How Labour’s potential leadership candidates measure up against member priorities

02/03/2017, 02:36:23 PM

by Atul Hatwal

This is Jeremy Corbyn. Like Wile E Coyote he has run off the cliff. Yes, he’s still leader, but after Copeland, it’s just a matter of time until political gravity exerts its force, most likely in 2018.

Croydon Central is in many ways a bellwether CLP for Corbyn. In 2015, it voted to endorse him 80% to 20%, reflecting the final vote among registered supporters. Last year, it backed him against Owen Smith by 60% to 40%, in line with the eventual overall result. Speaking to party members and local officials over the weekend, estimates of the balance between pro and anti-Corbyn support were 50-50, tipping steadily against the Labour leader with each passing month. Similar movement is being reported in pro-Corbyn CLPs across the country.

By 2018, whether Jeremy Corbyn steps down voluntarily or is challenged, his time as leader will end.

When that happens, four criteria will determine the identity of Corbyn’s successor: parliamentary nominations, Brexit, baggage (absence thereof) and whether they are a woman or a minority.

  1. Nominations

The first goal for candidates is to secure the backing of 15% of their UK and European parliamentary colleagues. This translates as 37 nominations in the PLP and 1 from European Parliamentary Party.

Regardless of how a candidate polls among the general public, their popularity with journalists or the polish of their performance on TV, they need the support of their colleagues to get on the ballot.

The Corbynites are desperate to secure an amendment, which would reduce the nomination threshold from 15% to 5%. The McDonnell amendment – so called after the barely concealed ambition of the shadow Chancellor – would need to be passed by conference and at this stage, it looks unlikely.

The threshold will remain as will the need for a credible level of PLP support. This time round, no nominations will be lent to candidates unable to make the ballot unaided.

  1. Brexit

More than any other issue, Brexit has undone Corbyn. It has united Blairites, the soft left and even sections of the hard left. Corbyn’s Praetorian Guard, Momentum, surveyed its 11,000 members during the referendum campaign with 66% backing Remain and 20% Brexit.

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Labour has a lot to do in Stoke to make it a safe seat again

27/02/2017, 09:54:29 PM

by Matt Baker

For far too long the default position of the Labour Party in Stoke has been to look to the past. This is not just exemplified by Tristram Hunt’s decision to quit Parliament to take up a job in a museum. Or the previous MP, Mark Fisher’s similar interest in museums (he wrote a book about museums and had a second job as a museums adviser in Qatar).

The most worrying example of this mindset actually saw some in Labour show pride at peddling politics from a bygone era.

When Stoke experimented with a directly elected mayor at the turn of the millennium, it elected the progressive independent, Mike Wolfe, whose campaign was heavily critical of “Labour dinosaurs”. Bizarrely, some Labour councillors took this as a compliment and would wave plastic dinosaurs at the Mayor in the Council Chamber.

In the 20-years I lived in the city, with the exception of Wolfe, the tendency to look to the past became synonymous with its political leaders. It was a mind-set that guaranteed decline. The feeling that the city’s past shone so much brighter than its future was palpable. Sandwiched between its neighbouring cities of Birmingham and Manchester, which were both experiencing an urban renaissance, there was a keen sense that Stoke was missing out. Living standards were deteriorating and it was crying out for a vision of the future. But its leaders, and the Labour Party in particular, had no answers and all it could do was fall back on nostalgia.  

When Sir Stanley Matthews, the city’s favourite son, died in 2000, more than a hundred thousand people lined the streets and I saw people in tears as the funeral procession slowly made its way round his home town. Mixed in amongst the grief was the sense that a bright link to a better time had been finally broken.

Restoring that link to a strong sense of pride in Stoke and optimism about the future has to be the number one priority for Labour and Gareth Snell.
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Gerald Kaufman: a master of high politics and low skulduggery

27/02/2017, 03:15:38 PM

by Kevin Meagher

My favourite anecdote about Gerald Kaufman goes like this. Around twenty-five years ago, following Labour’s 1992 election defeat, there was a move to deselect Kaufman from his Manchester Gorton seat.

He had been Member of Parliament since 1970 and was, even then, knocking on a bit. It was not implausible that a shove would dislodge him. In multi-cultural Gorton, there was a significant Muslim population and they wanted one of their own for the seat.

A friend of mine, who had recently moved into the area and was keen to get a seat on Manchester City Council, thought it would be worth joining in this attempted putsch.

The long and the short of it is that Kaufman saw off his would-be political assassins and a few months later my friend found himself shortlisted for a safe council seat in Gorton.

He duly rolled up for what he assumed was a shoo-in. The other candidates were no-hopers and he had done his homework and buttered-up the key activists. Only it didn’t quite go to plan.

There were more members at the meeting than expected and they were hostile. Briefed on what to ask him, my friend struggled with their questions, fluffed it, and duly lost the nomination.

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Labour might have won in Stoke but long term problems remain

26/02/2017, 08:26:55 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The by-election of February 23rd 2017 brings to the end the history of a seat which has been Labour since its creation in 1950. The seat will disappear under boundary changes, and its history really falls into two stages – a safe Labour seat until Tristram Hunt was parachuted in before the 2010 election, and the collapse of turnout and reduction of the Labour vote to a minority in the era after New Labour took control.

A safe seat I define as a seat where the candidate for one party gets a vote share of 50% plus, in contests with more than one opponent, and Labour did this in all elections before 2010 save 1983 where there was a Social Democrat third candidate. Labour got 48.1% of the poll in 1983. It was still a safe seat under this definition until New Labour took a hand in 2010. It then clung on, but with a minority of the votes cast in the 2010, 2015 and 2017 elections.

However Stoke Central not only declined as a Labour seat but also as a seat where working class people vote, making it a challenge for democrats. In 2015 it had the lowest turnout in the UK at 49.9%. This was however better than 2001 (47.4%) and 2005 (48.4%). Stoke thus had for a decade and a half in its centre, the apathy centre of the UK. In the EU referendum Stoke was the Leave capital city of the UK. The rejection of the EU in the referendum was a striking out at a metropolitan class which had let the city rot.

The two things are linked. Politicians in Stoke have to face the challenge that for most of its citizens, parliamentary politics and especially Labour politics, is largely irrelevant, even if the largest minority of those who still vote have voted Labour in Stoke Central. But at below 40% of the vote in three of the last four elections, winning with a declining mobilisation of actual voters should sound the alarm bells for both Labour and democracy itself.

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By-election Winners and Losers

24/02/2017, 02:18:13 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Winners:

Gareth Snell. Congratulations are due to Snell, having been put the ringer these past few weeks for derogatory remarks he had previously made on Twitter about, inter alia, Loose Women, Janet Street-Porter was why Brexit is ‘a massive pile of shit.’ He withstood the ‘media bomb’ they generated and can now look forward to joining the intra-party tussle for a seat in 2020, as proposed boundary changes scrap Stoke Central.

Jack Dromey. As Snell’s campaign manager, Dromey will take credit for ‘seeing off Ukip’. In reality, Ukip saw off Ukip (see below), but credit where credit’s due: A win is a win in politics and, as captain of the team, Dromey deserves credit.

The Tories. For a government to win a by-election seat from the opposition is a rarity indeed and symptomatic of the state of British politics in 2017, with Labour no longer able to hold what it has. One other point. Like they did in 2015, the Tories are becoming adept at under the surface campaigning. With massively fewer volunteers than Labour, they are plainly making other assets count. Labour needs to be better at reading their game.

The turnout. Despite the noisy intervention of Storm Doris, 51 per cent of Copeland’s voters braved the elements, while 38 per cent of Stokies also made it to the polling station. Both turnouts were better than expected and serve to make the results fairly representative of current opinion. So what’s the message for Labour? The party can hang on in its heartlands (Stoke), but can’t assume it will (Copeland). This will now be interpreted whichever way the high priests of Corbynism and neo-Blairism want it to.

Losers:

Labour’s NHS campaign. ‘It’s the economy stupid’ needs writing on the wall of Jeremy Corbyn’s allotment shed. The Labour campaign team in Copeland played the best card they had and ran a strong campaign on the local NHS. But given the long shadow Sellafield casts over the area, where many of the locals make their living, you can’t expect to prosper when the party leader opposes nuclear energy. Labour’s contract with its voters is that it will look after them economically. (It’s maddening that I need to actually write that).

Paul Nuttall. Ukip has again fluffed the ball over the bar in a by-election it should have won. Worse than that, there was clearly no scenario planning or expectation management in case Nuttall didn’t win. Party spokesmen were left flapping around trying to spin the defeat, while a retreating Nuttall (who didn’t stay for a concession speech) was left surrounded by a media pack when his car wasn’t there to pick him up. Ukip still can’t get out of its amateur hour rut. Until it can, the party is going nowhere.
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Opposing Brexit would unite Labour, rout Corbyn and rob the Lib Dems & SNP of their faux radicalism

20/02/2017, 10:35:28 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The vote on Article 50 underlined Labour’s existential problem. It is clear that a party which makes a case then abandons it is in trouble but this is not a Corbyn problem as it is the story of the party over the last 25 years, since the 1992 election and the abandoning of John Smith’s National Insurance increases. Having lost the “double whammy” election, this was rational, but  Labour then adopted moving to the right  as a policy – ‘triangulation’ – which left Labour without an identity. And as Atul Hatwal argued on 28th January, Labour’s internal politics from 2015 were dominated by a return to ideological purity when the parliamentary tactic of abstaining on the Benefits issue led to the election of Jeremy Corbyn. However Corbyn has taken the MPs into the lobbies in support of Theresa May. You could not make it up.

With Jezza turning into Tony Blair, it’s time to address the root issue. New Labour accepted the Thatcherite view that There Is No Alternative, so appeasement was the answer, and this worked in the 1997 and 2001 elections. But not thereafter. Now Labour faces challenges on all fronts. It has already lost Scotland, and in England and Wales Lib Dems can take the Remain voters and Tories and UKIP the Leave voters. A party can be wobbly on some issues some of the time, but not on the defining issue of an era.

However a week in politics is a long time, and as a by election strategy giving in to the Brexit lobby has some short term advantages. How it plays in Copeland I do not know, but in Stoke accepting Article 50 has made sense though UKIP is still playing the card that Labour will ignore the Referendum. Hardly! In the local paper the Stoke Sentinel, (17th February) Labour candidate Gareth Snell’s statement is “I accept without hesitation the Referendum result. I have said repeatedly that if I had a vote in parliament I would have voted for Britain to leave the EU. My focus now is on winning the best Brexit deal for Stoke on Trent”. This has allowed Snell to avoid the criticism levelled at Paul Farrelly, in neighbouring Newcastle Under Lyme, who was a rebel.

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Jam-eaters will decide Copeland. Based on her trip north, Theresa May has clearly never heard of them

18/02/2017, 10:30:26 PM

by Jonathan Todd

It is easy to poke fun at Cumbria. The land that time forgot. Northern accents that can’t quite be placed – “I thought you were from Yorkshire”. Withnail and I going, “on holiday by mistake”. Lots of sausage. Little hip and happening.

Most people in Cumbria, I feel, look at Millom, a town of 8,000 people in the south of Copeland, scene of one of this week’s byelections, as the rest of the country looks at Cumbria – far-flung, incomprehensible. “It is,” I was once told by a friend from Workington, “a funny place, Millom, isn’t it?” Millom, in turn, redirects this perception to Bootle, a nearby village.

“What is it that you don’t have in Bootle? Electricity?”

Coming from Bootle, I grew accustomed to mocking enquiries such as this in the Millom schoolyard. At least, no one called me, “bad Bootle UKIP meff”. That is Paul Nuttall from Bootle, Merseyside – a more gritty and urban place.

The sitcom Porridge is set in a prison just outside Millom. A hapless guard bemoans losing his wife to, “the bright lights of Workington”. A lag, played by Ronnie Barker, sympathises that he, “can’t compete with that”. As much as the canned laughter indicates that the rest of the country find the notion of a cosmopolitan Cumbria oxymoronic, the Millom prison guard and my Workington friend would see themselves as coming from different places.

While there is a rivalry between Whitehaven, very much in the Copeland constituency, and Workington, a town just north that gives its name to a separate seat this side of the boundary review, they’d see each other as fellow jam-eaters and Millom and Bootle as remote outposts.

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Ian Lavery should not be Labour’s Elections Coordinator. Or anything coordinator, with his toxic past

17/02/2017, 02:00:50 PM

by Rob Marchant

Since Jeremy Corybn’s rise to prominence, there has been a seemingly never-ending succession of skeletons pulled out of the closets of senior Corbynites, to the delight of Tory press officers everywhere.

There was the relationships of Corbyn himself with Holocaust denier Paul Eisen, and with Hamas terrorists; John McDonnell’s outspoken pro-IRA stance; the support of a motion supporting denial of the Kosovo genocide by both; the suspension and reinstatement of MP Naz Shah over anti-Semitic remarks; the suspension of Momentum vice-chair Jackie Walker over the same; the well-known Stalin apologism of Corbynites Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray; and so on. Doubtless the Tories are currently holding fire on a number of the more juicy ones, keeping their powder dry for 2020.

But the connecting thread between all these embarrassments has been clear: no matter how senseless or unsavoury, they have all been essentially connected, in the minds of the perpetrators at least, to political positions.

For example, the connections with anti-Semites are always justified on the grounds that the people in question are merely anti-Israel (of course!) The IRA connection? Because they were romantic freedom-fighters, naturally, who happened to kill people. And the Stalin connection because, well, Communism wasn’t all bad, was it? However dire the story, there was always some kind of contorted political justification which allowed the people involved to continue to look at themselves in the mirror the following morning.

In contrast, this was clearly not the case with Ian Lavery. Lavery is Corbyn’s new Elections Coordinator and the man in charge of every set of elections, we presume, from now until Labour is inevitably decimated in 2020.

Until now he has been in relatively low-profile roles, such as Shadow Minister for Trade Unions and Civil Society, and Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office. No, with Lavery the story was not political: it was about his questionable behaviour on a matter of simple personal ethics.

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Labour’s Article 50 rebels are the party’s best hope for challenging a hard Tory Brexit

14/02/2017, 10:09:26 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The vote on Article 50 saw Labour officially support a viciously reactionary Tory proposal, which it had failed to amend in any way. Corbyn’s official order to vote for an unamended Article 50 undercut any future influence Labour may have on the next steps. Given that voting for a Tory measure was the complaint against Harriet Harman and the front bench in the summer of 2015 when Corbyn gained the support needed to win the leadership, this is more than a mistake. It is to repeat the mistakes of the Blairite past.

The official Labour position was to move amendments to improve the bill which would allow it to support the trigger of Article 50. While a concession was made, and this needs examination, it was not to satisfy Labour. It was to keep Tory MPs from rebelling and with the exception of Ken Clarke it succeeded. The overall effect, as the hard left Another Europe Is Possible put it, in an accurate observation

“The vote wasn’t close, because Labour voted for it despite losing all its amendments”.

The actual concession was described by AEIP, accurately but not entirely correctly, as “the government agreed that parliament will get a vote on a Brexit deal before it is concluded. This is meaningless, because when this vote happens MPs will have a gun to their heads. Either they accept the government’s deal or the UK gets no deal and crashes out of the EU anyway.”

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The problem with the Labour Right

13/02/2017, 10:25:09 PM

In a pair of short essays on the state of the party, Kevin Meagher casts a critical eye over the state of both the Labour Right and the Labour Left. First the Right.

Let me start with a counterfactual. The basic problem with the Labour Right is that there isn’t really a ‘Labour Right,’ per se.

What I mean is there are several tribes on the right of the party – and the bad news is they have less and less in common. For a long time, they overlapped, with the glue of winning elections and holding office binding them together.

There are big differences between those on what we usually refer to as the moderate side of the party, and the radicals on the left. But we need to appreciate there are also differences within these agglomerated wings.

So those on Labour Right may broadly agree on a sensible, moderate approach to politics, but the various strands of opinion within it still have different aspirations and priorities.

First, we have the neo-Blairites clustered around their ginger group, Progress. They pine for a return to the certainties of New Labour. Tony ‘n’ triangulation, so to speak. They are happy with winning for the sake of winning.

That perhaps sounds dismissive. It isn’t meant to be. Clearly, any successful political project requires electoral victory and the progressives, or neo-Blairites, have things to say that are worth hearing.

But there’s a self-satisfaction about their view of the New Labour era which is quite unjustified. Of course, many positive changes were made during the Blair-Brown years of 1997-2010, notably managing a gently revving economy for a decent period and investing a huge amount in frontline public services.

But for too many people, New Labour simply did not change the weather.

Steel works, coal mines and factories did not reopen. Perhaps none of that was realistic, but it was, however, emblematic of a bigger problem: The types of decently-paid industrial jobs that sustained the British working class simply never returned and New Labour had no response to that.

It is a failing that is now killing British social democracy. All the other welcome policy interventions come to naught if working people cannot earn enough to buy a home, bring up their kids and enjoy life.

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