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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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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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