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Corbyn could surprise the Tories. I should know – I am one

01/02/2016, 08:00:00 AM

by Greig Baker

As a junior Parliamentary staffer working for the Tories in 2005, I drafted a Bill to raise the income tax threshold for low earners. I wanted my party to make a pitch to Labour’s traditional working class voters without compromising our principles on lower taxes. Cutting taxes for poor people seemed like a good way to do both – it was counter-intuitive and principled at the same time. Years later, a very similar measure was adopted by George Osborne and it went down pretty well.

Labour should use the same approach now. To be clear, I have no love for the Labour party and I don’t want to see it win in 2020. However, I do want there to be a realistic prospect of it winning. The Conservatives need to be kept honest and the government must be kept on its toes. To do that, Labour has to be an effective opposition and, to do that, it needs to come up with some surprising and eye-catching policies to appeal beyond the converted, without selling its soul – in other words, to be counter-intuitive and principled. Here’s what I suggest…

For starters, John McDonnell should stop thinking about what he wishes tax and spend was like, or even what it is like right now, and instead start thinking about what the Government’s approach to tax and spend will be by 2019-20. That’s when voters will be looking at his policies in detail and seeing how they match up to reality.

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For Ed Miliband, One Nation was a soundbite. For moderates it should be the rallying cry to take on Corbyn

11/01/2016, 05:30:25 PM

by Tom Clements

There is much to regret about the leadership of Ed Miliband; not least the election defeat and changes to leadership election rules that have led to the election of Jeremy Corbyn. But for me, it’s the abandonment of One Nation Labour. At the time, I thought that this was the game changer. A genuinely inclusive and unifying offer with which we could change the country for the better.

I was wrong.

It wasn’t a genuine offer or an ideological framework. It was a cheap parlour trick. One that was designed to win a few headlines and embarrass the Prime Minister by taking a conservative idea and claiming it for Labour. That’s what makes me angry about Ed’s leadership.

It could’ve been so bold.

Instead, the idea fell up against the ‘predistributing’ instincts of Miliband. The instinct that the rich weren’t really part of Miliband’s One Nation. They were just there to foot the bill. He fell into that worst Labour tradition of implying that being rich and wanting to be rich was something to resent.

Not that there is anything wrong with the rich paying their fair share. Far from it, it’s the only way that a society can function in harmony. As the brilliant Senator Warren argues “no one gets rich on their own” and it’s there duty to give “a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid that comes along”. And that is right.

And it wasn’t just about the rich.

He forgot about the traditional working class; those who UKIP are trying to woo. We treated their concerns about immigration and benefits with suspicion not understanding. Suspicion that meant that the white van in Rochester was only the tip of the iceberg. Suspicion that meant they stayed at home or put their cross in a different box on election day.

And this is what cost us the election.

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Corbyn’s reshuffle shows how he wants to imprint his ideology on the party

06/01/2016, 09:00:08 PM

by Frazer Loveman

It’s quite hard to write anything original about the Night, then day, then night again, of Corbyn’s Knives, given that most topics were covered during the interminable, day and a half long re-organisation of the Labour top team.

In the longest re-shuffle since the emancipation of women (thanks to the New Statesman’s Stephen Bush for that gem) Corbyn made the grand total of two sackings, both of ministers with limited name recognition among the general population, while appointing one who is most notable for a Twitter gaffe.

It does make you wonder quite what the point of this reshuffle was. It was previewed two weeks ago as a ‘revenge’ reshuffle, with Corbyn planning to purge those who had disagreed with him over Syria.

This, actually, made a fair deal of sense. Corbyn, to his credit, had attempted to create as broad a tent as possible in the shadow cabinet in order to appease party moderates, but the idea of allowing dissent within his top team unravelled the moment Hilary Benn took the dispatch box during the Syrian airstrikes debate.

It stood to reason then, that Corbyn would want to bring his own people into the shadow cabinet, to bolster his position as leader. Again, fair enough, at least then the Labour Party could finally resemble a united front, whether the moderate sections of the party liked it or not. Corbyn is leader with, as we’re constantly reminded, a large mandate and he’s quite at liberty to mould the party in his image.

But, in the cold light of day, the new shadow cabinet doesn’t seem overly different to the old version.

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Jeremy Corbyn’s Syria consultation was flawed and undemocratic

11/12/2015, 01:59:38 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The Syria vote debate has been dominated by events inside the Westminster bubble, but an important development in the Labour Party has so far flown under the radar. This was the attempt at a ‘consultation’ launched by the leader on Friday 27th November – five days before the vote on December 2nd. Part of the ‘new politics’ which are now developing, the exercise needs close scrutiny.

Although consultation of members is not part of the rules of the party, nothing precludes it. However on this case, as Corbyn had already said he would vote NO to the proposal, he had prejudged the outcome. Given that M Ps were to be given a free vote on the issue, correctly in my view, there could be no question that this would set party policy on the topic – and it is doubtful whether this could ever be legitimate as this form of exercise is not one that appears in the rules as part of the policy making process as far as I can see.

However even as a straw poll, the process had serious flaws. It had not been announced in advance and most members would be unaware of its launch. There was no deadline, members merely being asked to respond “by the start of the week”. More seriously, the survey form – which seems to have vanished from the Labour Party website – did not pose a clear choice to voters, which is standard practice in polling. While it is rare that there is a simple Yes No choice in politics, on this issue the issue was stark. Why there was no choice posed that could be answered by a vote, either yes-no or a range of options makes the exercise unscientific.

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Moral conflict and the splitting of Labour (or what we love will tear us apart)

09/12/2015, 03:40:18 PM

by Gordon Lynch

In 2011, the Yale sociologist Jeffrey Alexander published a book, ‘The Performance of Politics’, in which he argued that moral symbolism plays a crucial role in shaping democratic political processes.

Political communication, Alexander claimed, was based on fundamental distinctions between the ‘sacred’ values that were taken to define a society’s identity and ethos and ‘profane’ outsiders perceived as dangerous, polluting threats. Electoral success required politicians to convince voters that they were on the positive side of this moral binary and that their opponents were tainted by the ‘profane’.

Whilst many other social and economic factors weigh on how electorates view politicians, Alexander’s analysis provides a valuable perspective on certain moments in political life. The current crisis enfolding the Labour Party is such a case. Although it is less than three months since his election, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has become increasingly defined through such moral binaries.

One of the most damaging for him amongst many voters is the sense that he does not stand in patriotic solidarity with Britain, generated unfairly by a relentless communications campaign by his media and political critics. But another ‘profane’ trait, identified by Alexander’s analysis of political communication, is the perception of a politician favouring particularist loyalties rather than the wider public good.

His appointment to key posts of individuals such as John McDonnell, Andrew Fisher and Seaumus Milne, who are highly divisive in terms of public and party opinion but ideologically close to Corbyn, has for many people demonstrated this undesirable quality.

When individuals close to Corbyn act in incompetent or uncivil ways but are allowed to continue in their roles, this sense of personal loyalty and ideological factionalism trumping public responsibility deepens.

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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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