Another dispatch from the Westminster village
The snap election resulted in some results that have caused your insider to seriously doubt their fact-checking skills. Stella Creasy holds 80 per cent of the vote, a percentage not reached in the 132 years that there has been a Walthamstow seat. Thangam Debbonaire’s vote in Bristol West more than doubled, and her majority is now over six times what it was. Most shockingly, Sunderland lost the race to be the first to declare.
But spare a thought for Wes Streeting who, despite storming to the highest Ilford North majority in three decades, will now be subject to regular reminders from parliamentary office buddy Peter Kyle about how his Hove majority jumped from 1,200 to 18,000, with the biggest Tory-to-Labour swing in the country.
So the ranks of Labour members of parliament are welcoming what looks set to be a quieter summer for the party than the previous two, at least until conference rolls around. The ‘McDonnell amendment’ has not gone away, even if questions over the leadership have subsided: some on the hard-left are determined to reopen old wounds, risk the new-found unity and remain sceptical that the parliamentary Labour party would deliver a hard-left candidate on to the ballot under current rules, so securing the amendment remains their main task.
The surprise new intake does little to alter the parliamentary party’s make up, not least because the Jeremy Corbyn allies who expected to glide into safe seats – think ex-speechwriter David Prescott, Momentum man Sam Tarry, and fixer Katy Clark – found on landing that their parachutes were full of holes.
It is well worth noting where Corbyn’s allies were trying to get selected: Tarry and Prescott in Hull West and Hessle (which at the time had a Labour majority of 9,000), and Clark in Leigh (a 14,000 majority). They did not, it seems, fancy their chances in any Tory-held marginal. You might even call them defensive choices – something to bear in mind next time you read a briefing about a planned ‘purge’ of Labour headquarters for running a defensive electoral strategy against the leadership’s wishes. Len McCluskey setting the bar for success at 200 seats and Owen Jones crowdsourcing for Labour-held seats is enough confirmation that Corbyn allies thought a defensive strategy was the best plan too.
In broad terms, the part of the PLP which has been boosted has been the part which was already the largest: the unattached but generally moderate centre. For all the hard-left talk of seat stitch-ups, the new intake is a diverse one, with much to celebrate. The number of MPs with local government backgrounds has increased, as have the numbers of women and disabled MPs. The Co-operative party is now the third largest group in the Commons, and Labour’s campaign in Scotland – mischievously referred to by some staffers as ‘finding Ian Murray some friends’ – delivered a foothold north of the border. Lucky Murray now has six friends for the Thursday night sleeper back to Edinburgh.
Off the rails
The return of the Rail and Maritime Transport union to the Labour party – as this column suggested was coming down the tracks way back in March – now looks more likely than not. John McDonnell popped up at the union’s annual general meeting to tell them to ‘come home’, while moves are underway to hold a special RMT conference so the union can voice its support for Labour.
The move is a challenge for those unions who have stayed loyal to the Labour party as the RMT’s recent past means it brings with it a carriage-load of baggage. It campaigned for Brexit and against Labour MPs and councillors when it formed the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition – which stood against Labour as recently as the mayoral elections two months ago.
It backed the Scottish Socialist party in the early 2000s, meaning it was kicked out of the Labour party for breaching rules of affiliation. Assistant general secretary Steve Hedley, who last year told LBC that Tories should be ‘taken out and shot’, should be urged to tone down his rhetoric if the union is to play a constructive part in Labour’s future.
One man who will be delighted is Unite’s McCluskey, who has had a busy 2017 showing Theresa May how to narrowly cling on to power after triggering an unnecessary election contest to extend his grip on power (note to No 10: just purge your opponent). His plan for a new workers and trade union party, which he threatened when Ed Miliband was Labour leader, would have seen Unite and the RMT join forces.
Glastonbury parliamentary party
Corbyn bolstered his links with the RMT by attending its annual meeting, conveniently held in the south-west, meaning he could swing by after that appearance at Glastonbury. His festival crowd was more impressive than anticipated, not least because he was on at the same time as Busted.
Glasto owner Michael Eavis dropped his Pyramid stage star in hot water by revealing that the Labour leader had disclosed he still plans to scrap Trident ‘as soon as possible’ if he gets into No 10. Similar embarrassments will be avoided next year, however, as Worthy Farm takes a ‘fallow year’ to allow the ground to recover.
It may be for the best. As news of the referendum result filtered through the crowds last year, festival organisers quickly distributed an official poem slamming Brexit. Less than a week after his main stage address this year, however, Corbyn was whipping his own MPs to oppose continued membership of the single market and sacking those who did not follow suit.
Cartoon: Adrian Teal
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