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John McDonnell sheds his Corbynista cloak

29/09/2015, 09:50:06 AM

by Nick Small

For the 4.5 percenters, who, like me, backed Liz Kendall, John McDonnell’s first major speech as shadow chancellor at Labour Party conference was, in many ways, a pleasant surprise.

The acknowledgment of a golden rule of British politics, that the voting public demand reassurance from the centre-left about our economic credibility in a way that they don’t from the Tories, is welcome.   It’s also welcome that McDonnell has explicitly reinforced the message that economic prosperity and social justice are two sides of the same coin; as our aims and values put it that means ‘a dynamic economy serving the public interest’.  In other words, you can’t redistribute wealth unless you first create it.

Recognising that the country has to live within its means, that Labour should tackle the deficit fairly and that a Labour government inheriting a current account deficit in 2020 should pay it down without jeopardising sustainable economic growth is, again, good to hear.  It’s not austerity-lite and it’s not deficit denial.  This will chime well with the voters who’ll decide the next election.  They may well be more economically radical than many from my wing of the party thought, but they’re certainly more fiscally cautious than many Corbynistas gave them credit for.


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Labour desperately needs a soft left revival

23/09/2015, 10:05:24 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The Labour leadership campaign was a traditional selection process, despite extraordinary features.

While the Corbyn surge and the tripling of numbers entitled to vote flowed from changes made in the procedure, the thinking behind the leadership selection has lapsed behind the constitutional changes made and being made by the coalition government and its Tory successor, most importantly the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

This meant that the new leader has to spend the best part of five years in opposition. By the time the conference season is over, by October 7th, the leaders of all the opposition parties will be facing four years and seven months in opposition. Pledges to do this and that in government are marginal at best. As Fiona Millar has said, the duty of an opposition is to oppose.

The Labour leadership election was thus de facto not about electing a possible future prime minister. It was about leadership in opposition. This reality vanished from the selection process, which produced a series of policy initiatives for a manifesto which is in the remote future.

If there is no successful opposition, then the policies to renationalise rail, bring schools back under local authority control, or whatever are irrelevant. Labour remains, as it has been since it was set up in 1900, a vehicle for representing Labour at Westminster, but there is no strategy for doing this in a way which derails the government and build support in the country.

A key lesson set out by Professor David Runciman in the London Review of Books immediately after the election (10th-21st May 2015) has been missed. Runciman argued “For Labour it is finally time to abandon the idea that its primary purpose is to secure majorities in the House of Commons and that it should do nothing to put that prize at risk. It needs to become more like a typical European social democratic party, which recognises that nothing can be achieved without forging alliances with others.”

Runciman accepts that this will be difficult, but is himself behind the curve of European social democracy and other centre currents which are clearly in trouble.


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The leadership election and Corbyn’s shadow cabinet show that Labour needs All Women Shortlists more than ever

16/09/2015, 10:19:09 PM

by Alex Ross Shaw

2015 marks the fortieth anniversary of the election of Margaret Thatcher as leader of the Conservative Party. 2015 is also the year that the Labour party, which used to love to taunt the Conservatives over their ‘women problems’, elected a man to be the Leader, Deputy Leader and their London Mayoral candidate.

Following Harriet Harman’s departure from her second stint as acting Leader of the party, a role twice fulfilled by women otherwise kept out of the magic circle of leadership, it’s worth reflecting on the necessity of All Women Shortlists (AWS) in our party and their failure to supply a leader in the 20-plus years they’ve been put forward.

Instinctively, I don’t support AWS. I have seen them foster resentment among colleagues male and female. I would prefer a system where shortlists are made up of 50:50 male to female ratios but sadly, what I would prefer in an ideal world does not work. Therefore my support for AWS is based on evidence of which the 2015 Labour internal elections are merely the latest in a long line.

If you believe men and women are equal you have to address why men dominate the upper echelons of society and politics and always have. The answer is structural and perhaps even inherent in how society and people operate. Clearly, simply increasing the number of female candidates is not enough. Labour has a much larger talent pool of female MPs than the Conservatives and we’ve still failed to elect a woman leader.

The fact that having two strong candidates in 2015 after having one candidate in 2010 on borrowed votes is seen as progress shows how far we have to go. 2015 should be the bare minimum, not our best effort yet.


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What the Labour leadership election rules say about removing a leader

12/09/2015, 07:00:23 AM

by Trevor Fisher

The Labour party system of electing a leader for an indefinite period makes sensible recall procedures impossible. The logical reason for an open ended term was ended once the Fixed Parliament Act was passed in 2010, as the need to have a leader ready in opposition to fight an election was ended. Up to then, the government could call an election at any time so Labour had to be ready. Now the government is able to replace the Prime Minister within a five year term, Labour also gained this freedom while in opposition.

Previously the Labour party could be caught out by a snap election with no leader in place, as it was in 1935.

The fact that there is no fixed term of office, allows mechanisms for challenging and replacing the leader while in opposition, which are indeed part of the rule book. However the rules are vague and certainly do not provide a mandatory system. Instead they either allow a leader to go on for the full term – currently 4 years and 8 months once the NEC had decreed a four month campaign, which is not within the rules*. Alternatively, members of the PLP are allowed to challenge the leader and indeed apparently can do so on a yearly basis if they wish.

The rules decree the currently operative three section system of full members, registered supporter and affiliated members (mainly unions), but I have not been able to find a definition of their rights and responsibilities, but it is clear this is not One Member One Vote (OMOV) and the phrase ‘One Person One Vote’ is used.(Chapter 4, Clause 2, Section C clause viii). This is not the only ambiguity in the rules, but there is no ambiguity that the rules allow a challenge to the leader by forcing a ballot.

How the ballot would be carried out is not in the rule book as far as I can see, but the current postal-electronic ballot and complex vetting procedures, which are inefficient and not actually specified in the rules as far as I can see, could not be repeated easily. The resources involved are considerable, potentially ruinous and could not be operated especially if the challenges became annual, which appears to be currently possible and hardly desirable.


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Corbyn, Cooper and Burnham are being outflanked by Osborne on devolution

09/09/2015, 09:20:18 AM

by Nick Small

As the next Labour leader takes office, a number of big northern English city regions will sign-off devolution deals with central government.  These deals will see new powers and funding devolved from Whitehall to elected city region on transport, skills, business support, funding, inward investment, welfare to work and potentially policing, fire services and health.

The deals won’t be perfect and, yes, some cuts will undoubtedly be devolved.  But it will be the biggest transfer of power away from the centre since the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly were set up in 1998 with up to £60bn of funding being devolved from Whitehall.   And it will start a process that could fundamentally change our great northern cities’ dependency on London for good.

Devolution and austerity are in some ways two sides of the same coin.  For cities like Liverpool there are only two ways out of austerity.

The first thing we can do is to break down silos between different parts of government and move to place based funding and delivery of public services.  This lets us do more with less.

The second is to boost our local economy to strengthen our tax base in a progressive way.

This is what we’ve been doing in Liverpool over the last five years.  A devolution deal would allow us to build on that work and to keep more tax receipts raised locally to spend locally.  It’s not an option to go back to the 1980s and the grotesque chaos of illegal budgets.  Let’s not forget that those tactics failed then, they hit working people the hardest and did untold reputational damage to cities like Liverpool that lasted many, many years.

But the man most likely to be the next Labour leader doesn’t seem to get it, calling city devolution “a cruel deception” and “southern hot air.”  To be fair, neither Andy Burnham nor Yvette Cooper, based on past action, are instinctive decentralisers.


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If we are to intervene in Syria or Libya, we must learn from past failures

08/09/2015, 08:11:44 PM

by Paul Lynch

To most people, there will be only one international story in the news this week. The horror of the refugee crisis, the complete cowardice of the response of many nations, and the possible solutions are on everyone’s minds, and in every conversation.

It’s a common refrain that a solution to the refugee crisis is stabilisation of Syria, Iraq, Libya and other disrupted regions, and that the best option to ensure this is military action.

If you sincerely think that, good on you; I’m minded to agree. But military action is not the easy fix that many people consider it to be. Past failures of foreign policy have shown that any decision to use military force must be taken after deep thought, conference and without emotional input. This decision must be taken coldly, rationally and with the full facts taken into account.

In my opinion, as a progressive, internationalist Labour Party, humanitarian intervention can only ever go ahead following these four points.

1) A UN resolution, and full commitment from the permanent members of the Security Council.

Yes, that does mean action from the US, France, the UK, Russia and China. Humanitarian intervention is not and can never be a power play. Nations cannot play the Great Game anymore, and use proxies to advance their own petty goals. If we talk about humanitarian intervention it must be only for humanitarian reasons, and therefore international collaboration between the world powers. Furthermore, we must work with and support local leaders to ensure regional peace and prosperity. Finally, we internationalists base our idealism on the rule of law; we cannot lecture to others on what we do not do ourselves

2) Overwhelming force.

That’s not hyperbole. If experts believe the job can be done properly with 200,000 troops, for example, we send 400,000. When military action is not prosecuted fully, we may well have never acted at all.

3) An explicit commitment to nation-building.

This is not imposing democratic ideals. Democracy must come from the ground up, and that is the responsibility and the agency of the citizen. But in order to stabilise a nation, we must make a clear commitment to developing infrastructure, an economy and basic security, creating the conditions in which liberal values develop organically.

4) Finally, an acceptance that any action is not a quick fix; If a stabilisation operation is ordered, it is likely that troops will be there for 10,15, even 20 years in order to do the job properly. Refusal to accept this idea causes fundamental damage to the strategy of any intervention.

If we can’t meet these four points, military action should be off the table. That may be cold, but as I said, these decisions must be taken rationally and mindful of the responsibility and consequences.

Paul Lynch is a Labour councillor in St Helens, Merseyside

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Burnham can’t win, but his supporters could stop Corbyn if enough back Cooper

07/09/2015, 10:27:58 PM

by Kenny Stevenson

There has been some buzz over Yvette Cooper’s popularity spike since taking her principled and courageous stand on Europe’s refugee crisis. The bookies have slashed her odds to make her second favourite to become Labour’s new leader on Saturday. But can she conceivably overtake Jeremy Corbyn?

First things first: don’t trust the bookies. Stephen Bush has correctly pointed out they aim to maximise profit, not predict outcomes. When punters took Corbyn’s original price of 100/1, his odds began to drop. It was not until after YouGov’s membership polls that he became the odds-on favourite. So while the contest is still Corbyn’s to lose, his price is as much a reflection of bookies’ damage limitation as it is his popularity.

Similarly for Cooper, speculation over a last-minute surge – and, presumably, more people betting on her – has seen her price reduced from 10/1 to 4/1. But unlike Corbyn’s price change, there have been no membership polls to inform the bookies. Cooper’s price drop is based on hearsay. With no new polls, we should assume no significant movement in voting intentions. Corbyn is still on course to win.

So how can Cooper win? Let’s indulge in some conjecture. If we look at voting intentions reported in the last YouGov poll, the first preference breakdown is as follows:


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We need economic policies for 2020. Not 2008

02/09/2015, 07:42:03 PM

by Michael Pavey

The story of the last Parliament was the Tory-led government crushing a nascent economic recovery and condemning the country to five years of misery through austerity – but successfully convincing the public that it was all Labour’s fault.

In no small part this is because immediately after the 2010 election, Labour indulged in a prolonged and self-absorbed leadership contest. Instead of defending our economic legacy, we bickered amongst ourselves and allowed the Tories to badge us as spendthrift deficit-deniers who caused the financial crash. We never shook off the damage of those early months.

Now we are making exactly the same mistake. Instead of developing persuasive economic policies which people understand and relate to, we are focusing on the fantasy that is Corbynomics. I have absolutely no problem with Jeremy Corbyn – but Corbynomics is the polar opposite of what we need. Not because it’s scary and left-wing, but because it will have less and less relevance to people’s lives as the next general election approaches.

The cornerstone of Corbynomics, “Quantitative Easing for the people”, is a triumph of hindsight over commonsense. It’s what we should have done in 2008. But the unique circumstances which created that moment no longer apply. When the whole financial system stood on the brink of meltdown, we should have set a much broader definition of the public good than simply protecting current accounts to keep ATMs flowing. At the same time as saving the banks, we should have had a strategy which also protected jobs, livelihoods and public services from the impact of a prolonged recession.

But to say we should have done this in 2008 doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do now. 2008 was a unique moment, both economically and politically. An unprecedented meltdown triggered an equally unprecedented clamour for political intervention. Hindsight shows that the steps taken were far from perfect, but this was a time of genuine fear when no-one knew what was happening – so Gordon Brown deserves full credit for averting something far worse.


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We need a recall vote on the leader before the next election

28/08/2015, 11:40:50 AM

by Trevor Fisher

Early in the Labour leadership campaign, the idea of a recall election was floated. The Newsnight discussion involving all four candidates on June 17th discussed the idea without much depth but did suggest the mechanisms already existed.

The issue has gone off the agenda but it is time to renew the debate, before the election result is announced. It is already being suggested that if the wrong candidate is elected then there will be parliamentary plots. But the issue is for the party, not the MPs. A recall should be accepted practice, whoever comes out on top in September.

The current system without automatic recall, allowing a leader an indefinite period up to an election – and perhaps beyond – is absurd. Currently a leader can last for an open period until they decide to resign, thus Attlee lasted for twenty years on the basis of having won the leadership in a PLP vote, only resigning after two election defeats.

It is a worth considering what would have happened if Blair had not volunteered to stand down after the 2005 election – I suspect he would be there today. It has been 80 years since the Labour party last removed a leader, George Lansbury, in 1935. Unlike the Tory party, Labour does not remove unsuccessful leaders.

The problem currently staring Labour in the face is that it has to win voters over in a hostile climate, which has been the case since 2010. Giving Ed Miliband the whole of a four year eight month period was a mistake, which will be repeated this autumn if there is no recall strategy.


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Labour’s in a mess because the soft left has disappeared

20/08/2015, 06:03:58 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The Labour leadership election is becoming a gift to the Tories, because of the Corbyn surge. The politics of Corbyn now dominating the agenda has revived talk of the soft left, which commentators including Luke Akehurst think is capable of intervening. Dan Hodges in The Daily Telegraph, rightly bemoaning the disastrous new electoral system, commented that “pragmods” wanted the current individualised membership plus “many elements on the soft left of Labour.” Pragmods may be right, but where the elements of the soft left are, is another matter.

As someone active in the Labour Coordinating Committee (LCC), the main soft left group in the 1980s, I can endorse what Luke Akehurst says about its grassroots effectiveness in tackling the hard left and shifting the national agenda. But the successor organisations are now dead, except for Compass which is now outside the Labour Party orbit.  Luke Akehurst wants to bring the remnants of the soft left into action, Dan Hodges believes they already are. So something needs to be said about the soft left and whether it has any role to play in the current drama.

As Akehurst has said, the soft left of the eighties had much policy agreement with the hard left. But there were at least two major differences.

Firstly, the soft left did not believe the barrier to political progress was the party establishment. Though there were sharp differences with the leadership through to 1983, the real problems to advance were seen as the Tory party and the deep roots in popular culture the Tories had and still have. From this, the second big difference was the soft left wanted to work with the leadership, the hard left to replace it.

It is sometimes said the hard left do not want power. They certainly do. In the eighties they controlled a number of local councils. But they did not want compromise. They shared with the far left the desire for purity, but unlike the far left Trotskyists’ sects, the hard left did want elected position.


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