UNCUT: Opposing Brexit would unite Labour, rout Corbyn and rob the Lib Dems & SNP of their faux radicalism

20/02/2017, 10:35:28 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The vote on Article 50 underlined Labour’s existential problem. It is clear that a party which makes a case then abandons it is in trouble but this is not a Corbyn problem as it is the story of the party over the last 25 years, since the 1992 election and the abandoning of John Smith’s National Insurance increases. Having lost the “double whammy” election, this was rational, but  Labour then adopted moving to the right  as a policy – ‘triangulation’ – which left Labour without an identity. And as Atul Hatwal argued on 28th January, Labour’s internal politics from 2015 were dominated by a return to ideological purity when the parliamentary tactic of abstaining on the Benefits issue led to the election of Jeremy Corbyn. However Corbyn has taken the MPs into the lobbies in support of Theresa May. You could not make it up.

With Jezza turning into Tony Blair, it’s time to address the root issue. New Labour accepted the Thatcherite view that There Is No Alternative, so appeasement was the answer, and this worked in the 1997 and 2001 elections. But not thereafter. Now Labour faces challenges on all fronts. It has already lost Scotland, and in England and Wales Lib Dems can take the Remain voters and Tories and UKIP the Leave voters. A party can be wobbly on some issues some of the time, but not on the defining issue of an era.

However a week in politics is a long time, and as a by election strategy giving in to the Brexit lobby has some short term advantages. How it plays in Copeland I do not know, but in Stoke accepting Article 50 has made sense though UKIP is still playing the card that Labour will ignore the Referendum. Hardly! In the local paper the Stoke Sentinel, (17th February) Labour candidate Gareth Snell’s statement is “I accept without hesitation the Referendum result. I have said repeatedly that if I had a vote in parliament I would have voted for Britain to leave the EU. My focus now is on winning the best Brexit deal for Stoke on Trent”. This has allowed Snell to avoid the criticism levelled at Paul Farrelly, in neighbouring Newcastle Under Lyme, who was a rebel.

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UNCUT: Jam-eaters will decide Copeland. Based on her trip north, Theresa May has clearly never heard of them

18/02/2017, 10:30:26 PM

by Jonathan Todd

It is easy to poke fun at Cumbria. The land that time forgot. Northern accents that can’t quite be placed – “I thought you were from Yorkshire”. Withnail and I going, “on holiday by mistake”. Lots of sausage. Little hip and happening.

Most people in Cumbria, I feel, look at Millom, a town of 8,000 people in the south of Copeland, scene of one of this week’s byelections, as the rest of the country looks at Cumbria – far-flung, incomprehensible. “It is,” I was once told by a friend from Workington, “a funny place, Millom, isn’t it?” Millom, in turn, redirects this perception to Bootle, a nearby village.

“What is it that you don’t have in Bootle? Electricity?”

Coming from Bootle, I grew accustomed to mocking enquiries such as this in the Millom schoolyard. At least, no one called me, “bad Bootle UKIP meff”. That is Paul Nuttall from Bootle, Merseyside – a more gritty and urban place.

The sitcom Porridge is set in a prison just outside Millom. A hapless guard bemoans losing his wife to, “the bright lights of Workington”. A lag, played by Ronnie Barker, sympathises that he, “can’t compete with that”. As much as the canned laughter indicates that the rest of the country find the notion of a cosmopolitan Cumbria oxymoronic, the Millom prison guard and my Workington friend would see themselves as coming from different places.

While there is a rivalry between Whitehaven, very much in the Copeland constituency, and Workington, a town just north that gives its name to a separate seat this side of the boundary review, they’d see each other as fellow jam-eaters and Millom and Bootle as remote outposts.

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UNCUT: Ian Lavery should not be Labour’s Elections Coordinator. Or anything coordinator, with his toxic past

17/02/2017, 02:00:50 PM

by Rob Marchant

Since Jeremy Corybn’s rise to prominence, there has been a seemingly never-ending succession of skeletons pulled out of the closets of senior Corbynites, to the delight of Tory press officers everywhere.

There was the relationships of Corbyn himself with Holocaust denier Paul Eisen, and with Hamas terrorists; John McDonnell’s outspoken pro-IRA stance; the support of a motion supporting denial of the Kosovo genocide by both; the suspension and reinstatement of MP Naz Shah over anti-Semitic remarks; the suspension of Momentum vice-chair Jackie Walker over the same; the well-known Stalin apologism of Corbynites Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray; and so on. Doubtless the Tories are currently holding fire on a number of the more juicy ones, keeping their powder dry for 2020.

But the connecting thread between all these embarrassments has been clear: no matter how senseless or unsavoury, they have all been essentially connected, in the minds of the perpetrators at least, to political positions.

For example, the connections with anti-Semites are always justified on the grounds that the people in question are merely anti-Israel (of course!) The IRA connection? Because they were romantic freedom-fighters, naturally, who happened to kill people. And the Stalin connection because, well, Communism wasn’t all bad, was it? However dire the story, there was always some kind of contorted political justification which allowed the people involved to continue to look at themselves in the mirror the following morning.

In contrast, this was clearly not the case with Ian Lavery. Lavery is Corbyn’s new Elections Coordinator and the man in charge of every set of elections, we presume, from now until Labour is inevitably decimated in 2020.

Until now he has been in relatively low-profile roles, such as Shadow Minister for Trade Unions and Civil Society, and Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office. No, with Lavery the story was not political: it was about his questionable behaviour on a matter of simple personal ethics.

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GRASSROOTS: Trump has got a point on NATO, Russia and climate change

15/02/2017, 10:19:43 PM

by Julian Glassford

Winston Churchill is widely regarded as the greatest Briton in history. Here was a larger than life, notoriously brash and uncompromising Western leader, and one who allied himself with a Russian tyrant. 70 years on, and the political mainstream finds itself consumed with juxtaposed vexation. The source of all this consternation: a similarly bold and irrepressible, if relatively uncultured, rabble-rousing “Russophile”.

Granted, Donald Trump is no Churchill, but rather than jumping the gun in mourning the presumed death of American exceptionalism and Pax Americana, perhaps we ought to take the opportunity to pause, contemplate, and culture our concerns.

The cry that “democracy has lost its champion” smacks of selective amnesia regarding a string of less than illustrious foreign adventures from Vietnam to Iraq. It is also as if certain commentators skipped classes on the role of European ‘soft power’ and complex interdependence. It should be clear to any learned, objective analyst that increased stability and human flourishing has in many instances occurred not because, but in spite, of US-led interventions and initiatives.

Clearly, there is much to be said for the exercise of high minded influence by major players on the world stage – no-one wants to see a return to the dark days of American isolationism – but beware the false dichotomy. Notwithstanding the solipsistic antics of a certain “dangerous vulgarian” i.e. widely condemned neo-mercantile Trumponomics and discriminatory migration policy, a United States of Anarchy is not a realistic prospect.

Precarious as the present international order may be, it is unwise to presuppose that an unfiltered US President – or British foreign secretary, for that matter – will send the house of cards crashing down; that is, so long as the UN Security Council remains united in their opposition to nuclear proliferation, and the East-West arms-race in prospect confined to peaceful competition. Read the rest of this entry »

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UNCUT: Labour’s Article 50 rebels are the party’s best hope for challenging a hard Tory Brexit

14/02/2017, 10:09:26 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The vote on Article 50 saw Labour officially support a viciously reactionary Tory proposal, which it had failed to amend in any way. Corbyn’s official order to vote for an unamended Article 50 undercut any future influence Labour may have on the next steps. Given that voting for a Tory measure was the complaint against Harriet Harman and the front bench in the summer of 2015 when Corbyn gained the support needed to win the leadership, this is more than a mistake. It is to repeat the mistakes of the Blairite past.

The official Labour position was to move amendments to improve the bill which would allow it to support the trigger of Article 50. While a concession was made, and this needs examination, it was not to satisfy Labour. It was to keep Tory MPs from rebelling and with the exception of Ken Clarke it succeeded. The overall effect, as the hard left Another Europe Is Possible put it, in an accurate observation

“The vote wasn’t close, because Labour voted for it despite losing all its amendments”.

The actual concession was described by AEIP, accurately but not entirely correctly, as “the government agreed that parliament will get a vote on a Brexit deal before it is concluded. This is meaningless, because when this vote happens MPs will have a gun to their heads. Either they accept the government’s deal or the UK gets no deal and crashes out of the EU anyway.”

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UNCUT: The problem with the Labour Right

13/02/2017, 10:25:09 PM

In a pair of short essays on the state of the party, Kevin Meagher casts a critical eye over the state of both the Labour Right and the Labour Left. First the Right.

Let me start with a counterfactual. The basic problem with the Labour Right is that there isn’t really a ‘Labour Right,’ per se.

What I mean is there are several tribes on the right of the party – and the bad news is they have less and less in common. For a long time, they overlapped, with the glue of winning elections and holding office binding them together.

There are big differences between those on what we usually refer to as the moderate side of the party, and the radicals on the left. But we need to appreciate there are also differences within these agglomerated wings.

So those on Labour Right may broadly agree on a sensible, moderate approach to politics, but the various strands of opinion within it still have different aspirations and priorities.

First, we have the neo-Blairites clustered around their ginger group, Progress. They pine for a return to the certainties of New Labour. Tony ‘n’ triangulation, so to speak. They are happy with winning for the sake of winning.

That perhaps sounds dismissive. It isn’t meant to be. Clearly, any successful political project requires electoral victory and the progressives, or neo-Blairites, have things to say that are worth hearing.

But there’s a self-satisfaction about their view of the New Labour era which is quite unjustified. Of course, many positive changes were made during the Blair-Brown years of 1997-2010, notably managing a gently revving economy for a decent period and investing a huge amount in frontline public services.

But for too many people, New Labour simply did not change the weather.

Steel works, coal mines and factories did not reopen. Perhaps none of that was realistic, but it was, however, emblematic of a bigger problem: The types of decently-paid industrial jobs that sustained the British working class simply never returned and New Labour had no response to that.

It is a failing that is now killing British social democracy. All the other welcome policy interventions come to naught if working people cannot earn enough to buy a home, bring up their kids and enjoy life.

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UNCUT: We are a European country

06/02/2017, 10:33:13 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The wealth of the UK depends much more on European trade than with any other export market. Our prosperity, much more interwoven with continental prosperity than with prosperity over any other geography, is used to finance public services that are discernibly European in their scope and coverage. Popular support for such public services rests upon values that are more akin to those held elsewhere in Europe than beyond.

We are, in other words, a European country. Europe is not the EU. But the EU is the key organising unit for the advance of shared economic and political interests within Europe.

The challenge for the UK, outside of this organisation, is to sufficiently maintain the GDP growth that we have enjoyed within this organisation to continue to fund public services to the extent that public opinion requires. While the UK is exiting the EU, trade with other European countries is so vital to British economic performance that relations with the rest of Europe will continue to be key to this challenge.

It has long been said that the UK wants Scandinavian public services on American taxes. It has never been said that we want Singaporean public services on Singaporean taxes – with much more limited Singaporean regulation to boot. Yet the prime minister – with zero democratic mandate for this position – places this threat above both our EU partners and the British people.

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UNCUT: Theresa May’s need to cosy up to Trump says everything about Britain’s weakness

02/02/2017, 09:33:25 PM

by Rob Marchant

It seems that nothing can really surprise us any more. Just as Jeremy Corbyn has, as the FT’s Janan Ganesh put it so beautifully last year, been “exactly as bad as he was always going to be”, Trump has already dulled our senses by doing, well, exactly what he said he was going to. Many did not really believe him; they said he should not be “taken literally”. Turns out they were wrong.

A ban on Muslim refugees, temporary though it is in theory, has actually been enacted. On Holocaust Memorial Day. Trump has demonstrated that, if you really don’t care that much what people think of you, there will always be some who will love you precisely because of that.

People are already normalising Trump, simply because he is president of the world’s most powerful nation. But that does not make his actions normal, in any historical sense, and we would all do well to remember that.

Presidents do not lie casually, as a rule. Neither do they enact overtly racist (or, to be more accurate, sectarian) executive orders. Since the 1930s, one cannot remember a time when it was considered perfectly ok to target large and vulnerable groups of people, and bar them from entering the country on grounds of religion or country of origin. And that time didn’t end well.

It is up to liberals to find a way out of this which does not reinforce Trump. Playing the victim is the favourite trick of the populist politician, and the outrage of liberals is easy to mock. But that does not mean, either, that we should shut up: that way lies madness. The fact that someone has been democratically elected does not mean that we have to just accept every idiotic thing they might do.

At the same time, opinions have differed on Theresa May’s mercy dash across the Atlantic. This, too, has been normalised by some commentators as a normal US-UK meeting. It should not be, for some glaringly obvious reasons.

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GRASSROOTS: By backing the Brexit Bill, Labour is writing the Tories a blank cheque

01/02/2017, 05:42:28 PM

by Frederick Cowell

Sometimes metaphor’s are over cooked – the repeated reference to the 1972 European Communities Act as a ‘conduit pipe’ in the Supreme Court judgement in the recent case brought by Gina Miller being one. But sometimes metaphors are apt none more so than the blank cheque metaphor being used about the current Brexit Bill. The problem with a blank cheque is once you have signed it and handed it over the other party is free to fill in whatever they like into the amount box. To strain the metaphor still further; that Parliament has to ‘pay’ and deliver Brexit is not at issue – that has to be done to respect the referendum result. The question of what and how you ‘pay’ is however at issue and is what Labour should be addressing at the moment.

The Bill is very simple – just two clauses – but its brevity belies its significance. It represents one of the most significant retrenchments of executive power in recent years. The Supreme Court judgment in Miller revolved around the capacity of executive power – called in the British Constitution the Royal Prerogative. The government’s contention was that they should have the power to activate Article 50 without parliamentary control. The technicalities of the way that the 1972 Act was enacted and subsequent treaties meant the government were not entitled to use the Royal Prerogative to initiate the process of leaving the EU. They needed to get Parliamentary legislation instead.

What could have turned into an opportunity to – borrowing Keir Starmer’s phrase – to legislate for the 100% rather than the 52% or 48% has basically turned into a government power grab. The un-amended version of the Bill simply provides a framework for the government to do what it wants regarding Brexit. All of the negotiations will be conducted using the Royal Prerogative for foreign affairs which is notoriously difficult to scrutinise, does not have to be authorised by Parliament and is notoriously difficult to review in the courts. In short there is no real parliamentary control until 2019. Then a vote will be given two things.

Firstly the final Brexit deal with the EU (if there is one) but this vote is a formality – even if the deal is appalling there will be no chance to amend it, as that would require it to be cleared through the EU institutions and member states. A piece of legislation might not even be required here as this would simply be the ratification of a treaty, which does not technically need an act of Parliament. Any attempt to reject it would be basically impossible as by 2019 the UK would be required to ‘take what it can get’. Full exit would be just days away and something would be need to replace the EU’s international legal framework otherwise the markets would be in free fall and the UK would be plunged into an economic crisis.

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GRASSROOTS: The West must now tread very carefully in Syria

31/01/2017, 01:27:03 PM

by Julian Glassford

Rebel forces have just lost their last toehold in Aleppo. Now residents displaced by conflict may begin to return to (what’s left of) Syria’s historic second city. Whilst we should of course recognise the horrific devastation wrought, mourn the casualties, and put pressure on all sides to cease their use of indiscriminate/inhumane tactics, surely this is cause for relief? Downing Street and the Foreign Office don’t seem convinced.

Having openly criticised Saudi Arabian and Iranian involvement in regional “proxy wars” recently, alas, within days naughty boy Boris Johnson had rowed back on this bout of intellectual honesty. The British Foreign Secretary was back on-message in time to deliver a hastily reworked speech at the Manama Dialogue Summit, where he spoke of a need to engage and work with such countries to encourage and support reform. Emerging from a meeting of foreign ministers in Paris, a day later, he added: “there can be no military solution in Syria”. Notably among attendees at said event was the school-masterly US secretary of state, John Kerry.

Whether Mr. Johnson appreciates that a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to the Syrian civil war remains a prospect every bit as distant as meaningful, progressive reform across the Arabian Peninsula is unknown. Whatever the case, and however one feels about the UK’s idiosyncratic top ambassador, he certainly seems to be spending a lot of time on the road, actively seeking out foreign counterparts, stimulating debate, and occasionally shifting it significantly. All of a sudden the Yemeni  civil war has been back in the news, for example.

The Syrian conflict has now been raging for almost as long as the entire duration of the Second World War. So far, no attempt at a mediated civil settlement has gained any real traction, despite several attempts, with ceasefires having lasted no more than a few months. Scholars of international relations, ethnography, and conflict and security will tell you that there is a reason for this: the battle President Bashar al-Assad and his supporters are fighting is an existential one.

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