Archive for November, 2009

L’affaire Christine Quigley: Labour at war with itself?

Monday 30 November 2009

The Tory Bear blog is very excited about the online activities of Christine Quigley, a junior civil servant in the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Quigley was elected on Saturday as the new chair of London Young Labour, and is described by friends as being “soft left”. For people who don’t know the Labour party, that means emphatically not from Labour Students, which is traditionally more loyal to the leadership and (they might say) moderate. Quigley has been writing a blog and some articles on LabourList supporting Labour and attacking the Conservatives.

Anyway, her new position, and her writing, were pointed out to Harry Cole who runs the Tory Bear site, and now I hear the Telegraph is working on a story about this civil servant’s perceived failure to be impartial. (As Cole mentions on his blog, DEFRA have said Quigley does not work in a politically restricted post, so she is allowed to engage in some party political activity).

Meanwhile, Labour activists are puzzled as to who could have provided Tory Bear with the details of Quigley, who is not a famous face and whose job title is known to very few people outside the civil service.

It’s not gone unnoticed by them that Quigley’s victory over her opponent for chair of London Young Labour, the Labour Students candidate David Green, happened just two days before this revelation. Quigley didn’t actually win on votes, but on a coin toss: it was a dead heat.

Green has distanced himself from any involvement, and I imagine Labour Students (with whom I’ve left a message tonight) would do likewise. There is of course no evidence to link anyone to anything, and I don’t suggest otherwise for a moment. But such is the fractious nature of Labour’s internal politics, it would be disingenuous to say this doesn’t look at all like an inside job. After all, Labour sources are known to have given damaging material on enemies within the party to bloggers in the past.


Is the NHS closed to private sector? Up to a point…

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Interesting story from the excellent Sam Coates in today’s Times about Health Secretary Andy Burnham falling out with Blairites like John Hutton over apparently planning to freeze the private and voluntary sector out of providing NHS services. Opponents of the move say the Government has “bowed to pressure from the unions”. I suspect the unions would have a good laugh at the suggestion, but that is neither here nor there.

I’m not sure how much of Burnham’s plan is new. He already said in a speech to the King’s Fund in September that the NHS was the “preferred provider” of health services and that outside providers should only take over where an NHS trust was failing badly. He then confirmed this in a letter to Brendan Barber and with NHS chief exec David Nicholson.

Moreover, there’s one big caveat to this policy – and one which is exercising the big unions at the moment.  As David Nicholson said in a subsequent letter, Burnham’s policy doesn’t change the ability of NHS trusts to exercise their “right to request” powers to become a social enterprise, run at arms’ length from NHS management.

Social enterprises as the Department of Health understands them can be for profit. And when the contract to run them runs out, after three years, they can be bought by a private company. I did a story about one such trust last month.

Unions like Unite complain that this move to a social enterprise contradicts government policy that the NHS should be the preferred provider. They seem to be overlooking, or ignoring, Nicholson’s letter. There is a government-approved way of privatising NHS trusts – and it’s not going anywhere.

Jerry Hicks and an ‘entente cordiale’

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Yes yes, I know I’m late with this… sorry. The man who came a surprise second in the Unite Amicus election earlier this year has finally announced he will indeed stand for the big job in next year’s poll.

I spoke to Jerry today where he was canvassing (alongside Len McCluskey) at Unite’s sector conferences in Brighton. He reported an “entente cordiale” seemed to have broken out between himself and the leadership, whom he has gone out of his way to criticise in the past. And he’s still at it:

“As was with the last election it is likely that all the other candidates will be senior officials of the union… I have been a critic of Derek Simpson but truth is he has been allowed to get away with far too much with too little opposition from the same senior officials who would have us believe they should run our union. Our members deserve a better choice than simply more of the same.”

Mind you, he was quite restrained about Derek Simpson, attacking his pay package as “in excess of £130,000” when it went through the £200,000 mark last year.

Is Brown under threat over the PLP vote after all?

Friday 13 November 2009

Late breaking news on the Tribune website from my editor… it seems that – a few weeks after press speculation about this died down – backbench MP Barry Sheerman WILL challenge Gordon Brown by running for the chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party next week on a Brown-must-go ticket. More details here.

Apparently it will be discussed among centre-left MPs at the Compass AGM tomorrow – where Jon Cruddas and Labour manifesto author Ed Miliband are speaking.

Also of interest is the possible candidacy of former energy minister (and sometime Tribune contributor) Malcolm Wicks, supported by the Labour’s Future group. Many MPs (as noted by Kevin Maguire here) don’t think Sheerman has the necessary support to win. The group was set up earlier this year to apparently float policy papers and includes notorious anti-Brownite Charles Clarke. Looks like its agenda could extend to sparking a leadership election after all.

Unite election: Dubbins wades in

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Yesterday Simon Dubbins, the Unite union’s head of international affairs, announced his intention to stand in next year’s Unite general secretary election (see blogposts below passim ad nauseam). I picked this up through out-of-work chitchat with my burgeoning blog fan club (ahem) and thought I’d pass it on.

Below is Dubbins’ statement of intent. I republish it unedited and without comment. Two factual observations though, again gained off duty:

1) Dubbins is son of Tony Dubbins, former general secretary of the GPMU union which merged to form Amicus, which then merged to form Unite. Dubbins senior attacked Derek Simpson earlier this year during the Amicus GS campaign, and the Simpson camp wrote off his attack as “bizarre”.

2) When he heard about Dubbins’ intentions, Derek Simpson sought to persuade him not to stand. Simpson is thought to support assistant gen sec Les Bayliss, though whether it’s just because of that I do not know.

Statement of intention to stand for the position of UNITE General Secretary 2010
Dear Colleagues,
During the last few weeks and months I have been approached by numerous people asking whether I would be prepared to stand in the forthcoming election for UNITE General Secretary.
I have been very moved and encouraged by the number of people that have urged me to go ahead, and have been equally encouraged by the range of reps from different sectors and regions that have expressed this view.
The common theme that has been emerging is the need for a new start for UNITE, to end the internal divisions, to build unity, and to get on with building the great union that UNITE is capable of becoming.
Many have referred to their frustration that the next General Secretary election is already becoming defined as an Amicus v T&G show down.
I have therefore decided that I will seek nominations for the position of General Secretary when the election takes place next year.
In order to avoid becoming labeled as an Amicus candidate I have decided not to seek the nomination of the Workers Uniting Group and will instead candidate outside of this group and on the basis of a Unity Campaign.
With a group of committed supporters I have already been working on a set of policies for the key areas of the unions work. The intention is to put these forward in the coming weeks and to engage in a comprehensive discussion with members, activists and officers concerning their content. Any suggestions and inputs into these ideas will be warmly received.
Aged 42 and already with a wealth of experience, I believe that I can inject fresh impetuous and bring new ideas into UNITE, which will shape the future policies, structure and direction of the Union.
We have been advised that this is an open, honest and fair election and that no repercussions or reprisals will take place against anyone for simply deciding to stand in this election.
We trust that this is the case and look forward to the coming campaign.
I will be launching a new interactive web site shortly, which will provide a platform for debate and discussion.
Kindest Regards

Update: Further to Dr S. Pin’s comment below*, and since (s)he doesn’t mention it, I should point out that Paul Reuter’s blog is here. He’s put a bit of an essay on it here. Would be nice to see some speeches.

*the doctor is kind, but I suspect I have not made much of a contribution to “industrial relations”. Well, not in the sense of calming them…

“Please Ed, can we have Warwick III?”

Sunday 8 November 2009

I haven’t noticed any discussion anywhere else – not even among the usual suspects – about Labour’s last official chance before the next election to give its grassroots a say in the manifesto. I wrote about it in Tribune this week, focusing on the Local Government Association Labour group’s manifesto.

The manifesto has already been reported on elsewhere recently, but what reports tended to ignore was the anoraky bit, i.e. the context of Labour’s much-vexed policymaking process. But this is important because it’s all up in the air at the moment. The so-called second Warwick agreement on policy was thrashed out at a three-day meeting of the national policy forum, made up of 184 MPs, MEPS, councillors, union officials and constituency representatives.

It was widely expected that there’d be another national policy forum meeting in a matter of months.  In fact, I began writing my story with the words “expected in February”. But by the time I’d finished, I’d had to cut them out.

Who knows when the next NPF will be? The constituency reps,who like to fret over such matters, don’t know. The unions, whom the constituency reps fondly or not so fondly believe to be pulling all the strings, don’t know either. This leads me to a conclusion: nobody knows.

Ed Miliband, writer of the election manifesto and believed to have a say, is not thought to have expressed a view. Miliband is currently collecting responses to a policy document he put out at conference time. But he hasn’t said what the deadline for responses is. Mystery.

Meanwhile time is running out. There’s a meeting of the national executive committee this coming weekend where the subject is bound to arise. Someone recently suggested having an NPF on 5 December, but that would lead to an absurdly short time to prepare and gather views from the grassroots.

It’s not just the grassroots who want to know, it’s the unions too. As far as they’re concerned, Warwick II is unfinished business and they were always promised another bite at the policy cherry before polling day. They want plenty of things. In fact the all-seeing Jim Pickard’s take on the subject last September is looking very prescient. The manifesto may well be wrapped up only in the last six months – or even less.

This isn’t just about having a manifesto to win the election, of course. It’s also about positioning Labour for after that election if (or as increasing numbers of activists says, when) they lose. Whether or not it’s fair to characterise this as a lefty-activists-vs-centre-right-government battle, the current atmosphere seems to be one of standoff.