GRASSROOTS: Impractical and dangerous – a so-called ‘Peace Pledge’ would drive Great Britain into a diplomatic purdah

08/02/2020, 09:51:10 PM

by Gray Sergeant

On 3 October 1957, Aneurin Bevan, champion of the Labour Left, delivered a thumping blow to his loyal followers in an about-face conference speech opposing unilateral nuclear disarmament. His words attacking Resolution 24 have become legendary. To disarm, he warned attendees, would be like “sending a British Foreign Secretary … naked into the conference chamber”.

Bevan’s points in favour of maintaining an independent nuclear deterrent remain as true today as they did in the early Cold War. His wider point that foreign and defence policy cannot be dictated by party members still stands too.

Jeremy Corbyn ignored these wise words when he polled members in late-2015 on extending airstrikes into Syria against Islamic State. Now, deputy leadership contender Richard Burgon wants to emulate with a so-called ‘Peace Pledge’ which would force a future Labour government to obtain the consent of members, via a referendum or conference vote, before using military force abroad.

What Burgon’s proposal fails to understand is that when it comes to foreign affairs stealth and swiftness can be critical. Take Britain’s retaliation against chemical weapon attacks in Syria two years ago. Speed and secrecy were essential, as was cooperation with the country’s allies. In similar circumstances it would be an administrative nightmare to conduct an internal referendum, let alone arrange a conference, in a matter of days. Even if the Labour Party could the result would be ill-informed. The party obviously cannot email members the classified material vital to making a judgement on airstrikes. In which case how can anyone expect them to come to a considered conclusion?

Members must trust the judgement of the leadership. This is not to say they should be shut out altogether. They already have a profound say on Labour’s international policy. In 2015 they demonstrated this. Jeremy Corbyn’s worldview was a fundamental change from Labour orthodoxy. Had he won an election these members, via their leadership vote, would have had a monumental effect on Britain’s standing and conduct abroad.

It is easy to laugh off the idea as an unimplementable election race gimmick.  But if it was seriously taken forward it would not be so funny. It would not be an act of statesmanship either, to echo the words of the great Welshman himself, but an “emotional spasm”. One with potentially grave consequences.

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UNCUT: Don’t believe the doubters – Labour can win in 2024

06/02/2020, 10:38:42 PM

by Tim Carter

The fact that the Tories came away victors from the general election in December shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone, the majority was bigger than most expected, my prediction was 37-45 but maybe that was because I have an in-built Labour bias and at times tend to see my glass half full even when it is almost empty!

But politics is always about numbers and with 365 Tory MPs sitting across from 202 Labour MPs the numbers look daunting, leading most sane commentators to decide that the next Labour government is at least two general elections away. But they might be, and probably are, wrong – here’s why.

Back in 2005 the Conservatives had just suffered third general election defeat and their 198 (up from 166) MPs sat looking across at 355 Labour MPs. The talk was that for the Tories the game was over and opposition was now their natural role, they were now the ‘nasty party’ with the Lib Dems on 62 the talk was of ‘two party politics’ coming to an end. The Tories were, we were told, a busted flush.

Howard resigned as leader and a leadership contest was triggered, David Davis was the continuity Howard candidate and in the first round of the contest he was leading Cameron. Following Ken Clarke’s elimination and after the departure of Liam Fox in the next round, the members got to choose between Cameron and Davis – the clear choice offered was change or more of the same and the membership chose change.

Cameron set out on a on a path of reform and detoxification – sound familiar, well it should do because this is where Labour is after three election defeats and the decision members and eventually MPs have to make, is the same.

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UNCUT: Labour, co-owner of #brexitshambles

03/02/2020, 10:30:38 PM

by Rob Marchant

We are out. That’s it, the fat lady has sung.

But of course we are not out at all, not in any meaningful sense. This is just the start of a tortuous, eleven-month scramble to try and get some kind of a sensible result in place by the end of the year.

Remainers have to admit that they – we – lost the argument, at least for now. Leavers have got what they wanted and, ultimately, that’s democracy.

But, Leaver or Remainer, we have had in many ways the worst of all possible worlds. Leavers have not really got what many wanted, at least, not yet. If we leave aside the semi-suicidal, macho contingent who are happy to have the hardest of hard Brexits, moderate Leavers will now see that we now have eleven months to get somewhere on the sliding scale between what one former PM has rightly called the “pointless Brexit” and the “painful Brexit”.

If we end at the “pointless Brexit”, people on both sides will rightly say, we might as well have stayed in. Most of the benefits but without a seat at the table.

If we end at the “painful Brexit”, for example, with few and/or poor-outcome trade deals in place, the economic jolt to come will be memorable. And, it must be said, we have both precious little time to get those deals in place and the poor bargaining power of the supplicant. But we are where we are.

And somewhere in the middle? A bit of both of the above or, perhaps, not even really possible. Perhaps it will quickly converge down to just that binary choice of one or the other: who knows.

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UNCUT: Keir Starmer is Labour’s last best hope

28/01/2020, 11:13:25 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Bookmakers have Keir Starmer as the 7/19 favourite to be the next Labour leader – a 73% probability. In a party whose membership was swollen by Jeremy Corbyn, and which was largely loyal to him, Starmer did not enter the race as Corbyn’s presumed heir apparent. With early personal branding, Rebecca Long-Bailey carried this torch.

“No surrender, a 4-day week, and a 3-day bender,” proclaimed her supporters. Dancing on the political graves of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Zarah Sultana derided “40 years of Thatcherism” in her maiden speech in the Commons. Long-Bailey said “no surrender” by having Sultana speak at her campaign launch a few days later. It takes the same defiance to think a 4-day week a sensible policy commitment from Labour – from the perspective of hard-pressed workers, it challenged free broadband as the most otherworldly of Labour’s 2019 pledges.

You’d need a 3-day bender for this continuity Corbynism to make sense. After which, the breweries will be nationalised, and the beer will be free. Or, at least, Labour might commit for it to be so. But incredible commitments from opposition change little. They might get some in opposition more drunk, but the real effect is to help keep the Tories in government in perpetuity.

Such folly should, therefore, be debarred by rule 3 of our rule book (“promote the election of Labour Party representatives at all levels of the democratic process”). But the extent to which the membership has an appetite for continuity Corbynism remains unclear. If that appetite remains unsatiated, it will carry Long-Bailey, now benefitting from the formidable endorsement of Unite, to the leadership.

We cannot consistently criticise both Long-Bailey for making insufficient accommodation with the electorate and Starmer for being too accommodating of the membership. Yet there are those who see Starmer’s campaign launch video as overly tailored to traditional Labour themes. This would be a valid criticism if this were a general election and he were seeking to convince the general public. Starmer is calibrating his message to his audience – precisely what the uncompromising Corbyn was criticised for not doing and the “no surrender” mindset threatens to maintain.

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UNCUT: When we were giants

22/01/2020, 10:27:35 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The year is 1976. Harold Wilson has just resigned as prime minister and Labour leader. The race is on to replace him. Step forward the strongest field of candidates to ever seek the leadership.

A veritable ‘who’s who’ of Labour greats. Serious, heavyweight figures from every section of the party.

James Callaghan, currently foreign secretary, but also a former home secretary and chancellor. The eventual winner, he is still the only person to have occupied the four great offices of state.

Next, Roy Jenkins, home secretary and another former chancellor. He would go on to become the President of the European Commission and eventually split off to form the SDP.

Denis Healey, current chancellor and former defence secretary. A future deputy leader, he would lend vital credibility to the party’s fightback through the long, fruitless years of the 1980s.

Then there was Anthony Crosland. A reforming education secretary who pioneered comprehensive schooling, (after the NHS and benefits system, the greatest Labour achievement in office). While his book, ‘The Future of Socialism’ became the bible of moderate reformers in the post-war era.

From the left of the party came Michael Foot. Employment secretary at the time and a renowned orator and journalist. (He became deputy leader under Callaghan and later succeeded him as leader).

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INSIDE: ‘Aspirational socialism.’ Again.

20/01/2020, 09:55:39 PM

The big mistake political campaigners often make when they come up with slogans for their candidates is hubris.

They assume that the pithy little phrase they have dreamt up to encapsulate their candidate’s credo is an original. A gem they have found in the rough which they will polish until it shines.

To her detractors, she’s the ‘continuity Corbyn’ candidate, but it seems Rebecca Long-Bailey might be drawing inspiration from more mainstream Labour figures.

On Saturday, during the leadership hustings in Liverpool, she referred to her beliefs as “aspirational socialism.”

It’s a neat little line, combining, as it does, the ‘S’ word, which pleases the grassroots, with something vague and modern sounding. Who could be against people having aspirations? Rather than levelling down – the traditional criticism of left-wing politicians – it implies levelling-up. ‘You can still do well, but we just want more people to do well.’

Well, for someone deeply committed to Labour’s Green Industrial Revolution, Long-Bailey clearly practices what she preaches when it comes to recycling.

‘Aspirational socialism’ was used by Andy Burnham in his 2010 leadership campaign. The one where he came fourth in a field of five.

Perhaps, though, there’s an older vintage?

Here’s Long-Bailey’s predecessor as MP for Salford, Hazel Blears, back in 2010: “New Labour is about aspiration and ambition, which is absolutely how I come to be doing what I do, because my parents were ambitious and aspirational for me.”

Continuity Corbyn or Version 3.0 New Labour?

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UNCUT: Unison’s backing of Keir Starmer signals wider trouble for Len McCluskey’s United Left faction in Unite

08/01/2020, 10:13:15 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Unison’s backing of Keir Starmer is an undoubted coup for his leadership campaign but it is also a signal of a growing set of problems facing Len McCluskey’s United Left faction in Unite.

Solidarity and unity might permeate the public statements of the unions about their movement but the reality is that unions are competitors – rivals in shaping Labour party policy and in chasing after the same diminishing pool of potential members. The days of unions that specialised in discernable sectors or niches are long gone, most are now generic, public sector focused recruiting machines, facing dire pension liabilities and in desperate need of increasing revenue.

Since 2010, Unite has been in the ascendant on all fronts. Growing in political influence and attracting members off the back of its strident posturing and some real victories in labour disputes. Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure as Labour leader has represented the zenith of power for Unite and the hard left cabal that run it.

But now, the tide has stated to flow out for Unite and the United Left.

The union faces two challenges – within Unite, the hard left’s prospects of holding onto the General Secretary’s office are under serious pressure and without, Unison and the GMB are reasserting their more moderate position, dislodging Unite from it’s primus inter pares role amongst the big unions.

The hope within Unite’s hard left leadership was that a successful general election campaign, which bolstered Jeremy Corbyn and maybe even saw him enter Number 10, would enable them to ride out the growing challenges.

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UNCUT: Is Keir Starmer the man to reconnect with Labour’s base?

06/01/2020, 05:46:33 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The video put out by Keir Starmer yesterday, as he officially launched his bid for the Labour leadership, was brilliantly affecting, with a series of talking heads reflecting on the legal support he gave to striking miners, environmental activists and other worthy causes throughout his long legal career, which culminated in him heading in the Crown Prosecution Service.

He is clearly an admirable man, self-effacing and well-liked by those who know him. A quiet radical, he has used his legal skills to fight the good fight. The video is quiet and sensible, qualities presumably, his team want to associate with him over coming weeks.

The problem for Starmer is not his illustrious legal career but what he has done in politics since first being elected to the Commons in 2015. Creditably, he stayed on the frontbench under Jeremy Corbyn, while other moderates ripped up their tent pegs and went to sulk, to no obvious effect, on the backbenches.

Starmer has been at the centre of Labour politics as the party’s Brexit spokesman, but it’s not clear what effect he has had. I cannot help but wonder what Robin Cook might have done in the same role. Nor can I recall Starmer skewering ministers for the multiplicity of failings throughout the Brexit imbroglio. Or, for that matter, a particularly memorable speech or media performance from him.

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UNCUT: Johnson has made undeliverable promises to win from Sedgefield to Sittingbourne. This is what Labour needs to focus on, not his latest culture war dead cat

05/01/2020, 09:57:49 AM

by David Ward

If there’s one thing we’ve seen with the Johnson government so far, it’s that they aren’t going to be content with gentle managerial government. Like a five year old with a remote controlled car, he wants to move fast and break things.

To cut through in the next five years, the new Labour leadership is going to need a hugely disciplined operation focused on how we will make a positive, and credible, difference to people’s lives.

It’s clear that the Johnson government has a tall order in restoring growth to areas in long term global decline. We’ve been talking about HS2 since God was a boy, so forgive my scepticism about it happening in the next five years.

So to keep their voting coalition of leafy shires and newly won northern and midlands towns together the Conservatives will want to be on the front foot on other issues. One thing that unites these groups of voters is socially conservative instincts.

Much ink has already been spilled about the patriotic values of former Labour heartlands. But the seam for Conservatives to mine goes much deeper than that. In August 2019 Yougov produced some interesting research on the surprising views held by people who describe themselves as left or right wing. It found 72% of those who want redistribution of wealth also believe the criminal justice system is too soft. 66% who support Trade Unions want more restrictions on immigration. While 60% of those who support renationalising the railways also want to reintroduce capital punishment.

Of course Labour should always be the party of progress and progressive values, but we have to be mindful of bringing a majority along with us. Just as the party has in the past. In the 1960s Roy Jenkins gave tacit support to backbench bills to legalise abortion, decriminalise homosexuality and abolish the death penalty. Tony Blair’s government scrapped Section 28 and banned fox hunting, but combined those with Anti Social Behaviour Orders and a points based immigration system.

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UNCUT: Let’s be clear from the start: Labour’s next leader is never going to be PM

03/01/2020, 05:58:17 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Sorry to start the New Year with an Eeyorish warning, but it needs saying from the outset. Labour has zero chance – absolutely no hope whatsoever – of winning the next election in 2024 or thereabouts. The glass is definitely half empty – with a crack in the bottom. Short of an almighty calamity – bigger in magnitude to Brexit – Boris Johnson is going nowhere for the next few years.

Forget the permanent revolution nonsense emanating from Dominic Cummings. Boris’s instinct will be to cut an early deal with the EU on our future trading arrangements and then consolidate his position. He would much rather govern as a benign figure that a malevolent force. He will prove formidable if he does. His victory is already seeing the Tories mobilise their tanks on what remains of Labour’s front lawn, in what may become a strategic realignment of British politics.

Rewriting Treasury rules to favour the North? Check. Inflation-busting increase in the National Living Wage? Check. Renationalising Northern Rail? Check. The new political battleground in British politics cuts across large chunks of what used to be safe Labour territory. The Tories already know this and are wasting no time in preparing their fortifications.

Last month’s result was no fluke. It was a long time coming.

So many of the seats Labour lost in unfashionable towns in the north and midlands were places that underwent 20 years of Thatcherite deindustrialisation, followed by a decade of New Labour pumping money into the public sector, but not replenishing decent jobs in lost industries. This was book-ended by ten more years of Tory austerity. Four decades of misery and disappointment. It just so happens that the timeline corresponds perfectly with our membership of the EU, so, for many, their unhappy experience of politics, which only ever seems to disappoint and frustrate, was taken out in the Brexit referendum.

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