Put your legs away Jeremy and come up with a convincing Brexit policy

09/12/2018, 08:00:03 AM

by Kevin Meagher

I shudder to imagine what Jeremy Corbyn’s pins look like – pale and scrawny, if I’m pushed to conjure up a mental picture.

He must think they look alright though. Patrick Maguire over at the New Statesman quotes a DUP source saying the Labour Leader is “showing a bit of leg” in a bid to woo the DUP and its ten MPs, ahead of a make-or-break week for Theresa May.

Yesterday Corbyn told Sky News the DUP opposed the Northern Ireland backstop for “very good and sensible reasons.” He said Labour was ready to “step in and negotiate seriously with the EU to put up a serious alternative which is a proper customs union – a customs union – with the EU in which we have a say in what goes on”.

Things are clearly getting weird in Westminster, but this is off the charts strange.

Corbyn is, we are frequently reminded by his detractors, a lifelong Irish republican. Suddenly, however, the political troglodytes of the DUP are people of honour whose barmpot politics are “good” and “sensible.”

So what’s he playing at?

It seems this courtship ritual is a crude attempt to drive a wedge between Theresa May and her erstwhile unionist allies. Fair enough, opposition parties are meant to oppose and all that.

But there’s no pathway to Number Ten that involves him courting the DUP. Neither are they crazy enough to assume ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ in the frenetic calculus of who wants what over Brexit.

They’re on the rebound, granted, but they’re not desperate enough to put Sinn Fein allies like Corbyn and McDonnell in government. No, Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s Westminster leader, is still trying to catch Theresa’s eye.

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A glimmer of sunlight for Britain and for Labour

27/11/2018, 07:30:38 AM

by Rob Marchant

The first thing to observe about the current political situation in Britain is that it is incredibly difficult to predict. At every point of the mathematical decision tree, there are unknowns and strange distortions (more of that later).

So the starting point for us, like Sophocles, is this: the only thing we know is that we know nothing. And the one thing which is usually true about politics is when there is an “everyone knows that…” conventional wisdom, it is more often than not completely wrong. Whoever would have predicted the success of Donald Trump? Or John Major, or Jeremy Corbyn, for that matter?

That said, if we look incrementally at what has changed in the last ten days, it would seem that Britain, and Labour, are both in a slightly better place.

First, Britain: whether you are a Leaver or a Remainer, unless you are frothing at the mouth, you cannot be looking at a no-deal Brexit as an attractive outcome for the country.

Therefore, the fact that Theresa May has finally, two years into her premiership, dared to put “no Brexit” back on the table, augurs well for moderates in both camps.

If Chequers succeeds, which looks increasingly unlikely (both from the UK side and taking into account the difficulty of ratification across each of 27 countries, such as Spain and Ireland), at least Britain has a “least worst” route to Brexit which will cause only modest harm to the economy.

Now let us look at what happens if Chequers fails.

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Could we please have a real-world Labour Brexit policy?

19/11/2018, 06:05:32 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Theresa May is right. It is:

  • Her Brexit
  • No deal Brexit
  • Or no Brexit

If you are not choosing from that menu, you are at an imaginary restaurant. Which five members of the Cabinet, the so-called European Research Group, and the Labour leadership, unfortunately, are.

There is, according to the BBC’s Europe Editor, zero appetite in EU circles to renegotiate May’s withdrawal deal. “We have a document on the table that has been adopted by the EU and the UK, and so for me, the question of further negotiations does not arise,” Angela Merkel said.

But Andrea Leadsom demurs. She aims to tweak May’s deal. John McDonnell goes further. He wants a completely different agreement by next March.

In the real-world, there are three possible ways forward:

First, May’s deal. The lack of advocates for this deal has reduced May to comparisons with Thatcher’s final days. It is also reminiscent of the period immediately after the 2010 general election. Then, as now, it was apparent that the prime minister did not have the numbers.

There is, however, a plausible argument to say:

While imperfect, this withdrawal agreement takes the UK out of the EU, we accept it and are focusing upon the long-term relationship between the UK and the EU, which remains to be determined.

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Binning Brexit must be the start of the change that we need

13/11/2018, 09:47:38 PM

by Jonathan Todd

In William Waldegrave’s admirably honest and bleakly comic memoir, he describes William Armstrong, the head of the civil service, suffering a nervous breakdown. Armstrong, when Waldegrave was working for prime minister Ted Heath, “talked apocalyptically of his control of the Blue Army in its war against the Red, then lay full length on the floor of Number Ten’s waiting room, at the feet of an astonished delegation of businessmen”.

“Could civil servant Olly Robbins prove Brexit’s unlikely hero?” asked a recent Financial Times profile. Of course, sadly, not. While we hope that the strain does not impact Robbins as greatly as Armstrong, Brexit is a joyless revolution, devoid of heroes.

Out of the crooked timber of Brexit, Immanuel Kant might have said, no straight thing was ever made. Nothing, as Jo Johnson stressed when resigning from government, has been fashioned from it to compare with the promises made in its name during the 2016 referendum.

Politics, eventually, catches up with policy. While Johnson’s departure may trigger bigger political events, it responds to a policy reality that has long been obvious: Theresa May is incapable of delivering a Brexit that won’t make us worse off and her Brexiter critics have no plausible policy for doing better. The political energy that pulses through Remain derives from a more coherent policy: staying in the EU via a People’s Vote, based on what is now known, not the false prospectus of two years ago.

The right policy is the right politics. Labour MPs in seats that voted for Brexit cannot advance a policy that combines Brexit with the brightest prospects for jobs and growth in these places. Because – as voters increasingly realise – no such policy exists, eroding the political case for accommodation with Brexit by these MPs. Especially when, among Labour voters, at least two-thirds in every constituency support another referendum.

The polling does not reveal a thirst for Lexit among Labour voters in industrial towns. Other voters in these seats may have more of a taste for Brexit – in many cases, for reasons far removed from the inclusion and internationalism that have traditionally characterised Labour. But – with every unfortunate story of redundancies attributed to Brexit – this taste is diminishing. In any case, while Brexit ought to be bigger than self-interested calculations, these voters are less crucial to the survival of Labour MPs than Labour voters.

From whom the message is clear: we want another say on the dud that we were sold.

No one any longer bothers to deny the defectiveness of Brexit. The case for persisting rests upon fulfilling 2016’s mandate (whatever that was). Or the fear of no deal, which, given the willingness of the prime minister to listen to the parliamentary majority against this, is misplaced.

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Self-definition is the first task of Labour moderates

07/11/2018, 10:44:37 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Of all the problems facing the sensible wing of Labour politics, perhaps the most elementary is how it refers to itself.

Whoever let the dial settle on ‘moderates?’ The term is a counsel of despair. It summons up a drab, middle-of-the-road minimalism, perennially splitting the difference. Not so much a political vision as an anti-vision. An abdication of belief.

As Antonio Gramsci pointed out, if you control the language you control the debate. So this is where the reinvention of sensible Labour politics must begin: self-definition.

‘Social democrat’ would perhaps be the technical description, but it’s a bit jaded and abstract.

‘Democratic socialist?’ I’ve always thought this a slightly jarring phrase, meant to distinguish us from the undemocratic variety? (Although that great social democrat, Tony Crosland, was said to prefer it).

‘Right-wing’ is problematic for obvious reasons. While ‘centrist’ just conjures-up Roy Jenkins’ smug countenance.

He famously described his politics as the ‘radical centre.’ The times we’re in demand firm, concerted action, just not the impossibilism offered by the hard left. So what about dropping the ‘centre’ bit and embracing radicalism?

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The tragi-comic end of Wreathgate is a timely reminder of how far British politics has fallen

01/11/2018, 08:23:23 AM

by Rob Marchant

You will recall how, a few months ago, a certain party leader furiously denied, then in the end implicitly accepted, that he laid a wreath at the grave of Palestinian terrorists: essentially in the face of overwhelming evidence that he did just that.

Thanks to the painstaking work of some ordinary folk, as well as journalists, piecing together maps and photographs from the event, it was made clear that the route he took through the cemetery would have made any other explanation untenable.

For many of us, this was a watershed moment. We knew he had a long history of hanging out with dubious people and supporting unpleasant causes, but we wanted to believe there was still a chance that he was merely naïve and occasionally mendacious, rather than a serial liar. This shattered that possibility.

Through five years of Miliband’s leadership, Uncut criticised him, often heavily. We praised him, too, when he got things right. But we never called him a liar, because he was not one. Corbyn is not in the same category politically, of course. But neither is he in the same category personally.

Jeremy Corbyn lied about not laying a wreath. It may seem a minor thing, in the greater scheme of things, but the fact that it does is more a comment on today’s politics than anything else. The only plausible explanation was simply that a man who aspired to be PM could not be seen to be openly supporting terrorists (and worse, Hamas, terrorists with an ingrained anti-Semitism that can be traced back to their founding charter).

So it was really no surprise to find that the Leader’s – or, we assume, his Communications Director and legal team on his behalf – that he made a complaint to the press regulator about the coverage of the event.

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Brexit anxiety: Panic on the streets of London

23/10/2018, 11:33:22 PM

by Jonathan Todd

I don’t, unfortunately, think it is an exaggeration to say that I am terrified of Brexit. I burst in to tears – not something I do frequently – on the morning of 24 June 2016, a few hours before Jeremy Corbyn advocated invoking Article 50. It seemed to me that my country had invited catastrophe and now, sadly, I feel surer of that.

“There was always a core who could not accept the outcome; it has swelled,” reckons Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times. I am not sure that this is quite right and certainly do not consider myself part of such a grouping. While we should be vigilant to Russian interference in our democracy and Vote Leave broke electoral law, I do not question the legitimacy of the actions taken following the 2016 referendum.

Theresa May was perfectly entitled to set out her redlines, to invoke Article 50, and to proclaim, “Brexit means Brexit”. Albeit the redlines have been mugged by reality, her government has appeared unprepared for the consequences of Article 50, and “Brexit means Brexit” is no less a meaningless platitude than “a red, white and blue Brexit”.

In the face of this staggering incompetence, what has remained constant is not lack of acceptance at the outcome of the 2016 referendum but – pace Shrimsley – unease about where we are headed. No convincing leadership has emerged to meet worries about the ending of a relationship that has been integral to the UK for approaching half a century.

“The easiest trade deal in history” came to not be that easy. “The exact same benefits of single market membership” are illusive. Only Michael Caine is still saying that German car manufacturers will make everything ok.

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Devolve immigration policy to the nations and regions to answer the demands of Brexit

16/10/2018, 05:45:47 PM

This piece by Atul Hatwal is an updated version of his chapter in the Compass report, Causes and Cures of Brexit

“It’s like this mad riddle.” Thus spake Danny Dyer, the sage of Brexit. Our modern day Zarathustra wasn’t wrong and nowhere are the contradictions thrown up by Brexit more evident than on immigration.

How to ‘take back control’ of migration while not cutting numbers so precipitately that skills gaps cripple public services and drive businesses to the wall? Or that the EU’s red line on freedom of movement is so egregiously breached that the broader Brexit deal is derailed?

At the heart of the riddle is an impossible question on the right number of migrants to be allowed into the UK.

The most significant area of migration is people coming to the UK to work (as opposed to study, family reunion or asylum) and on this, whether Tory or Labour, the government has a choice of two policy options, both a wrong answer.

Option A: Set a numbers target that is so low as to be either unattainable or disastrous for the economy. The past eight years have tested this approach to the point of political destruction. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario more corrosive to trust in politicians on migration than the way the government has stuck to its target of cutting migration to the tens of thousands, while continually missing it by huge margins. It raises migration as an issue and then casts the government as incompetents or liars, not prepared to do what’s required.

Option B: Set a target high enough not to buckle public services or hit economic growth but one that then opens the government to charges of allowing uncontrolled immigration.

Labour’s proposals for an integrated work visa, where the current tiering system with its caps is scrapped, suggest the party is headed towards Option B.

The detail is yet to be fleshed out but this represents a positive move from Labour. However, it’s one that will not be without cost.

It’s inevitable the Conservatives would use this as a dividing line in any election and in the event of a narrow Labour election victory, there is a question as to whether this policy could be carried through the Commons given a significant minority of Labour MPs would likely rebel on the basis that this would not, in their view, honour the Referendum result.

Over the past few months, there’s been some recourse on all sides to try to focus on skilled migration while advocating for restrictions on low skilled migration, as an alternative approach. But this just leads back to the same underlying choices.

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Tiny step by tiny step, the unions reassert themselves as ballast against the hard left

30/09/2018, 04:49:33 PM

by Rob Marchant

If last year’s party conference was an unabashed love-in for Corbynites and the party’s leader, this was the conference where – as always happens eventually in all environments where the far left runs the show – the cracks started to appear.

Ok, it may not be enough to stop the party from self-immolation. But, after the shock to Labour’s system of the tsunami of new members and a leadership dragging it off to the far left, the tectonic plates appear to be slowly, infuriatingly slowly, moving back towards their traditional positions.

There are reasons why the power structure within the Labour Party has grown up as it has. The party came out of the unions and the unions have always had a seat at the top table – some times more powerful than others, but always there.

Now, in general, unions and the union movement have so far been widely supportive of Corbyn. Why? Because the decline in union membership (and thus the accountability of union leaders to their members) has allowed the bigger unions to drift sleepily to the left, into a misty-eyed, 1970s nostalgia where globalisation never happened. Corbyn plays to the worst and most self-indulgent instincts of the left-leaning unions: he tells them they were right all along.

But the smarter ones among the leaders, left and right, are starting to wake up and see that not all is roses. They are realising that, first of all, a strictly member-led party may not pay attention to their views on, say, the leadership of the party. And the more power goes to the members, the less there is for them. Hence why they voted to dilute the rule changes for a more “member-run” party and actually increased their own say in leadership elections.

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Labour Conference 2018: Time for a new direction on Brexit

24/09/2018, 09:44:22 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Labour Party conference meets amid the UK’s deepening constitutional and economic crisis. Merely by reiterating its long-established red lines, EU leaders inspired a haughty and incoherent speech from our out-of-her-depth prime minister, bringing the calamity of no deal Brexit nearer.

The message from Nigel Farage at the Leave Means Leave rally is clear: “No deal, no problem.” The message from Labour’s conference needs to be equally straight-forward: “No deal, no way.”

Brexit, as President Macron noted, “was pushed by people who predicted easy solutions.” Now the same people tell us not to worry about no deal. Surely the will of the people is not to be fooled twice.

The warning lights from Labour should be flashing brightly to avoid the kind of no deal scenario depicted in a Financial Times editorial in July:

“The UK would spill out of the EU on March 29 2019, guaranteeing chaos on all fronts. It would spell international isolation, as well as a shock to the economy and a political backlash. No competent government could contemplate such an option.”

Given this, the prime minister is wrong, pace her Friday speech, to assert that no deal is better than a bad deal. Labour must say so.

The prime minister is mistaken, too, to claim that EU leaders provided no explanation for their rejection of Chequers. It followed from their consistent position on the indivisibility of the EU’s four freedoms. We must hope that Labour, as an internationalist party, demystifies this hardy mysterious reality.

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