SW1 Labour is too busy pretending to be in the West Wing to value Labour’s local government leaders

30/08/2015, 12:45:36 PM

by Theo Blackwell

It takes the polemicist Simon Jenkins to hit the nail on the head: our most talented leaders are outside of Westminster in local government – and ‘SW1 Labour’s’ love of centralism and conformity continues to freeze them out.  Labour has outstanding leaders. It’s a shame that they are all in the regions | Simon Jenkins. Not using too much hyperbole, he writes of the pre-election devo-Manc discussions:

“A significant moment in the downfall of Ed Miliband came in spring of last year after George Osborne’s “northern powerhouse” speech. Manchester’s boss, Richard Leese, was in the middle of negotiating with Osborne on his city’s devolution plan. It involved a major restructuring of public administration, possibly across all of local government. Miliband’s office wanted Leese to rubbish Osborne’s speech. The reply was reputedly unquotable in a family newspaper. Who did these snivelling Westminster teenagers think they were addressing?”

Without a doubt this was a political moment which revealed the lack of depth and hubris of team Ed – none of whom had local government experience and often gave the impression to council leaders that their interventions were just rude interruptions to their far more important ‘West Wing’ world of policy announcements.  Local government was seen a something to be managed rather than an opportunity to be harnessed as part of our story around credibility, innovation and growth.

Be in no doubt, in Labour local government circles this sorry episode continues to be regarded as a most monstrous tactical error by the previous leadership, as territory ceded to the Conservatives will be hard to regain.  (Indeed, Andy Burnham has had to work hard with local government figures to distance himself from the ‘Swiss Cheese NHS’ description of locally combined budgets he used in the run up to the election).

But today our governing experience is almost exclusively in local government and Wales, and not in the Parliamentary Labour party.  This will be same for the next 5 years.

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The Left doesn’t understand the difference between ‘the people’ and ‘the voters’

26/08/2015, 08:31:48 PM

by Kevin Meagher

It doesn’t matter how many young people turn up to hear Jeremy Corbyn speak from the top of a fire engine. Or how many ‘likes’ his Facebook page gets. Or how many Macbook revolutionaries follow Russell Brand’s inane ramblings on YouTube. All that matters in the political system we have is winning over a majority of voters. Without accepting this immutable law of electoral politics, all the hopes, aspirations and polemics of activists’ are instantly rendered meaningless.

The Left disagrees. Speaking at a rally for Jeremy Corbyn recently, the musician, Brian Eno, loftily proclaimed that “electability is not the most important thing” for the Labour party, to enthusiastic cheers from the adoring crowd. When it boils down to appealing to the maximum number of voters or Not Selling Out, then it’s a no-brainer. To many on the Left, ideological correctness is more important than political pragmatism. Instead, “changing the conversation” (another Eno-ism) outweighs the importance of actually winning the vote.

The fundamental mistake that Corbyn and his enraptured supporters make is confusing ‘The People’ with ‘The Electorate’.

‘The People’ include the downtrodden masses that don’t vote and aren’t, all too often, even registered to do so. The Left, nobly, wants to help them the most. If they were one and the same as ‘The Voters’ then the likelihood of changing the conversation in British politics – would be much greater than it is. But they’re not the same, so the chances are nil.

Fully a third of people didn’t bother to cast their vote in May’s general election, yet at 66 per cent, turnout was actually the highest since Labour’s 1997 landslide. By failing to stake their democratic claim, as the wealthy surely do, the poor, the dispossessed and the beanbag radicals of the Left keep the dial fixed onto a status quo that simply ignores their issues of concern.

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Yes to OMOV. No to registered supporters. Ed Miliband’s party reforms are killing Labour

25/08/2015, 10:49:12 PM

by Daniel Charleston Downes

We can now forget the Ed Stone and the bacon sandwiches, we now know for sure the most damaging thing that Ed Miliband did for the Labour party. The recalibration of votes among members to one member one vote was essential and the right thing to do, but then this was extended too far into a new concept of registered supporters.

It makes sense to take the selection of leader away from just MPs. MPs have maintained their right to select who makes it to the ballot, but even then they seem to have done everything that they possibly can to misplace that power. Once the ballots are out it is correct that the PLP should have the same weight as those delivering leaflets and running campaigns.

The fact of the matter is that registering to support a party was always going to result in some mischief. As it happens it has meant that there are those in the Conservative party that have sought a vote in order to pick what they consider to be the least desirable electoral option for Labour and it has encouraged those from the far left to sway the ballot.

Both pose their own problems. Opening yourself up so that your opposition can infiltrate your leadership selection is foolish, particularly if MPs are nominating a candidate whilst denouncing them as a suicide ticket. This should never be allowed to happen and unless the NEC can guarantee that not one vote has been cast by an individual for the sole intention of disrupting the party, the vote should not go ahead. I would be amazed if they can do this with any confidence.

The second issue is that it has exacerbated and even created divisions within the party that weren’t prevalent before the election. There were a great many members that wanted a deeper anti-austerity message but many were able to assess that need against electoral pragmatism.

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Liz Kendall 1. Yvette Cooper 2. Andy Burnham 3

22/08/2015, 12:58:45 PM

by Atul Hatwal

The ballot has finally arrived so it’s time to vote. Time to back the candidate who is right about what Labour must to do to regain power; to give a second preference to the candidate who could yet save Labour from self-immolation and register a third preference for a candidate not called Jeremy Corbyn.

Liz Kendall is my first preference. She has displayed guts and determination in her campaign. She’s right about the big issues and of all the candidates is the one who grasps the magnitude of Labour’s challenge in winning back public trust on the economy.

The personal abuse and level of misogyny that she’s faced is ludicrous and her response has revealed the type of steel Labour needs in its leaders.

Despite the trolls and the torrent of hate, she’s managed to secure endorsements from council leaders, trade unionists and the best and brightest of Labour’s new generation of MPs such as Chuka Umunna, Tristram Hunt and Emma Reynolds.

Liz Kendall and her platform are the future of the Labour party. It’s just a shame that her campaign hasn’t harnessed this as effectively as it might.

Too often, the message communicated to Labour members has been that they’re wrong and have to accept they are wrong.

Whatever the bald facts of a situation, simply telling voters’ that they’re mistaken is always a losing strategy.

Just as Labour’s economic message cannot continue to be based on telling the public they were wrong at the 2010 and 2015 election about the party’s spending record a decade ago, so an aspiring Labour leader cannot just be the bearer of bad tidings to the membership.

In 1994, the Blair leadership campaign was built around bridging the divide between the membership and the electorate, not telling them to jump it.

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Corbyn’s calls for unity are rank hypocrisy. Don’t be surprised if they go unanswered

20/08/2015, 10:54:07 AM

by Sam Dale

“Unity is our watchword,” says Jeremy Corbyn on his campaign website as he sets out his plan to heal the party after a bruising leadership contest.

On the site he has a “unity statement” and calls on members to sign the pledge that aims to bring the party back together after months of in-fighting.

“The leadership election should be conducted with one thought in mind: our objective is to be a united party focused on winning the general election and campaigning across the country, day in day out,” he writes.

He has also penned an article for the New Statesman claiming the party must unite after the contest is over and how he’ll do it if he’s leader.

By way of example, he insists the main reason the party lost in 1983 was because it was divided.

“The Labour left was fighting a passionate but often inward-looking campaign for party democracy and several figures on the right of the party spent much of that election denouncing the manifesto,” he writes. “It’s no surprise we lost.”

It is astonishing to read these words coming from the pen of Jeremy Corbyn. And astonishing he can do it with a straight face.

If only we were more united then there is nothing we can’t achieve, he seems to argue.

This is hypocrisy.

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Corbyn’s skeletons are already tumbling out of the closet. What would happen if he was leader?

19/08/2015, 05:44:57 PM

by Rob Marchant

If current polls are to be believed, Jeremy Corbyn is about to become Labour leader, not just by a small margin but by a landslide.

That is, as our own Atul Hatwal pointed out on Monday, a pretty significant “if”. For a number of reasons; protest voting in polls but not in elections, “shy” voters, ease of manipulation by flashmobs of more informal polls, difficulty of accuracy polling such a select group, further change in the final few weeks and so on. Given this, it is still perfectly possible that Corbyn will fall at the ballot stage, despite Westminster’s prevailing wisdom.

But let us suppose for a moment that he is genuinely on course to win.

In this case, we are at a genuinely historical turning point – a convulsion – for the party; one of a kind it has not really experienced since Ramsay MacDonald’s “betrayal” in the 1930s.

In short, the wilderness years of the Fifties and Eighties would soon start to look like a tea-party.

In the few short weeks following the election, the psychological state of at least a segment of the party, like any person after a cruel blow, has been evolving rapidly. In this case, from initial denial; through collective tantrum, angry with the world; through to depressive isolationism and potentially actual self-harm.

And the divide over the Corbyn “insurgency” is no longer an issue of right and left. While you might expect to hear noises from the political centre at Uncut, the concern here is not merely from the point of view of his politics, disastrously out of touch with the British electorate though it might be (for the record, Anthony Painter makes an admirable fist of taking these seriously and rebutting them point by point here).

No, for many on the party’s left as well as the right, the reality is that the party is looking to take on a leader with personal credentials considerably less attractive than those of Michael Foot. If you still doubt this, read on.

We have already heard about Corbyn’s disturbing apologism for the IRA in its heyday, his “friends” Hamas and Hezbollah. Phenomena comfortably explained away by his supporters as “engagement” in the cause of peace. But in the space of twenty-four hours, two rather more damning stories have surfaced.

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Ignore Twitter. Forget the polls. Corbyn’s not going to win

17/08/2015, 05:18:43 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Jeremy Corbyn will not win the Labour leadership. No matter how real the fevered hallucinations currently seem on this acid trip of a leadership contest, they aren’t real.

Predictions of a Corbyn triumph are based on two assumptions: that the polls are right and Labour’s new recruits have been drawn in because of him and his agenda.

Both are wrong.

The polls and campaign canvass returns overstate his support in the same way that Labour’s support was over-estimated in general election polls and the party’s new mass membership is not a seething hotbed of radical ideologues.

The coda for pollsters from the general election was that simply asking people for their voting preference didn’t give answers which reflected actual voting intention.

Mark Textor, Lynton Crosby’s business partner and the man who conducted the Tories’ internal polling, recently held forth on why his polls were right when so many others were so wrong.

He made two points of note.

First, voters frequently use opinion polls as an outlet for protest.

In an online world of one-click opinion, sticking two fingers up at the Tories by backing Labour in a poll was simple, cost free and gratifying. Less easy to actually vote Labour when most did not trust the party on the economy and it was led by someone who few believed to be prime ministerial.

Second, voters’ make their choice on the basis of the outcome they want to avoid as well as the party they support.

While waverers might have been prepared to consider the idea of a Labour government, even with reservations on leadership and the economy, the prospect of a Labour-SNP coalition, with Ed Miliband run ragged and dragged even further left on spending by Nicola Sturgeon, tipped the balance. So they voted tactically to prevent what they most feared – even if this meant holding their nose and voting Tory.

These insights are directly relevant to Labour’s leadership race.

After a crushing, demoralising general election defeat for the party, what better way for frustrated members and supporters to flick the bird at the leadership than to tell pollsters and canvassers they are backing Corbyn?

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What is Labour’s big idea? Put your pension into the next generation

17/08/2015, 01:50:55 PM

by Stella Creasy 

Labour has been a mass membership party in previous decades. But only when we have been a mass movement have we won elections and transformed Britain. Whether 1945, 1966 or 1997; at our best our members are messengers not just for changing the government but for changing lives.

In an era when so many find themselves alienated from the political process, to have so many want to join our cause is what some would call a high quality problem to have. The real problem is if we have nothing to offer in return for their time, energy and expertise. Whether people are from the left or the right of the party, all want being involved to mean more than a meeting or leaflet round.

The answer for us is not to make it harder for people to be part of Labour, or to waste the time of those who join, but to channel their energy towards common causes.

We should not let this wait for government but start now, and I want us to start with one of the biggest inequalities we face: inter-generational injustice.

Whilst the Tories try to divide Britain, let us be the movement that helps deliver inter-generational opportunity. With an army now 600,000 strong we can be a powerful voice for policies that will transform our country. In doing so we can show how Labour would make different radical and credible choices about the future direction of Britain.

Most agree that Britain is facing a housing crisis and a demographic challenge with an ageing population. With resources tight, the answer isn’t to compromise but to collaborate.

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Cooper vs Corbyn is our Healey vs Benn

17/08/2015, 10:24:42 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Yvette Cooper versus Jeremy Corbyn is our generation’s Denis Healey against Tony Benn. In September 1981, it wasn’t just the deputy leadership at stake. The party’s future was too, as it is now.

If Benn had won, more Labour MPs, councillors and activists would have joined the SDP, who’d have usurped Labour as the second largest party. If Corbyn wins, he’ll struggle to find enough MPs to serve as his shadow ministers, which isn’t the position of a party on the verge of government.

MPs only demur from advancement, bringing with it PLP disunity that they invariably seek to avoid, when genuine differences exist.

Corbyn says attacks upon him are unedifying “personal attacks”. But the differences that Labour MPs have are not personal. They are not about his sartorial style. Even if it’s a stretch to see this as screaming “prime minister”. The differences are political.

“He has shown,” Ivan Lewis writes, “very poor judgment in expressing support for and failing to speak out against people who have engaged not in legitimate criticism of Israeli governments but in anti-semitic rhetoric.” “I know,” Liz Kendall notes, “there are many people who have concerns about where Jeremy Corbyn has stood in the past on” Northern Ireland. Not personal, political.

When Anne Applebaum describes Corbyn as “one of many on the European far-left as well as the far-right who appears to have swallowed wholesale Russia’s lie that war in Ukraine has been created by NATO,” and when David Aaronovitch reminds us that for Corbyn, “it is always, always, always the West’s fault,” these are not personal criticisms. They are political concerns shared by many Labour MPs, who see in Corbyn’s foreign policy what Healey once saw in Benn’s: “deserting all of our allies at once and then preaching them a sermon”.

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Give me the power to ban hate march

15/08/2015, 08:00:24 AM

by Joe Anderson

As a lifelong trade unionist and anti-fascist, the right to protest is one that I hold dear. Even when those marching are doing so in a cause with which I don’t agree, I respect the principle of free speech and peaceful protest.

But like all freedoms, there are limits and I have just reached mine. Today, a so-called “White Man March” will come to the streets of Liverpool. It is being led by a rag-bag assortment of neo-Nazis spouting the usual, age-old drivel.

The group organising the march, National Action, sent a charming letter to my home claiming that if any attempt is made to impede their “chaos and mayhem” then Liverpool “will go up in flames”. It warns me that “we may even pay you a visit if things are played against us”, signing off with: “Only bullets will stop us!”

Its website claims the group holds “a monopoly on truth” and that its members are not afraid “to swing the bat at the enemy”. Of course it’s the usual Hitler-loving, race-hating garbage, but it’s no less shocking for that. Their views are so extreme and utterly noxious that they make the BNP look like Amnesty International.

The challenge for our society is to always stand firm in a spirit of solidarity against the hate-filled few whose sole interest is division and violence.

More practically, I have written to Home Secretary, Theresa May, asking that she urgently reviews the arrangements that currently stop city leaders like me from simply banning such groups from our streets. Currently, I need to appeal to her for the necessary permission. This is cumbersome and bureaucratic and often too slow.

I have asked her to consider using the current Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill to grant powers to city leaders like me to ban marches that are clearly harmful to the public good. Instead of councils and the police making appeals to the Home Office, why not make organisations like National Action appeal our locally-made decision?

This seems to fit with the current spirit of localism and allows the authorities to respond to the wishes of local people who are as sickened at the prospect of such blatant racist extremists on our streets as I am.

The time has come to stand up and change the rules to create a better balance between rights to freedom of speech and the right for people not to be abused and intimidated in their own city.  Our country has a long and progressive tradition as a place where protest and radical ideas enrich the fabric of our discussions and new ideas and opinions must always be heard.

But if the sole aim of such groups is to spread fear and intimidation then we should act and the government should give people like me the powers to do so.

Joe Anderson is Labour Mayor of Liverpool

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