The “soft coup” might be on, but it surely ain’t from the right

24/03/2017, 06:41:00 PM

by Rob Marchant

For weeks now, the party’s left has been whispering about a “soft coup”. Ah, the old Soviet tactic, much beloved of today’s Vladimir Putin: confuse things by accusing your opponents of whatever you are up to yourself. Oh, and make them feel under attack, so they close ranks.

There is a coup going on, but it is clearly not the evil Blairites named by John McDonnell.

As revelations about Jon Lansman’s declared strategy for Momentum as an alternative power base to the party itself became public, it seems Monday night’s PLP meeting was converted into something of a showdown.

Corbyn jeered. Watson cheered. The PLP, depressed and muted for months since Corbyn’s re-election, suddenly found its voice.

And it was that same Tom Watson leading the charge – a loyalist clearly adept at unearthing the truth but in this case apparently with a couple of years’ time-lag.

(We should probably gloss over his part the plot to bring down Tony Blair; or the fact that, in the Falkirk selections debacle – in which his own parliamentary office was directly implicated, along with Unite, let us not forget – he helped lead to the change in the electoral system which let in Corbyn in the first place.)

And the revelation was that – hold the front page! – Momentum is actually organising for the takeover/destruction of the Labour Party (delete as applicable), just like Militant before it, in conjunction with that same Unite union. Where were you in 2015, Tom, when it was obvious to everyone? Or in 2013, when Unite were stitching up selections for the hard left?

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Indyref2 adds another twist to Brexit that Labour cannot handle

21/03/2017, 11:30:33 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Harold Wilson rightly said that a week is a long time in politics. Philip Hammond would agree, but the real shift in emphasis post budget was the SNP decision to go for a second independence referendum if they don’t like the Brexit deal. Or rather before the Brexit deal, as they want a vote before we know what the deal actually is. This adds another twist to the Brexit saga that the Labour leadership cannot handle.

As I noted in my post after the Open Labour meeting on March 11th, Miliband dampened hopes by backing the Corbyn- Starmer line. This is an acceptance of Britexit – without the escape clauses of referring a deal to the electorate agreed by Party conference last year – and an attempt to get a few concessions which they can sell publically as a Soft and so acceptable Brexit. The Tories will not allow this to happen.

May’s strategy is to win over the UKIP vote which if successful in leave constituencies – like Copeland –  would make the Tories invincible. Labour loses two ways backing soft Brexit. Labour can lose to the Lib Dems or SNP in Remain seats, and to Tories in Leave seats. UKIP don’t seem a serious challenge unless they can resist the Tory surge, and this remains possible. But what is clear is that Labour’s strategy cannot work, and the last week provided depressing evidence that this was the case.

The debate and vote on the Article 50 bill (European Union, Notification of Withdrawal) Bill came up for a derisory two hour debate on March 13th. Poor in content and almost contemptuously handed by David Davis, its only notable feature was the defeat of the two Lords amendments which would have provided some safeguards. Given the Tory majority, these could only be passed if Tory MPs rebelled. The significantly titled shadow minister for Brexit, Keir Starmer MP, pointed out these were Labour proposals accepted by the Lords.

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Uncut Review: A United Ireland, why unification is inevitable and how it will come about, by Kevin Meagher

20/03/2017, 10:22:09 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“Before there was a United Nations, before there was a United States, before there was a united anything, there was a United Kingdom.”

Bob Geldof delivered these rousing words to a rally in Trafalgar Square in 2014, organised to encourage Scotland to stay in the UK.

Will #indyref2 also see similar English outpourings of fraternal expression toward Scotland?

There must be more risk this time around that England shrugs its shoulders. Certainly, in the event of a referendum in Northern Ireland on its status within the UK, it is hard to imagine Unionist rallies springing up on mainland Britain.

“Where Scotland is seen to be an opportunity worth holding on to,” writes Kevin Meagher in A United Ireland, why unification is inevitable and how it will come about, “Northern Ireland is quietly regarded as a problem eventually worth jettisoning.”

Britain, as Meagher titles a chapter, is just not that into Northern Ireland. Whatever affinity the English retain for Scotland, it dwarfs Northern Ireland kinship – a place that feels faraway, with alien customs and obsessions.

Opinion in Northern Ireland itself, not on the mainland, will determine its future. Meagher assembles the economic evidence that it would be richer within the Republic of Ireland. And the stark divergence in social attitudes between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. In spite of these economic and social drivers, there remains, of course, a majority community in Northern Ireland defined by loyalty to the UK.

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Len McCluskey is the conservative candidate in Unite’s leadership election

17/03/2017, 06:37:08 PM

by Dean Quick

Len McCluskey is being championed as the “left” candidate in the Unite general secretary election. Assuming that the label means something we have to think it means he’s the candidate that stands for greater equality, for challenging the unfairly powerful and undeservingly privileged and the person most committed to giving us a powerful trade union able to meet and match the worst a Tory government can throw at us.

But the truth is that McCluskey is none of these things. He’s the candidate of the status quo, of continued decline, of no change, of jobs for the boys and he’s armed with a backward looking programme because, in essence, he’s a candidate of the past and certainly not of the future.

McCluskey – unlike some of his chief lieutenants – has never been in the Communist Party or even aligned with one of its satellites, like the Straight Left faction that Jeremy Corbyn’s paladin Seumas Milne supported. But his approach to his job is fundamentally that of the “militant labourists” that formed the traditionalist internal opposition to the CP’s “Eurocommunist” leadership in the 1970s and 1980s.

That factional battle was at its height this time thirty years ago. But it would be a mistake to think that the issues involved collapsed with the Berlin Wall. For while the Communist Party was at heart a pathological organisation – how else can you think of a movement so tied into a history of defending dictatorship and murder – its influence was profound.

The “Euros” were influenced by the new left movement (itself born out of an earlier Communist fragmentation) of the 1960s and engaged with ideas like feminism and what they called “new social movements”. Above all it sought to build a broad coalition for social change through a cultural politics that encompassed much more than the traditional movement settings of the workplace meeting and the party committee.

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Nicola Sturgeon has gambled with her move for independence. It’s not such a bad bet

14/03/2017, 03:39:53 PM

by Atul Hatwal

There are three stages to processing the news that we seem to be heading for a sequel to the Scottish independence referendum.

Stage one: why the shock.

What is surprising about a Scottish nationalist politician calling for independence from the rest of the UK? Surely, the clue is in Nicola Sturgeon’s party title.

Brexit offers a justifiable opening to ask the question which was meant to have been answered for a generation. The fundamental circumstances of Britain’s position have changed and the post-2014 settlement was predicated on a United Kingdom in Europe.

Stage two: Sturgeon has miscalculated.

But once the campaign begins, the same economic pressures will be brought to bear again on the electorate. Set aside for a moment the ludicrous hypocrisy of a Tory Brexiteer government running a facsimile of the Remain campaign’s economic arguments about leaving a union, the threat that will be articulated is not only real but potentially greater than in 2014.

Many will talk about the importance of identity and nationalism but that doesn’t pay the mortgage or put food on the table.

There was a reason the SNP lost in 2014 by 10%: the economy, stupid.

Stage three: hang on, what if the UK is about to crash out of the EU without a deal?

The kicker for unionists comes courtesy of the Tory government’s approach to Brexit.

At the weekend, Boris Johnson was on our screens giving his considered view as Foreign Secretary that exiting the EU without a deal would be just fine.

If, and it’s a big if, the SNP could promise some form of ongoing EU membership while the rest of the UK wilfully stepped off the trade cliff, babbling about empire, the nineteenth century buccaneer spirit and British pluck, which outcome would represent the greatest economic danger for Scotland: independence or remaining in the UK?

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At Open Labour, Ed Miliband backed the Corbyn-Starmer line on Brexit. A line that leaves Theresa May calling the shots

13/03/2017, 10:40:48 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The first Open Labour conference on March 11th was a successful launch of the project. In a school hall, 230 attendees took part for an afternoon of discussion.  Not all were members, but when a tight vote on an amendment led to tellers counting, 104 members had voted. This was a respectable number. I had sympathy with the colleague who asked “have we not decided this?”, not so as this was a first event, but OL was understandably treading a familiar path at this early stage. It will be for the perspectives conference in June to decide what the Unique Selling Point of OL will be.

The attendees seemed to be drawn from the Miliband cadre who had come to hear their leader. The age profile was around half over 50, about the same under 30. Anyone in their 30s or 40s and joined during the New Labour years seem not to warm to Open Labour so both the pre- New Labour and post New Labour cohorts seem to be the people attracted to Open Labour. However whether Open Labour can confront the failures of the Miliband era as well as those of earlier years is an open question – and very much open after Ed Miliband spoke to end the conference,

Miliband rightly focused almost entirely on Brexit in his 15 minute contribution, correctly as this is the defining issue of the current period, and supported the current Corbyn-Starmer line. This is to accept Brexit and the 2016 referendum but to seek a soft Brexit with concessions, none of which are on offer – certainly not EU citizens’ rights and access to the single market, currently dominating the debate. It is a fact that none of the amendments Labour put to the Article 50 bill were accepted, and the Tories did not accept any of the Lords amendments.  Labour is not likely to propose a constitutional crisis by using the Lords to overturn the rights of the Commons as the last thing an unpopular Labour Party can do is use the unelected Lords to block the decisions of the elected chamber. Certainly not to challenge the referendum result, which gave the government the mandate to trigger Article 50.

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Uncut review: “Limehouse” – Egos, emotions and lessons for today

10/03/2017, 12:01:12 AM

by David Ward

“Labour’s fucked!”

The very first words of this play take you immediately into a political drama which feels both historic and immediate.

Following hot on the heels of Headlong’s This House about Labour’s travails in Government in the late 1970s, Steve Waters’ new play brings us the next episode. Limehouse re-imagines the events leading to the 1981 Limehouse Declaration which led four Labour MPs to form the Social Democratic Party.

Going behind the scenes to an apparently faithful replica of David Owen’s 1980’s kitchen, it is a fascinating exploration not just of the period but of politics and politicians behind closed doors.

First there are the personalities. Roy Jenkins, the donnish champion of a broad left/liberal tradition with a taste for fine food and wine, brings to mind some in our current generation from Mandelson to Tristram Hunt. Roger Allam, who many will recognise as Peter Mannion from the The Thick of It, brings him to life along with excellent comic timing.

Shirley Williams is the indefatigable stalwart of Labour’s right resisting the Bennite left on the NEC. Torn between the worsening situation and the party she has grown up in and inherited from her parents. Bill Rodgers is portrayed as a mild mannered political fixer, comfortable across the union movement or CLP tensions and reluctant to step down from a left leaning shadow cabinet.

While Owen is the “hot-head” desperate for action not words, distrusted by the others for his ambition and middle class professional background. Williams even suggests the Owen’s kitchen is too bourgeois. At least he didn’t have two. Yet these accusations would become familiar to Blair only a few years later.

Then there are the issues it raises, many of which call to us down the ages.

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The future for Corbyn is grim but Saturday’s Open Labour conference gives cause for hope

09/03/2017, 07:10:40 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The by-elections in Stoke Central and Copeland showed that Brexit remains the dominant fact in British Politics – and while Corbyn’s shift to a pro- Brexit stance while helpful in retaining Stoke did nothing to provide a national UK wide strategy. Paul Mason believes the strategy was purely by election driven. In fact it is not even by election driven, it would not work in strong Remain seats. These two had Leave majorities, which seems to have dictated the shift. In the event, in both seats the majority of those voting on a low turnout voted for real pro-Brexit parties, discounting Labour as its conversion was insubstantial – as UKIP pointed out. And a further conclusion has to be that while the Compass strategy of a progressive alliance could theoretically work in by elections where there is a Remain majority, in Leave seats it does not work.

The share of the vote for the strong Leave parties, Tories and UKIP, discounting Labour’s shift to a Leave position, was virtually identical and greater than the other three parties in both seats. In Copeland, UKIP fell to 7.2% of the vote and Tories rose to 44.2% presumably in consequence, giving the strong Leave parties 51.4%.  As Labour got 37.3%, Libs 7.2% and Greens 1.7%, had the Compass strategy operated and all the Lib Dem and Green votes transferred – a very big assumption – the Labour share plus the others would have been  46.2%. This would have outvoted the Tories on the day had it happened, but would still be less than the strong Leave parties combined.

In Stoke Central the Labour share totalled 37.1%, confirming this was no longer a safe Labour seat. If the Tories, with 24.4%, can do what they did in Copeland and gain UKIP votes, UKIP  gaining 24.7% in Stoke Central, Tories could do well in the successor seat – Stoke central is about to vanish. As for Progressive Alliance, while it was not needed, its worth noting that with Lib Dems getting 9.8% of the vote and the Greens 1.4%, the total of 48.3% would have been less than the 49.1% the two strong Brexit parties totalled.  All academic of course, but no great advert for the progressive alliance which in Leave voting seats is unlikely to deliver the anti- Tory Vote compass thinks is needed.

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The problem with the Labour Left…

06/03/2017, 11:03:48 PM

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

When did unpopularity and electoral failure become synonymous with the Left? On the face of it, seeking to level-up the world for those who get a rough deal should commend left-wing solutions to millions – tens of millions – of voters who, well, get a rough deal.

So why does it never turn out that way? Why is Labour languishing at 24 per cent in the polls? Why is Jeremy Corbyn less popular than the Black Death? Or Leicester City’s board?

The Labour Leader’s relaunch, much talked about at the start of the year, came to a juddering halt in the cold, wintry lanes of Copeland last week. A Labour seat, made up of workers in a heavily-unionised industry, left Jeremy Corbyn high and dry.

Of course, it was the nuclear industry, so it didn’t help that he’s implacably opposed to how so many of the voters there make a living.

Ah, but what about Stoke? Labour held on there.

Fair enough, Labour is still capable of holding some of its safest seats. But what Stoke showed is that White working-class voters in ‘drive past’ towns are loyal in their bones and will not readily abandon Labour, despite the endless provocations from the liberal-left that they are all ignorant, Brexit-voting racists.

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John McDonnell has finally lost it

06/03/2017, 12:49:39 PM

by Rob Marchant

It was a cold February morning, when the Shadow Chancellor finally gave in to his demons and went “full conspiracy theory”.

To be fair, he probably didn’t feel too well. Labour had just suffered a “historic” by-election defeat at the hands of the governing party, something unheard of in thirty-five years and with the biggest pro-incumbent vote increase in a half-century.

It all had to be, of course, the fault of the Blairites. Particularly the man himself for his recent intervention over Brexit, who will shortly celebrate a decade of, er, not being the leader of his party. Not to mention Lord Mandelson, the incarnation of all evil to a Corbynite.

As John Rogan pointed out last August, it’s not as if McDonnell holds views consistent with a life at the top table in a major political party. When the IRA came to the negotiating table, he said they could only settle for a united Ireland. The organisation he chairs, the Labour Representation Committee, in 2012 called for the release of all Irish “political prisoners”, including those who had murdered that same year, 14 years after the peace agreement.

In other words, McDonnell and his colleagues set themselves in a position considerably more uncompromising than Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, by then getting on with the substantially more serious business of governing Northern Ireland.

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