18 April 2009

Ray Collins chaired Red Rag meeting

The News of the World will tomorrow report that the general secretary of the Labour party, Ray Collins, met with the now infamous smeargate paid - Damien McBride and Derek Draper. 

The NOTW will report that:

"The new email, written by Labour's then internet campaign chief Derek Draper, PROVES that the meeting took place, reveals WHO was there, WHERE it was held and WHAT was on the agenda. It shows that Collins travelled across Westminster for a summit in the offices of trade union bigwig Charlie Whelan."

Although the revelations themselves are damaging, the worrying fact of this story is the slow and agonizing release of these allegations. It is reminiscent of the steady publication of stored up Tory sex scandals in the run up to the 1997 general election. 

And I can't see this story going away anytime soon. The press has scented blood and what is more, there is embarrassment in the media that the press has been caught with its pants down in bed with the political establishment while the blogosphere (Paul Staines in particular) has relentless pursued the story. By being the ones who hammer the nails in to the coffin of the Labour party they will be able to find some redemption and legitimacy again. 

The article goes on to state that: 
"Whelan is back as Gordon Brown's unofficial Mr Fix-it, and he's now so powerful that he's effectively running the party."
In response to these accusations Collins, himself a former assistant general secretary of Unite, admitted he attended the Red Rag website meeting but insisted he did not know about the McBride smears. He stated: 
"I have had no knowledge whatsoever of any smears and found the stories and reports of the last week absolutely disgusting. I did attend a meeting at the Unite Head Office on December 1 to discuss online digital campaigning and how we could support and encourage left of centre websites and bloggers. 

This meeting was not about scurrilous rumour, personal attacks or smears as I would have been furious that such things could be seen as legitimate tools of political debate."

The big questions now are do these allegations lead to Ray Collins position becoming untenable. I do not think they will. The second, and largest issue, is whether these new accusations keep the story alive for another week? 

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Former Bank of England Governor dies

The former Governor of the Bank of England Edward George has died aged 70 after a long battle with cancer, the Bank of England said.

RIP Steady Eddie. 

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Former Labour MP Alice Mahon quits party

Alice Mahon, former Labour MP for Halifax between 1987 to 2005 has resigned her membership of the party stating that "it is not a party I recognise - I have lost faith with it"

Mrs Mahon said it had taken "months of agonising to reach my decision."

She cited that the final straw was the recent scandal surrounding emails sent by Mr Brown's special adviser, Damian McBride, who sent emails proposing unfounded slurs about senior Tories.

Mrs Mahon is also angry at the government's Welfare Reform Bill saying it was "an assault on people with disabilities and the poor" and that it was remarkable it was being inflicted "in the middle of a recession".

"There is bewilderment… that as a government we have not taken on the bankers, who are still doing as they please and taking large bonuses," she said.

"I have reached the conclusion that there is not any avenue left in the structure of the Labour party for people like me. Any threat from anybody marginally from the left and… the party machine comes down on them like a ton of bricks".

During her time in the Commons she was one of Labour's most consistent backbench rebels, opposing the government on a range of issues from cuts in lone parent benefits to National Missile Defence. She is a self-proclaimed socialist with a long record of peace activism and was one of the most vocal critics of the war in Iraq. Mrs Mahon has also spoken on feminist issues, and against curbs on abortion. In addition she is a strong supporter of gay rights and reform of the House of Lords.

Such a loss to the party. 

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The best and worst MP's

The Telegraph has a very interesting piece about the best and worst MPs around the county. 

To calculate the rankings, The Sunday Telegraph gave a value rating to each MP. To do this, we divided the amount of expenses claimed by each individual by the amount of work they did over the past year.

MPs earned work points for the proportion of Parliamentary votes they took part in, expressed in percentage points. They also gained one additional work point for every three debates they spoke in or 30 written questions they tabled.

For example, David Winnick, the Labour MP for Walsall North, attended 87 per cent of votes in the last Parliamentary year, giving him 87 points. He spoke in 55 debates and asked 58 written questions. 

His work rating is therefore 87 + (55 divided by 3) + (58 divided by 30) = 107.3. His value rating is arrived at by dividing his total expenses by his work rating: £96,202 divided by 107.3 
a cost per unit of work; the lower the figure, the better the value.

Attendance: Percentage of Parliamentary divisions attended in 2007/8

Debates: Debates spoken in over the past year

Written questions: Number of Parliamentary questions answered over past year

Expenses: Total claimed for 2007/8

The Best
1. Philip Hollobone (Conservative, Kettering)
An Oxford-educated former investment banker who has also served as a paratrooper with the Territorial Army. First elected in 2005, he has earned a reputation for thrift, doing all his own paperwork instead of employing an assistant. He has a good record of attending Commons debates and asking questions. Value rating (cost per unit of work – a lower rating means better value): £376.

2. Dennis Skinner (Labour, Bolsover)
The "Beast of Bolsover" – nicknamed for his bruising debating style and left-wing views – has been an MP for 28 years. A former miner, once called "a marvellous politician" by his old adversary Margaret Thatcher, he is today a Commons fixture, regularly interjecting from his favourite seat on the front row below the gangway. His attendance rate – 97 per cent – is better than that of any other MP. Value rating: £603.

3. David Drew (Labour, Stroud)
A former teacher, he was swept into office during Labour's 1997 landslide victory. One of the more frequent rebels on the Government back benches, he voted against the Iraq war and has opposed terrorism legislation. A father-of-four and vegetarian of 25 years standing, he has bombarded ministers with 961 written questions over the past year - more than any other Labour MP. Value rating: £836.

The Worst
1. George Galloway (Respect, Bethnal Green and Bow)
An MP since 1987, he was expelled from the Labour party in 2003 for accusing Tony Blair and President Bush of acting "like wolves" in Iraq. Left his native Scotland at the 2005 general election to contest - and win - an east London seat with many Muslim voters under the banner of the far-left Respect party. Courted controversy by appearaning on Celebrity Big Brother, but his attendance rate in the Commons is far below that of any other MP.
Value rating: £21,201.

2. Clare Short (Independent Labour, Birmingham Ladywood)
Served in Tony Blair's Cabinet as International Development Secretary for six years, but lost credibilty with her left-wing allies in 2003 when she voted for the Iraq war then quit her job two months later in protest at Britain's handling of the post-Saddam reconstruction. Became a fierce critic of Mr Blair and resigned the Labour whip in 2006. Plans to retire at the next election. Value rating: £6,546

3. Derek Conway (Independent, Old Bexley & Sidcup)
A former major in the Territorial Army, he was expelled from the Conservative party last year after a scandal in which it emerged that he had employed his wife and two sons at public expense. They earned £260,000 between them yet there was little evidence as to how much work the sons had done, and some of the money had to be paid back. Has spoken in just one Commons debate in the past year. Value rating: £6,044.

Source: Hansard, theyworkforyou.com, publicwhip.org.uk

I had always suspected that George Galloway and Clare Short were the worst MP's in the country.

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McCain vetter: Palin nailed VP selection interview

A.B. Culvahouse, a powerful Washington lawyer and former counsel to President Reagan has been revealing the details of the VP selection procedure used by the McCain presidential campaign. Culvahouse was a member of John McCain's Vice Presidential search and vetting team. He has finally broken his silence about the Palin pick. 

Depsite persistent rumours that Sarah Palin was insufficiently vetted, Culvahouse has claimed she knocked her selection interview 'out of the park.'

He revealed that VP candidates were asked three key questions:
  1. Why do you want to be vice president? 
  2. Are you prepared to use nuclear weapons? 
  3. And the CIA has identified Osama bin Laden, but if you take the shot there will be multiple civilian casualties. Do you take the shot? 
I would love to know what Governor Palin's answers were. My guess is that she would be willing to use nuclear weapons (to be fair, no major candidate ever ruled this option out...) and that she would take a shot at Bin Laden.

I have always been of the opinion that Sarah Palin was a fundamentally good pick for the McCain campaign. John McCain needed a game changer last summer as his campaign floundered in the face of the Obama juggernaut. Palin ticked several key boxes - the evangelical block, potentially disenchanted Hillary Clinton supporters. 

I think the real problem Palin faced was severely poor management by the McCain campaign. 

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17 April 2009

Could political correctness turn your pets gay?

Just one of the fantastic headlines from the rather amusing 'Daily Mail headline generator' website that I have just discovered thanks to Luke Pollards Twitter feed.

Please post any amusing headlines!

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Why Thatcher should have a State funeral

This week saw the opening of the much-heralded play, ‘Maggie’s End’, at the Shaw Theatre in London. The production envisages a Britain in 2010 where Charles sits on the throne and New Labour is back in power for a fourth term. During the year Margaret Thatcher passes away, leading to a decision to award her a state funeral - causing outrage amongst the assembled celebrating masses.

May 4th 2009 will mark the 30th anniversary of Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister. Her spectre still looms large over British politics. She is as celebrated on the right as she is hated on the left. Since her frailty became apparent there has been intermittent speculation that the Labour government would consider awarding her a state funeral upon her death – reports which are met with derision and horror by many Labour voters, and then swiftly denied. But why shouldn’t a Labour Government, or indeed any government, mark the contribution a Prime Minister has made to the nation by awarding them a state funeral?

Having been born in 1985 I did not become interested in politics predisposed with the standard wrath reserved for Thatcher. I grew up in a family that was at best apolitical, at worst Conservative. It is only over the years that I have grasped the enormous amount of damage she inflicted on this country – how she decimated entire industries; how she sought to destroy the trade union movement; how she supported South Africa’s racist apartheid regime and branded Nelson Mandela a terrorist. All of these are deplorable actions by a deplorable Prime Minister.

But whether we like the actions of a Prime Minister or not we recognise that they have been democratically elected to the highest level of the profession of politics and enacted policies that have shaped our nation. Our Prime Ministers have represented Great Britain around the globe and been bestowed with the powers of the Crown.

Typically state funerals are reserved exclusively for monarchs. If granted, it would make Lady Thatcher the first premier since Sir Winston Churchill in 1965 to be given the honour. In the 20th Century there were two other state funerals for non-royals: military commander Frederick Roberts and ex-Ulster Unionist Party leader Edward Carson. In the 19th Century, five state funerals were granted to non-royal personages. The exceptional cases were Lord Nelson after his death at Trafalgar; Charles Darwin; and the Duke of Wellington, Lord Palmerston and William Gladstone, three former prime ministers.

But why should the highest honour upon death generally be reserved for members of the Royal Family who have been born in to privilege and power and not be awarded to those who have deliberately dedicated their lives to public service – for better or worse.

Thatcher was, after all, Prime Minister for 11 years, our first female Prime Minister and the longest serving PM of the post-war period. Even those who want to disagree with just about everything she did have to recognise that she was an important historical figure.

The fact that Margaret Thatcher was a divisive figure should not deter us from marking her time as Prime Minister. Winston Churchill was unceremoniously turfed from office at the first opportunity following the Second World War yet he received the ceremonial honour.

I don’t simply wish to make the case for Margaret Thatcher to be bestowed this honour as I believe there are many who are far more deserving than she. I believe that it is a recognition that should be given to all Prime Ministers.

By marking the contribution that our Prime Minister makes we can begin to establish a better link between politicians and society. It would be an attempt to stop the public seeing all politicians as the ‘enemy’ and help to change the generally cynical attitude that is so prevalent towards those who enter political public service.

It is simply about acknowledging someone who served and led their country even if you do not agree with the approach that they took. It also clearly states that we believe any citizen should be able to recieve the high honours of society, not just those who are of Royal birth.

I personally will happily mark the passing of Thatcherism at the same time we as a nation mark the passing of Thatcher.
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Fleet St exodus from Labour

ConservativeHome has today published a detailed report in to the Fleet St endorsements we can expect at the next general election. It doesn't look to promising for Labour...
Newspaper endorsements are not as valuable as they once were but the editorial endorsements of a newspaper are still actively sought by politicians - not least because they tend to influence the overall news priorities of that newspaper.

Over the last 24 hours I've been speaking to journalists within all of Britain's main daily newspapers (and The Economist) - at least two on each - and speculating about their likely endorsements at the next election.

What we are likely to witness is Fleet Street making a mass defection from Labour to the Conservatives.

Only The Mirror is sure to endorse Labour. Fleet Street's four swing voters - the FT, Economist, Times and London Evening Standard - are likely to endorse the Conservatives although no final decisions have been taken.

Commercial and ideological reasons mean that The Guardian and Independent will stop a long way short of endorsing the Conservatives but are likely to continue to give David Cameron a fairer hearing than they have given any previous Tory leader.
I do think, as the article eludes to, that the impact of newspaper endorsements matters less and less. With the rise of online news sources and the political blogosphere the printing press has been in somewhat of a terminal decline. But endorsements come with favourable coverage which help to set the overall tone of a campaign. 

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The News of the World and Smeargate

Some interesting speculation as to why the News of the World did not run the smeargate scandal on page one at the weekend.
The News of the World landed the McBride-Draper Tory smear email story so it was weird to see on Sunday they didn't run with it on the front page. Instead the tabloid had a bizarre headline, "Obama's brother in sex quiz", which sounds like something Jacqui Smith's husband would watch on TV, but was in reality a random story about Obama's half-brother being refused a visa to enter Britain.

Even more weirdly, the story was not written by a NOTW journalist but bylined Gloria De Piero, GMTV's Political Editor. De Piero is a close friend of Derek Draper, a colleague of his wife Kate Garraway, and an ex-flatmate of Damien McBride's then-boss Tom Watson.

So, surely a coincidence that this was the front page story? Otherwise I guess we'd have to assume that the uncalled for and unnecessary smearing of the family and reputation of the world's most popular politician is acceptable to the Labour Party now?
Source: Popbitch (I know! Reputable!)

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16 April 2009

Guido Fawkes writes in The Times

Notorious blogger Guido Fawkes, aka Paul Staines, writes in tomorrows Times about his role in the Damien McBride scandal and the cowardice of the mainstream media to stand up to the political elite. 

Here are the key quotes:
I was tarred as a racist over things not written by me, and that I had not even read. On a live TV debate months later Mr Draper denied three times when challenged that Mr McBride was the true author of that smear. Those three denials allowed me to crucify him in the media this Easter weekend.
The explosive proof of a smear and spin operation in the heart of Downing Street was met with a universal lack of surprise inside the Westminster village. Everyone who was interested knew it existed.
Ivan Lewis, a government minister, dared to say something off-message about Mr Brown's leadership late last year; it was not long before he was exposed as a “text messaging sex pest”.
Journalists are to there to “speak truth unto power”, not trade favours for tittle tattle, not report spin as truth.
Cowardice and cronyism run right through the lobby, who are fearful of being taken off the teat of prepackaged stories served to them
Charlie Whelan talks darkly of calling in the police; too late to arrest the truth
Inside the Westminster bubble the political correspondents of the lobby, who drink in the same subsidised bars as the MPs, have been slow to sense the popular anger
As you read the many reviews of the years of terror and spin by the journalists who were on the receiving end, remember their shameful complicity.
Interesting stuff.  

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Hillary's raking it in...

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has continued to rake in the campaign cash since she became the United States highest diplomat. 

Clinton ended her Presidential campaign in staggering amount is debt. She has already written off the funds she loaned from her private funds. 

Since January she has raised an impressive $5.6m allowing her to pay off $3.7 off overdue bills. This is all the more startling given that Hillary Clinton herself is restricted fro political campaigning due to her role as Secretary of State. All fundraising has been carried out by campaign surrogates. 

All that is left for Madam Secretary to pay is the $3m owed to the waste of money known as Mark Penn. 

Source: Politico 

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Texas threatens to secede from the Union

The Huffington Post is reporting that Texas Governor Rick Perry is threatening to secede from the United States. Citing the tax burden of President Obama's economic stimulus he said that "there's a lot of different scenarios."

"We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot."

Do the words good riddance spring to mind?

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It's official: Gordon Brown has apologised.

The BBC is now reporting that Gordon Brown has apologised over the e-mails sent by his former aide Damian McBride.

Speaking during a visit to Glasgow, Mr Brown said: "I am sorry about what happened."

Better late than never I suppose.

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Gordon Brown says 'sorry'

Sky News is apparently reporting that Gordon Brown has said "sorry" for the Damian McBride emails. I think this is about time; but had he done this earlier he could have taken a lot of the sting out of the media coverage.

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15 April 2009

Why Obama has reason to optimistic

President Obama has dramatically changed his tone in recent weeks about the state of the economy. Are there really 'the green shoots' of economic recovery? According to Politico, there might just be...

1. Real “glimmers of hope”

There are a few in the economic data, as the president has noted twice in the past week.

The Dow notched five consecutive weeks of gains heading into Easter weekend, prompting Wall Street analysts to celebrate the fleeting return of a bull market. Wells Fargo reported billions of dollars in first quarter profits, a recent rarity for the beleaguered banking sector.

Even investment house Goldman Sachs said it felt so good about the market that it would sell shares of its own stock to raise money – then pay back the $10 billion in taxpayer bailout money it took last fall.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke made the same point at a speech at Morehouse College Tuesday, citing new numbers on housing and consumer spending. “Recently we have seen tentative signs that the sharp decline in economic activity may be slowing,” he said.

Roger Altman, CEO of Evercore Partners and former deputy Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, believes the U.S. is in for a “slow, painful climb-out” from the recession but says Obama is onto something when he talks about an end to the downward trend. “There are signs of what I would call ‘bottoming,’” Altman said. “We have two months of additional data and information now.”

Republicans pushed back. “Our economy will improve,” said House Republican Leader John Boehner. “But it will be because of the ingenuity and hard work of American workers and small businesses, not because of the Washington Democrats’ misguided policies that rely on recklessly spending taxpayer dollars.”

2. The 100-Day Clock is Ticking

There are political realities at work, too. Obama’s speech came on Day 85 of his presidency, and after the spate of media attention to come when he hits the 100-day mark, Obama will own the economy in a very real political sense.

After that, voters are likely to hold Obama more responsible for their economic suffering, and patience for blaming the Bush Administration will wear thin.

The president touched on this theme Tuesday, sounding almost as if he wished the clamor for results wasn’t so intense, with a “24-hour news cycle that insists on instant gratification in the form of immediate results, or higher poll numbers.”

Still, White House officials believe Obama’s window of patience from voters could last as long as two years, if the public continues to see him as someone who is being straight with them about the problems and working to solve them.

A recent Public Strategies Inc./POLITICO poll suggests Obama does have some leeway. The survey of 1,000 registered voters found that two thirds of the respondents trust the president “to identify the right solutions to the problems we face as a nation.”

But if job losses continue, at some point, voters will expect results. Says one Senate GOP aide, “If the White House is right and the job numbers continue to go south through the end of the year, people are going to start asking where the hell the jobs are that they were promised.”

3. They’ve done it all

There’s also a practical reality facing the Obama Administration, which is that they have largely done everything they set out to do to fix the economy.

Obama ticked through a list of items in his speech -- the $787 billion stimulus bill, the Wall Street and auto bailout programs, a housing recovery plan, a boost to non-bank credit markets and even his efforts to get the G-20 nations to do more. All, he said, have “been necessary pieces of the recovery puzzle.”

The White House knows that it doesn’t have another trillion-dollar program ready to go – though officials there surely would try to find one if the economic numbers grew worse -- so now is the time to begin talking about the results of this intense period of activity.

Already, the federal government has, by some estimates, committed more than $7 trillion toward the problem, much of that in loans or other temporary outlays. The scale of that spending, along with the AIG bonus scandal, have created a sort of bailout fatigue in Washington. So for Obama, this political moment is better spent talking about what he’s already done, rather than proposing to do something new.

4. Boosting his credibility

The president has two key decisions coming up, so this week marks an opportune moment to bolster his credibility with the public before he needs to make politically difficult calls.

At the end of this month, the Obama administration will have to decide what to do about the results of the bank “stress tests” – designed to see which financial institutions can withstand the economic downturn, and which need a government lifeline. Obama also must decide whether to ask Congress for more bank bailout funds.

At almost the same time, Obama will have to announce the fate of automakers Chrysler and General Motors, which could involve the politically agonizing decision of letting one of America’s most storied companies fail without a new lifeline from the government.

Meanwhile, there’s speculation that Obama will prompt the firing of a bank CEO once the stress test results come in, which will provoke as much of a furor as his termination of GM CEO Rick Wagoner did in March. It will help his case if the public accepts that the steps he’s taken so far are working.

5. Boosting the public’s confidence

And finally, consumer confidence hit its lowest reading since 1967 in February. Obama’s hoping he can translate his popularity and trust into getting consumers feeling good again.

Altman cautioned that consumer confidence alone cannot drive a recovery, but said, “I think he’s doing the right thing and that he’s trying to instill confidence in the American people that we’re on our way to recovery.”

Obama explained his thinking in his remarks at Georgetown: “When this recession began, many families sat around the kitchen table and tried to figure out where they could cut back. And so have many businesses. And this is a completely reasonable and understandable reaction,” Obama said. “But if everybody -- if everybody -- if every family in America, if every business in America cuts back all at once, then no one is spending any money, which means there are no customers, which means there are more layoffs, which means the economy gets even worse.”

Like everything else, Obama has to be careful not to oversell it – and risk getting lumped in with President Bush, who urged Americans to go shopping as a way to boost the economy after 9/11. But Obama is clearly hoping some people who’ve been holding off on buying a car, or even going out to dinner, might crack open their wallets if they hear their president say things are getting better.

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Derek Draper interview: The key quotes

Derek Draper has given an interview to the Guardian Today. LabourHome has very helpfully pulled out the key quotes for us all to enjoy:

Draper said that the email from McBride smearing leading Conservatives "came out of the blue". He said he had had one previous conversation with McBride about Labour's web strategy, along with Charlie Whelan, the Unite political director and a former aide to Brown when he was chancellor. Speaking from his holiday, Draper said he thought he had been drawn into the discussion because of his knowledge of the internet.

"I deeply regret what I did. I should not have responded to Damian's email as I did".

"part of me feels like I have been an innocent victim, and another part of me in the dark night of the soul feels like I just attract controversy"

"I honestly cannot remember whose idea it was to set up Red Rag. It took five minutes to grab the name. It was a good name"

"My view was that Labour needed an internet strategy. We needed a leftwing version of ConservativeHome"

"I thought we needed a single blogger similar to Iain Dale, and I was willing to do that because there did not seem anyone else obvious to do it. And we needed something with leftwing tittle-tattle like Guido Fawkes".

"There was no great conspiracy or plan."

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Why has Gordon Brown not apologised yet?

We all know the serious nature of the allegations that came to light at the weekend by now.

The smearing of a politician is one thing, but the deliberate targeting of family members is quite another.

The letters that Gordon Brown sent to the affected parties falls well short of an apology. So why hasn't he offered a full and unconditional apology to these people?

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14 April 2009

Should Derek Draper resign?

By now we all know the in's and out's of the McBride/Draper scandal that broke over the weekend.

I have blogged on LabourList a number of times since its launch in January and have enjoyed being able to do so immensely. Derek Draper or anyone who works over at Labour List have never censored or prevented me from expressing my opinion on any issue. But it goes without saying that these are serious revelations and I would argue that Derek Draper should be considering his position very carefully.

Sunder Katwala, my boss at the Fabian Society, has today called on Derek Draper to resign his position as Editor of LabourList.

I'm not yet convinced that Draper needs to stand down from LabourList. My concern is that the essence of LabourList - allowing an equal space for Cabinet ministers and grassroot members to debate alongside one another will be broken as the big names stay away from the site.

I also think that the revelations have undermined any pretence that this site represented a break from the old ‘command and control’ structure as the strings between LabourList and Downing St have been laid out for all to see.

The problem is that I don’t think LabourList has been a resounding failure. I think it has shown great promise and, despite some mistakes and some fine tuning, it still has potential to become a real asset to the Labour party. Whether this is because of Draper or inspite of him, I am yet to decide.

What do you think?

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