If you thought a Week was a long time in politics


I started to ‘live blog’ the referendum last night but couldn’t keep up with a blog and Twitter and Facebook as well as try to watch the BBC coverage. I gave up with my last post claiming that Cameron was safe because 85 Tory MPs had written to urge him to stay. Shows how much I know. 

So during today I have been responding to calls and trying to keep up with the pace of change. I have to admit having seen the polling last night – and the surge in the £ allegedly off the back of some very expensive City exit polls – I assumed like most that this referendum had gone to the wire but would ultimately split 52/48 but in favour of Remain. I had said all the way through the campaign that this was enough for victory but the issue wouldn’t go away with that level of support. We would have to be revisiting the issue of our relationship with Europe on a regular basis. Even if we won the question had not been put to bed. However, I woke up to the shock news like I am sure millions of people have done today that we are to #leave.

Farage now backtracking on £350m for NHS Claim


I think I am still too raw and numb to write too much that will hit the right tone. I know campaigns are tough and things get said but Farage andhis 

racist poster and his £350m for the NHS lies angered me more than any usual political knockabout. I was livid that this morning even Farage said the £350m wasn’t now going to happen and had been a ‘mistake’. Farage is really one of the most odious and duplicitous politicians I have ever come across. 

But today we are where we are. The Leave campaign narrowly won but all they needed was a simple majority because no percentage bar was set. That was a mistake. How on earth we can take such a big decision when there is such a slim majority I simply don’t know. It means there is nearly half the country pretty angry about the result. As I said above the Leave campaign would have been back again if they had lost so narrowly so I hope they accept that there are many of us who don’t accept this narrow narrative that the “people have spoken” – yes but not all that clearly! 

There are now so many ramifications it has been almost impossible to keep up. 

Just as quickly as Leave won they started back tracking on any promises. But the theme of my feelings over the last 24 hours have been about the deep seated level of division this leaves. I started yesterday promising myself I wouldn’t get involved in social media and watch the England Rugby in Australia instead. In truth I couldn’t hold back. There was an still is so much to say. 

SO issues to be covered in more depth are the levels of division, the breakup of the U.K., our economic woes to come, the Tory party turmoil, and who our next PM is likely to be? Perhaps the most important element is what we do about our negotiations with Europe. The domestic issue of division is serious. We are split by class, education, age and geography. It’s is serious as we have heard on any radio phone in programme over the last 48 hours. 

However just as I thought I might find some time this morning to summarise all my thoughts I have woken up to hear that Corbyn has sacked Hilary Benn.  Now I will be following the civil war inside the Labour PArty as well as the Tories and a divided nation. 

The National Interest to #Remain

The referendum campaign has at times been ugly. Last week I wrote a lengthy piece on how just ugly our politics had become and hoped that after the 23rd June we cold return to a politics I knew to be robust but ultimately fair.

To show this in a practical way I have worked with my Tory successor NIcky Morgan the Tory MP for Loughborough to produce a joint letter to our Loughborough Echo newspaper urging a #Remain vote.  The decision on Thursday is above ‘Party Politics’ and our national interest in the modern world is to stay in the EU and make it work for us all. I am proud to stand alongside Nicky this week to urge a vote for Remain.

Letter to the Echo…

We write as current and former MPs who between us have had the great privilege to represent the Loughborough constituency over the past almost two decades. We disagree on many things but we do agree that the UK should remain as a member of the EU. This a momentous vote which will have consequences for Britain for decades to come.

Much has been made of the likely economic shock a vote to leave would have and the consequent impact on jobs and the money available to spend on our essential public services. But this debate is about more than numbers. It is about Britain’s place in the world. Britain is an outward facing nation and being part of the EU makes us stronger on the world stage. As a member of the EU we have the ability to lead and influence on issues such as security, trade, equalities and climate change to name just a few. A vote to leave would mean we forfeited our seat at the table and the ability to influence others and secure developments in our favour. As proud members of the UN, NATO, IMF and Commonwealth why would we now turn our backs on the EU?

We hope Echo readers will take the time to weigh up all the issues and vote to remain on 23rd June.

Yours faithfully


Nicky Morgan (MP for Loughborough 2010 – )

& Andy Reed (MP for Loughborough 1997 – 2010)



A Week IS a Long Time in Politics

As you may have gathered from my twitter and Facebook I have fortunately been slightly pre occupied over the last week with the Parliamentary Rugby World Cup. Ironically the event got me onto the Daily Politics Programme when they did a light hearted piece on Friday.

However, with over 300 Parliamentarians from across the globe conversation inevitably drifted to politics very quickly and because the Commons & Lords is an All-party Rugby Team I have been talking with Lib Dem Peers & an MP, Tory MPs and Labour backbenchers. I was at an event on the Integrity of Sport in the Lords too which I chaired mid-week and again the walk from the tube through the Commons & Lords brings me into regular contact with many old colleagues from all sides of the House willing to share their news and views. My ‘friends’ extend right across the political spectrum from very old red Labour to Tory MPs many expected to defect to UKIP! 

Of course there was lots to talk about this week – about 99% of it about Corbyn and the effect it will have on British politics. The conversations centred around; what does it mean for the realignment of politics, how will the Tories react, what will it mean for the Lib Dems (one offer to defect and one “You’d be mad”), ‘what a shambles’, How long will he last, why didn’t he sing the national anthem etc. 

Each of these topics probably deserves a blog of its own and I have been catching up over the weekend on some great articles from a variety of commentators. So let’s start with what went wrong and why Corbyn let himself be defined in his first week because he wasn’t organised. The Corbynites must have known for some time he was on for victory. I was told even before I went on holiday by one camp that they were going to lose to him. Through most of September there was no doubt (despite me being told off for daring to suggest this would happen). So why on earth did the first 48 hours look like it was all a surprise and nobody had a plan what to do? Surely somebody has a ‘First 100 Days’ playbook somewhere in his team or are they all so anti-media and spin that they REALLY do think they can win the next election via twitter and town hall meetings? I was pleased to see even Owen Jones in the New Statesman pointing out the danger of such a strategy. It is a recipe for disaster. So in the first week we have the sight of a Shadow Cabinet being formed without any leadership and with MPs distancing themselves and even making it clear when they took jobs on what terms they had agreed to serve. Corbyn actually has a Shadow cabinet with more women than men, from a pretty wide spectrum of the party yet even this was turned into a PR disaster by the non-appointment of a woman to one of the ‘top’ jobs and the appointment of the much disliked John McDonnell to Shadow Chancellor. I see a number of astute appointments have been made but I fear it may be a little too late to try and sell Corbyn via the media to the public.

For me the above examples from the first week confirm my greatest fear. At no point during the campaign did anybody really test the ‘leadership’ qualities of the candidates. The least qualified of the candidates to offer leadership or even management (the two are different) was of course Corbyn. It may seem strange to those outside politics that we seem to choose the most like our political prejudices rather than the best placed to lead and win elections. Since Blair we seem to have decided we don’t like the idea of wining, as it means compromise. 

Following this slightly inauspicious start we then had the sight of a non-singing leader of the Opposition at an official WW2 event. Poor old Jeremy would have been damned as a sell-out if he had suddenly started singing the national anthem and equally lambasted as we found out if he stuck to his guns and stayed silent. The coverage was way over the top but welcome to modern day journalism! I will admit to being a republican too and in my student days I didn’t sing the anthem. I started singing when I represented my country in sport and the anthems were used. I realised that whilst I didn’t necessarily want God to save the Queen we had stumbled upon this awful song as our sporting anthem too and I had better get used to it. Equally funny in recent years has been having to work with a Royal or two through my sports links. I am pretty open that I would prefer not to see our Head of State chosen by the accident of birth but whilst there is some minor constitutional link I am happy to be polite and work with them to achieve common goals – like more sport being played. If their patronage opens doors to help then it is worth working with them rather than ignoring them and waiting for the day we abolish the monarchy. The position Corbyn now holds is to represent the entire Labour party and official Opposition at these events, so he may need to put aside some personal student politics!

On the positive side I have written about the change in mood he created at PMQs. I am sure there will be some positive feelings about party democracy in future as members will feel more included in the decision making inside the party. So all is not bad. But the important test now is to see how Jeremy starts talking to the country and what reaction people outside the party have for him and his policies.

This brings me to the conversations with political opponents who seem slightly uncertain what this might all mean for them. Having just elected a left leaning leader for the Lib Dems they are now wondering exactly how to position themselves and whether they like to call it centrist or not, the possibility of them being the sensible left leaning party seems possible. For some time they positioned themselves to the Left of Labour (in Northern seats at least) whilst being soft Tories in the South. In 2015 they were found out under Clegg and almost need to start again. For those I have spoken to they see themselves as a home for sensible social democrats if Labour continues to drift further left leaving the centre ground. Most of the Tories I spoke to were more certain this was good news for them but with a heavy note of caution added on top. Their fear is that it allows the Tories to take the centre ground for granted now that Labour has abandoned it and all those who had fought hard to modernise the party and reject their ‘nasty right wing’ label are going to have to fight this all over again. They are also wary of a populist creating more hope and optimism than they care to admit. They are of course delighted that Corbyn won because they think it gives them the 2020 election already, but they are wary it allows their own ranks to descend back into the old rivalries over Europe and other defining issues that gave them a civil war for 20 years. Without a serious opposition there is a danger that it may be created from within, especially with the European Referendum looming in 2017. 

I don’t see the possibility of the immediate re-establishment of the Lib Dems as a political force. Their defeat in 2015 was so deep and painful. I can’t see the Tories completely imploding over Europe either. So this leaves the other two rumps of voter’s choice – UKIP and the SNP. 

I have not seen much about the impact on UKIP yet – especially from a Labour perspective. As we know UKIP gained large votes in many Labour held seats and prevented us winning some marginals. Two years ago UKIP was a Tory problem but it is equally a Labour problem now. Many left because they didn’t recognise that Labour stood up for them or didn’t speak for them now. I don’t think many of those that left over issues like immigration and welfare will be won back by the Corbyn position on these two issues. But again we will have to see. As for the SNP, there are many Corbyn supporters who believe our path back to power lies through telling SNP voters they can have a left wing labour party again. Having spent time talking to defeated Labour candidates and party workers north of the border I don’t think it as simple as this. The SNP surge is much more complex than this simple analysis suggests. 

Where does all this leave us? We have a Labour leader who is unable to control the positions taken by his MPs and Shadow Cabinet who are currently still working and speaking up on positions taken prior to the Corbyn victory. They have all agreed to take positions after being given assurances about some key issues like NATO and Europe. We have the daily sight of Shadow cabinet members contradicting positions taken by Corbyn and certainly not quite enthusing about the likelihood of a Corbyn win in 2020. We are told this is all very refreshing and great to see open debate. The problem is that the electorate also hate seeing divided parties and there is a fine line between open debate and open warfare!

There is still a lot of settling down to be seen. The build up to conference will be really enlightening and we await to see more details from the Leader and his Office about how they plan to take forward policy making and who will control this process. I can’t see Shadow SoS really staying if the Party decrees they have to take an untenable position on some key issues. 

Finally I wonder how long it will be before people decide if Corbyn is actually up to the job of leading an opposition political party. I ask this in all seriousness. There has been little sign of these qualities so far. They are not the qualities I want or expect of Corbyn. His strengths have always been elsewhere. He is a good constituency MP determined to pick unfashionable political fights. That is great and there is a role for MPs like this. It is the sort of role I would like to have carved out if I had 32 years in politics! It is a nice place to be. Leadership is difficult and a long hard slog. It means daily attention to the job and whilst it is great that Corbyn is fulfilling some constituency engagements and surgeries he can’t neglect the official invites he is getting as Leader of the Labour Party and Official Opposition. It is a full time job, not a drop in when you can part time chair role!

For me the jury is still out about how long he can last. If we lose in May 2016 in London, Scotland, Wales & in Local Govt surely the knives will be out. So until then let’s allow him time and space to get this shambolic start behind him and give him the opportunity to show some leadership.

New Style PMQs

It has been a roller coaster of a ride for Jeremy Corbyn since his election on Saturday and PMQs was the first time to see him in action in the Commons. As a former insider it is difficult to express how much of the mood for MPs is set by this weekly encounter that many of us hated in its current yah boo political style. It does matter up to a point. But as a vehicle for holding the PM to account it has largely lost its ability to do so.  I hated PMQs as a forum, but enjoyed it as theatre.  I always tried to ask serious questions and not to join the shouting. It took a lot of self restraint!

So Jeremy Corbyn by announcing he was going to do things differently would have struck a chord with many people. Although to be frank every leader of the Opposition and PM have said the same and it has lasted a few weeks, a few hours or a few minutes! 

It has not been the best start for Corbyn and his team. I say ‘team’ but from the shambolic few days he has had I am not actually sure there is a proper team in place yet. I really hope for his own sake he can rely on some good people to help him. I don’t mean to over style or over coach him but mumbling speeches at TUC conferences are not a great start. It is probably the easiest audience he will ever have and whilst most told the cameras how excited they were by his speech, most privately despaired. The fiasco over the Singing/Not singing the National Anthem is a case in point. It is an unecessary battle line. 

Today the idea of taking questions from the Public  or ‘crwodsourcing’ had some merit and the authenticity of the questions shone through from people who know what is happening in their ‘real lives’. This is always powerful and harder to tell members of the public they are wrong rather than fellow MPs. It is an innovation that should stay even when people are bored of it… 

The Corbyn style of asking questions in a calm way was welcome. Although he will have to work on the sharpness of the questions and perhaps give himself a couple of quetions as follow up with supplementaries when the PM slips out of answering the question by making a facile point or by deversion. Short sharp pointed questions have always caught Prme Ministers off their guard. Don’t forget PMs spend a great deal of time preparing for PMQs and rehearsing their ‘answers’ so they usually have good lines available when questioners give them time to think.

I was equally interested in how Cameron handled the new style. He cleverly showed he could calmly answer questions instead of going into one of his red faced rages that frankly make him look petulant. Look at not only the style of his answers but the long term traps he has laid  for Corbyn. In a very sublte way today he started defining Corbyn and you can see the ‘attack lines’ emerging already. We will see a lto more of these lines on the economy and defence.

Quite a few journalists gave it to Corbyn ‘on points’. I saw it as a 0-0 score draw. The real tests are still to come and I bet by 2019 as we build to the next election we won’t be having this style of PMQs. The noise will have risen by then. But let’s hope things have changed a little for the better.

  

Live Blog Updates on Labour Leadership

12.37 – I have been gripped by my twitter timeline, the news, facebook. The fact is that much of the commentariat now believe Labour is now unelectable as does my non-labour member friends on social media. I have thousands of friends/ ex constituents. people who voted and supported me in a marginal seat but wouldn’t normally have ever voted Labour until 97. I care what they say and think and I don’t have response for them at this moment. I need to go away, play some sport and come back with a clear head before blogging here again and working out what to do next…

11.58 – I have  always liked Jeremy personally. But the people around him are not quite so pleasant. I will have to reflect on how to respond to this historic day. I am not and never was a Blairite/ New Labour but  I do fear that we have just lost the next election already. I know I should be excited because II support some of the causes promoted by Corbyn but his 1980s politics is not attractive to the electorate.

11.47 – JC doesn’t realise he has a microphone and is shouting his way through this speech. It is now when the full sense of what is happening takes hold. Corbyn  has a massive task ahead. I am not sure he will survive to 2020 but we will have to see. Quite righty he is praising the role of the other candidates. Looks like Corbyn got 84% of the ‘new registered’ supporters. Let’s see ho many now get involved and pay full membership..

11.43 – chaos as Corbyn figures read out 251,000 – 59% of the votes.   I feel numb,, certainly not excited. I feel fearful for the future of the  party. However, this is an amazing win for him. I can”t argue with that. I will look at the figures in each part of the electorate. But we know he has no support in the PLP

11.40 we finally get to the Leadership. All my twitter feed shows JC with 60% on first round with 422,000 voters.

11.38 Tom making a long call for Unity.. he is going to have a tough job holding together the Labour Party between now and 2020. I need to hear from him and how we win with Jeremy as leader.

11.33 – Tom Watson gets it. I first got to know Tom when he was minding Brian Moore on a campaign visit to Loughborough to support me in 1997.  I am pleased for him. I helped him on his first rebellion!

11.26 So Tom Watson gets 39% so we go to 2nd round. I love this tension but can’t we just annouce the winner and then  publish the figires for each round and how they got to 50%

11.25 – wow over 408,000 votes cast.

11.24 we finally get the Deputy Leadership results. I’m calling it for Tom Watson.

11.23 Sadiq gets a quick go.

11.11 Chance for @iainMcNicol making a few pointed remarks about expecting to see our new ‘£3 supporters’ out on the doorstep instead of click & pay for a vote… let’s see.

11.05 BBC Norman Smith speculating about the shadow cabinet – his options are really limited and his lack of leadership will sadly be exposed very quickly

11.00 Live TV coverage of the ‘conference’.  Lots of familiar faces in the crowd
10.54 – Kevin Maguire would know the ‘secret signals’ so there you have the result!

10.51 – Political pundit Brain Moore

10.48 – Strange knowing the candidates already know. It has been a hard graft for all the candidates in a marathon campaign. One lesson we must learn is not to create this tortuous process again….

10.39

Of course if the 76% turnout is correct that is a massive bonus for the Labour movement.. now with over 600,000 members and supporters which dwarfs the Tories at about 100,000. But of course the Tories rich friends and businesses and hedge fund managers pay into the Tory coffers so their moribund Associations don’t matter to them.

10.36

10.33 The candidates will be told the results soon and well before they are announced to the Conference. Whilst they are all sworn to secrecy they and their campaign teams will have secret signals to let their supporters know how to react. At the last election one team had a glasses on or carrying signal to note that their candidate had won or lost!


10.15 – speculation about who will and won’t serve in a Corbyn Shadow Cabinet. It’s a genuinely difficult one for most colleagues. Walk away and be accused by Corbynites for being a traitor and ignoring the democratic will of the party (and leave shadow cabinet to the Corbynites) or sit around a table and squirm in every interview about the policies that emerge and whether you think he can win the next election and become PM. For those of us who think we should have acted sooner on Ed Miliband when it was obvious he had no traction with voters this would be a nightmare situation. Personally I would do what Corbyn himself has done – fight from the backbenches for what you believe is right.

10.10 – It’s like Cup Final Day as the live coverage includes the candidates leaving their homes and arriving at the special conference.

The journalists and pundits are all calling for ‘Corbyn by a mile’ whilst some friends are still hoping that the ‘shock’ is anybody but Corbyn, I have looked through their various scenarios but ‘clutching at straws’ springs to mind.


9.00 Quite rightly most of my regulars ( yes there is such a thing!) will not be glued to live coverage of the Labour Leadership today on BBC2. Whilst I have managed to move on from full time politics you can’t eradicate the total absorption I feel on big days like today. This is not just an announcement about a post that nobody cares about (the annual battle for the conference arrangements committee for example). But today for me will decide the next historic fate of the entire Labour Party and who governs Britain for the next generation. There will be plenty of time for reflection when we know the result. But this morning is a chance to build up to the 11.30 announcement.

I have posted intermittently over the campaign so you will know that I eventually backed Andy Burnham, whilst feeling very torn with a vote for Yvette. In fact I thought Yvette finished the campaign much stronger and I am glad our household did vote for her! I put her as me second preference with enthusiasm.

I have also been pretty open at my despair at the electoral prospect of Corbyn winning today. I feel after 20 years of frontline politics in a marginal key middle england seat I know what it takes to win an election. Despite many of my own values probably being closer to Corbyn than all those Corbynites calling anybody who doesn’t think he is the messiah as ‘Tories or Blairites’ I realised the electorate are more centre left/ centre right and we need to win their votes not hector them about being wrong and shouting our views at them.

So it means I am not really looking forward to the result – unless of course we are now going to have the biggest upset in political polling and betting. With just about 2 hours to go I will post some more random thoughts as I read articles and tweets.

9.20

One Down 2 to go

So today Sadiq Khan was selected as the Labour candidate for one of the most powerful jobs in Politics – Mayor of London. Once again the ‘polls’ got it wrong as Tessa Jowell seemed to be the firm favourite for quite some time.

In the end the margin was 59% to 41% (on about the 5th round) despite the fact that in the last few days people close the campaigns were saying it was ‘close’. I was with Tessa on Tuesday of this week and whilst they knew they were in for a fight I sensed a note of cautious optimism that it would be alright. However, Khan and his team have expressed some confidence that they were going to win for some time. Even in a private conversation with Sadiq just before the Summer recess he was supremely confident that he wasn’t in the race to come second!

I think his victory does point to a sizeable Corbyn victory tomorrow and I will write about that when the numbers are known. It is the size of the victory now that becomes the talking point it seems.

I have worked with Sadiq and played football with him (where you truly get to judge character on the Sports field). He is a pretty hard working, ambitious and determined guy who will now work tirelessly to win next May. Polls had shown that he would trail when pitted against the Tory favourite Zac Goldsmith, whereas Tessa might triumph. Given they were only polls and we know how accurate they have been recently we perhaps shouldn’t read too much into them. But the gut instinct for me was that Tessa had greater ‘reach’ amongst the London electorate. Mainly of course because of her profile around the Olympics, where I worked with her and admired her ability to work as an operator to get things done. I do feel London members have taken more of a gamble with Sadiq and it means we are probably fighting as underdogs.

Why one down 2 to go. Well of course we get the other 2 results tomorrow -Leader and deputy leader. In a way these will shape the Mayoral campaign probably more than Sadiq can. As regular readers will know I fear the electoral consequences of Labour selecting Corbyn are electoral suicide outside our core support. If this is the case, Corbyn could be pretty unpopular by May 2016, and Labour in London will be tarnished by the poor showing Labour will have in the national polls. My only hope is that the likely ‘novelty factor’ lift for Corbyn will last just long enough for Sadiq not be wiped out. I do get the novelty and excitement that surrounds Corbyn, so despite the entire media onslaught that is coming his way there will probably be a little bit of a bounce for him. The key question is how long it lasts and how large it is likely to be.

sadiq khan

But for 24 hours Sadiq should enjoy the victory and then look forward to Sunday and working out how on earth he is going to grasp the big prize and have a Labour London Mayor. He certainly has a great story to tell about his journey from a son of a bus driver in Tooting to Mayor? For that sake alone he is worth a good win! I really wish him well. Having seen the job and the prize that is representing London I can see why he wants to win. What a great job t lead one of the most interesting Cities in the world.

As the results were being read out I watched and felt physically nervous. I can’t imagine how I will feel tomorrow as the results are read out. The future of the Labour Party is at stake.

Quick Dip Back Inside the Bubble

IMG_1380

I know Westminster is often described as a political bubble and therefore anything that is said inside is somehow not worth the same as a ‘real discussion’ on the doorstep! So today I was back in Westminster to get some ‘gossip’ from as many people as possible about the state of politics and of course the Labour Leadership election. This wasn’t the main purpose of course but nobody could stop themselves talking about it!

It is fair to say that my 15-20 conversations were not scientifically chosen but I did speak to MPs, staff and others from across the House. It seems the only happy people I cam across were the Tory MPs I spoke to who couldn’t believe their luck! A Corbyn led opposition was a gift to them as far as they were concerned. Although in the long run they felt it was poor for democracy and the quality of decsion making not to have an opposition that looked like a government in waiting.

The only other thing I picked up was the willingness for people to stay inside the Party and to fight for it again. I see there has been some ‘speculation’ about an SDP type split if Corbyn wins. I haven’t seen any evidence of this, indeed just the opposite. For those who fought off entryism in the 80s they feel they might have to start all over again. There was also some fear expressed about the darker side  of Corbyn  supporters who are nowhere near as charming as him and who may well use their newly found status to take over the machinary of the Party too. The word de-selection was muttered a few times.

These are only the bits I picked up today. I was hoping to bump into a Corbyn supporter or two to balance out the insider gossip, but that looks like it may have to wait until next time.

And finally most of the anger turned to a Party that gives the same voting rights in an election to somebody who may have voted against us in May 2015 but with the payment of £3 gets the same rights as those who have sustained the party for 30-40 years through good and bad. These people are pretty bitter.