Heywood has agreed this new post should be remunerated with a ministerial salary. But such matters don’t seem to worry Cameron too much, he has now appointed three MPs to effectively none jobs –  “ministers without portfolio”  – but all with handsome government salaries. Talk about all being in it together eh?!


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Whip’s Notebook: Who does the PM ask to find out what’s going on with his flagship equal marriage bill? The Labour whips

07/02/2013, 01:16:13 PM

by Jon Ashworth

If you want to find out what is going on in the Commons you ask a Labour whip, so said a Tory MP to the Labour whips’ office on the night of the equal marriage vote. While I can’t claim to know what is always going on I certainly know that the prime minister’s party management skills were again called into question this week.

This blog has already argued David Cameron’s modernisation of the Tory party is on its last legs. This week we had more evidence. On something that Cameron himself had decided was a touchstone issue, the majority of his MPs voted against him. In fact 136 voted no, 127 voted yes and 36 abstained. More starkly roughly 40 per cent of the “payroll” vote failed to back him – including nine out of fourteen in his own whips office – the very people who are supposed to enforce the will of the prime minister.

Of course the issue was a free vote but Cameron, Michael Gove, George Osborne and Theresa May were all out in force in recent days desperately trying to persuade their backbenchers to back the prime minister, and yet amazingly 70 per cent of Tory backbenchers ignored them and refused to vote the same way as the Prime Minister.

The free vote on Tuesday evening was on whether to give the bill its second reading and so the bill will now go off to committee to be scrutinised line by line before returning to the Commons and then the Lords. Immediately after these second reading votes the Commons also usually agrees a “programme motion” which timetables the bill though committee, a “money resolution” which agrees the relevant funds for the policy enacted in the bill and a “carry-over motion” to agree that the bill can be “carried over” to the next Parliamentary session should its passage not be completed in this session. The Commons often, though not always, agrees these motions without “dividing” i.e. voting on them.

But on Tuesday evening some Tory backbenchers were determined to cause as much trouble as possible for the Tory leadership and so forced votes on all of them.

And yet despite the scale of the vote against second reading, the Tory whips either were not motivated or caught unaware as to what would happen next. Perhaps it was a bit of both.


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Whip’s Notebook: The great boundary bust-up

01/02/2013, 09:00:25 AM

by Jon Ashworth

Tuesday was not a good day for the Tory whips.

There were early signs that not all was well on the Tory benches at Tuesday’s Treasury questions. In Westminster terms, the monthly joust between Ed Balls and George Osborne is usually box office and true to form the Labour benches were packed. Yet strangely the Tory benches were sparse and subdued.

A complete contrast with two and half years ago when adoring Tory MPs would try desperately hard to impress Osborne asking helpful questions here and guffawing at every “gag” there.

But now what a turnaround.

As each day goes by and we hear more grim news about an economy that continues to flat line while government borrowing and debt continues to increase, it seems Tory MPs are literally deserting their chancellor. Future leaders now talked of are Norman, Afyirie, Johnson and Gove, not Osborne anymore. No wonder his punch lines this week were greeted with tumbleweed on the Tory benches.

Perhaps Tory MPs were saving themselves for the debate later that afternoon on the boundaries and boy did they vent their spleen. Take Portsmouth Tory MP Penny Mordaunt accusing the Liberal Democrats of “spite, pettiness and self-interest”, while at the same time appearing oblivious to the fact that the pain she was experiencing from this Lib Dem “betrayal” was as a result of the gun she had taken and fired at her own foot as a Tory ringleader of the Lords rebellion last year.

Tory MP after Tory MP spluttered about the impertinence of an unelected chamber telling the Commons how it’s elected members’ constituency boundaries should be drawn. The self same Tory MPs who had defended and voted for an unelected House of Lords just months earlier.


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Whip’s notebook: We are witnessing the death throes of the Cameron modernisation project

22/01/2013, 07:00:26 AM

by Jon Ashworth

I was a junior bag carrier in the in the dog days of the last Labour government. I remember too well the attempted coups; the sacked ministers seeking vengeance and the general air of resignation. My heart sank every time another MP in a marginal seat announced their retirement. Many of these MPs had been in the political frontline for 20 years plus and were no doubt genuine in wanting to move on but it inevitably of course contributed to a general sense we were in decline.

But this was a party which by 2010 had been in power for 13 long difficult years. Our Tory opponents were on their fourth leader and sixth shadow chancellor while the Lib Dems were on their fourth Leader too. By 2007 the Tory Party was spending huge amount of energy mimicking Labour election winning tactics in an effort to box off their deep seated weaknesses. So in a nod to Gordon Brown’s commitment in 1997 to match Ken Clarke’s overall spending levels, Osborne and Cameron made a similar pledge declaring support for every penny piece of Labour spending – not something they like to be reminded of now of course.

Fast forward to 2013 we are just over two and half years into David Cameron’s government. The Sunday Times this weekend informed us that an increasing number of backbenchers are privately discussing the possibility of attempting to unseat the prime minister before the poll in 2015 if the party continues to trail in the polls.

Meanwhile Labour MPs are enjoying the increasingly colourful outbursts from sacked ex-minister Tim Loughton who last week said of his former boss Michel Gove that,

“most officials have never met the secretary of state other than when he’ll troop out a few chosen people for the new year party, Mr Grace-like, tell us ‘you’ve all done very well’ then disappear. That’s no way to run an important department. It is terribly anachronistic, terribly bureaucratic, terribly formal.”


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Conference Notebook

04/10/2012, 02:30:17 AM

by Jon Ashworth

Ed Miliband knocked it out of the park with a speech that had delegates whooping with delight and assembled hacks starting to concede that Labour could be back in the game. Ed put in a similarly assured and fizzing performance at the gala dinner later that night flanked by stars from Coronation Street. But while we all have our spring in our step, no one is under any illusion that we still have a long hard journey ahead.


My nose for sniffing out conference floor controversies hasn’t let me down. As I thought, Tuesday’s CAC report was almost voted down with Unite supporting the ‘reference back.’ Smartly, conference managers have now agreed to table the emergency resolution from the TSSA and so avoiding the embarrassment of conference not agreeing to the proposed timetable for the day’s proceedings. The swift turnaround from the CAC was sensible theoretically if the report had been voted down a new one would have had to be drawn up delaying the start of conference business on the day of the leader’s speech.


Every year at conference I see old friends in the bar who I only ever catch up with at conference. It’s like an old family reunion. Last night delegates were delighted that as well as the usual mix of journalists, MPs, shadow cabinet members and so on, we were also joined by Hugh Grant. Councillors and prospective politicians queued up for photos many of which will no doubt, unbeknownst to Hugh, feature  prominently on individual election leaflets next year.


Conference is alive with rumour and gossip of famous names who may or may not be seeking parliamentary selection in the near future. This week we’ve seen more of Labour’s new generation of parliamentary candidates selected in marginal constituencies. Battleground seats like Burton, Lincoln, Harlow, Hastings and Norwich to name just a handful of places that have already selected impressive campaigners fighting hard. Norwich’s Jessica Asato had the smart idea to tour conference with a bucket to raise funds to oust Chloe Smith. That woman will go far but if all candidates follow her lead conference will become even more expensive.


Labour friends of Pakistan is well attended by Labour MPs all of whom get to say a few words. Rosie Winterton the chief whip walks in and is quickly ushered up to the platform to make a key note address. Not expecting this she tells us that as chief whip she is supposed to remain silent though she’s pleased to have temporarily escaped her advisors who try to keep her under control. The advisors of course have nothing to worry about unlike their counterparts in the government chief whip’s office.

Jon Ashworth is Labour MP for Leicester South and an opposition whip

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Conference Notebook

02/10/2012, 05:24:06 PM

by Jon Ashworth

Ed Balls wowed conference with a barnstormer of a speech ripping apart the government’s economic credentials. With increased levels of borrowing to pay for the failure of their policy, delegates know Osborne is increasingly the weak link in this Tory government. It was all vintage stuff from Ed who is fast becoming one of our strongest conference platform performers.


While it seems the back room fixers have helped find “consensus” on the various union composites, there are minor rumblings about the scheduling of an emergency motion tabled by the TSSA. The Conference Arrangements Committee who effectively keep the conference decision making machinery ticking over present the CAC report every morning outlining the timings for day. Some delegates attempt reference back which is defeated – just. Luckily for me I don’t have to worry about CAC reference backs anymore, but this looks like one for conference aficionados to keep a beady eye on.


The conference book shop appears to be doing brisk trade with memoirs of messrs Straw and Hain flying off the shelf. While both tomes are on my reading list I’m mostly looking forward to reading ‘The Clockwinder Who Wouldn’t Say No’ the biography of the late Leicestershire MP David Taylor by Paul Flynn. I didn’t know David well but I knew he was a hugely principled politician and is who hugely missed in Leicestershire and beyond. We need more like him in politics.


There is real vibrancy and dynamism on the fringe with big idea being debated with gusto. Jon Cruddas, as you would expect is a popular draw, but my top tip is Lisa Nandy who spoke morning and passionately at the packed Labour Friends of Palestine meeting. That women has stamina, speaking at something like 20 fringe events including one on social media where she had the cheek along with Tom Watson to criticise my ‘dreary’ tweeting. I hope Labour Uncut tweeters will rush my defence….


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