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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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Letting Farron and Sturgeon lead the pro-European camp is a road to ruin for Labour

02/01/2017, 10:20:09 PM

by Trevor Fisher

2017 will be a more challenging year than 2016, a year when progressives lost on all fronts.  In the USA the Democrats lost the Presidency to Trump and in Congressional elections. At home, Labour and pro Europeans lost the popular vote to Remain, and the far right advanced all over the European Union. The trends are ominous.

There is growing evidence that Brexit is now the defining issue in British politics, gridlocking all debates at Westminster and shaping voting attitudes. As commentators have noted, notably the UK in a Changing Europe report, Labour is in danger of slipping into a black hole with pro-Remain Labour voters going Lib Dem, and Leave inclined voters supporting UKIP. Labour could face challenges in England and Wales mirroring those in Scotland, where the political option is now Tory vs SNP on the dominant issue independence.

Some Labour MPs, having noticed a significant number of working class voters opted for Leave, seek an accommodation with Brexit. But there is no political advantage in accepting Brexit. Principled politics already demand rejecting the reactionary Brexit position, but practical politics indicate there is no mileage in betraying the majority of Labour voters who supported its position.

The concerns of those who voted to Leave have to be addressed, but not by accepting Brexit. Keir Starmer and John McDonnell are showing welcome signs that Remain to Reform policy is more than a slogan. But this will be irrelevant unless Labour can hold the line on the key issue – opposition to Brexit.

Political reality is that the vote on June 23rd, while massive, was effectively suicidal for UK politics and Brexit cannot be delivered without severe damage to the UK in general, and working class people in particular. This will become increasingly clear as Article 50 is triggered.

There will be a second independence referendum in Scotland unless Brexit can be defeated, although a Brexit which does not apply to Scotland is an illusion. Britain will be faced with chaos as its internal politics collapses and the chill winds of political reality bite.

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A progressive alliance makes sense for by-elections, not the general election

06/12/2016, 06:05:01 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The Richmond by-election on November 30th was a welcome victory despite the poor Labour showing. In Richmond I would have voted Lib Dem, to defeat a Tory-UKIP backed candidate. Tim Farron claimed the Lib Dems are back, but there are a string of Liberal by election victories back to Orpington (1962) which proved false. Richmond does however put support for the Compass advocated progressive alliance strategy back on the agenda. Labour ignores this at its peril though beyond by-elections the strategy is questionable.

Richmond demonstrates that Brexit now dominates UK politics. Given that Richmond was heavily for Remain, and the allegedly independent Zac Goldsmith was Brexit, he was headed for a fall.

However there are seats in which the electorate are heavily pro Brexit, and there UKIP may do well. Labour is vulnerable, UKIP being second in 41 Labour seats. It is as possible that a UKIP surge can happen in Labour heartlands, and also in Tory seats where a hard Brexit appeal may grow as the failure of May to deliver has an impact. The longer the negotiations take the more political culture will be poisoned.

Labour failed to have by-election strategy in Richmond, linked to its lack of clarity over Brexit.

Corbyn’s strategy of not opposing Brexit but calling for scrutiny of a deal is too close to Blairite triangulation for comfort. Owen Smith’s call for a second referendum is principled, but the challenge of a second referendum would be considerable. However it is less risky than an election which could devastate Labour for years to come.

While May is unlikely to call a general election immediately, a parliamentary blocking approach can trigger an election rather than a second referendum. If this were to happen the Progressive Alliance needs to be scrutinised. As a by-election tactic it is relevant. But a general election is a different matter.
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Brexit and Trump: A disaster for liberalism caused by liberal elites

21/11/2016, 08:02:27 AM

by Robert Wragg

2016 has borne witness to perhaps the biggest rise in anti-establishment anger in a generation, but it hasn’t come from the usual suspects. No longer is it the radical left protesting the political elite, but rather it is regular working class voters, and they’re looking to the right. Culminating in the British public’s vote to leave the European Union, and the election of Donald Trump in the USA, liberal left parties are struggling to gather enough support from the electorate. The same is true on both sides of the pond, as in many others countries. So why is this happening?

In both the EU referendum and US presidential election, socially democratic and liberal parties failed to recognise that they had lost the support of the working-class voters, or where they did accept this, proclaimed those people to be simply ‘wrong’ in their growing dissatisfaction with liberal ideas, framing them as racists or bigots with neither the numbers nor the power to influence the vote. Proponents of liberalism refused to engage with them. Instead, they continued to provide more of the same moral superiority and neo-liberal economic, socially liberal package, with an ‘end of history’ style arrogance. In doing so they appealed only to those whose vote they had already won, their ideas bouncing around the echo chamber that is social media, reinforcing their feelings of righteousness.

Alienation of working class voters from the establishment in the UK, and alienation of white non-college educated individuals from the establishment in the USA – the story is the same; a political elite pushing a hegemonic ideology of social liberalism with such hubris that it either doesn’t notice, or chooses to ignore, the fact that huge swathes of the population simply no longer agree with the dominant position, largely because it hasn’t offered them anything. It is no surprise that the same individuals look elsewhere for opportunities to hit back at the establishment.

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The Left needs to regroup, rethink, and reorganise

12/11/2016, 05:22:07 PM

by Nick McDonald

It does feel like we’ve entered a new Dark Ages doesn’t it? It’s sobering (and I use that term loosely) to conclude that, as 2016 draws to a close, we live in a world dominated by racists and bigots who want to spend their time hating each other and driving each other off their land. Snarling & sneering, rather than embracing each other.

That in the 21st century a person can be elected President of the United States of America on the back of policies that include preventing people entering the country because of their religion, and building a great wall across the border with Mexico like some ancient dynasty is truly terrifying.

More terrifying still is that these are the only two substantive Trump policies most of us can name. His website barely describes his economic ‘positions’ (a more accurate description than ‘policies’). He never really knew what he wanted to do, other than win big.

And win big he did. Hate triumphed over hope this time, for sure. But we shouldn’t accept that it’s forever, or that it’s truly who we are. The narrow majority of people who voted for division and hate this year in both the US and UK (actually, in the US, a narrow minority) did so because they are frightened, not because they are intrinsically bad people.

After the crash of 2007, across the world we’ve seen our standards of living plummet, and for many the world they thought they understood and were part of has moved on and left them behind. And no one has explained it to them, and it doesn’t feel like anyone is fighting for them.

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The change in Labour’s membership is different to the 1980s, but could be just as dangerous

06/09/2016, 09:31:50 AM

by Trevor Fisher

The Corbyn phenomenon is starting to attract academic attention, and is clearly not understood at any level by the parliamentarians and other observers. It is time to take the phenomenon seriously, as it will not go away. However unlike the 1980s left surge, which was largely activist driven so the approach of the party establishment was to shift to OMOV to outflank the activists with a mass membership, the current surge seems to be a mass membership of Corbynites – though Momentum may not be critically significant –  while the activists are resistant. The recent YouGov poll puts the support for Corbyn highest in new members and  lowest in the older membership.

If the new members are Corbynites the effect will be to undermine the activity base of the party and weaken the attempt to get a Labour government. As set out below, the research throws a grim light on the two theories I have heard in the last week, do nothing and allow JC’s regime to implode, or set up a shadow opposition in the Commons which will match each official pronouncement with an unofficial and critical one.

The research into the post 2015 membership

Professor Tim Bale, using the YouGov data of 2026 members and supporters who joined the Labour Party after May 2015, and comparing with previous data in May 2015 of members ‘when Ed Miliband was leader’, the new members were much the same age as the Miliband era members at just over 51. The youth surge has not translated into member/supportership. Six out of ten have degrees, the same for both groups, but contrasting the pre and post 2015 membership “they are even more middle class, “with 78% of them (compared to 70%) of them being ABC1”.

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The UK, the EU, Labour – all are fragile; all are worth preserving

31/08/2016, 06:21:25 PM

by Will Brett

Nabokov’s incestuous lovers Ada and Van have a scheme for appreciating the good things in life. When something lovely happens, it is known to them as a ‘real thing’. When three ‘real things’ happen at the same time, they call it a ‘tower’ and revere it above all else. One morning on a balcony, Van observes Ada eating honey on bread. “Real thing?” he asks. “Tower,” she replies. He understands that the honey is one real thing; she tells him that a wasp, whose “body was throbbing”, is the second; but what is the third? “She said nothing. She licked her spread fingers, still looking at him. Van, getting no answer, left the balcony. Softly her tower crumbled in the sweet silent sun.”

Political alliances are fragile, beautiful things, made up of several parts. And if one of those parts is removed, the tower will crumble in the sweet silent sun.

The compromises required to form one of these alliances are always vast. Take three of them: the United Kingdom, the European Union and the Labour Party. The UK brought together warring nations locked in mutual antipathy. The EU is a pan-continental response to the largest slaughter in history, requiring eternal enemies to come together at last. And the Labour Party, formed in response to mass industrial hardship, required delicate negotiations between trade unionists (of both the closed-shop and radical kind), intellectual Fabians and radical socialists.

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The Parliamentary Labour Party has displayed dreadful judgement and the situation could yet get worse

19/08/2016, 11:32:23 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Despite the legal issues being resolved, Labour’s political options are becoming more sharp-edged and legalistic. This situation is worsened by the antics of the Parliamentary Labour Party, a group whose political judgement and even grasp of political rules is dire.

I agree with Richard MacKinnon in the comments for my last piece questioning, “How can a party be trusted running a country when they can’t even run themselves?” though his call for a purge is unwise. But the key issue is that the MPs can’t get the most basic political issues right. Certainly the Labour rules and those of the British constitution seem to be beyond them.

The MPs were deeply foolish in acting to pass the vote of no confidence, which has had no effect other than to trigger the current leadership contest. That Corbyn simply ignored the vote is a sign the MPs did not understand the nature of the man, and once he called their bluff they had to challenge him… hoping it must be assumed that the NEC would exclude him from the ballot paper or perhaps the courts would.

Even before they made these foolish moves, which risks Corbyn winning a new and stronger mandate, the MPs had made many stupid decisions. Bob Crossley was right in his comment to me that the big mistake was letting JC onto the ballot paper, but it remains the case that the previous mistake was approving the Miliband reforms which only allowed the MPs to have the limited control of nominating. Which they then bungled as fools like Margaret Beckett and Frank Field nominated JC. He can’t be blamed for saying Thanks Very Much.

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I came to the debate supporting Jeremy Corbyn. I left backing Owen Smith

05/08/2016, 10:03:13 AM

by Brian Back

Passions were running very high in the audience for this debate.

This was particularly apparent when Smith stated he was scared the Party would split and that disunity would lead to electoral failure, which to the many Corbyn supporters in the room, seemed hugely hypocritical, as to them, he was one of the main causes of the disunity.

On the whole, Corbyn seemed more passionate than Smith. There is absolutely no doubting his genuine commitment to the cause and to the socialist program he proposes.

However, although Corbyn had passion, Smith was slicker in his presentation.

Much of the time, their ideas were very similar- except on Trident! On Trident; although Smith put forward a decent argument, Corbyn’s knowledge, understanding and passion seemed to clearly win this round, on which Smith conceded that they would just have to agree to disagree.

Because of the similarity of most of their ideas, it is obvious to see that Corbyn has already achieved his main original aim- of bringing socialist ideas back to the forefront of the Party’s manifesto.

In fact, it would be true to say that Smith is entirely a child of Corbyn’s leadership, as, due to all the new members that Corbyn has attracted, Smith has no choice but to put across a similarly left-wing program, without which he has no chance of winning over Corbyn’s supporters, or of retaining their support as members, if he wins this contest.

So, in this, we can already judge Corbyn a success.

As for the debate; who had more success?

Corbyn had a greater number of supporters, so he naturally received more applause.

However, Smith had a surprisingly large number of supporters on his side too, who reacted equally passionately to his points.

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