Labour and anti-Semitism: enough really is enough

13/07/2018, 01:50:55 PM

by Rob Marchant

What with the Cabinet crisis, the shambolic NATO summit and catastrophic Trump visit, not to mention World Cup, it is easy to pass over some events in the Labour Party which could be accurately described as momentous. And not in a good way.

Last week may have been the week where the Corbyn leadership really crossed the Rubicon on anti-Semitism. Or worse, in fact: it took its already highly-questionable position and doubled down.

Perhaps for the first time, serious, sensible and non-partisan people are describing Labour as “institutionally anti-Semitic”. And it’s not hard to see why.

First, there was the installation of ex-Livingstone adviser as chair of the NEC Disputes Panel, the party’s first political (as opposed to staff) filter of anti-Semitism cases once they have been escalated from the party’s Compliance Unit. (more…)

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Corbyn fiddles while Europe, and the world, reach for the matches

02/07/2018, 08:14:20 AM

by Rob Marchant

It is somewhat inevitable, in the current, febrile political climate, that Tony Blair’s few interventions elicit disproportionate responses in Britain. Even when those interventions conclude little that most Western commentators outside Britain, or a European historian of average talent, would disagree with.

In part, this is because in Britain the effective, yet unspoken, May-Corbyn alliance on Brexit has meant effective mainstream unity on that subject.

That is, the only senior politicians who speak out against it are either (a) the leaders of minor parties (Greens/Lib Dems/SNP), or (b) retired heavyweights not bound by the party whip. So it is easy for him to outweigh the rest of the pack.

Love him or hate him, of all those, Blair is unquestionably the heaviest, in terms of prime ministerial experience at least. Against fellow living ex-PMs Major, Brown and Cameron, he wins on years (10 vs. 7, 3, 6); general election victories (3 vs 1, 0 and 2); and was never defeated in either a GE or a national referendum either, unlike the others.

And his latest intervention is not just correct: even if you disagree with him on Brexit (which, according to the latest YouGov poll, now puts you with less than half the population), it’s difficult to disagree with what he says about populism and the similarities to the 1930s.

2018 is a genuinely scary time to live. Not just through the narrow prism of Brexit, through which it seems all political questions are currently viewed here, although that is arguably a major disaster in itself and not just for Britain.

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Labour should back a ‘cooling off’ referendum on Europe. After all we did it before

12/06/2018, 04:55:26 PM

by Joe Anderson

Armaggeddon.’ There’s not much ambiguity about the word.

That’s the Whitehall assessment if there is no exit deal or transitional arrangements as we enter the Brexit endgame.

Even on civil servants’ less cataclysmic judgment, there is a chance that the Port of Dover collapses on the first day we leave the European Union. Food shortages follow.

Is this what Brexiteers mean by ‘taking back control?’

Their starry rhetoric and inflated claims are dissolving day by day.

The boast that the US is poised to sign an early trade deal with us – always a wide-eyed assumption – has been utterly shattered by Donald Trump’s trade war – which now puts 30,000 British steel workers’ jobs at risk.

Now all the talk is that the Government’s White Paper setting out its final negotiating position will be delayed until after the European Council meeting at the end of the month.

Will the Prime Minister be applying for an essay extension?

The impacts of Theresa May’s rickety negotiation position will echo for a generation to come.

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Country before party, reprise

12/06/2018, 07:28:39 AM

by Rob Marchant

Today, Parliament will have arguably its most important day of votes in decades.

There are three particular ones which matter: on the EEA, on the Customs Union and on a “meaningful vote” for the Commons on the final deal.

The Customs Union one Labour will vote for, but it’s not to get us to stay in the Customs Union. It’s just to get Theresa May to actually tell us what progress she’s made towards any participation in a Customs Union. As The Independent’s John Rentoul put it: “ ‘I haven’t made any’ would meet that requirement.”

As if this were not enough, the current position of both major parties on a customs union is nonsensical. Both are asking that Britain be able to negotiate its own trade deals as well, the absence of which power is the whole point of a customs union.

In other words, they are subscribing to what we might reasonably refer to as “Schroedinger’s Customs Union”, that is, a customs union that Britain is part of and not part of at the same time.

Next, that Parliament should effectively be left to sort out the next steps, in the event that the “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit package is lost. Labour will at least vote in favour of that.

No such luck with the vote on staying in the EEA, Britain’s last chance to have a Norway-style arrangement and actually hold onto the trade benefits the leadership is disingenuously claiming to want to hold onto (although, in reality, it doesn’t really). Labour MPs are being whipped to abstain.

But why are Labour MPs, the majority of which are apparently Remainers, even caring about the whip?

A PLP that rebelled on mass against Corbyn two years ago are now – with some honourable exceptions – supine, either for fear that their constituents will punish them or that their careers in a politically-destitute Labour Party will suffer? Even with the public now turning against Brexit, albeit slowly?

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The UK will vote to be inside the EU – eventually

05/06/2018, 08:31:35 AM

by Jonathan Todd

The UK will have another referendum on our membership of the EU. Rather than if this will happen, it is more a matter of when, on what terms, and in what circumstances.

This is because:

  • The referendums of 1975 and 2016 have established a de facto constitutional principle that the UK cannot move in or out of the EU without a referendum.
  • If this referendum does not come before March 2019, and the UK exits the EU at the closing of the Article 50 window, the UK will make right-wing and/or left-wing attempts to find a new place in the world, but neither will be able to turnaround the ongoing diminishment of UK living standards associated with Brexit, building pressure for a revision to the status quo ante.

There’s much to be said for the Ken Clarke view that referendums are defective instruments. It is difficult, however, to imagine circumstances in which it would be politically possible to reverse the verdict of 23 June 2016 without another referendum.

While Best for Britain is expected to publish its campaign manifesto on 8 June, calling for such, given the intransigence of Labour and the Tories towards a referendum, the likelihood remains that the UK will leave the EU in March next year.

45% of the public now expect that this will have a negative impact on the economy. Versus, according to the latest polling, 30% who think it will have a positive impact. Only 13% think it will make no difference to the economy. In contrast, 40% think it will have no impact on their personal finances.

“A recession,” Ronald Reagan said, “is when your neighbour loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours.”

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The madness of self-identification in a political party

29/05/2018, 07:53:53 AM

by Rob Marchant

While one can guarantee that on the streets of British provincial towns, it is not exactly an issue high on most people’s agenda, it is clear that, on Twitter and in the political bubble that is Westminster politics, the tricky area of trans politics has in recent months taken a huge step into the limelight.

Last week, Labour, for the first time, declared that people who declare themselves to be trans should be accepted as such within the party, without question. Obviously it is not intrinsically “trans-phobic” to have concerns about the fairness or viability of a mechanical process, but that is exactly the charge now being levelled at anyone in that category. And such criticism is, in most cases, because people genuinely see that such a policy is open to abuse.

Like activist David Lewis who, to draw attention to the potential for abuse, declared himself a woman but only “on Wednesdays” and put himself forward to be Women’s Officer in his local CLP. Satire, yes, but an important point – who is to say he is any less worthy of consideration than someone who says he is a woman five days, or seven days a week? Where do you draw the line?

No, rather like the penalty for criticising the Dear Leader himself, anyone currently raising concerns about self-id on Twitter (for the record, we are not talking about Neanderthal men, the critics are largely women) is now risking a torrent of online abuse. And Lewis is currently suspended from the party for his pains.

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The shame of Barnet: losing a council because the voters think you’re racist

11/05/2018, 08:21:19 AM

by Rob Marchant

The general consensus of the UK media is that Labour did not achieve the result it needed to last Thursday. As largely expected, it had lukewarm results in London overall and disappointing results outside.

But the most significant result of the night was surely that in Barnet, where the Tories in midterm, in London, actually regained a council that they recently lost to No Overall Control.

The reason? Unsurprisingly, the Jewish voters of Barnet, surely the council with the highest Jewish contingent in Britain, turned away from Labour in droves. Because they were fed up with Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to tackle anti-Semitism, two years after the Chakrabarti report. And, as the Jewish Chronicle’s Stephen Pollard pointed out:

Quite. While there was enough evidence from polling returns by ward, the anecdotal evidence was strong, too. Journalists deployed to the borough noted the extraordinary strength of feeling they found on the doorstep. As John Mann, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Semitism, put it:

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Uh oh Jeremy Corbyn. Three lessons from Labour’s below par locals result

04/05/2018, 10:24:17 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Leaders own their party’s results. Labour’s surprise tally in last year’s general election was Jeremy Corbyn’s triumph. He deserved the bouquets. Following this year’s below par showing for Labour in the local elections, he will similarly merit the brickbats.

In one sense, it seems unfair to cast this as a poor night for Labour – seats were won, the overall number of councillors went up. Expectations might have been over-inflated in terms of taking councils such as Kensington and Westminster, but progress was made and Labour was starting from a very high base.

But in politics you’re either going forward or falling back and to have a chance of forming a government at the next election, Labour needed a lot more from these results.

First, some context – last year, Labour over-performed expectations in the general election but still fell 61 seats short of a majority. To have any semblance of stability a government needs a majority of at least 30 (John Major’s 1992 administration soon fell apart despite starting the parliament with a majority of 21), probably nearer 40. This means Labour is roughly 100 seats short of what’s required to govern.

Yesterday’s local election results demonstrated nothing like the breakthrough Labour requires to call itself a government-in-waiting. Three lessons are evident: Labour’s badly needs Tory switchers, ground organisation alone isn’t enough and Brexit dangers now lurk with the party so reliant on Remainers to buttress its vote.

Given the deadlock between Labour and the Tories at 40%-ish each in the polls, for the past year, there seems to be limited scope to boost Labour’s vote share by further attracting non-voters or squeezing minor parties. Certainly not enough votes in the right places to secure an extra 100 seats.

The only route through for Labour is to win the support of people who are currently Tory voters.

However, there is a disconnect in the leadership’s psyche as to why anyone could countenance an act as egregious as voting Tory. The notion of actively trying to attract Tory voters is an alien concept within today’s party.

The result has been a shrill Labour message cast in moral absolutes. The top line of Jeremy Corbyn’s eve of poll op-ed in the Mirror was, “Tory austerity has almost certainly increased the death rate.

Calling Tory voters, the people Labour needs to win an election, accomplices to murder is quite a way to open a conversation about switching.

Over the past weeks, the party has had an army of footsoldiers knocking doors but the evidence of yesterday’s vote is that organisation without a message that resonates with switchers, will not win Labour power. The party has to have a better offer than singing ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ repeatedly at this group.

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Hungary: a lesson for lovers of populism on left and right

26/04/2018, 05:02:57 PM

by Rob Marchant

It is pleasing to see Jeremy Corbyn get something right, for once.

A couple of months ago, he recorded this video message in support of Hungarian socialists, rightly warning how their country was in danger of becoming home to despotism, although he put it more politely. In his words, that the far-right government “is not only weakening democracy, but allowing intolerance and racism to take hold” (ok, so the irony meter in the Leader’s Office was switched off that day).

In contrast, our country’s government, in the person of its idiot Foreign Secretary, was quick to congratulate recently reelected president Viktor Orbán in a lugubrious tweet, failing to mention his racist campaign, or his fixing of the media and electoral system to win. I suppose that, in the post-Brexit world, his low calculation is less maintaining a democratic continent and more “any port in a storm”.

As Nick Cohen pointed out recently, Orbán is – like Putin – starting to treat harmless NGOs as enemies of the state. Not to mention demonising one of the country’s great entrepreneurs and philanthropists, George Soros, by fabricating ridiculous stories that he will flood the country with immigrants (he is clearly neither a government nor standing for office). As Cohen says, “It’s as if UK ministers were pretending the choice before the electorate was between the Conservative party and Human Rights Watch.” Quite. But more of Soros later.

Back to Budapest, where I was last week. A beautiful city and not – not yet – the seat of a dictatorship.

But it very soon is likely to be, as its election a matter of days ago has largely demonstrated. Not only did Orbán’s authoritarian Fidesz party win (again), the anti-immigration rhetoric seems now to have reached fever pitch. And that’s before we even start with Jobbik, an ugly and even more far-right party, which came in second with a fifth of the vote. In short, the “top two” choice is now between the far right and the really far right.

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Authorising a single bombing raid is not the same as war. It was right there wasn’t a vote on Syria

17/04/2018, 12:43:48 PM

by Atul Hatwal

To listen to Labour’s frontbench yesterday would be to think parliamentary democracy lay in ruins because the government had not called a vote on Syria before intervention.

A frequent refrain in the House is that there is no more serious issue than that of war or peace. Few would disagree that Parliament should be central in these matters, but the unasked question yesterday (certainly by Jeremy Corbyn) was whether the Syrian mission constituted war.

Labour’s leader drew the parallel with Iraq, where there was a vote before deployment. But is Labour really saying that a single bombing raid is the same as a war?

Iraq entailed an air, sea and ground operation involving thousands of armed personnel on a mission that was planned to go on for months into years. Syria involved four planes on a sortie that took minutes.

One of the worst aspects of parliamentary practice is the way precedent is so rapidly ossified into hallowed practice and wreathed in constitutional piety.

After the precedent of the Iraq vote in 2003, now every action, no matter big or small, is subject to the same threshold for assent.

It was right that there was a vote on Iraq just as it was right that there was a vote on the operation in Libya, but not the interventions in Kosovo, Sierra Leone or the bombing of Iraq in 1998 in operation Desert Fox. These latter three were much nearer to Syria and in no way comparable to the Iraq war or even Libya.

The one anomaly in recent times has been the response to 9/11 with the invasion of Afghanistan – there wasn’t a vote but should have been for the same reasons there was a vote before Iraq and in 2011 before Libya.

Jeremy Corbyn was right in his speech yesterday – the Convention which was articulated by the Tories in 2011 and accepts the need for a Commons vote before military action on the basis of the 2003 Iraq precedent, is broken.

But not because it needs to be hardened from what is effectively an accepted guideline, into a fully-fledged War Powers Act as Labour will propose in the debate today. Instead the parliamentary process should reflect the reality that a raid is not a war and not every action merits a full vote in the Commons, complete with fevered build-up, publicity, vote wrangling and contentious discourse.

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