25 January 2012 3:34 PM

Ed's Class War dog-whistle


Ed Miliband won PMQTs today by playing the man as much as the ball.  Most intriguing was his heavy use of phrases like "arrogant" and "smug" towards Cameron.

"Total arrogance! ... How bad do things have to get in our economy to shake him out of his complacency."

"He and his Chancellor are the byword for self-satisfied, smug complacency."

" .. put aside [your] pride and arrogance ... "

At first glance, these are just adjectives that the focus groupies have found to be toxic for the Dave brand. But it's actually a bit more than that.

I'm told by a shadow cabinet source that the key purpose is to reinforce Ed's message that Cameron is "out of touch". But subliminally they go further, by planting the idea that the PM is an over-privileged toff.  Complacency implies he is insulated from the real world. Arrogance suggests he sees himself as belonging to an elite. Smugness, that it is an uncaring elite.  Pride suggests his sense of superiority outweighs his sense of justice.

It's reminiscent of, but much more subtle than, the controversial tactics that Gordon Brown's people tried in 2007 and 2008, when they hired kids in top hats to follow the PM around.  It all backfired, of course, and was (mostly) abandoned after a bit of a hoo-ha at the disastrous Crewe & Nantwich by-election in 2008.

My source insists the current campaign is legitimate because it is reflects Cameron's political choices, which Labour regard as favouring the few, arguing:  "We can't use class war, but we can remind people that he has not experienced in his life what they have to go through in theirs, which influences what he does."

Some may well disagree, viewing it as "playing the man" rather than the issue. But what's undeniable is that it worked this afternoon. Cameron had no ready retort.



Joe Murphy

follow me on twitter    @JoeMurphyLondon



17 January 2012 1:54 PM

Miliband's union dilemma

Ed Miliband has been unrepentant this morning in defending himself from union criticism.

He insists he is "right" to say Labour can't promise to reverse Government spending cuts - including going along with the public sector pay freeze.

The latter point has caused most anger among the brothers. First Unite's Len McCluskey warned the party was on the road to electoral disaster and even "destruction" with its reversion to "discredited Blairism", then GMB head Paul Kenny gave credence to the warning by threatening to sever his union's ties with the party in a letter seen by the Standard.

If GMB walked away, which could only happen if its members approved, the central Labour Party would lose more than £1 million of funding a year. If Unite followed suit, Miliband would goodbye to a further £4 million - plunging the party into financial ruin.

But here's the dilemma for Miliband - if he faces down the brothers who delivered him the leadership, it will allow him to shake off the "Red Ed" tag and really stamp his leadership on the party. It's a tactic which worked so well for Tony Blair, who gambled the farm on scrapping Clause IV and won.

Judging by the reaction of people around Miliband, they are happy for their man to stick publicly to his guns and are bullish about the chances of unions walking away.

"They will stand up for their members, we will stand up for the majority of people in this country," one source said.

A shadow cabinet minister privately acknowledged that unions withdrawing their funding would be a "disaster" - not just for Labour but for the unions too. "They'd never carry it with their members," the frontbencher predicted.

They're probably right, and it might not come to that in any case. But after a start to the year which has seen miserable poll ratings, a race row sparked by Diane Abbott and outspoken criticism from his former guru (among others), I'm sure Miliband could have done without this latest set of negative headlines.

For the record, here's the full text of the letter sent by GMB general secretary Paul Kenny to senior officers at the union yesterday.

Dear colleagues
The speech Ed Balls made on Saturday may have a profound impact on our relationship with the Labour Party.
I have turned down dozens of offers to comment on TV, Radio and in the Press.
Unite and Unison have adopted similar positions. I have spoken to Ed Milliband and Ed Balls to ensure they were aware of how wrong I think the policy they are now following is.
It is now time for careful consideration and thought before the wider discussion begin on the long term implications this new stance by the Party has on GMB affiliation.
It will be a fundamental requirement that the CEC and Congress determine our way forward after proper debate.
I will update everyone as events unfold but I have to say this is the most serious mistake they could have made and the Tories must be rubbing their hands with glee.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse 

11 January 2012 2:16 PM

A joint platform for the PM and Miliband?

Today's PMQs show of unity in opposing Scottish independence raises the question: could David Cameron and Ed Miliband appear on a platform together to keep the UK together?

Neither side is ruling it out. The PM's aides point out that he appeared alongside Labour big beast John Reid during the AV referendum campaign, and say the independence campaign will be fought on the same lines.

Labour sources say Miliband will do "whatever is necessary and effective" to make the case for keeping the union together - though they point out that appearing on a platform with Cameron could actually be counter-productive.

For what it's worth, I doubt it'll happen as it would bolster the SNP's case that Westminster politicians are trying to dictate to Scotland.

Not quite peace in our time, then.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

06 January 2012 11:51 AM

"I had that Diane Abbott in the back of my cab, once"


Diane Abbott is in hot water again - this time for saying taxi drivers drive past black people.

Her comment, tweeted on Tuesday, went: "Dubious of black people claiming they've never experienced racism. Ever tried hailing a taxi I always wonder?"

Here's a neat twist, though. Steve McNamara, a driver for 25 years and spokesman for the Licenced Taxi Drivers Association, once picked her up himself. “She has no trouble being picked up - I picked her from a rather trendy muse development in Stoke Newington about 10 or 12 years ago.  She seemed to me to be a very nice lady but it is pretty ironic that she made this comment about taxi drivers a day before she made a racist comment herself.

McNamara insists: "The modern generation of taxi drivers is as diverse as London itself and most of the knowledge schools now have prayer rooms. Her comment . . . is as outdated and insulting as the stereotype that black people wear woolly hats all the time.”

Oh dear.  But the key question is will this finish off the shadow public health minister?

She clearly thinks not.  Ms Abbott's friends have let me know she is "very sorry for any offence caused" to taxi drivers. Moreover, I am told that "she gets on well with many taxi drivers" (yes, I know, this sounds close to parody -- ie: some of my best friends are cabbies). But, crucially, she is currently not planning to put out a statement of apology in her own words.

I am also told that the MP was speaking from "personal experience", which implies she has bee left standing with her arm out at some stage - which must be a truly gutting expeirence if you believe the driver acted out of racism.

Senior Labour sources are cautiously optimistic that it will blow over without the fuss caused by her tweet that "white people love playing 'divide and rule" (which, by the way, I did NOT find remotely offensive).

One party source points out that she did not tar all taxi drivers with the same brush but said her latest tweet would be "looked at". It sounds like she won't be getting another furious phone call from Ed Miliband today.


Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter  @JoeMurphyLondon



15 November 2011 3:21 PM

Out of touch crosses party lines

The over-use of "out of touch" shows no sign of relenting despite my blog yesterday.

Firstly it crossed party lines from Labour to the Government, as David Cameron levelled Westminster's three favourite words at the EU.

Then Yvette Cooper said the Government was "so out of touch that Ministers don't know what is happening on our borders" as the Home Office was also accused of putting out misleading statistics.

But today's prize use goes to Michael Dugher, for this on Oliver Letwin's bin troubles, with a H/T to @DavidHughesPA.

He said: "This Government is desperately out of touch, but when people tried to tell Oliver Letwin what was happening, he dumped their letters in a park bin. That's not just out of touch. It's out to lunch."

I have a feeling we are a long way from a ban.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

14 November 2011 2:40 PM

The "out of touch" Labour mantra

There has been a dramatic escalation in recent weeks of Labour spokesmen attacking the Government as "out of touch".

This reached tautological levels today as Ed Miliband declared: "The problem is they just seem out of touch and don’t seem to be in touch with the real needs of businesses and people up and down this country."

An advanced Google search of Labour's news pages for the term "out of touch" throws up 727 results.

They include the Government being "out of touch" on defence, families and pensioners, students, women, businesses, reappointing Lord Young, SureStart, fuel and energy prices, crime and criminal justice, the Thameslink contract, equality, and "the real world".

The same accusation was levelled at Theresa May's border control and Vince Cable and Oliver Letwin's letter dumping; Dan Jarvis said David Cameron's conference speech showed he was "out of touch"; and Tessa Jowell used it against Westminster Council's plan to impose weekend and evening parking charges.

It was even levelled by Tom Watson in connection with Patrick Mercer's unflattering comments about the PM.

Do you think Labour are trying to tell us something?

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

27 October 2011 2:45 PM

The Lib-Dems' perfect jibe at Tory rebels

After Monday's huge Tory rebellion on Europe, it was only a matter of time before Coalition taunts about it emerged.

I've just been told one which must classify as almost the perfect Lib-Dem jibe, allowing MPs in the yellow corner to take aim at the Tories and Labour at the same time.

Told with relish to Tory rebels, it involves their Coalition partners crowing: "It was a shame to see you couldn't offer the Prime Minister the loyalty that we - or Ed Miliband for that matter - were able to on Monday."

Not that Lib-Dems are entirely delighted with the trouble caused by the rebels. They are worried David Cameron will try to "meet them half way" with a raft of measures that will be anathema to the Lib-Dems but won't go far enough to satisfy the eurosceptics.

"You should never placate implacable opposition," I'm told.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

07 October 2011 1:31 PM

Flying in to the shadow cabinet

Ed Miliband has unveiled his new top team, promoting members of the 2010 intake and giving Brownite bruisers a huge say over attack lines and campaigning.

Aides are happy that the shad cab took shape quickly - despite several of the figures involved being airborne this morning.

New shadow chief Treasury secretary Rachel Reeves and new shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran were both on planes, I'm told, as was the outgoing John Denham.

A couple of other MPs who might have been expecting a call - and might yet get one as the junior ranks shake out - were also in the sky, raising fears they might miss their message from Miliband.

One joked: "I've changed my voicemail to make clear what jobs would be acceptable, Ed can just leave me a message."

There are no major surprises in the new shad cab, although eyebrows are being raised at the decision to put Michael Dugher in charge of toughening up Labour's message across departments, while Tom Watson will work out how to sell that message to the country.

With Gordon Brown's former PPS Jon Trickett stepping up to shadow cabinet office minister and Ed Balls as shadow chancellor (not to mention Ed M himself in the top job), there's a perfect opportunity for the Tories to paint it as a victory for the Brownite "forces of hell" Alistair Darling spoke of.

Incidentally, the decision to put Ivan Lewis in the international development brief unites three key David Miliband supporters in foreign affairs. But I'm sure Lewis, Douglas Alexander and Jim Murphy won't let the issue of Ed's leadership drift onto their meeting agendas...

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

03 October 2011 3:01 PM

Goodies return in the age of austerity

One of the highlights of conference season is when the Tory press officers hand out goodie bags in the press room (after three weeks on the road, tired hacks are easy to please).

This year's contains a yello t-shirt advertising the mocked-up "Ed's knee-jerk chicken shack" and a set of "Labour policy dice" - three dice which on my first go delivered Ed Miliband asked "how would you solve the debt crisis" and the answer "how the #@£% am I supposed to know". Perhaps they are loaded.


But amid the excitement came some disappointment - inside the goodie bag was a red book titled "Ed Miliband's policies for Britain", which has only blank pages in homage to Ed's infamous blank sheet of paper. All well and good, except journalists have been given this book before. Memories are short but it is thought to have made an appearance last year.

At least it gives Labour a chance to hit back. On the day George Osborne gave his keynote speech, might I suggest they accuse him of peddling his own red book of blank pages in reference to the Budget tome?

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

The rabbit in Osborne's hat

George Osborne is known for pulling out a political flourish in his big speeches and today was no exception.

It was not quite on the same scale as his show-stopping announcement on raising the inheritance tax threshold, but it was there all the same: a hint that Britain's historic and ambitious carbon emission reduction targets could be watered down.

The Chancellor vowed that Britain would cut carbon "no slower but also no faster" than fellow European nations, adding: "We’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business."

This is much more significant than it might sound. Britain (and the EU) is currently signed up to cut carbon emissions by 20 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020, and by 80 per cent by 2050.

In recent months the Lib-Dem Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne has been pushing for the 2020 target to be raised to 30 per cent and has built a coalition of the willing who agree with him. But his views are not shared around the Cabinet table, and in May it emerged that Vince Cable is among those worried about over-ambitious plans hitting business. This is self-evidently Osborne's view too, and I understand Transport Secretary Philip Hammond is also in the same camp.

The major significance of Osborne's announcement is that far from not just going for 30 per cent cuts, Britain could actually water down its 20 per cent commitment if other European countries don't hit their targets.

Aides insist this is "hypothetical" and hope at least the 20 per cent target will be met, but also made clear that if a Europe-wide reduction ends up being only 15 per cent then Britain will re-think its policies to make sure the country isn't being unfairly hit.

Expect this to cause fireworks within the Coalition, as well as from green groups and Labour - Ed Miliband was a key supporter of the idea. It is hard to see how it tallies with pledges to be the "Greenest Government Ever", and will be painted as sacrificing global leadership in eco issues in the quest for growth.

Osborne will have to hope part of his peroration comes true: "We do all this because we know that the sacrifices our country makes will not be made in vain."

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

30 September 2011 10:50 AM

Revealed: The Tory conference slogan (and more)

We can reveal that David Cameron's confernce will open under the slogan .... drum roll ....

"Leadership For A Better Future."

It's a phrase that acknowledges tough times but contains that classic Cameron optimism, pointing to a rturn of the good times if people stick with a tough leader.

In today's Standard there's a lively interview with the charming Tory chairman Sayeeda Warsi, who reveals the slogan and explains why leadership is the prime focus of the conference - and why families will "instinctively" swallow the tough medicine prescribed by Dr Cameron.

 "It would be so easy for us to get the [government’s] chequebook out and not make the tough calls. But ask people if they would prefer to have it easy now or, by taking tough decisions, create a better future for their children, most will instinctively choose to put their children first.”

Warsi is on her usual bubbly form. Shge reveals that she, Cameron and other ministers will be recroding audiobooks for blind chuildren during the conference (it's their latest social action project and us Press boys are invited to do the same).

The first considered Tory attack on Ed Miliband's speech is also there. She says Labour created the something-for-nothing society and asks how Ed's speech squares with Labour's opposition to removing legal aid from cheeky squatters.

There's lots more ... a return to old fashioned conference debates, some amazing techie innovations etc.

But my favourite line is a cracking joke about when Chris Huhne compared to the evil Dr Geobbels. “When I was young my mum wanted me to be a doctor and I never lived up to her expectations [Warsi became a lawyer]. What I always say is, the Conservatives might have made me a Lady - but it took the Liberal Democrats to make me a doctor.”



Joe Murphy

follow me on twitter  @JoeMurphyLondon



29 September 2011 12:28 PM

Ups & Downs in the Mersey hit parade

After the Labour conference, who is up and who's down in the people's party?


Ed Miliband
Labour's leader went down ok in the hall but his speech was far from a big success.  The strong verdict of media observers (not always reflected in the actual coverage) was that it was a limp speech that had little to say beyond navel gazing and Tory-bashing.  Businesses saw it as signalling an age of greater regulation and interference.  Ed's week started badly with the cock-up over tuition fees and the failure to carry the leadership ballot reforms in full.  His brave, hit performance at the public Q&A (given a graveyard slot, presumably in case it went wrong) did not get the coverage it deserved. And finally he forgot the name of a Scottish candidate in the middle of an interview extolling the virtues of said candidate (It was Ken Macintosh, Ed). As the polls already suggest, his week really should have been better.


Yvette Cooper
The shadow home secretary emerged as the conference darling with a string of impressive performances and is now being seriously talked about as a future Labour leader - not least by her husband Ed Balls, who said he would stand aside if she wanted to run. Such mischief-making from hubby is unlikely to have earned him brownie points at home, and it could place Yvette under pressure to make a tilt for the crown if Ed Miliband's personal poll ratings don't pick up.

Ed Balls
The shadow chancellor made the most important speech of the week, putting Labour into a slightly better position to campaign for trust on the economy. As part of that he acknowledged past mistakes by Labour. More strikingly, he dealt with his own reputation for trickery when he declared that George Osborne's OBR will police Labour's next set of fiscal rules.  Balls also passed the poisoned chalice of being the media's leader-in-waiting to wife Yvette Cooper.  Is he really ruling himself out? We shall see.

Lord Falconer
Tony Blair's former flatmate emerged out of the ether as a contender to be parachuted into the shadow Cabinet. Brownite delegates nursing hangovers at the annual rally in Liverpool may feel their headache has just got worse as he was an ardent defender of the Blairite agenda. If he returned to his old stomping ground as shadow justice secretary, it would be a battle of heavyweights with Justice Secretary Ken Clarke.


Tony Blair
Booooo!  Ed Miliband never planned or wanted to spark such a reaction, and it was clearly only down to a minority, but the damage to Labour's most successful leader ever was done.  New revelations about his wheeler dealings with despots and PLO grumblings are more serious problems, as is the looming Iraq inquiry verdict.

Ivan Lewis
Ed's crowd had to quickly distance themselves from his proposal in the hall for a register of licenced journalists who could be struck off for bad behaviour.  He tried to explain he only meant a violuntary scheme by the industry but too late to stop awful headlines and open speculation about his future in shadow cabinet.

Meg Hillier
Universally tipped for the sack in the next reshuffle, which could come very soon. "Utterly useless," snorts a Labour colleague.

Shaun Woodward
Enough knives were out for the former Tory to keep his butler polishing them all night long.

Peter Hain
He negotiated the Refounding Labour blueprint which was partly torn up by the NEC on day one. Not a great start for conference.

Joe Murphy, Nicholas Cecil, Craig Woodhouse

28 September 2011 11:43 AM

An end to something-for-nothing volunteering

Ed Miliband was emphatic yesterday in wanting to end the "something-for-nothing" culture in Britain and replace it with a "something-for-something" society.

It seems Labour is planning to take this logic to its ultimate end - rewarding people for volunteering.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell has set out how this might work in her speech to conference. She wants people to contribute more to society, particularly if they use public services, for example by asking former in-patients to help people recovering at home after hospital treatment.

In return, people who help out will be incentivised. Tessa hailed a Lambeth "community dividend" scheme which gives volunteers credits for council tax, discounted council services and time in the gym - suggesting it could be rolled out across the country under Labour.

It is all part of Labour's response to the Big Society, which also came under attack from Tessa today.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

27 September 2011 1:40 PM

Eagle's flying rhetoric

As Ed Miliband puts the finishing touches to his conference speech, he could do worse than to read the address given earlier by Angela Eagle.

The shadow Treasury chief secretary had a couple of great Government-bashing phrases in her speech.

She compared David Cameron to a "medieval physician bleeding an already weak patient - his only prescription is more austerity".

And she had her own take on comparisons of the Coalition to a marriage, saying: "Some say it’s a marriage of convenience. To me it is more of a sleazy affair. Exciting while it lasts, but destructive and likely to end in total embarrassment."

Sign up that speechwriter.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

Labour melting before our eyes

Not, not today's ComRes poll but the ice sculpture in the breakfast room at the conference hotel this morning.


You could actually see the substance dripping away - though it is worth noting that it's the old Labour red rose logo, so the parallels might cheer Ed Miliband after all.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

26 September 2011 4:37 PM

Ed stitched up

Ed cardi 

Among the conference stands here in Liverpool is a 1950s-style haberdashery that is home to the RNIB. Their slogan is "a stitch in time saves nine", making the case for investment in small-scale eye surgery such as cataracts or face much higher costs for the likes of hip replacements caused by vision-related accidents. But it is their marketing material that deserves a prize, as this mock-up of Ed Miliband in a trendy cardigan shows.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

22 September 2011 11:57 AM

Decontaminating Labour's defence brand

It looks as though next week's Labour conference will see a huge emphasis on moving the party forward, if the evidence so far is anything to go by.

Ed Miliband has given two interviews, to Progress and the New Statesman, with a similar message. He wants to "rip up the rule book" and argue how the country's true potential is being "held back".

Ed is warning that he won't return to New Labour but will target the centre ground - something Jim Murphy is stressing today as well.

The shadow defence secretary has unveiled a review into the debacle that was defence procurement, acknowledging Labour's mistakes and coming up with some interesting ideas that could become party policy.

It is being hailed as the first major contribution to filling Ed's famous "blank sheet of paper" (a phrase he admits was a mistake today), and includes ideas such as axing major projects that go 20 per cent over budget or time, and building in an emphasis on supporting British industry.

There is also a suggestion that defence spending should be set on a 10-year timescale to stop it being a political football - something Labour accepted but failed to implement in government.

Murphy is keen to end the "conspiracy of optimism" where defence firms and the MoD underestimate costs and timetables to get them past the Treasury, only to see them balloon afterwards. A bit late for that, you might argue, but it shows that shadow ministers are willing to confront the mistakes made in office.

Given the Government has hammered on about the £38 billion black hole in the MoD budget, it could even be seen as an attempt to decontaminate the Labour brand on defence.

Murphy argues the Government has "already lost its way" on defence procurement. And pushing a line I expect we will hear a lot over the next week or so, he added: "This process shows that even in opposition Labour can be the party of the centre with the fresh ideas and real energy - all of which are essential for us to be the party of government again."

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

15 September 2011 3:27 PM

Danny admits we are better off outside the euro

Breaking news ... Danny Alexander, the former campaign chief for Britain in Europe, has admitted that it's a good thing he didn't win the Battle of Sterling.

He 'fessed up in an interview with the Evening Standard, when asked if it was lucky that the pro-euro campaign did not prevail.

"I think there is no doubt at all that the flexibilities we have, not being part of the euro, have been very helpful to the UK in dealing with the economic crisis we've had," he said.

Asked if that was politico-speak for admitting he was wrong, DA responded: "Who knows how it would have un-folded if things had worked out differently. I'm still a very firm believer that our national interest lies as a wholehearted member of the EU engaging positively to get the best for Britain. That's what always motivated me and that has not changed one iota."  He did not, however, say he still wants to join the euro.

There are lots of other good angles in the interview with this unassuming Lib Deb star.  He tells the unions that the Government is making contingency plans to defeat the strikes; urges his party to stand firm with the austerity policies and the Coalition; attacks Boris Johnson over the 50p rate and rebuffs the Tory Right on repatriation of powers.

But I like his description of why being brought up on a remote island (Colonsay, pop. 110) made him the man he is today.


Joe Murphy

follow me  on Twitter  .... @JoeMurphyLondon




14 September 2011 4:08 PM

Miliband close to deal with unions

Hot news.  I'm told that Ed Miliband has all but struck the vital deal with the unions on his internal reform package.

Official party sources are refusing to brief on the subject, which they want to emerge as an eve-of-conference success.

But an insider says that things moved decisively since Monday evening. "There have been some developments in the ;last 36 hours  whcih I think suggest that it's going to be resolved," said the insider. "I'm very clear there will be a way forward at the NEC on Tuesday."

This is big news for backers of Ed M.  He wants to cut the union vote from 50 per cent to around 40 to cure the democratic deficit in conference votes.  In a balanced package he will beef up the status of party conference, hopefully ending the dreary years when Tony Blair turned it from a place where decisions were made to a US-style rally.

In addition, Miliband aims to make local parties more outward-looking.  If the package goes through, Labour will be a different animal. The leadership will have to listen to members, and members will have to listen to the ordinary public rather than sit navel-gazing.

Incidentally ....

I've just heard a fuming denunciation of today's Times splash from a senior Labour insider.  While the party's official spokesman says "we don't comment on polls", this well-connected source let rip.

"The Times poll shows Labour clearly ahead but the Times chooses to editorialise on its front page about Ed Miliband.  It's hard to tell if this is reporting or campaigning. It seems crass. I can't remember them doing this about Cameron at the same point."

Ouch. That seems rather harsh to me, since the poll revealed some pretty dismal ratings for Miliband.


Joe Murphy

follow me on Twitter @JoeMurphyLondon


12 September 2011 2:22 PM

With brothers like these...

It will be interesting to see what kind of a reception Ed Miliband gets when he addresses the TUC tomorrow.

The brothers have been sabre-rattling hard about possible strike action over pensions reform this autumn, and a quick look at the agenda reveals they aren't impressed with a lack of support from Labour.

Motion 29, which will be debated on Wednesday and has been tabled by Mark Serwotka's PCS union (which has already called another strike for November), reads: "Congress expresses its concern at the pathetic response (my emphasis) of the Labour leadership and instructs the TUC General Council to press for support for future action in defence of the agreement signed with the last Labour government."

Interestingly, it comes at the same time as Ed is facing fresh pressure to overhaul his party's links with the unions.

In an article timed for maximum effect, senior academics from the University of Bristol argue that union intervention in Ed's leadership victory was so decisive that it calls into question the "legitimacy of the electoral process".

Richard Jobson and Mark Wickham-Jones also say it "undermines Ed Miliband's authority as leader of the party", and was effectively a return to the era of the block vote.

The case for reform is now "unanswerable", they argue - just as Ed is putting the finishing touches to any ideas he wants to set out at his own conference later this month.

I'm not sure the brothers will like that.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

01 September 2011 3:43 PM

Oh Darling! The backlash begins

Extracts from Alistair's Darling's forthcoming memoirs - a great scoop for Labour Uncut - have been causing quite a stir over the past couple of days.

The former chancellor's reflections on the likes of Gordon Brown ("brutal and volcanic") and Sir Mervyn King ("amazingly stubborn and exasperating") are the stuff Westminster hacks dream of. But they are less impressive to those named in the book, and Mr Darling's colleagues are starting to make their feelings known.

While Ed Miliband was diplomatic when asked about them, saying Darling had an "absolute right" to pen the book and admitting peopl would find them "interesting", shadow chancellor Ed Balls has been less complimentary.

Balls accused Darling of giving George Osborne a gift in raking over old ground, in almost the same breath as he confirmed there was a plan to replace the Chancellor with, er, Ed Balls. Not that he wanted the job, obviously.

Another former Labour frontbencher look exasperated when I asked about the memoir, offically due to be serialised at the weekend and released next week.

"He should never have been given the job," was the scathing assessment. Expect more of the same in coming days.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

15 August 2011 2:11 PM

IDS and Ed M sing from the same hymn sheet

As the fallout from last week’s riots continues, much of the attention has rightly been focused on the head-to-head between David Cameron and Ed Miliband today.

But before the party leaders set out their explanations of what went wrong and how to put it right, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith was touring the media studios. And while he did so, I was struck by how close his words were to Ed Miliband’s.

For much of last week the Labour leader linked the riots to bank bonuses, phone hacking and MPs’ expenses. And today, IDS was at it.

Here’s what he said on the Today programme:

“We all have to recognise, I have to say, we all have to put our hands in the air, those of us who are in leadership positions, and recognise what has happened in the last 15-20 years what has happened to us is that many of us have just decided that life is about what you take out of it, not what you put back into it.
“And you know, stiffing someone on a debt in the city or you know, raiding someone’s telephone for messages or claiming expenses that you shouldn’t have claimed. These are issues that all of us have to recognise you have to put your own house in order at the same time and try and change that.”

And compare it with what Ed said, just hours later:

“It’s not the first time we’ve seen this kind of me-first, take what you can culture.
The bankers who took millions while destroying people’s savings: greedy, selfish, and immoral. The MPs who fiddled their expenses: greedy, selfish, and immoral. The people who hacked phones to get stories to make money for themselves: greedy, selfish and immoral.
“People who talk about the sick behaviour of those without power, should talk equally about the sick behaviour of those with power. Let’s not pretend that the crisis of values in our society is confined to a minority only at the bottom when we see the morality of millions of hardworking, decent people under siege from the top as well.”

Maybe there’s some consensus out there after all.

Craig Woodhouse
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04 August 2011 3:29 PM

Curtains for Clegg?

When a Lib Dem as fearless and well connected as Lord Oakeshott warns it will be "Curtains for the Coalition" if the big banks are let off the hook again (see our fascinating interview here) then you can be sure that the PM and Chancellor will be reading every word closely.

But is the curtain falling for Nick Clegg?  Just read his utterly riveting reply to my question whether Nick Clegg will still be leader at the next election and beyond.

"What matters for Liberal Democrats and our future as an independent party is that we fight the next election as a completely independent party, at least equidistant between the Conservatives and Labour."

He then pointed out that 38 of 57 seats were won against the Tories, with Labour tactical votes. "The only way we can retain those seats is by persuading those voters it is still worth supporting us. That is the real strategic imperative and we have not long to do it.

"How do we get from here to a credibly independent Liberal Democrat Party in 2015? I think it will be difficult to persuade people we are a completely independent force if, on the eve of the poll, Liberal Democrat ministers are still having to defend what many would see as Tory policies."

Interpret this as you will but several points are obvious.  He did not say, "Of course Nick will be leader!".  He did say that the party needs to dramatically change people's perceptions in a short space of time. He suggested the Coalition will end before the election, leaving Britain with a short period of minority Conservative rule with the Lib Dems crossing the floor to the Opposition benches. In such a situation, appointing a new leader might be logical.

And just who might that be? Lord O is not saying, but read his mischievous response when I asked if he thinks his old pal Vince Cable will retire at the 2015 election. "I've never seen him more full of beans. I'm sure Vince's best years are yet to come."



Joe Murphy

follow me on twitter  @JoeMurphyLondon





15 July 2011 2:00 PM

Edward vs Goliath

Peers are discussing the phone hackng scandal today, and there are some great lines coming out of the Upper House.

"Blue Labour" cheerleader Lord Glasman has been out hailing his boss's bravery in taking on News International, with some great biblical rhetoric.

"It was with great courage the leader of the Labour Party stood like King David stood before the bully and with the single stone he laid him down. He began this change," said the peer.

"The Sun was beginning to denigrate Ed Miliband to start running six-minute loops of his repeated mistakes and putting panda eyes - beginning to systematically attack him.

"But the leader of the Labour Party stood up. It reminded me of the biblical story of King David because King David was sitting in his farm, looking after his sheep, his brothers were generals and lieutenants in King Saul's army and Goliath was standing, the great bully going to attack them."

Would the comparisons have been the same if David Miliband had been leading Labour right now?

Also worth a mention is this, from Lord Howarth of Newport.

"There is, I think, a resentment among politicians that many journalists are better than they are at their job - they're cleverer, they're quicker," he said.

"There is a jealousy that journalists rather than politicians - in the public perception and often in reality - lead the national debate, and the campaigning journalists are often more effective than campaigning politicians.

"And there is a fear on the part of politicians that the media have displaced Parliament.

"Where is the true debating chamber of the nation? Is it the House of Commons or is it the studio of the Today programme or the editorial column of the Sun or Daily Mail?"

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse    

12 July 2011 3:54 PM

A helping hand for Ed

Ed Miliband has been doing an impressive job leading from the front on the phone hacking scandal, and has silenced many of the doubters on his own benches (for a while at least).

But the job of filling in his infamous "blank sheet of paper" continues apace, and two groups have sprung up to give him a hand.

Last night saw the launch of the Labour Faith Network, offering "faith inspired politics" and described as "a new grouping of Labour party members from the major faiths, who want to see the party reconnect with faith communities across the UK". They will no doubt be there to help Ed if he decides to "do God".

Tonight sees the launch of a pamphlet called Pragmatic Radicalism. Sub-headed "Ideas from Labour's New Generation", its editor John Slinger insists it "is not a call to arms, a policy platform or the manifesto of a particular bloc". But it is intended to stimulate debate about where the party is going.

It is interesting to note some of the people involved here. Blue Labour guru Lord Glasman was the key speaker at the Faith Network, while Luciana Berger and Ed's strategic adviser Lord Wood are due to join the Pragmatic Radicals. All three would feature in a list of one to watch.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

11 July 2011 2:21 PM

Lunchtime List

All today's Evening Standard political stories in one place

Hacking exclusice: Queen's police sold her details to NoW
Personal details about the Queen and her closest aides were sold to the News of the World by corrupt royal protection officers, the Standard reveals today.
Drop BSkyB bid, Clegg tells Murdoch as shares plunge
Yard chief: I only heard Milly's phone had been hacked from the media
Miliband: PM must face Commons over Coulson

'Anxiety for thousands' as care homes group closes
Tens of thousands of care home residents face an uncertain long-term future after stricken operator Southern Cross today announced that it would shut.

Unions to fight 'charter for privatisation'
David Cameron was today warned he faces the "fight of his life" over plans to give charities, community groups and companies a greater say in running public services.

David Cameron v Ed Miliband
Ground: Hacking
Kickoff: 11am
Miliband had another good day on phone hacking - his seventh day on the front foot. Behind the scenes, he urged the Speaker to have Cameron dragged to the Commons to explain why warnings went unheeded about the Coulson affair. Downing Street neatly saved the goal by volunteering a statement from Jeremy Hunt instead. Thwarted, Red Ed decided to reply to Hunt in person (unusual for a party leader) to spotlight his view that Cam was “running scared” and said Cameron’s reputation would be “permanently tarnished” until he told all.
Score: Cameron 0, Miliband 1

06 July 2011 2:24 PM

Match of Today - PMQs edition

David Cameron v Ed Miliband

Ground: Prime Minister’s Questions

Kickoff: 12 noon

Miliband was on red hot form. He scored a rapid hat trick by calling for an inquiry, demanding that Rebekah Brooks quit, and urging a “breathing space” in the BSkyB takeover.

Cameron partially recovered with some heavyweight rhetoric about the “absolutely disgusting” allegations and by promising some inquiries should be in public.

But the man in the red shirt scored a fourth time by lambasting the “catastrophic error of judgement” of Andy Coulson and snarling: “He hasn’t shown leadership today.”

Score: Cameron, 2. Miliband 4


01 July 2011 2:30 PM

Ed's axeman dilemma

One of the most fascinating monthly reads in the political blogosphere is Labour Uncut's shadow cabinet league table.

It rates each of Ed Miliband's frontbenchers according to their "work rate" - questions and speeches made in Parliament and media coverage generated outside.

It's an imperfect judge of performance, of course, but no less interesting for it. This month the grassroots site has used it to assess who may face the axe if Miliband's plan to scrap shadow cabinet elections goes through.

There is a thorough analysis of the whos and whys, settling on the following four frontbenchers as the most vulnerable: Shaun Woodward (Shadow Northern Ireland secretary), Tessa Jowell (Cabinet Office), Anne McKechin (Scotland) and Meg Hillier (Energy and Climate Change).

Interestingly it is a totally different list to that put forward by Ann Treneman in today's Times - with the exception of Meg Hillier, who makes both. John Healey (Health), Maria Eagle (Transport), Ivan Lewis (Culture, Media and Sport) and Sadiq Khan (Justice) are the others described as "over-promoted" by the Thunderer's sketch writer.

All this speculation is Ed's own making. As Labour Uncut points out: "Having fought for a change to the rules, to not wield the knife fully would be like reaching for the prize and then not knowing what to do with it."

But it could also be an opportunity, giving Ed the chance to show firm leadership and conviction. If not, the site argues, "the result of hesitancy would be yet another crisis about Ed Miliban’ds leadership style".

There are interesting times ahead.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

29 June 2011 2:23 PM

Match of Today - PMQs edition

David Cameron v Speaker Bercow
Ground: Prime Minister’s Questions
Kickoff: 12 noon

Ouch! If looks could kill, Bercow would be dead. It happened when he slapped down Cameron the middle of a glorious tease about Ed Miliband. “We’re very grateful,” dismissed the Speaker, oozing irony. Tories gasped, Labour MPs whooped, and the Prime Minister muttered under his breath, his face a portrait of suppressed rage.

Minutes later, the Speaker rebuked him for giving a long answer to Labour MP Clive Efford on policing: “Order! Prime Minister’s Questions is principally for backbenchers.” Asked about Bercow’s chairmanship, a No 10 aide said: “I think I will just leave you with ‘the look’.”

Score: Cameron , 0. Speaker 2.


24 June 2011 1:43 PM

Equality at work

Labour dinosaurs look out - Harriet Harman wants to change the party's rules to guarantee that either the leader or deputy is a woman.

She has got support from leading Labour females for the idea, and I'm told Ed Miliband has a "genuinely open mind" about it.

It is going forward as part of the "Refounding Labour" process which will also see shadow cabinet elections scrapped, but has raised more questions than answers.

Some Labour figures worry that Harman's Law (which must now be Harman's Second Law, as her First Law was about gender pay reports. Or else Harman's Constitutional Subheading) will mean women are more equal than men.

Details are sketchy. This Tribune article is the clearest indication of how it might work. Labour could end up with a three-human (not three-man, oh no) leadership team - a leader and two deputies - with at least one needing to be a woman. Or it could stick with the existing leader-and-deputy set up, again with at least one woman.

The key here is the term at least one woman. I've asked, and the indications are that it wouldn't mean at least one man. So Labour could end up having rules that allow for an all-female leadership team, but not an all-male one. That's equality at work.

Harman (Harperson to her critics) concedes the "many options for the specific mechanism could be researched and consulted on". But she's determined to have the principle established.

If the ruling NEC approve, it will form part of a document to be approved at conference. I look forward to the reaction from rank-and-file party men.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

Ed gets a grip

Ed Miliband has been making waves with his plans to axe shadow cabinet elections.

The Labour leader wants to take total control over his top team in a move that is being hailed as bold and modernising by supporters. It's a bit much to talk of it as a "Clause IV" moment but is has angered some in the party.

Left-wing backbencher John McDonnell has been most vocal (and visible), breaking cover to tell the Today programme: "You don't demonstrate strong leadership by having a battle in your own party." He painted it as a return to the centralisation and control-freakery of the Blair era.

Privately, a few more MPs have also raised concerns. A move to make backbenchers more loyal as they seek to "find favour", said one, while another said it put Labour's traditions of internal democracy at risk. One shadow minister said the way it had been handled - appearing in the media before it is discussed by MPs and peers on Monday - was "cackhanded". There were also suggestions it was a phoney show of strength.

Many Labour MPs - and shadow cabinet ministers - are in favour, despite the party having voted against the same thing just last year. But the leadership appears to be aware the move is controversial and has tossed out a bone: strengthening a committee which links frontbenchers to the rank and file.

Shadow culture secretary Ivan Lewis, hailing the decision as "good for the party and good for the country", explained: "Shadow cabinet members will be expected to involve  colleagues more in their work so we utilise the wealth of talent and expertise which exists across the Parliamentary party".

Labour is highly unlikely to block the move to scrap shad cab elections, though Monday's PLP meeting will feature some opposition.

Another interesting reform is being put forward by Harriet Harman in today's Times. She wants rules toughened to make sure either the leader or deputy is a woman.

"Without this rule change, the likelihood is that we would slip back to a men-only leadership," she said.

I understand Ed is planning to respond to this suggestion - either today or over the weekend as the National Policy Forum meets in Wrexham. It will be interesting to see how he squares it with another planned reform to get rid of quotas guaranteeing six women in the shad cab.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

22 June 2011 2:38 PM

Match of Today - PMQ edition

David Cameron v Ed Miliband
Ground: Prime Minister’s Questions
Kickoff: 12 noon

Miliband was crafty. He called Cameron “crass and high handed” for telling military leaders “I’ll do the talking”. Then he wrongfooted the PM on whether the DNA of suspected “rapists” should be kept or destroyed. Cameron racked his brain for details and was jeered for taking whispered lessons from  Theresa May. “At least we talk to each other,” quipped Cam, who counter-attacked over a shadow cabinet split on Ed Balls’s £51 billion VAT cut. Alas, it failed when Speaker Bercow brusquely silenced the out-of-order PM. Tories glowered at Bercow.

Score: Cameron, 1. Miliband 3.

16 June 2011 2:40 PM

Clegg revenge on Huhne


Nick Clegg had a few choice words today on his arch-rival close Cabinet colleague Chris Huhne who is being investigated by police over claims he used his wife's name to avoid a driving ban.

"I really don't know any politician who is better at getting his points across," the Liberal Democrat leader joked at a lunch of journalists, before adding quietly: "That's got him back for Calamity Clegg".

He was referring to Mr Huhne's team seeking to tag him "Calamity" during the Lib-Dem leadership battle in 2007.

Mr Huhne denies the allegation that his now estranged wife took points on her licence to protect him.

The Deputy Prime Minister could also not resist a stinging attack on Labour leader Ed Miliband whose recent performances have left Labour MPs moaning into their beer. 

Contrasting Mr Miliband's woes to the claims about Manchester United star Ryan Giggs' alleged infidelity, he quipped: "One is a fading left winger who has had a bad time in the media . . . The other is Ryan Giggs."

 Nicholas Cecil

Update: Joe Murphy writes:  Cleggie's humour appeared to falter slightly when he saw that mayoral wannabe Lembit Opik was my guest.  I asked what qualities he would look for in a London mayoral candidate - and how the party could cut through againstr Boz and Ken ... On the first part, he mused dangerously "Welsh, Estonian ..?" before saying that it should be someone who knows London well and could campaign on those issues. He ignored the second part of the question. 

15 June 2011 3:19 PM

Match of Today - PMQ edition

Match of Today

David Cameron v Ed Miliband
Ground: Prime Minister’s Questions
Kickoff: 12 noon

Miliband could not afford another missed penalty - and shied away from aiming at the big issues like the NHS reforms that Cameron was briefed to the eyeballs on. Did the PM know that the welfare reforms would “make 7000 cancer patients worse off by as much as £94 a week?”  Cameron said there had been no change to terminally ill patients - which was not the question. Red Ed crowed: “He doesn’t know what’s in his own Bill!” Cameron got cross and accused him of “a smokescreen” to cover his party splits on the wider reform issues. “Apologise!” cried Labour MPs. More heat than illumination. But honour was maintained for Miliband.

Score:  Cameron 2. Miliband 2

10 June 2011 1:23 PM

"Brutal plot"???

Exactly how damning of Balls are these documents?

Judge for yourself: Here is the document that the story possibly refers to. It's the one headlined "No silver spoon in our mouths" and is the only one in which I have so far spotted containing "brutal". (sorry about the capitals - that's how Brown wrote it)




These are fascinating documents, genuine political treasures. And maybe tomorrow's revelations on economic mistakes will damn Mr Balls forever more. But I don't see a killer revelation so far.

Joe Murphy


09 June 2011 9:00 AM

Tony Blair steps into the health reform debate

Anything Tony Blair writes is required reading.  Today comes the paperback edition of his memoirs. The chapters are exactly the same but there's a new 46-page introduction to lure you into spending £9.99 on an extra copy. 

He keeps out of mere domestic policies mostlty but there's a striking passage that goes to the very heart of the biggest battles going on British politics right now:  The future of the health service.

No-one will be surprised to learn that Blair sounds a lot more radical and daring than the currrent Labour leadership. 

He has no hesitation in saying that while a universal healthcare system like the NHS is best for fair and free access, the US-style privately funded system has the benefits of  "quality of service" and adaptability to patients' wishes.

"The question is: can you devise a system that combines the two?" he goes on.

"In any universal system, the key to change is to introduce centres of competition, to give patients choice and to have measures of accountability that are transparent, with information freely available. 

"Whatever process of commisioning is used, it will only work effectively if patients have power and providers are diverse.
"This is the only way also to encourage the system to self-reform, which is vital in circumstances where medical tenchnology is routinely changing the nature and extent of treatment and care . . ."
In no way is any of this an endorsement of the Tories' NHS reforms but his words are strikingly closer to the rhetoric of David "Heir to Blair" Cameron than of Ed "Son of Gordon" Miliband.

As PM, Blair regularly upset vested interests and Labour traditionalists by trying to smuggle in extra patient choice, through Foundation Trusts and independent sector treatment centres. He was continually being held back by anti-reformers, including his former Chancellor. 
Nowadays, he can say what he likes and need not care who he upsets but, of course, lacks the power to act. 
Joe Murphy


08 June 2011 2:15 PM


David Cameron v Ed Miliband
Ground: Prime Minister’s Questions
Kickoff: 12 noon

He stood at the penalty spot, an open goal before him, the crowd silent . . .  and Miliband blew it, the ball spinning harmlessly into the undergrowth.
“We read in the newspapers today,” began Labour’s leader, referring to the sentencing U-turn.  Cameron scoffed: “Do something more useful than just read the newspapers,”
Ed tried again: “He’s in a total mess.” Cameron quoted the shadow justice secretary, backing Ken Clarke’s plans. Miliband hurriedly turned to the NHS, earning jeers of “bandwagon jumping”. Labour MPs sagged, memories of Neil Kinnock and Westland in the air.

Score: Cameron 3.  Miliband 1

02 June 2011 2:56 PM

Ed's honeymoon headaches

Ed Miliband, seemingly like most of the Westminster village, has been away this week - enjoying his honeymoon after tying the knot with Justine.

I hope he has taken a break from political reading, but a couple of things have caught my eye that won't make for the most comfortable catch-up when he sits down this weekend to get up to speed.

The first is this article on Labour Uncut by former party general secretary Peter Watt. In it, Watt criticises the tactics being used to attack David Cameron, arguing for a less class-based approach.

"I suspect that while we think that we understand him, we are deluded," Watt writes. "Instead we are judging him through our own partisan prism, which is in contrast to much of the electorate...

"He has weaknesses; it’s just that our class-based attacks are missing the mark. They are stopping us being objective and 'knowing our enemy'."

The second is Amber Elliott's Total Politics article on Labour's policy review - the long running bid to fill the infamous blank sheet of paper.

Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union, uses it to warn that Labour needs to understand the mood of the public. "If they don’t, they will miss out on a generation," he argues, adding that the opposition is "not being aggressive enough".

There is also this scathing passage about the policy review itself:

Certain Labour colleagues prefer words like “sprawling”, “complicated” and “huge”. “The march of the pointy-heads,” chortles one. “A sign that we haven’t quite worked out how to deal with opposition,” sighs another.

All signs that after a year in opposition, Labour figures are starting to feel frustrated. Not necessarily with Ed's leadership (though some will say as much), but with the adjustment to being out of power after 13 years with their hands on the levers.

I have always felt that Labour were lucky to have so many new-to-Westminster MPs elected in 2010. The bright-eyed and bushy-tailed undoubtedly saved the party from feeling too sorry for itself, and Ed did well to fast-track so many of them into frontbench positions.

But 12 months on the enthusiasm is fading. Labour's 2010 intake got together for a first-anniversary Chinese meal last month, and while one diner told me the mood was "generally positive", I also picked up a sense of restlessness and concern - particularly at a lack of concrete policies.

With party conference season on the horizon, Ed will be no-doubt be considering his speech. He could do with a barnstormer to convince the faithful he knows what the right track is and how he wants to march down it.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

18 May 2011 2:40 PM

Match of Today - PMQs edition

David Cameron v Ed Miliband

Ground: Prime Minister’s Questions
Kick-off: 12 noon

Miliband took a risk by devoting all six questions to the breaking news that Ken Clarke does not think all “rape is rape”. He sounded nervous, as though relying on second-hand information - perish the thought. Cameron was unprepared but made a powerful point that 94 per cent of rapists get away. Miliband pressed home: “The Justice Secretary should not be in his post tonight.” The Labour leader’s gamble paid off, especially when it turned out later that Cameron had some belting lines on the NHS up his sleeve.

Score: Cameron 1, Miliband 2

11 May 2011 2:07 PM

Match of Today - PMQs edition

David Cameron v Ed Miliband
Ground: Prime Minister’s Questions
Kick-off: 12 noon
Cameron's spinners said he would drop his Flashman alter ego. But what we saw was not so much Tom Brown as Gordon Brown. He got caught up in demanding a Miliband apology for some NHS stats, while the Labour leader made hay with Andrew Lansley's NHS plans. "Where is the Health Secretary," taunted Red Ed, gleefully, spotting an empty space. "He’s been dumped on." Cameron made a desperate jibe about Miliband being "Eddie the Eagle" and seemed terribly upset about something. Miliband's coup de grace was a triumphant: "Calm down, dear."
Score: Cameron 1, Miliband 3