UNCUT: Labour’s congenital fatalism means it’s in danger of learning the wrong lessons from 2019

20/06/2020, 10:57:30 PM

by Atul Hatwal

There’s much that’s salient in the Labour Together report. The problems of Jeremy Corbyn on the doorstep, an economic prospectus that few believed, a chaotic campaign and, of course, Brexit. This is hardly breaking news, but credit is due for calling this out.

But then there’s also a recurrence of a peculiarly Labour fatalism.

The report states “The roots of our 2019 loss stretch back over the last two decades.” It cites a panoply of long term trends including deindustrialisation, demographic change and declining trade union membership, to explain the steady rise in the Conservative vote in Labour seats, since 2001.

The framing in the report paints a picture of an ineluctable growth of Tory support in Labour strongholds as a function of these deep-seated changes.

To anyone who remembers the late 1980s and early 1990s, this is pretty familiar stuff.

Much the same was written then. Structural factors. Population movement. Shifting values. All were used to explain a decade on decade decline in Labour support, a downward slope starting in 1945 that pointed to final obsolescence sometime in the early 2000s.

Labour Together’s report has a particularly striking line that epitomises the pessimism inherent in this ‘historical forces’ type of explanation.

“Many of these trends are global and have had similar and negative impacts on social democratic and centre-left parties around the world”

Unsurprisingly, Corbynites such as Jon Trickett and Ian Lavery have chimed in with support for this perspective. It’s a crime without a culprit – the politicians in charge are at the mercy of larger forces. It was the system, events dear boy, events, not individual leaders like Jeremy Corbyn or, Ed Miliband (coincidentally a commissioner of the Labour Together report).

In the early 1990s it was Labour’s challenges in the South that were insurmountable. Today, it’s the North and Midlands, exemplified in the notion of the recently crumbled Red Wall.

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UNCUT: If Starmer wants to end Labour’s infighting, then ban Momentum and Progress

16/06/2020, 10:37:02 PM

by Kevin Meagher

There is something fratricidal about the Labour party. Its innate. Division comes naturally, with tribes of left and right, eyeing each other suspiciously. If they did not have to work together in a first-past-the-post system, they wouldn’t. A loveless arrangement and, alas, as old as the party itself; explaining Labour’s uneven electoral record, governing for just 34 out of the last 100 years.

Bevanites. Gaitskellites. Bennites. Tribunites. Blairites. Corbynistas. The list goes on. And even when one faction or other is in control, there is still an irresistible urge to do down the other side. Indeed, there is often a gleeful intensity to this one-upmanship. ‘It’s not enough that I succeed,’ as Gore Vidal put it, ‘others must fail.’

Thankfully, one of Keir Starmer’s key promises in the leadership contest was to end the feuding. ‘Too often,’ he argued. ‘we find ourselves focusing on our differences rather than the values and principles that brought us together, and that comes at a cost. Our party is divided, and unity requires reconciliation.’

So, in a bid to transcend what are often petty, internecine squabbles, he has woven together a frontbench that unites various strands of opinion in the party and elevated basic competence above sectional loyalty. It is a good start, but he needs to go further to show that factionalism will no longer be tolerated.

The best way he can do that? Banish Momentum – and Progress, too.

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UNCUT: Covid has put the NHS front and centre. But Labour needs to beware, 2019 showed that support for the NHS does not equal votes for Labour

12/06/2020, 09:45:56 PM

by David Talbot

On the morning after consigning the Labour Party to a fourth and devastating general election defeat, the Prime Minister addressed the nation from the steps of Downing Street. In the early glow of election victory, Boris Johnson informed the party faithful and, more importantly, the millions of converted Labour voters that the “NHS is this One Nation government’s top priority”.

Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party had tried awfully hard during the preceding six weeks to make the NHS the central focus of the election. Chants of “not for sale!” reverberated around campaign rallies as a dossier exposing the “secret agenda” to sell off the NHS to US corporations was thrust into the heart of the campaign.

It was easy to understand Labour’s desire to move the debate from the Conservatives’ favoured ground of Brexit, and its pithy slogan, to the one policy area the party led on. Indeed, at the start of the campaign, the NHS was cited by more (60%) of the population than Brexit (56%) as the most important issue facing the nation. 68% of Labour’s 2017 voters also named the NHS as their number one priority, and Labour retained a lead, albeit small, on the party best placed to protect the health service.

The NHS was not only an important election issue, but it united a party which was allergic about talking about Brexit and acted as a galvanising vehicle for activists to campaign upon, whilst gnawing at the Conservative’s traditional Achilles’ heel.

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UNCUT: Remember: We don’t always know how it ends!

05/06/2020, 09:49:59 AM

by Tim Carter

Life is very different for everyone at the moment and it is easy to look back on the 2016 referendum or the 2019 UK general election and jump into tribalism or blame. Politics, wherever you looked seemed to be more about blame than anything else.

But then came 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic, to lockdown or not to lockdown, and other decisions that no one was thinking about in December replaced the more mundane political decisions usually facing world leaders. A deadly virus sweeping the world, something more likely to be seen in a Hollywood blockbuster than in real life, demanded more from political leaders than the promises made in manifestos.

The public, looking for leadership and guidance, trusted and followed advice and the rules. Different countries unsurprisingly, took different approaches, some politicians broke away from tribal politics and for a moment we were “all in this together”

Heartbreak and tragedy played out daily on our TV screens, in our newspapers and online. In the UK on Thursday nights at 8pm we clapped, cheered and banged saucepans for those on the frontline caring for our loved ones, those not ‘shielding’ supported neighbours who were, by shopping and collection prescriptions, and talk was of how a post Covid-19 society would be better than what went before.

Cooperation and looking for solutions that worked were the political agenda, low skilled was rightly replaced by low paid and those who worked to keep us safe were now seen in a very different light by many. There was a very small crack where the light appeared to be shining through but the death toll kept rising and the very real suffering continued but we continued to obey and be guided by our leaders. At the heart of all of that was trust. Trust that the truth was being told. Trust that we really were all in this together. Trust that we were following the science.

And then.

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UNCUT: Has Ed Miliband’s moment arrived?

01/06/2020, 08:05:47 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“In 2008-09,” Gordon Brown recently told New Statesman, “we tried to persuade people that it made sense to run a deficit and it was not a problem in the long term if debt rose in the short term. We failed to persuade people. If anything contributed to the return of the Conservatives to power, it was their ability to scare people about the deficit and debt.”

After succeeding Brown as Labour leader, Ed Miliband attempted to become prime minister by positioning Labour to the left of New Labour. This strategy was thought to be justified as the financial crisis of 2008-09 had enlarged public appetite for stronger regulation and an expanded economic role for the state.

In 2015, Labour and the rest of the country moved in opposite directions. Labour’s general election defeat brought into doubt the extent of the appeal of Miliband’s more muscular state. Jeremy Corbyn’s ascent indicated that Labour considered Miliband’s offer too tepid.

“Now,” Brown continued in his New Statesman interview, “the fiscal orthodoxy has changed. What we were criticised for in 2009-10 is understood to be the best way of dealing with a crisis. We’ve got to understand that the only way that you can replace spending power and economic activity when the private sector fails to be able to invest, and consumers are not spending and people are not able to work, is that the government steps in.”

It must be hoped that Brown is right about the fiscal orthodoxy. Yet Jo Harding reminded Uncut, “local authorities are facing a £10 billion black hole due to coronavirus.”

This is despite Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick telling 300 English council leaders and sector bodies in a conference call on 16 March that the government would do “whatever is necessary” to help them tackle coronavirus.

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GRASSROOTS: Social care funding equivalent to 176,000 places for over-65s is about to be cut. In what world is this the right response to Covid?

28/05/2020, 01:21:49 PM

by Joanne Harding

Being appointed Executive Member for Adult Social Care at Trafford Council was one of the proudest achievements of my life. However, it is more than a role: it is personal.

In March 2019 I submitted a motion to Council, asking Trafford to adopt in full the recommendations of the Unison Ethical Care Charter.

As I delivered my speech, I held a photograph of my gran, Annie.

Annie was political, tiny and formidable, and I loved her.

She was an important influence on my life, and I wouldn’t be the woman I am now without having her advice and guidance.

I watched as she was ravaged by dementia: there was confusion; inability to recognise any of us; wandering and putting herself at risk, not able to feed and clothe herself; and needing assistance with the most personal of care.

I saw carers come and go, different ones trying to coax her to eat and drink.

I watched as they watched the clock. Knowing they had limited time to care for her, before they had to head off to the next person needing their support.

I watched as she sat motionless and lifeless, slumped in a chair, as she eventually had to be moved to nursing care.

The woman I knew as fiercely independent was now totally dependent on others to look after her. I remember feeling horrified and terrified in equal measures, every time I went to visit her at the care home that was just too poorly equipped to really care for my lovely gran.

Fast forward to 2020 and here we are in the middle of a global pandemic, with care homes on everyone’s lips.

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UNCUT: When David Evans was North West party director, trade unions were at the heart of his transformation of the region

25/05/2020, 10:16:56 AM

by John Mann

I was appointed by the unions in 1995 to co-ordinate the union links with the Labour Party and act as national union organiser for the 1997 General Election. Soon after starting David Evans was appointed regional director for the Labour Party in the North West.

Union organisation was coordinated regionally and union traditions and strength varied significantly across the countries.

By early agreement with Tony Blair and his General Secretary Tom Sawyer, the unions agreed to prioritise delivering Labour victories in Labours target 90 seats. In some strong union areas like the North West there were only four seats to target. In the North West there were more than a dozen, located in the smaller Lancashire town battlegrounds.

David Evans was at the heart of union involvement, but he had particular structural difficulties, more so than other regions.

The union heartlands were very strong, in Liverpool, Manchester, but also strong industrial towns around Ellesmere port, Widnes and St Helens, making the power bases of the unions the safe Labour  seats.

The North West tradition was locality, with key union figures providing people and money for those stronghold areas and with sitting MPs usually having very strong connections. Many were former union workplace convenors and part of the union powerbase themselves.

Evans had to negotiate through this, telling lifelong union activists and MPs that they would not get the level of support they had always relied on as it was being funnelled into the target seats. It was a battle for hearts and minds and skilled negotiations. Evans mastered both.

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UNCUT: Crank Labour is disintegrating before our eyes. Tuesday’s NEC meeting will be critical in ensuring it doesn’t recover

17/05/2020, 10:31:28 PM

by Rob Marchant

As Keir Starmer puts in two commendable first performances at PMQs, so the upper echelons of the Corbynite house of cards, thankfully, continue to collapse.

The Crank Labour caucus has largely reverted to type in an overt way: one wild fringe in a Zoom conference a couple of weeks back claimed that Labour is institutionally racist against black members, in order to muddy the waters as much as possible against the anti-Semitism accusations and, clumsily, to try and discredit the EHRC before it reports on Labour.

And that Zoom conference was nothing to a second one, a few days later, peddling a similar victim-narrative and where MPs Diane Abbott and Bell Ribeiro-Addy were snapped rubbing shoulders with a veritable Who’s Who of left anti-Semites, such as Tony Greenstein and Jackie Walker (h/t: Lee Harpin).

It is no longer, it seems, necessary to keep up pretences of common sense or decency.

Corbyn himself has also had an uneasy return to the backbenches: not only has he decided that he is too important to observe lockdown but, like an ageing rock star unable to grasp that the crowds are getting much smaller than they used to be, cannot quite get used to the new status quo. No longer hampered by sharp-eyed media advisers keeping him under control, he posts strange videos of himself, not observing lockdown: half of it him standing in the rain actual silence, the other half a shuffling, mostly inaudible tribute to frontline staff.

Politically he, too, has reverted to type: he is now happy to associate once again with the assorted freaks and anti-Semites at Stop the War (remember them? The supposedly anti-war gang who had no problem whatsoever with Assad killing about half a million of his own people in Syria, many with chemical weapons). And now again happy to sign up without reservation to 1980s-style statements on “class war”.

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UNCUT: Five questions to determine the next general election

16/05/2020, 10:48:56 PM

by Jonathan Todd

It is not a sprint to the next general election. Nor a marathon. It is more like 800 metres.

You cannot win it in the opening straight, but you can lose it. Every step counts. And – as Covid-19 has painfully illustrated – new obstacles can appear from nowhere.

Here are five questions to help comprehend this 800-metre random assault course:

1) What will the UK economy be like in 2023/2024?

Sir Charles Bean, a member of the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), has referred to it being “not implausible” that for as long as the lockdown is in force, economic activity will be reduced “by somewhere between a quarter and a third”, and that a three-month lockdown “would knock something like 6-8 percentage points off annual GDP”.

Two months into the lockdown, however, it does not seem likely that all economic activity will return to pre-lockdown levels a month from now. Therefore, the annual contraction in GDP seems likely to exceed 8%.

Perhaps significantly so if a second wave necessitates a return to lockdown and/or the government fail to deliver a track, trace, and isolate system effective enough to enable more economic activity alongside suppression of a second wave.

Even after two months of lockdown, there are still thought to be around 3500 new cases each day. But where are these? Who have they interacted with? Are the sufferers and all of those that they have interacted with in isolation?

It is a massive task to constantly stay on top of these questions. More so than challenges that the government have struggled to overcome, e.g. delivering adequate PPE and tests.

2020 brings depression-era economics, an ongoing and uncontrolled public health crisis, and the rupturing of around 40 trade agreements with over 70 countries. All of which will create a big hole in public finances.

If the Tories respond to this with the “medicine” of the past decade (austerity), our economic and social problems will deepen. There have been worrying signs that this may be where we are headed.

A dozen years after the global financial crisis, we still live in a world of very low interest rates. Instead of austerity, government must listen to this market signal and seize this opportunity.

2) How will the government be perceived to have performed on the economy?

While the economy recovered after our exit from the ERM, the then Tory government’s reputation for economic competence did not.

Even if today’s government were to leverage very low interest rates to drive an investment boom, their standing on economic competence may be poor if they are blamed – as was the case with the ERM – for having caused the calamity from which we are recovering.

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UNCUT: Starmer seeks to cheer miserabilist Labour

14/05/2020, 10:26:53 PM

by David Talbot

One of the many dangers for Labour following its devastating 2019 general election defeat was that, if the pattern from the previous three election defeats were a guide, rather than learning the wrong lessons, it would learn no lessons at all.

The seemingly one constant for the Labour Party since 2010, though, has been its unerring miserabilism. It has relentlessly lectured the country that its future is bleak, its prospects poor and its decision to return four Conservative-led governments wretched.

“The trouble with Ed [Miliband] is that he is just too miserable” so uttered a Shadow Cabinet member in 2015, shortly before the party went down to a second resounding defeat. Miliband had much to say about the travails of the previous five years, attacking austerity, most notably, but his introspection, subdued and ultimately quite gloomy outlook was bettered by Cameron’s innate optimism.

Jeremy Corbyn’s torrent of miserabilism sums up the party’s recent woes. Labour has won, all too rarely in its history, when it has been optimistic about the country it seeks to govern, when it inspires people, understands and enables their aspiration, and when it projects confidence both for now and the future.

The hectoring over austerity, the sheer angst and self-pitying on Brexit, this miserabilist tendency that exudes from the party’s rhetoric, tone and policies has whittled it down to its core. If now is not the time to ask whether this doom-laden strategy has been effective or not, then surely when is?

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