Labour’s manifesto needs to support a referendum on Irish unity

15/11/2019, 07:45:07 AM

by Kevin Meagher

As the midwife to the Good Friday Agreement back in 1998, Labour is, quite rightly, immensely proud of book-ending 30 years of the troubles with a political deal, that while not perfect, has delivered the prospect of peace, reconciliation and progress in Northern Ireland.

Ever since its signing, Labour conference speeches have been replete with references to it. As soon as Tony Blair mentioned her in his leader’s speech at the 1998 conference, the hall rose to applaud Mo Mowlam, the Northern Ireland Secretary who did so much to bring about the agreement.

As recently as the 2017 manifesto, there was a customary reference:

‘The Good Friday Agreement, which Labour helped to negotiate, is one of the greatest achievements of Labour in office…and we remain committed to working with all sides to deliver real peace and greater prosperity to Northern Ireland.’

As party grandees gather this weekend to thrash out the contents of Labour’s next manifesto during its Clause Five meeting, they need to include some specific provisions in relation to Northern Ireland, recognising the tectonic plates are shifting and Labour can’t rely on past glories.

Let’s start with the obvious. As well as a deal securing a devolved power-sharing assembly and all-Ireland institutions, the Good Friday Agreement is also something else. It is – and was always meant to be – a blueprint for bringing about Irish unity through exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

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What became of Gordon Brown’s likely lads?

12/11/2019, 08:31:11 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Gordon Brown, then chancellor, was travelling on an RAF flight when he found out that Ed Miliband had been selected as Labour’s candidate in Doncaster, according to Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre’s biography of Jeremy Corbyn’s predecessor as Labour leader.

“Brown was seen in a rare moment of real joy, punching the air as if his local football team had just won the FA Cup, and punching it so hard that his hand hit the luggage compartment above his head with a crunch.”

Brown was also pleased when Ian Austin and John Woodcock, like Miliband ex Brown aides, were selected as Labour candidates. Now, after the Tories have reversed the public spending that Brown increased, deepened the poverty that Brown tackled, and sought a Brexit that Brown resisted, Austin and Woodcock advise voting Tory.

After all that the Tories have done, to return them to Downing Street would not just rub salt in the wounds, it would invite their deepening.

Nothing about Boris Johnson’s campaign launch made sense. We were meant to believe that it was in a crowded hall in Birmingham; it was in a half-full one in Solihull. He insists he wants to get Brexit “done”; he will have it drag on, pulling the UK apart, country-by-country, business-by-business, family-by-family. He wants to unleash the UK’s potential; that will be forestalled by the monstrous distraction that he wants to get “done”.

Of course, it is not reverence for Johnson that drives Austin and Woodcock but deep suspicion of Corbyn. Phil Collins, writing speeches for Tony Blair when Brown was punching luggage compartments, last week categorised Labour MPs in The Times based upon their feelings towards Corbyn.

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Ed Miliband, Lucy Powell…we see you

10/11/2019, 10:46:24 PM

by Rob Marchant

Tom Watson’s resignation last Thursday as Deputy Leader is not a great blow to the hopes of Labour moderates in the sense that they have lost a great figurehead. The loss at this stage is, sadly, merely symbolic.

In the end, Watson’s Achilles heel – the perennially poor judgement displayed in his former close friendship with Len McCluskey, and his part in such disasters as the Falkirk debacle and the Blair letter – meant a truly wasted opportunity, of galvanising moderates during four years of Corbynite destruction. No, no Denis Healey he.

The moderates’ overall failure to shake off their worst leader ever, or even to stand up to his cabal, is a tragedy tinged with farce which will surely one day be the subject of much debate by historians.

Some, like Watson, have bailed, and who can blame them? Many noble exceptions are protesting every move by the leadership and rightly challenging the party’s continuing slide into a racist swamp, as exemplified by the disgraceful selection of a number of openly anti-Semitic candidates in the coming election.

But if there is something more frustrating than that failure, it is to see MPs we once thought of as decent, mobilising to support a floundering party regime and elect a racist.

It is to be seen in the uncomfortable grin of Caroline Flint, feeling compelled to gush about sharing a stage with Party Chair Ian Lavery, the man who paid for his house with the invalidity payouts of sick miners.

And then there are those who once espoused a quite different political direction. Backbenchers who have no reason to toe the party line, yet who now not only acquiesce to, but fully embrace, the ugly reality of the current party and hope that no-one will remember when this is all over. They will.

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This election is about stopping Boris Johnson

30/10/2019, 01:03:00 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“Politics,” as JK Galbraith sagely put it, “consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”

While Jeremy Corbyn’s approval ratings indicate that some find him unpalatable, there is no doubt that Boris Johnson is disastrous.

“Who governs?” asked Edward Heath. “Not you,” came the general election verdict. “Get Brexit done,” Johnson says. “No, thanks,” must be the response.

Done, in the Johnson lexicon, means endless debates about our relationship with the EU sucking the oxygen out of our country for years. The end of the beginning of Brexit’s joyless revolution. A decisive threshold, depriving us of hard-won rights to live and work across our continent, but only an appetiser.

The main course propels Northern Ireland towards a united Ireland, Scotland out of the UK, and the bedraggled remains of the UK on a desperate trajectory towards a US president who finds so much to dislike in a European Union founded on the rule of law, committed to tackling climate change, and acting together to have more clout.

The UK best endures, only remains recognisably what we have known it to be, by remaining in the EU. We only stay in the EU via the confirmatory referendum that the 2017 parliament has denied us.

Of course, it would have been better to have had that referendum and then this election. Labour should have offered to support Johnson’s withdrawal agreement in exchange for that referendum.

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The last twenty-four hours just showed how Labour can save itself

21/09/2019, 08:49:03 PM

by Rob Marchant

In one of the maddest developments in an already certifiable world of Labour politics, we have, within the last twenty-four hours, had the following: the party’s leadership threatened to immediately abolish the role of Deputy Leader (i.e. strip Tom Watson of his party office), only to pull back at the last minute from doing so.

And, during that time, we have learned some important things we didn’t know yesterday. More of that later.

The trigger to Corbyn’s reverse ferret? Simply that almost all commentators, party officials and politicans, past and present, had stated the bleedin’ obvious: that, with the country facing the meltdown of a hard Brexit and a possible general election in the next few weeks, a massive bun-fight in the party on the eve of its conference was probably not a great idea.

We will probably never know the extent to which this was Corbyn’s idea and how much his cronies, but Jon Lansman’s attempt to railroad his motion through the NEC has backfired: Watson will now be emboldened and knows that the PLP will back him.

This one incident finally caused real threats of party splits in a way we have not seen in the whole of the last four years. Resigned MPs who had not plotted in a long time were suddenly talking about how a rival power centre could be set up and initiate a challenge to Corbyn or even a new party.

In short: the party veered pretty close to genuinely hitting the self-destruct button this morning. The fact that it did not showed that there is still some power in Labour’s moderates, should they choose to exercise it.

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Time for parliament to take back control

02/09/2019, 07:00:59 AM

by Jonathan Todd

There is no mandate for no deal Brexit. We did not vote for it in the 2016 referendum or the 2017 general election. On both these occasions, we were told that Brexit would be negotiated. That it would deliver “the exact same benefits” and more.

Theresa May could not negotiate these benefits. Boris Johnson won’t. Nor would Jeremy Corbyn or anyone else. This is less the art of the deal and more the impossible Brexit cocktail.

We can’t mix this cocktail and keep the UK united. We can’t exit the single market and customs union and avoid a border on the island of Ireland or in the Irish sea – otherwise the UK serves as a backdoor to EU tariffs and regulations. We can’t allow a border on Ireland and uphold the Good Friday Agreement – risking peace on the British Isles. We can’t deny Nicola Sturgeon that such a UK is a very different one from that which Scotland voted to remain part of in 2014 – creating grounds for a rerun of that vote.

We can’t mix this cocktail and maintain our prosperity. We can’t erect trade barriers with our biggest trading partner and avoid this. We can’t be poorer and afford better public services. We can’t move overnight from EU membership to third country status and not subject business to a sudden erosion of competitiveness, which no amount of preparation can fully mitigate, while also so diminishing the leverage of our trade negotiators that they will grasp at chlorine-washed terms.

We can’t mix this cocktail and sustain illusions of “taking back control” and being an “independent country”. We can’t stop the world and get off in the 1950s – we can only choose, as we inevitably must, with whom we align. We can’t Brexit and not be a pawn in the destructive games of Trump, Putin and the IRA – with a senior IRA member wanting “Brexit … as hard as hell.”

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Peterborough shone a light on the dire state of Labour. The Tories’ beauty contest is the same shade of awful

15/06/2019, 10:08:33 PM

by Rob Marchant

The week before last, numerous MPs went to campaign for a racist sympathiser. I am sure most thought they were doing the right thing, dutifully answering the campaign call, as politicians do. Quite possibly some didn’t even know the story, or did not dare pull out at the last minute. Either way, they supported Lisa Forbes, surely one of the worst candidates we could have ever chosen for a by-election.

Thanks to the scrutiny a by-election suffers, all parties generally try hard to get the right candidate, one who will not suddenly find themselves at the centre of a media storm.

This time Labour failed dismally, presumably because those leading the party and its machine – not, you understand, the regular staffers, decent folk who have to live with the constant shame and embarrassment about their superiors – couldn’t care less about a bit of anti-Semitic dabbling.

Rather, they see it as a badge of honour: of being “sound” on Palestine, unafraid to speak truth to power (“power”, in this case, meaning simply “Jews”).

On the day, Labour showed it still had a tight machine, which the Brexit Party did not, and beat them by a whisker. But it still won on a simple principle, which seems to be a novel, new party strategy: winning by having their vote decimated a little less than the Tories.

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The UK’s decline will continue as long as our Brexit riddle is unresolved

11/06/2019, 07:00:35 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Brexit is bigger than Labour and the Tories. As it renders our domestic policy dysfunctional, shreds our external reputation, and holds our economy hostage, only the deluded think that Boris Johnson trumps Brexit.

Let’s face it: The UK is now a failed state.

At the heart of Brexit’s tremendous power is its meaninglessness. Professor Danny Dyer sums it up:

“Who knows about Brexit? No one has got a fucking clue what Brexit is, yeah. You watch Question Time, it’s comedy. No one knows what it is – it’s like this mad riddle that no one knows what it is, right?”

This riddle is subtly complex. It seemed straightforward at the 2016 referendum. Brexit means Brexit. Most MPs voted to trigger Article 50.

MPs so voted because they wanted to respect the referendum, but they cannot take this respect further without solving the riddle.

They cannot. If they could, cabinet would not divide over Brexit’s meaning, parliament would vote through a version of Brexit, and Theresa May would be triumphant.

The unsolved riddle leaves these stark realities:

  1. The EU are not going to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement and the chances of getting this agreement through parliament remain slim.
  2. The default position is that we no deal at the end of October. While the only thing that parliament can agree is its desire not to no deal, we may soon have a prime minister prepared to no deal and an EU, frustrated with the UK, willing to.
  3. There is no mandate for no deal. This was not promised in 2016.
  4. If a prime minister wants a mandate for an approach to Brexit that leaves open no deal and creates a parliament more likely to vote for their version of Brexit, they might seek this through a general election. But, as our two-party democracy transforms into a four-party circus, a general election now would be a lottery.
  5. Even in a less volatile climate, a general election would only solve our Brexit riddle if the parties stood on unambiguous and deliverable Brexit platforms. It requires a highly generous interpretation of their limited capabilities to think that they would do so.

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Remainers need to accept they lost. Make the argument for re-joining instead

23/05/2019, 07:00:35 AM

by Kevin Meagher

On Thursday night, Nigel Farage’s Brexit party will comfortably win more votes than the Labour and Conservative parties put together. This is the price we will pay as a country – and a political system – for the failure to deliver on the public’s vote to leave the EU in June 2016.

The European elections will represent a second people’s vote and an undeniable rejection of Remainer politics. Surprise is the very last reaction that is warranted. Over the past three years, there has been scant interest from the Remain camp in listening or reflecting on why they lost the referendum, let alone an attempt at persuading and winning round voters who backed Brexit.

For nearly three years, their actions have been condescending, tone deaf, incompetent and foolish. They resemble British tourists in a Spanish hotel in the 1970s shouting louder at the waiter in order to be understood.

British politics has changed, but there are those who still cling to the old certainties. No amount of sophistry about messages on buses or Russian interference has had any effect. Voters are wise to the tactics of the political class. When they hear Remainer politicians talk of a second referendum they simply hear, ‘We’re giving you another chance to give us the right answer.’

Am I a Leaver? No, I’m a democrat. When you’ve lost, you’ve lost. Accept it, learn from it and come back stronger. I’m also a rejoiner. I want Britain’s long-term interest to be served by being part of the European Union. I simply recognise that the short-term position is now lost.

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Will the voters punish Corbyn for betraying everything he promised in 2015?

22/05/2019, 07:00:09 AM

by George Kendall

In 2015, Jeremy Corbyn made an idealistic call for a different kind of politics. In the four years since, step by step, he has broken an astonishing array of his promises.

He promised straight-talking, honest politics. What happened? One front-bencher, Barry Gardiner, now proclaims: “Labour is not a remain party now”, but the deputy leader,  Tom Watson, says: “We are a remain and reform party.” Yet from the leader, all we get is obfuscation and manipulation. When talking about a People’s Vote he uses weasel words like “a vote.” This could mean a confirmatory vote on May’s deal without an option to remain, a general election, or even just a vote in parliament. After two years of watching him enable a Tory Brexit and undermine the campaign against a People’s Vote, and after listening to how he talked about the EU as recently as 2010, does anyone honestly believe that he is a genuine supporter of EU membership?

Back in 2015, he promised that Labour members would have the final say on policy. Yet, on the most important issue of the day, when Labour grassroots wanted a chance for Conference to vote on a clear commitment to a People’s Vote, his people organised to block it.

He promised to usher in a new era of civility and bring seriousness back into debate. Instead, an army of his supporters hound any who disagree with them, on social media and in real life. They dismiss any inconvenient facts with an attack on the person speaking. And when they hear an inconvenient fact from a respected think-tank or a left-of-centre media outlet, they dismiss it as biased, while failing to provide any alternative authoritative source.

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