UNCUT: What kind of country elects Boris Johnson as its prime minister?

09/12/2019, 09:59:48 AM

by Jonathan Todd

The Italians and Berlusconi, the Israelis and Netanyahu, the Americans and Trump. Why, we wondered, did countries subject themselves to bunga bunga leadership?

It couldn’t happen here, we used to think. Now, however, we seem set to elect as prime minister, “a compulsive liar who,” according to Nick Boles, “has betrayed every single person he has ever had any dealings with: every woman who has ever loved him, every member of his family, every friend, every colleague, every employee, every constituent.”

It is civic self-abuse to return to office those responsible for this decade’s indignities: from the hostile environment to universal credit, from the bedroom tax to 320,000 homeless, from the longest pay freeze in 200 years to the tragedy of Dickensian poverty depicted by Dispatches.

The Supreme Court annulled Boris Johnson’s illegal prorogation of parliament. They can’t make him face Andrew Neil. If convenient, any convention can be bent, any truth elided.

“Will Northern Irish businesses,” asked Andrew Marr in an interview that he deigned to, “have to fulfil customs declarations to trade with the rest of the UK?” Johnson insists not – contradicting his Brexit secretary.

“Is the NHS,” Labour has asked, “for sale?” No, says Johnson. But the US, especially big pharma, one of the most influential lobbies in Washington DC, will require otherwise.

“Can he,” we should wonder, “get Brexit done?” No trade deal on the scale of that Johnson seeks with the EU has been concluded on the timescale that he imposes.

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UNCUT: The narrow path to another Labour surprise on election day

05/12/2019, 07:35:47 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Most polls point to a big Tory victory and each media appearance by Jeremy Corbyn seems almost focus-grouped to boost their majority. But despite the sea of data and commentary, there has been relatively little consideration of the factors which made 2017 the thunderbolt result that it was. These haven’t gone away and could yet mean 2019 turns up another surprise Labour result.

Four were particularly relevant in 2017: the revolt of the under 44s, Corbyn’s ability to turn out non-voters, demographic change in Southern constituencies and the propensity for Remainer tactical voting.

In 2015, the Conservative victory was built on fighting Labour to a draw among 25-44 years olds and then winning well among over 55s. In 2017, Labour built huge leads in age groups up to 44 but then lost even more heavily among voters aged 55 and older. Here are Ipsos Mori’s figures from their 2015 and 2017 exit polls:


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UNCUT: Labour’s core demographics are dissolving before our eyes

30/11/2019, 10:36:15 PM

by Rob Marchant

While the election is still, like 2017, messy in terms of the multi-party split and further complicated by Brexit, the issues at stake are at least simple. For a start, no-one is remotely pretending that this election is about overall policy of the two parties.

No, it is about two things: a. Brexit and b. who is felt to be the least unsuitable leader, given the direness of both the main ones There is really nothing else. Hence, the ridiculous, magic-money-tree manifestos of the two main parties, which will be even more roundly ignored than usual.

So, what’s new about this election?

The first thing we might observe is the virtual collapse of Labour’s Leave vote.

Some Labour MPs may well be sincere believers that Brexit will be good for the country, or that they are morally obliged to implement it because of a (supposedly “non-binding”) referendum. There are surely other MPs who campaign for it, simply because they fear they will lose their jobs.

But, in Leave areas, they will mostly lose them anyway.

Exhibit A: the analysis by former staffer Kevin Cunningham on Labour seats, which showed that the biggest drop in the country has been in Bassetlaw (John Mann, now resigned) and Don Valley (Caroline Flint, standing again, but under terrible pressure).

Whatever their motivations, Labour cannot compete with the Tories for the pro-Brexit vote – why would any Leaver vote for a party transparently trying to ride both horses at once, when they can have an unequivocally Brexit party in the Tories? Hence, the bailing from Parliament of Mann, De Piero and Hoey, the going independent of Field and the grave danger to Flint and others still standing for Labour.

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UNCUT: Labour’s manifesto needs to support a referendum on Irish unity

15/11/2019, 07:45:07 AM

by Kevin Meagher

As the midwife to the Good Friday Agreement back in 1998, Labour is, quite rightly, immensely proud of book-ending 30 years of the troubles with a political deal, that while not perfect, has delivered the prospect of peace, reconciliation and progress in Northern Ireland.

Ever since its signing, Labour conference speeches have been replete with references to it. As soon as Tony Blair mentioned her in his leader’s speech at the 1998 conference, the hall rose to applaud Mo Mowlam, the Northern Ireland Secretary who did so much to bring about the agreement.

As recently as the 2017 manifesto, there was a customary reference:

‘The Good Friday Agreement, which Labour helped to negotiate, is one of the greatest achievements of Labour in office…and we remain committed to working with all sides to deliver real peace and greater prosperity to Northern Ireland.’

As party grandees gather this weekend to thrash out the contents of Labour’s next manifesto during its Clause Five meeting, they need to include some specific provisions in relation to Northern Ireland, recognising the tectonic plates are shifting and Labour can’t rely on past glories.

Let’s start with the obvious. As well as a deal securing a devolved power-sharing assembly and all-Ireland institutions, the Good Friday Agreement is also something else. It is – and was always meant to be – a blueprint for bringing about Irish unity through exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

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UNCUT: What became of Gordon Brown’s likely lads?

12/11/2019, 08:31:11 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Gordon Brown, then chancellor, was travelling on an RAF flight when he found out that Ed Miliband had been selected as Labour’s candidate in Doncaster, according to Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre’s biography of Jeremy Corbyn’s predecessor as Labour leader.

“Brown was seen in a rare moment of real joy, punching the air as if his local football team had just won the FA Cup, and punching it so hard that his hand hit the luggage compartment above his head with a crunch.”

Brown was also pleased when Ian Austin and John Woodcock, like Miliband ex Brown aides, were selected as Labour candidates. Now, after the Tories have reversed the public spending that Brown increased, deepened the poverty that Brown tackled, and sought a Brexit that Brown resisted, Austin and Woodcock advise voting Tory.

After all that the Tories have done, to return them to Downing Street would not just rub salt in the wounds, it would invite their deepening.

Nothing about Boris Johnson’s campaign launch made sense. We were meant to believe that it was in a crowded hall in Birmingham; it was in a half-full one in Solihull. He insists he wants to get Brexit “done”; he will have it drag on, pulling the UK apart, country-by-country, business-by-business, family-by-family. He wants to unleash the UK’s potential; that will be forestalled by the monstrous distraction that he wants to get “done”.

Of course, it is not reverence for Johnson that drives Austin and Woodcock but deep suspicion of Corbyn. Phil Collins, writing speeches for Tony Blair when Brown was punching luggage compartments, last week categorised Labour MPs in The Times based upon their feelings towards Corbyn.

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UNCUT: Ed Miliband, Lucy Powell…we see you

10/11/2019, 10:46:24 PM

by Rob Marchant

Tom Watson’s resignation last Thursday as Deputy Leader is not a great blow to the hopes of Labour moderates in the sense that they have lost a great figurehead. The loss at this stage is, sadly, merely symbolic.

In the end, Watson’s Achilles heel – the perennially poor judgement displayed in his former close friendship with Len McCluskey, and his part in such disasters as the Falkirk debacle and the Blair letter – meant a truly wasted opportunity, of galvanising moderates during four years of Corbynite destruction. No, no Denis Healey he.

The moderates’ overall failure to shake off their worst leader ever, or even to stand up to his cabal, is a tragedy tinged with farce which will surely one day be the subject of much debate by historians.

Some, like Watson, have bailed, and who can blame them? Many noble exceptions are protesting every move by the leadership and rightly challenging the party’s continuing slide into a racist swamp, as exemplified by the disgraceful selection of a number of openly anti-Semitic candidates in the coming election.

But if there is something more frustrating than that failure, it is to see MPs we once thought of as decent, mobilising to support a floundering party regime and elect a racist.

It is to be seen in the uncomfortable grin of Caroline Flint, feeling compelled to gush about sharing a stage with Party Chair Ian Lavery, the man who paid for his house with the invalidity payouts of sick miners.

And then there are those who once espoused a quite different political direction. Backbenchers who have no reason to toe the party line, yet who now not only acquiesce to, but fully embrace, the ugly reality of the current party and hope that no-one will remember when this is all over. They will.

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GRASSROOTS: Labour needs to avoid another Gogglebox moment on its Brexit policy

09/11/2019, 10:39:25 PM

by Tom Clements

I still remember the agony of the 2015 exit poll with vivid horror. The chiming of Big Ben leading to David Cameron and the words ‘Largest Party’ winded me; and then David Dimbleby’s confirmation of the projected number of Labour seats knocked me to the ground. I hadn’t given up hope until the result of South Swindon was announced showing that the Tories had done more than enough to continue to govern.

Dazed and confused, it took me a while to process the result before starting to think about what factor could possibly explain it. It wasn’t until I watched that week’s Gogglebox election special that I could start to understand why Labour had been so decisively rejected in 2015.

From the Leader’s Question Time event in Leeds, they saw a voter ask Ed whether he thought New Labour had spent too much. When Ed replied that he didn’t, despite some grumbles from the audience, I barely batted an eyelid.

But on the Gogglebox sofas, family after family spluttered their disbelief. Whatever the validity of the coalition government’s argument about the public debt, it had clearly stuck Miliband and Labour as being economically profligate defecit deniers. And in the stark light of the disastrous election result, the realisation hit me that this is what people had thought all along and we had been unwilling to counter it.

Whether or not we would learn from this has been low on the list of problems facing the Party since 2015 so I hadn’t given it much thought.

Until recently.

Hearing Corbyn, Starmer and other favourites of the front bench struggle through explaining the Party’s Brexit policy, I felt a familiar dread. Upon hearing the dear leader proclaim that his plan is “clear and simple” brought me out in a cold sweat.

Unless Labour establishes a clear, coherent and easily explainable position on the key issue of this election, then we will be facing a similar Gogglebox moment. And, even though it has been plain to many for some time, now that the definitely, maybe plan has been exposed to the public, the penny might finally drop.

So Labour needs to get real on its Brexit indecision and establish a clear plan.

Firstly, they need to publish their proposed deal. Despite the embarrassment of the Ed Stone and shadow budget in 1992, if we are to be taken seriously on Brexit then it is the least we can do. We need to explain why we believe in maintaining the custom’s union and keeping strong ties with the EU.

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UNCUT: This election is about stopping Boris Johnson

30/10/2019, 01:03:00 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“Politics,” as JK Galbraith sagely put it, “consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”

While Jeremy Corbyn’s approval ratings indicate that some find him unpalatable, there is no doubt that Boris Johnson is disastrous.

“Who governs?” asked Edward Heath. “Not you,” came the general election verdict. “Get Brexit done,” Johnson says. “No, thanks,” must be the response.

Done, in the Johnson lexicon, means endless debates about our relationship with the EU sucking the oxygen out of our country for years. The end of the beginning of Brexit’s joyless revolution. A decisive threshold, depriving us of hard-won rights to live and work across our continent, but only an appetiser.

The main course propels Northern Ireland towards a united Ireland, Scotland out of the UK, and the bedraggled remains of the UK on a desperate trajectory towards a US president who finds so much to dislike in a European Union founded on the rule of law, committed to tackling climate change, and acting together to have more clout.

The UK best endures, only remains recognisably what we have known it to be, by remaining in the EU. We only stay in the EU via the confirmatory referendum that the 2017 parliament has denied us.

Of course, it would have been better to have had that referendum and then this election. Labour should have offered to support Johnson’s withdrawal agreement in exchange for that referendum.

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UNCUT: The last twenty-four hours just showed how Labour can save itself

21/09/2019, 08:49:03 PM

by Rob Marchant

In one of the maddest developments in an already certifiable world of Labour politics, we have, within the last twenty-four hours, had the following: the party’s leadership threatened to immediately abolish the role of Deputy Leader (i.e. strip Tom Watson of his party office), only to pull back at the last minute from doing so.

And, during that time, we have learned some important things we didn’t know yesterday. More of that later.

The trigger to Corbyn’s reverse ferret? Simply that almost all commentators, party officials and politicans, past and present, had stated the bleedin’ obvious: that, with the country facing the meltdown of a hard Brexit and a possible general election in the next few weeks, a massive bun-fight in the party on the eve of its conference was probably not a great idea.

We will probably never know the extent to which this was Corbyn’s idea and how much his cronies, but Jon Lansman’s attempt to railroad his motion through the NEC has backfired: Watson will now be emboldened and knows that the PLP will back him.

This one incident finally caused real threats of party splits in a way we have not seen in the whole of the last four years. Resigned MPs who had not plotted in a long time were suddenly talking about how a rival power centre could be set up and initiate a challenge to Corbyn or even a new party.

In short: the party veered pretty close to genuinely hitting the self-destruct button this morning. The fact that it did not showed that there is still some power in Labour’s moderates, should they choose to exercise it.

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UNCUT: Time for parliament to take back control

02/09/2019, 07:00:59 AM

by Jonathan Todd

There is no mandate for no deal Brexit. We did not vote for it in the 2016 referendum or the 2017 general election. On both these occasions, we were told that Brexit would be negotiated. That it would deliver “the exact same benefits” and more.

Theresa May could not negotiate these benefits. Boris Johnson won’t. Nor would Jeremy Corbyn or anyone else. This is less the art of the deal and more the impossible Brexit cocktail.

We can’t mix this cocktail and keep the UK united. We can’t exit the single market and customs union and avoid a border on the island of Ireland or in the Irish sea – otherwise the UK serves as a backdoor to EU tariffs and regulations. We can’t allow a border on Ireland and uphold the Good Friday Agreement – risking peace on the British Isles. We can’t deny Nicola Sturgeon that such a UK is a very different one from that which Scotland voted to remain part of in 2014 – creating grounds for a rerun of that vote.

We can’t mix this cocktail and maintain our prosperity. We can’t erect trade barriers with our biggest trading partner and avoid this. We can’t be poorer and afford better public services. We can’t move overnight from EU membership to third country status and not subject business to a sudden erosion of competitiveness, which no amount of preparation can fully mitigate, while also so diminishing the leverage of our trade negotiators that they will grasp at chlorine-washed terms.

We can’t mix this cocktail and sustain illusions of “taking back control” and being an “independent country”. We can’t stop the world and get off in the 1950s – we can only choose, as we inevitably must, with whom we align. We can’t Brexit and not be a pawn in the destructive games of Trump, Putin and the IRA – with a senior IRA member wanting “Brexit … as hard as hell.”

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