Speaker poised to strip Labour of designation as Her Majesty’s Opposition in Autumn

27/07/2016, 10:45:13 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Uncut has learned that House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, is considering action to strip Labour of the title, Her Majesty’s Opposition, if Jeremy Corbyn wins the leadership election and the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) remains on strike, leaving the bulk of front bench roles unfilled.

Sources in the House of Commons administration familiar with his deliberations have told Uncut that Bercow has looked on with dismay at the impact of Labour’s civil war on the functioning of Britain’s parliamentary democracy. One said,

“The meltdown happened so near the end of the last term and the situation was so fluid that it would not have been appropriate to act. But if the situation persists into Autumn, when there is a full schedule of parliamentary business, some form of action is likely.”

Although the constitutional position is murky, the Speaker has a pivotal role in determining which party is the opposition. Normally the choice is clear – it’s the largest party opposing the government. However, with dozens of frontbench roles unfilled, Labour is in dangerous territory.

Official designation as the Opposition brings a series of institutional advantages for Labour, ranging from funding to influence over the parliamentary agenda.

At the end of the last parliamentary term, Jeremy Corbyn was only able to complete his shadow cabinet by asking some MPs to take dual roles.

Paul Flynn became shadow leader of the House of Commons and shadow secretary of state for Wales and Dave Anderson was appointed the shadow secretary of state for both Scotland and Northern Ireland. Currently the majority of shadow ministerial positions remain unfilled for Labour.

When the new parliamentary session begins, Labour’s Swiss cheese front bench is likely to be exposed.

For example, if there is a motion on the floor relevant to a shadow team, while a Standing committee is considering a bill in that team’s area, with relevant Statutory Instruments committees also sitting and a Westminster Hall debate on a topic in their brief, then Labour will not be able to provide a shadow front bench representative in each debate.

In practical terms, it means the government will have no opposition in one or more area. They will not be held to account by the opposition and a core component of parliamentary democracy, in the way it has been practiced for over 100 years, will have broken down.

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The Tories are harking back to a mythical ‘golden age’ of grammar schools

26/07/2016, 04:12:25 PM

by Angela Rayner

Conservative Voice, a Tory activist group, has officially launched their campaign to lift the ban on opening new grammar schools, introduced by the then Prime Minister Tony Blair 18 years ago.

If prime minister Theresa May is serious about her recent rhetoric on the steps of Downing Street, when she said that her government would do everything it could to help “anyone, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you”, then she will halt this divisive campaign in its tracks.

Some Tories argue for more grammar schools as engines of social mobility, which propel kids from working-class, low and middle income families up the social ladder. But the facts argue otherwise.

The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that amongst those identified as high achievers at an early age, children who are eligible for free school meals or who live in poorer neighbourhoods are significantly less likely to attend a grammar school than their better off classmates.

There are 163 grammar schools left in the country. In 161 of them, fewer than 10% of pupils are eligible for free school meals.

According to research by the House of Commons library, around 2% of children at grammar schools are eligible for free school meals.

So they are not being drawn from the poorest backgrounds.

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Owen Smith is being defined by the Corbynistas. If he doesn’t fight back soon, he’s done

23/07/2016, 06:59:53 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Owen Smith is in trouble. Day to day, he’s conducting his campaign, pitching his message but he has a strategic problem that is getting worse with each passing hour: definition.

Owen Smith’s PLP backers have made much of Smith being a “clean skin,” lacking the baggage of past votes on issues such as Iraq or the compromises of office.

There is something to this but his lack of prior profile also brings risk. He’s a blank page on which a story will be written, either by himself or the Corbynistas.

The hard left attack on him is very clear: Owen Smith is an ex-lobbyist for Big Pharma and a former Special Adviser, who will return Labour to the days of Brown and Miliband.

The discussion on CLP Facebook groups from across the country is testament to how this attack has already permeated through the party.

Here’s one exchange from a northwest CLP,

“Smith worked for private health companies and was a Blairite adviser. We need to be different to the Tories.”

“I heard he did work for those companies. Not sure about him but I don’t think he’s like Blair. Doesn’t Ed Miliband rate him?”

I’ve seen double digits of groups where this same pattern is being repeated. An accusation is made by a Corbyn backer with little substantive rebuttal. Owen Smith is being framed by his opponent and the few who would speak up for him have little to offer in terms of an alternative, positive definition.

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What if Burnham had won last year?

22/07/2016, 06:00:25 PM

by Kevin Meagher

There’s a lot of ‘whatifery’ around the Labour party at the moment. What if Jeremy Corbyn is re-elected with a bigger majority? What if there’s a snap general election? What if there’s a serious attempt to impose mandatory reselections on sitting Labour MP?

Here’s a more abstract thought for the start of the traditional silly season: what if Andy Burnham, rather than Jeremy Corbyn had been elected Labour leader last July?

Clearly Corbyn romped home with 65 per cent of the vote, so it wasn’t exactly a close-run thing, but Burnham was second (meaning this counter-factual is not outside the realms of plausibility).

Looking back, it now seems quite unbelievable that intelligent people ever thought Liz Kendall was in with a shout of winning. Her derisory 4.5 per cent of the vote – fewer than one in twenty eventually backed her – was a cataclysmic defeat.

It doesn’t reflect on her as a person or as a smart, effective politician. The neo-Blairite flag she marched to war under was utterly cursed from the start. It was a drubbing the likes of which the party’s right has never faced before.

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10 hard truths for Labour moderates

21/07/2016, 10:01:33 PM

by Samuel Dale

Last summer, Labour Uncut ran a series about telling ten hard truths for the Labour party after an epic election defeat in May 2015.

Those were the days. Remember Andy Burnham giving his opening leadership speech at Ernst & Young and talking about attracting business support? Or Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper fighting over who could say aspiration the most times in a speech?

For a few heady days in May, we were all Blairites. An incredible 12 months in Labour politics has passed and it is time to tell 10 hard truths to Labour moderates about our role in the party.

1. Jeremy Corbyn won because Labour members backed him. Corbyn currently appears to have the overwhelming support of Labour members, not to mention affiliated and registered supporters. In fact, he is one of the most popular leaders the party has ever had among its membership. The only realistic route to removing Corbyn is persuading these members that there is a better alternative. Telling them they are clowns or morons (as I have done many times) is self-indulgent and clearly unpersuasive.

2. Momentum have out-organised the Labour right. Last summer, the Corbyn campaign signed up 88,449 registered supporters paying £3 each to vote for him. That was a huge effort of organization and political skill. Without those registered supporters then the vote would have gone into a second round and anything could have happened. This year’s election has been an even bigger effort with an estimated 150,000 registered supporters signed up in the last 48 hours. Some will be moderates for Saving Labour but it seems likely that most will be Corbynistas. (more…)

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By emphasising identity over ability, Labour’s short-changing its talented women

21/07/2016, 03:58:27 PM

by Frazer Loveman

In the last two weeks, both of the major parties in the British political system embarked on leadership races. One of these races produced a female leader, the other guaranteed that a man would lead.

One would presume that the woman would have been picked from the party that has a female MP group 100 strong; that has argued ceaselessly for equality in the workplace and in wider society, and that continues to present itself as the progressive, forward thinking party.

This was not the case. Instead, it was the Conservative party, the ‘nasty party’, who gave the nation its second female PM, in fact, they chose the very woman who coined the ‘nasty party’ phrase.

In the 116 years Labour has existed it has never had a female leader. Indeed, a female candidate has never finished above a male candidate in a leadership race. The fact that Theresa May can now stand at the dispatch box and taunt the Labour party over this fact should be something that shames all Labour members.

This should not be the case, partly because Labour has had so many high profile women in parliament. The first female Home Secretary, the first female Foreign Secretary, the first female Speaker, all Labour women.

Yvette Cooper and Emily Thornberry have both shadowed great offices of state, Harriet Harman excelled as deputy leader and as acting leader, the same role Margaret Beckett filled with aplomb. But it is a fact that all this falls down at the final hurdle and this has allowed the Tories to take a march on Labour as the party of women.

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Corbyn’s lack of a political strategy is his achilles heel

21/07/2016, 01:25:52 PM

by Kevin Meagher

I didn’t vote for Jeremy Corbyn in last year’s Labour leadership contest and I won’t this time either. It’s not because I think he’s a bad man, I don’t. And it’s not because he’s wrong about everything, because he isn’t.

In fact, he is sincere and compassionate – commendable enough qualities in anyone. But for a political leader that’s just not enough. The problem is that his ‘politics of hope’ – important and refreshing though it is – just isn’t tempered by the politics of realism.

Labour people should know by now that it isn’t enough simply to make the moral case that some injustice or other should be ended. The British people are practical. They want to know exactly what you intend to do and how you will pay for it.

Jeremy Corbyn fails on this score miserably. Calamitously, in fact. There is an empty space where, by now, he should have sketched the outlines of a new programme for Labour. All he seems capable of offering is slightly tweaked variant of the same stump speech he has been making for 30 years.

His biggest weakness though – and one his querulous parliamentary colleagues have let him get away with for the past year – is that he has nothing resembling a political strategy about how Labour puts its values into practice and wins the next general election.

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Labour at the crossroads

20/07/2016, 11:16:26 PM

by Rob Marchant

After the earthquake, it is surely time to stand back a little and take stock. After one of the most extraordinary months ever in British politics, the pieces have been thoroughly shaken and are now returned to earth.

The landscape is entirely different from the seeming certainties of just a month ago, the old guard largely cleaned out and most of the players new.

For Labour, it has shown one thing in particular: the spectacular house of cards on which the whole current leadership had been built.

It has now become a laughing stock, a leadership of zero credibility outside, and even for the vast majority of its own parliamentary party. The only place where the leadership is still respected, paradoxically, is within the party membership itself, where a level of denial exists which in years to come group psychologists will surely write books about.

From Jeremy Corbyn’s election last September, there has been an emperor’s-new-clothes pretence that it is business as usual. That said, the rot arguably set in with the creeping groupthink of the Miliband years, during which time the necessity of reaching out to swing voters was arrogantly negated and the slow recovery of the far left was treated with the utmost complacence.

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Civil servants might not be civil for long

14/07/2016, 07:45:54 PM

by Greig Baker

In the most extraordinary fortnight for British politics, people should be forgiven if they missed an important – if fairly dry – announcement from the Cabinet Office this week. Despite being largely ignored, the announcement is a helpful reminder that Labour could still have supporters outside of Momentum, if only it got its act together.

On Tuesday, arguably the most powerful department in Whitehall announced the new Civil Service Workforce Plan to 2020. This sets out how the government wants to reform the way the Civil Service works – and so change the way that every single public service is delivered and determine the job prospects of the 440,000 people who work for the government.

The Plan includes some reforms that any shadow secretary of state who is even only half awake would presumably want to get their teeth into. For example, the number of secondments to and from the private sector, and especially large scale commercial suppliers, is likely to increase dramatically. Optimists argue this improves civil servants’ understanding of the world and allows them to bring in valuable lessons and expertise from business. Others may be concerned about the influence gained by private interests who lend their staff to policy makers.

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It is time to stand for centre left values

14/07/2016, 04:04:31 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The responsibilities of moderate Labour are so much bigger than mere party tribalism. They are to our country, our consciences and – in the face of ISIS, Putin and Trump – our civilisation.

My conscience would happily rest with the end of Labour if it helped save our country and civilisation. “Histrionic” is a word that has been thrown about lately. And maybe I’m being so.

Perhaps not, though. I believe the UK is going through its biggest crisis of my lifetime. We are a country fracturing on every axis. Our incoming prime minister has proved herself only to be less of a shambles than Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom. An unexacting bar.

Theresa May, regrettably, is not up to the challenges of her office. Which include acting to preserve the institution that has helped bring Europe its longest period of peace and prosperity, while also exiting it in a way that does least harm to our economy and society. And I focus on harm minimisation because, kids and grandparents (for it is the baby boomers who must eat their young), we’ve been sold a pup by unaccountable, fly-by-night charlatans.

People are angry now but they’ll be more so when they find no economic nirvana awaiting. Some take out their frustrations on immigrants – who the prime minister, pawns to her as gunboats were to Palmerston, struggles to reassure.

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