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After a rocky three days for the Conservatives it seems it is now Labour’s turn to face scrutiny. The first major development came last night when the party’s deputy leader Tom Watson announced he was resigning the position and as an MP.
Watson is seen as the voice of the moderate Corbynsceptic camp in the Labour Party and he has often been openly critical of the Labour party’s direction under Corbyn, spearheading the internal campaign to push Labour to openly endorse Remain and calling for more action to combat anti-Semitism.
However, disloyalty to Corbyn made him unpopular with the Labour leader’s supporters. He has recently taken further hits over his close involvement in pushing the police investigations of the false allegations of paedophile ring in British politics. Still, his resignation was greeted with dismay by many unhappy with the party’s path under Corbyn.
While Watson claimed he was standing down purely for personal reasons fears that moderates might be abandoning the party seemed compounded this morning when former Labour MP Ian Austin, who had quit the party to sit as an independent in February this year over the anti-Semitism scandal, urged voters to vote for Boris Johnson declaring Corbyn “completely unfit” to be Prime Minister.
Another former Labour MP John Woodcock, who sat as an independent after the Whip was withdrawn from him over allegations of sexual harassment, added his voice declaring he will not stand and urging voters to back the Conservatives. Tories have rushed to capitalise on this while Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell reacted furiously declaring that Ian Austin is now “employed by the Tories”.
Meanwhile, four Labour Parliamentary candidates have been banned from standing by the party National Executive Committee and a fifth is under examination. The dynamics of some of the suspensions indicate ongoing tension in the Labour Party. The most prominent candidate banned from standing is the MP Chris Williamson an ally of Corbyn’s who had been suspended over alleged anti-Semitism. However, Sally Gimson who was suspended just two weeks after being chosen as a candidate over an unspecified complaint looks set to be replaced by the NEC-preferred Momentum candidate. Gimson had declared her intent to seek legal action against her suspension. Meanwhile, another candidate under examination Zarah Sultana faces growing controversy after old tweets surfaced in which she proclaimed she would “celebrate” the deaths of Tony Blair and Benjamin Nethanyahu. How much intra-party disputes will resonate with voters is unclear.
Labour will be hoping to overshadow reporting on their political troubles with McDonnell’s announcement today of Labour ambitious spending plans should it get into government. These include £150 billion for schools, housings and hospitals and a £250 billion Green Transformation Fund to upgrade infrastructure across the country. McDonnell claimed the spending plan aimed to shift the economic balance of power away from London and the Southeast to the North and the Midlands, and further promised to set up a Treasury unit in the North to make spending decisions outside Whitehall.
These plans are tactical as well as ideologically driven. With the Conservatives hoping to flip Leave supporting Labour seats in the North and the Midlands Labour will be keen to shore up its support there.
In response the Conservatives also made lavish spending promises signalling an end to the austerity era. This could prove popular, but some Tories and economist will worry that the Conservatives now risk being seen as simply offering a less ambitious version of Labour’s plans and undermine their previous arguments about fiscal responsibility that underpinned austerity. Still Chancellor Sajid Javid has attempted to draw a sharp line between the Conservatives and Labour attacking “Comrade Corbyn’s fantasy economics” and characterise Conservative plans as more responsible.
The Tories have also had a scandal of their own today with their candidate for Norfolk facing recriminations over past comments that women should “keep their knickers on” while debating a rape case on BBC Radio Norfolk where he worked as a presenter.
In other potentially significant election news, the unequivocally Remain backing parties – the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, and Plaid Cymru – have announced an electoral pact pledging not to run candidates against each other. They will back each other’s campaigns in 60 constituencies across England and Wales. Attempts to include Labour in a pro-Remain alliance foundered over Labour’s equivocal stance on the issue and the Labour leadership’s rejection of such a pact.
Whether the pact will work and change the outcome of the election is unclear, of course. The SNP has responded by urging the Greens and Liberal Democrats to back them in Scotland.