GRASSROOTS: Labour’s splits over Brexit and Corbyn are threatening to spiral out of control

30/11/2020, 11:34:35 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Brexit has been driven off the front pages by Covid 19. This has created what can only be called The Reality Gap. The real world of the negotiation on the Withdrawal Agreement has been overlaid by the determination of the Johnson administration to walk out on January 1st whatever happens. A sensible government would have extended the deadline until after the Pandemic was beaten, but sense and sensibility are absent in an increasingly unreal world where debate is minimal.

The negotiations are clearly posing serious threats, either of a thin agreement – still the most likely outcome – or a No Deal. The slogan which won the 2019 election of an Oven Ready Deal was never realistic. A deal likely to keep the same terms as the UK now enjoy was not on the table. As the pandemic has done major damage to the British economy, a thin deal could create a major recession. No Deal would be worse. But as the British cannot deal with two major threats at the same time, Brexit has become invisible.

The risks were underlined in mid-November by the BBC report that Felixstowe – Britain’s major container port – was blocked and imports were stranded, some having to go to Rotterdam and come in by other ports. The delays will continue through December and into the New Year – withdrawal is not going to help the situation.

In Kent the lorry access through Dover and the Channel ports after January 1st is so problematic that lorry parks for up to 7000 lorries are being built. For the companies that rely on imports and exports, on top of the pandemic, the financial consequences of the Felixstowe bottleneck are already very serious.

Since problems with trade have such major risks, the Labour Party should be putting all its energies into holding the government to account. Sadly it is in danger of lapsing into civil war over the EHRC report and the removal of the parliamentary whip from Jeremy Corbyn. As this could involve legal action -hopefully this will not happen – any discussion of this is inadvisable and could be sub judice.

Indeed some elements of the Left – including Jon Trickett – believe Labour should apologise for backing a confirmatory referendum and not lining up with Farage, Johnson and Cummings in regarding the 2016 vote as the last word. Their views were set out in an article on Labour List on November 12th demonstrating continued fault lines in the Party over the successful attempt by the Tory Right to split progressive forces. However this does not mean that Labour should ignore the problems coming in six weeks time. Certainly the current internal ructions are a further distraction, and if unions do withdraw election funding the next five months up to the May elections this will threaten the basic function of the Labour Party – to fight and win voter support.

The Party is starting to spiral out of control.

Trevor Fisher was a member of the Labour Coordinating Committee executive 1987-90 and secretary of the Labour Reform Group 1995- 2007. He was a member of the Compass Executive 2007-2009

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GRASSROOTS: Yes Labour must bold, but it must not fall into civil war

25/11/2020, 11:07:49 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Only two responses to my recent piece on the need for Labour to be bold, addressed the issues. Ted Wilson is wrong to argue that the SNP should be held to its 2014 “Once in a Generation” slogan and no 2nd vote be allowed, this is the Boris Tory line and it is both politically and constitutionally wrong.

Constitutionally it has always been the case than campaign slogans cannot be enforced. Bill Clinton won his first presidency on Keynesian economics, went to the treasury and promptly junked all his campaign pledges – and embracing treasury orthodoxy did him no harm at all. No campaign slogan is ever enforceable. As Johnson is currently showing with the “Oven ready deal” slogan of 2019. Politically it is not the case, as Theresa May accepted, that a second referendum can be denied, so Labour should stop endorsing the Johnson-Tory position.

Meanwhile Labour’s internal politics are becoming toxic. Corbynites and anti-Corbynites are tearing the party apart. The three month suspension should be accepted and hostilities suspended.  As legal proceedings may happen, any discussion of the EHRC report and implications are sub judice, but a deeply ominous threat has emerged from three unions who are reported to have threatened to remove funding for the May 2021 elections unless Corbyn has the whip restored immediately.

According to the Mirror, Unite, CWU and FBU have made this threat which must be withdrawn. It is a direct attack on Labour’s campaigning and helps the Tories. Activists fighting elections depend on having central funding when needed, especially for Commissioner elections. The threat by the three unions goes to the heart of what Labour, as the Labour Representation Committee, was formed in 1900 to achieve – fight and win elections. Elections cannot be won without funding. Withdraw this threat NOW.

And the second valid comment on my article? Tafia for once got something right. Michael Meacher was indeed a lovely man. And saved the Labour Party. At a crucial moment in the battles of the 80s when the NEC was finely balanced between the factions, a vital vote was on a knife edge and Meacher normally voted with the left. Neil Kinnock whispered to Meacher, sitting next to him, “If I lose this vote I am resigning”. Michael switched his vote and won the day. I bought him a drink when next I met him, he did enjoy a drink. But he was also a political realist and knew when the leader had to be backed.  Activists on the NEC have a choice to make. Back the current leader, not the last one, and stop a civil war.

Trevor Fisher was a member of the Labour Coordinating Committee executive 1987-90 and secretary of the Labour Reform Group 1995- 2007. He was a member of the Compass Executive 2007-2009

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GRASSROOTS: Why the Labour Party still has a problem with black men (and it’s getting worse)

19/11/2020, 11:05:15 PM

by Paul Wheeler

Back in 2014 I wrote a comment piece for Labour List. I was criticised then for an ‘unhelpful contribution to the debate’. Well it wasn’t meant to be helpful it was a warning that without action the existing problem about black male representation in the Labour Party was likely to get worse.

The recent elections to the NEC are a classic example of how the last six years have been wasted. Terry Paul and Jermain Jackman were excellent candidates who would have added much needed experience and knowledge to our National Executive. Neither were elected. Whilst we rightly congratulate the progress of black women to become Labour MPs at the last General Election the applause is missing for any new black men in the PLP. It’s shameful to our party that we now have more black men as Conservative MPs than on the Labour benches. The position in Labour local government is even worse with precisely two black leaders of Labour councils. Recent events in Southwark where a talented black councillor was rejected as Leader shows that the situation is not likely to improve either. We can criticise the Conservative Party for its politics but it’s record of promoting black men to positions of influence in Parliament and the party organisation is one that that we conspicuously lack.

For a party that believes in planning and social justice we display a remarkably ‘laissiez-faire’ approach to candidate selections. As a consequence, we have a ruthless free market with considerable advantage to those of insider knowledge of the process and networks built up over years at University and within parliament and favoured think tanks. The problem has been compounded as our membership becomes more middle class and an implicit tendency for many members and councillors to select in their own image. The problem could have corrected in the last six years if the Trades Unions (many who have large numbers of black men as members) had made serious efforts to sponsor talented black male candidates but they haven’t. In fact over the last three General Elections several Trades Unions, including my own Unite, have made the situation worse by endorsing privileged white men as favoured candidates in safe Labour seats such as Ilford South and Leeds East.

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UNCUT: Labour needs to be bolder. Keir Starmer should call for an extension to the Brexit deadline until Covid is under control

15/11/2020, 11:23:53 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Whatever is happening inside Number 10 with Cummings and Lee Cain reportedly ousted, it is clear that a turning point has been reached. This is likely to be Brexit related, as it was never the case that the slogan “Get Brexit Done” was within reach even before the pandemic struck. There was no “Oven ready deal” that could be simply signed off, and the sensible thing to do even for committed Brexiteers was to postpone the extension deadline to get the pandemic sorted. Labour should be saying this, but instead the Hard Left spokesmen Jon Trickett, Ian Lavery and Laura Smith issued a report titled No Holding Back on 12th November.

This lined up with full throttle Brexiteers who aim to take Britain out of the remaining EU arrangements on January 1st, advocated by Nigel Farage and his associates on the Far Right of the Conservative Party. Farage reacted to reports Cummings was going with the fear that Brexit would not be delivered. We will see in the days to come whether this is the case, but in the meanwhile Trickett and Co demanding that Labour apologise for cautiously wanting a confirmatory referendum on Brexit is nonsense. The 2019 result was bad: it would have been much worse if Labour had drive Remain voters into the arms of other parties: as it managed to do in Scotland anyway.

While a postponement of the Brexit negotiations is the compromise even  Brexiteers could accept,   the fundamentalists like Cummings, Cain and Farage were always unlikely to do so, but Labour could and should be saying it is time to postpone negotiations. Sadly even on less contentious issues Labour is unable to require sensible changes of course by the government. The most immediate is cancelling school exams in England in summer 2021. Tory policy to reinstate exams next summer is a bridge too far. Schools have lost five months teaching March to July. The only pupils who will have been taught the syllabuses completely are in boarding schools, or pupils with rich parents who can buy in coaching or online teaching or both.

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UNCUT: President Biden: a great victory for America, the world, and the left

08/11/2020, 10:39:13 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Benjamin Netanyahu has been prime minister of Israel for longer than anyone else in the history of the state. Vladimir Putin is Russia’s longest-serving leader since Stalin. Silvio Berlusconi served as prime minister of Italy for longer than anyone since World War II.

America has done well to rid itself of its right-wing populist president in only four years – especially when set against the infrequency of one-term US presidents and the advantages bestowed on the Republicans by the Electoral College.

It seems, more than anything else, his shambolic handling of a pandemic that has now killed approaching 240,000 Americans undermined President Trump. The departing president has had an uneasy relationship with scientists, like Dr Anthony Fauci, that advise on Covid-19.

Rather than being beheaded, as Trump’s former adviser, Steve Bannon, suggested, Fauci will be empowered under President Biden. While no heads appeared on pikes outside the Trump White House, he went further than any other US president to normalise violence as a political tool – recently, for example, failing to condemn his supporters who blocked Biden’s campaign bus.

The transition to Biden is a step away from aggression and grievance, towards compassion and reason. America has turned a page. With more votes than other candidate in American history and the highest vote share of any challenger since FDR in 1932, Biden will win the popular vote by more than four million.

Polls prior to the election indicated that the Democrats would win the presidency, Senate and House so decisively that Biden would enjoy the latitude to introduce a programme of reform as ambitious as that introduced by FDR with relative ease. Sadly, America did not quite so comprehensively turn the page. But Biden enters the White House with the need for such transformative legislation much more widely recognised – including, it might be suspected, by the incoming president himself – than when his most immediate Democratic predecessors, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, did so.

Having campaigned in poetry, there is a desperate need for Biden prose big enough to meet America’s deep problems. However, notwithstanding the opportunity afforded in January by two elections in Georgia to salvage Democratic control of the Senate, such ambitions likely depend upon Republican Senate votes.

Biden represents change, the persistent importance of Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, continuity. Perhaps, given the sand that McConnell threw in Obama’s wheels, bitterly so.

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UNCUT: The EHRC report is conclusive and damning. But Corbyn’s suspension has now changed the game entirely

30/10/2020, 10:37:04 PM

by Rob Marchant

It was a day of shame for Labour, that is true. Never before had it been criticised so incontrovertibly about racism: something which a decade ago would have seemed to many unthinkable.

But it was also the day where an enormous boil seemed to be lanced and, at last, a road out of the mess of the last decade became clearly visible.

Pity the poor commentators up and down the country. All about to file their pieces about the EHRC report and Starmer’s reaction to it, when suddenly the massive news of Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension meant that all bets were off.

The content of the report, it therefore suffices to say at this point, was damning and conclusive: the party had broken equalities law and needed to make amends. Interestingly, although it confirmed that the Leader’s Office had clearly interfered with a large number of complaints, it did not call out Corbyn himself specifically. In fact, although the report’s author did comment in an interview that obviously the person at the head of the party at that time needed to carry some responsibility, Corbyn actually got off rather lightly.

This is not, we need to underline, because Corbyn was not responsible. It is because the limited terms of the report addressed the specific question of institutional anti-Semitism, and did not answer the simple question being asked by Jewish activists on Twitter: why was there such a massive upsurge in anti-Semitism on Corbyn’s watch? If that question, to which the answer seems perfectly obvious, had been asked and data sought, Corbyn would have been in a much more sticky situation.

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GRASSROOTS: Schools will continue to protect the vulnerable even if the government won’t

26/10/2020, 12:34:12 PM

by Tom Clements

Alec Shelbrooke didn’t vote to extend free school meals to children during school holidays because he was wary of “adding (an) additional administrative burden to schools”. Whilst it is always nice to hear concerns about teacher workload from a Member of Parliament, especially one that has consistently voted in favour of real term cuts to school funding forcing us to do more with less; it is important to expose this sentiment for the offensive nonsense that it is. 

The simple fact is that schools have stepped up throughout this crisis to support families in need. Without fuss or complaint, thousands of school staff, both teaching and non-teaching, have gone above and beyond to limit the impact of the crisis on the children that we are fortunate to serve. 

Throughout lockdown, schools remained open so that vulnerable children were able to continue to learn. Lessons were taught, independent study spaces were staffed and hot meals were provided. At the height of the crisis, teachers, support staff and dinner ladies put the children’s interests above their own. They provided a sense of normality and safety for children who really needed it. 

When the crisis turned the world upside down, schools transformed into community centres in order to offer the support that their families needed. Advice on applying for universal credit for families thrown into unemployment by the ripples of lockdown. Food parcels ordered, packaged and delivered to families who needed them. School budgets squeezed to provide laptops and learning materials to children who needed to study. Free school meal vouchers ordered despite a website that crashed at the slightest demand. 

When September brought an insistence that schools opened in spite of fears of a second wave, schools answered the call. They rolled up their sleeves and got to work, writing contingency plan after contingency plan, to create an environment that was safe for children to learn and staff to work. All of this done in the face of ever changing, and often contradictory, government advice that was often released on a Friday night in a meek effort to avoid scrutiny. Eventually, thanks to the efforts of school leaders and estates staff, children were welcomed back on time. 

And now we are back, school staff have ensured that the experience of children has been as normal as possible. Year group bubbles, staggered starts, face coverings at social times and countless other safety measures put in place to allow schools to reopen have made things different. But, thanks to the kindness and warmth of teachers and teaching assistants, the children have been able to take these changes in their stride. Learning has continued, friendships have blossomed and the simple joys of childhood have restarted.  Read the rest of this entry »

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UNCUT: We need to talk about where the trans self-id debate is taking Labour

11/10/2020, 10:51:15 PM

by Rob Marchant

Last Tuesday, Deputy Leader Angela Rayner stated her view that Rosie Duffield – yes, the Rosie Duffield who has been a champion of women’s rights and bravely declared her own domestic abuse story to Parliament – should “reflect” on the fact that she had “liked” a tweet which described transgender people as “cross-dressers”.

Although Rayner attempted to paint the debate as “toxic”, with “both sides” needing to calm down, this was a somewhat disingenuous deflection; there is no doubt about which “side” she herself has chosen and her criticism of Duffield was clear enough. She was felt to be “upsetting” people.

It is also well documented that, during the leadership campaign earlier this year, Rayner – along with Lisa Nandy and Corbynite challenger Rebecca Long-Bailey – enthusiastically endorsed the idea of self-id for trans folk.

Let’s take a step back for a minute: Duffield did not tweet anything herself. She “liked” a tweet by Maya Forstater, a tax specialist who lost their job for speaking out about her opposition to self-id,  which used a term, “cross-dresser”, which – as Forstater herself points outis frequently used by some trans people themselves. For the record, J K Rowling writes poignantly about Forstater’s case, as well as her own story of domestic abuse, here.

Ah, but she had previous, you say. Duffield tweeted that “only women have a cervix”, which is seen as “exclusionary”. She was then clearly pressured into making an apology. Seriously? Is this what the Labour Party has become, that someone is forced to apologise for stating a biological fact?

That is apparently all you need to do, in the modern Labour Party, to be found guilty of thoughtcrime and asked to “reflect” on how you have “upset” people. Indeed, I myself have probably already invited abuse and social media pile-ons already, via the last few, pretty anodyne paragraphs, and probably added insult to injury by mentioning the now-unmentionable-in-polite-Party-circles Rowling.

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UNCUT: Corbyn’s toxic legacy lingers on in Unite

08/10/2020, 10:43:56 PM

by David Talbot

The seeds of Unite the Union’s recent act of self-immolation were sown in early 2018. In an article for the New Statesman, Len McCluskey opined that Labour MPs who were hostile to Jeremy Corbyn’s then leadership were using antisemitism as part of a “sustained smearing” campaign against the embattled Labour leader. Praising “the great advances” made in the previous year’s general election, the party’s third historic defeat in a row, he vowed that Corbyn’s critics would have to face the consequences.

The following morning the then shadow Brexit Secretary, and now leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, popped up on the Today programme to disavow the party of the General Secretary’s comments. It was “obvious” the party had a sustained problem with antisemitism, Starmer said, and that “denying the problem is part of the problem.”

McCluskey, for all his written word to the contrary, has a repeated history of lashing out against opponents of antisemitism in the Labour Party. A longstanding Jewish Labour Member of Parliament, Margaret Hodge, was “disgraceful and despicable”, British Jewish leaders demonstrated “truculent hostility” and he was “disappointed” in the Jewish Labour Movement when it published a dossier full of testimonies of antisemitism in the party, noting rather darkly that it “doesn’t support Jeremy Corbyn”.

McCluskey had his rematch with Starmer over Rebecca Long-Bailey’s sacking from the Shadow Cabinet in June, calling the left’s fallen protégé sacking “an unnecessary overreaction to a confected row”.

In August, the Unite leader laid the foundations for this week’s announcement telling the Observer that he was infuriated with the Labour leader’s decision to pay substantial damages to seven former party staff who had appeared in the BBC’s Panorama documentary. As the Board of Deputies has rightly noted, it is both ironic and deeply shameful that the leader of a trade union should so disparage and attack party workers for the treatment they endured at the hands of their employers.

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UNCUT: No Deal Brexit could blow Starmer’s strategy

01/10/2020, 10:43:42 PM

by Dan Cooke

Brexit is back. After months when the government’s shambolic response to Covid has monopolized political debate, the imminent expiration of the Brexit transition period on 31 December has reignited the intermittent interest of UK commentators in the nation’s future relationship with the giant trading block on our doorstep.

It took even more than this looming deadline to force Labour’s new Leader and his team to break their strategic vow of silence on anything related to Brexit. Only the furore over Johnson’s lawbreaking internal market bill forced a vocal but limited Labour response: to stress repeatedly that the government must focus on agreeing a deal; and No Deal would be a “failure “ that Johnson would have to “own”.

The first part of this assertion is self-evidently correct. No Deal would be disastrous – not just for Britain’s terms of trade, with the resultant imposition of EU tariffs on goods including cars, food and cosmetics, but also for essential co-operation on national security –  and would simultaneously create the worst possible environment in which to resolve the many vital open matters outside the scope of the current negotiations, such as seeking recognition of equivalence for Britain’s financial services sector.

Such an outcome would be, as Johnson once put it, an epic “failure of statecraft”, for which he and his advisers would be damned by history. However, if that verdict concerned them in the slightest they would have long since stopped getting out of bed in the morning. Instead, they know all too well that the Devil has all the best tunes. They most likely recognize – as Labour should too – that, in the foreseeable future, the fall-out from No Deal offers more favourable political terrain to this government – and one more challenging for the Opposition  – than any deal reasonably in prospect.

Let’s start with the alternative. Suppose a deal is announced with great fanfare in late October, in time to be ratified by year end. Johnson reprises his trick of last November, by returning from Brussels with a last minute agreement, achieved by compromising on his own red lines behind the cover of bombast and boosterism. This time around, the implicit threat of imposing a hard border in Northern Ireland through the Internal Market Bill is likely to be presented as having intimidated the EU into imagined concessions.

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