Opposing Brexit would unite Labour, rout Corbyn and rob the Lib Dems & SNP of their faux radicalism

20/02/2017, 10:35:28 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The vote on Article 50 underlined Labour’s existential problem. It is clear that a party which makes a case then abandons it is in trouble but this is not a Corbyn problem as it is the story of the party over the last 25 years, since the 1992 election and the abandoning of John Smith’s National Insurance increases. Having lost the “double whammy” election, this was rational, but  Labour then adopted moving to the right  as a policy – ‘triangulation’ – which left Labour without an identity. And as Atul Hatwal argued on 28th January, Labour’s internal politics from 2015 were dominated by a return to ideological purity when the parliamentary tactic of abstaining on the Benefits issue led to the election of Jeremy Corbyn. However Corbyn has taken the MPs into the lobbies in support of Theresa May. You could not make it up.

With Jezza turning into Tony Blair, it’s time to address the root issue. New Labour accepted the Thatcherite view that There Is No Alternative, so appeasement was the answer, and this worked in the 1997 and 2001 elections. But not thereafter. Now Labour faces challenges on all fronts. It has already lost Scotland, and in England and Wales Lib Dems can take the Remain voters and Tories and UKIP the Leave voters. A party can be wobbly on some issues some of the time, but not on the defining issue of an era.

However a week in politics is a long time, and as a by election strategy giving in to the Brexit lobby has some short term advantages. How it plays in Copeland I do not know, but in Stoke accepting Article 50 has made sense though UKIP is still playing the card that Labour will ignore the Referendum. Hardly! In the local paper the Stoke Sentinel, (17th February) Labour candidate Gareth Snell’s statement is “I accept without hesitation the Referendum result. I have said repeatedly that if I had a vote in parliament I would have voted for Britain to leave the EU. My focus now is on winning the best Brexit deal for Stoke on Trent”. This has allowed Snell to avoid the criticism levelled at Paul Farrelly, in neighbouring Newcastle Under Lyme, who was a rebel.

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Jam-eaters will decide Copeland. Based on her trip north, Theresa May has clearly never heard of them

18/02/2017, 10:30:26 PM

by Jonathan Todd

It is easy to poke fun at Cumbria. The land that time forgot. Northern accents that can’t quite be placed – “I thought you were from Yorkshire”. Withnail and I going, “on holiday by mistake”. Lots of sausage. Little hip and happening.

Most people in Cumbria, I feel, look at Millom, a town of 8,000 people in the south of Copeland, scene of one of this week’s byelections, as the rest of the country looks at Cumbria – far-flung, incomprehensible. “It is,” I was once told by a friend from Workington, “a funny place, Millom, isn’t it?” Millom, in turn, redirects this perception to Bootle, a nearby village.

“What is it that you don’t have in Bootle? Electricity?”

Coming from Bootle, I grew accustomed to mocking enquiries such as this in the Millom schoolyard. At least, no one called me, “bad Bootle UKIP meff”. That is Paul Nuttall from Bootle, Merseyside – a more gritty and urban place.

The sitcom Porridge is set in a prison just outside Millom. A hapless guard bemoans losing his wife to, “the bright lights of Workington”. A lag, played by Ronnie Barker, sympathises that he, “can’t compete with that”. As much as the canned laughter indicates that the rest of the country find the notion of a cosmopolitan Cumbria oxymoronic, the Millom prison guard and my Workington friend would see themselves as coming from different places.

While there is a rivalry between Whitehaven, very much in the Copeland constituency, and Workington, a town just north that gives its name to a separate seat this side of the boundary review, they’d see each other as fellow jam-eaters and Millom and Bootle as remote outposts.

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Ian Lavery should not be Labour’s Elections Coordinator. Or anything coordinator, with his toxic past

17/02/2017, 02:00:50 PM

by Rob Marchant

Since Jeremy Corybn’s rise to prominence, there has been a seemingly never-ending succession of skeletons pulled out of the closets of senior Corbynites, to the delight of Tory press officers everywhere.

There was the relationships of Corbyn himself with Holocaust denier Paul Eisen, and with Hamas terrorists; John McDonnell’s outspoken pro-IRA stance; the support of a motion supporting denial of the Kosovo genocide by both; the suspension and reinstatement of MP Naz Shah over anti-Semitic remarks; the suspension of Momentum vice-chair Jackie Walker over the same; the well-known Stalin apologism of Corbynites Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray; and so on. Doubtless the Tories are currently holding fire on a number of the more juicy ones, keeping their powder dry for 2020.

But the connecting thread between all these embarrassments has been clear: no matter how senseless or unsavoury, they have all been essentially connected, in the minds of the perpetrators at least, to political positions.

For example, the connections with anti-Semites are always justified on the grounds that the people in question are merely anti-Israel (of course!) The IRA connection? Because they were romantic freedom-fighters, naturally, who happened to kill people. And the Stalin connection because, well, Communism wasn’t all bad, was it? However dire the story, there was always some kind of contorted political justification which allowed the people involved to continue to look at themselves in the mirror the following morning.

In contrast, this was clearly not the case with Ian Lavery. Lavery is Corbyn’s new Elections Coordinator and the man in charge of every set of elections, we presume, from now until Labour is inevitably decimated in 2020.

Until now he has been in relatively low-profile roles, such as Shadow Minister for Trade Unions and Civil Society, and Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office. No, with Lavery the story was not political: it was about his questionable behaviour on a matter of simple personal ethics.

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Labour’s Article 50 rebels are the party’s best hope for challenging a hard Tory Brexit

14/02/2017, 10:09:26 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The vote on Article 50 saw Labour officially support a viciously reactionary Tory proposal, which it had failed to amend in any way. Corbyn’s official order to vote for an unamended Article 50 undercut any future influence Labour may have on the next steps. Given that voting for a Tory measure was the complaint against Harriet Harman and the front bench in the summer of 2015 when Corbyn gained the support needed to win the leadership, this is more than a mistake. It is to repeat the mistakes of the Blairite past.

The official Labour position was to move amendments to improve the bill which would allow it to support the trigger of Article 50. While a concession was made, and this needs examination, it was not to satisfy Labour. It was to keep Tory MPs from rebelling and with the exception of Ken Clarke it succeeded. The overall effect, as the hard left Another Europe Is Possible put it, in an accurate observation

“The vote wasn’t close, because Labour voted for it despite losing all its amendments”.

The actual concession was described by AEIP, accurately but not entirely correctly, as “the government agreed that parliament will get a vote on a Brexit deal before it is concluded. This is meaningless, because when this vote happens MPs will have a gun to their heads. Either they accept the government’s deal or the UK gets no deal and crashes out of the EU anyway.”

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The problem with the Labour Right

13/02/2017, 10:25:09 PM

In a pair of short essays on the state of the party, Kevin Meagher casts a critical eye over the state of both the Labour Right and the Labour Left. First the Right.

Let me start with a counterfactual. The basic problem with the Labour Right is that there isn’t really a ‘Labour Right,’ per se.

What I mean is there are several tribes on the right of the party – and the bad news is they have less and less in common. For a long time, they overlapped, with the glue of winning elections and holding office binding them together.

There are big differences between those on what we usually refer to as the moderate side of the party, and the radicals on the left. But we need to appreciate there are also differences within these agglomerated wings.

So those on Labour Right may broadly agree on a sensible, moderate approach to politics, but the various strands of opinion within it still have different aspirations and priorities.

First, we have the neo-Blairites clustered around their ginger group, Progress. They pine for a return to the certainties of New Labour. Tony ‘n’ triangulation, so to speak. They are happy with winning for the sake of winning.

That perhaps sounds dismissive. It isn’t meant to be. Clearly, any successful political project requires electoral victory and the progressives, or neo-Blairites, have things to say that are worth hearing.

But there’s a self-satisfaction about their view of the New Labour era which is quite unjustified. Of course, many positive changes were made during the Blair-Brown years of 1997-2010, notably managing a gently revving economy for a decent period and investing a huge amount in frontline public services.

But for too many people, New Labour simply did not change the weather.

Steel works, coal mines and factories did not reopen. Perhaps none of that was realistic, but it was, however, emblematic of a bigger problem: The types of decently-paid industrial jobs that sustained the British working class simply never returned and New Labour had no response to that.

It is a failing that is now killing British social democracy. All the other welcome policy interventions come to naught if working people cannot earn enough to buy a home, bring up their kids and enjoy life.

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We are a European country

06/02/2017, 10:33:13 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The wealth of the UK depends much more on European trade than with any other export market. Our prosperity, much more interwoven with continental prosperity than with prosperity over any other geography, is used to finance public services that are discernibly European in their scope and coverage. Popular support for such public services rests upon values that are more akin to those held elsewhere in Europe than beyond.

We are, in other words, a European country. Europe is not the EU. But the EU is the key organising unit for the advance of shared economic and political interests within Europe.

The challenge for the UK, outside of this organisation, is to sufficiently maintain the GDP growth that we have enjoyed within this organisation to continue to fund public services to the extent that public opinion requires. While the UK is exiting the EU, trade with other European countries is so vital to British economic performance that relations with the rest of Europe will continue to be key to this challenge.

It has long been said that the UK wants Scandinavian public services on American taxes. It has never been said that we want Singaporean public services on Singaporean taxes – with much more limited Singaporean regulation to boot. Yet the prime minister – with zero democratic mandate for this position – places this threat above both our EU partners and the British people.

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Theresa May’s need to cosy up to Trump says everything about Britain’s weakness

02/02/2017, 09:33:25 PM

by Rob Marchant

It seems that nothing can really surprise us any more. Just as Jeremy Corbyn has, as the FT’s Janan Ganesh put it so beautifully last year, been “exactly as bad as he was always going to be”, Trump has already dulled our senses by doing, well, exactly what he said he was going to. Many did not really believe him; they said he should not be “taken literally”. Turns out they were wrong.

A ban on Muslim refugees, temporary though it is in theory, has actually been enacted. On Holocaust Memorial Day. Trump has demonstrated that, if you really don’t care that much what people think of you, there will always be some who will love you precisely because of that.

People are already normalising Trump, simply because he is president of the world’s most powerful nation. But that does not make his actions normal, in any historical sense, and we would all do well to remember that.

Presidents do not lie casually, as a rule. Neither do they enact overtly racist (or, to be more accurate, sectarian) executive orders. Since the 1930s, one cannot remember a time when it was considered perfectly ok to target large and vulnerable groups of people, and bar them from entering the country on grounds of religion or country of origin. And that time didn’t end well.

It is up to liberals to find a way out of this which does not reinforce Trump. Playing the victim is the favourite trick of the populist politician, and the outrage of liberals is easy to mock. But that does not mean, either, that we should shut up: that way lies madness. The fact that someone has been democratically elected does not mean that we have to just accept every idiotic thing they might do.

At the same time, opinions have differed on Theresa May’s mercy dash across the Atlantic. This, too, has been normalised by some commentators as a normal US-UK meeting. It should not be, for some glaringly obvious reasons.

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Theresa May is right to be wary of criticising Trump. This isn’t Love Actually

30/01/2017, 06:55:12 PM

by Kevin Meagher

How far should Theresa May have gone in upbraiding the immigration policies of President Trump?

If she had listened to the sustained Twitterburst over the weekend, and then again this afternoon, she would have channelled her inner-Hugh Grant and recited that pompous load of tosh his fictional prime minister ladles over the smarmy US president in Love Actually:

‘I fear that this has become a bad relationship. A relationship based on the President taking exactly what he wants and casually ignoring all those things that really matter to, erm… Britain’.

Instead, she despatched the home and foreign secretaries to speak to their US counterparts and, gently, one assumes, articulate the government’s displeasure about the effects on British citizens with dual-nationality from the seven (mainly Islamic) countries affected by Trump’s new edict. Within the remit given, they seem to have secured her desired result.

It’s hardly gunboats up the Potomac.

But that’s as far as the Prime Minister should go.

Of course, Theresa May has not handled this adroitly. She could have saved herself a lot of political strife if she had got out in front of this issue from the start.

Downing Street should have robustly made the (obvious) point that longstanding protocol dictates that prime ministers do not comment on the internal affairs of the US, but that, at the official level, the law of unintended consequences vis-à-vis British nationals would be pointed out.

Diplomatic niceties are there for good reason. Do we want Donald Trump responding in kind and coming out for Scottish independence?

Theresa May’s strategic responsibility is to secure an alliance with the new White House that will, in turn, deliver a suitable bilateral trade deal once we leave the EU.

Clearly Trump is a mercurial figure, so why jeopardise a successful initial meeting just so she can ‘virtue signal’ to the Twitterari?

Disagree? Then can anyone point to precedents where British PMs have publicly criticised key domestic policies of US Presidents?

Theresa May’s detractors are genuine, sure, but this is high-stakes international statecraft we’re dealing with, not passing a resolution in the junior common room.

Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron would have done exactly the same thing as Theresa May: Look a bit embarrassed, soak up the anger about being America’s poodle, then issue the most anaemic, mealy-mouthed coded criticism that lands no more than a glancing blow.

Rest assured, the flaws in Trump’s policy will do for it and common sense will prevail by April.

Making sure Britain has the best chance of surviving as a trading nation outside the EU must be the government’s overriding concern.

We need to properly accept that Brexit means we are living in an age of realpolitik. Idealists who want to wag their fingers at Donald Trump are free to do so; but they should not pretend this is anything other than idle posturing.

Britain is leaving the EU and Donald Trump is now US President. These are now immutable facts.

The task is to work with the grain of these twin realities and ameliorate the worst excesses of both.

It might not be pretty, but that’s grown-up politics.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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Everyone wants to be Tony Blair, not Neil Kinnock

29/01/2017, 06:26:38 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Tristram Hunt is off to run a museum rather than fight for the soul of the Labour party. We should not be surprised. He is one of a band of would-be leaders who would rather like to be Prime Minister, but don’t want to put in the work required to get there.

Labour’s shiny leadership hopefuls don’t want to get their shoes wet in the swamp of party reform. They want someone else to deliver them an electable Labour party to lead. So they’ll go and sit on the hillside until that happens.

They will be waiting a long time.

Here’s the hard reality. No Labour MP over the age of 45 is ever going to be Prime Minister.

The party will do less badly than many predict in 2020 (the Labour brand is stronger in its heartlands than the chatterers and scribblers of Westminster presume) but it will still be bad. The earliest Labour recovery is at the election after.

It’s easy for those on the right to daydream that they will rub the Left’s nose in the manure of defeat in 2020, snatch back ‘their’ party and march to victory, but it’s an idle fantasy.

Even if Corbyn makes way for a more centrist leader, no-one is going to be given carte blanche to reform the party the way Tony Blair was. The late Labour MP Tony Banks once said his members were so desperate for victory after the party’s fourth successive general election defeat in 1992 that they were willing to ‘eat shit to see a Labour Government.’

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Any member of the PLP who aspires to lead the Labour party must vote against triggering Article 50

28/01/2017, 11:33:12 AM

by Atul Hatwal

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a parliamentary vote that transformed Labour politics. It was July 2015, in calendar terms quite recent, but politically another century. The Labour leadership contest had just begun and the government’s welfare bill was coming up for a vote at second reading.

Only one leadership candidate voted against, the others abstained, saying they would vote against if it couldn’t be amended in committee.

Abstention was what moderates thought was the judicious approach – avoid supporting the bill while depriving the Tories of the ability to paint Labour as free spending, welfare junkies. I’m a moderate, I thought it was the only sane option.

What did we know? We were fighting the last war, the general election. The war to come was to be fought before Labour members and supporters not the public. They wanted passion, clarity and, above all else, full-throated opposition to the Tories.

Jeremy Corbyn’s vote against the welfare bill in July 2015 was the catalyst for a surge that deposited him in the leader’s office.

For the 2015 welfare bill, read Brexit. Squared. Any MP who aspires to lead the party one day should pay heed.

Brexit has utterly transformed Labour’s internal politics in terms of what defines the party ideologically and Jeremy Corbyn’s personal standing.

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