In This Episode
Is a combination of a progressive alliance, tactical voting and proportional representation the way to save the UK from Tory rule? Neal Lawson, founder of the pressure group Compass, argues that there would have been no Boris Johnson or Liz Truss if left-leaning parties had been able to work together. Neal, who’s been a Labour member for 44 years, also explains why he’s facing possible expulsion from the Labour Party for tweeting in favour of tactical voting.
Have Labour fallen into a Tory trap by following last week’s by-elections? Nish and Coco examine why the headlines have been about the costs of green policy, rather than historic Tory defeats. Also with homeless numbers rising, why isn’t there more urgency around legislation to ban Section 21 evictions?
Plus the schoolkids who put Robert Jenrick to shame, and why Coco’s mum loves Minions.
Pod Save the UK is a Reduced Listening production for Crooked Media.
Contact us via email: PSUK@reducedlistening.co.uk
WhatsApp: 07514 644572 (UK) or + 44 7514 644572
Neal Lawson, founder of the pressure group Compass
Nish Kumar Hi, this is Pod Save the UK.
Coco Khan I’m Coco Khan.
Nish Kumar And I’m Nish Kumar.
Coco Khan And this week we’re asking Labour. You okay, hun?
Nish Kumar Shouldn’t the party this far ahead in the polls be a little bit more bold?
Coco Khan And where are all the policies we can get behind?
Nish Kumar And is it enough to just not be the Tories? Hi, Coco.
Coco Khan Hi, Nick. I wondered who was going to go first there. And you got in there. You got in there faster, which means that you have to now ask me about my week. But actually I would like to ask about your week plot twist thingy.
Nish Kumar Well, I always ask you about your week because invariably you’ve done more exciting things than me.
Coco Khan I don’t think that’s true on this particular occasion.
Nish Kumar Why?
Coco Khan Well, all I’ve done this week, what I’ve done this week, did a lot of cleaning at home. Oh, Barbie. Yes, I saw Barbie. I took my mum. That was very nice. Loved it. And then. Yeah, just been doing some admin and listening to documentaries about sharks, even just saying things like embarrassed about you, what you’ve been doing.
Nish Kumar Well, I’ve watched Oppenheim. I’d already seen Barbie and I. I had a great time. Enjoyed both of them. There was a part of me when I sat in a full cinema of well, while. Well, yeah. Where have you people all been When I’ve been in cinemas on my own for all these years. Is it because I’m always there? Yeah. And now everyone’s like, Oh, let’s go to the cinema. But I am genuinely thrilled that people want to do this in multiplexes.
Coco Khan My local cinema has closed down. Really? Yeah, it’s really sad. Now I must travel very far to go to the cinema, so I’m glad that people are out in force.
Nish Kumar I Yeah, I missed both of them. I had an IMAX Oppenheimer, and I had already seen Barbie and I very much enjoyed myself.
Coco Khan So the problem with having this conversation is that some of our listeners might not have seen those films. Yes, we discussed that. Yeah. Right.
Nish Kumar We’re not going to spoil anything.
Coco Khan Okay.
Nish Kumar But it was weird when the mushroom cloud went off and it was all pink. That was a real surprise.
Coco Khan All I would say is that I think I have a lot of energy.
Nish Kumar Do you think you have?
Coco Khan I have astronomic high levels of Kennedy. I really related to him genuinely. I mean, that like, I was so disappointing to have gone to the most successful film in terms of at least how how it grossed by a female director of all time and be like, you know, who really appeals to me can be someone I really like.
Nish Kumar Whereas I felt the Kate McKinnon’s character really spoke to me. I think any character that describes themselves as smelling of basement is always going to be a character that I strongly relate to. I think. I think I always smell of basement.
Coco Khan Oh, no, you don’t smell of basement. You’re like.
Nish Kumar Well, today I see the.
Coco Khan First.
Nish Kumar Floor. Today I smell of deep because I injured my neck yesterday playing five a side football in what I think may be my most middle aged man. I don’t I went to save a ball, but I was in goal. Yeah. And I turned to quickly and injured my neck, which is pretty much the most pathetic injury you can sustain in a at least notionally contact sport.
Coco Khan I also, you know, I was saying I’ve been doing a load cleaning. Yeah, well, I also have sustained some injuries from cleaning.
Nish Kumar Oh, right. Yeah.
Coco Khan Yeah. So I think it is just a thing that happens. But I put it down to vigor because I attack my cleaning like.
Nish Kumar Well, how do you clean.
Coco Khan Up to this one? It’s like, it’s like the sort of day to day clean it. I mean, I, I find that very I find that drudgery. And beneath me, what I really like is get in there really disgusting. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And, and you scrub it clean and there’s chemicals and it’s like Ghostbusters. That sort of bust makes me feel good.
Nish Kumar So would you do that again without wishing to give away any spoilers when you saw an early episode of the Bear Series two, where there’s one of the episodes revolves around a deep clean. Yeah, yeah. So I’d love to be on the inside of this.
Coco Khan I was like, I clean the.
Nish Kumar Because it might be in there.
Coco Khan But coming up later, we’ll be finding out what’s going on with Labour, with our special guest, Neal Lawson. He’s a former speechwriter to Gordon Brown and he’s currently being threatened with expulsion from the party. We’ll find out why Labour’s having a deep clean. Yes. Good. Was it good?
Nish Kumar Let’s just move on.
Coco Khan Let’s just move on. So scrolling through your feed, thumbing through your paper or just flicking on the radio, you’ll be surrounded by statistics. Some of them will wash over you and some of them will hit you in the stomach. Some that have hit me in the stomach recently include learning about the Gulf Stream, which is due to collapse earlier than people thought yet. And Jordan Henderson, who seemingly did not have enough money from his previous Premier League role and is now going to Saudi Arabia. Yeah, but one statistic that really made me stop in my tracks this week was that 131,000 children in England are classed as homeless. They are living in temporary accommodation. That’s the highest number since records began. So these range from families sharing hotel rooms to Bambi accommodation. There’s even been instances of people housed in shipping containers. So to contextualize that number again, that’s enough children to fill London’s O2 Arena six and a half times. This is kids living out suitcases, You know, if they’re in a bed and breakfast, for example, they don’t have any cooking facilities. And many of them are really far away from their schools and their their network. The government figures cover January to March when the number of households in temporary accommodation reached a 25 year high. And it’s just as far as I can see the logical end of 13 years of awfulness, and particularly this this housing crisis. And, you know, we talked about the child benefit cap. It’s really, really tough for a lot of families. And now those who are already struggling are in some very, very dire situations. Yeah, we.
Nish Kumar Have a severe lack of affordable housing, soaring rents. And this issue of the underfunding in housing benefits as a housing benefit has been frozen since 2020, in spite of in the intervening three years and especially within the last 12 to 18 months, the kind of spiraling inflation and the cost of living crisis that was already bad and has now accelerated. Research published today by the BBC has found that on average 20 households can pay for every rental property that comes up. That is the sort of statistic that should stop you in your tracks. And it’s obviously not just in England. The number of people classed as homeless in Scotland. An all time high last year, according to figures it released in January. In September last year, there were 9130 children living in temporary accommodation, which over a three year period is a 31% rise.
Coco Khan So mean that I’m really worried about is the kind of public health problem with it. I mean, being poor is very, very difficult. It’s time consuming. It’s emotionally draining. It can be at times traumatic.
Nish Kumar It’s a brewing public health crisis, not just in terms of, well, homelessness means in terms of being registered for a GP, dental care, all this kind of stuff. But there’s also I think it’s a really important thing that you’ve highlighted, which is a kind of also a mental health crisis, a sort of mental health timebomb that we’ve started the clock on essentially.
Coco Khan Yeah. So back on episode three in May, we spoke to Renters union ACORN. They were glad to see the government finally introduce their long promised renters reform bill. The main changes of that were they were kind of long awaited ban on section 21. So that’s no fault evictions as well as preventing landlords refusing to rent to families with children. However, since that time, these these changes haven’t actually been implemented. Section 21 still exists, and so we are still seeing families being evicted under this clause.
Nish Kumar Yeah, that’s right. So the bill has been introduced, which is obviously a really positive start, but there’s a long way to go before it comes becomes law and mops are not actually due to debate it until autumn. And look, we can keep returning to the same over and over again. It is very clear what the legislative priorities are for this government. The legislative priorities that they have managed to get through are, you know, the migrants bill, yet they’ve managed to get through the bill curtailing our right to protest. However, they have left the renters reform bill just to sit on someone’s desk essentially over the summer holidays. It just shows me where their priorities are. 131,000 children classed as homeless, but they’ve managed to focus their attentions on what really matters to them, which is demonizing immigrants and making it harder for people to claim asylum in this country and restricting people’s right to peaceful, democratic protest.
Coco Khan Oh, absolutely. And it’s really hard to to to balance that news of the homelessness in children at these record levels with the news that came out a little while ago that Michael Gove’s department had to give back millions of pounds. His department was in charge of housing. They simply couldn’t find any projects to spend the money on. Well, you know, we know some actually, we probably put you in the direction of Michael.
Nish Kumar Look, there’s absolutely no doubt that this is a crisis. The desperately needs to be addressed and should be the number one priority. I would have thought, if children are going homeless of any reasonable government. My fear is that when they come back, they’ll spend most of their legislative energy trying to make it illegal to call Rishi Sunak and also the. That’s my concern. Their priorities do not align with what the country needs. So the fun rolls on. By which I mean things continue to be terrible. Europe’s continued to burn this week with record temperatures across the continent, and our screens have been filled with images of British tourists fleeing wildfires in Greece. With scientists confirming that the heat waves battering Europe and the US as a result of human induced climate change. And with all that going on, it feels deeply ironic that the big takeaway from last week’s byelections in England seems to have been a signal, as we were sort of fearful it might be that the two main parties are going to slowly edge away from their climate commitments.
Coco Khan This time last week, the Tories suffered two monumental by election defeats, losing majorities of around 20,000 votes. But yet most of the fallout has centered around the one they narrowly hung onto by 495 votes. It’s clearly very convenient for Rishi Sunak to have all the debate he beat around Labour’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan’s expansion of the Ulez policy, which helped the Tories cling on in Uxbridge and Islip.
Nish Kumar So yeah, basically that’s the zone in London where a green tax is levied on higher polluting cars and vans. Now obviously there’s not time to go into all of the nuances of this, but obviously he’s been brought in by the Labour mayor, Sadiq Khan. However, he was just continuing a policy that had actually been brought forward by Boris Johnson when he was mayor and an expansion which was ordered by Conservative Minister Grant Shapps when he was the Minister for Transport. But regardless of that, the there is a serious concern amongst campaigners that both parties will take this as a sign to water down some environmental commitments. Or as David Cameron once memorably put it, cut the green crap in his can tin you in tribute to saying the stupidest fucking things anyone has said in British politics.
Coco Khan Well, exactly. And this is the thing, because this policy actually started under a conservative mayor. You do wonder, is this just a trap? It feels like a trap and it feels like Labour are walking straight into it.
Nish Kumar Yeah, it feels like a political trap, the conservatives are saying. And it’s it reminds me of there’s been a lot of talk in this country about the result of the England cricket match. So England ended up drawing a game with Australia that might have been pivotal in deciding who was going to win the Ashes. And they’ve done that because a lot of rainfall. But I would prefer to focus on a section where the series did get away from England, where Australia set them a very obvious trap. They like started bowling the ball. Sure. And then putting all their fielders in one position. That basically means that the batsmen could get caught out by playing one specific shot. So all he’s supposed to do is not play that specific shot and then he just won’t go out. Yeah.
Coco Khan Seems easy.
Nish Kumar It was just English batsmen after English batsmen just falling as I was watching it live at Lord’s. Just go, This is unbelievable. I was with my friend, the great comedian out here, who said it was like the Australians had basically dug a hole, put a bunch of leaves over the hole and put a sign next to it that said there is not a hole here. And then English batsman after English batsmen just fell into the hole. And it does feel like that. The Conservative Party has set a trap where they’re going, We want to make this into a fight about who’s more practical around green issues, and the Labour Party has immediately fallen into that trap, with Keir Starmer making some comments about Sadiq Khan needing to review the Ulez policy. Whereas what Keir Starmer should have been focusing on is the fact that these results were a huge defeat for the Conservative Party. His historic byelection, defeat for the Conservative Party, and a sign that Rishi Sunak’s, whatever bounce he might have enjoyed when he came into power has evaporated extremely quickly. And the one win that did happen was a matter of 495 votes and still involved a 7% swing towards the Labour Party. And instead of trumpeting this as a huge victory and Starmer is giving indications that they might water down the Green policy. And one of the first things that he said, which we did actually cover in the kind of mini episode we did in the immediate aftermath of the by election was that Sadiq Khan needed to review this policy and that that was the reason that Labour had lost the seat in Uxbridge. We’ve managed to have a conversation about environmental policy when what we should be talking about is people in this country clearly fucking hate Rishi Sunak like everybody does. It really does feel like Labour has allowed its own success to be derailed.
Coco Khan It’s hard to imagine what the bottom of politics can be, but it does feel like every week there is a new low. It just shows how desperate they can be in their messaging. So there was a tweet by Rishi Sunak not about environmental concerns. This one was about essentially bent immigration lawyers who are sort of finagling the rules that we have around genuine immigration and genuine. Asylum applications to get people in. This is based on a Daily Mail investigation where one reporter goes to one or maybe a couple handful at best of immigration lawyers, and they find that, you know, for a fee that they will be banned. You know, a handful of lawyers being bent is probably not the most headline thing. But nonetheless, Rishi Sunak tweeted it and said, this is what we’re up against. The Labour Party, a subset of lawyers, criminal gangs, they’re all on the same side, which is kind of mad when you think about that. If you just break it down in your head. The Labour Party criminal gangs are all on the same side. He goes on to say that they are propping up a system of exploitation that profits from getting people to the UK illegally. I’m worried that this is another trap, another hole with some leaves over and the next thing we’re going to hear is Keir Starmer talking about tightening up even further these rules.
Nish Kumar Yeah, and the concern here is that the Conservative Party has seen that it’s enjoyed and I use this word very loosely and in hugely inverted commas, success by forcing a conversation to be about single wedge issues that may be relevant to local areas or have a kind of culture war event. So they’ll try and make the next election to be about issues like, you know, is net zero going to bankrupt British people? And also the Labour Party is on the side of criminal gangs. I will say this. I thought the tweet from Sue Knock, I have deeply low expectations of the Conservative Party and even I thought that was plumbing a new debt and it was Sunak’s whole reputation that he’s trying to build is around essentially being a kind of sensible, reasonable middle manager that’s come in and is supposed to try and do things, but clearly that’s not cutting through. So now he’s just falling back on the Conservative Party’s tactic for the last sort of half decade, really. And at this point we are and we keep restating this 13 years into conservative rule, the Conservative Party should have some achievements that they can trumpet from that period of being in charge, but they have none because they spent 13 years vandalizing this country’s institutions, its social safety net, and even some of its cultural institutions. They have nothing to say that they can positively reflect on as an achievement that they’ve bequeathed to the country. So they will just keep feeding more bile to the British electorate. And it is up to the Labour Party to avoid falling into these political traps that this and saying for them.
Coco Khan [AD].
Coco Khan So something of a recurring theme oncPod Save the UK so far has been a growing sense of unease among Labour voters like ourselves about the current trajectory of the Labour Party. It regularly crops up in our inbox too. David sent this email to us at PSUK at reduced listening dot co dot uk. He says I always vote left leaning, but not always Labour. More and more I’m finding it hard to vote Labour. Keir Starmer said Labour was doing something very wrong after the Ulez linked Uxbridge loss. Dave goes on, This man is fucking mad. Recently he said he needed to make hard choices. Well, the hard choice is to implement a policy to help the environment and help those who are typically poorer suffering the impact of pollution. Even if it’s not popular. We also had a message on WhatsApp from a minor key, so they said Sir Starmer’s five point plan is win the election. Winning the election, Winning the election. Winning the election, Winning the election. Voters that respond to tough choices and Union Jack seemed to be so sexy to my party right now. And Richard Hooper95, tweeted us to say, I’m just sick of Sir Keir licking the boots of conservatives rather than actually standing for any of the things he ran on.
Nish Kumar There have been repeated U-turns on progressive policies. Keir Starmer’s aping at times of conservative rhetoric and the recent refusal to scrap a benefit cap that could lift children out of poverty. And an apparent purge of party members who don’t toe the line. So should Labour be braver, given its huge lead in the polls? And is the party in danger of shooting itself in the foot by focusing on internal squabbles? Lots to discuss then, with our guest, Neal Lawson, who’s a former speechwriter to Gordon Brown, founder of the Center Left Pressure group Compass and presenter of their podcast, which is called It’s Bloody Complicated. I’ve felt the need to say it’s called that rather than it sounded like a pejorative statement by me about the podcast. Neal’s been in the news because he’s been threatened with expulsion from the party for tweeting in favor of tactical voting. Neal, welcome to parts of the UK.
Neal Lawson It’s a real pleasure to be here.
Coco Khan Great. Well, listen, Neal, you know, we’ve been talking a lot in previous weeks and I’m sure you’ve seen all the headlines about the purge of the left in the Labour Party. But am I right in thinking that you’re a bit of an outlier in that in the scale of Tony Blair to Jeremy Corbyn, where would you put yourself, Neal?
Neal Lawson Neither position I would place myself. I see that the attributes of Tony Blair and I see the attributes of Jeremy Corbyn. And actually I think if you put those two together, you might get quite an interesting political mix, which might be the sort of thing we can present to a country. But Labour can’t do that. It’s either you’re one thing or the other, and if you go the other way, how you go and this is how we go around in nature. I would say we should have a politics where people from different positions in the party can talk to each other, learn from each other, and develop an offer that doesn’t just win office, but wins power. And that’s what I’m really interested in. Both of those things, not one or the other, but both also.
Nish Kumar That was sort of the ticket that Keir Starmer ran for the leadership on. Essentially, it was a sort of maybe I interpreted it wrong, but certainly his leadership seemed to be a lot of the popular corbynite policies, but presented with a sort of Blairite sheen. I mean, was that your reading of it now?
Neal Lawson Yeah, it well, it kind of it kind of was newish. And and then the ladder was kicked away very quickly. And you, you know, you begin to think a little bit cynically. You can’t help it about what was this really about? Because I think that’s exactly the offer that the country needs. We need some pretty bold policies, but I’d go execute, be executed properly. By executed I don’t mean shoot, you know, put into practice. I mean, I would be the one who’s being executed as they try and me out.
Coco Khan Well, and that’s actually what’s happening to you at the moment. Actually, for our listeners, if you wouldn’t mind, what is going on with you. You’re currently suspended from the Labour Party, is that right? And you’re under investigation.
Neal Lawson I’m no, I am under investigation. Yeah. I’ve retreated on holiday to Portugal, which I think is a neutral country and they can’t extradite me. I think if I stay in Portugal and never come home, they’ll never be able to find out. So I’m. Yeah. So I’ve been accused of breaking a rule that says you can’t advocate for a policy other than Labour, which I understand. I’ve been a member of the Labour Party for 44 years. I understand that rule. I wasn’t advocating for that. I was saying that cross-party cooperation, which is one thing that Compass, my organization is all about, there’s a progressive majority in this country. There’s always been a progressive majority in this country. If it acted properly together, the Tories would probably, you know, hardly ever, if ever get in. So all we’re saying is that let’s work with Greens and Liberal Democrats in order to demonstrate that that progressive alliance is there and you get progressive policies. I was just saying it’s good when Labour Democrats and Greens work together and for that sin, they’re saying that I could be sent out of the party, put in the noise that had my head chopped off. If I’m found guilty, then I am thrown out of the party immediately and I’ve put in a legal position to say, look, this is nonsense. I wasn’t doing that. I was just saying that, you know, if you probably a. Ray. We live with Democrats and Greens and we could build that progressive majority and that progressive alliance. This would be a good thing for the country to defend progressive policies, which is what we need.
Nish Kumar Do you think the issue was the specific seat that it was a tweet that Layla moran had done about Lib Dem and Green cooperation? Do you think the issue was that it was a Labour seat? And is that a problem, do you think?
Neal Lawson Well, it’s a problem. It’s a problem for them. I mean, I’ll be absolutely honest. When I when Layla asked me to retweet this as an example of progressive, you know, politics, grown up politics working together, I just did it. I didn’t look at the details and maybe that, you know, that’s my fault. But I was not advocating about the particulars of the city. I was advocating for the principle that people who broadly agree with each other should should work together. And just the quick back story. So that seat was there. Layla won the seat because the Greens stood aside for her. She won narrowly by a kind of less than the Green vote normally is. So we you know, they defeated a Tory MP in that seat because of proper cross-party cooperation and a payback for the Greens for standing beside them was in this council seat that the Liberal Democrats would stand aside for them, which is a lot of factors in a quid pro quo. I was just endorsing that general kind of let’s work together. Let’s not split the progressive vote. Let’s not let the Tories through. 62 seats in 2019 were lost where the progressive vote was bigger than the regressive vote because it’s split. This is madness. There would be no Boris Johnson, there would be no Liz Truss. There would be none of this stuff. If if progressives could learn to work together and beat that common enemy, which is the Tory Party advocating for that, not the specifics of that. See, I certainly wasn’t saying vote against the Labour candidate. I would never do that. I know the rules, but I don’t like people like me or some people at the very top of the party don’t like people like me talking about progressive alliances and what that infers in terms of a new politics. Coalitions are proportional representation and all of that, and I think they’re trying to nip it in the bud.
Coco Khan Well, that’s well, I’m glad you said that, because that’s what I thought when I first saw the story, not least because the tweet was from 2021. That was quite a while ago, and only now actions being taken. Can I ask this doesn’t sound glib, but who did you upset, Neal? Who did you upset that they had to go? They raked through your tweet. This sort of.
Nish Kumar Like it does just seem that seems like it has to be the most logical explanation said only because the thought that somebody at Labour Party HQ was just combing through everyone’s tweets. It feels like they should have better things to do.
Neal Lawson Well, it’s a better idea, you would have thought so, given, you know, there’s an election in just over a year’s time and their resources resources could be deployed a bit better. And I feel a bit sorry. I mean, in a piece I write in The Guardian, I said, you know, I send my love to my accusers because then he’s kind of like, have you got nothing better to do? Is your life so sad that you’ll sit in the basement scrolling down my rubbish tweets? You know, I’m so. So I don’t know. I don’t know how much from the top or how particular it was. But even if it’s just someone in the party with the power to walk in to the they call it the compliance office which is just wonderful insight into the compliance officer said kill him right Drive by and shoot this person and I’m you know, a reasonably seasoned political operator. I’ve got access to the media, I’ve got access to the Guardian, I’ve got lots of friends, lots of colleagues over. I’m fine. I can look after myself. It’s all the other people that they pick on who don’t have access to the Guardian. It just getting shot in the basement and their bodies get dragged out the back, you know, for reasons that we’ll never, ever know. And so I just go suck this frigging the soldiers. They told me in the letter I go that you shouldn’t say anything, that everything was confidential. But I thought, I’m not having this in the quiet. I’m not having it in the basement. I’m not going to be shot in the back of the head because I don’t want anyone else to be. I’m going to make a bit of a fuss about this and say, look, this isn’t on. It’s not on for me. It’s not on for them. It’s not on for progressive politics. Because what they’re trying to say is, let’s ignore that progressive majority. Let’s not start from that positive position. Let’s go to Rupert Murdoch’s champagne, some apology and bend Andy to those people and give those people what they want. Under first past the post and the domination of the media and rich donors and the swing voters. And that’s not going to set us up to do the things we need to do in government. When you’ve got this progressive majority, which one do you want? I know which one I want and which one I’m going to defend.
Coco Khan So can I ask you I want to talk about I mean, tactical voting in general, right? Isn’t there an argument that it actually deprives people of their democracy if certain candidates step down because you end up voting for someone that you don’t actually really believe in? How what do you think tactical voting means in terms of just pure democracy?
Neal Lawson Well, I think the real big problem of our democracy is our voting system. First past the post, which kind of says that, you know, you can only vote for the least worst option. You know, I mean, some people think Labour’s the bee’s knees, but not everyone does. And what you don’t if you’re a green or you’re a liberal Democrat, you’re something like something else. You have to hold your nose. 70% of votes in the 2019 general election did not count. They didn’t count because your candidate didn’t win or because you know your candidate had already won by a landslide, you know, and then your votes didn’t make any difference. 70% of our votes don’t count. So that’s the real problem. And so people try and game the system under the rules. They vote tactically. They campaign tactically to try and get round and get the least worst option. And the best I really don’t like Coco is is the fact that the hypocrisy of our political class is, particularly on the Labour side, who want everyone to vote tactically, but they don’t want to talk about it. They don’t make an effort. They didn’t. Labour made no effort in Summerton and Frame by election the other way, quite rightly, because it would be stupid to do that. They’ve got an implicit deal with the Liberal Democrats not to kind of, you know, fight on each other’s turf in byelections. That’s a sensible thing to do. Let us all into that secret. Let’s open that up and say that our system isn’t working and signal really clearly that we should be working together across the peace. I cut my teeth in the run up to 1997, and I watched the way that Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown worked together. They set an agenda and they divided up the country and they worked together and they had a grid together and they attacked the Tories together and they won. We should be doing much more of that stuff now, not least because the challenges of now are so much greater than the challenges of then. And I really worry that Labour might fall over the line first and then not have a clue what to do. And then then the political problems already stall.
Coco Khan Okay, devil’s advocate though. If we are PR, then it’s progressives. Famously, progressives like to argue with each other. Could we be sure that if we had PR, that anything would get done?
Neal Lawson Well, we can’t be sure of anything, obviously, but I think any any future politics is one that is going to have to be negotiated by all of us rather than anything rather than imposed. We’ve seen the last 13 years of Tory rule under first past the post. We’ve seen absolute chaos. We’ve seen nothing done. We’ve seen huge majorities in Parliament, you know, having no legislative power whatsoever. It can’t be any worse in any of that. You look across the continent, it’s not perfect. There’s no nirvana. But at least people have the ability to form alliances, to just go into elections and speak their own truth and then form different groups afterwards, you know, And I want to explode all of our rigid old industrial, binary adversarial, short term political system and give us a chance of something more mature. And that’s what this is all about.
Nish Kumar But I mean, in Spain, there are dangers to the proportional representation system as well, because, I mean, in Spain we came within a whisper, but, you know, a very, very narrow margin of the far right party having a severe influence. I mean, that’s something that I think it probably rightly scares quite a lot of people, progressive people in this country.
Neal Lawson I really understand that notion. And democracy is democracy, right? You have to you have to accept that people you don’t like are going to win sometimes in some places. And my real worry is not whether PR represents everyone’s voice, which is what we should have in politics, it’s whether we get a narrow Labour win at the next election with no broadly based support for it and no broadly based progressive policy agenda. And if it fails, it won’t just be progressive politics which might fail. It might be people’s confidence and belief in them in democracy. And that’s my huge worry that what we’re opening up is a big, big slide to authoritarian populist, right? If we don’t get our politics right in the moment, we’re not. I fear, you know, if we want to remake our country in the way that it needs to be remade, a new society is going to have to be done on a new politics. And so I think the stakes are really, really high at the moment.
Nish Kumar Can I just go back to 1997 briefly in something you mentioned already. You were involved and very involved with the Labour Party in the late lead up to that election. And you played a pretty central role in this conversation between Paddy Ashdown and Tony Blair that you talked about. Can you just take us back and talk us through the mechanics of that? How that came to be and what it involved practically in terms of the 97 election?
Neal Lawson Yeah. So there’s a big long conversation between in particular between Labour and Liberal Democrats. And right up to the very top of the party, there was a really strong personal relationship between Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown, brokered by the by the likes of Roy Jenkins, and they go on really well and they were seem to get on really well. Underneath that there was kind of policy detail being thrashed out by Robin Cook on issues of democracy alongside Robert McClelland. And then on the operational side, I was able to help bring together Peter Mandelson and now Law ran out. Chris went out from the Liberal Democrat side and we met in a secret dining room in a secret hotel, and they kind of pulled out lists from their kind of pockets about where their target seats were and the lists were exchanged so they knew where to target their resources. And then somehow the list found its way to that to the Mirror newspaper. And they did a double spread, you know, back in this is back and before social media and saw the Internet and they did a big double page spread on this. If you want to get rid of the Tories, this is where you should vote. This is how you should vote to the benefit of both sides. So it was a kind of, you know, and then through the election campaign, they kind of campaign together, they shared information. They attacked the Tories on the same day in the same way, etc.. So it really worked and it really worked in that pincer movement. And I kind of remember that and learn from that and think, isn’t it good when progressives work together? And my word, wouldn’t it be good if we could do that again?
Coco Khan Now, can I ask you, were you surprised when you received that letter saying that someone had gone through your old tweets and seen seen this this contraband opinion? Were you surprised? Did it surprise you?
Neal Lawson I’ve been out to lunch with a friend and had a nice Friday afternoon lunch, and I come back and switched on my computer and saw this disputed thing.
Coco Khan I was.
Neal Lawson Completely flabbergasted. It was kind of a real a real shock. After 44 years, it doesn’t say Dania. After 44 years of continued membership and being the branch secretary, the district secretary, the election agent, the advisor, the speechwriter, whoever. We’re sorry to inform you that you may have slipped up and we’re investigating this. It was just like straight in with someone’s L.H., You’ve done this. You’ve been accused of basically, you’ve got 14 days to make your case and whatever else. So it came out in some respects. You know, I’m quite critical for the reasons I’ve been stating of the Labour leadership. I was of Corbyn. I am of Starmer, you know, and I continue to be until it gets into a position where I think we can help the country in the way in the way it needs. But yeah, I was so shocked and then I was kind of cross for, well, I might want to leave some space, but you’re not.
Coco Khan You’re young. Yeah.
Neal Lawson You know, it’s. It’s. It’s my party. I’ve been. I’ve belonged to all of these years, so. Yeah, I was, you know, I was a bit short and then I got into is I try, I’m going to do something about this. I’m not I’m not taking this. I’m not having this, you know? So then I, then I went on the phone and called my friends.
Coco Khan To what extent is this climate of, you know, members being pulled up on things? Is this a particularly Starmer like a Starmer issue? I mean, obviously, like you said, you’ve been a member for 44 years. You probably have a longer view than I do. Is is this a unique moment in history?
Neal Lawson Well, that 44 years, the worst thing, the most shocking thing about this whole thing to me, Koko is being called a veteran. You know, this is has really rocked me to my core. I’m now described as as as a veteran. And I you know, I’ve been through I’ve been up you know, I’ve been on I’m on the sort of so-called soft left of the party, the sort of center left of the party. I’ve been involved in faction fights and disputes all my political life in the Labour Party. I know they go on the right and the left and then the left hand, the right backwards. And the bit about a soft left was always been, Hey guys, can we kind of learn how to live together? You’ve both got a point. If we put your two points together and I was saying about Blair and Corbyn earlier, we might be able to meld those into something interesting. But the scale of what’s happening now under the under the kind of Starmer regime, you know, they’ve had a near-death. They’ve had two near-death experiences. Firstly, when Ed Miliband beat David Miliband and that kind of rotten to the core, and then as they saw it, Ed, you know, opened the gates up to Corbynism and then that really scared them about their hold on, which they see as their policy. So they’re really determined, I think, to make sure that nothing like that can ever happen again. So I think some of this is about making the party a hostile environment for people who believe in things that they don’t know Every every party has to police its borders. If you’re anti-Semitic, if your, you know, hate speech, if you’re of course, of course, decide, you know, what where your boundaries are. And police said, but within that broad charge, we have to be able to have a range of opinions because only with a range of opinions can you meet the complexity of the world that you face. If they narrow everything down to one small faction who think they’re right about anything, you’ve got no ability. So as I say in that that that complexity, pluralism really matters because when you have a plural politics, you see all the points and all the angles and understand it and get the feedback and get the criticism, which is what politics needs.
Nish Kumar What would it mean to you to be expelled from the Labour Party? I know you don’t enjoy the term veteran. I just as I don’t enjoy being referred to as an uncle by my nephew. But what would it mean to you to be expelled from the party that you’ve been involved with for four years?
Neal Lawson And it would really, really hurt. I’ve you know, I’ve set the policy at every every level. I’ve served it loyally in in my interpretation of of its best interests. I understand that not everyone agrees with me, particularly about Progressive Alliance stuff, although virtually every everyone apart from a few about three people at the top agree with me about proportional representation. So it really it would really it would really hurt. You know, I joined when I was 16 to say I’ve never had a left over anything and maybe I should have done over Iraq or some of the civil liberties stuff, you know. So it would be painful. It would be painful to leave my colleagues and my friends who I’ve worked with. And what’s been horrible is that, you know, people have emailed me and said, I’ve left because of their treatment of you and I don’t want anyone to leave the Labour Party over me. I’m definitely not worth it, you know. But if they do throw me out, I will continue to advocate exactly the same, which I think is harmful. Plural, beautiful, loving, caring, kind, ambitious politics. You know, because, I mean, the whole party thing is kind of failing its constraints and feeling like it’s taking us up a cul de sac. We need to. That’s why I want PR to blow all of this stuff open so that we can have a politics can do, you know, do what we need. So I will be really disappointed, you know, because I think the Labour Party is the biggest tent in the progressive campsite, you know, and really matters. And I want to influence it and make it better. So I hope they don’t throw me out, but it won’t stop me. You know, whatever they do.
Coco Khan I’ve voted Labour my whole life. I’ve very, I’d say probably never voted for the leadership. I vote for the movement, the tent, all those different voices. I wonder if they don’t have this big tent, how many votes they’ll they’ll lose.
Neal Lawson Well, I think I think that’s a danger. And I think what Labour tends to do is take people for granted. It took Scotland for granted. It took the red wall for granted. Now I think it’s taking kind of progressive grain, cosmopolitan, ambitious, hopeful voters for granted and not what we saw in those elections. The Green Party increased its vote in all three seats. They are increasingly looking like an attractive offer to a lot of people. And if you get even a sliver of people stopping voting Labour and voting green, you know, then it could really damage their electoral prospects. But this isn’t just about electoral you. They should be talking to the Green Party. You know, they should be. I mean, I listened to your podcast the other week with Marie Blackman. Oh, I broke my heart to think that someone with such a generous, kind, funny, you know, form of socialist politics is giving up and leaving. They’ll be jumping for joy that Caroline Lucas is giving up in Brighton. She’s a fantastic politician and a fantastic person. And it’s going to take all of those people and more to meet the climate cost of living I whatever crises. So the Labour Party’s really got to learn. This is now the 21st century. We’ve got to be much bigger, much broader, much more generous, much more open, you know, because that narrow down could tribal only we know best and everyone else is covered by this thing is not going to work.
Nish Kumar My final question for you, Neal, and it is well within your democratic rights to not answer this question, but if there was an election tomorrow, would you still vote Labour?
Neal Lawson Oh. I always I always vote Labour. But I think I think that people should look around them. And I think that they should look and see who is the best place, you know, alternative to being a conservative. And I but I shouldn’t do that, you know, And that works for Labour people who should think about where they live. But it also should be about, you know, Liberal Democrats and Greens thinking about voting. Labour and Labour benefits much more from tactical voting. But don’t just don’t just give you also try and put a price on, you know, try and make sure that whoever you vote for tactically put pressure on them to support parties and pull a Green New Deal to crack down on stupid ideas like, you know, the to child limit on child benefit so that we’re not giving these people a free pass just to come back because it’s such a rotten system and you have to hold your nose and go for the least worst option. I think everyone’s tired of that politics. Everyone wants something genuine, authentic and hopeful. And, you know, as I say, the country people and party activists are way ahead of their leaders. Let’s keep running as hard as we can to a new politics for a new society, you know, and then we might just get there.
Nish Kumar Thank you very much, Neal Lawson. We really appreciate you taking the time.
Neal Lawson Lovely to see you both. Good luck with all that. Keep listening to wonderful podcast and great to join you today.
Coco Khan Thank you.
Neal Lawson Take care. Bye, guys.
Coco Khan This week’s POD save the UK hero and Villain of the Week both center around the Home Office. That’s a pretty big clue as to who are villains. But first, my hero are the children. I mean, my hero is always the fan in general, but these particular kids at St Gerard’s Catholic Primary School in Birmingham. So you may remember that Robert Jenrick was our villain a couple of weeks ago after he ordered cartoons on the walls of an asylum center to be painted over. They were meant to make any children brought to the center feel welcome, and yeah, he painted over them. So boys and girls from St Gerard’s, aged eight and nine, gathered up more than 100 pictures and stories for the children, which were sent to the Kent Intake Center. There’s a lovely picture on the BBC four beaming children holding up their pictures. They’ve got all the children’s icons, they’ve got Pikachu, they’ve got this minion. I don’t know the name of the character of this minion. They all look the same to me. That’s the point of them, isn’t it?
Nish Kumar Are you racist against Minions?
Coco Khan What do you mean?
Nish Kumar They all look the same to me.
Coco Khan Well, Did you have this with your mum? Well, she got really into Minions. No, I think that was a phenomenon that happened with parents really, into, like, minion emojis. Minion cards that skipped pass Mrs. Kumar.
Nish Kumar Yeah. I do think my parents know what a minion is.
Coco Khan I don’t even know if my mum has actually seen any of the Minions movies, but there’s something about the Minion that really chimed with her and she was always sending minion gifts and giving minion gifts and cards and stuff. And I anecdotally spoke to some of my other millennial friends about this, and they also pointed to the Minion mother phenomena. But anyway, I digress. So in these lovely pictures we’ve got, you know, all the legends. My producers just told me this minion is called Kevin. So Kevin the Minion Pikachu, Minnie and Mickey. It’s just a lovely, lovely story where, you know, even at that sort of tender age, they can see an unfairness and see an injustice and they want to correct it, which really sort of speaks to, you know, just the innate human ability for compassion. So there’s a lovely quote here from eight year old Ophelia. She told the BBC, It made me feel really sad and angry because some people in the world aren’t being very nice to them and I think they should be welcomed everywhere. Adorable. Couldn’t agree more, Ophelia.
Nish Kumar Absolutely adorable at the opposite end of that spectrum. My villain of the week is someone who I mean, I guess the subtext of every one of these episodes is that she’s the villain of the week, but it’s the Home secretary, Suella Braverman. A judge has found that she acted unlawfully in And brace yourself for this, withholding payments of £3 a week to provide healthy food for children aged 1 to 3 and to pregnant women who are seeking asylum. So asylum seekers are actually not allowed to work for the first year that their claim is being considered. And after that, only those on the government’s shortage occupation list are allowed to work. So many asylum seekers are actually completely dependent on the Home Office for their survival in the form of payments of £45 a week if they’re in shared housing or £9 and £10 a week if they’re living in a hotel. Among the cases in which asylum seekers struggle to provide basics for their children owing to delays and support payments. The judge said one faced in existence, which was in many ways wretched, particularly for a young child who went without on many occasions and in another suffered very saddening circumstances where the parent was reduced to asking in shots for leftover food and that the children had become lethargic and visibly thinner. So the president has acted unlawfully. I mean, we could almost just record this and drag and drop it every week. So the problem is a fucking disgrace. I am increasingly finding it so embarrassing to be a British Indian when Suella and Rishi Sunak are walking around being the most public figureheads of my community and being absolutely unacceptable people. And all I can say is I think I’m starting to feel how white people should have felt for the last 500 years, just broadly embarrassed on behalf of my community.
Coco Khan Now, we won’t be here next week either, because just like our politicians, we’re having our own little summer recess, aren’t we, Nish?
Nish Kumar Yes, that’s right. We’re going on holiday. I am going to, I imagine, spend a lot of time just sleeping in front of my sofa. That’s a holiday for me.
Coco Khan In front of your sofa. Not on the sofa.
Nish Kumar No. Sometimes I just lie on the floor in front of it.
Coco Khan Like a dog?
Nish Kumar I couldn’t even make it to the sofa like a dog. I get so lazy that I can’t really be bothered to mount furniture.
Coco Khan Oh, no. That sounds like a dog with depression dude.
Nish Kumar Just lying on the floor.
Nish Kumar Yeah, well. It’s not a dog, but the Russian is not a million miles away from me.
Coco Khan Oh, God. Well, we can have a chat about. I’m off. I’m going on honeymoon. Yeah. And every time I tell anyone that, they’re like, Didn’t you get married two years ago? Yes, correct, I did. But I got married during COVID, and so you couldn’t travel anywhere. And I am a great believer in eating things out. I’m going to have my 25th birthday in about two weeks. Keep the joy going. Make it last longer. It makes sense.
Nish Kumar If the thought of no Uncle Nish or Auntie Coco for two weeks is making you feel a bit panicky, don’t worry will be off next week. But then the week after. We’ve got a special episode coming into the Feed, which is a fascinating chat with the author and campaigner Gina Martin, whose brave and tireless efforts led to a new law to criminalize upskirting. She’s got a new book out about having difficult political conversations with people in your life. Look out for that. That’s dropping on August the 10th. And then we’re back, as usual, on August the 17th. In the meantime, please get in touch with us by emailing PSUK at Reduced Listening dot co dot UK. We would love to hear from you. We’d also love to hear your voices. So why not send us a voice note on WhatsApp? Our number is 07514644572. Internationally, that’s +447514644572. We’re always happy and excited to hear from our international listeners and to find out what questions you have for us about weird British things that we’ve just forgotten to explain. If you’re new to the show, remember to hit follow on your app and you’ll get a new episode every week.
Coco Khan I like I like that line that you said. We’d love to hear your voices. It’s quite intimate, isn’t it?
Nish Kumar Yeah, it is.
Coco Khan I guess they hear our voices, so it’s only fair.
Nish Kumar I mean, I think of these podcasts as a very, very long, high produced voice notes.
Coco Khan I would just say hey. Oh, sorry, I forgot to hold the button. I think that’s make it real. And just finally, the British Podcast Awards has a public vote, the listeners choice. And if you’d like to vote for us, it’s free and easy to do. Just go to www dot do people still say that any more. www dot I think everybody knows isn’t it.
Nish Kumar Think people just go just jump straght in.
Coco Khan Please go to the World Wide Web. And go to.
Nish Kumar Fire up AOL.
Coco Khan Yeah open that Firefox guys for British podcast awards dot com forward slash voting anyone can vote it’s really quick it’s really easy we would really really like it so yeah maybe that’d be cute and yes once again the address is British podcast awards dot com forward slash voting.
Nish Kumar And if they have an award for podcast that most feels like a voice note from two of your craziest friends. We are surely a shoe in.
Coco Khan Pod Save the UK is a Reduced Listening production for Crooked Media.
Nish Kumar Thanks to senior producer Musty Aziz and digital producer Alex Bishop. Additional production assistance was from Annie Keister.
Coco Khan Video editing was by David Koplovitz and the music is by Vasilis Fotopoulos.
Nish Kumar Thanks to our engineer David Dugahee.
Coco Khan The executive producers are Louise Cotton, Dan Jackson, Madeleine Heringer and Michael Martinez.
Nish Kumar Watch us on the Pod Save the World YouTube Channel. Follow us on Twitter and picked up where we’re at Pod Save the UK or on Instagram through the Crooked Media channel.
Coco Khan And don’t forget to hit subscribe for new shows every Thursday on Spotify, Amazon or Apple or wherever you get your podcasts.