We’ve been here before with Bennites like Corbyn. It will end the same way. In blood and vomit

01/08/2015, 01:07:24 PM

by Paul Richards

Labour’s last double-decade in opposition started with a winter of discontent, and this one starts with a summer of seppuku. What could have been the start of a process of healing after a disastrous election result, is instead descending into viciousness not seen since the early 1980s. There will be those old enough to remember what it was like back then. For those who don’t, it was no tea party.

The Bennites’ strategy was simple: to set up a series of positions on everything – Nato, the EEC, Trident, the monarchy, the civil service, the Lords, the banks, the media, and businesses – and then denounce anyone who deviated from this position as ‘a Tory’. This epithet didn’t include the actual Tories, but instead any Labour party member, MP or trade unionist who didn’t agree with state control of Marks & Spencer, kicking out the Americans, and support for Sinn Fein. Denis Healey? Tory. Barbara Castle? Tory. Harold Wilson? Tory.

A booklet was circulated amongst local activists called How to deselect your MP, which explained how to use the new rulebook to get rid of any Labour MP who failed to meet the same ideological tests. It was waved under the nose of any MP who dared to support non-Bennites for the national executive or vote for non-Bennite motions at the GC. These were times of fear and loathing, when Labour Party meetings were unpleasant places to be, characterised as small groups of activists firing resolutions at each other from across the room.

The greatest opprobrium was reserved for anyone who had served in the treacherous Wilson and Callaghan governments. Ministers were traitors, and should be treated with contempt. In his memoir, Denis Healey recalls Jim Callaghan being subject to a “barrage of the most offensive personal abuse both in public speeches, and perhaps even more wounding, in the private meetings of the National Executive Committee.” This was a former Labour home secretary, chancellor of the exchequer, foreign secretary, prime minister and leader of the Labour party: being bawled at by nonentities, paper-sellers and placemen.

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Jeremy Corbyn, George McGovern and winning by default

31/07/2015, 06:37:03 PM

by David Butler

A party is selecting a new leader and is using, for the first time, an open selection process. The early front-runners from the moderate wing of the party, who have dominated the party in the previous decades, have faltered and disappointed. Others, young and dynamic politicians, have refused to run for personal and political reasons. Instead, the insurgent, an outsider candidate from the left of the party is gaining momentum. He is backed by a wave of younger activists who are disappointed by the party’s previous period in government with its compromises and controversial war and are idealistic for a new settlement. As the campaign progressed, the moderates try to rally around a candidate, any candidate, to stop the insurgent left. However, it is too late. The insurgent suddenly finds himself party leader.

The year is 1972 and George McGovern has just become the Democratic nominee for President.

On his way to the nomination, McGovern defeated the combined talents of three leading party moderates, Senator Edmund Muskie, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson. George J. Mitchell, a Muskie staffer and later Muskie’s successor as Senator, reflected afterwards that “Muskie’s appeal was to reason, to legislative accomplishment, to sort of general policies in the best interest of the country. The primary electorate was interested in emotion, passion, strong views on every issue, and the general election candidate who tries to navigate a nomination process by not being clear on very hot button issues finds it difficult in the nominating process”.

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Irascible Liz needs to learn from mellow Jez

31/07/2015, 10:54:24 AM

by Kevin Meagher

If I was Liz Kendall, cast as the uber-pragmatist in this Labour leadership contest and with a difficult message of “wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee” to sell to the party’s suspicious grassroots, I would look across the ideological divide at Jeremy Corbyn and emulate how he’s running his campaign.

Not by suddenly adopting a policy on Bolivian miners, but by observing the quiet and courteous manner with which he pitches unfettered socialism to a bruised party that wants to believe, but in its heart of hearts knows that some accommodations with the electorate are inevitable.

That’s the centre of gravity of the Labour membership. This is a party that wants to know its politics still means something and aren’t going to be endlessly triangulate away by, as it sees them, careerist politicians. However, purists aside, the party also knows that politics is the art of the possible. So members are there to be courted. To be convinced. To have their would-be leaders calmly explain how Labour moves forward from the mess it’s in, while remaining true to its heritage and values.

All of which is to observe that Liz Kendall’s campaign is so utterly tin-eared and so wide of the mark, that it seems to be taking place in a parallel universe. Whereas Corbyn is sweet reason, Kendall’s camp seems intent on adopting the traditional tactic of the hard left: simplistic homilising at 100 decibels.

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Should Blairites stay or split if Corbyn wins?

30/07/2015, 10:21:33 AM

by Samuel Dale

Jeremy Corbyn is now the bookies’ favourite to win the Labour leadership contest. A couple of dodgy polls puts him miles clear and Corbyn-mania has gripped the nation.

The media is losing the plot. The Spectator’s Rod Liddle thinks he could become prime minister. The Telegraph’s Mary Riddell says he is the a modern politician not a dinosaur. And the Guardian’s Owen Jones believes he would be just swell.

As Atul Hatwal has written this is the same suspension of reality that gripped the nation prior to Ed Miliband’s defeat in May. It is still highly unlikely Corbyn will win.

But humour me. What if on September 13 we wake up to a party in the hands of a leader as unprepared and unsuited to the job since Michael Foot?

For so-called Blarites – moderates who want to actually win and change Britain – there are only two options. Stand and fight to wrest back control of Labour from the grip of a Marxist cabal heading for electoral oblivion.

Or split and create a new party, perhaps forming an alliance with Tim Farron’s Liberal Democrats.

Let’s take them in turn.

First, let’s stay.

Corbyn has no governing experience, he is easily riled, his policies are mad and he has numerous unsavory foreign connections.

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A win on second preferences is second-rate victory

28/07/2015, 03:22:41 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Why would a Labour leader, elected as the second or third preference of party members, go on to become the first choice of voters?

After all, coming second in the British parliamentary system usually means you’ve lost. Winning the contest by default would surely represent an inauspicious start to the leadership of an organisation that seeks to win the hearts and minds of millions of people.  

The question arises for two reasons. First, because of the unpredictability of the Labour leadership contest. The main evidence about who will win (opinion polls and the share of constituency party nominations) offers only a partial guide and shows no candidate commanding a clear majority. As a result, the mechanics of the process – which candidates come third and fourth and thus see their support transfer to the two frontrunners – may become all-important and is the current preoccupation of all camps.

The second reason is that Yvette Cooper’s campaign (third in the number of constituency party nominations) is said to basing her strategy on precisely this scenario, assiduously targeting the second preferences of Labour members in a bid to “come through the middle” as other candidates are winnowed out.

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Ten hard truths for Labour

27/07/2015, 06:16:26 PM

Following Tristram Hunt’s call for “a summer of hard truths” Labour Uncut is running a short series laying them out. Here’s Kevin Meagher with his top ten.

1. Fundraising must be the next leader’s top priority. The party is broke and its funding base in the affiliated trade unions looks increasingly precarious. Miliband hated raising money and avoided doing so. The next leader will find it occupies more of their time than anything else. That’s if they’re serious about running a political party.

2. Manage effectively. No-one in politics can line-manage. They really can’t. Decisions are subject to constant change because competing courtiers love sticking their oar in. And no-one takes responsibility for things because no-one wants to be left holding a problem when the music stops. (That’s why the “Edstone” passed through ten planning meetings without anyone pointing out how mental it was). And because virtually no-one in politics has ever worked anywhere else, they think this dysfunctional way of operating is normal. Blair, Brown and Miliband were all hopeless managers in their own ways. The next leader needs to learn to delegate and performance-manage his or her team. Let the general-secretary run the party machine and if they’re crap, sack them. Oh, and stop hiring inexperienced kids for important roles that they then guff up. Radical idea: advertise key jobs and hire the best applicants.

3. Avoid expensive US consultants. The hero worship of US politics by seemingly everyone who works for the party is actually closer to a creepy infatuation. Its staggering no-one on the NEC had the decency to demand that “Obama guru” David Axelrod repay the £300,000 he was paid for contributing nothing of value to the election campaign he was supposed to be masterminding. It could have funded another dozen organisers on the ground. (Members should remember this and take it out on the dozy NEC reps responsible for agreeing to hire him). For future reference, the party has enough talent and experience to run its own campaigns and doesn’t need any more Yank snake oil salesmen. (more…)

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Corbyn needs to be crushed in the vote. If he’s not, we’ll be out of power for decades and deserve it

27/07/2015, 11:42:13 AM

by Ian McKenzie

This whole “should Corbyn be on the ballot paper or not” thing is now out of hand. It is really very simple. The left in the Labour party has not been crushed since the mid 1980s around the end of the last era during which they were a malign influencing force. Unless the left are crushed Labour can’t win a general election. Unless Labour wins a general election the Tories will carry on running the country doing things the left and centre left don’t like.

Contrary to popular mythology (including my own at the time), Tony Bair didn’t vanquish the left. Sure, in 1994-5, there was the months-long Clause 4 national tour, I was at its last rally at Crofton Park’s famous Rivoli Ballroom, but the left knew the game was up and faded away. It was all a bit inevitable. What we really needed then, and desperately need now, was to be locked in a room until the fight was won. Blair’s true opposition inside the Labour party wasn’t the left. It was Brown. And we all know how that turned out.

In a few weeks, about a quarter of a million members of the Labour party will receive leadership election ballot papers. Sadly, membership numbers will be swelled by rather too many Trots and Tories to whom some idiot decided to give a vote for the sum of £3, but we will all have a vote.

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Jeremy Corbyn is a homeopathic politician plying snake oil remedies

26/07/2015, 08:30:53 AM

by Ian Moss

The Labour leadership campaign has seen some pretty unedifying accusations about the commitment of members and candidates to the core purpose of Labour.

The hard left, gathering behind Jeremy Corbyn, are whipping up anger against those that have a different view of the best policy solutions to further Labour’s principles, to their pure form of socialism.

But policies such as public service reform are not important because they might be popular with voters, they are important because they help the very people that Labour is there to represent.

The policies the Corbynites are aggressively wedded to tend to be about structures – public ownership or democratic control. That is because Corbyn is a homeopathic politician in a world that is medically complex, happily doling out homespun remedies passed down from history instead of engaging with evidence and trying to find modern solutions.

A principle is ‘improve education outcomes for those from disadvantaged backgrounds” or ‘improve health outcomes whilst ensuring free healthcare at the point of access’. It is not a principle to ‘defend a certain organisational form of institutional delivery decided at a specific point in history’. Whilst the Corbyinte left may share the principles of the reformist right, he and his supporters appear to have no curiosity about what evidence exists on how those principles would best be implemented.

Corbyn stood up on television last week and said that the 50p tax rate would raise £5bn, a figure plainly picked out of the air and not close to the sceptical position on positive revenues suggested by the IFS, the recognised independent authority on this issue.

When pressed on this, his response that his source was “some research” “by “clever people”, made it clear that this is not a man with an inquisitive mind. (His ‘research’, of course, is arithmetically impossible, given the aggregate income of people earning over £150,000 in the UK, even in the unlikely event that they all paid it).

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Unite say they won’t be bound by strike laws. Does Labour think this is ok? Seriously?

24/07/2015, 02:15:21 PM

by David Green

The most remarkable thing about Unite’s decision to remove the words “so far as may be lawful” from its constitution is how little comment it has attracted in the Labour party.

The union’s opposition to new Tory plans for minimum strike ballot thresholds is understandable, right, and will be supported by the Labour party at large. But what is unsupportable is the union’s declaration that it will not regard itself as being bound by the new legislation.

Indeed, the constitutional change goes much further than this – worryingly so. On its face, the change means Unite will pick and choose the laws it deigns to obey.

This is dismaying in any major civil society body, but for a formal affiliate of the Labour party it is intolerable. Labour is – must be – a party of government, one which aspires to lead and not simply to oppose. A necessary part of this is that we seek change through reforms within the UK’s political system.

Unfortunately for all concerned Labour didn’t win the last election, and the Tories did. All the bleating about mandates in the world can’t change the fact that they have an absolute majority in the UK’s sovereign parliament: any legislation they can pass is the law. Labour believes – must believe – that even the most iniquitous law must be remedied by being repealed by parliament. Endorsing any other approach undermines the principle of the rule of law, on which all of the rest of society’s stability and freedom depends.

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The Queen’s Nazi salute shows how fragile our liberty has always been

24/07/2015, 10:33:18 AM

by Sam Fowles 

History is power. Control of history means control of the political battleground. If we remembered how often the powerful have betrayed the principles for which they claim to stand, we may be less inclined to meekly accede to their wishes.

I’m sure the young Princess Elizabeth had no idea what she was doing when she performed the Nazi salute but members of her family (and other leading Establishment figures) did. As a nation, we suffer from collective amnesia concerning the rise of Hitler. In some cases we have even used pop culture to re-write history. In “The Kings Speech” the royal family are depicted voicing their concern to Timothy Spall’s Churchill in the early thirties. Something that, all reliable accounts suggest, absolutely did not happen.

History isn’t inevitable. We are not swept along on an unstoppable tide of events. History is determined by the actions of individuals. The depression, German politics, the repercussions of the Versailles Treaty all played a part in the rise of Hitler. But so did the contribution if the British Establishment. The European elites supported Hitler because they saw him as a better alternative than a left wing party. In the UK Conservative MPs organised in groups like the January Club to promote Hitler’s politics in the UK (even after Kristallnacht). After Germany invaded Czechoslovakia the Bank of England facilitated the transfer of its sovereign wealth fund to the Nazis. The Royal family’s censors prevented plays criticising Hitler from showing on the London stage as late as 1939.

One of the most significant supporters of Nazism was Prince Edward, later the Duke of Windsor, who appears in the footage released by the Sun. Recent evidence suggests that Edward passed information to Nazi agents including the suggestion that London should be bombed. He did this while a serving officer in the Grenadier Guards. He was assisted by other aristocrats such as the Countess of Athlone. Yet Edward was never court martialled. He was never tried for treason. Would an ordinary citizen, perhaps one of the many killed by the bombing that Edward supported, have received the same leniency?

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