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The soft left will not fall for factionalism

25/11/2015, 10:32:32 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The idea of a ‘soft left’ is currently popular, with commentators seeing it as crucial to Labour’s future. I agree, but its not an easy option. Spencer Livermore, in calling for the publication of the Labour report into his former bosses’ election defeat referred to Miliband’s ‘soft left policies’; clearly incorrect – Miliband rose through the Brown machine. More sensibly, Jonathan Rutherford wrote on Labour List in October that “only the soft left can build a winning coalition”, accepting that the ‘soft left’ had given Corbyn his victory as the hard left did not have enough support. Others have made the same point. The soft left dominates the membership.

However the soft left majority is unorganised and has no leadership or structure. While the hard left and the hard right have websites and organisations, the soft left do not. In the leadership election, soft left votes went to the hard left candidate precisely because they did not have a candidate, though I myself, firmly soft left, voted for Burnham and Cooper as unity candidates. Though they were certainly not soft left, no soft leader leadership figure has existed since the death of Robin Cook.

Now we read Atul Hatwal seeking to co-opt the soft left as “getting rid of Comrade Corbyn will take time”, despite the fact that most soft left voted for Corbyn. He outlines a strategy which will produce a civil war which will aid no one but the Tories and SNP. So a few thoughts from a veteran soft leftist who spent most of the 1980s fighting militant (in the Labour Co-ordinating Committee), and most of the 1990s through to 2007 fighting the Hard Right, aka, New Labour (in Labour Reform and then the sadly prescient but largely unknown Save the Labour Party).


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Labour centrists should not abandon ship on account of the captain

20/11/2015, 06:23:42 PM

by Gareth Williams

Probably the greatest hour in modern television history is the magisterial finale of the second season of the West Wing: Two Cathedrals. In it, President Bartlet, facing a tough reelection challenge and recently exposed as suffering from MS, is chastised by the figure of his deceased secretary over his indecision regarding whether or not to seek a second term. She issues him with the rhetorical ultimatum “if you don’t want to run again, I respect that. But if you don’t run cause you think it will be too hard or you think you’re going to lose…I don’t even want to know you”.

Harsh words and different stakes, perhaps, but Labour’s centrists face a similar quandary.

Is it worth fighting for a party which seems uninterested in fighting for itself? Should they go out on the doorstep for leaders who, themselves, do not see the merit in gaining office? Is there any point in putting up with voluminous and vituperative abuse day in day out?

My answer to all three would be a considered “yes”.

I did not support Jeremy Corbyn. I still don’t. I think many of his policies are both morally bankrupt and strategically nonsensical  – in addition to being electorally fatal. They will, if permitted, lead us to corporeal irrelevance and political extinction. I am not alone. While hard figures remain hard to come by, anecdotal estimates of membership outflows put the figure at 25 members leaving for every 75 who join.


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What, if anything, could Labour learn from Canada’s Liberals?

21/10/2015, 10:05:55 PM

by Frazer Loveman

The election results came in and the nation’s main left wing party, one that had held power for much of the 1990s and early 21st century was humiliated, defeated again by a Conservative party led by an excellent political manipulator. Sound familiar? This was the fate of the Canadian Liberal party at the 2011 Federal Elections, as they saw themselves left with only 34 seats, relegated to third party status following the New Democratic party’s huge boost in support. Yet, today, the Liberal Party have been restored, back in power winning 184 ridings, far more than many pollsters predicted (being a pollster these days must not be much fun). This has led many on the UK left to fully embrace ‘Trudeaumania’, as PM-designate Justin Trudeau has found himself to have become the doyenne of the left seemingly overnight (sorry, Bernie Sanders, but there’s a younger model now).

But could the Labour party realistically mirror the success of the Liberals in Canada? Well, if they intend to, then they’re not necessarily off to the best start. Trudeau wasn’t elected as leader until nearly two years after the 2011 election as the party re-grouped under interim leader Bob Rae, a stark contrast to the Labour party’s immediate and interminable leadership contest. In fairness, Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership election mirrored that of Trudeau in size (Trudeau steamrollered all competition, winning 78.86% of the vote) but that is about where the similarities end. Trudeau is as much an ‘establishment’ candidate as can possibly be imagined, the surname alone gives that away, and was shown during the Liberal leadership contest to be the candidate most likely to win support across the whole of Canada. He is young, good-looking and an exemplary public speaker- his speeches in the leadership contest would consist of 3 minute ‘blocks’ that he could link together as and when needed to suit situation and audience, almost ad-libbing whole speeches (contrast: “strong delivery here”).


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Lord Adonis is typical of the technocrat class that serves any master

12/10/2015, 10:40:30 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The move by Andrew Adonis in resigning the Labour whip to take up a post working for George Osborne’s Tory project was a significant political moment. For Labour, it removed a key element of New Labour’s drive to turn Labour into a faux-Thatcherite party. But Adonis’s career has a wider significance in the development of what Colin Crouch has called Post Democracy*.

Crouch’s thesis revolves around the emergence of a one dimensional political class, preserving the forms of political democracy and rival parties but removing significant political differences. Politics become behind closed doors decision-making, patronage and back stage intrigue. This is, de facto, what has emerged in the post-Thatcher period and Andrew Adonis is prime example of the phenomenon.

Adonis is best known as a Labour politician, rising without trace under Blair, who promoted him from his backroom staff to be Schools minister. Adonis has never troubled the electorate for their votes, but was so essential to the New Labour project that Gordon Brown ennobled him and appointed him transport minister. In both posts Adonis projected grandiose mega spending initiatives with little debate and limited or non-existent proof of value. For HS2, the super-fast train, no value has ever been demonstrated. His other major project, academisation of state schools, is even more curious.

Academisation has been seen as a miracle cure for the alleged failings of comprehensive schools, ie secondaries, though the failure was patchy and non-systemic. The cure has been worse and report after report on the key indicators, GCSE results, has failed to find consistent evidence that academies do better. With over half secondaries academised, when the Education select committee investigated at the end of 2014 they were loath to draw the conclusion that academisation of secondary schools had failed, but warned against the rapid academisation of primary schools, which remain largely under Local Authority control and are mostly successful The MPs concluded,


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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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