IN THE days when being leader of the Labour Party meant having the ability to command the confidence of the majority of your parliamentary colleagues, its election process would likely be almost over.
Five candidates made the next round of contest: Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips, Sir Keir Starmer, and Emily Thornberry. They respectively have the support of 33, 31, 23, 88, and 23 of their parliamentary colleagues.
Before 1980, Keir Starmer would be home and hosed.
A PLURAL APPROACH
Clive Lewis, who withdrew from the leadership contest, forcefully made the case for Labour to stop behaving like the Exclusive Brethren: “The litmus test of survival for Labour is pluralism – the recognition that we as one party don’t and can’t have all the answers to the complex challenges we face. We are going to have to collaborate.
“It’s not that we can’t win alone, it’s that we can’t change society alone. Since 1918, there have been 28 elections and Labour has only won eight of them, often with small majorities and a short government.
“Labour can no longer impose a future on the country, instead it must negotiate one.”
Ms Long-Bailey, whose media performances during the campaign were only ‘good’ relative to the comic relief offered by current deputy leadership contender Richard Burgon, is favoured by those most closely associated with Jeremy Corbyn’s argument-winning tenure.
She has already drawn the support of party-within-a-party Momentum. Or at least its executive, as members were not allowed a vote. Momentum members have been subsequently presented with a ballot paper for the Labour leadership with only Ms Long-Bailey’s name on it. Democracy in action.
As someone who said she would give the departing Labour leader 10/10 and accepted responsibility for Labour’s last manifesto, she will also attract the votes of those who are intent on campaigning in purity instead of governing (all governments do) through compromise.
In her candidate statement, Rebecca Long-Bailey acknowledges the defeat and calls upon the Party to look inward to establish the reasons why, saying: “We had a chance to help turn back the tide, but we failed. The starting point in the leadership election is to be honest and self-critical about why and then look forward and forge our path to power.
“We have another round of elections in May [not in Wales] and the escalating crises we face mean that building a winning vision of a socialist future has never been so urgent.
Lisa Nandy received only two fewer nominations, despite – unlike Ms Long-Bailey – having had virtually no public profile in the 2019 election campaign. That low level of exposure for an effective media performer followed her walking out of Labour’s Shadow Cabinet over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in 2016 and declining to return.
She also backed the UK Government’s Withdrawal Agreement in a key vote in October 2019 and cannot, therefore, be charged with facing two ways on the Brexit issue.
At the hustings held for candidates before the Parliamentary party, Lisa Nandy reportedly made the best impression, giving a clear indication of what Labour needed to do to recapture lost votes, look outward and not navel-gaze looking for utopia.
Making her pitch as an outsider, at her campaign launch Ms Nandy said: “The stark truth is, the path back to power for Labour will never be to build along the ‘red wall’.”
“If we do not change course we will die and we will deserve to. This is the moment when we up our game and recover our ambition.”
Emily Thornberry, who regularly humiliated Boris Johnson when she shadowed him as Foreign Secretary and took regular delight in butchering Theresa May’s stand-ins at PMQs until she was replaced by Rebecca Long-Bailey to dismal effect, is a strong and experienced parliamentarian.
She is also the MP who had to resign from Ed Milliband’s frontbench team after a hopelessly misjudged and snobbish tweet during a by-election campaign in Rochester.
Ms Thornberry has the inestimable advantage among remain-backing CLPs to have stuck to her guns on the membership’s wish to unequivocally support remaining in the EU. In the changed political landscape, however, that strength could prove an electoral millstone with the voting public.
Unless Brexit turns out to be a political and economic catastrophe, it is difficult to see how Emily Thornberry will break through to the voters Labour lost in the last election. Although, of course, that presupposes that the unions and membership want to win an election on something other than a sectarian basis.
Jess Phillips is, perhaps, the most outside of outsiders. She was a constant thorn in the last Government’s side only slightly more often than she was a thorn in Jeremy Corbyn’s. She has never held a frontbench position.
Boris Johnson’s public school debating style does not impress her and clashes between the pair are always ‘direct’.
Her pitch is based upon her ability to connect with voters on a personal level and on emphasising her ‘speaking truth to power’.
In her candidate statement, Ms Phillips says: “I’ve never shied away from speaking out when I thought we were doing the wrong thing – whether that was the handling of antisemitism, waving through Tory tax cuts for the well-off or equivocating over Brexit.
“Boris Johnson fears what he can’t understand. And that includes people like me.
I can win back trust because I am actually honest. And I can beat Boris Johnson because he can’t handle people like me.”
Sir Keir Starmer had a good term as Shadow Brexit Secretary. He tormented the hapless David Davis, made a complete laughing stock out of Davis’ Minister of State Steve Baker, dissected Dominic Raab with equal forensic skill, and – faced with Stephen Barclay – often seemed to speak more in sorrow than in anger at his out-of-depth opposite number. All of which might lead a critical observer to say Sir Keir’s best parliamentary performances have not been against the most testing opposition.
In many ways, in spite of his plummy voice and manner, Keir Starmer is a real Labour success story: his mother was a nurse, his father a toolmaker and he rose through the opportunities given to him to head to University and become a QC on merit.
Perceived as a ‘moderate’, Keir Starmer has quickly moved to push forward his ‘left’ credentials.
His leadership pitch says: “We are an anti-austerity party. We believe in common ownership. We want to build a more peaceful world through a human-rights based foreign policy. We must hardwire the Green New Deal into our every part of our politics.
“Inequalities of every type – power, education, health and wealth – are so ingrained that only a fundamental shift can address them.”
THE KEY PROBLEM
Of all five candidates, only two – Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips – talk of a need to reconnect with voters Labour has lost. The other three make their pitch on a solely internal basis, as though the answers to Labour’s electoral woes lies within not without.
That will, no doubt, work well in a leadership election for a political party in which only members can vote. Beyond the membership, though, Labour’s new leader must communicate more than a shopping list of policies and blue-sky thought.
The failure to enunciate a clear path to reach voters outside the faithful should give the membership and unions considerable cause for, as Jeremy Corbyn put it, ‘a period of reflection’.
WG settles ‘scandalous’ land sale case
THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has settled a claim against its former advisors about land sales which took place under a purported regeneration scheme.
The Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales (RIFW) had issued proceedings against Amber Fund Management and Lambert Smith Hampton concerning the portfolio sale of 15 properties in 2012.
The settlement has been reached on a commercial basis and without any admission of liability by any party.
The detailed terms have been incorporated into a confidential settlement agreement between the parties.
The Welsh Government Minister for Local Government, Julie James, said the £40.7 million tied up in the Fund can now be made available to support future investments across Wales.
RIFW was set up as an arms-length body by the Welsh Government to allow the Welsh Government to raise money which could then be used to fund regeneration and investments in Welsh businesses.
It was a complete shambles.
One of the advisors appointed had previous connections with one of the parties which bought some of the land at an undervalue.
Vital information was not relayed to the RIFW’s board by the Welsh Government and Board members were kept in the dark about transactions carried out in their name.
Under the oversight of their appointed agents and Welsh Government civil servants, RIFW sold publicly owned assets by private treaty and without prior valuation at a price that reflected the assets’ existing use, under sale terms that provided only limited protection to the public interest in their significant future development values, and via a negotiation process that left RIFW lumbered with undesirable assets.
The Chair of the Senedd Public Accounts Committee, Nick Ramsay MS, said: “The out of court settlement between the Welsh Government and the former advisors of RIFW effectively brings a curtain down on a very sorry and lamentable episode.
“The hasty sell-off of publicly-owned land at bargain-basement prices effectively deprived Welsh taxpayers of tens of millions of pounds which could’ve been used for essential services.
“We look forward to examining matters further with the Permanent Secretary and Head of the Welsh Government Civil Service, Shan Morgan, at our next meeting on Monday, November 23.
“We will be asking what robust steps have been taken to avoid history repeating.”
RIFW was set up as an arms-length body by the Welsh Government to sell off land around Wales including in north Wales, Monmouthshire and Cardiff, and use the money, in conjunction with European funding, to reinvest in areas in need of regeneration.
But the Public Accounts Committee found that the body was poorly managed, poorly overseen by the government, and that, because of a change in the direction of RIFW, from one of regeneration to property asset disposals, some of the Board members felt they lacked the necessary knowledge and expertise to fulfil their roles.
It also learned that the Board was not presented with key information regarding the value of the land in its portfolio, or of expressions of interest from potential buyers.
Fifteen plots of land, originally supposed to be sold separately, were instead sold as a single portfolio at a price which did not take into account potential use of the land in the future. This decision resulted in Welsh taxpayers missing out on tens of millions of pounds of funding.
The Committee learned that one of the organisations charged with offering expert advice to the Board, Lambert Smith Hampton Ltd, had previously acted on behalf of a director of the buyer of the land, South Wales Land Developments Ltd (SWLD), and signed an agreement to do so again one day after the sales went through.
The Committee concluded that the RIFW Board had been poorly served by its own expert advisors.
Angela Burns MS – Shadow Minister for Government Resilience and Efficiency – said: “The Fund was established to sell valuable packages of Welsh Government land, with the money used to support regeneration schemes. However, evidence has since emerged that shows that the sale of RIFW’s assets was undertaken at a loss of tens of millions of pounds. A loss which was borne ultimately by the Welsh Taxpayer and yet another example of the complete inability of this Labour Government to be fiscally prudent.
“Millions of pounds have been squandered, millions that could have been invested in our education and health systems or spent building Wales’ economy or supporting some of our more vulnerable citizens. It’s an absolute scandal and the real scandal is the Welsh Government can slide out of their responsibility for this debacle”
Included in the scandal are:
- Fifteen sites sold for £21 million; with the taxpayer missing out on staggering sums of money
- A site in Rhoose purchased from RIFW for less than £3m – sold on for almost £10.5m South Wales Land Developments Ltd. Taxpayers losing out
- An Abergele site purchased from RIFW for £100,000, without overage, and sold for £1.9million. Taxpayers losing out
- Land in Lisvane sold for £1.8million – worth £39million.
Welsh Conservatives also claim the Welsh Government has squandered £1 billion on other projects, including:
- £221m on uncompetitive Enterprise Zones
- £9.3m on flawed initial funding of the Circuit of Wales
- £97.9m on delays and overspend on the A465 Heads of the Valleys Road
- £157m on the M4 relief road inquiry
- Over £100m propping up Cardiff Airport
UK not ready for Brexit
In its fourth report assessing government’s preparations at the border, the NAO highlights that planning for 1 January 2021 has built on work done for previous EU Exit deadline.
Departments have made progress towards implementing the systems, infrastructure and resources required to operate the border in relation to Great Britain at “minimum operating capability” by January 1 and are reasonably confident most will be ready, but timetables are tight.
There is little time for ports and other third parties to integrate their systems and processes with new or changed government systems, and contingency plans may need to be invoked for some elements.
Even if the Westminster government makes further progress with its preparations, there is still likely to be significant disruption at the border from January 1, as traders will be unprepared for new EU border controls which will require additional administration and checks.
The government’s plan for reducing the risk of disruption at the approach to the short Channel crossings is still developing, with various issues yet to be resolved. It intends to launch a new GOV.UK web service called ‘Check an HGV is ready to cross the border’ for hauliers to check and self-declare that they have the correct documentation for EU import controls before travelling and obtain permits to drive on prescribed roads in Kent.
Government is preparing civil contingency plans, such as to ensure continuity of the supply of critical goods and medicines in the event of any disruption to supply chains.
The UK Government will also need to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol from January 1. However, due to the scale and complexity of the changes, the lack of time and the impact of ongoing negotiations, there is a very high risk it may not be implemented in time.
The government has left itself little time to mobilise its new Trader Support Service (TSS), in which it has announced it is investing £200 million, to reduce the burden on traders moving goods to Northern Ireland and to help them prepare.
The government is spending significant sums of money preparing the border for the end of the transition period and, in 2020 alone, announced funding of £1.41 billion to fund new infrastructure and systems, and wider support and investment.
The NAO says that government must continue to focus its efforts on resolving the many outstanding issues relating to the border and develop robust contingency plans if these cannot be addressed in time for the end of the transition period.
Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “The January 1 deadline is unlike any previous EU Exit deadline: significant changes at the border will take place and government must be ready.
Campaigners Thank Local MP, Ben Lake, for Championing Community Energy
Today campaign group, Power for People, thanked local MP, Ben Lake, for holding a debate last night in the House of Commons to promote community renewable energy by creating a ‘Right to Local Supply’ in law.
Central to the debate was a proposed new law, known as the Local Electricity Bill, that Mr Lake is co-sponsoring and which is supported by 212 MPs. The Bill aims to help rebuild local economies whilst increasing clean energy generation.
If made law, the Bill would empower community-owned local energy companies to sell locally generated renewable electricity directly to local households and businesses.
Currently customers can only purchase electricity from nationally licensed utilities. The Bill’s supporters say this means money people use to pay their energy bills is not helping to rebuild local economies and local clean energy infrastructure.
Responding to the debate, Energy Minister, Kwasi Kwarteng MP, said, “It is certainly something that I as the Energy Minister will be willing to engage with and have a discussion about … I think that with a co-operative spirit, we can get very far.”
Campaigning group, Power for People, are calling for MPs and the government to make the Bill law and are leading a supportive coalition of organisations including Community Energy Wales, Community Energy England, Community Energy Scotland, WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the RSPB. 62 local authorities have also pledged their support.
Ben Lake, MP for Ceredigion, said, “A Right to Local Supply will empower and enable new community energy companies to sell energy that they generate directly to local people which will accelerate our transition to clean energy and help strengthen local economies. The Local Electricity Bill would enshrine this in law and I will do all I can to ensure it succeeds.”
Power for People’s Director, Steve Shaw, said, “We thank Ben Lake for holding a debate on the Local Electricity Bill in the House of Commons. If made law, the Bill would unleash the huge potential for new community-owned clean energy infrastructure and for this to boost local economies, jobs, services, and facilities in communities across Ceredigion, Wales and the rest of the UK.”
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