Archive for May, 2024

The purge of hard left candidates will be shocking to many in the party but it shows Starmer’s operation understands the reality of modern politics

30/05/2024, 12:16:09 AM

by Atul Hatwal

The first rule of politics is to learn to count.  Reports of the last minute purge of four hard left candidates suggest that Keir Starmer’s team have fully taken on board Lyndon Johnson’s most important lesson.

Many in the party will be shocked and uncomfortable at the developments. Few would think that Labour splits dominating news coverage, to the exclusion of the central message on the economy, is desirable. But there is a logic to what is being done, beyond spite or pure factionalism. It is a rationale that recognises the limitations of party whipping in an age of social media and one that makes Lyndon Johnson’s rule all the more important.

Boris Johnson won the 2019 election with a majority of 77 but he faced multiple rebellions and was ultimately brought down because his whips could not maintain discipline across the parliamentary party. Clearly he played a leading role in his own demise but twenty or thirty years ago, there’s a reasonable chance he could have survived. What has changed since the 1990s and early 2000s is the size of the bubble in which politics is conducted and the pace at which the news cycle turns.

In a pre-online, pre-social media age, politics was the preserve of the individuals within the physical environs of Westminster, largely the MPs and the lobby journalists. It was a small world, one in which personal relationships, a trading of favours and the odd grabbing of lapels could maintain party discipline. News was slow, there were a limited number of broadcast channels, and the daily papers took twenty-four hours to publish.

But now, it is different.

The bubble has grown and extends from Westminster into the online world of commentators and activists. The news cycle has accelerated beyond all recognition. In the 1990s, when an event occurred, the next day’s reporting would normally be factual on the event and comment pieces would tend to follow 48 to 72 hours later. Today when a newsworthy event occurs, the factual turn of the cycle is complete within minutes and multiple rotations of comment and reaction begin within the hour.


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The SNP’s impending collapse is an opportunity, but also a warning, for Scottish Labour

29/05/2024, 09:30:05 PM

by Rob Marchant

While the Tories writhe in anguish about how large their defeat is likely to be, spare a thought for another party, which might conceivably end up worse.

It’s been difficult to keep track of everything that’s gone wrong for the SNP over the last year or so.

First there was the shock resignation of former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and her own arrest. Not to mention that of her husband, who was later re-arrested and charged, on suspicion of embezzlement.

Her successor Humza Yousaf, in power for just over a year, continued to pursue Sturgeon’s tremendous unpopular policy of gender self ID, and was himself forced to resign after the failure of a widely-criticised bill curbing free speech and the subsequent collapse of the coalition with the Scottish Greens.

Now we have John Swinney, who has been in office for a further 21 days, during which he has: used up political capital trying to save a disgraced MSP friend, only to fail in the end; pushed for recognition of a terrorist state, even though his role has no powers whatsoever over foreign affairs; has been unable to say what a woman is; and the icing on the cake was when Rishi Sunak called a general election unexpectedly early, meaning that they now look to receive a terrible drubbing at the polls sooner rather than later.

Indeed, a poll a few days ago, when put through the well-known Electoral Calculus model, predicted it could end up with as few as seven seats; a total wipeout. Oh, and their Westminster leader, Stephen Flynn, would lose his seat, although he remains bullish about their prospects, in a “Chemical Ali” kind of a way.

Yousaf was fond of saying that this coming general election should be seen as a plebiscite on Scottish independence – but they’re not saying that any more.


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Rishi Sunak’s National Service plan validates Labour’s attacks on the Tories as dangerous headbangers that will wreck Britain

27/05/2024, 07:19:24 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Rishi Sunak’s National Service plan is a trans-dimensional political disaster. Much has been written about it in terms of its questionable rationale and woeful impracticality. Fewer words have been expended about the wider message it sends to the electorate which is where its real legacy will be felt.

Voters don’t process policy proposals, in so far as they cut through to their daily lives, as a discrete set of evaluations, they use them as an indicator in judging the whole. What does policy this say about the people who want my vote?

When political parties strike out into territory outside the mainstream there is risk. Sometimes it’s worth it, when the Westminster consensus is out of kilter with the public (or at least enough of the public), Brexit for example. But for every Brexit there are dozens of disastrous policies that backfired on their authors. The manifestos of Jeremy Corbyn, Michael Foot, William Hague and Michael Howard are replete with them.

Its pretty clear which category the National Service plan falls into. It sends two clear messages to voters.

First, the Conservatives’ priority is evidently not the economy or the cost of living, its forcing young people do community service. Not only is this odd, its quite extreme to focus so much effort and attention on an issue that does not register as a pressing challenge for any demographic, not least when so many are facing rocketing rents and mortgages.

Second, the Conservatives cannot do the basics without it going wrong. The policy was launched but Ministers were sent out on the airwaves to sell it without relevant detail on how it would work – are kids going to get criminal records? Are parents going to be fined? Answers there were none – while some senior Conservatives like Steve Baker have actively condemned it.

For those voters who have noticed it, they will now have a sense that Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives have different values and priorities and aren’t terribly competent. So when Labour raise the spectre of a Conservative government taking a scythe to the economy, pensions and all that’s good in the world, they will be that bit more inclined to believe them.

Oh, look, here’s an example.


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Sunak is a worse campaigner than Theresa May

26/05/2024, 09:17:41 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Is Rishi Sunak’s general election campaign destined to be remembered as the worst, most calamitous, incompetent, shambolic, hilariously deficient, madcap, badly run and outright dingbat since…well, Theresa May’s in 2017?

In what remains an electoral paradox, she achieved the second highest-ever number of votes for a winning party, but still managed to slide backwards, frittering away the majority she inherited from David Cameron in 2015.

To be fair, she was just a terrible campaigner with a big, lumpy idea – social care reform – that frighted the middle-class.

In comparison, Sunak’s effort, on current form, will go down as a three-dimensional clusterfuck.

I can scarcely believe its only Day 5.

First, we had the wet rat election announcement in Downing Street, with the Prime Minister trying to ignore both the lousy weather and the unsubtle strains of New Labour’s pop anthem, ‘Things Can Only Get Better,’ as he delivered a clumsy, overlong speech.

Then we had the incident with his minders throwing a Sky News team out of his launch while they were still broadcasting.


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Campaign Uncut: Heat on Sue Gray from senior Labour ranks as worries rise of ‘too little politics, too many civil servants’

24/05/2024, 11:59:56 PM

Welcome dear reader to the wrap from day 2 of the campaign:

1. Bubbling under the surface: Heat on Sue Gray from senior Labour ranks as worries rise of ‘too little politics, too many civil servants’

While Rishi Sunak’s campaign flubs continue to dominate the news agenda, behind the curtain in Labour land there is rising worry at the direction Sue Gray is taking LOTO.  Before Wednesday, there was already an undercurrent of concern across the senior ranks of Labour politicians and advisers at her Whitehall-isation of Keir Starmer’s office, with politics subordinated and an increasing focus on hiring ex-civil servants.  The sudden announcement of the election, with the prospect that the LOTO team will be in Number 10 in a matter of weeks, has exacerbated worries.

One senior Labour adviser commented, “She’s trying to be Cabinet Secretary and recreate the machinery of the civil service, but that’s not what a Labour PM needs, there’s already a civil service with a Cabinet Secretary; this Labour leader, who has only been an MP since 2015, needs political counsel”

Another source familiar with the conversations occurring across the shadow cabinet and senior Labour MPs summarised the issue as “too little politics, too many civil servants.”

Tensions between Morgan McSweeney and Sue Gray have been widely reported and any potential move by McSweeney out of LOTO into a safe seat, as Uncut reported yesterday, would tip the balance in LOTO further towards Whitehall priorities.

A key point of immediate contention is on who will be Sue Gray’s deputy chief of staff. There is a widespread understanding that this role needs to be a Labour rather than ex-civil service figure, but given the dividing lines between Labour and Whitehall factions, the danger is that the deputy chief of staff becomes the de facto leader of those who favour a more overtly political direction for Keir Starmer’s office.

2. Gaffe of the day: Rishi Sunak, captain of the Titanic

It was closely contested with Sunak’s photo-opp on the plane by the exit sign but positioning the PM as the captain of the Titanic had to be the winner. James McCarthy’s full piece is well worth a read, if only for the use of one of the greatest quotes from The Thick Of It, “Like a clown running across a minefield”


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Campaign Uncut – Rumours of Morgan McSweeney to Makerfield

23/05/2024, 09:17:18 PM

Introducing our daily-ish wrap, Campaign Uncut, bringing together the top 5 takeaways from the day’s action.

1. Rumour of the day: Morgan McSweeney to Makerfield

Word reaches Uncut that Keir Starmer’s most influential aide might soon be joining his boss on the green leather benches.

As a number of sitting MPs start to rethink their plans, throwing-up last minute selections, we hear that Morgan McSweeney is being linked with the Makerfield seat in Wigan, Greater Manchester.

Its a rock-solid redoubt and the former mining area has been represented by Labour MPs since the formation of the Parliamentary Labour Party in 1906.

Until 2010, it was Ian McCartney’s seat. He was the minister in the last Labour government who piloted the minimum wage legislation onto the statute book. In 1997, he won 73.6% of the vote.

Since 2010, Makerfield has been represented by Yvonne Fovargue. Until she announced she was standing down yesterday..

2. Worst take of the day: Nigel Farage scared Rishi Sunak into an early election

There are layers here. Under normal circumstances this post could comfortably be ridiculed as a barmy take. But this is Rishi Sunak that we’re talking about, his judgement is that bad. It’s possible that he was scared into it by Nigel Farage. In which case this still wins worst take of the day, it just happens to be true.

3. Gaffe of the day: Sunak on the Euros while visiting Wales (more…)

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He’s done what? The top 10 memes on Sunak’s sodden speech

22/05/2024, 11:28:06 PM

It was a banter launch for what will be undoubtedly a banter election. Within minutes of stepping out into Downing Street, Rishi Sunak was soaked, literally by the pouring rain and metaphorically in online ridicule as the internet’s wags seized on the unworldly bizarreness of the launch. Uncut has collated the top 10 that are making Westminster smile. Given Rishi Sunak’s political touch, this is unlikely to be the last top 10 of the campaign.

In reverse order:

10. Rishi as Partridge. Quite uncanny.

9. And we go live to the internal monologue of most Conservative MPs…

8. To be fair, the visuals here are much better than the actual announcement. There’s some sunshine and better composition than the Tory team managed.

7. If “Gullis eating soup with a fork” doesn’t make you smile then all we can say is ‘Sorry Jonathan, one day you’ll look back and laugh’


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It is time to start believing – Labour can change Britain

15/05/2024, 09:48:39 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Labour and the Tories were both in the mid-30s in the polls at the end of 2021. Briefings that Boris Johnson would govern into the 2030s followed the Hartlepool by-election. Labour government was a two-term project, experienced campaigners insisted.

This seemed too pessimist to me. It was, I wrote, time to start believing – Labour can win the next general election.

Check my working:

  1. Boris Johnson will never again be the political force that he was in December 2019: Far from governing into the next decade, Johnson’s reputation is irredeemably low.
  1. The next general election will not be about Brexit: Neither the Tories (because of Brexit’s failings) nor Labour (due to its enduring sensitivities) want to talk at this election about the only topic of the last.
  1. Johnson’s kingdom of sand bequeaths little to the next Tory leader: Even less after the short, benighted, economically ruinous reign of his successor.
  1. Liberal Democrat revival helps Labour: In a political environment most characterised by antipathy to the Tories, Labour is strengthened by having viable vehicles for the expression of anti-Tory sentiment as widely dispersed as possible, as the byelections of North Shropshire, Tiverton and Honiton, and Somerton and Frome have evidenced.
  1. Labour strength across the UK builds Labour recovery in Scotland: As the probability of PM Starmer has increased, the prospects of Scottish Labour have improved – with polling now pointing to 28 Scottish Labour MPs.

 We should now believe that Labour can not only win the election, but profoundly change Britain.

Liverpool Football Club experienced the power of belief under Jürgen Klopp, who urged fans to move from doubters to believers.

“Given the scale of Labour’s defeat in 2019,” I wrote in December 2021, “the idea that Labour could win in 2024 might be as unlikely as Liverpool overcoming Barcelona after a 3-0 defeat in the Camp Nou. The starting point for that famous victory in May 2019 was that 60,000 believers arrived at Anfield, determined to back their team to the hilt. Even Lionel Messi doubted himself in this context.”

Here we are in our Anfield of 2024: millions of Labour supporters believe that victory awaits; Messi still shines at Inter Miami, while Johnson is washed-up; and Klopp is leaving Liverpool Football Club in a city transformed.


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John Smith gave Labour back its confidence – that mattered

12/05/2024, 06:03:51 PM

by Kevin Meagher

You probably need to have clocked-up a half-century to remember what the shock loss of the April 1992 general election felt like. Labour was desolate. An unprecedented fourth election defeat in a row.

Already thirteen years out of power, with the prospect of another five drifting aimlessly in the political wilderness. (Depressed by the result and indignant that I was marginally too young to vote, I officially joined the party the next day).

Some thought it really was now curtains. Labour couldn’t win the south. The famous ‘C2s’ – skilled manual workers – were still refusing to switch. While memories of the ‘Winter of Discontent’ in 1978-79 were still hurting the party a political generation later.

Many accused Neil Kinnock of ‘snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.’ Some also blamed his shadow chancellor, John Smith, for his pre-election ‘shadow budget,’ which promised to hike the higher rate of tax from 40p to 50p and frightened off middle-class switchers.

Nevertheless, Smith would emerge as Kinnock’s successor, following a low-fi, Buggins turn, leadership contest against the pro-Keynesian, Eurosceptic shadow cabinet minister, Bryan Gould. It failed to excite a moribund party and Smith walked it, winning by 91%-9%.

Both Tony Blair and Tony Benn voted for him, which tells its own tale. Smith was less tribal and more conciliatory that anything we have seen in Labour politics since. Yet many on the party’s right still worried that he was too cautious and unambitious. He lacked reforming zeal, went the criticism, and thought ‘one more heave’ would get Labour across the winning line next time.

Alaistair Campbell, then of the Daily Mirror, said the division at the top of the party was a contest between ‘frantics’ and ‘long gamers.’ The latter believed that Labour had ‘time on its side,’ while the former worried that ‘the party does not know what it is for, other than to oppose the government.’

In his biography ‘John Smith: A Life’ author Andy McSmith, described the difference in style between Kinnock and Smith thus:

‘…in contrast to Neil Kinnock, Smith was not the man to involve himself in inter-party controversy where he believed it could be honourably avoided. It was an eighteenth-century Scot, Sir James McIntosh, who coined an epigram about the “wise and masterly inactivity” of the House of Commons. Such was Smith’s style of leadership.’

In contrast, young modernisers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (outed by Campbell as ‘frantics’) went over to the US to observe Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign at close quarters, picking up ideas that would later assist New Labour’s 1997 landslide victory.


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