The Uncuts: 2021 Political Awards (Part III)

01/01/2022, 09:46:19 AM

Political Bravery Award: The women who stood up for Gender Critical beliefs

2021 may well go down as the year that it became impossible to ignore the clash between the ongoing campaign for transgender people to be able to self-identify themselves as the opposite sex, and the women’s and children’s rights on which this campaign impinges.

It was also the year when the BBC finally realised Stonewall, at the centre of this campaign in the UK, was a political lobbyist rather than a neutral service provider. And so, it finally left its Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme only after a piece of brilliant radio journalisism by the BBC’s very own Stephen Nolan and David Thompson. It was the two Ulstermen’s ten-part series which methodically exposed the sharp practice that Stonewall had been pulling off for years, with hundreds of companies: assess them for “diversity”, and then sell their services to those same companies to fill the gaps identified. Conflict of interests? Us?

But perhaps most importantly, the “cancellation” of figures who challenge the Stonewall-driven conventional wisdom – that men should be able to get access to women’s spaces by dint of simply saying that they identify as one – continues apace. It continues even to the point of apparently being official Labour policy, much to the dismay of many of its members and voters. Partly for this reason – with a few noble exceptions – it has mostly fallen to non-politicians to take a political stand on this.

Now this year, as for the last several years, J K Rowling – in the face of a furious backlash from the entertainment and literary industries – has been in the news for periodic, uncompromising tweets and articles on women’s rights. To a large extent, she has acted as not just a British but a global figurehead for the many, many women who refuse to be told to pipe down on this issue.

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The Uncuts: 2021 Political Awards (Part II)

31/12/2021, 07:11:04 PM

Culture War Winners: The England football team

England might have been denied the European Championship, but by the time the final Italian penalty went in, they had won arguably a more significant prize: victors in the battle of bended knee, the England football team effectively ended the main phase of the UK’s culture wars.

Priti Patel, Boris Johnson, various Tory MPs and right-wing commentators had bloviated about “gesture politics” and the Marxist connotations of taking the knee in the run-up to the European Championships. It was the high season of the Johnson premiership and the prevailing narrative was of an extraordinary leader who had used Brexit and cultural values to remake politics in the UK. The attack, like over Brexit, was on the values of the left for being unpatriotic, un-British and in direct opposition to the mainstream view of the country.

At the start, few in politics expected a team of pampered millionaires prone to serial under-performance when it mattered most, to win the argument. But the England team stood, and knelt, together. And most importantly, they won football matches.

This might have turned out very differently had they been dumped out of the tournament in the group stage. But they weren’t, they made it all the way to the final, capturing the imagination of England en route.

Suddenly, a new cast of characters were the ones who were unpatriotic for attacking the national football team. Tory MPs like Lee Anderson, who boycotted England matches because they took the knee, were made to look like fools. Drowned in the hope and adulation of a nation that backed their football team. The polls moved conclusively with the majority for those supporting the knee rising from +13% to +24%.

Unsurprisingly, since then, there has been very little from the Government or its outriders attempting to open new fronts in the culture wars. Their defeat was conclusive and has marked a shift in the battleground of politics. To appropriate the Sun’s headline after the 1992 general election, “It was England wot won it”

Own Goal of the Year: Owen Paterson (more…)

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The Uncuts: 2021 Political Awards (Part I)

31/12/2021, 09:50:22 AM

Political Comeback Of The Year: Keir Starmer

On the morning of Sunday May 9th , Keir Starmer was on political life support. Labour had lost the Hartlepool by-election the previous Thursday and then his attempted reshuffle had been blown up by Angela Rayner refusing to go quietly. The headlines for Labour and its leader were dire. There seemed to be a real chance that Keir Starmer might not make it to the end of the year in post.

But here we are, at the back of 2021 and Labour has a solid lead in the polls with its leader ahead of Boris Johnson on just about every metric. Keir Starmer even delivered a reshuffle that has reinvigorated the shadow cabinet, marginalised the left and palpably diminished the power of his turbulent deputy.

What went right?

Boris Johnson obviously has played a large part in the shift. Few could have anticipated the missteps over Owen Paterson, the video and photos of lockdown breaking Christmas celebrations in 2020 and the loss of a 23,000 majority in North Shropshire.

But these mistakes have only accelerated a trend that was evident back in the dark days of May.

At Uncut, on May 19th, we wrote that the vaccine bounce was obscuring the underlying position in British politics – namely that the parties were likely level pegging, a reality that would become evident once the vaccine bounce subsided.

And so, it has come to pass.

Keir Starmer’s achievement has been in holding fast to his basic approach. Unlike the voices in May who called for an immediate new direction, for tomes of policy to be rushed through, for panic measures, he has demonstrated a rare skill in modern politics: to wait. He remained calm, at least outwardly, waiting to make his case to the public until the worst of the pandemic was in the rear-view mirror.

The news cycle for a major event moves from reporting of the facts to the first wave of comment within a couple of hours. There’s then a further wave of comment reacting to the initial comment within another few hours, generally crystallising around a set of demands for action in a third wave of comment, which is then pitched at politicians for a binary yes or no answer. Should X be sacked? Do you disavow your position on Y? Will you resign if Z happens?

A cycle which would have taken several days to unwind twenty years ago, now occurs within hours. It’s a rollercoaster where the imperative is on politicians to act ‘decisively’. And then do so again the next day on the next issue, and again later that week and on and on. Keir Starmer is a rather an old fashioned politician who doesn’t.

It’s a strategy that carries risk. Persistently rejecting demands for instant action, over weeks and months, builds a meta-narrative of inertia and weakness. It’s a story that the Labour left have done their best to tell to undermine and topple the leader.

But the polling over the past month doesn’t lie and ultimately Keir Starmer has called it right. He’s moved on his own terms when the timing and circumstances were propitious and put himself in the best position to capitalise when Boris Johnson’s manifest failings became electorally evident. More please in 2022.

International Politician of the Year: Olaf Scholz

Germany is under new management. Labour’s sister party now leads Europe’s economic powerhouse and political centre of gravity. Olaf Scholz is our international politician of the year for ending the Angela Merkel era with this sea change victory.

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It is time to start believing – Labour can win the next general election

28/12/2021, 10:32:27 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Labour doubters should become believers about our general election prospects. Here are five reasons for optimism:

  1. Boris Johnson will never again be the political force that he was in December 2019

Labour misfired in enabling the December 2019 election and in the campaign, proving that something (Get Brexit Done) beats nothing (Labour’s implausible Brexit policy).

Johnson was fortunate in his opponents but ruthless in seizing the opportunities that they afforded him. He will never be so lucky or commanding again.

“All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory.”

Patrick Radden Keefe opens his bestselling book about Northern Ireland with this quote from Viet Thanh Nguyen.

We have all fought on the battlefields of Covid. These painful memories now meet the troubling reality that our sacrifices were not matched in Downing Street.

Johnson secured this residence by telling a battle-weary country that he would end the Brexit wars. Now Lord Frost has resigned from his government because Brexit is not done.

  1. The next general election will not be about Brexit

Liz Truss has added Lord Frost’s Brexit responsibilities to her Foreign Policy portfolio. She might come to the same conclusion that Johnson came to when holding that office: the best way to promotion is to resign and attack the prime minister from the right on Brexit.

This manoeuvre might work for Truss with the Conservative Party. It won’t work with the rest of the country.

We are tired of Brexit. We do not want to refight old battles. We just want things to work properly.

Covid is now, of course, the biggest barrier to normal life and Johnson’s inability to meet this challenge is central to his diminishment. It remains to be seen whether Covid will be the core issue of the next general election. Hopefully, because we will have decisively moved beyond Covid’s pandemic phase, not.

But Brexit, the issue that galvanised the Conservatives 2019 voting coalition, won’t be.

  1. Johnson’s kingdom of sand bequeaths little to the next Tory leader

John Major could take the rough edges off Thatcherism and win in 1992. There are plenty of rough edges for a Tory successor to Johnson to polish. But little coherent mission.

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Labour must bin its ‘Point of order, chair’ culture if we want a campaign machine that will beat the Tories

14/10/2021, 10:37:21 PM

by Anthony Lavelle

This piece is part of a new book “Labour’s Reset: The Path Back to Power”. Click here to download it. The book looks at the barriers for voters in picking Labour, what the party can do in opposition to tackle these issues and the type of policy platform that would attract switchers to Labour at the election

Just 11 years ago, we had a Labour Prime Minister in Downing Street, but even for a 26-year-old like me it feels much longer. In that time, we have lost four general elections in a row – the last, in 2019, disastrously so, securing the lowest number of Labour MPs since 1935. In the 12 years I have been a party member, only one of them has seen us in government. The rest have involved crushing defeats.

I remember attending a conference back in 2011. It was my first, and also the first time it was held in my home city of Liverpool. I was the youth delegate for my CLP and was the last delegate to be called to speak in a debate about ‘Refounding Labour’. I talked about why we must look to our traditions as a community-based movement where the voices of individual members were always valued. But we must also widen our horizons and never become inward-looking.

It was vital, I argued, that the public had a say in the future of our party and that we always reflected their priorities, channelled their hopes and desires and provided an open and optimistic vision for the future of our country; one that was inspiring but also rooted in relatable politics. If we do not listen, what chance do we have of being listened to?

Anyway, the rest is history, and here we are, a decade on and no nearer to power than we were back then. Despite a proud record of achievement during its thirteen years, the New Labour government lost its way and ended up with hundreds fewer councillors, thousands fewer members, and had five million voters turn away from us by the time we lost the 2010 general election.

By the time I got involved, the activist base had been seriously depleted and many members felt deeply disillusioned. Yet we need to remember that we are always the party that embraces hope, equality and prosperity for all, and that the Conservatives will always be the party of the few over the many (as they have shown with their National Insurance rise). It is cities like Liverpool, and communities like mine in Croxteth, that get a bad deal and suffer the most when Labour is not in power.

So, after too long in the political wilderness, and too much bickering in recent years, we must put our political differences aside and work together for a Labour victory at the next election, which may be only 18 months away. In recent years, however, many local parties have been taken over by activists who, in too many cases, perceive Labour’s time in government in a wholly negative way. There was ‘nothing to be proud of’ prior to 2015. The Iraq War is, and remains, a running sore (for understandable reasons, but the left does not have a monopoly on that).

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Labour has a historic opportunity to replace the Tories as the party backed by business

11/10/2021, 10:32:39 PM

by Jonathan Todd

This piece is part of a new book “Labour’s Reset: The Path Back to Power”. Click here to download it. The book looks at the barriers for voters in picking Labour, what the party can do in opposition to tackle these issues and the type of policy platform that would attract switchers to Labour at the election

Backing business should be a sine qua non of politics. Yet we now have a ‘fuck business’ prime minister,[1] who won an 80-seat majority against a Labour Party that the CBI characterised as, ‘proposing the biggest programme of renationalisation this country has ever seen at great cost with uncertain returns to the taxpayer’. As a result, Labour was then seen as being ‘at least as damaging’ as No Deal Brexit.[2]

Two political consequences follow:

  1. Such a prime minister offers Labour a chance to develop closer relations with business than the Conservatives.
  2. Labour’s 2019 manifesto is not the package with which to seize this opportunity.

‘I’m acutely aware that among my first tasks is rebuilding the relationship between the Labour party and business,’ Keir Starmer recently said, much to his credit.[3]

Around the same time as Starmer was saying this, the chief executive of the North East England Chamber of Commerce was writing to the prime minister asking him to give his ‘most urgent and personal attention’ to the ‘damage being done to our economy’ by the prime minister’s Brexit. Two weeks after receiving this letter, the prime minister had still not replied.[4]

Doing counterintuitive things often helps parties in opposition. A pro-business Labour confounds entrenched views of the party and confirms that we are under new management.

What Boris Johnson is getting wrong enlarges this opportunity for Labour. Equally, he is getting something right: optimism.

‘Remember that Barack Obama’s breakthrough owed a lot to the slogan, “yes we can.” The left needs to show that it can somehow improve things,’ writes Chris Dillow. ‘This requires not just policies, but the self-confidence to sell them. Johnson shows that politicians can succeed by not being scared of their own shadow. The left should learn from this.’[5]

Labour needs to articulate an optimism about the UK and a sense of purpose about what we can become.

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How not to lose culture wars

06/10/2021, 10:32:23 PM

This piece is part of a new book “Labour’s Reset: The Path Back to Power”. Click here to download it. The book looks at the barriers for voters in picking Labour, what the party can do in opposition to tackle these issues and the type of policy platform that would attract switchers to Labour at the election

by Rob Marchant

What is a culture war? From dictionary.com: it is ‘a conflict or struggle for dominance between groups within a society or between societies, arising from their differing beliefs, practices, etc.’

Culture wars are nothing new, but they are currently higher profile than ever, arguably because of (a) the political trend towards populism at home and abroad, and (b) the magnification of disagreement and polarised viewpoints via social media, providing the tools for instant public reaction. Whatever the explanation, it is clear that culture wars form a noticeable part of the current political Zeitgeist.

As a political party, you may not always get to win the culture war – sometimes, you may need to do the right thing in advance of public opinion, as Labour did in the 1980s on gay rights. However, it is useful not to lose them, and Labour seems to have been doing just that on some subjects.

Two major examples are antisemitism, where the new leadership has demonstrably taken the ‘right’ side but seems sluggish in following through to the end; and the vexed issue of trans rights, where the leadership has managed to stifle almost all debate and in doing so managed, seemingly oblivious, to alienate a large swathe of its female membership.

Not only have they surged with the proliferation of social media, but they have both used institutional capture as a way of determinedly promoting their agendas. Far-left entryists took over Labour for half of the last decade; and Stonewall’s worryingly driven zealots have spread themselves over large parts of Britain’s public and private sector, promoting equalities law not as it is, but as they would like it to be.

But there have been other examples over the last decade: ‘taking the knee’ may have been something that the public bought into around Euro 2020, but the linked association with the Black Lives Matter organisation ultimately turned out to be problematic. Being anti-austerity was justifiable, but the UK Cuts movement and the 2011 London demo were decidedly not; Ed Miliband was left with egg on his face. Labour’s association with such single-issue movements over the last decade has generally later turned out to look unwise.

So, here we set out a few thoughts for Labour on how not to lose the culture wars:

1.Think carefully before wading in and do not pick the stupid side. There are often issues around a ‘culture war’ position that need to be considered; for example, are we getting into one or more of the following?

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Another stab in the back myth: The hard left is trying to blame the 2019 defeat on Starmer and the party’s Brexit policy. One problem. I’ve got the receipts

03/10/2021, 10:24:02 PM

by Patrick Heneghan

The rewriting of history is underway. The charge is that Labour lost the last election because of our Brexit policy which was led by Keir Starmer. Len McCluskey was at it during interviews to promote his book and at the end of last week Andrew Fisher was writing about it.

While it’s obviously true that Keir Starmer was Shadow Brexit Secretary, the muddled Brexit policy Labour put before the electorate in 2019 was by no means Starmer’s policy – in fact the position Labour adopted was then hailed as a victory for Corbyn over the pro European wing of the Party. And you don’t need to take my word for it, I’ve been back over the comments and articles from the time, and they tell a very different story about how and why Labour ended up with the Brexit policy it did.

The real pressure to change the position on Brexit began after the 2019 Euro Elections. Labour had recorded less than 15% of the vote – it’s lowest ever vote share in a national election.

Following those elections, it was no secret that Corbyn’s most inner circle was split. Diane Abbott was clear “something is wrong with our strategy. We need to listen to our members and take a clearer line on a public vote” and John McDonnell responded to the results by stating “we must unite our party & country by taking the issue back to (the) people in a public vote.”

Momentum, had already balloted their members, the results of which showed clear support for a second referendum.

The Guardian reported that Len McCluskey was accusing some of those calling for a second referendum of trying to whip up a coup against Corbyn. Did he mean John, Diane, and Momentum?

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Revealed: New polling shows most swing voters believe their household finances will be better under a Labour government than the Tories

02/10/2021, 09:18:28 PM

by Atul Hatwal

The full analysis of these polling figures is in a new book “Labour’s Reset: The Path Back to Power” released this week. Click here to download it. The book looks at the barriers for voters in picking Labour, what the party can do in opposition to tackle these issues and the type of policy platform that would attract switchers to Labour at the election

Exclusive polling conducted for Labour Uncut by Yonder (the new name for Populus) has revealed that a majority of swing voters believe their household finances will be worse under a Conservative government compared to a Labour government.

Traditionally, the Conservatives have won the electoral war of the wallet with voters tending to believe their personal finances will be better off under the Tories than Labour, even when Labour is in the ascendant.

However, this latest polling shows that there’s an 11% majority, 46% to 35% among prospective Labour switchers that disagreed with the statement “I think my household will be better off under the Conservatives than Labour”

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Johnson and Frost’s attitude to the Northern Ireland Protocol repeats the Tories’ worst habits in relation to Ireland

01/10/2021, 09:02:41 PM

by Matthew O’Toole

This piece is part of a new book “Labour’s Reset: The Path Back to Power” released this week. Click here to download it. The book looks at the barriers for voters in picking Labour, what the party can do in opposition to tackle these issues and the type of policy platform that would attract switchers to Labour at the election

If Boris Johnson actually cared it wouldn’t be so bad. His and his government’s wilful disavowal of a treaty they signed (and trumpeted in an election campaign), their intermittent gaslighting of people and businesses in Northern Ireland – if any of it was based on sincere conviction it would be easier to stomach. The empowering of extremists representing glorified crime gangs, the naked refusal to acknowledge the plain facts of international trade.

Political actors in Northern Ireland of all shades don’t just distrust the Johnson Government and its approach to the Protocol, they – we – are disoriented by it. Since everyone has been lied to, there is now next to no reserve of trust from which UK ministers can draw as Brexit makes relationships sharper and more difficult. So, what should happen now? Part of the answer lies in remembering the lessons of the past: the importance of delivering on commitments made in good faith and avoiding the crude assertion of British sovereignty in Northern Ireland as if it were the same as Suffolk.

Conservative indifference to the consequences for the island of Ireland of English political choices is nothing new. Whatever Northern Ireland’s future constitutional arrangements, defending pluralist institutions and British-Irish relations from thuggish Tory nationalism will require an active and engaged Labour Party. That should start with delivery of the complex and imperfect commitments in the EU withdrawal agreement.

One hundred years ago, the Westminster political class was bored of Ireland. The subject had dominated Parliamentary debate on a recurring basis for at least four decades. From the perspectives of both those Liberals – and Labour – who had supported successive attempts at Home Rule, and the Tories who had opposed them, first in relation to all of Ireland and latterly for the province of Ulster, the complicated denouement of 1920 and 1921 signalled time to move on from the Irish question.

First, the Government of Ireland Act of 1920 provided for the exclusion of six northern counties from any form of self-governing proto-independent state. Then after months more of fighting between republicans and the British state, by the end of 1921 a treaty providing a ‘Free State’ with dominion status in the other 26 counties was agreed between Lloyd George’s Government and Sinn Fein, which subsequently split but with the treaty itself surviving.

As Charles Townshend’s new book on partition points out, by 1921 many MPs were exasperated at the oxygen consumed by the ‘Irish question’ – and the demands of unionism very much included in that category. Then, as now, there was a striking disinclination to view said Irish question as one in which English politics and English power were implicated, or to put it more directly: one for which English politicians were in large part responsible. For better or worse, Irish issues were to be marginal in British politics (notwithstanding the fact that part of Ireland remained in the UK) for the next half century. In that sense, one of the key aims of Lloyd George’s Government – to stop talking about Ireland – was overwhelmingly delivered.

What does any of this have to do with 2021, and the question of how the UK Government – and British politics in general – approaches the implementation of another treaty, the EU withdrawal agreement and specifically the Protocol on Northern Ireland? It is to demonstrate that nothing happens in the British-Irish relationship outside the historical burden of that relationship; and that relationship is marked by asymmetry of both power and knowledge. Where London possesses the greater power – and not only over the jurisdiction where it is the sovereign power – Ireland (by which I mean the island and both historic ‘traditions’) possesses the greater memory and knowledge, of both historical fact and grievance.

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