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Labour needs a rural revival to win the seats needed for government

14/06/2017, 10:15:29 PM

by Liam Stokes

The general election has given hope to those of us hoping for a rural Labour revival, but also pause for thought. This is an area in which I have a personal interest. In this year’s Wiltshire Council elections I stood for Labour in the very rural north Wiltshire ward in which Jeremy Corbyn grew up. It was an uplifting experience. People were pleased and surprised to find a candidate roaming the country lanes wearing a red rosette. The most oft-heard quip was “best of luck mate, you’ll need it round here”. Others were more encouraging, which was much appreciated during long and lonely days leafletting. I’ll be eternally grateful to the landscaper who, as my spirits were flagging on a particularly long and rainy walk down an especially remote track, took a break from shovelling gravel to tell me he was glad to see someone “standing for the working man”. But for all that warmth on the doorstep, I got 10% of the vote. Believe it or not even that was 2% better than Labour did last time. The Tory got 69%.

I shouldn’t have been surprised; in the wake of the 2015 election it was painfully clear that Labour had a “rural problem”. Maria Eagle MP wrote a paper with that very title. There are 199 rural constituencies in England and Wales, of which Labour won 30. Earlier this year things got even worse with the loss of Copeland, taking us to 29.

A Fabian Society report produced in the immediate aftermath pointed to 148 constituencies Labour should target in the next general election in order to secure a majority. Maria Eagle’s report highlighted that 28 of these seats were in rural England and Wales, and fretted over the cultural disconnect that might mean we wouldn’t win them. Her report found that rural voters saw Labour as insular and metropolitan, while the party viewed the countryside with “polite indifference”.

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If Labour is to win the next election, we must answer the big questions that Tony Blair posed over a decade ago

14/06/2017, 06:35:27 PM

by Tom Clement

As good as our result was last week, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we did not win. Earning the trust of 41% of the population is a magnificent achievement but it still leaves us sixty seats short of being even the largest party. Our choice now is to either complain about the unfairness of the voting system; or we can equip ourselves to win an election.

And to do this, we must claim the future.

It is the only way we win. In 1945, Atlee realised the need to win the peace following the Second World War and led our most transformative government so far. Wilson won in 1964 after embracing the ‘white heat’ of the technological revolution and liberalise our country as a result. And through facing the Millennium, Blair was able to win in 1997 and deliver the longest period of Labour government to date.

So how do we do it today?

We must face the future and embrace the difficult questions that we have avoided for so long. In fact, if you go back to Tony Blair’s final conference speech as leader, he poses some clear questions that we have still yet to answer.

The question today is … how we reconcile openness to the rich possibilities of globalisation, with security in the face of its threats.”

We live in uncertain times. The recent election result only serves to highlight that. With Brexit, Trump and the chaos in Downing Street, it is impossible to predict what will happen over the next five years.

But that doesn’t mean that we have no control over it. Quite the opposite. The future is very much in our hands but only if we reach out and embrace it.

Our test, put simply, is Brexit. It is no good to just wait for the Tories to make a bad deal and then complain about it afterwards.

We have to lead. We have to be bold about our decisions now and fill the vacuum that Theresa May’s insipid leadership has left.

Corbyn should announce the formation of a cross-Party convention to decide our negotiating strategy for Brexit and invite all parties to it. We should force the debate to be about priorities, not process. We should make clear how a Labour Brexit would be different to a Tory Brexit and we should shame them into sharing their priorities.

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Has Corbyn’s elastic stretched as far as it can?

10/06/2017, 04:43:03 PM

by John Wall

Although the dust from the general election is yet to settle and there is much ink still to be spilt it’s clear that, despite the claims of the Corbynistas, Project Corbyn has reached its limit.

Go back a couple of years and Corbyn’s path to Downing Street was essentially predicated on two principles. The first was non-voters, in the hope that they’d support Labour, and the second was attracting fellow travellers on the left, effectively a so-called progressive alliance.

The naysayers countered with analyses contending that these wouldn’t provide sufficient extra support and that a majority could only be secured by attracting Conservative voters.

If we look at the headline figures the two main parties together secured approaching 85% of the vote, a significant increase since the about 67% in 2015 and a massive consequential squeeze on the smaller parties.

Then there was the large increase in turnout by the key, for Corbyn, 18-24 age group.

Notwithstanding the above, and despite a poor campaign, the Conservative vote and percentage share increased, and Labour are still more than sixty seats short of a majority.

It’s clear that, overall, few Conservatives were attracted to Labour and, considering Corbyn’s extremely unsavoury baggage and economic incontinence, this isn’t particularly surprising.

It may, of course, be possible to squeeze the minor parties a little more, but the share of the two main parties is at its highest since about 1970, and perhaps some more 18-24 year olds can be enticed by giveaways, but Lord Ashcroft reckons that two thirds voted for Labour, so these avenues must now be subject to the law of diminishing returns.

Whenever the next election is the Conservatives will have learned the lessons of 2017, simple things like a few devil’s advocates involved in writing the manifesto. There might even be a new leader, it’s a party that is only interested in winning and winners, with no place for sentiment.

Everything went Corbyn’s way but he still fell a long way short. His position is secure, and Labour will now probably be refashioned in his likeness, but that will not attract Conservative voters and will keep them as far from power as ever.

John Wall is a former member of the Conservatives

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Timely advice for a very fresh president

07/03/2017, 11:30:58 PM

by Julian Glassford

Dear President Trump,

I write to submit a series of suggestions to your incoming administration via the appropriate #MAGA suggestions box. Please consider carefully the approach outlined below: intended to help reinvigorate the United States, as a model of liberty, unity, justice, and prosperity.

Firstly, place investing in measures intended to enhance environmental health and welfare firmly at the centre of any economic stimulus package. Especially prioritise detoxifying and updating America’s water services and infrastructure, and commencing the (inevitable) transition to a low chemical, smog, and ‘electrosmog’ society.

The biological impacts of environmental health hazards, plus widespread pharmaceutical overmedication, have given rise to a host of (silent) health and developmental disorder pandemics. Furthermore, these phenomena are adversely affecting innumerable other life forms, including species (like bees) that we critically rely upon for crop pollination.

Tragically these insidious issues are only just starting to register with the scientific mainstream, thanks to decades of crony capitalist obfuscation. Here, as in other areas, seeing redressive action through will mean remaining steadfast in your willingness to challenge received wisdom and lead without fear or favour.

Secondly, ensure that justice is served across the board, and in relation to the misdemeanours of public servants in particular. In order to abate still more profound deterioration in civil trust, social contract, and community cohesion there must be a root and branch removal of corruption, prejudice, and the undue influence of special interests from public service. Make no mistake, rather than renege on related campaign commitments voters fully expect you to “drain the swamp”.

Relatedly, now would be an opportune moment for a comprehensive review of Western intelligence and security agencies, their role, scale, scope, and accountability. Left to their own devices such shadowy organisations can become slack, compromised, or a law unto themselves – as you recently discovered for yourself. This degrades democracy, upsets international relations, and has the (demonstrated) capacity to catalyse great human suffering. (more…)

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Brexit lost in Stoke. Time for Labour faint hearts to learn the lessons

24/02/2017, 10:15:45 PM

by James Valentine

Officially Labour won in Stoke on Thursday but the real result is that the Brexiteers lost.  This was supposed to be UKIP’s high point – their triumph, when they would have fatally undermined the Labour party, possibly leading to an apocalyptic decline, such as that suffered in Scotland. But the idea that “Leave” voters would apply transfer their preferences to a contest where that choice was not on the agenda was a fallacy. Labour faint hearts, worried about election chances in “Leave” constituencies, should take note and start standing up for Britain’s future in Europe.

Mr Nuttall losing in Stoke will still not mean the end of UKIP. It merely confirms a pattern – the previous leader Farage was after all a multiple election-loser. UKIP is a chaotic party run by dubious individuals but it will continue to appeal to xenophobic and anti-immigrant feeling, now made more “respectable” following the Referendum vote. But the result puts paid to the idea that some Labour constituencies, primarily in the North are vulnerable to UKIP purely because of their high “Leave” component. And it can’t just be put down to Nuttall’s lamentable campaign. Copeland was clearly a disaster for Labour, but under entirely different circumstances, the UKIP vote plunged.

So why has this happened? The European Union, as such, has not been the most important issue for electors. Pollsters such as YouGov have repeatedly shown that when salience of voting issues is measured then “Europe” or “the EU” comes well down the list, after the immigration, the NHS, crime and so on. But if you offer the electors a choice about Europe, they will always give negative answers. This is what happened at the Referendum. A proportion of electors who never vote at General Elections turned out. And voting against the “EU” was widely interpreted as a vote against the political establishment and a reaction to economic austerity.

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Trump has got a point on NATO, Russia and climate change

15/02/2017, 10:19:43 PM

by Julian Glassford

Winston Churchill is widely regarded as the greatest Briton in history. Here was a larger than life, notoriously brash and uncompromising Western leader, and one who allied himself with a Russian tyrant. 70 years on, and the political mainstream finds itself consumed with juxtaposed vexation. The source of all this consternation: a similarly bold and irrepressible, if relatively uncultured, rabble-rousing “Russophile”.

Granted, Donald Trump is no Churchill, but rather than jumping the gun in mourning the presumed death of American exceptionalism and Pax Americana, perhaps we ought to take the opportunity to pause, contemplate, and culture our concerns.

The cry that “democracy has lost its champion” smacks of selective amnesia regarding a string of less than illustrious foreign adventures from Vietnam to Iraq. It is also as if certain commentators skipped classes on the role of European ‘soft power’ and complex interdependence. It should be clear to any learned, objective analyst that increased stability and human flourishing has in many instances occurred not because, but in spite, of US-led interventions and initiatives.

Clearly, there is much to be said for the exercise of high minded influence by major players on the world stage – no-one wants to see a return to the dark days of American isolationism – but beware the false dichotomy. Notwithstanding the solipsistic antics of a certain “dangerous vulgarian” i.e. widely condemned neo-mercantile Trumponomics and discriminatory migration policy, a United States of Anarchy is not a realistic prospect.

Precarious as the present international order may be, it is unwise to presuppose that an unfiltered US President – or British foreign secretary, for that matter – will send the house of cards crashing down; that is, so long as the UN Security Council remains united in their opposition to nuclear proliferation, and the East-West arms-race in prospect confined to peaceful competition. (more…)

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By backing the Brexit Bill, Labour is writing the Tories a blank cheque

01/02/2017, 05:42:28 PM

by Frederick Cowell

Sometimes metaphor’s are over cooked – the repeated reference to the 1972 European Communities Act as a ‘conduit pipe’ in the Supreme Court judgement in the recent case brought by Gina Miller being one. But sometimes metaphors are apt none more so than the blank cheque metaphor being used about the current Brexit Bill. The problem with a blank cheque is once you have signed it and handed it over the other party is free to fill in whatever they like into the amount box. To strain the metaphor still further; that Parliament has to ‘pay’ and deliver Brexit is not at issue – that has to be done to respect the referendum result. The question of what and how you ‘pay’ is however at issue and is what Labour should be addressing at the moment.

The Bill is very simple – just two clauses – but its brevity belies its significance. It represents one of the most significant retrenchments of executive power in recent years. The Supreme Court judgment in Miller revolved around the capacity of executive power – called in the British Constitution the Royal Prerogative. The government’s contention was that they should have the power to activate Article 50 without parliamentary control. The technicalities of the way that the 1972 Act was enacted and subsequent treaties meant the government were not entitled to use the Royal Prerogative to initiate the process of leaving the EU. They needed to get Parliamentary legislation instead.

What could have turned into an opportunity to – borrowing Keir Starmer’s phrase – to legislate for the 100% rather than the 52% or 48% has basically turned into a government power grab. The un-amended version of the Bill simply provides a framework for the government to do what it wants regarding Brexit. All of the negotiations will be conducted using the Royal Prerogative for foreign affairs which is notoriously difficult to scrutinise, does not have to be authorised by Parliament and is notoriously difficult to review in the courts. In short there is no real parliamentary control until 2019. Then a vote will be given two things.

Firstly the final Brexit deal with the EU (if there is one) but this vote is a formality – even if the deal is appalling there will be no chance to amend it, as that would require it to be cleared through the EU institutions and member states. A piece of legislation might not even be required here as this would simply be the ratification of a treaty, which does not technically need an act of Parliament. Any attempt to reject it would be basically impossible as by 2019 the UK would be required to ‘take what it can get’. Full exit would be just days away and something would be need to replace the EU’s international legal framework otherwise the markets would be in free fall and the UK would be plunged into an economic crisis.

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The West must now tread very carefully in Syria

31/01/2017, 01:27:03 PM

by Julian Glassford

Rebel forces have just lost their last toehold in Aleppo. Now residents displaced by conflict may begin to return to (what’s left of) Syria’s historic second city. Whilst we should of course recognise the horrific devastation wrought, mourn the casualties, and put pressure on all sides to cease their use of indiscriminate/inhumane tactics, surely this is cause for relief? Downing Street and the Foreign Office don’t seem convinced.

Having openly criticised Saudi Arabian and Iranian involvement in regional “proxy wars” recently, alas, within days naughty boy Boris Johnson had rowed back on this bout of intellectual honesty. The British Foreign Secretary was back on-message in time to deliver a hastily reworked speech at the Manama Dialogue Summit, where he spoke of a need to engage and work with such countries to encourage and support reform. Emerging from a meeting of foreign ministers in Paris, a day later, he added: “there can be no military solution in Syria”. Notably among attendees at said event was the school-masterly US secretary of state, John Kerry.

Whether Mr. Johnson appreciates that a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to the Syrian civil war remains a prospect every bit as distant as meaningful, progressive reform across the Arabian Peninsula is unknown. Whatever the case, and however one feels about the UK’s idiosyncratic top ambassador, he certainly seems to be spending a lot of time on the road, actively seeking out foreign counterparts, stimulating debate, and occasionally shifting it significantly. All of a sudden the Yemeni  civil war has been back in the news, for example.

The Syrian conflict has now been raging for almost as long as the entire duration of the Second World War. So far, no attempt at a mediated civil settlement has gained any real traction, despite several attempts, with ceasefires having lasted no more than a few months. Scholars of international relations, ethnography, and conflict and security will tell you that there is a reason for this: the battle President Bashar al-Assad and his supporters are fighting is an existential one.

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Labour must steer clear of the type of two tier immigration system proposed by Stephen Kinnock and Emma Reynolds

16/01/2017, 06:33:51 PM

by Adam Peggs

Anti-immigration politics has been an ever growing threat for the British left for more than a decade. Over the last few years its threat to the left, and to the Labour Party specifically, has rapidly grown with virtually no-one in Labour denying that it presents an electoral problem to the party. Firstly as an inclusive party with egalitarian ideals it is Labour’s duty to fight xenophobia. But secondly the party represents constituencies like Bristol West and Streatham which voted to remain by huge margins as well as seats like Burnley and Hartlepool which overwhelmingly voted the other way.

In order to win (or even to retain its 232 seats) Labour will have to appeal to both ends of the Brexit spectrum, acknowledging that skepticism and disapproval over freedom of movement and “mass” migration were pivotal reasons for Brexit.

Labour’s left is understandably concerned with defending free movement and the rights of migrants. The more difficult question will no doubt be how Labour can regain the confidence of voters who backed Brexit whilst avoiding (and actively fighting against) xenophobia.

Recently Stephen Kinnock and Emma Reynolds came up with a proposal which they described as a ‘fair and managed two-tier migration system’, in which higher-skilled migrants would be given priority and less skilled migrants would be classified in the lower tier. It was echoed today in the Brexit Together proposals supported by Caroline Flint. These will have close to zero appeal to Labour’s liberally-inclined voters, to the young or to the children and families of migrants.

What Labour desperately needs is an immigration policy which respects both the EU referendum result and the rights and interests of migrants in Britain.

Labour should be staunchly opposing quotas for immigration, two tier systems which favour richer migrants, attempts by the Tories to erode migrant rights or attempts by UKIP and the Tories to pull up the drawbridge.

However we will need to offer concrete policies on immigration which will make leave voters feel as though Labour is listening to them.

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Smoke and mirrors are no panacea for populism

07/01/2017, 01:11:58 PM

by Julian Glassford

Breathtaking political plot-twists of recent months have left many onlookers decidedly discombobulated and key opinion formers remonstrating amongst themselves. So what do bellwether Brexit and US electoral outcomes indicate? Arguably, a repudiation of neoliberal globalism, elitism, and fear-based propaganda pitched at maintaining an awkward status quo. Hail, the temerarious new age of anti-expert ‘improvpolitik’!

The course runs deeper than our small pool of politically incorrect reductionists and the wave of discontent they ride, however. It flows beyond the poignant picture of inequality emblematised by the castaways “left behind” by USS Globalisation and HMS London: those financially “just about managing” to stay afloat (JAMs). Against a cold, unremitting tide of pervading progressivism and juxtaposed conspicuous consumption, folks feel all at sea. Communitarianism, constancy, and confidence in the system and its captains of change, have plunged to new depths. Old certainties languish on the seabed – hollowed out hulks, shrouded in the deep blue.

Bastions of the established order would love to wish away ‘shy’ (or sensibly silent) voters and the not so shy (if somewhat shadowy) ‘alt-right’. But what was a fanatical fringe has morphed into a formidable counter-cultural force clearly capable of swinging political events, bigly; hence the hasty repositioning of our Conservative incumbents.

If commentators are to remain politically literate they must engage with the unpalatable reality that contemporary social, gender, and intercultural dynamics do not universally translate as sources of profound strength and stability. Contentions ranging from mass immigration exacerbating economic disparity, through work-life imbalance representing a major social ill, to The Clash of Civilisations thesis, cannot be effortlessly extinguished. Contrary to historian Simon Schama’s prescription, the simple introduction of a broadsheet diet will hardly suffice!

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