When David Evans was North West party director, trade unions were at the heart of his transformation of the region

25/05/2020, 10:16:56 AM

by John Mann

I was appointed by the unions in 1995 to co-ordinate the union links with the Labour Party and act as national union organiser for the 1997 General Election. Soon after starting David Evans was appointed regional director for the Labour Party in the North West.

Union organisation was coordinated regionally and union traditions and strength varied significantly across the countries.

By early agreement with Tony Blair and his General Secretary Tom Sawyer, the unions agreed to prioritise delivering Labour victories in Labours target 90 seats. In some strong union areas like the North West there were only four seats to target. In the North West there were more than a dozen, located in the smaller Lancashire town battlegrounds.

David Evans was at the heart of union involvement, but he had particular structural difficulties, more so than other regions.

The union heartlands were very strong, in Liverpool, Manchester, but also strong industrial towns around Ellesmere port, Widnes and St Helens, making the power bases of the unions the safe Labour  seats.

The North West tradition was locality, with key union figures providing people and money for those stronghold areas and with sitting MPs usually having very strong connections. Many were former union workplace convenors and part of the union powerbase themselves.

Evans had to negotiate through this, telling lifelong union activists and MPs that they would not get the level of support they had always relied on as it was being funnelled into the target seats. It was a battle for hearts and minds and skilled negotiations. Evans mastered both.

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Crank Labour is disintegrating before our eyes. Tuesday’s NEC meeting will be critical in ensuring it doesn’t recover

17/05/2020, 10:31:28 PM

by Rob Marchant

As Keir Starmer puts in two commendable first performances at PMQs, so the upper echelons of the Corbynite house of cards, thankfully, continue to collapse.

The Crank Labour caucus has largely reverted to type in an overt way: one wild fringe in a Zoom conference a couple of weeks back claimed that Labour is institutionally racist against black members, in order to muddy the waters as much as possible against the anti-Semitism accusations and, clumsily, to try and discredit the EHRC before it reports on Labour.

And that Zoom conference was nothing to a second one, a few days later, peddling a similar victim-narrative and where MPs Diane Abbott and Bell Ribeiro-Addy were snapped rubbing shoulders with a veritable Who’s Who of left anti-Semites, such as Tony Greenstein and Jackie Walker (h/t: Lee Harpin).

It is no longer, it seems, necessary to keep up pretences of common sense or decency.

Corbyn himself has also had an uneasy return to the backbenches: not only has he decided that he is too important to observe lockdown but, like an ageing rock star unable to grasp that the crowds are getting much smaller than they used to be, cannot quite get used to the new status quo. No longer hampered by sharp-eyed media advisers keeping him under control, he posts strange videos of himself, not observing lockdown: half of it him standing in the rain actual silence, the other half a shuffling, mostly inaudible tribute to frontline staff.

Politically he, too, has reverted to type: he is now happy to associate once again with the assorted freaks and anti-Semites at Stop the War (remember them? The supposedly anti-war gang who had no problem whatsoever with Assad killing about half a million of his own people in Syria, many with chemical weapons). And now again happy to sign up without reservation to 1980s-style statements on “class war”.

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Five questions to determine the next general election

16/05/2020, 10:48:56 PM

by Jonathan Todd

It is not a sprint to the next general election. Nor a marathon. It is more like 800 metres.

You cannot win it in the opening straight, but you can lose it. Every step counts. And – as Covid-19 has painfully illustrated – new obstacles can appear from nowhere.

Here are five questions to help comprehend this 800-metre random assault course:

1) What will the UK economy be like in 2023/2024?

Sir Charles Bean, a member of the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), has referred to it being “not implausible” that for as long as the lockdown is in force, economic activity will be reduced “by somewhere between a quarter and a third”, and that a three-month lockdown “would knock something like 6-8 percentage points off annual GDP”.

Two months into the lockdown, however, it does not seem likely that all economic activity will return to pre-lockdown levels a month from now. Therefore, the annual contraction in GDP seems likely to exceed 8%.

Perhaps significantly so if a second wave necessitates a return to lockdown and/or the government fail to deliver a track, trace, and isolate system effective enough to enable more economic activity alongside suppression of a second wave.

Even after two months of lockdown, there are still thought to be around 3500 new cases each day. But where are these? Who have they interacted with? Are the sufferers and all of those that they have interacted with in isolation?

It is a massive task to constantly stay on top of these questions. More so than challenges that the government have struggled to overcome, e.g. delivering adequate PPE and tests.

2020 brings depression-era economics, an ongoing and uncontrolled public health crisis, and the rupturing of around 40 trade agreements with over 70 countries. All of which will create a big hole in public finances.

If the Tories respond to this with the “medicine” of the past decade (austerity), our economic and social problems will deepen. There have been worrying signs that this may be where we are headed.

A dozen years after the global financial crisis, we still live in a world of very low interest rates. Instead of austerity, government must listen to this market signal and seize this opportunity.

2) How will the government be perceived to have performed on the economy?

While the economy recovered after our exit from the ERM, the then Tory government’s reputation for economic competence did not.

Even if today’s government were to leverage very low interest rates to drive an investment boom, their standing on economic competence may be poor if they are blamed – as was the case with the ERM – for having caused the calamity from which we are recovering.

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Starmer seeks to cheer miserabilist Labour

14/05/2020, 10:26:53 PM

by David Talbot

One of the many dangers for Labour following its devastating 2019 general election defeat was that, if the pattern from the previous three election defeats were a guide, rather than learning the wrong lessons, it would learn no lessons at all.

The seemingly one constant for the Labour Party since 2010, though, has been its unerring miserabilism. It has relentlessly lectured the country that its future is bleak, its prospects poor and its decision to return four Conservative-led governments wretched.

“The trouble with Ed [Miliband] is that he is just too miserable” so uttered a Shadow Cabinet member in 2015, shortly before the party went down to a second resounding defeat. Miliband had much to say about the travails of the previous five years, attacking austerity, most notably, but his introspection, subdued and ultimately quite gloomy outlook was bettered by Cameron’s innate optimism.

Jeremy Corbyn’s torrent of miserabilism sums up the party’s recent woes. Labour has won, all too rarely in its history, when it has been optimistic about the country it seeks to govern, when it inspires people, understands and enables their aspiration, and when it projects confidence both for now and the future.

The hectoring over austerity, the sheer angst and self-pitying on Brexit, this miserabilist tendency that exudes from the party’s rhetoric, tone and policies has whittled it down to its core. If now is not the time to ask whether this doom-laden strategy has been effective or not, then surely when is?

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We have wasted a decade. We cannot afford to waste another

20/04/2020, 10:30:57 PM

by Jonathan Todd

We have wasted a decade.

All my son’s life, twice my daughter’s life, a quarter of my life. Lived since the last Labour prime minister – as David Talbot has recalled for Uncut – launched a general election campaign in a Labour seat in the home counties, which now has a 17,000 Tory majority.

Wasted by Labour, the UK, the world.

We are all in this together. I want to believe it now when I see it on the t-shirts of Tesco workers. I never did from David Cameron.

Fixing the roof when the sun is shining. That is what the Conservatives said Labour did not do.

The Sunday Times casts severe doubt on the extent to which Boris Johnson was on top of NHS capacity and pandemic preparedness. Sadly, this is not the only roof unfixed in our decade of austerity.

“The world is on fire, from the Amazon to California, from Australia to the Siberian Artic,” begin Christina Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac in their book on our climate crisis, as its impacts begin to ominously manifest. “The red wall” submerges under Tory MPs and flood waters.

As Prospect illustrate, child poverty in the UK, after falling under the last Labour government, has returned to a similar level to what it was two decades ago, when Tony Blair said it would be eliminated in 20 years.

Austerity, we were told, was the price to be paid to ease the burden on future generations. Trapped in poverty and destined to confront catastrophic climate change do not expect gratitude.

There are footballers whose transfer value rises when they are injured. What they bring to their teams becomes more apparent in their absence. Gordon Brown is that footballer in the politics of the last decade.

Brown’s defiant listing of Labour achievements at conference 2009 is now proudly replayed. It can be forgotten that the prime minister went into that conference under threat of potential challenge from David Miliband. To whom the camera cuts half-way through Brown’s listing, as if to say, who are you trying to kid?

As today’s world leaders fall short of the coordination that Brown helped to bring about in the 2008/9 financial crisis, we ask the same of them.

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The Corbynite leadership’s final, scorched-earth, rearguard action

18/04/2020, 10:33:46 PM

by Rob Marchant

It was all going so well: but a matter of days following the election of Keir Starmer as Labour’s new leader and it is convulsing itself over the scandal of a report, leaked widely, containing sensitive, personal information and also making serious allegations about current and past staffers, not to mention various members and non-members.

It has the makings of a PR disaster of epic proportions which, thanks to Covid-19, national media has not yet given the prominence it is likely to have in future. But it will: make no mistake about its seriousness. It could even bankrupt the party, or some of its individual figures.

Corbyn himself is gone, of course. But this week we discovered, not to much surprise, that the report was commissioned by his last lieutenant: the party’s General Secretary, Jennie Formby.

You do not have to agree that Formby created a climate of fear and bullying at Labour HQ; or that she allowed unresolved anti-Semitism complaints to balloon on her watch and then disingenuously blamed the problem on her predecessor, although there is ample evidence for both these things. But they are opinions.

Where one has to despair with some party members over recent days, in uproar on Labour’s social media echo chamber, is the wilful blindness to the following actual facts:

1. Spying on staff is not ok. Honestly, what is wrong with you people, that you think it’s fine for any organisation to spy on its staff on an industrial scale, compiling their emails and WhatsApps, whatever the nature of their comments turned out to be?If you go into pretty much any organisation in the world, you will find groups of people being rude about their bosses and colleagues on email, chat or text, in a private way: this is human nature. Most of them quite reasonably do not expect they are about to be spied on by their employer. Even if use of information extracted from such monitoring is legal under certain, specific circumstances, it is clearly not behaviour which would be calmly accepted by a workforce as a rule and rightly so.

With that one action, Formby has destroyed the trust of hundreds of people employed by the party and using its email or mobiles on a daily basis. She surely cannot continue long in her role now, for purely managerial reasons – she has clearly lost confidence of her staff.

2. A major data breach has been committed. Are we really saying that Jennie Formby, who commissioned a report she knew contained highly sensitive and personal information, should not be held responsible for its safekeeping?

And how could she realistically not have known that such a sensitive document could not possibly be kept secret in a million years, given the controversial nature of its contents?It is all very well, Ms Formby, to tell local party members not to distribute it, now you are personally implicated in a serious breach of the Data Protection Act. But your either malicious or incompetent handling of personal data has now left a number of people involved in current cases, including some minors and Jews, exposed and vulnerable.

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A Labour shadow chancellor: the impossible job?

14/04/2020, 10:15:36 PM

by Callum Anderson

Earlier this month, Labour decisively turned the page from the Corbyn era.

An eagerness to look to the future was the prevailing emotion for the many Labour activists and supporters, who had watched with varying degrees of resignation and despair as Labour crashed to its worst general election defeat since before the Second World War.

Yet we must not forget that Keir Starmer’s election as Labour leader can not be an end in itself. Rather, it must provide the Labour movement with a critical lifeline to change where change is needed, and rethink where rethinking is needed. We must all rally behind the new leadership to support this essential work.

As the new shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds will play a particularly key role in helping Labour earn back both the trust and the economic credibility that it so desperately lacked during the last decade.

Dodds is extremely well qualified. Despite an absence of executive experience, she served as a shadow treasury minister for the last two and half years. As an MEP, she sat on the European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs.

Nonetheless, her task is no small one.

Long regarded as one of the most difficult job in politics: a prospective chancellor must be able to understand and absorb economics, and articulate the Party position in a way which can command respect in Parliament, and is comprehensible to the person on the street, the small business owner and financial markets.

For the last decade, Labour’s achilles heal could be simply posed as a question: can it be trusted to prudently manage the public finances, while still delivering economic and social justice?

As we all remember, Messrs Miliband and Balls were never able to shrug off the (false) Conservative frequently claims that Labour profligacy had caused the 2007-8 financial crisis and had necessitated austerity.

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Is a London lawyer the right person to fix a Northern wall?

13/04/2020, 09:45:04 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Rifling through the thick piles of paperwork on my desk just now, I happened across Keir Starmer’s leadership campaign leaflet. Evidently, I had secreted it away for further inspection at some stage, but given the events of the past week, it perhaps bears early re-examination.

On the front there’s a moody black and white picture of the new Labour Leader. A side-profile shot of him looking pensive. No tie (a depressing affectation of modern Labour politics) and the message: ‘Another future is possible.’ A serious man for serious times, no doubt.

When you unfold it, there he is again! Much bigger this time. A3. (Presumably the hope was that members would stick his image in their windows?) Still tieless, alas, but smiling this time, head slightly askew. The words ‘Integrity, authority, unity’ hang in the bottom corner – underlined – so you get the point.

Keir Starmer’s abiding message is that he’s a grown-up.

He’s already a knight of the realm and has had a proper job as director of public prosecutions. The hope is that he’s a return to the likes of John Smith, people of gravity who resonate beyond the Labour tribe. He certainly looks the part. Tidy hair and a decent suit. Not charismatic, per se, but reliable. Competent. Efficient. Ready for the task ahead.

But what is that task?

To become Labour prime minister in 2024? Surely that is beyond anyone. Of course, you can never say never in politics and the legacy of coronavirus might well be to shift the political centre leftwards. But it might just as readily be to pull it the opposite direction. Either way, Labour’s task is epic.

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The party, the party, the party: an eight-point plan to save the Labour party from itself

12/04/2020, 10:26:38 PM

by Rob Marchant

We have now had the Shadow Cabinet appointments. While a few have raised eyebrows among moderates – not least the self-same Miliband who helped get us into this mess in the first place – it is not a bad selection from the limited numbers of available MPs.

Its significance will be dissected for weeks by the Westminster lobby, because that is what they see – the Westminster face of the party. But the first thing we members need to realise is that the Shadow Cabinet and, indeed, party policy in times of Covid-19, is a sideshow.

Let’s not forget: the party is finally out of immediate danger, but it is still in intensive care.

Yes, it is important in these difficult times to provide a reasonably effective scrutiny function to the highly-variable ministerial quality on the Tory benches. But most moderates, we might wager, inside or perhaps temporarily outside the party, have always seen this leadership election as a two-step battle, in which both steps are essential and not just the first.

Step one: get a decent, competent, non-extremist leader (a low bar, you might reasonably say). Tick. And with Starmer, at first glance, things looks considerably better than anyone might have expected. Then, step two: sort out the party. In short, get it back to a decent, healthy, functioning organisation without the slightest hint of anti-Semitism or far-left extremism – both of which pretty much amount to the same thing.

And it is this second one to which we need now turn. It is not a question of it being a nice-to-have or an “in the fullness of time”: any failure to act on this immediately will mean that the good guys will not return – either our members or our supporters – and the whiff of racism will remain. The party, simply, will not recover. It is a sine qua non.

Here Uncut proposes eight things which will need to happen to make that a reality, and they will all need to start – and some finish – during the first hundred days.

One. Make it abundantly clear there needs to be a new General Secretary. The GS cannot easily be fired, but it is also impractical for them to continue if a party leader really does not want them there. The only key figure who will now want Formby to continue is Len McCluskey; the PLP, NEC, Leader’s Office and other unions will not.

Two. Eradicate anti-Semitism, branch by branch if necessary, as was done with Militant. The EHRC report, when it comes, will help mobilise opinion within the party and ensure that the guilty are brought to task, but action needs to be taken before then. Starmer’s meetings with JLM and BoD have been a good start. But this cannot really happen until we deal with point one. This will also have the happy side-effect of removing some of the nastier extremists from the party.

Three. Ignore Momentum. It is not necessary to try to attack it, it is already in disarray; a fan club based around one man can hardly have much future when that man goes. It is fracturing, as the far left always does. Its anti-Semitic members will be expelled from Labour. The important thing is not to engage with it, let it have its little conference in September and let it be a flop. Ironically, an organisation called Momentum will die if it lacks that which gives it its name. Those decent members, who are not mad or extremist and joined in good faith, will drift back towards the party proper. Eventually even Unite will dump it – they will want to be where the power is. (more…)

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Why did the hard left fail?

10/04/2020, 09:30:02 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The central assumption governing Labour politics for the past five years was that the shift leftwards under Jeremy Corbyn was unassailable. So overwhelming were the numbers of new members, encouraged, enthused and loyal to their man, following his unexpected election as leader in 2015, that control of the party had irrevocably decamped to the left.

Indeed, something had changed at the molecular level.

The creation of Momentum – a left-wing standing army within the party, numbered in the hundreds of thousands and solely dedicated to preserving the Corbyn insurgency – terrified moderate MPs who feared mandatory reselection was coming and with it the invitation to walk the plank, with hard-left activists jeering them on to a watery grave.

Party decision-making and policy formulation would fall into the clutches of a cabal of activists and far left trade unionists, who would then foist a shopping list of doctrinaire policies on the party. Unilateral nuclear disarmament – which had been the pivotal issue in party splits both in the 1950s and 1980s – would again incinerate Labour’s credibility as a party of government.

But the real story of the past five years is that barely a fraction of this supposed horror story ever came true.

Like Gordon Brown in 2007, Jeremy Corbyn had no real idea what he wanted to do with power. Yes, he had a few causes that drove him. Plenty of rhetoric, too. But there was no burning ambition. Still less a grand plan.

Rather than force through mandatory reselection and use his grassroots shock troops to unseat his opponents in the parliamentary party, the reselection process before the last election resulted in few victims.

Yes, Chuka and a few other disgruntled Blairite MPs who had fallen out with their local parties flounced off, but nothing like as serious as the 28 who fled to set up the SDP in 1981. And Corbyn was perfectly within his rights to try and bring some of his own supporters through. All leaders do it.

Whiny Labour MPs who simply didn’t respect his mandate and would never serve on his frontbench, just made a difficult situation worse. Credit therefore goes to the Jon Ashworth’s and John Healey’s and Andrew Gwynne’s for rolling-up their sleeves and serving the party’s broader interest.

Nor did policy drift too far to the fringes.

The cause of nuclear disarmament – once so totemic – seemed to just fall by the wayside. While the manifesto put forward at the 2017 election was merely a dialled-up version of Labour’s position from the early 1990s. A bit of nationalisation here. A bit more spending there. It was a dose of the old religion, but still recognisably social democratic stuff.

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