Venezuela: a Corbynite touchstone. An unmitigated human and democratic disaster

10/08/2017, 06:03:39 PM

by Rob Marchant

It is not for months but, in fact, years that some of us have tried to draw attention to the pathological infatuation of Labour’s hard left (and even some of the soft left) to the Venezuelan regime of Hugo Chávez.

The attraction was straightforward: a kind of “Cuba-lite”, where in contrast defenders could always point to at least some kind of democracy, slanted towards the ruling party with various “cheats” though it was (such as the inequitable use of state television for propaganda). Not to mention, of course, a dazzling oil wealth which could comfortably mask the self-enriching activities of the ruling kleptocracy and still leave a bit of largesse to spread among its voters around election time, in the name of “true socialism”.

Indeed, so attractive was it that some of our current crop of hard-left doyennes, in perhaps less elevated times than they now sit, headed out for the Caribbean in 2012, the October of Chávez’s last election before his death.

Step forward, Diane Abbott and sidekick Owen Jones, “impartial observers” of the election. Except that they weren’t, of course, they were friends of one side only, as I helpfully pointed out to them while they were in Caracas as the guests of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (run by a Chávez crony, incidentally).

Abbott, as patron of the Chávez-supporting Venezuela Solidarity Campaign, claimed without irony that she was “at pains to say that I wasn’t going to Venezuela to support any particular candidate”. So that’s all right, then.

It was an election, it should be noted, at which there were no international observers from any reputable organisation: only UNASUR, a regional body dominated by Venezuela itself. Then again, for 2012 Abbott, the likelihood of a formal Shadow Cabinet post probably seemed small, especially after various faux pas like the famous “white people love to divide and rule” comment. So she probably paid a little less attention to what might be the impact of her visit.

Oh, how dull and carping we were, who would criticise the Chávez regime or its slanted electoral system. But even then, all the signs were there. Why the need to invite, for want of a better word, your mates, to observe an election? Because, apart from UNASUR, no-one else came to the party. The EU and the UN had been invited to previous elections, why not this one? Could it be that the regime knew it would be heavily criticised for unfairness?

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Ten political thoughts for August 2017

09/08/2017, 09:38:19 AM

by Jonathan Todd

August is a time to take stock. Particularly so after a wild twelve months in politics. Here with ten thoughts.

1.) There will be no early general election

Tories can’t agree on much. But they are united in not wanting Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister and will do whatever they can to avoid an early general election that might bring this about.

Labour are powerful enough to subject the Tories to gruelling, parliamentary war but too weak for this to end in an early general election.

2.) Theresa May probably isn’t going anywhere fast

The Tories can’t agree on what form of Brexit should take and, as candidates reflect different Brexit flavours, a successor to Theresa May.

More chairperson than chief executive, she is condemned to try to navigate a peace between the tribes. Which may just hold if, before the election, she both delivers some form of Brexit and stands aside to enable a leadership election in which the post-Brexit Tory future will be personified.

3.) Cliff-edge Brexit is still possible

When Nick Timothy reappeared, the beard was gone. But the cant that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ wasn’t. It would be funny if it wasn’t tragic.

Lord Macpherson, until last year the top official at the Treasury , is quoted (£) as saying the “absence of realism in the government’s approach makes ‘no deal’ an evens chance.”

The magnitude of the calamity that ‘no deal’ portends cannot be understated and no responsible British politician would do anything to encourage this.

4.) But de jure Brexit, de facto Remain may now be the most likely outcome

Uncut does not know the government’s position on free movement. But the contours emerging amount to:

Free movement ends in March 2019 when the UK exits the EU but beyond that date, the government will support whatever arrangements British business tells us are necessary.

The de jure situation would change (free movement would be a prerogative of the UK government) but the de facto one wouldn’t much (our economy will still need and allow comparable numbers of immigrants to arrive from the continent).

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When it comes to Brexit, Farage is in charge of both Labour and the Tories

31/07/2017, 10:09:31 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Jonathan Todd’s Remain piece (17th July) ended with him asking for a speech by the leader at conference denouncing Brexit and vowing to lead the fight against it. But as Rob Marchant has pointed out more recently (26th July), Corbyn has always been anti-EU and telling Marr a couple of weeks ago that his policy was, like UKIP, to take Britain out of the single market was no surprise. This was the man who voted against the Single Market in 1996 and the Maastricht treaty and the Lisbon Treaty and there is only one question to ask about the man who leads the Labour Party.

Why did the Party allow him to run Labour’s Remain campaign into the ground?

But that is history – as will be the anti-Brexit campaign if the parliamentarians cannot be removed from running it. But more of that later. At present, the key issue is why the politicians cannot make an opposition that has an effect. For Labour, Corbyn is the problem. For the Lib Dems, the puzzle is the failure to stand up for anti-Brexit. Its position in the election was for soft Brexit. Much like Labour’s Brexit for jobs. But for the real disaster position, we have to look to the Tories, and their commitment via Theresa May to the dogma that No Deal is better than a Bad Deal. For once I agree with frequent Uncut commenter, Tafia. There will be no deal. The forces that control British politics will not allow a deal since any deal is from their viewpoint a bad deal with hated foreigners.

And who are these forces? Well, as Jonathan may recall, some weeks ago I pointed out at a meeting he was at that the key element is Nigel Farage. I might have done better to swing from the ceiling singing the Hallelujah Chorus. The reaction was that Mr Yesterday had gone, so good riddance and hopefully UKIP has gone too.

But Farage has not gone, just abandoned UKIP with his backer, Arron Banks. According to the Daily Mail, he has botoxed (and a before and after showed the anxiety wrinkles completely vanished), has a new (French) girlfriend and is full of the joys of spring.

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To those who voted for Labour as a pro-Remain party: you’ve been suckered

26/07/2017, 10:38:24 PM

by Rob Marchant

The madness that is British politics in 2017 this week continued apace. While Tories continued to flounder in their Brexit negotiations and, Trump-like, blame the media for their self-inflicted disasters, we finally arrived at the point of disarray where the half-bonkers Jacob Rees-Mogg, a throwback, cartoon Tory backbencher, is considered 2nd favourite to be the next Tory leader, when Theresa May is finally defenestrated.

Even so, Labour aimed to outdo them in the madness stakes. The man who was, in theory, the most senior opposition politician campaigning against Brexit, finally admitted that he was not, if he ever had been, anti-Brexit at all. In fact, the Labour leader was now in favour of the hardest of Brexits. Britain would unequivocally leave the Single Market.

Furthermore, it seems that Corbyn does not actually understand the phenomenon of the European Economic Area; he believes that you have to be in the EU to be part of the Single Market (you don’t, as Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland will attest).

His pro-European supporters on the left, such as the redoubtable Guardian columnist Owen Jones, scrambled to find a simultaneously pro-Corbyn and pro-European position which did not involve Houdini-like logical contortions. They failed.

All in a party where the vast majority of the membership, most supporting unions and the majority of the PLP resisted Brexit in the referendum. The party’s Brexit policy, between Corbyn, McDonnell, Keir Starmer and Barry Gardiner is now a jumble of contradictions which shifts daily.

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Labour can’t have our cake and eat it. We need to face our Brexit responsibilities

17/07/2017, 10:23:17 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Gus O’Donnell has stressed what has long been obvious about the Brexit process: “There is no way all these changes will happen smoothly and absolutely no chance that all the details will be hammered out in 20 months.” We are, therefore, starring into the abyss of a ‘no deal’ scenario.

This, according to JP Morgan, would be, “enormously disruptive to (trade) activity in the short run.” How bad? JP Morgan struggle to quantify this because, “there are no meaningful precedents for such an abrupt change.” That no one else has ever thought anything like this a good idea, should be a hint, shouldn’t it?

Living standards are being eroded by a post-referendum fall in sterling. Investment in the UK car industry has fallen by 30 per cent over the same period. Unsurprisingly, other industries are considering relocating out of a jurisdiction that can provide no clarity about the terms upon which it is soon to trade with the world.

Quelle surprise, too, to the supposed revelation that other European countries will encourage this investment to come to them. Immigrants – who might have treated our sick or picked our fruit – are departing these shores as rapidly as money is. Losing money and people is terrible for UK PLC and all our back pockets. With the CBI pushing for the softest of Brexits – inside the Customs Union and Single Market – the pressure from business on the government builds.

In not heeding these business warnings, the Tories are choosing to be the party of Brexit, not the party of business. It can no longer be both. It cannot have its cake and eat it. The ideological purity of Brexit and business pragmatism cannot coexist.

Neither – pace Rebecca Long Bailey – can Labour have its cake and eat it. We cannot sit back, watch this Tory destruction, and pretend that we have some kind of elixir known as “a jobs-first Brexit”. There is no such thing. We should be honest about that.

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Their deal with the Tories is an Indian Summer. Winter is coming for the DUP

16/07/2017, 10:02:43 PM

by Kevin Meagher

‘Fashions change but style remains’, Coco Chanel was said to have remarked, (somewhat incongruously for a fashion designer). The point is germane to Northern Ireland. Don’t draw big conclusions from immediate contemporaneous events. Stand back and look at the wider picture. Ignore passing fashions.

There is an emerging narrative that the DUP is on the up after the hiatus of the Renewable Heat Incentive fiasco at the start of the year, the subsequent resignation and untimely death of Martin McGuinness and Sinn Fein’s surge in March’s elections to the Northern Ireland assembly.

Arlene Foster is still standing, winning two extra parliamentary seats in the recent general election and has managed to strong-arm a generous financial deal out of Theresa May’s weak and wobbly government in return for backing it on tight votes.

She is on top – so the argument goes – having wrong-footed her opponents, most notably Sinn Fein, whose policy of abstentionism and self-removal from the parliamentary fray contrasts unfavourably with the DUP’s realpolitik in making Westminster bend to its will.

It’s a fashionable argument, by which I mean it is entirely wrong.

Take a step back.

The gap between parties supporting Irish unity and those wishing to maintain the constitutional status quo with Britain was as close as 30,000 votes in elections to the assembly back in March. Unionism is in long-term decline, standing on a burning electoral and demographic platform.

Already, a majority of Northern Ireland’s under-35s are Catholic, providing Unionists with an impossible medium-term challenge in fending off Irish unity. Given Sinn Fein is not calling for a border poll for the next five years, there is ample scope to construct a majority for change by the mid-2020s, now the prospect is truly out in the open and the benefits of reunification are widely discussed.

For Unionism, winter is coming.

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Those who think the Corbyn leadership can change are dreaming. Appeasement will only strengthen the hard left’s hand

12/07/2017, 10:38:05 PM

by Rob Marchant

Last week Luciana Berger, prominent centrist, Jewish MP and Corbyn critic, underwent a coup on her local party’s Executive Committee, with nine out of ten places going to Momentum members.

Shortly afterwards, one of said members, Roy Bentham, demanded a pledge of allegiance to the leadership from her, the implication being that, if she did not start to be behave herself as a good Corbynite, she would soon face deselection: “Luciana needs to get on board quite quickly now…she will have to be answerable to us. We would like her to come out publicly like other MPs have done and apologise for not supporting him in the past.”

We could look at this story in two ways. First, the way that the local party and, ultimately, Berger herself have spun it: that it was an exaggerated story from the Liverpool local press, stirring up trouble. There was a tweet to that effect from Berger, disassociating herself from the Sunday Times tweet on the story, and a statement that the party was doing well under Corbyn. The local CLP also distanced itself from the remarks made by Bentham.

The second way is this: exactly what the Times said in its leader (£). In short, whatever the local party or MP might claim, there will definitely be a move to oust Berger, at least unless she toes the Corbynite line from now on. It is not hard to see that this is the right interpretation, whether Berger wants to accept it or not. One has to ask why Momentum would bother to take control a local party and then leave in place an MP who has views diametrically opposed to the Momentumites.

One might also reasonably ask the question, why mention the fact here that Berger is Jewish? The answer is, sadly, because it matters in some quarters of the Labour party nowadays, especially for some (although surely not all) members of Momentum.

There are four female, Jewish MPs in the PLP. All have experienced considerable and documented anti-Semitic abuse in recent months. While some comes, inevitably, from the far right, much comes also from the far left, particularly the Palestine-supporting, BDS (sanctions against Israel) crowd.              But it also seems that the vitriol is particularly reserved for women, where the misogynism of the far left is already a well-known phenomenon (cf. the Comrade Delta rape case in the Socialist Workers Party).

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The fight for Labour’s soul is only just beginning

09/07/2017, 11:39:00 AM

by Kevin Meagher

So that’s it then, we’re one big happy family? The outcome of the 2017 general election (assuming there’s just the one) is that the electoral catastrophe every piece of empirical evidence suggested was in the post ahead of polling day did not, in fact, arrive.

There is relief – plenty of it – that a big chunk of Scotland has come back home and that ‘feckless’ young voters are perhaps not that feckless after all. Yet despite noises off from the left, this government has every right to govern, given it won 55 more seats than Labour.

Caution, rather than exuberance, should be the prevailing mood in Labour circles.

The other permissible emotion is, of course, schadenfreude at the appalling mess Theresa May finds herself in. The past few excruciating weeks in the life of the Conservative party have been a sight to behind.

But back to Labour. It is not credible to simply forget about the past two tortuous years. A recent leader column in the New Statesman suggested that’s exactly what we should do:

In spite of his many shortcomings, Mr Corbyn has earned the right to lead the party into the next election, whenever it falls. He has won the Labour civil war.

There’s certainly been a lack of civility, but I’m not sure ‘civil war’ characterises the past 20 months of Jeremy Corbyn’s roller-coaster leadership. The sniping between Corbynistas and moderates (for want of a better term) has never really come to a head in a pitched battle.

Mostly the internal rows have been about the leadership’s lack of a political strategy and the string of unforced errors that has seen Labour branded as anti-Semitic, or just plain incompetent.

To his credit, Jeremy Corbyn has tried not to pick fights since becoming leader. Sure, there have been outriders floating radical ideas about policy and party reform, yet despite the fears among MPs that there would be a period of blood-letting following Owen Smith’s emphatic defeat in the second leadership election last summer, there has been no abuse of the party’s internal processes by Corbyn, evidenced by the failure of his supporters to secure berths in the pre-election carve-up of safe seats.

A row is certainly now brewing over the so-called ‘McDonnell amendment’ to enact a rule change at the party conference, reducing the threshold needed for candidates to stand in a future leadership election, thus making it easier for the left to secure a nominee.

But in a spirit of ‘not meeting trouble halfway’, the focus now should be on how the party can best take things forward in the short term. For starters, it would be wise to develop a series of shared assumptions about the immediate future. Some ground rules, if you like. Here are four suggestions: (more…)

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The 2017 election was a triumph of age over class

06/07/2017, 11:22:56 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The 2017 UK election threw up data suggesting that age is more important than class in voting in Westminster elections. While there is still a class element, the big issue was that the older a voter was the more likely to vote Tory*. The youth surge, though still unexplained, particularly in the university towns, is sufficiently important to panic the Tories into considering modifying tuition fees according to the Mail on Sunday of 2nd July.

As I said in my blog on voter registration, published on Labour Uncut and on the ProgPol site, “for the future, the bias in the system has to be tackled. For the future, its voter registration, Stupid!” What won the first Clinton election victory was famously the economy. For the UK, the ability to get the young to register and vote, which will have to be repeated constantly as ‘youth’s a stuff will not endure’, must be woven into the DNA of progressive activity.

The YouGov poll after the election (fieldwork 9-13th June, sample over 50,000) (table 1) showed that both the turnout to vote and willingness to vote Tory increased with age, two thirds of first time voters voting Labour in 2017, but only 19% of over seventies. First time voters were least likely to vote, over seventies the most likely to vote – a stable population able to use postal votes which have now become an alternative way to vote.  Table 2 emphasises that class is no longer the key determinant of voting.

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The breakdown in Northern Ireland’s talks is an avoidable mess

06/07/2017, 06:29:30 PM

by Kevin Meagher

As they say in Belfast, the dogs in the street could see there was no prospect of a deal to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland. The ‘gaps’ between the parties that James Brokenshire, the beleaguered Northern Ireland secretary told the House of Commons on Monday could be bridged have proven to be rather larger than he – and he alone it seems – assumed.

The talks have failed for three reasons. First, the Democratic Unionists’ deal with the Conservatives means there is no leverage exerted by Downing Street or the Northern Ireland Office over the DUP, which is standing four-square against the implementation of an Irish language act – the central bone of contention between them and Sinn Fein – which they claim to oppose on grounds of cost, rather than base prejudice. (Honest).

Having lavished one billion pounds in new money on Northern Ireland just last week  – and guaranteed another £1.5 billion in underwriting the costs of measures like next year’s proposed corporation tax cut – a relatively small amount of funding on the Irish language is a drop in the Irish Sea. Moreover, it’s a perfectly sensible and entirely justifiable proposition given Wales has enjoyed similar legislation since 1993.

Second, the timing was awful. Expecting a deal a week out from the 12th July shows Brokenshire doesn’t even have an elementary grasp of the physics of Northern Ireland. There will be no compromise while loyalists are piling wooden crates 60 feet high with effigies of the Pope and Gerry Adams hanging from nooses. Next week is the high point of the ‘marching season’ where bonfires will be lit in commemoration of the 1690 Battle of the Boyne, where William III defeated King James I. (Nuance is lost of these occasions, as William was backed by the Pope).

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