A warning from 2008: Do not assume Corona leads to a new progressive moment

08/04/2020, 10:03:58 AM

by Jake Richards

Keir Starmer has been elected leader of the Labour Party amidst crisis. His priority, rightly, is to show that the country now has a credible and coherent Leader of the Opposition who is willing to work with the Government during the outbreak of Covid-19. However, Starmer and the newly appointed Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds, will already be beginning to assess how the crisis will affect the broader political environment.

It is tempting to assume the zeitgeist of the corona outbreak will be progressive. A Conservative government has embraced the most interventionist state economic programme since the war, essentially nationalising a closed-down economy, whilst rough sleeping has been wiped out and hospitals created seemingly overnight. Images and videos of the public applauding our NHS workers have gone viral. A new appreciation for ‘key workers’ in the ‘real economy’ — rubbish collectors, those in the food supply chain, delivery drivers — has emerged. The sense of community spirit combined with the anger at examples of scurrilous businesses taking advantage of taxpayers or employees is more evidence that this is a ‘moment of the left’.

Already, articles by left-wing thinkers are heralding ‘capitalism’s gravest challenge’, the transformation of the private sector and a new popular outcry for ‘big government’.

There was a similar sense after the 2008 financial crash and government intervention around the world ended an ideological reverence to self-correcting markets. In the 12 years since, the Conservatives have won four General Elections, the UK has left the European Union, and in America, India, Brazil and Russia (and elsewhere) we have witnessed the rise of a nationalist populism many thought was confined to the 20th Century. Indeed, although the immediate response to Covid-19 has been statist in a progressive sense, it is easy to envisage a reactionary, isolationist response developing in relation to our borders and trade soon developing.

Whilst a new active state during the crisis offers Labour an array of policy options, the new leader should proceed with caution. Labour has just suffered a devastating defeat on a platform arguing for a massively expanded Government — with nationalisation of key industries, free broadband for all and the development of a universal basic income. Focus groups and polling undertaken after the election revealed voters simply did not believe many of Labour’s policies (however popular on paper) were realistic or welcome as a package. The unpopularity of a universal basic income was striking — suggesting a deep reverence to personal responsibility and work, and a suspicion of ‘free handouts’.

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Covid dispatch from Madrid

26/03/2020, 02:40:38 PM

by Malcolm Kennedy

Madrid, March 25, 2020

I gaze out of the window at a clear blue sky and feel cheered up.

Watching the TV brings me back down to earth as I receive the news that the total of deaths in Spain has reached 3,434. It has risen inexorably since I arrived on February 6th to spend some time with my Spanish wife and celebrate the birthdays of her son and our friend, Gertrud.

Little did we know that come Gertrud’s birthday we would be forbidden to travel and would largely be confined to our apartment.

For over a week, now, my only ventures out of the apartment have been to put out the rubbish and go to the local supermarkets and pharmacy. Every trip out feels extremely stressful in a bustling city which has now ground to a halt.

Normally Madrid is a vibrant place with bars full, people lunching on the many terraces and tourists visiting the many cultural attractions. Around the corner from us, the teeming transport interchange for buses, coaches and the Metro in Avenida de América has died. The line of taxis is stationary and unused.

Shocking news emerges of a major ice rink being commandeered as a temporary morgue while the major exhibition centre IFEMA is transformed into a hospital.

We are in the middle of a storm and the restrictions are wisely draconian.

From afar, the lockdown in the UK seems like a half-hearted response.

I have been very impressed by PSOE President Pedro Sanchez and his government. The communication of facts, how problems are being addressed and the use of experts appears on a different level to my experience in the UK.

Well, at least, in the past decade.

There was a time when I could be proud of our country’s leaders. Pedro Sanchez and his government are making me similarly proud.

Life has been put on hold. My flight to the UK on the 23rd was cancelled. My flight back to Spain on the 8th for Holy Week obviously is useless even if it became possible.

Anyway, Holy Week has been cancelled during this unholy crisis. In a Catholic country like Spain this is unprecedented. On top of all the religious processions being cancelled the annual exodus to the Costas has been put on hold. The damage to the hospitality industry of this and the other measures is simply incalculable.

What have I learned apart from a reinforcement of John Lennon’s dictum that “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”?

Well, I hope we have all learned the importance of good political leadership and the importance of experts and science. Above all I hope we have learned the importance of health workers, shop workers, rubbish disposal workers and all those in the frontline who are helping us get through all this.

Hasta la vista.

Malcolm Kennedy is a member of Liverpool City Council. He tweets @CllrKennedy

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We need a commitment to radical devolution from the Labour leadership candidates

29/02/2020, 08:50:49 AM

by Alex Croft

Winning back Remain and Leave voters. Rebuilding the ‘Red Wall’. Appealing to Britain’s working-class. Just some of the claims from the Labour Party leadership candidates as the campaigns to replace Jeremy Corbyn heat up.

As the ballots land this week, Boris Johnson’s Government is busy veering left on major issues facing the country – speaking to parts of the electorate in the North of England which put their trust in the Tories for the first time. HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail for example – two critical components of the UK’s future transport network – have been spun as evidence Boris Johnson is delivering on his election promise to ‘level up’ the country.

During Labour’s time in office the North received record levels of investment, including devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The leadership candidates should be shouting loud and proud about how they are going to build on the successful elements of devolution and rectifying the parts that do not work for some parts of Britain.

‘Taking back control’ and the ‘left behind’ towns have become synonymous with the UK’s decision to leave the EU. But what is the magic potion required to build the coalition of voters needed to win the next General Election? Labour’s leadership contenders should commit to full throttle fiscal devolution – giving the North a ‘Barnett’ type formula so local leaders make decisions which are in the best interests of local people. For too long working people have been tired of Ministers and bureaucrats making decisions from behind their desks in SW1, which have a major impact on places like Merseyside. Devolution will help the party get closer to people – making sure their ideas or concerns are listened to rather than ignored by elected representatives. Giving voters the power to create their own destiny is an ambition which should not be scoffed at or, indeed, underestimated.

Local leaders in the North West have always banged the drum for greater decision making. Metro Mayors, Mayors and Leaders have all expressed a burning desire for more powers from Whitehall. After all, how it can be right that outcomes for residents in the Liverpool City Region are produced over 300 miles away in Westminster?

Keir Starmer, Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey promise to possess the recipe for all of Labour’s woes. But if the party wants to face up to its worst election defeat since the 1930s, giving people the chance to have a proper say over their own lives – through radical fiscal and economic devolution – would be a step in the right direction. All of the candidates should follow Labour’s lead locally by making that commitment.

Alex Croft is a campaigner and former political adviser to Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram. 

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Impractical and dangerous – a so-called ‘Peace Pledge’ would drive Great Britain into a diplomatic purdah

08/02/2020, 09:51:10 PM

by Gray Sergeant

On 3 October 1957, Aneurin Bevan, champion of the Labour Left, delivered a thumping blow to his loyal followers in an about-face conference speech opposing unilateral nuclear disarmament. His words attacking Resolution 24 have become legendary. To disarm, he warned attendees, would be like “sending a British Foreign Secretary … naked into the conference chamber”.

Bevan’s points in favour of maintaining an independent nuclear deterrent remain as true today as they did in the early Cold War. His wider point that foreign and defence policy cannot be dictated by party members still stands too.

Jeremy Corbyn ignored these wise words when he polled members in late-2015 on extending airstrikes into Syria against Islamic State. Now, deputy leadership contender Richard Burgon wants to emulate with a so-called ‘Peace Pledge’ which would force a future Labour government to obtain the consent of members, via a referendum or conference vote, before using military force abroad.

What Burgon’s proposal fails to understand is that when it comes to foreign affairs stealth and swiftness can be critical. Take Britain’s retaliation against chemical weapon attacks in Syria two years ago. Speed and secrecy were essential, as was cooperation with the country’s allies. In similar circumstances it would be an administrative nightmare to conduct an internal referendum, let alone arrange a conference, in a matter of days. Even if the Labour Party could the result would be ill-informed. The party obviously cannot email members the classified material vital to making a judgement on airstrikes. In which case how can anyone expect them to come to a considered conclusion?

Members must trust the judgement of the leadership. This is not to say they should be shut out altogether. They already have a profound say on Labour’s international policy. In 2015 they demonstrated this. Jeremy Corbyn’s worldview was a fundamental change from Labour orthodoxy. Had he won an election these members, via their leadership vote, would have had a monumental effect on Britain’s standing and conduct abroad.

It is easy to laugh off the idea as an unimplementable election race gimmick.  But if it was seriously taken forward it would not be so funny. It would not be an act of statesmanship either, to echo the words of the great Welshman himself, but an “emotional spasm”. One with potentially grave consequences.

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Labour needs to rebuild trust with voters, which means we can’t promise everything to everyone

18/12/2019, 09:11:53 PM

by Tom Clements

As much as I had deep reservations about Corbyn’s ability to win an election, I hadn’t expected us to fall as low as we did on Thursday. After the initial anger started to fade, the stark realisation that we could yet drop further brought a resolute determination. We must do better next time.

But before we can start to think about winning the leadership of the Party, we need to accept some of the blame for allowing the Party to fall into disrepute. It was our failure in 2015 to challenge Corbyn on policy rather than management that allowed Corbynism to blossom in our Party and wilt in the country.

But now we’re here again, we have to grasp this opportunity. We need to work to ensure that a viable, progressive leader emerges victorious in 2020. To elect someone that resonates with the country rather than plays the right notes to the Party. We might not get another chance.

To do that, however, we have to be more than competent managers. And our vision can’t be a return to Blair or Wilson. We can’t just repeat history and expect it to work but we can look for the rhymes.

In 2006, Tony Blair declared that the USP of New Labour was “aspiration and compassion reconciled”. He was successful because he appreciated that to be able to help those at the bottom, you had to support people to do better for themselves and their families. It was this revolutionary combination that allowed Blair to build a coalition that was able to inspire the country.

But not only is that not enough today, it is not right for today.

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10 Reasons Lisa Nandy should stand for leader

16/12/2019, 09:03:52 PM

by Alan Johnson

Lisa Nandy MP is ‘seriously thinking‘ about standing for Labour leader.

I really hope she does stand because:

(1) She is a serious, grounded, calm, personable, thoughtful, tough, hard-headed and very intelligent representative of Labour’s ‘soft left’ tradition; not the far left, not the Corbyn project. And that’s what is needed now, neither a Corbyn Continuity Candidate, nor a (I dont like the term, but you know what I mean) ‘Blairite’, though she could attract the support of many from both those wings, I think.

(2) She knows the bullying, trolling sub-culture of the party from the inside (and I suspect she knows exactly what to do with it!). She has spoken of the abuse she received for not supporting Corbyn, which she described as leaving her “genuinely frightened”. She compared her treatment to that which she had received at the hands of the far-right when she first campaigned to become MP for Wigan in 2010.

(3) She understands that ‘we just haven’t heard what people have been telling us for some time’. She says her mission is to ‘bring the Labour party back home’ to those who could not vote for us on Thursday. She gets how the over-centralisation (i.e. Londonisation) of party structures, decision making and power is part of the problem.

(4) She supports ‘the decisive break we made in 2015’ on austerity, before which ‘we had been too afraid to stand up for our values’. But she also understands that the very radical ‘offer’ the party made in 2019, the blizzard of spending commitments, needed a huge bank of trust that the party just didn’t have it, if it was to be accepted.

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Labour needs to avoid another Gogglebox moment on its Brexit policy

09/11/2019, 10:39:25 PM

by Tom Clements

I still remember the agony of the 2015 exit poll with vivid horror. The chiming of Big Ben leading to David Cameron and the words ‘Largest Party’ winded me; and then David Dimbleby’s confirmation of the projected number of Labour seats knocked me to the ground. I hadn’t given up hope until the result of South Swindon was announced showing that the Tories had done more than enough to continue to govern.

Dazed and confused, it took me a while to process the result before starting to think about what factor could possibly explain it. It wasn’t until I watched that week’s Gogglebox election special that I could start to understand why Labour had been so decisively rejected in 2015.

From the Leader’s Question Time event in Leeds, they saw a voter ask Ed whether he thought New Labour had spent too much. When Ed replied that he didn’t, despite some grumbles from the audience, I barely batted an eyelid.

But on the Gogglebox sofas, family after family spluttered their disbelief. Whatever the validity of the coalition government’s argument about the public debt, it had clearly stuck Miliband and Labour as being economically profligate defecit deniers. And in the stark light of the disastrous election result, the realisation hit me that this is what people had thought all along and we had been unwilling to counter it.

Whether or not we would learn from this has been low on the list of problems facing the Party since 2015 so I hadn’t given it much thought.

Until recently.

Hearing Corbyn, Starmer and other favourites of the front bench struggle through explaining the Party’s Brexit policy, I felt a familiar dread. Upon hearing the dear leader proclaim that his plan is “clear and simple” brought me out in a cold sweat.

Unless Labour establishes a clear, coherent and easily explainable position on the key issue of this election, then we will be facing a similar Gogglebox moment. And, even though it has been plain to many for some time, now that the definitely, maybe plan has been exposed to the public, the penny might finally drop.

So Labour needs to get real on its Brexit indecision and establish a clear plan.

Firstly, they need to publish their proposed deal. Despite the embarrassment of the Ed Stone and shadow budget in 1992, if we are to be taken seriously on Brexit then it is the least we can do. We need to explain why we believe in maintaining the custom’s union and keeping strong ties with the EU.

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Labour must stand with Hongkongers

23/08/2019, 06:19:05 PM

by Gray Sergeant

Tom Watson is right the United Kingdom must not sit idly by while Hongkongers lose their rights and freedoms – and neither should the Labour Party

On 16 August the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party addressed, via video, thousands of pro-democracy protesters who had gathered at the Charter Garden in Hong Kong. The desire of those attending the Power to the People rally was a simple one, to have a government which was accountable to them, the citizens. Watson offered his solidarity and called on the British government to give “direct moral support for the people of Hong Kong”.

The UK has a unique responsibility to the people in Hong Kong. Not only was the territory a British colony, until it was given to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1997, but London co-signed with Beijing the Joint Declaration which promises to protect Hong Kong’s autonomy until 2047. This means allowing the city to maintain its freedoms and rule of law, as well as develop its partially-democratic political system.

Yet the PRC, and its appointees who run the Hong Kong government, have repeatedly undermined this arrangement. Most notable has been their failure to deliver on the promise given to the Hong Kong people that they would be able to elect their own Chief Executive by universal suffrage. This is what led to the mass occupation of the city’s streets in 2014. However, the situation in Hong Kong has deteriorated even further since the Umbrella movement with; booksellers being abducted to Mainland China, political parties and candidates being banned from running for office, and democratically elected lawmakers being thrown out of the city’s legislature.

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Do the Corbynista Many need the Jew

12/08/2018, 10:54:43 PM

by John Wall

Much has been written about Labour’s refusal to fully adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) anti-semitism definition which resulted in disciplinary action, subsequently dropped, against Margaret Hodge and Ian Austin.

Although probably not pre-planned, this can be understood within the hard left mentality and worldview.

Shortly after Corbyn’s ascent Hirsh provided an exposition of Corbynism:

“…a preference within contemporary left-wing culture for defining opponents as not belonging rather than seeking to win them over. Opponents are constructed as being outside of the community of the good or the progressive. This licenses their treatment as ‘other’, impermeable to political argument, reason and evidence.”

The core Corbynista is completely and absolutely devoted to the Bearded Messiah and his policies, will go through incredible “intellectual” gymnastics, dance on the head of a pin and engage in unlimited whataboutery to excuse and justify his record.

Corbynism has been described as a cult, this can be seen in the Corbynista “analysis” of why Labour didn’t win the election and why, despite a government with troubles, they aren’t miles ahead in the polls. Various reasons are proposed but none involve the leader or his policies.

A repeated accusation is that treacherous Blairites are continually colluding with the despised mainstream media to undermine Corbyn; as the Parliamentary Party attempted to get rid of him there is some truth in this. Although some were, and are, fundamentally against Corbyn and his policies others thought he was a loser; the general election converted some of those.

Consequently, Corbynistas generally support mandatory reselection.

Hirsh wrote that:

“As a sort of anti-imperialist ‘campism’ emerges as the pre-eminent principle of the progressive movement, hostility to Israel becomes a key marker of political belonging.”

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Labour’s complacency is incredible

08/05/2018, 10:44:51 AM

by Andrew Apostolou

The Labour Party is incredible. We lost the general election, but feel like we won because we were not crushed. Our painstakingly obscure position on Brexit looks like the diplomacy of Castlereagh when put beside the failures of David Davis. Our slogan of “For the many not the few” is appealing when compared to the Tories’ mishandling of the Grenfell tower fire and universal credit. Unlike New Labour, which worked diligently to earn power, today’s Labour Party gives the impression that it need only wait for the keys to Downing Street to fall into its lap.

Except that the electorate is unconvinced. Labour’s performance in the May 2018 local elections was mediocre, and we have failed to establish a commanding lead in national opinion polls. The voters do not trust us with the future of the country, a wariness that has sent our party to the opposition benches three elections in a row. After the financial crisis of 2008, the country has preferred laughably bad Tory leaders and their worthless promises. In 2010, Britain chose David Cameron and his “Big Society” over Gordon Brown. In 2015, Britain voted for Cameron’s promise of “stability and strong Government” over Ed Miliband–but received the instability of Brexit. In 2017, the electorate refused to give Theresa May the parliamentary majority with which to “make a success of Brexit” through “strong and stable leadership in the national interest.” Instead, the country delivered the hung parliament the prime minister warned against, but shunned Labour.

Britain remains sceptical because Labour is claiming that it can do for the country what it cannot do for itself: protect the vulnerable. The mood of the country favours more social democracy, which is why even the Tories reject “untrammelled free markets.” Still the country will not trust our party, which has a social conscience in its bones, because we have failed three groups miserably: women, minority women, and Jews.

Labour’s record on women is unimpressive. A senior party official sought to cover up a rape. The party has yet to take action against either the rapist or the official who discouraged the rape complaint. The party is still not learning. Labour initially allowed Kelvin Hopkins MP to question one of the women who has accused him of harassment, a decision only overturned after it appeared in the Evening Standard. Why should Labour women have to go to the media to obtain fair treatment?

The Labour Party’s record on minority women is similarly poor. They have complained about misogyny in the party. The most prominent recent case is Amina Lone, who claims that she cannot stand again as a councillor in Manchester because she is too opinionated about female equality. Others have said that Labour does not protect minority women. According to the Muslim Women’s Network UK “It appears that over decades senior Labour politicians have deliberately turned a blind eye to the treatment of Muslim women because votes have been more important to them than women’s rights.”

Despite the party’s denial, Labour has made it clear that it will accommodate attitudes to women that are inconsistent with its proclaimed feminism. Labour held a campaign event in Birmingham in May 2015 at which there was separate seating for men and women. The party’s defence was that “Everyone was together in one room and all were treated equally and respectfully.” The problem with this evasion is that separate is not equal. Neither the state nor a political party should interfere in the internal beliefs of religious communities. We can respect the desire for segregated seating at private religious and cultural events, but refuse it for public meetings. A Labour election rally is a gathering of a democratic socialist party- all are welcome and all sit where they please.

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