Opposition Leader Corbyn would be playing a dangerous game if he refused Privy Council status

August 29th, 2015


He really hasn’t thought this one through

The reports earlier this week that Jeremy Corbyn would refuse membership of the Privy Council if he’s elected leader of the Labour Party would be more than a symbolic gesture against a seemingly anachronistic body; it would be a serious strike against the country’s unwritten constitution.

Westminster is governed by rules evolved by gentlemen for gentlemen and the fact that the Commons is populated by professional politicians rather than the gentlemen amateurs of the eighteenth- or nineteenth-century sense has done little to change that. It is one of the principle reasons why much of the constitution remains uncodified: those applying it understand the limits of what’s acceptable without needing to write it down.

The relationship between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition is a good case in point. While they are publicly obliged to disagree on most policy, and while one is after the other’s job, the PM should be able to brief his opposite number (or authorise such briefings) on sensitive questions. It is what lies behind the whole concept of a loyal opposition.

    In reportedly rejecting the vehicle through which such briefings are made – and are made legal – Corbyn would deliberately be placing himself outside that framework and refusing to be bound by its rules. In essence, he would be rejecting the idea that his is a loyal opposition.

There may be some who might be relieved that an individual who’s gone out of his way to cultivate connections with some questionable individuals couldn’t expect the sort of access a Leader of the Opposition would normally receive. That would be to miss the point. Once you reject the unwritten rules of the game, what rules is the game being played by? To reject the self-restraint implicit in the unwritten code (and explicit in the Privy Council oath), invites the government to assume the worst: that the opposition wishes to do more than defeat it, it wishes to destroy it – which in turn legitimises the government doing whatever may be necessary to prevent that. The Privy Council may be an anachronism on one level but on another it’s the Westminster club which by bringing together members of all mainstream parties prevents the descent down the slippery slope of equating opposition with treason that’s all too common in immature democracies.

Historians may argue that the situation isn’t so bad; that there’s precedent, which indeed there is. Ramsay MacDonald had to be sworn in as a Privy Councillor immediately before being appointed prime minister in 1924. However, that was several decades before it became standard practice for leaders of all the main opposition parties to be automatically appointed to the Council. Indeed, it was only just about the time that the concept of a single permanent Leader of the Opposition was becoming established. There’s also a substantial difference between not being offered membership and not accepting it.

Not that he could necessarily reject an appointment for ever. Chances are that Corbyn is unelectable, that even if he’s elected next month he may well not see it through to the election and if he does then he’ll lose. Let’s assume the alternative though. The Promissory Oaths Act 1868 requires the prime minister (and other cabinet ministers) to be Privy Councillors. If Corbyn is serious about wanting to be PM, he’d have to take the Oath then, so why not take it now? Alternatively, would he really precipitate a constitutional crisis by refusing and so being literally unappointable?

My guess is that he hasn’t thought it through that far and that if it came down to it, he’d do what was needed. Nonetheless, these kind of gestures carry far more weight when they come from the Shadow Prime Minister than from a backbench MP. As games go, it’s a dangerous one for all concerned.

David Herdson


Ex LAB voters in Newsnight Ipsos MORI focus groups rate Cooper top and Corbyn bottom

August 28th, 2015

Could the party be making a terrible mistake?

Two sessions were held in Nuneaton and Croydon. These were both top targets for Labour on May 7th which they failed to win.

The sessions will be shown on Newsnight this evening and be available on BBC IPlayer later.

Mike Smithson


Why it is not smart making non-voters your main priority

August 28th, 2015

If you couldn’t be arsed last May then the chances are that it will be the same next time

It’s a seductive strategy that all parties try from time to time – make going for non-voters the main strategy but it is a wrong one. I’d argue that it is easier to persuade interested election participants to change than it is to get those who never turnout to alter their habits.

Just look at how well the Tories did on May 7th keeping the UKIP vote down in key marginals while not worrying about the purples making progress where it didn’t matter.

We underestimate how big a thing it is to vote for the first time and all the evidence is that the more you skip elections the chance of you voting the next time decline.

Boothroyd’s Tweet is spot on.

Mike Smithson


Message to Andy, Yvette and Liz: Jeremy is a man you can do business with

August 28th, 2015

LAB4 looking right

Don Brind on how Labour should react to Corbyn’s likely victory

It’s a pretty boring picture – two men and a woman standing in front of a model train. What made it newsworthy for the Metro, the London free sheet, in October 2007 was that the two men were Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Mayor of London Ken Livingstone. Flanked by the Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly they are gazing at a Crossrail train as the £16 billion project was given the green light.

Such moments of amity have been rare in the rollercoaster relations between the Livingstone and Labour leaders going back to Neil Kinnock. In recent days Brown and Livingstone have been at odds over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership credentials.

But that eight-year-old newspaper picture prompts two reflections relevant to the current contest in the Labour party.

The first is a message for Team Corbyn. Labour Londoners are rightly proud of the legacy of the Livingstone-led GLC in fighting racism and homophobia. It laid the groundwork for the diversity and tolerance which we now take for granted in the capital.

    But the GLC was abolished by Margaret Thatcher. We had to wait for her municipal vandalism to be undone by a Labour government – with an electable leader. Ken Livingstone’s opportunity to resume his leadership of London was created by Tony Blair.

The second message is for Teams Burnham, Cooper and Kendall. The Crossrail project which Livingstone worked tirelessly to bring about – winning massive cash commitments from the government and private business – was emblematic of something broader.

The Livingstone mayoralty was a business-friendly administration.

“At the heart of the Mayor’s job” says a report by his top adviser John Ross, “is making sure that London’s success as a city economy continues. This requires more than just taking account of account of business issues in making decisions. It means forging an effective partnership with business.”

With that in mind Jeremy Corbyn’s rivals should all look positively at his his “Better Business” plan and seek to find common ground.
This means engaging with Corbyn not signing up to his plan in its entirety. As the Guardian’s Economic Editor Larry Elliott observes:  “He didn’t expect to be Labour leader and it shows from his economic prospectus, which looks like something hastily put together … most of the eye-grabbing policies are merely “options”.

Elliott says Corbyn will not get the kind of honeymoon Tony Blair enjoyed in 1994 when the Major government’s economic credibility trashed by Black Wednesday. The Tories will try to deliver an early knockout by questioning the economic competence of the new leader. “Corbyn needs to be ready for this, because unless the details of his economic policy stack up, he won’t get a hearing for his big-picture analysis.”

The party as a whole should be thinking about how to counter the inevitable Tory assault when the results is announced on September 12th. Corbyn should not be left to fend for himself, especially as his leadership is likely to be short-lived. Paul Flynn MP whose opposition to his friend Jeremy’s candidature I highlighted in a previous post has tweeted a call to all the candidates to agree to a new vote in two years time “if new leader flops and is less popular than the party.”

The case for a constructive response Corbyn is made by the brilliant Mary Riddell who tells her Telegraph readers he is “no monster. He might even be the saviour of the Labour party”

She says the party should try to harness the mood he has created by inspiring you people. “He is likely to be out well before 2020 having, with luck, bequeathed to a more moderate successor a party reshaped to the demands of modern democracy.”

Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall have had their ups and downs but, in my view, all have grown during the protracted campaign. They have spent many long hours in the same room as Jeremy Corbyn. Enlightened self-interest suggests they should keep in talking to him after September 12th.

Don Brind writes a weekly column for PB


Just one local by-election tonight – what looks like an interesting LAB defence in Barnsley against UKIP

August 27th, 2015

Dearne North on Barnsley (Lab defence)
Result of council at last election (2015): Labour 55, Conservatives 4, Independents 4 (Labour majority of 47)
Result of ward at last election (2014): Labour 1,179 (58%), United Kingdom Independence Party 752 (37%), Conservatives 103 (5%)
Candidates duly nominated: Tony Devoy (Yorkshire First), Karen Fletcher (Trade Unionist and Socialist), Annette Gollick (Labour), Jim Johnson (UKIP), Lee Ogden (Con)

Whilst it is true to say that Labour have Barnsley sewn up, it is not fair to say that no one can challenge them. Barnsley has a total of 63 councillors, therefore whilst getting 32 councillors gets you a majority, the real benchmark is 42 councillors (two thirds of the total membership) and between 1990 and 2003 that is precisely what Labour clocked up, but then from 2003 to 2010 Labour experienced a problem. And what was the problem? Well, it wasn’t the Liberal Democrats and it wasn’t the Conservatives, it was the local independents and in 2008 they managed to win 24 seats on the council and caused Labour to come within one seat of losing Barnsley to No Overall Control, but then came the coalition, then came Labour’s recovery in local government and then Barnsley became a Labour heartland again.

So if Labour were to suffer a rebellion against the perceived one party state on the council, who might benefit? Well, the obvious answer would be UKIP, as in the four constituencies that make up Barnsley UKIP polled 23% of the vote (up 18% on the 2010 general election) clocking a very impressive 24% in the Wentworth and Dearne constituency but as we have seen UKIP have their own problems, namely being unable to hold on to their vote. So what about Yorkshire First? They fielded 14 candidates in the general election polling 1.04% in those constituencies (the best performance being Hemsworth where they polled 2.4% of the vote), sadly this meant that they lost every deposit in those seats and in Barnsley only managed to poll 647 votes in Barnsley East and despite all of their bluster the Trade Unionists and Socialists have yet to win a council seat anywhere, so with no Lib Dem candidate to demonstrate the fightback against Labour, Labour seem almost certain to win this seat with an increased vote and majority.

Harry Hayfield


How backers of the LAB contenders differ from each other and the country as a whole

August 27th, 2015

18% of Corbyn voters were 2010 LDs while for 57% their main news source is social media.


The LAB leadership election results WILL be broken down by how the different categories have voted

August 27th, 2015

This is a change that could destabilise Leader Corbyn

The tweet above represents a big change of mind by Labour on how it will announce the results on September 12th. Initially the plan had not been to give separate figures for the three different types of voter. Now these will be provided.

The Tweet is from a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee. Its Procedures Committee is overseeing the election and is made up of several key figures including the General Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth MP and Margaret Beckett MP who was the stand-in leader after John Smith died in 1994.

The decision to provide a full breakdown could be important if one of the three sections of the electorate votes in a different way from the others.

It will be recalled that after the 2010 election Ed Miliband’s position was undermined by the fact that his support disproportionately came from trade unionists. The election rules were different then but it will be remembered that David Miliband was the choice of the party’s MPs as well as the membership at large.

    From the limited polling data that has been published it is clear that Corbyn is doing significantly better with the £3 voters and trade union supporters than he is with the ordinary members.

Of course the legitimacy of the result will depend on the overall outcome. But this could just provide the ammunition for those who might want to question Mr Corbyn’s position should he, as seems likely, is elected in two and half weeks time.

Mike Smithson


Meanwhile for the other contenders the battle continues…

August 26th, 2015