THERE is a famous story, though subject to some dispute, about how Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940. This was at a time when leaders of the Conservative Party ’emerged’ after ‘soundings’ rather than being elected by fellow MPs or party members.
Neville Chamberlain was being forced to step down as the price for Labour joining the emergency National Government formed after the collapse of the Norway Campaign and the political fallout that led to a loss of confidence in Chamberlain’s running of the war. In his rooms at Downing Street, Chamberlain met Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, and Churchill, who was then First Lord of the Admiralty. The discussion was about who should succeed Chamberlain. The Prime Minister suggested Halifax and asked Churchill for his opinion and whether he was willing to serve under Halifax. Churchill sensed a trap. If he replied in the negative, he would have to justify himself and could be accused of taking his stand for reasons of personal ambition, not the national interest. If he replied in the affirmative, Halifax, the Establishment favourite from the monarchy downwards to succeed Chamberlain, would get the job.
Churchill, normally voluble and articulate, opted for silence. There was an awkward pause. Halifax volunteered that speaking in Parliament from the Lords rather than the Commons would make matters difficult and deferred to Churchill. The future direction of Western civilisation was thus determined after a quick chat between three Conservative politicians and due to a Parliamentary technicality.
It is possible that Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner was aware of Churchill’s tactic when she heard that she had been fired from the position of Labour Party chair by party leader Sir Keir Starmer rather being told by him in person. She went to a public house in Westminster and switched off her mobile telephone for several hours. Her refusal to engage with her boss delivered rewards. She was made not only Shadow First Secretary of State, which means she will still face off against Dominic Raab whenever Boris Johnson is unavailable for Prime Minister’s Questions, but also Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to challenge Michael Gove. In addition, one of Sir Keir’s Parliamentary aides had to step down after she was caught spreading rumours about Rayner’s personal life, apparently as part of a crude attempt rubbish Rayner in the Westminster bubble and somehow justify her sacking.
Rayner also got a third shadow ministerial position, though in this role there is no government minister to challenge across the Despatch Box. It is Shadow Minister for the Future of Work.
This is an odd title, since it is implicit in the function of government that as well as managing current issues it plans for future ones. Thus the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) could from its title be looking at the future of work, except that it really deals with welfare benefits. It is likely that the ‘Future of Work’ is more associated with the function of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. We shall see what happens at the Despatch Box.
Getting the state to look at the future of work actually means yet more intervention in the private sector, regulating the relationships between employer and employee. It could be regarded as a form of backdoor state ownership, a return to what socialists regard as the halcyon days of Attlee-style nationalisation, this time not just of large enterprises, but every business larger than those operated by the self-employed. Labour has been here before. Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell proposed that a Labour government would take a 10 per cent stake in every business larger than a certain threshold in the name of the employees, but would redistribute only a fraction of the share dividend income from this holding. This time, Labour seems to want to take away from the management of private businesses an as-yet-to-be-determined portion of their powers of decision-making.
What knowledge and experience has Rayner regarding the ‘future of work’? She sells herself to the voting public as having left school at 16 as a pregnant teenager with no qualifications and working herself up to where she is today. This has been as a local authority care worker and through the ranks of the trades union Unison. Most of Unison’s members work in the state sector. The state sector is not known for being a risk-taking, competitive or innovative environment and has very high levels of job security and attractive pensions. Its employees are objects of veneration by the Labour Party, rather than than those in the private sector who actually create the wealth in this country. The only real issue for state sector employees seems to be their pay, which is never enough. If they are dissatisfied with their pay or working conditions, they can always move into a private sector role. It is never made clear why disgruntled state sector employees shy away from entering the jobs market for a better position. Rayner’s understanding of our wealth-creating private sector might be limited to union-inspired socialist dogma and stories from the 1930s.
If Sir Keir was serious about creating a Shadow Ministry for the future of work, there was a more obvious choice to head it. Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas has a doctorate obtained for his thesis on ‘an analysis of value theory, the sphere of production and contemporary approaches to the reorganisation of workplace relations’. He is a Visiting Professor at the University of Leicester, primarily involved with the Centre for Sustainable Work and Employment Futures. He recently authored a book analysing the changing work environment which I recently reviewed for this site, when I suggested that his ideas could be a blueprint for Starmerism. After all, it is now a common observation that no one has a clue what Starmer stands for, so Cruddas’s ideas could have been a start. So if Sir Keir sincerely wanted someone to shadow this government position that does not actually exist, why didn’t Cruddas get the role?
It appears that Sir Keir has created numerous phantom roles shadowing non-existent government jobs. His Shadow Cabinet is 50 per cent larger than the actual Cabinet, and that is even without a Shadow Minister for Title Inflation. If Rayner’s new virtual responsibility does not include a team of MPs that contains Cruddas, the position that Sir Keir created out of thin air is either a vanity job to give Rayner something to do, or it is a meaningless public relations exercise trying to convince voters that there is no crisis at the top of the Labour Party.
Rayner has emerged from Sir Keir’s reshuffle with her position enhanced. It is now suggested that she could challenge Sir Keir for the Labour leadership at any time of her choosing. Certainly, if Labour lose the forthcoming by-election in Batley and Spen, more questions may be asked about Sir Keir’s suitability for his post. He is the least experienced Leader of the Opposition in the last 100 years and this has been shown in his management of the reshuffle. The rise in Rayner’s stock is based only on her political relationships and public image, not her actual ability. At the very least Rayner should make it known she is working with Cruddas in her role on the Future of Work. After all, on this subject, Cruddas literally wrote the book.