Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The Last Word … How many Mao times?

It’s been an extraordinary few weeks in parliament. Following a week described by my Last Word predecessor John McTernan as ‘Labour’s worst ever’ this week has been similarly difficult.

The widely anticipated comprehensive spending review was, as such set piece events so often are, something of an anti-climax. Humiliating and damaging U-turns by George Osborne over cuts to tax credits and police numbers hid a series of damaging cuts to social care; the removal of bursaries for student nurses in the midst of an unprecedented recruitment crisis; and very little to support the rhetoric behind the Northern Powerhouse.

Labour’s response to the statement was characterised by John McDonnell’s surprising use of Mao’s Little Red Book. As another former advisor to Brown and Blair, Theo Bertram, observed on Twitter, ‘You get one tiny gap for a sound bite in opposition. And Labour – entirely through our own volition – made it Mao’.

There has been such an avalanche of commentary regarding this extraordinary event, that I will leave it there, except to observe that this was the day that George Osborne admitted he had got it wrong again and thanks to Labour, nobody noticed.

For shame. Hours later the Resolution Foundation crunched the numbers to discover that low income families with children on Universal Credit will lose, on average £1,300 by 2020. The searing pain of cuts to tax credits has not been removed, it has simply been postponed.

Five million conversations

A late invitation to a Millbank book launch in the company of hardy friends brought me to the newly published Iain Watson book of the last general election campaign ‘Five million conversations: How labour lost an election and rediscovered its roots’. It’s stunningly good and I urge you to buy it.


David Cameron’s response to the foreign affairs select committee in which he makes the government’s case for British involvement in the Syrian crisis was brought to the House of Commons this week. The case for intervention – made clearly and well – is still incomplete.

In response, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of brief but important questions and all eyes now rest upon parliament. Cameron has made it clear that no motion will be brought to the Commons unless he is confident of winning the vote. Corbyn has yet to make it clear whether or not there will be a free vote on the Labour benches and there will be Tory opposition to involvement too. The response was incomplete because of the failure to acknowledge that, should any United Kingdom action in Syria take place, Britain will have to revise the number of refugees from Syria that it is prepared to accept.

It is my sincere hope that the patient thought and studied analysis shown in preparing a case for Britain’s involvement in Syria extends to a better, more compassionate and comprehensive approach towards Syrian refugees than we have so far seen. Low politics must not prevail.


Jamie Reed MP is member of parliament for Copeland. He writes The Last Word column on Progress and tweets @jreedmp

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Jamie Reed MP

is member of parliament for Copeland. He is shadow minister for health and writes The Last Word column on Progress


  • There should not be a free vote on bombing IS in Syria. It is clear that UK bombing will not change anything on the ground in Syria. Because of the three-way conflict – involving the Syrian Army (pro Assad), the Free Syrian Army and other groups (anti Assad and anti IS) and IS – there is no current prospect of any peaceful post-bombing outcome. It is inconceivable that Labour MPs, who backed Ed Miliband in opposing bombing in Syria, should now want to back David Cameron in these circumstances – for what purpose?

  • Alex Crawford talks sense . However ,I do think that there should be a free vote , as that is what Democracy is about . The whip should be rarely used within the Labour Party if we wish to be progressive .
    As for the continual destructive criticism of the Labour Leadership , it is wrong ,and it is not intelligent behaviour .
    The party is diverse ,and the more diverse we are the more people will find reasons to support us ,but we do not need to attack each other directly to prove the point ,in my opinion

  • On an important issue like this, Labour as Opposition needs a position when it comes to voting on a proposal put to the House of Commons by David Cameron – to be agreed at a PLP meeting taking into account the views of constituents and Party members. Of course, it will be a matter of conscience for each individual MP and Shadow Cabinet member if they vote in line with that position.

  • I can’t believe how ugly you have gotten so quickly.

    It’s like your talking about the Tories. The viciousness with which you publicly attack your popularly elected leader.

    This is NOT how you should be behaving.

    You ran candidates THEY LOST. That’s democracy.

    Listen to the members or suffer the consequences.

  • Do you not think that the U Turns by Osborne were actually a direct result of the changed agenda brought on by the likes of Corbyn and MacDonell. If the old guard (represented by people like yourself) were still running the show the Labour Party would probably have tried to abstain. Its a bit disingenious to hurl criticism at those who are actually beginning to make a difference. I know who the real enemy is – can you say the same Jamie Reed MP?

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