As part of my semi-detached role these days, I’d like to offer some comments on the Labour leadership, perhaps especially aimed at those who are members or who are paying the £3 to become registered supporters. The latter is open to anyone who doesn’t at the moment want to get fully involved, but supports the general objectives of the Labour Party and would like a role in choosing the leader and deputy leader (details are here: http://support.labour.org.uk/).
We have increasingly Presidential politics in Britain, so it’s unfortunately true that not just the policies but also the image of the contenders for 10 Downing Street matter. Ed Miliband clearly suffered from the perception that people couldn’t see him as PM. And if we’re not careful, we’ll end up with Boris Johnson as PM, who is as telegenic as anyone could want, but would be a truly awful Prime Minister (I’ve sat on committees with him: he really cannot be bothered with serious discussion).
I know three of the candidates personally. Indeed I’ve known Jeremy Corbyn for decades – he was the Labour agent in the first election when I canvassed as a teenager (I’ve got a funny anecdote about that which I’ll add below).
Yvette Cooper is undoubtedly the one who I can see in Number 10 most easily – balanced, intelligent and a steady hand, she has the right brain for the job. Her problem is that her TV personality doesn’t meet our demand for engaging charismatic personalities. Will voters take to sober competence?
The thing about Andy Burnham that I’ve not seen highlighted is that he’s the most policy-oriented candidate and the most willing to challenge accepted wisdom. As Shadow Health Secretary, he offered to support a cut in NHS spending, if it would be used to improve the care services – arguing that it was better to keep more people out of hospital than throw more money at them when they got in. Most politicians routinely fight for more money for their pet projects and never think outside the box.
Liz Kendall is interesting because she’s iconoclastic – no Labour position is beyond challenge to her. Even when I don’t agree with her, I agree with the principle: we need to be willing to ask ourselves what is really important to us and what we’re willing to change. What I’m missing is a sense of a coherent vision of what she wants. Perhaps it’ll come.
Jeremy is the closest we have to Tony Benn, in many ways – the same socialist ideals, the same dedication, the same personal frugality (a recent quarterly expenses claim was for… one printer ink cartridge), the same scrupulous politeness to opponents. He’s personally what a politician should be, and I’m tempted to vote for him, but I think he’s pre-demonised by the media and has no more chance of winning than Michael Foot did. In the end we do need to be able to win.
For deputy leader, the choice is easier for me. Stella Creasy deeply impressed Broxtowe Labour members when she came up to speak, and I quizzed her for two hours on the train back. Charismatic, creative and passionate, I think she’s exactly what we need.
The anecdote? I was sent out by Jeremy’s dazzlingly beautiful ward organiser to knock up voters on polling day. Instantly in love, I rushed round, only to find everyone was out except one burly figure. He said, “You are the sixth person to ask me if I’ve voted. I voted at 7 this morning. No offence, mate, but the next person to remind me will get a thump on the nose.”
I reported this back to the angelic organiser. “What?” she snarled. “He’s a f***ing liar. Go back and ask him again!”
Did I go? Ahem. Party loyalty and love both have their limits.
To conclude, some local comments. After the re-election of Broxtowe’s Conservative MP and an overall majority for a Tory Council, I suggested five challenges for actual action, rather than just making speeches, writing to Ministers and so on. http://www.nickpalmer.org.uk/five-challenges-for-broxtowes-conservatives/
So here’s an update:
The challenges were, in summary:
- The Green Belt – will they build on it?
- Council funding – will it be revised?
- Tram enquiry and compensation – will they happen?
- HS2 – what are the implications?
- Open-cast mining – will the relief exit to the M1 be approved?
On point 1, the signals are that the answer is going to be “yes, they’ll build on the Green Belt”. Before the election, the rhetoric of local Conservatives was that they were by no means giving up on the battle to stop the Core Strategy, and when elected they would protect the Green Belt. This appears not to be the case: they seem to be moving towards saying that “The Core Strategy is a done deal, sorry about that”.
This is nonsense: the Council can reopen it if it wants to. The problem is that that Government policy forces each local council to build new houses rapidly, so it well be the only sensible response. If it’s not possible to change Government policy, then reopening the Core Strategy would merely open the whole borough to speculative development. That’s why the Lab/LibDem coalition adopted it. But it’s not what the Conservatives said when they wanted your votes, is it?
On points 2 and 3, silence reigns. Ms Soubry said some time ago that she’d written to the Minister to ask about the fact that we had the worst settlement in Britain. Did the Minister reply? What did he say?
On point 4, however, we do have more information. The first in a series of regular progress reports from the HS2 Residents’ Commissioner has been published: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/first-report-published-from-hs2-residents-commissioner Some details of the compensation scheme are emerging here too and are not, so far, helpful to our area.
On the London-Birmingham stretch, which is rich in rebellious Tory MPs, homes have been categorised into 4 zones depending on how close you are to the line: https://www.gov.uk/claim-compensation-if-affected-by-hs2
Here, however, is the current pathetic position as I understand it so far in Broxtowe:
1) You must prove that you are unable to sell your property because of HS2.
2) You must have bought the property before 28 January 2013 and
3) You must be able to show hardship by not selling (e.g. because of your job). Only the full valuation is payable without additional expenses
Now, the HS2 Residents’ Commissioner has offered to meet MPs all along the line. This invitation needs to be taken up with alacrity and the Commissioner needs to be urged to get a faster, better deal. I made an election pledge that I would put residents affected first, even if that meant voting against my party. By contrast, Ms Soubry just expressed enthusiasm for the project, and the risk of that is that it may take forever to get decent terms. After all, if we think the project is wonderful, why would we need compensation?
We can surely all agree that Broxtowe should be treated as well as the Home Counties? No better, no worse. Part of the problem is that the Government doesn’t seem to want to decide on the exact route through the East Midlands for another year. For a £50 billion project they can surely afford to offer to buy up probably affected properties without making them wait for years – if the route ends up going elsewhere (which is unlikely), the properties can be resold. As with the Heathrow/Gatwick saga, they should get on with it, one way or the other.
Finally, on point 5, Ms Soubry has responded to the challenge by saying she is “pressing ahead with her campaign” to get access from the open-cast mine to the M1. What she has done is write to a fellow-Minister. This is good, as Ministerial consent is indeed needed. However, in May, Highways England, replying to my petition from residents on the issue, pointed out that permission would need to be granted by Moto, and that “We’re not aware that Moto have been approached yet to understand their view on the proposal”. Ms Soubry and/or the Council should talk to them without further delay, so we can get this common-sense issue resolved.