Friday 1 July 2011

Labour's 1922 Committee

Lobbydog has learnt that as part of the reforms to be debated and voted on by Labour MPs next week, Ed Miliband is planning on setting up an equivalent to the Tories’ 1922 Committee.

The move would be made in conjunction with already reported proposals to abolish elections to the shadow cabinet.

Margaret Beckett was one of the party veterans that Miliband consulted before broaching the issue with other MPs.

She told me: “The origin of the elected shadow cabinet was that they were also the executive of the parliamentary party – but there were complaints about that system because it meant ordinary backbenchers did not have a voice to connect them to the party leadership.

“For example, if you were a backbencher unhappy with the way our education policy was going, you couldn’t go to the shadow education secretary to complain and expect him to go to the leader on your behalf.”

Beckett explained that when Labour was in Government members of the cabinet shed their role as executive of the parliamentary party and a separate executive was elected that could represent backbench voices.

She said: “If the Prime Minister has time to deal the executive when in Government, then why can’t the Leader of the Opposition do it too? Why can’t we continue in Opposition with the same structure we had in Government?

“It would mean creating a separately elected group to represent backbenchers, a bit like the 1922 Committee, separate from the shadow cabinet.

“We also had evidence about the problems elected shadow cabinets have caused – the elections tend to go with popularity which is not always the same thing as ability, sometimes it is, but sometimes it isn’t.”

The 1922 Committee equivalent will act as a sweetener to those backbenchers who feel abolishing shadow cabinet elections reduces democracy in the parliamentary party, while allowing Miliband to take control of shadow cabinet selection, cementing his power as Leader.

At the moment I get the feeling the changes will go through – particularly because there are members of the new intake who think they have ability, but not the established popularity to be in with a shout for a job under the current system.

The issue will be debated on Monday and decided at a vote of Labour MPs on Tuesday.

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Battle brewing over train deal...

Labour’s business and transport teams are going on the full offensive over the Government’s decision to award the £1.4bn Thameslink train-building contract to German firm Siemens over British based Bombardier.

John Denham and Maria Eagle will tomorrow visit Bombardier’s Derby factory which would have made the trains had the contract been won.

I revealed the decision a fortnight ago and ever since Labour MPs from the area have been attacking the Government for letting the chance to boost UK manufacturing slip through its fingers.

Missing the opportunity to give the contract to Bombardier puts 3,000 jobs at risk in Derby and thousands more in the supply chain and, the MPs say, that all runs counter to the Coalition’s stated aim of promoting a private sector recovery.

There are a couple of things to remember however. One is that a few years back a Labour government also failed to give Bombardier the larger Intercity Express Programme (IEP) contract, worth £7.5bn at the time though it was later downgraded, which perpetuated the financial troubles the UK based manufacturer has experienced.

On that occasion Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon said his hands were tied by EU regulation which meant he could not favour UK based industry – the same reason that current Transport Secretary Philip Hammond gave when he confirmed that Siemens would win the Thameslink deal on June 16.

The question is how binding can these EU rules really be when both the French and German governments somehow manage to award almost all their train building contracts to home-based producers.

Labour MPs have suggested that the Government can, at the point of making a final decision, interpret the EU rules as they wish and therefore award the contract to who they wish.

Derby MP Margaret Beckett admitted to me that Labour made the wrong call on the IEP deal and should have given the work to Bombardier adding that the incident should also have diverted the new Government from 'making the same mistake again' with Thameslink.

But senior Government figures tell me the way to rig the tender a lá France is to fix the conditions to favour home-based manufacturers right at the very start of the process.

That of course would mean Bombardier’s loss of both IEP and Thameslink, the tender for which was set by Ruth Kelly back in 2007, were problems created by Labour.

With the Tories now ensconced in the DfT with access to the documents that tell the full story, or at least the part of it they want to tell, Labour may be walking a dangerous path by trying to pin the Thameslink decision on the current Government, then again they really have very little choice but to try.

A Miliband takes an effective line...

Was flicking through Hansard and noticed Miliband managing to attack the Government, while not betraying his progressive politics – David that is.

"It is nice to be able to speak in the House in full and enthusiastic support of the manifesto on which I was elected, and consistent with my previous votes in the House for 100% election and 80% election to the Lords, in 2003 and 2007. I look forward to getting the chance to vote on the matter again.

"I wish first to dispose of three very bad arguments against proceeding towards an elected House. The first is that we need to sort out the functions of the House of Lords before doing so. The truth is that there is agreement on that point. The House of Lords is a revising Chamber not equal to the House of Commons, prevented by statute from pre-empting the supremacy of this House and established by law and by practice to persuade and restrain this House.

"The second argument is that the public have got other things on their mind. The idea that the Government have a bad economic policy or health policy because they are distracted by House of Lords reform is frankly risible. We are elected to this place to debate the big issues of the time, and I do not believe that it is sufficient to say that this is not people’s main preoccupation.

"The third bad argument is by far the most tempting. It is: because the Deputy Prime Minister is in favour an elected House, is sponsoring the debate and will sponsor the Bill, it must be a bad idea. That view has many supporters in both main parties, as we will discover, and one can see the force of the point.

"When the right hon. Gentleman said before the election that he wanted to unite the nation, he could scarcely have imagined that people of all shades of opinion would come together so quickly to agree that he is not a very lovable rogue. However, although that is a tempting argument, I hope that my colleagues, especially Labour colleagues, will not fall for it. The right hon. Gentleman needs no help from either of the two so-called main parties to administer his fate, and there is a much bigger game here than the temptation to kick a man when he is down. The roadblock to reform is not, in this case, the right hon. Gentleman, but the Government’s puppetmaster, the Prime Minister. We should not be diverted by the temptation of kicking smaller fry."