Tuesday, 11 July 2017

An Open Letter To John Bercow About The Speaker's Seat

I recognise that I have written about this situation before, but in light of the 1,967 spoilt ballots (9 Jun, 08:32 on the link) in the recent general election and John Bercow's pledge to ask the Procedure Committee, when Commons select committees are reformed, to reconsider the situation whereby four constituencies have no MP able to speak in debates or vote and one constituency has no properly contested election either, I have written the following letter to him:
Mr Bercow,
The situation with the Speaker's Seat, as it stands, cannot go on any longer. In the Buckingham constituency, electors (not me, since I was under 18 in 2010 and 2015 and very fortunately able to vote in Exeter (my university's constituency) in 2017) have had to vote in three elections where they were unable to express their support for one of three major parties separate to the other two - they have been unable to use their vote to express what policy program they wanted implemented in government. This is a big problem, it means that over 70,000 people are effectively disenfranchised.
The Procedure Committee previously said that the system wasn't worth changing because it would create another rank of MP, the Speaker would not be held accountable by constituents, and there would be no clear place for the Speaker to go after losing their position. They have also said that the Speaker has unprecedented access to ministers which accounts for the Speaker's inability to speak or vote in debates and you, Mr Bercow, have said before that your position is similar to that of a government minister - essentially unable to vote the way they personally wish in debates (and the existence of the Deputy Speakers ensures that, when votes are divided on partisan lines, there is no impact on which way that vote goes), but having more influence in government itself and the policies enacted by it.
On the 'another rank of MP' and accountability points, it seems it would be worth creating this 'new rank' to enfranchise over 70,000 people (over 280,000 people if you include the Deputy Speakers, who are similarly constrained although at least their voters have a choice in elections (which, I note, isn't said to affect the neutrality of said Deputy Speakers, so maybe the three major parties are wrong to stand aside in the Speaker's seat for the sake of defending the Speaker's neutrality)), and accountability could be maintained by the House of Commons who collectively represent the whole country rather than just one constituency. I note that in the Republic of Ireland the Ceann Comhairle is automatically returned at elections and they don't seem to view that as much of an issue there (their seat is not replaced by an elected member, but it's less of an issue there because their fairer voting system means that the Speaker's constituency has other representatives). Also, the whole public can hold the Speaker to account by writing to the Speaker's Office. If the Commons is still concerned about accountability, they could perhaps introduce some sort of national recall system for the Speaker, but I recognise this would be tricky to find consensus on and hard to organise. I think holding the public holding the Speaker to account via the Commons and the Speaker's Office is fine.
As for the Speaker having no place to go after losing their position, because, as the Procedure Committee says, it's not certain that elevation to the House of Lords will always be possible in the future, I don't think this should be much of a concern. If the Speaker, after losing or resigning their position, wishes to be elected to the House of Commons as a typical MP once more, they should use the typical mechanisms of doing so - probably joining a political party and seeking selection in that. It would be up to their individual candidacy and political parties to get them elected, which is the same for anyone else in the country who wishes to become an MP. I don't think that MPs become the Speaker just so they have a good chance of elevation to the House of Lords after their term as Speaker, they become the Speaker because they wish to run the prestigious institution that is the House of Commons, that wouldn't change under a St Stephen's Seat solution.
On the argument that the Speaker's access to government ministers compensates for the disenfranchisement of 70,000/280,000 people, um, it doesn't. Government ministers are still able to resign their position and vote against the government on a certain measure or find a clever way to abstain on an issue (Jeremy Wright (Attorney General) did that latter for HS2). They are also able to speak in debates, and they have significantly more leverage than the Speaker because their potential rebellion or publicly speaking out on a certain issue can force the government to change their minds (for example Conservative ministers thinking that Stella Creasy's amendment providing free abortion on the NHS for Northern Irish women was worth speaking out on and perhaps even rebelling on) and that then forcing the government to change their mind on the issue - a real policy outcome. Various u-turns during the 2015-2017 government were also caused by potential backbench rebellion. Obviously this force is stronger during governments with slimmer majorities and, thus, weaker mandates, but it also happens over governments with decent majorities, like the rebellion on ID cards during the Blair government.
So the Procedure Committee has got this wrong and they must not trample on the rights of 70,000/280,000 people to have proper elections and a proper MP respectively. They should implement the St Stephen's Seat solution which they are aware of. It's not a perfect solution, but in the absence of wider reaching voting reform (like using alternates as they do in France (I think?) and/or proportional representation, preferably STV in my view), it's the course that must be taken. I hope that you will put all these points to the Procedure Committee.
On top of all this, I invite the Procedure Committee to consider the number of spoilt ballots in Buckingham in 2010, 2015, and 2017 as well as consider that many upset by the system may not have voted and many may have voted for yourself, Mr Bercow, anyway or, indeed, for Scott Raven, the independent candidate protesting the system, or the Greens or UKIP (where they otherwise may have voted Labour, Lib Dem, or Conservative) in the 2017 election (similarly in 2010 and 2015) despite opposing the system. There's also been a number of petitions on the issue which have garnered a significant number of signatures.
Mr Bercow, I also call on you to speak out against the current system more publicly when you step down from your position as Speaker, as Speaker Boothroyd has done, since this issue will impact the next constituency whose MP decides to become the Speaker, and it will continue to affect the three constituencies whose MPs are Deputy Speakers.
Regards,
Adam Eveleigh

Saturday, 24 June 2017

The Queen's Speech: What is it and what happened?

The Queen made a speech in the House of Lords on Wednesday. In her speech was the government's plans on what they want to do over the next two years (would usually be one year, but Prime Minister Theresa May cancelled next year's Queen's Speech). Over the next week, Parliament will debate the Queen's Speech and vote on it. If the government loses the vote, then this is considered a vote of no confidence in the government, though a proper vote of no confidence may need to be passed before the government calls a new general election. However, it's unlikely that the government would lose the vote on the Queen's Speech, because they're forging a deal with the DUP, who have enough seats for them to win the vote.
In this particular Queen's Speech, there was no mention of plans to end free school lunches and replace them with breakfasts in primary schools, repeal the Fixed-Terms Parliaments Act (which would allow the Prime Minister to call an election whenever they want without the permission of Parliament), introducing a 'dementia tax' to pay for social care, and no mention of a bill allowing new grammar schools or plans for a free vote on lifting the fox hunting ban. All of these things were in the Conservative manifesto (their plans of what they would do after the election) but seem to have been abandoned by the minority Conservative government - presumably because they don't think they could've passed these measures, some of them (all of them?) controversial, through Parliament.
In the Queen's Speech were, however, lots of measures to ensure that the UK can function after Brexit, with powers that were held by the European Union now to be held by the UK. A series of bills were announced to ensure that the UK uses these new powers - on customs, trade, immigration, fisheries, agriculture, nuclear safeguards, and international sanctions. Announced plans for the economy were to ensure that there are electric car charging points in all motorway service stations and major fuel retailers, plans to allow more commercial spaceflights, plans on HS2, smart energy meters, simplify national insurance contributions, improve protection for holidaymakers, protect victims of domestic violence and abuse, crackdown on untrue whiplash claims and thus reduce motor insurance premiums, changes to how the courts work, creating a body responsible for coordinating the provision of debt advice, money guidance and pension guidance, give young people the right to require that social media platforms delete information held about them before they turned 18, and there are plans to set up an NHS body to investigate mistakes without an expensive lawyer-led inquiry.
On defence, the government proposes new opportunities for the army to serve in a way that helps them to better serve their family and that fits better with their life aspirations and their circumstances. Part-time service is included in this. On housing, the government pledges to ban letting fees, update mortgage laws from Victorian times. There are a few other miscellaneous bills planned too.
What do you think of the government's programme? Comment below!

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The NHS needs more funding

It's easy to dismiss calls to properly fund the NHS, assuming that talk of 'crisis' is meaningless and assuming we don't have the money. But crisis means not being able to go to A&E when you're in an emergency, because it's shut, or an ambulance taking valuable extra time to go to an A&E further away, with the consequence that you might not get to the operating theatre on time and might die because the closer A&E was shut. It means really long waiting times. It means being on a trolley for hours because they have no beds, and even dying on the trolley. It means waiting ages for an operation and possibly being in extreme pain or discomfort until it happens.
It's easy to dismiss problems when they don't affect you, but they will, when you need the NHS and it's not there. How do we fund it? Well how did we fund Trident? Did anyone ask where the money was coming from for that? No! Because it was seen as essential, so the government was left to find the money itself. It should be the same for the NHS. Maybe the government needs to reverse its corporation tax cuts, or increase income tax, or borrow to invest in capital for social care or the NHS to reduce NHS running costs. But the important thing is that NHS funding is so essential that it has to be provided. It's not dependent on how the government finds the money, but it must find the money. Just as it did for Trident.
May said absolutely nothing about how she's going to solve the NHS crisis, though she used a lot of words to say nothing, apart from that she wants a 'long-term solution'. If that isn't more funding, and since she somehow claims it's already getting more funding, but clearly it needs still more, does that mean May just admitted to running down the NHS so she can privatize it?

It's no surprise the Tories won't fund the NHS properly, they want everything to be driven by the free market and the NHS is not. Gove tried to privatise education, to an extent, and look at how well that went! Yes it smacks of socialism, but healthcare and education should be provided free at the point of use, designed for people's needs, not dependent on how much money they have. No need to fragment the NHS with more internal market forces, just pay the doctors and nurses and all the other NHS workers to do their jobs. It worked for Norway with education (The Economist, 2013: page 4), they haven't changed their state system for decades but trusting teachers has paid off for them - they're one of the top in the PISA educational world rankings. The NHS will cost a lot, May is right on that, we have an aging population and we're not investing in social care, so costs will massively increase, but we've got to pay it! Otherwise A&Es will be shut when we so desperately need them.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Down's-selective abortion is a mistake

A new procedure is being rolled-out in the NHS which could potentially remove Down’s syndrome from society forever. On the face of it, this seems like a great thing, Down’s is a condition that we want a cure for, though Down’s children often give people great joy and live satisfying lives, but this particular procedure has some quite severe consequences if we follow through with it.
The current prenatal tests for Down’s syndrome are either fairly risky in that it the chance of the test procedure killing the child is about the same as the likelihood the child has the condition (and so not so many mothers take those tests as they would the new one), and they’re not particularly good at identifying when an unborn child has Down’s. The new test should soon be available on the NHS and ‘is done from week 10 of pregnancy and detects Down’s syndrome with 99% accuracy’. Whilst the procedure being safer is of course, in itself, a good thing, the consequence is that virtually every parent is likely to be expected to take this procedure by society and probably by the NHS – even if they don’t have to take the test – as is the case in Iceland. The negative consequence of this is that it becomes very difficult for a parent to choose to keep a child with Down’s syndrome. This is not because having a child with Down’s is depressing and life-ruining (indeed, Sally Phillips, who’s acted in Miranda and Bridget Jones, finds the opposite), though the dominant narrative is that it is, but because society and, thus, government, will probably not be so willing to provide support (practical and financial) for parents who make the explicit choice to have Down’s children. Because whilst it’s not necessarily depressing to have a child with Down’s, it’s certainly hard work, and society has to bear some of that burden. To avoid bearing this burden, society is likely to put pressure on prospective parents of Down’s children to abort them. So, actually, rather than freeing women to have the choice of whether they want to bring a Down’s child into the world or not and thus reducing the pressure on them, the pressure on them is actually increased as they are forced to consider the impact this has on others and as they realise they may not be able to get the support they need.
In Iceland, where the new testing procedure for Down’s is used, 100% of Down’s syndrome pregnancies have been terminated because of this pressure on women to choose a certain way (according to the chair of the Down Syndrome Association in Iceland, to be confirmed in the BBC documentary airing October 5th). In Denmark, 98% of Down’s syndrome pregnancies in 2014 were terminated. In the Netherlands, in 2013, it was 74%. In the UK, it is 90%. In Denmark, screening is automatically planned when a woman is pregnant. In China, 95% of unborn babies with Down’s are aborted, with screening being encouraged and a very strong expectation on mothers to abort foetuses with Down’s.
Is this really just the woman’s personal choice to abort or is society pressuring women into this? With the new test, it is estimated that an extra 195 babies with Down’s could be diagnosed in England and Wales. Given the 90% rate, this means that around 175 more Down’s babies per year could be aborted if the new test is used widely (as it would if introduced in the NHS). The person who wrote the study claims that actually most of these pregnancies with a positive Down’s diagnosis with the new test wouldn’t abort, but given that this person is also the developer of the new test it’s difficult to trust her statement. Really, the only practical consequence of the introduction of this new test, in the long-term, is that it could be that a whole group of people is wiped out because society deems them as abnormal, unwanted and burdensome.
Further, this test and subsequent abortions opens the door to abortions based on selection for other non-life-threatening conditions. People could choose to abort because their unborn is child is diagnosed with autism or schizophrenia, perhaps even low IQ. Because children are deemed to have a worse quality of life they could be blocked from being born with, evidently, no choice of their own in the matter. Yet, despite the very high abortion rates for unborn babies diagnosed with Down’s, the American Journal for Medical Genetics in 2011 found that only 4% of parents with a Down’s syndrome child regretted having them, only 4% of siblings would ‘trade their sibling’ who has Down’s syndrome and only 4% of individuals with Down’s ‘expressed sadness about their lives’. So, whilst of course Down’s syndrome is a condition which is not ideal and one which can get in the way of people’s lives, is it really justified to increase the number of people with Down’s syndrome who are aborted by introducing this new test? Parents are evidently not getting the right information about having children with Down’s – they usually get a negative one or don’t get much information at all which leads them to getting an abortion the vast majority of the time, even though actually parents of Down’s children and the children themselves are happy. Until prospective parent’s of Down’s children are better informed, and until perhaps the abortion rates for Down’s children more closely match the rates of those who actually regret having them and those children who don’t like their lives, this new test which could increase the number of Down’s children aborted must not be introduced.
There needs to be good government support for those who have children with Down’s – so that those who have them are supported in the extra effort required to raise them. Some ideas on extending government support could be: free childcare extended for those with Down’s; Disability Living Allowance (DLA) increased; Carer’s Allowance made more generous in its terms. Whilst suggestions like these will of course be costly to the state, it is definitely worth it if it means that parents get the support they need in raising their children, and Down’s children are harder to raise than those without Down’s. As mentioned above, this doesn’t mean that the parents or their children are unhappy, it’s just that they need the additional support. If the new pre-natal test was introduced, however, it is likely that society would view raising Down’s children as even more of a choice than it does at current and may be less willing to support families who make the choice. Thus, not allowing the new procedure to go through may make society more willing (than otherwise) to support those with Down’s children.
This new test will probably put pressure on women rather than release it, help open the door to future selective abortion on conditions which are not life threatening and further encourage parents to ignore the happiness of the lives of those who have Down’s syndrome and their friends and families, unfairly influencing their decision. Whilst, of course, it would be good for the condition to be cured, this is not the way to go about doing it.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Life Without an MP: The Failure of UK Democracy

In this article I will allude to the posts of Speaker of the House of Commons, but also those of the three Deputy Speakers who are subject to the same constraints. Unless stated otherwise, any argument made in this article for the Speaker also applies to the Deputy Speakers. Also note that ‘they’ can be a gender-neutral singular pronoun.

The problem

One of the current absurdities of the unwritten, ‘uncodified’ UK constitution is that the Speaker, who is strictly nonpartisan and presides over debates in the House of Commons, is an ordinary MP. The Speaker, currently John Bercow, is not allowed to participate or vote in debates and thus represent their constituents in Parliament. The Speaker is allowed to cast a vote in order to break a tie, but even then, by convention, the Speaker follows a precedent set by Speaker Denison where they will vote in favour of the status quo. Again, the Speaker is unable to represent their constituents in Parliament.
The tradition of representative democracy in the UK is that there is a strong MP-constituent link, where each MP represents a constituency, currently consisting of around 70,000 people eligible to vote (most people aged 18 or over). The MP then represents their constituents in Parliament by voting on certain issues and the speeches they make, since they take their constituents’ views into account alongside their party’s views and their own personal views. Their constituents ultimately hold them to account, since they can be voted out by their constituents in a General Election. MPs also bring particular issues that their constituents have to the attention of the government, which is an important function, but since people can often contact the relevant government department anyway this isn’t the MPs’ most important role. Their most important role is voting on legislation in Parliament and it is here that constituents’ views can have a real impact.
MPs’ personal views and the views of their party often takes precedence in how MPs vote. MPs often take a ‘Burkean’ view of their role which allows them to vote the way they wish with a clear conscience – since if they believe voting a particular way is in the interest of their constituents even if their constituents don’t agree then they will vote the way they want. MPs also often vote the way their party votes because if they do so then they are more likely to receive a ministerial or shadow ministerial role at some point in the future (if they are a Conservative or Labour MP, in particular), though Jeremy Corbyn has shown that frequent party rebels can also rise to the top of a party and thus reward other rebels. However, it is also true that MPs often vote with their party because they agree with what their party believes!
Despite these two factors that determine how MPs vote, the views of constituents are still extremely important. As an example, let’s have a look at the support (or lack thereof) for HS2. Not many MPs that live in constituencies which are affected by HS2 (High-Speed Rail 2) support HS2 – if they did, they would run the risk of being voted out by their constituents, even if they represent safe seats, such is the strength of anti-HS2 feeling in those constituencies. Even Jeremy Wright, a government minister, abstained on the HS2 Bill’s Second and Third Reading because of the influence of his constituents. As a government minister, normally he would be bound to vote in favour of the bill or lose his place in the government.
John Bercow opposes HS2, but he can do very little to help further the views of his constituents on this matter. He can speak to government ministers and ask that they change their mind on HS2, but the act of mere persuasion rarely works in Westminster, only hard votes will do (and hard votes matter, considering the Conservative majority is so small). As it happens, there’s a massive majority in favour of HS2, with both Labour and the Conservatives supporting it, but with a vote and with the ability to speak in debates, Bercow would have much greater influence in Parliament in trying to turn the tide. But he is the Speaker, he does not have a vote and he doesn’t have the ability to speak in debates.
In fact, it’s even worse than that, due to convention, Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats don’t contest the Speaker’s seat, presumably to help preserve the Speaker’s neutrality. This means that not only do the Speaker’s constituents have no opportunity to sway their MP in favour of their view and for that to have an impact, they also have essentially no opportunity to vote in an MP who is more in line with their views (excepting UKIP/Green voters, in the last election).
It should be noted that the three Deputy Speakers do keep their party affiliation upon becoming Deputy Speaker and their seats are fully contested, however they also have no say in debates and no vote. If the Deputy Speakers are included, however, around 280,000 people are disenfranchised thanks to the current Speaker system.

The solution

Since the Speaker doesn’t have the privileges that an MP has, and thus can’t represent their constituents properly, the Speakership should not be held by an MP per se, it should be a Commons staff role.
This proposal is relatively simple, what would happen is that the Speaker, upon becoming a Speaker, should no longer be a Member of Parliament but should be considered a member of the House of Commons staff (even though the Speaker was previously an MP). A by-election should then immediately be held in the now-vacant seat so that the Speaker’s previous constituents can have an MP who represents them.
This idea is called the ‘Speaker’s seat’ or ‘St. Stephens’ seat’. It has been suggested in the past and has been rebutted by MPs on the very few occasions it has been considered.
The first objection that MPs have had against the St Stephens’ seat idea is that it creates a ‘second class’ of MP, because someone who was made an MP can be essentially elevated to the rank of Speaker and are then protected from being voted out by constituents. However this is not really a problem. It is true that the Speaker would be unique in being the only Commons staff member who is elected from and held accountable by their MPs and that becoming the Speaker would be a way for MPs to get elected and then avoid being voted out, but actually due to the convention whereby the Speaker is uncontested in elections this basically already happens. Further, because the Speaker gets no vote and no say in debates, their role is rather administrative anyway, it is something of a mixed blessing.
There’s also a suggestion that there’s not enough compensation for the Speaker. Under the current system, if the Speaker steps down and is not offered a peerage, they still have a seat where they can stand for re-election. However, with the St Stephens’ seat, a former Speaker would still be able to stand for re-election to the Commons via the process everyone else has to take part in. If anything, the St Stephens’ seat system will only contribute towards ending the current culture of ‘career politician’ which the public often gets up in arms about.
The second objection that MPs have had is that the Speaker is better when they are held accountable by MPs. Under the St. Stephens’ seat idea, however, all it does is remove their constituency, MPs still hold them to account. Further, the public can attempt to remove the Speaker via MPs and they can make complaints to the Speaker via contacting the Speaker’s Office, so the public can still hold the Speaker to account (perhaps a unique recall election system could be created uniquely for the Speaker if that isn’t enough). Indeed, it makes more sense that the Speaker, the presiding officer of the House of Commons, is made accountable to the whole country rather than their own constituents as is the case currently.
To further counter MPs’ claims above, the Republic of Ireland’s Dàil Èireann’s presiding officer, the Ceann Comhairle, is previously a normal member of the Dàil who is elected to the position of Ceann Comhairle by their fellow members and is thus no longer a TD (Irish equivalent of MP). They don't have a by-election, I think they should, but that's not as much of a problem in Ireland because they have multi-member constituencies.
Of course, it would be far better and result in far more enfranchisement (via the end to wasted votes, and proper representation of different parties) if some form of proportional representation was introduced across the UK (and other electoral reform, such as votes at 16, was enacted). However, removing the Speaker’s status as an MP with a constituency would be a fairly quick reform which would instantly enfranchise 70,000 people and doing the same for the Deputy Speakers would enfranchise 280,000. It should be done.
Please, give us a voice. As a Buckingham constituent, John Bercow's constituency, I urge you to guarantee me a vote in the next election. John Bercow has said he would stand down by the next election, but he may not do and, in any case, that would only mean the disenfranchisement of another constituency. I want an MP who I can influence, alongside others, and who can speak and vote in debates. I want a vote in the general election, just like everyone else does. I am not the only person who is annoyed, 1289 people spoiled their ballots in the 2015 election for the Buckingham seat, and, of course, many people only reluctantly cast their ballot for Bercow, the Greens or UKIP or didn’t vote at all. It would be far better to make a simple reform to the system and resolve this issue once and for all.
So sign the petition here (https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/121673), and just as importantly, share it! The petition has less than a month to run, the more widely you share it, the more likely it will reach 10,000 or 100,000 signatures. This is our chance to resolve this centuries-old injustice.
Edit: As of 15 August 2016 the petition is sadly closed after reaching 180 signatures and falling very short of the required amount. I can't find one but if there is an alternative petition that can be signed by people who agree with the article please comment below.
Edit #2: Here's an up-to-date petition! I also corrected a statement where I said the Ceann Comhairle's constituency get a by-election after they are elected - actually a by-election is not held, the constituency just has one less TD.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Who’s Resigned From the Shadow Cabinet and Why Does It Matter?

The Labour Party is facing a rebellion at the heart of parliament, with a series of high profile resignations sending the party into turmoil. But what does it all mean? Since 23 MPs have now left the Shadow Cabinet, at the time of writing (the remaining members of the original Shadow Cabinet are Jeremy Corbyn, Tom Watson, Rosie Winterton, John McDonnell, Andy Burnham, Emily Thornberry, Jon Trickett and Diane Abbott), not all of the Shadow Cabinet members who have left will be listed below – however the most important will be detailed.

Hilary Benn

Hilary Benn was sacked by Corbyn after Benn told Corbyn that he had no confidence in his leadership. He fundamentally disagreed with Corbyn on foreign policy and had voted to authorise bombing on Daesh in Syria back in December after being the closing speaker for the Opposition in the preceding debate whilst Corbyn had opened for the Opposition. Corbyn is fundamentally an anti-war politician, having been the national chair of Stop the War Coalition, though he has named three justified conflicts (the most recent being the role of UN peacekeepers in the 1999 East Timor crisis). Corbyn has also said that stopping war and violence is his key personal objective.
Whilst Labour had seemed relatively unified on domestic policy and split on foreign policy, the sacking of Benn shows that this situation is no longer working for the Labour Party (if, indeed, if ever did work). Benn, since his sacking, has focused on Corbyn being a poor leader, rather than their foreign policy differences, however. Regardless, Emily Thornberry, who has been named the new Shadow Foreign Secretary, agrees with Corbyn on issues such as Trident, which will prove very important if Corbyn remains leader of the Labour Party when the Trident vote is held.
Benn’s sacking shows that it will be nearly impossible for Corbyn to continue holding various different wings of the party together in a Cabinet. The patience of even the most conciliatory moderates in the party has run out (with the exception of Andy Burnham and possibly Rosie Winterton; it is difficult to see how Watson, as Deputy Leader, could’ve resigned even if he had wanted to).
Because Benn was the Shadow Foreign Secretary, one of the four Shadow Great Offices of State, this is probably the most important exit from the Shadow Cabinet. However, it would not have amounted to much if the avalanche of resignations hadn’t followed after it.

Heidi Alexander

Heidi Alexander was the Shadow Health Secretary before she resigned. She was the Shadow Secretary of State for Education and had been elected as the MP for Lewisham East in 2010. Her Shadow Cabinet post under Corbyn was her first. Paul Mason has claimed, after her resignation, that Alexander tried to get Corbyn to blame the junior doctors for the junior doctors’ crisis; a claim she firmly denied. She doesn’t, however, participate in picket lines as the Labour leadership frequently do and she even once successfully persuaded John McDonnell not to participate in a picket line of striking junior doctors. Instead of protesting with junior doctors, she pressed for a compromise during the crisis which could’ve averted the strike.
She had supported Andy Burnham’s 2010 and 2015 leadership campaigns. Thus, if crude statements about Labour factions are going to be made, she is probably part of the soft left wing of the Labour Party. The soft left (including Andy Burnham’s 2015 leadership campaign as well as Andy Burnham currently) has been broadly supportive of Corbyn’s leadership. However, Alexander’s resignation clearly shows that this previous tentative support is now all but annulled. Indeed, Alexander’s resignation is a clear demonstration that most of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) will not put up with Corbyn’s ‘politics of protest’ any longer. They view him as not wanting to get Labour into power and create electable policies, instead preferring to constantly protest against the Tories and diametrically oppose them on virtually everything they do without bothering to find workable cross-party solutions, or even broad-based Labour solutions, to problems.

Lucy Powell

Lucy Powell was the Shadow Secretary of State for Education before she resigned. She was a close ally of Ed Miliband and said that she had ‘never, ever met or spoken to’ Mr Corbyn since she became an MP – yet she was appointed to, and accepted her appointment to, the Shadow Cabinet in 2015. During her time as Shadow Education Secretary, she argued in favour of taking free schools and academies back into local authority control. Again, her resignation clearly suggests that the broader left of the PLP has lost its tolerance for Jeremy Corbyn.
Pat Glass is her replacement as Shadow Education Secretary (appointed Monday 27 June). Glass says that ‘she was never a Jeremy Corbyn supporter when he was running for the leadership’, but she has drawn controversy for calling an elector ‘a horrible racist’. She also suggested that voters shouldn’t bother with persuading their grandfathers to vote remain because ‘the problem is older white men’. One can’t help but feel that Corbyn is having to scrape the barrel due to resignations from MPs who had been broadly supportive of him previously – there are many Labour MPs who don’t make these kinds of offensive statements to voters, but virtually all of them either ruled themselves out of the 2015 Shadow Cabinet or have left the 2016 Shadow Cabinet.
However, as of Wednesday 29 June, Pat Glass has resigned. Resigning only two days after being appointed, this is probably the shortest-ever tenure of a Shadow Cabinet member and demonstrates that Corbyn can't really trust any 'moderates' in the party to join his Shadow Cabinet and that the only long-term solution to the issue if Corbyn remains in charge of Labour (and this seems likely, at the moment) is surely to start MP deselections.

Ian Murray

Ian Murray is Labour’s only Scottish MP. He has (after resigning) said that Scottish Labour supports Sturgeon on the EU in protecting Scotland’s jobs and economy against what he describes as the Conservatives’ ‘utterly dreadful decision to put their party first before the country’. This is a very embarrassing resignation for Corbyn, since it means he may have to appoint a non-Scottish MP as Shadow Secretary for Scotland. However, it has also been suggested that Corbyn could appoint a Labour MSP to the post (there is nothing stopping him from doing this). This would be a rather novel move and it would be interesting if this idea is used by future governments – with a member of the UK executive being also a member of a devolved legislature rather than the UK legislature. However, this does mean that the Shadow Secretary for Scotland would be unable to make responses to the Secretary for Scotland in Parliament. Overall, however, this resignation only added to Corbyn’s problems.

Lisa Nandy

She’s viewed as a solid lefty in the party and Owen Jones, left-wing journalist for The Guardian, considered backing her after Ed Miliband’s resignation. She was the Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. Her resignation shows that even those who are ideologically close to Corbyn in the PLP may not necessarily support him. Lisa Nandy has been floated as a potential leadership candidate due to her support on the left of the party, and she could prove a serious thorn in Corbyn’s side in the future.

Owen Smith

Owen Smith is a staunch party loyalist, on the same level as Andy Burnham, so his resignation was very significant indeed. This shows that some people whose main priority seems to be holding the party together (and spending the majority of time attacking the Tories, rather than each other) believe that Corbyn is the one splitting it apart, not the resigners from the Shadow Cabinet. So Smith, a noted unifier, decided to join the resigners. Corbyn has often relied on Labour members and MPs calling for party unity to support his leadership from a non-factional perspective. Owen Smith’s resignation makes this far more difficult.

Angela Eagle

Angela Eagle’s resignation was particularly important of all the resignations. As Shadow First Secretary of State, she was the second-in-command of the PLP. She stood in for Corbyn when Cameron was away at PMQs, making a number of impressive performances – including exploiting Tory splits on the EU before the referendum, which went down well in the media. Again, her resignation is a clear illustration of how badly Corbyn has lost support in the soft left areas of the party. She also has been floated as a possible leadership candidate, so much has she impressed Labour moderates. During her time as Shadow First Secretary of State and Shadow Business Secretary, she has sometimes refused to directly praise Jeremy Corbyn, however she has focused on attacking the Tories and has certainly been a key unifier. Apparently she spent over 24 hours trying to contact Corbyn’s office before she resigned but got no response. She has also, since resigning, decried Corbyn for refusing to effectively respond to any criticisms she has made of him.
Her exit from the Shadow Cabinet should’ve prompted Corbyn’s resignation, but Corbyn has been too stubborn to be moved, knowing that his shadow ministers (even if they have Labour interests at heart) are only resigning en masse to try to remove him from the ballot of the next leadership election. For the sake of his own position, Corbyn can afford to wait.
Angela may run in a leadership race, according to breaking reports. However, going from fourth in a deputy leader election to beating Corbyn in a leadership election in just 10 months might be a step too far for the Wallasey MP.

Other Shadow Ministers

Not many of the shadow ministers who don’t attend Shadow Cabinet are particularly well-known, however Stephen Kinnock, son of Labour leader Neil Kinnock who battled against Militant entryists in the 80s and 90s and perhaps viewed as on the soft left of the party, was one of the more notable resigners. He represents Aberavon and has battled for his constituents in the steel crisis, fighting for government intervention to save the Port Talbot steelworks. Given that this is calling for a heavier government hand in the steel industry and even an element of protectionism to prevent Chinese steel dumping, this has placed Kinnock somewhat close to Corbyn’s views on this issue – thus, it is notable that he has resigned despite Corbyn’s Labour’s support of #SaveOurSteel. Kinnock was the Parliamentary Private Secretary to Angela Eagle, the former Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and Shadow First Secretary of State. He resigned before she did.

Another well-known junior shadow minister who resigned is Jess Phillips, the member for Birmingham Yardley. She was a parliamentary private secretary to Shadow Education Minister Lucy Powell. She opposed debates in Parliament in honour of International Men’s Day, suggesting that it was women who weren’t represented well enough anyway, not men, and she has spoken out sharply against sexist abuse that has been made at her. In an interview with Owen Jones, she said that she wouldn’t stab Corbyn in the back, but in the front (and only if he wasn’t helping the Labour movement), and she has clearly done this, with an honest, straightforward but respectful (as far as one can be respectful when metaphorically stabbing someone) resignation letter.

The new shadow education secretary has also revealed that she will not be seeking re-election, causing more selection headaches for the leadership.

What happens now?

We now essentially have two Shadow Cabinets in exile. The former being a group completely intolerant of Corbyn (thus, generally speaking, from the centre of the party). This group includes Cooper, Kendall, Reeves, Harman, Leslie etc. The latter being a group which could only tolerate him for slightly under a year (thus, generally speaking, from the soft left of the party). This group includes Benn, the Eagles, Owen Smith, Powell, Heidi Alexander etc.
Since it seems that Corbyn will not resign due to Shadow Cabinet resignations, because there are just about enough pro-Corbyn MPs in the party to fill the Shadow Cabinet, even if they are clearly not the best candidates for their roles, it is up to the centre (or, ‘right’) and soft left of the party to find a candidate who can beat Corbyn in a leadership election and who can make significant progress to solving Labour’s myriad of existential problems. This includes:
  • An appropriate response to Brexit which can attract metropolitan Labour Remainers and working-class Labour Leavers
  • A stance on immigration (taking into account the (perhaps unlikely) possibility of ending free movement via Brexit) which, again, can hold Labour’s more socially conservative working-class and more socially liberal metropolitan supporters together. But equally, whilst this policy should not ignore anti-immigration sentiment as Corbyn’s approach has seemed to do, it should not be an unconvincing fudge which pleases no-one like Miliband’s policy
  • A radical reforming stance on the economy (with big, new, perhaps centrist, ideas) but one which is more fiscally credible than Miliband-Corbyn’s ‘capital account deficit and current account balance/surplus’ policy – or, at least, someone who can clearly communicate better than Ed and Jeremy and can convince people that this really is fiscally credible
They also need someone who can look like a leader – this will be very subjective indeed, but someone who can communicate with the media rather than attack them would be a good sign of someone who the media could portray as a good leader. The fact is that we do have to take the media’s response into account when choosing a leader, because we will be largely relying on the media to communicate our message in a favourable manner. Attacking them simply doesn’t work, as Corbyn has demonstrably proven.
Corbyn’s strategy from now on will be to consolidate his power further by using his considerable support from the membership (who remain sovereign in the Labour Party). A leadership election between him and a more moderate candidate could be very close indeed, if he wins then the only way he can ensure he has a supportive PLP and a perhaps credible left-wing Shadow Cabinet is by starting MP deselections. This is, of course, a last resort, but Corbyn has no choice after essentially losing two unity Shadow Cabinets and losing a vote of no confidence by an unprecedented 172-40. The PLP has run out of patience for Corbyn, and if Corbyn wins the leadership election then he will be quite right to have lost patience with the PLP.
If Corbyn does win the leadership election, then it is anyone’s guess what the rest of the PLP will do. Mass defections to Farron’s Lib Dems will certainly be on the cards, as will creating a new party SDP-style. They also seem to be already seeking to form a ‘proper’ Official Opposition (one which represents the majority of Labour MPs), but how successful they are in that completely relies on Speaker John Bercow’s receptiveness to the idea. Still, it was interesting that in response to Cameron’s EU statement on Monday, so many of Labour heavyweights such as Harriet Harman, Yvette Cooper and Hilary Benn (who received a particularly loud cheer) made speeches. Perhaps making a point that the Labour frontbench does not really represent the Labour party as a whole. Cameron seemed to help them, not talking about the Labour crisis directly, but instead thanking individuals for campaigning with him to make a clear, united case to Remain; making implicit digs at Corbyn for not doing so (and, perhaps, losing the referendum for Remain).

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

We need to learn from Miliband, not derail the party

Too often in the current Labour leadership debate, people call for Labour to drop virtually all their current policies and standings - which are popular with many people who would contemplate voting Labour. Many feel very strongly that immigration has contributed a lot to our country - but, simultaneously, we have to try and take the pressure off our budget (even though migrants make a significant net contribution to the economy and tax revenue!) as many rightly feel that none should be taking anything at all - until they have contributed to the economy (a two or four-year qualifier would be a half-decent test of this, although maybe it should be based on time in work). This and the much more important reason of immigrants being employed and reducing 'natives'' employment (which can be partially fixed by stopping exploitation of migrant workers) are good reasons why immigration should be restricted.

However, Labour should comprehensively reject the xenophobic argument of restricting immigration because they may be terrorists (very few are) and the fact that people think Britain is no longer 'Britain' as a result (even though we are all immigrants somewhere down the line) because this is not inclusivist or tolerant - values Labour resolutely stands for even in its Blairite Clause IV.

This is essentially what Miliband tried to do - and did well (in theory, at least) - in his term as Leader. He balanced views with expert finesse and held the party together in its defeat. Many call for a rejection of the 'unity' approach. This is not the right way to repair the party. The reason why this approach of Miliband's failed was because the reasons for the policies weren't communicated anywhere near well enough.

Let's take the economy for example - he held that the market was fundamentally broken: the banks needed to be broken up, as did the energy companies, and rail and bus services needed greater public control. The reason was to reduce prices - ultimately - but he simply didn't get this across to the public. He said he would break up the banks - but he didn't say (or clearly) that this would increase competition and thereby force them to offer the public better deals to get service. He said he would give the public sector a greater role in rail - but he didn't say that it was because rail is a natural monopoly, people don't have any choice in company and have to accept the price they're offered, so it may as well be run by the state and have all profits reinvested. He then failed to make obvious to the public why investment needed to be upkept for economic growth and to reduce the deficit. Indeed, Evan Davis ruined him when he gave Miliband the best chance of explaining why he wanted to run a capital account deficit and balance the current account!

He also failed to point out enough that the Tories were not making these pledges and he failed to ask 'why' often enough and then counter their arguments. Miliband was an economic reformer - as even The Economist (not a leftist magazine by any regard!) recognised - and he was an excellent one at that, but he wasn't a performer and this is what ultimately lost him the election. The public didn't understand him well enough and stuck, rather reluctantly, to 'the devil they knew'.

It is very important that Labour doesn't learn the wrong lesson from this. The answer is not to ditch all of Labour's policies and go with the Tories on many key issues because they have a mandate - they have a slim, reluctant, mandate and we must fight for our own large and enthusiastic mandate in 2020. It's also important that Labour doesn't go massively the other way and draw the conclusion that Miliband didn't go far enough: this really would alienate the 'centre ground'! They must unify all the country's inclusivist, tolerant viewpoints into a coherent policy programme and communicate it far better than Miliband did.

[In practical terms, based on the argument made in this blog post alone, the preferences in the leadership election should be Burnham, Cooper, Corbyn, Kendall (Corbyn and Kendall are both off the rails but Corbyn is marginally closer to Labour's pre-election policies). It isn't voting for Continuity Miliband, it's voting for 'Learning From Miliband'

This blog may elaborate on its rejection of Kendall and Corbyn in the future.]