First published on Progressonline for ‘the Last Word’
The NHS crisis, progressive alliance ploys and Momentum purges – Progress director Richard Angell has this week’s Last Word
Toby Perkins’ speech to the House of Commons this week on the death of his father was not only a brave personal intervention, but also an important contribution to the debate around the National Health Service. That the story he tells comes from the summer of 2016 shows that the current winter crisis in the NHS is no one-off. It is the result of years of Tory mismanagement, of ill-thought through reorganisation and failure to deliver the funding it needs.
The morale among workers in the health service is plumbing new, worrying depths in the wake of the long-running dispute over junior doctor contracts, the four hour accident and emergency target is so regularly missed there is speculation it may be scrapped, and the Red Cross has had to enter hospitals to help out. We should be very worried about the dire state of one of our most-treasured national assets.
How Jeremy Hunt remains in a job as health secretary after four catastrophic years is one of the most enduring mysteries in politics. As Martin Edobor wrote for Progress this week, Hunt was absent as the scale of the crisis became clear, and only resurfaced to shrug off responsibility. Theresa May wishes to be seen as a safe pair of hands, but her dithering means that if she finally takes some action, it may already be too late to sort out this mess.
The progressive alliance ploy
This week’s failed relaunch and double U-turn on both free movement and maximum pay did little to help Labour or Jeremy Corbyn. The main result was it let Hunt off the hook about the winter crisis he is overseeing in our much-loved NHS.
We are even less clear about what Corbyn might put in a manifesto. However, Corbyn wading into the Brexit debate has laid bare the idea of a ‘progressive alliance’. These so called ‘progressive friends’ did not hesitate to not just critique what the Labour leader had to say – as, say, Green party leader Caroline Lucas did – but to try and damage Labour simultaneously. Lucus’s co-leader Jonathan Bartley used it to encourage people to leave Labour and join the Greens instead. He tweeted:
— Jonathan Bartley (@jon_bartley) January 9, 2017
And the Greens are not the only ones. The so called Left Unity did something very similar, as did the Scottish National party – who have never missed an opportunity to knock Labour on both sides of Hadrian’s Wall. Just yesterday Tom Brake confirmed that the Liberal Democrats would not be stepping aside in Copeland.
My colleague Jerome Neil put it best, ‘The progressive alliance is a ploy cooked up by fringe parties to convince Labour to assist them in destroying it.’ Hopefully we can put this hair-brained idea to bed and do the main job of the Labour – to build a coalition of voters before an election, not aim for a coalition of small parties after an election.
Local election results
People are right to caution that the Liberal Democrats going from fourth to first in Sunderland does not say something about the wider malaise of Labour. It is sad to lose a seat held continuously by Labour since 1982, but one seat is not a pattern. The Daily Politics, however, has marked out pretty clearly what has happened in 190 council by-elections that have taken place since May 2016. 70 has changed hand. The Tories are down by net 15 – which is to be executed for an incumbent government seven years in. Labour, worryingly, is down 12 and the Liberal Democrats are the major beneficiary.
This is worrying. Jon Trickett needs to pull his finger out and get a plan of action in place quick. We are supposed to be on a general election footing …
The Momentum Purge
Jon Lansman pulled off a coup this week and purge those loyal to the Alliance of Workers Liberty and brother of Fire Brigades Union chief, Nick Wrack, out of the organisation and off its ruling body. He vacated his high horse as a ‘democrat’ and called and concludes an email meeting of Momentum’s old steering committee that decided to abolish itself and establish a new structure. The new constitution might not be all it is cracked up to be …
Behaving like an absolute monarch, the owner of Momentum Campaign (Services) Ltd used his powers to do exactly as he wanted. He got his way. He then resigned as director, most likely to stand for election in the new structure. It should be noted that Lansman has not resigned from the company, formerly know as Momentum Campaign Ltd, Jeremy for Labour Ltd that holds the data from two leadership elections.
Lansman is trying to suggest this debate is ‘nasty Trots verses nice Momentum’ but this is not so. Recent changes leave those around the Stop the War coalition as the dominant faction in Momentum. With the emergence of ‘Continuity Momentum’ and local groups declaring UDI this issue is not going to fall away and will continue to blight Labour.
Last week shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti called on the party to complete the investigation in Ken Livingston to be concluded, either way. The Times reporter Lucy Fisher has just tweeted that next week’s disputes committee will not be hearing Livingstone’s case. As she points out, he has been suspended for eight months now.
Today, Tristram Hunt announced that he is leaving parliament and continuing his public service as director of the V&A. Like Jamie Reed, Hunt has clearly (and publicly) hated being in opposition – not only under a disastrous government, but also, sitting behind an ineffectual leader of the opposition. Both Reed and Hunt have small children and frequently get spiteful and vitriolic abuse online. You can see why those who can continue to deliver a public good might want to pursue that calling outside parliament.
I make no criticism of those who feel that is best for them and their family. I am, however, more of the Peter Mandelson school of thinking and that the occasion calls for ‘fights and not quitters’. The Labour party is worth saving and needs more people to step up and be counted.
For all the wrong reasons the wrong Jeremy and the wrong Hunt are now in the news. Next week will hopefully see Jeremy Hunt resign as health secretary and Labour no longer self harming but harming the Tories.
Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets @RichardAngell