Labour must fight the right-wing agenda for Brexit

20/01/2017, 07:10:07 PM

by Samuel Dale

The UK is on the brink of a right-wing revolution much bigger than anything Margaret Thatcher managed to achieve. And Labour is simply a bystander.

Labour has yet to find its feet on the Brexit debate and it is being regularly and comprehensively outmaneuvered by the Tory right-wing and Ukip.

There is no Donald Trump protectionist right in the UK, only the libertarian tax and regulation slashers. And they are in the driving seat.

It is a relief that Theresa May has stated the obvious truth about Brexit that we are leaving the single market and customs union.

Labour has to concentrate on two big, incredibly concerning policy areas and shift the debate.

Firstly, it was obvious on 24 June 2016 that we were leaving the single market as it is no way to square the circle of leaving the EU, cutting immigration and staying in the single market. May has accepted reality.

In addition, if we are not part of the EU infrastructure than remaining in the single market would be destructive. Rules would be made and we would have to obey them without any say.

It’s gone. Instead of waffling on about single market access, Labour should focus on being a counterpoint to the intense lobbying operation that is building up in London and Brussels.

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The government has given Labour enough rope. Corbyn’s using it

19/01/2017, 11:00:40 PM

by Greig Baker

Too few people understand that the easiest way to get something done in politics is to let someone else take the credit. That’s as true for political parties as it is for individual politicians, and it holds whether you’re trying to deliver your own agenda or hobble your opponents’ plans. It should be slowly dawning on Labour that they are being given plenty of rope to hang themselves by this Conservative government – and Jeremy Corbyn seems to be quite happy to pick up the noose.

I’d cite three examples of this approach in practice.

First, it has been widely recognised that Tristram Hunt’s move to the V&A had to be explicitly approved by the government. In other words, Theresa May knew about a Labour MP’s resignation before Jeremy Corbyn did – and she was quite happy to facilitate it. If you listen carefully to Labour MPs being asked for comment on Mr Hunt’s move, it is clear the Opposition is braced to lose yet more high profile (and capable) MPs to tempting jobs outside Parliament over the coming months.

All the Tories have to do is let the Labour leadership keep hammering moderates’ morale and then give resignation-minded MPs a worthy and salary-plated parachute. Long term, this trend could pose problems for the centre-right: Conservative voices have long bemoaned the fact that public bodies are often led by people who have an active and left leaning political agenda of their own. But in the short term, it just helps roll the pitch for polling day.

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The by-election boom is a flashing red light for Labour

19/01/2017, 05:55:20 PM

by Rob Marchant

Coming hot on the heels of that of Jamie Reed, the resignation of Tristram Hunt may not be a huge surprise to many. A decent and politically-sensible member of the House, if not the obvious next leader he was sometimes billed as. In the end, it is perhaps inevitably those who least see politics as their true vocation, who soonest see more attractive things on the horizon.

But there’s an important take-away here. It’s simply not normal to have three MPs resign their seats in a month. Unless they are pushed, seriously ill or are going for another political job*, it’s really, really unusual for them to “just resign”.

The fact that three by-elections have been caused in the last month through MPs “just resigning” – two Labour, one Tory – is not just unusual, it’s unprecedented in recent political history.

First let’s deal with the Tory MP, Stephen Philips. His party is certainly in turmoil; over Europe, as it always is. The marginalisation of pro-Europe Tory MPs within their own party is a phenomenon which has gradually been developing over more than twenty years, since the days of John Major’s Cabinet “bastards” and before.

Even so: Brexit, let’s face it, is not exactly politics as usual. Philips was a man at his limit: a man who, as the saying goes, was mad as hell and decided he wasn’t going to take it any more. But it took a tumultuous, once-in-a-generation event to make it happen, and the current state of Labour makes Tory frictions look like a Conservative garden fête.

No, checking back through by-elections since Labour left office in 2010, there are very few and largely exceptional instances. David Miliband was a pretty unusual situation (how many political fratricides can most of us remember?). David Cameron had to resign as PM. And, well, La Mensch is La Mensch. And in the previous two parliaments there were zero. Nada. Zip.

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Labour’s response to Brexit is cowardly and shameful. That’s why I’m resigning from the party

18/01/2017, 09:19:42 PM

Robert Williams was a member of the Labour party for over twenty years. He resigned this week over Labour’s response to Brexit. Here’s his letter to his MP, Barry Gardiner

Dear Barry

I write with regret, but much less than I would wish, to tell you that I am resigning from the Labour party with immediate effect.

I joined when I was 17, because I believed in social justice and internationalism. What I have seen over the last two years has been a descent into the most infantile student politics, with an utterly incompetent and inadequate leader standing on a platform of being friends with every terrorist group so long as they are anti-Western, being unable to state how he would defend the country or its people in a crisis, and supported by a pathetically untalented team of and an unpleasant network of people expelled from Labour, supporters of other parties, candidates for other parties and deluded members who no longer care about winning an election.

Corbyn’s utter incompetence and John McDonnell’s unpleasantness, leading to Labour’s total unelectability are not the main reasons for my resignation, however. I would have fought these unrepresentative dinosaurs and Corbyn’s total unfitness to lead from within the party.

It is on Europe, and our impending exit from the European Union that is the final straw for me. A turnout of 72% and a 52%-48% vote is not the overwhelmingly majority of people. The “people” did not vote for a Brexit that means economic catastrophe and political irrelevance. And they did not vote to diminish the opportunities membership of the EU offers all our citizens and to deny the rich cultural and social elements of our membership of a continent wide club.

And then Jeremy Corbyn decided to use his first speech of 2017 to claim that Britain can be better-off outside the EU.

The silence of Labour moderates, with the honourable exceptions of the 23 Labour MPs who voted for sanity on Europe in December, on the most important issue of our times, is deafening. Corbyn and his band of fools have shown no leadership, no principles and no morality. By their cowardice, they have left the way open to mendacious, toxic hard right Brexiteers in government to potentially damage the country beyond repair and that is unforgivable.

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Theresa May’s big speech showcased her weaknesses as PM

18/01/2017, 11:49:16 AM

by David Talbot

When the new Prime Minister ascended to the highest office by default during last year’s tumultuous summer, her quiet authority seemingly reassured a buffeted nation. Whilst knowledge of her ideology, policy and vision for Britain was lacking, the assumption that she was competent, who, after all, survives six gruelling years in the Home Office without it, was overwhelming.

A carefully fostered reputation for toughness and competence emanated. But now, seven months on, the narrative needs to be revised and rewritten to reflect her record to date. The evidence for all the initial gushing was all rather thin: truth be told, her party, let alone the nation, hardly knew May. Her no-small-talk, reveal-nothing aloofness left a void in which anyone could characterise her as they chose.

Her speech at Lancaster House yesterday was due in part to quell the criticism that had amassed over her continued vow of silence over the most pressing political concern the nation will face in a generation. The Prime Minister’s twelve pillars, we were told, would detail her vision for a post Brexit Britain. Having obfuscated for months – beyond the meaningless regurgitation of “Brexit means Brexit” – May at last delivered a prolonged response to what the vote last June would actually mean in the years ahead.

Delivering a veiled threat to European allies, offering her first pillar as ‘providing greater clarity’, confirming years of angst for UK business with the long-expected withdrawal from the single market and customs union, whilst her Ministers travel the globe in search of fantasy free market trade deals, hardly screamed of a Prime Minster well ahead of events. Details were left for another day. By trying to simultaneously avoid spelling out her Brexit intentions and please her hard-line Brexiteers, May has chosen the riskiest course of all.

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The by-elections in this Parliament are four or five party contests

15/01/2017, 10:46:35 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Late last year I argued on this site that the progressive alliance strategy favoured by Compass might work in by elections, but not in general elections. Afterwards I suggested that Brexit dominates British politics. Poll data is starting to indicate people vote for their Referendum position – and a recent poll suggested only 15% of Leavers were prepared to vote Labour. Put these two factors together with recent by-elections and the run up to the Copeland by election becomes a tale of five parties.

Tim Farron argued after the Witney by election on October 20th  that the Liberals were back, restoring three party politics.

The Richmond by-election seemed to back this but as UKIP stood down and backed the Tory Candidate, Goldsmith only nominally being independent, as the Greens stood down and backed the Lib Dems, this was three party politics by proxy. In the event the progressives backed the Lib Dems, Labour voters also went with the Lib Dems, and the reactionaries showed they could form their own tactical alliances

Witney offered more pointers to the new world of five party politics in England though as turnout dropped from 73.3% to 46.8% there has to be caution. But with the Greens and UKIP doing badly on October 20th – factors which may have helped the Richmond decisions – and losing their deposits, Labour losing half its vote and the Lib Dems having a 23.4% swing, Farron looked to be correct, and to be reinforced by Richmond.

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Tristram Hunt is a disgrace

13/01/2017, 05:03:38 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Those Labour MPs on the Right of the party who stuck to their guns through the 1980s, seeing-off attempts to deselect them and fighting to keep the flame of  British social democracy burning,  eventually paved the way for the party’s renaissance.

They are the unsung heroes of Labour’s long and often turbulent history. Without them, there would, in all likelihood, not even be a party today.

Gerald Kaufman. Ann Taylor. John Smith. Members of the Solidarity Group of Labour MPs.

People of ability who saw their best years wasted during the party’s obsolescence in the 1980s.

But they didn’t give up.

Sensible, pragmatic politicians who stood their ground with dignity and defiance amid the lunacy of the time.

They could have flounced off to join the SDP with those egocentric traitors: Owen, Jenkins and Shirley Williams.

But they didn’t.

They kept their fury and despair inside the Labour family.

Eventually, the party pulled through. Equilibrium was restored. Sooner or later, enough people want to actually win elections.

Where are their successors today?

All of which is an around about way of saying Tristram Hunt is a disgrace.

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Uncut predictions for 2017 (and beyond): George Osborne is the next Prime Minister

08/01/2017, 10:06:14 PM

In the event of train wreck Brexit, or something near to it, the economic costs of Brexit are likely, unfortunately, to hit back pockets. This would have far more powerful political consequences than any slogan. But Osborne has put forward one of the best slogans since 23 June.

“Brexit won a majority. Hard Brexit did not.”

This slogan, in itself, does not change reality – but it positions Osborne to benefit when reality changes. The steeper the costs of Brexit, the sharper the political price paid by Theresa May, and the more dramatically political reality will shift.

As Nigel Farage cedes notions of a Brexit betrayal, blaming immigrants and foreigners for the costs of the unravelling that he so vehemently pushed for, it is hard, sadly, to rule out British politics taking an even sharper turn to the right. As much as this would benefit UKIP, PM Farage remains implausible.

As much as President Trump was also not so long ago unthinkable, a perhaps more likely scenario is a PM Osborne. He will be untarnished by any Brexit costs experienced under May. His opposition to hard Brexit would allow him to personify a change of direction, a return to the management deemed competent enough only 18 months ago, to deliver the Conservatives their first majority in nearly a quarter of a century, and more smoothly and credibly reach compromise positions with EU partners.

Misjudged party management drove David Cameron to a referendum. Its loss sparked a revolution in his party, requiring that a quiet remainder, May, can only wear its crown as an ardent Brexiter. If the costs of Brexit are large enough, they may power a counter revolution, and resurrect Osborne.

This series of events would have dramatic consequences for the UK and the EU but to a significant extent, this revolution was about the internal dynamics of the Conservative Party. Any counter revolution would be too.

A natural party of government with somewhat bipolar tendencies. It is their country. We just live in it. Till we can offer a better party to govern it. It shouldn’t be that hard, should it?

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It’s time for Labour MPs to stop moping and muck in

06/01/2017, 10:33:50 PM

by Kevin Meagher

If you think it’s cold wherever in the country you are reading this, just imagine how cold it is running a by-election campaign in Copeland in West Cumbria in the winter.

For those unfamiliar with the area, the answer is, of course, bloody cold. Not a place, certainly, to find yourself at this time of year, trudging the highways and byways, in the teeth of an icy Cumbrian gust.

Nevertheless, this is the lot of Andrew Gwynne for the foreseeable future.

The intrepid shadow minister without portfolio, has be despatched this week to run Labour’s by-election campaign to hold onto the seat Jamie Reed is set to vacate and stop the Tories overturning his slender 2,564 majority.

It’s a tough gig.

Lots of jobs reliant on Sellafield. And a suspicion, no doubt, that Labour is not particularly enamoured with the very industry that pays the wages of thousands of Copeland’s voters.

Joining Gwynne up there to kick start the campaign the other day was Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth.

He was visiting West Cumberland Hospital to campaign against the downgrading of its services, which will see consultant-led maternity services moved 40 miles up the road to Carlisle.

This was a smart spot. A solid, resonant local issue to base a campaign around that helpfully plays to Labour’s strongest card.

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Uncut predictions for 2017: Ukip won’t win the Copeland, Leigh or Walton by-elections

06/01/2017, 04:55:22 PM

The first test of Ukip’s electoral potency under its new leader, Paul Nuttall, comes in the Copeland by-election, following the unexpected decision of Jamie Reed to stand down from Parliament.

Despite voting for Brexit by 62/38 per cent, the West Cumbrian seat doesn’t feel a natural prospect for the kippers. Certainly when compared to parts of Lancashire, Merseyside and Greater Manchester. Remote and politically tribal, Copeland feels like a straight Labour/Tory face-off.

Having polled extremely well in the Heywood and Middleton by-election in October 2014, coming within 600 votes of beating Labour, Ukip has very publicly struggled to assemble a decent ground game and lacks campaigning apparatus and experience when it matters most.

Other by-elections in Wythenshawe and Sale East in February 2014 and Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough in May 2016 have revealed this telling weakness, with underwhelming Ukip performances in seats where they should have pressed much harder.

Anyway, the party is under new management and needs to show momentum in the post-Brexit and post-Farage era.

Nuttall, an MEP for the North West, knows this and will be looking for a decent showing in the Leigh and Liverpool Walton by-elections that will follow May’s election of Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram to the new metro mayoralties in, respectively, Greater Manchester and Merseyside.

Liverpool’s Labour party is well-organised for such a fight and the city was one of the few Labour heartlands to vote Remain (58/42 per cent). But it’s academic: Walton is Labour’s safest parliamentary seat in the country, with a gigantic 27,777 majority and 81 per cent of the vote.

Although Labour had a 14,096 majority in 2015, Leigh has suffered a precipitous decline from its heyday as a mining and textiles town and it’s exactly the type of working-class seat where the kippers hope they can break through.

Indeed, Nuttall is said to be mulling a run as the candidate himself.

The reason he initially decided against challenging for the Ukip leadership was because he wanted to focus on winning a parliamentary seat himself. He knows the stakes are high and a strong performance is essential to maintain Ukip as a brooding threat in Labour’s backyard, his professed electoral strategy.

But he’ll get no joy in Leigh either. There are no Ukip councillors for a start, while Burnham is popular locally and his (slightly) controversial speech castigating free movement the other week, was an early attempt to head off Ukip’s appeal on the issue. Moreover, Leigh has only had four MPs since 1923 – all Labour. The seat will remain loyal.

Expect to hear Nuttall hedging his bets about standing in Leigh until the kippers get the lie of the land.

Then, when they do, he’ll pretend he was never going for it.

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