Team Brexit’s political misjudgements have turned a campaign drama into an existential crisis for their cause

26/05/2016, 07:00:53 PM

In a three part series Atul Hatwal looks at the state of the two EU referendum campaigns and the likely winners and losers from the vote. For his second post, he reviews the performance of the Brexiteers.

Few would describe the Labour party as a model of electoral success in recent years.

But the two-headed Brexit team of Leave.EU and Vote Leave have contrived to ape Labour’s biggest mistakes over the past six years, combining the worst of Corbyn and Miliband to create a Frankenstein campaign that frequently defies belief.

The Faragists of Leave.EU are the Corbynistas of this campaign.

For Farage its immigration, for Corbyn its austerity, either way their mode of monomania is the same.

Britain’s electoral experience and current polling suggests that the economy matters most to voters.

But the Faragists don’t care about evidence.

Their faith-based approach to argument ignores the niceties of engaging with swing voters’ priorities in favour of shouting the same thing about their pet issue, EU migrants, over and over again, more and more loudly.

The stock response to set-backs or public rejection is to retreat into a nether-sphere of conspiracy theories about media bias, skewed polls and conniving, establishment lizard overlords.

The louder the Faragist tendency shouts, the more the anti-EU cause is seen by mainstream voters as a fringe concern propagated by advocates nearer David Icke than David Cameron on the credibility spectrum.

About the only thing that can be said in defence of the Faragists and Corbynistas, is that their position is at least constant.

In contrast, the Vote Leave campaign, who were meant to be the Brexit adults in the room, seem to have taken Ed Miliband as their model.

Like Miliband, they understood that banging on endlessly about what animates activists is not a route to victory.

They saw the importance of swing voters.

But like Miliband, they haven’t been able to bring themselves to act on voters’ concerns.

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Only when voters in places like Hazel Grove identify with Labour will we be competitive again

25/05/2016, 09:27:24 PM

In a series of posts, Uncut writers look at the constituencies featured in Labour’s Identity Crisis, England and the Politics of Patriotism. Here, David Ward gives his view on Hazel Grove

Tristram Hunt opens Labour’s identity crisis with Shakespeare in full voice proclaiming the virtues of ‘This Sceptred Isle’. Yet when I think of a childhood spent around Romiley, Bredbury, Marple and the other towns which make up the Hazel Grove constituency I think more of Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, “Sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England.”

Sandwiched between the more traditional Labour communities of Stalybridge and Hyde to the north, and true blue Macclesfield to the South, this is the kind of place Labour needs to win if a majority is to be achievable without Scotland.

As Michael Taylor writes in the book, while this is an area with a large number of ‘professionals’ and often derided as ‘leafy Cheshire’ the truth is more complex. A truth that sees social housing or “blokes in white vans” as much a part of the local makeup as chartered engineers and solicitors. I used to get a lift to school with a barrister’s son from Bredbury who went on to fight with the Royal Marine Commandos in Afghanistan. I wouldn’t try telling him being English doesn’t matter.

Winning here might seem like a tough ask when this has been either Liberal or Conservative territory as long as anyone can remember. But the collapse of the Liberal Democrats offers an opening in area where people want pragmatism with a dose of progress.

One of my earliest political memories was Margaret Thatcher stopping in on our primary school during a visit to Marple Bridge. Some guy tried to hit her over the head with a bunch of flowers in Marple town centre, which perhaps neatly encapsulates the peculiar English rebelliousness Michael describes.

Dig deep enough and Labour should have the intellectual heft to speak to constituencies like this. Whether it’s concerns about congestion and road upgrades, or showing a Labour Mayor can improve Stepping Hill hospital.

Identity can seem a word ill associated with the left but it doesn’t have to be. I recall my friend’s dad enthusing about the virtues of Michael Heseltine at his house in Romiley. He liked him because he was the kind of guy who ‘had his head screwed on’, but he showed he cared about people in the North West and wanted to improve our lot. He identified with him. Maybe that’s the trick we’ve got to pull off.

David Ward is a Labour campaigner in south London

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The Corbynite take on Venezuela tells you all you need to know about the leadership’s judgement

25/05/2016, 04:27:49 PM

by Rob Marchant

A country with a population half that of Britain is currently collapsing. Its president was defeated in the country’s parliamentary elections last December and, in the true style of demagogic leaders the world over, finally declared a state of emergency ten days ago in an attempt to cling onto power, backed by the country’s army.

It is all the more ironic to understand that the state enjoys a massive economic blessing: it contains the world’s largest oil reserves. But it has been so terribly managed since the turn of the century that there is scarcely any food in the shops, electricity in the wall sockets or medicine in the hospitals. A clearer example of Biblical famine in the land of plenty it would be difficult to find.

The country, of course, is Venezuela. A country which, under its recent leadership, has gone out of its way to pick fights with the West: US presidents, even the King of Spain. And wasted no time in cuddling up to the West’s enemies, notably Putin’s Russia.

But, as Nick Cohen has argued many times, in Britain the current regime has long been supported by “a herd of bovine leftists”. This has particular resonance for those of us who find ourselves in a Corbyn-led Labour Party which we seem to scarcely recognise any more.

In short: in spite of the absolute dog’s breakfast it has made of running a country bursting with natural wealth, the regime of Nicolás Maduro has still has a few close political allies in the West.

Who, we ask, might those be?

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How loud will Jamie Reed’s ‘quiet crisis’ get?

24/05/2016, 09:33:03 PM

In a series of posts, Uncut writers look at the constituencies featured in Labour’s Identity Crisis, England and the Politics of Patriotism. Here, Jonathan Todd gives his perspective on Copeland.

“Under leaden skies and beneath the ground a culture of solidarity, independence, community self-reliance and ambition was forged,” writes Jamie Reed of his constituency, Copeland, where I grew up.

Whitehaven, the town where I was born, Reed notes, “was north west England’s most important centre of early Methodism as John Wesley used the town as the starting point for his travels to Ireland and the Isle of Man.” While Whitehaven is a rugby league town, I was more football than rugby league as a child, watching matches both at Holker Street, home of Barrow AFC, a non-league club since the 1970s, and Brunton Park, Carlisle United’s ground, a lower league club for much of its history.

Nowhere does Labour more need to listen and change, according to Reed, than, “in our rugby league towns and lower league football cities, in the places most people have heard of, but never been to.” In places, in other words, like Whitehaven, Barrow and Carlisle.

“Daily life looks and feels very different in our de-industrialised towns, struggling rural villages and smaller cities and these communities are now engulfed in a quiet crisis – not just in the north of England, but in every part of our country.”

We picketed a County Council meeting when I was at primary school to keep the school open. While tiny, the school remains. Two pubs, two banks, and two petrol stations have departed the village or thereabouts in the intervening period. “These jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back,” as Springsteen sings in My Hometown.

In the sense that the primary school was threatened 30 years ago, we might react to Reed’s ‘quiet crisis’ by asking, if localities are perennially threatened, is it a new crisis so much as an ongoing, inevitable way of life in an ever more urban country?

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Until Labour addresses the toxic trio – immigration, welfare and economic trust – it will never win again

24/05/2016, 06:14:39 PM

by Kevin Meagher

You’ve probably heard Labour politicians concede there’s a ‘perception’ that immigration is a problem and respond by saying that ‘people are not racist for being concerned about the issue’.

These are the two weaselling formulations trotted out time and again to body swerve the issue that looms large in the concerns of electors – particularly those who still vote Labour – and millions more who the party needs to win back if it ever has a hope of governing again.

Yet Labour is not serious – not at all – in trying to meet the public’s expectations. There is no concession that mass immigration has indeed been damaging for many communities and groups of workers, (albeit largely positive for the urban middle-class). Behind the platitudes – the obfuscations – the real view is clear: Immigration is an objective good. There are no downsides. You are a fool or a racist if you think there are.

Enter Jon Cruddas. The Dagenham MP and sometime policy chief to Ed Miliband, has launched a new report, Labour’s Future, Why Labour Lost in 2015 and How it Can Win Again. It argues the party needs to: ‘…stop patronising socially conservative Ukip voters and recognise the ways in which Ukip appeals to former Labour voters…’

Devastatingly, Cruddas – a former academic and not much given to hyperbole – adds: ‘Labour is becoming a toxic brand. It is perceived by voters as a party that supports an ‘open door’ approach to immigration, lacks credibility on the economy, and is a “soft touch” on welfare spending.’

‘A toxic brand’. My, how we sneer at the Tories’ lack of electoral success in the north, yet as the report points out, 43% of voters in the south said they would never vote Labour (the same figure for voters in the north who would never vote Conservative). (more…)

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Despite her gaffe, Penny Mordaunt, not Cameron, is the future of the Tory party

23/05/2016, 04:26:55 PM

by Kevin Meagher

It’s pretty clear from her interview with Andrew Marr yesterday morning that defence minister Penny Mordaunt didn’t actually understand that individual Member States can veto the accession of new applicants to the EU, like Turkey.

A tad embarrassing, perhaps, for a government minister and David Cameron wasted no time in correcting her:

‘Let me be clear. Britain and every other country in the European Union has a veto on another country joining. That is a fact. The fact that the Leave campaign are getting things as straightforward as this wrong, I think should call into question their whole judgement in making the bigger argument about leaving the EU.’

As a vignette, it tells us that fact-checking left the building some time ago as far as this referendum is concerned and that tempers inside the Conservative party are shredded.

However it is pro-European Tories like Cameron and Osborne that will pay a heavy price for the tone of this referendum. Having failed to get anything resembling the deal he promised, the Prime Minister is now despairing at the failure of the polls to decisively shift for Remain.

Famed for his fits of pique, his answer is to let slip the dogs of war. So threats of recession, war, plague and famine are trotted out daily by a loyal army of straight-faced supplicants, like Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England and any number of corporate factotums, keen to sidle up to Downing Street for future preferment.

Unfortunately for him, the party’s grassroots remains implacably hostile to the EU. All those years when ambitious Tories could sidle up to their local members, pat them on the head and throw out a few Euro-bashing lines, safe in the knowledge that it all meant nothing, are over. With boundary changes approaching, local associations will demand to know their prospective MPs voted the ‘right’ way on the referendum.

Perhaps it’s understandable that David Cameron is furious with Mordaunt: she’s the future of the Conservative party, not him.

Some say she may lose her job for defying Cameron and emerging as one of the government’s staunchest Eurosceptics, but Cameron and Osborne will need to sue for peace and won’t have the strength to sack her.

If they do, she goes to the gallows as a heroine to the cause. But as we’ve seen with the Labour party, it is no bad thing to play the long game and emerge as a darling of the grassroots.

After all, as Talleyrand was said to have quipped, ‘treason is a matter of dates.’

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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It’s unfashionable to say this but the Remain campaign is doing a bloody good job

22/05/2016, 09:50:05 PM

In a three part series Atul Hatwal looks at the state of the two EU referendum campaigns and the likely winners and losers from the vote. First up, the Remain campaign.

At the start of the year, the Remain campaign had one job: to make Brexit more scary than Bremain.

It’s a job that they’ve done bloody well.

The brief for this campaign never included a requirement to persuade people of the imminent arrival of a new, fully reformed EU utopia.

Neither did it involve turning around years of frustration about the bureaucratic exigencies of the EU.

Who even thought that would be possible in a campaign of a few months?

But to read the drumbeat of criticism of the In campaign from pro-Europeans (Hugo Dixon, Natalie Nougayrède, Gordon Brown, Alex Salmond and Charlie Cooper to name but a few) is to be trapped in the impossibilist dream of enthusiasts who do not understand their fellow Briton.

These are the people who measure success by the volume of cheers in the hall not the weight of votes outside.

For this category of commentator and politician, Scotland is independent, Ed Miliband is prime minister and this is what a good football manager looks like.

They frequently use that word which presaged defeat for the Scottish pro-independence camp and Labour last year: passion.

Talk is of turnout and their silver bullet, the enthusiasm gap.

Paradoxically it is the utter commitment of the enthusiasts which is their critical flaw.

It robs advocates of empathy, the keystone of any campaign.

Hobby-horse arguments, shrilly pitched dissolve into the irrelevant drone of a Euro-anorak.

In contrast, the Remain campaign has understood the two essential truths of this and any election.

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Stronger In or Vote Leave: The view from a Labour party Brexiteer

17/05/2016, 04:41:41 PM

In the last in a series looking at the views of people from outside of the political bubble, on the EU referendum, Lucy Ashton gets the case for Brexit from a member of the Labour party

Lifelong Labour Party supporter and activist Michael Ord says voting to leave the EU is one of the hardest political decisions he has ever had to make.

“It’s not a decision that I want to make,” he says. “It’s would have been far easier to just plod on and follow the status quo but complacency over something that will shape all our futures is unacceptable.

“And for the record Nigel Farage is not my poster boy. I’m no Ukip fan or Ukipper – highly apt as their politics are fishy and stink.”

Michael’s mum was German so the family has close ties with the continent and he says it is a “very personal” decision for him.

“I have been subjected to racism and this resulted in me classing myself as European rather than British for a good portion of my early adulthood. So voting to leave the EU is something of a milestone decision in my life.”

Michael says Britain is floundering in an unwieldy organisation. “Britain is the second largest economy in the European Union yet our influence is somewhere further down that list.

“Our politicians have given up trying to become leaders within the group and because of this, our influence and our popularity with the EU is not strong enough.

“We will be left paying vast amounts of money to a body that hasn’t signed its books off in years and is becoming bigger and more bloated by the year.

“What started off as a trading agreement between a handful of countries and a means of discouraging us from going to war with each other has turned in to political leviathan.

“Swallowing up new countries that can barely afford to be in and who bring nothing to the table. The impending addition of Turkey does not delight me.”

He also believes the business arguments for staying do not add up either. “We are one of the foremost economies in the world, far larger than our geographic size would suggest, and there is no way that other countries would want to turn their backs on a market of our size.

“If we were free to trade without the constraints of the bloated EU we would fare better in the global economy.

“We would be free of the sluggish, slow moving and inward looking economy and be able to deal with whom we liked and deal however we liked.

“It is a chance for Britain to be more responsive to other markets and to exploit more opportunities. We will be leaner, faster and have more control over our actions.”

Lucy Ashton is a journalist and former Political Editor

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The results are in on Corbyn’s first few months. No matter how you spin it, they’re terrible

13/05/2016, 01:51:37 PM

by Rob Marchant

The leader’s office spin operation began long before the elections, because everyone knew they would be bad. The objective was simple: essentially, anything, anything at all to try and make them look other than the disaster most expected.

For example as Dan Hodges, sometime of this parish, pointed out, the Corbyn team decided on a tactic (of comparing the outcome with 2015 results, instead of 2011 or 2012 when the seats were last contested) was leaked to the BBC. It was patently foolish. No sane psephologist would try and compare an election with the previous year.

And when even the Leader himself ended up describing the results as “not good enough”, we still had incoherence in the party’s appearances on the media. In only the latest in a series of car-crash interviews, Diane Abbott memorably described the results as “steady progress”. Oh, my aching sides.

But they were all attempting to spin the unspinnable.

Yes, Sadiq Khan did a highly professional job in winning the London mayoralty, the one bright point of the elections. But even he did not manage this without exposing his past as a cuddler-up to unpleasant elements of the Islamist far right. Not, as the Tories tried to imply, because he is a card-carrying Islamist himself; he is not. But he has been ruthless enough in his pursuit of political support to schmooze with extremists until quite recently, in a way that should make party members nervous.

And let us not forget that London is, historically, a Labour stronghold par excellence. In fact, the two Boris wins in 2008 and 2012 may arguably be seen as the result, not just of the pendulum swing against Labour nationally, but also of a serious falling-out-of-love with one Ken Livingstone on the part of the London electorate.

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Why aren’t we furious with the Scottish party?

10/05/2016, 10:33:41 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The dark, stinking hole Labour finds itself in these days might not feel quite so dark and stinking if the Scottish party had got its act together last year. The loss of forty seats north of the border in the general election turned disaster in England into cataclysm across the UK.

Last Thursday, the party suffered a repeat pasting in elections to the Scottish Parliament. Labour took nothing short of a punishment beating at the hands of the electorate, sliding into third place behind the Conservatives. After last May’s debacle, it was a ceremonial cherry placed on top of the steaming turd that is the Scottish Labour party.

How did it come to this? How did Labour ‘lose’ Scotland and by doing so, make it improbable the party will win a general election any time before the advent of commercial space travel? And why aren’t we angrier with the bunglers in the Scottish party who frittered away Labour’s position?

But first, let’s be clear: the extinguishing of Labour as a force in Scottish politics is the party’s own fault. The SNP hasn’t cheated its way to power. There has been no coup d’etat. They are triumphant because they have outplayed Scottish Labour at every turn in recent years, up to the point where it’s clear the party no longer seems to understand the Scottish people.

This is not a recent failing. Labour lost control of the parliament to the SNP as long ago as 2007. The situation was exacerbated at the 2011 elections, before the party’s virtual annihilation in last year’s general election. There have been ample opportunities to arrest the decline.

Clearly, it all came to a head during the independence referendum. By opposing ‘nationalism’ Scottish Labour foolishly forfeited ‘patriotism’ in the process. The party didn’t seem to understand that there is nothing wrong with being a proud Scot and wanting to see your nationhood recognised.

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