GRASSROOTS: Covid dispatch from Madrid

26/03/2020, 02:40:38 PM

by Malcolm Kennedy

Madrid, March 25, 2020

I gaze out of the window at a clear blue sky and feel cheered up.

Watching the TV brings me back down to earth as I receive the news that the total of deaths in Spain has reached 3,434. It has risen inexorably since I arrived on February 6th to spend some time with my Spanish wife and celebrate the birthdays of her son and our friend, Gertrud.

Little did we know that come Gertrud’s birthday we would be forbidden to travel and would largely be confined to our apartment.

For over a week, now, my only ventures out of the apartment have been to put out the rubbish and go to the local supermarkets and pharmacy. Every trip out feels extremely stressful in a bustling city which has now ground to a halt.

Normally Madrid is a vibrant place with bars full, people lunching on the many terraces and tourists visiting the many cultural attractions. Around the corner from us, the teeming transport interchange for buses, coaches and the Metro in Avenida de América has died. The line of taxis is stationary and unused.

Shocking news emerges of a major ice rink being commandeered as a temporary morgue while the major exhibition centre IFEMA is transformed into a hospital.

We are in the middle of a storm and the restrictions are wisely draconian.

From afar, the lockdown in the UK seems like a half-hearted response.

I have been very impressed by PSOE President Pedro Sanchez and his government. The communication of facts, how problems are being addressed and the use of experts appears on a different level to my experience in the UK.

Well, at least, in the past decade.

There was a time when I could be proud of our country’s leaders. Pedro Sanchez and his government are making me similarly proud.

Life has been put on hold. My flight to the UK on the 23rd was cancelled. My flight back to Spain on the 8th for Holy Week obviously is useless even if it became possible.

Anyway, Holy Week has been cancelled during this unholy crisis. In a Catholic country like Spain this is unprecedented. On top of all the religious processions being cancelled the annual exodus to the Costas has been put on hold. The damage to the hospitality industry of this and the other measures is simply incalculable.

What have I learned apart from a reinforcement of John Lennon’s dictum that “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”?

Well, I hope we have all learned the importance of good political leadership and the importance of experts and science. Above all I hope we have learned the importance of health workers, shop workers, rubbish disposal workers and all those in the frontline who are helping us get through all this.

Hasta la vista.

Malcolm Kennedy is a member of Liverpool City Council. He tweets @CllrKennedy

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UNCUT: This past few weeks have only confirmed Corbynite Labour’s unfitness to govern

18/03/2020, 10:27:10 PM

by Rob Marchant

And so, while not wanting to be complacent, many of us dare to hope that the shutters are finally lifting on the Corbynite era, where the openly continuity-Corbyn candidates seem poised to lose in both Leader and Deputy Leader elections.

The beginning of the end, fingers crossed.

Even were that not the case, it seems that the dying embers of that Corbynite leadership seems bent on helping them lose, through a series of actions so cack-handed, so politically tone-deaf, that they leave even their most ardent supporters within the party are left struggling to comprehend them.

First there was the Trevor Phillips suspension from the party by Labour’s high command.

For those unfamiliar with Phillips’ record, he is a decent and sometimes thought-provoking former politician, who was the first leader of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), set up by Labour as a real step forward in protecting minorities of all kinds.

Oh and, we might just mention in passing, it is the organisation currently investigating the Labour party for anti-Semitism.

In short, Labour has decided, a matter of weeks before the likely-critical EHRC report is released, to try and clumsily discredit that organisation by association.

In fact, to try and discredit it on a trumped-up charge of “Islamophobia” for comments made years ago, levelled at a man who has not merely talked about fighting racism – all the while consorting with real racists, like the party’s current leader – but who has genuinely made it a great part of his life’s work to lead institutions and initiatives which promote tolerance between communities.

To try and dump on Phillips is transparently a move both of grubbiness and of desperation, in case we should expect anything less from the Corbyn place-people currently in charge of the party machine.

And then – were this idiocy not sufficient – we might note that the main target of Phillips’ so-called “Islamophobia” was the rape gangs in Northern cities such as Rotherham. Thus neatly putting the party on the side of the rapists and against the overwhelming majority of the British public, most of whom are both disgusted by what went on and perfectly capable of distinguishing between an ordinary Muslim and a Muslim rapist.

But that is not all. The debates have shown even some of our more promising candidates to be batshit crazy on trans self-id, let alone the leaden-footed, continuity-Corbynite duo of Long-Bailey and Burgon.

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UNCUT: Meticulous Starmer needs to plan for unknown futures

09/03/2020, 10:33:19 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“Other characteristics [Keir Starmer] brought to [his legal career] have remained with him to this day,” Martin Kettle writes in Prospect. “He was meticulous. He has integrity. He looked at the detail. He planned things out. He was extremely orderly. He was very good at spotting the winning point in a case.”

The known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns, as Donald Rumsfeld put it, create a vast spectrum of possibilities between now and the next general election. In this uncertain context, it will be challenging for Starmer, likely to soon be Labour leader, to plan a course to Labour general election victory.

Winning general election pitches typically promise to resolve the zeitgeist’s issue. For example, with their “long-term economic plan” in 2015, the Conservatives committed to maintaining a focus upon deficit reduction and economic recovery. Ed Miliband’s Labour did not sufficiently junk a reputation for profligacy to disrupt this message. More recently, Boris Johnson told us that he would “get Brexit done”. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour lacked equivalent clarity or a credible method for addressing the dominant issue of Brexit.

Whether Brexit will again be central to this parliament and how smoothly Johnson can get it done are known unknowns. When the Labour leadership election began, coronavirus was an unknown unknown. Now it threatens to usurp Brexit as the overriding political issue. If these issues were to combine (e.g. a no deal Brexit atop supply chains undermined by coronavirus), they would be even more significant.

There’s plenty of time for more unknown unknowns to emerge before the next general election. The aggressive style of the Johnson government – not content with renegotiating all our trade relationships, it is on a war footing with the civil service, BBC and judiciary – means that unintended consequences are a major known unknown.

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GRASSROOTS: We need a commitment to radical devolution from the Labour leadership candidates

29/02/2020, 08:50:49 AM

by Alex Croft

Winning back Remain and Leave voters. Rebuilding the ‘Red Wall’. Appealing to Britain’s working-class. Just some of the claims from the Labour Party leadership candidates as the campaigns to replace Jeremy Corbyn heat up.

As the ballots land this week, Boris Johnson’s Government is busy veering left on major issues facing the country – speaking to parts of the electorate in the North of England which put their trust in the Tories for the first time. HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail for example – two critical components of the UK’s future transport network – have been spun as evidence Boris Johnson is delivering on his election promise to ‘level up’ the country.

During Labour’s time in office the North received record levels of investment, including devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The leadership candidates should be shouting loud and proud about how they are going to build on the successful elements of devolution and rectifying the parts that do not work for some parts of Britain.

‘Taking back control’ and the ‘left behind’ towns have become synonymous with the UK’s decision to leave the EU. But what is the magic potion required to build the coalition of voters needed to win the next General Election? Labour’s leadership contenders should commit to full throttle fiscal devolution – giving the North a ‘Barnett’ type formula so local leaders make decisions which are in the best interests of local people. For too long working people have been tired of Ministers and bureaucrats making decisions from behind their desks in SW1, which have a major impact on places like Merseyside. Devolution will help the party get closer to people – making sure their ideas or concerns are listened to rather than ignored by elected representatives. Giving voters the power to create their own destiny is an ambition which should not be scoffed at or, indeed, underestimated.

Local leaders in the North West have always banged the drum for greater decision making. Metro Mayors, Mayors and Leaders have all expressed a burning desire for more powers from Whitehall. After all, how it can be right that outcomes for residents in the Liverpool City Region are produced over 300 miles away in Westminster?

Keir Starmer, Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey promise to possess the recipe for all of Labour’s woes. But if the party wants to face up to its worst election defeat since the 1930s, giving people the chance to have a proper say over their own lives – through radical fiscal and economic devolution – would be a step in the right direction. All of the candidates should follow Labour’s lead locally by making that commitment.

Alex Croft is a campaigner and former political adviser to Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram. 

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UNCUT: Labour’s leadership contest is a disaster

20/02/2020, 09:44:55 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Does the Labour party ever want to win an election again? I ask in all seriousness because its acting to all intents and purposes as though the answer is, to invert Ed Miliband’s maxim, ‘Hell, no!’

This pained, drawn-out saga – which will not see a new Labour leader announced until April 4 – would better be described as a ‘lack of leadership contest.’ It long ago descended into a dreary, insular and circular exchange. Platitudes are issued, hands are wrung and virtues and signalled.

But are voters convinced?

Hardly. The whole thing serves as a rolling reminder of why Labour was trounced for the fourth time back in December and unless something radical changes the script for a fifth defeat will already have been written.

Broadly, there are three problems with Labour’s leadership contest.

The first and most obvious is that candidates are playing to the gallery. It almost goes without saying, but Labour members are not representative of the country. This much was true enough in the Blair years, but in the Age of Corbyn the gap has become cavernous.

As a result, the internal discussion skews towards pleasing activists rather than talking to the country at large. No-one in the real-world cares about mandatory selection of MPs or any of the other obscure preoccupations of activists.

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UNCUT: We like you, Lisa Nandy, so why are you throwing women under a bus?

19/02/2020, 10:17:35 PM

by Rob Marchant

Current Labour leadership campaign status: both cautiously encouraging, and flat-out disappointing.

Encouraging, because the nominations stage is making it look like the far left – in the shape of Burgon, Butler and Long-Bailey might finally, finally be on the back foot (that said, the actual vote for leader is likely to be far tighter and no-one should be complacent).

Disappointing, because for any moderates, there is actually no candidate at all aligning with their views. The choice is soft left, or hard left. That’s it.

And all are playing, to a greater or lesser extent, to the Momentumite gallery. Perhaps foolishly, given the occurrence of members of new members joining to oppose Continuity Corbynism and who are now crushed to see all candidates espousing dumb policies (not that policies will even matter for the next year or two, as the party tries to rebuild).

And then there is the debate on trans rights.

Let’s get one thing perfectly straight. No-one, on any wing of the party – or at least, practically no-one – is anti-trans. This is the gay-friendly, lesbian-friendly, every-orientation-party par excellence.

The issue most people are concerned about is a simple and specific one, and it is this.

Self-id, in any sphere of life where privileges are conferred by the attribute you are self-id-ing, is clearly open to abuse. It is obvious that pathological cases can falsely id themselves as having that attribute and claim the privilege. And it is happening right now with trans self-id.

So, women’s sport is being disrupted by suddenly having disingenuous people with male bodies competing against women and, surprisingly, winning everything. And a small but pathological minority of trans women with male bodies are predatorially invading women’s toilets and changing rooms, molesting or even raping them.

It. Is. Happening.

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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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