Corbyn must commit to being a leader of the many and not just the few

10/04/2018, 07:00:31 AM

by Andy Howell

By any measure Jeremy Corbyn has had a bad month or two. He was far too slow to react to the controversy over Anti-Semitism and, perhaps, even indifferent to it. On the Skripal front Corbyn’s anti cold war instincts may be understandable, indeed admirable, but the tone and manner of his interventions over Russia simply struck a wrong chord. The perception of those outside of the Party’s membership is that Corbyn only took a ‘proper’ line when dragged to it by the press, public opinion and the views of most of the world’s political powers.

Let us not also forget three high profile sackings. First off, Corbyn’s office announced that Debbie Abrahams had stepped down as shadow Work and Pensions Secretary as a result of allegations of bullying made by her office staff. Abrahams herself made it very clear that she considered she had been sacked and countered by claiming that she herself was the victim of bullying from the leader’s office. Owen Smith was sacked over calls for a further referendum on Brexit despite the Party’s conference policy still holding this out as a possibility if the May’s eventual deal proves to be unacceptable. Officially General Secretary Ian McNicol resigned, but effectively he went when the leadership told him his time was up.

On leftist social media channels Corbyn’s supporters remained out in force, defending their leader’s stance, until the Leadership itself was forced to reposition itself. In the narrow and rarified world of Facebook and Twitter, loyalists are convinced that Corbyn and his team have been dragged into these new positions by the dark forces of the press when, in reality, they have been responding to the concerns of the wider electorate.

This weekend YouGov’s polling — taken during this turbulent period — shows that only 31% of the public think Corbyn is doing a good job as leader of the Opposition; 56% think that he is doing a bad job.

In many ways the greatest frustration over the last couple of months is that so many of our problems have been self-inflicted. On Russia Corbyn could have better defended his position if his statements had been more measured or more statesman like. In talking to a number of younger, and newer, Labour members over the last few weeks I have sensed a growing confusion or disenchantment with his Leadership. Some of Corbyn’s most fanatical supporters still refer to him as ‘magic grandad’ but you don’t have to search very hard to find many who are becoming more muted.

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Who will respond to Nick Clegg’s call to arms by being our Gladstone?

28/03/2018, 10:22:02 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“All the kindling is lying around, it just needs a spark to light it.”

Thus, concluded Nick Clegg’s weekend interview with the Times. It is a long time since we all “agreed with Nick” at the 2010 election. The AV and EU referendums failed to go his way, while five years of coalition with the Conservatives diminished his party such that they were wiped out at the 2015 election, with Clegg’s seat, on the back of a student vote, angry about tuition fees, turning Corbynite two years later.

With such a record of failing to read or move public opinion, we should take with a pinch of salt Clegg’s expectation that we are on the cusp of something big.

“There will be some kind of realignment. I think it is inevitable … British liberalism should get off its knees.”

This is striking: something that happens very rarely (realignment) is said to be inevitable; British liberalism depends not on his Liberal Democrats but upon this realignment; and its form is vaguely presented – “some kind of realignment”, while elsewhere Clegg repeatedly refers to “a new political entity”, not “a new political party”.

Enough is enough. Not just for the Jewish community with Labour. The security services must also have misgivings about Jeremy Corbyn as he seems less prepared to believe them than Putin’s Russia on attempted murders on British soil. As with the Jewish community and the security services, pro-Europeans now strain to see friends in a Labour party with undiminished reverence for the 2016 referendum.

But where is the extra £350m each week for the NHS? On no Brexit scenario does HM Treasury anticipate a “Brexit dividend” that would extend to this. Quite the opposite. And where are all these Turkish immigrants that we were warned about? Turkey, predictably, is no nearer joining the EU, as Brexodus continues, with talented and hard-working people taking their skills and endeavour elsewhere.

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Enshrining profit sharing into our economy will allow Britain to build a truly common wealth

27/03/2018, 10:44:31 PM

by Callum Anderson

Living standards for millions of hardworking people across the UK remain squeezed. By the end of 2017, British workers’ pay packets were still £15 a week below their pre-financial crisis levels; the Resolution Foundation predicts that pay won’t fully recover until 2025.

At the same time, bosses of the FTSE 100 earn on average 94 times more than the average employee. In too many cases, these sometimes astronomical levels of pay bear no relation to either personal or company performance.

Indeed, the first Thursday of 2018 was known as Fat Cat Thursday – where the average FTSE 100 chief executive had already been paid what it would take the typical UK worker an entire year to earn.

The sheer magnitude of this income inequality should worry all in society. In an era of economic uncertainty and instability – characterised by stagnant wage growth, job insecurity and depressed levels of business investment – Labour must offer an ambitious package of genuinely bold economic reforms that promote an inclusive, collaborative brand of UK capitalism.

One important feature of this should be to promote the use of profit sharing.

Enshrining the principle of profit-sharing – whereby a company apportions a percentage of annual profits as a pool of money to be distributed among the workforce – into our economy would reinvigorate British workplaces by ensuring that a share of their company’s rewards are also passed onto all members of the workforce who helped generate success and not just management and shareholders.

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The Labour MP’s dilemma: when does this become party before country?

22/03/2018, 09:19:22 PM

by Rob Marchant

If there were a week for Labour MPs to question their continued acceptance of the party whip, it was surely the last one.

Should we cite the lack of apparent sanction on Chris Williamson MP, who appeared onstage with Jackie Walker, suspended from the party for anti-Semitism along with Tony Greenstein, and then proposed their readmission to the party, to rapturous applause?

Or the stitch-up of the General Secretary choice, effectively handing control of the party machine to Len McCluskey and his acolytes? Triggering the resignation of six key staff-members? While the aforementioned Walker and Greenstein celebrated outside party HQ, barracking the party’s remaining staff and telling them they were coming for the rest of them? And a General Secretary herself, notorious for questioning the neutrality of Baroness Jan Royall to run an anti-Semitism inquiry, on the spurious grounds that she had once visited Israel?

But the real question for Labour MPs is simple: can you genuinely look yourself in the mirror in the morning and say “I want Jeremy Corbyn to be Prime Minister”?

Yes, we know there are millions of supporters to whom we owe a Labour government. Yes, we know you may well think he’ll probably never get there, but that’s not the point. What if he does?

What if someone who has shown, as Corbyn did last week that he cannot support the Prime Minister even in a fundamental matter of national security, like an attack by foreign agents on British citizens on British soil? A feat which is probably a first in postwar Britain?

That he cannot, in short, be trusted in that most fundamental governmental matter of all, the security of the nation?

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Three reasons why Jennie Formby should not become General Secretary of the Labour Party

11/03/2018, 10:29:48 AM

by Rob Marchant

Following the abrupt resignation of Iain McNicol – apparently not fallen on his sword but pushed under a bus by the party leadership (£) – there are currently two candidates to be Labour’s General Secretary: Unite’s Jennie Formby and Momentum’s Jon Lansman.

While this might be reasonably likened to choosing for your leader between Ghengis Khan and Pol Pot, there is always a least worst option and, in these difficult times, it is important to take note which it is.

Here’s why Formby should not be General Secretary.

One. Jennie Formby is not so much a supporter of the Palestinian cause, as a fully-fledged anti-Israel campaigner who has been demonstrated to have, let’s say, controversial views.

To explain: two years ago, she “outraged” an NEC meeting by questioning Baroness Royall’s suitability to lead the party’s investigation into anti-Semitism at Oxford University Labour Club (later suppressed from publication), on the grounds that she had previously visited Israel. It seems remarkably close to the 2011 questioning by Paul Flynn MP whether it was right for a British Ambassador to Israel to be Jewish, for which he was rightly vilified.

The logic of the first is a mirror image of the second: if you are Jewish, you cannot be trusted to be objective with subjects involving Israel. If you are pro-Israel, you cannot be trusted with to be objective with subjects involving Jewishness. In either case, it plays to the old trope about Jews and untrustworthiness.

Given that the usual criticism from the anti-Israel lobby is that of conflating Jewishness with Zionism, it seems strangely ironic that Formby should here be doing precisely that. Anti-Semitism, quite obviously, is a wholly separate phenomenon from whether or not a person supports Israel.

Then there was the 2015 NEC meeting where, the Times of Israel reported, she promoted the idea that G4S should be boycotted for conference security on account of its Israel links, a vote which was passed with only around half the NEC present. She then stated that it was not a boycott of Israel, which the minutes later showed it clearly was, according to the newspaper.

Finally, we might note that, although Momentum has been extremely slow to take action against anti-Semites in its own ranks, Lansman is, after all, Jewish himself and has acknowledged there is a problem to be solved within Labour. Rather cleverly, Formby has of course recently condemned anti-Semitic attacks on Lansman, thereby conveniently diverting attention away from any criticism of her in that respect.

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The Bolsheviks of the left and right are intent on wrecking Britain

25/02/2018, 11:33:24 AM

by Jonathan Todd

The Bolsheviks of left and right don’t like our country. The left brain is not sure whether it went south with Thatcher or when the wrong side won the Cold War. The right when the dastardly Heath shackled us to the continentals or the first Reform Act of 1832.

They concur that something is rotten about contemporary Britain. We might as well jump off the Brexit cliff-edge. Walk the scorched earth of undiluted, uncompromising Corbynism. Maybe jump that jump and walk that walk, do the full Lexit shuffle.

There is a puritanical hankering for purification in these urges. Which contrasts with the moderation and pragmatism that supposedly distinguishes Britain. Hitler couldn’t happen here, we said. We’d laugh at the goosesteps, Orwell reassured us. Now those exalted by the Bolsheviks – Corbyn and Rees-Mogg – could goosestep wherever they like and be defended.

Telling us that, “the now routine equation of Stalin and Hitler both distorts the past and limits the future” and wanting colonialism “included as the third leg of 20th-century tyranny, along with Nazism and communism”, the left Bolsheviks are more Bolshevik as traditionally understood. Apologists for Stalin, as well as current regimes maintaining similar traditions, such as Venezuela, while seeing a repressive arch stretching directly from the British Empire to the Trump Empire.

The right Bolsheviks would shudder to be compared to those with these views. But there are similarities. They are both utopians. Albeit the Bolsheviks of the right are nostalgic utopians. Enamoured with what we never were and cannot be again. As the right Bolsheviks look back longingly, the left Bolsheviks look forward expectantly. They are certain that Corbyn will be King, they just wonder who will be first against the wall.

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Turning on Labour councils, not Tory ones: the next step in the Momentum plan

15/02/2018, 10:40:36 PM

by Rob Marchant

If the shenanigans which have led to widespread resignations and deselections in Labour-run Haringey council were not enough, for the hard left, this seems to be just the beginning.

Of course, the Tories must be delighted to see the spectacle of Labour eating itself, rather than them.

Enter Sir Robin Wales, leader of Newham council and whose tenure must, under any reasonable analysis, be seen as a pretty much runaway success. Four consecutive terms in office means you must have done something right with your local electorate. Indeed, Newham under Wales is exactly the kind of council that Labour should be promoting as a beacon to others across the country.

However, the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is not one which seems to have ever occurred to the doyennes of Momentum.

After weeks of pressure to force Wales’ reselection in an open contest, they finally got their way and there will now be a selection process which may or may not result in his continuing as Labour’s candidate in May. Unsurprisingly, Corbynites were quick to point out that BAME and women were under-represented in directly-elected mayors (subtext: we don’t care how good you are, Robin, you’re a white bloke). This is a particularly idiotic comment when one considers that there are only a handful of such mayors in the country anyway.

The “canary in the coalmine” at national level of all this plotting was, of course, the Canary a couple of weeks back: the hard-left’s favourite conspiracy site decided that it was bored attacking the Tories and decided that laying into a successful Labour council was much more fun. “Labour council lurching from crisis to crisis” and “rotten borough” screamed the headline of the Wales/Newham hatchet job. (Special mention should go, by the way, to the wonderfully theatrical audio propaganda which accompanies the piece: with actors, the Canary has cleverly mocked up a “Radio 4” style news clip to sound “official”, with the difference that, of course, Radio 4 does generally objective and responsible journalism, rather than simply making things up.)

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In praise of Ann Black — The mythology of the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance

14/02/2018, 09:47:35 AM

by Andy Howell

The battle for Labour’s soul has now moved firmly into the arena of Labour’s National Executive Committee. Not content with winning all of three of the new NEC constituency seats, Momentum’s Leadership have not their sights on un-seating Ann Black — a founding member of the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance — in the forthcoming NEC elections. Momentum’s actions under the leadership of Jon Lansman seem to be not only unnecessarily aggressive but designed to heighten the current state of factionalism within the Party. If there has been anyone, over the last twenty years, who has championed the role of the ordinary Party member it is Ann Black. Throughout her twenty years Ann has tried to work on a non tribal basis and Labour’s members have much to be grateful for.

Today, many members of Labour’s NEC produce their own regular reports of meetings but Ann was the first to do this. Ann set a new standard in openness and transparency and I doubt if she had not maintained her reporting that others would have followed, not least as Labour’s Hard Left has never been that keen on openness and transparency themselves. It is easy to overlook the fact that when Ann first started writing these reports they were very controversial. Labour’s leadership really didn’t like them at all; proper reporting and open minutes are not part of Labour’s NEC tradition.

Back in the late 90’s the Party’s initial distrust of Ann came from the simple fact that she was a founder member of the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance. Back then alliance was truly a centre left construction. Ann campaigned (and then worked) very much to the agenda of the group who she represented on the slate, Labour Reform, a centre left alliance of members who came together in opposition to much of Tony Blair’s Party in Power process. Labour Reform championed the greater involvement of ordinary members in Party affairs most notably through the adoption of One Member One Vote. Labour Reform had two innovative features for a Labour pressure group. Firstly, Labour Reform operated very openly and maintained regular contact with the then General Secretary Tom Sawyer and his deputy Jon Cruddas. When Labour took power in 1997 Labour Reform continued to meet regularly with Cruddas who by this time had moved into Downing Street. For Labour Reform it was important to engage in dialogue. We wanted the leadership and establishment of the Party to understand, directly, about our concerns and to hear at first hand our ideas for a building a better party. These were the principles that Ann took with her into the NEC. Not only was important to Ann maintain deeply held beliefs and principles but it was critical to commit to working positively across all sections of the Party.

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BREAKING: Labour leader leaves national television interview with pants on fire

31/01/2018, 10:07:17 PM

by Rob Marchant

You could be forgiven for thinking that Andrew Marr’s interview last Sunday was to be an unremarkable one.

The first 16 minutes are fairly anodyne: the leader’s normal waffle on economics and the standard, disingenuous, face-both-ways position on Brexit. Important, but all things we know already.

From 16:25 we get onto Corbyn’s view that transgender people can self-identify, an issue rightly concerning a number of Labour women who see the incorporation of this into the Labour rulebook as a change fraught with opportunities for abuse, at “cis” women’s expense. A fair point. But to be realistic, this is an issue of probably minor importance to the electorate at large.

Then, nearly 19 minutes into a 21-minute interview, Marr, in a Lieutenant-Columbo-like manoeuvre, comes up with “just one more thing”, as he is metaphorically walking out the door, away from the scene of the crime.

“I was reading a poster, about an event celebrating the Iranian revolution, at which you spoke.”

Marr is gently pointing out that he had actively supported the Iranian regime in the past and not merely “engaged” with it.

“What?” The normally genteel Corbyn, for a second, is so startled, he almost snarls.

At this point, Corbyn recomposes himself and explains that he was on a delegation to Iran with other MPs, including former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, discussing nukes and human rights. So that’s all right then.

But it wasn’t all right. It wasn’t at all.

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The inspiration of Tessa Jowell

29/01/2018, 10:24:38 PM

by Jonathan Todd

In an era of robotic politicians, Tessa Jowell is a magnetic presence. The cause of unprecedented scenes of applause in the Lords. The catalyst to improved cancer services. Her humanity shrines like a beacon, reminding us that politics doesn’t have to disappoint.

There’s nothing like a dame, Peter Mandelson – quoting a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical – told the Dulwich and West Norwood (DaWN) summer party after Tessa, our MP, had been made an Order of the British Empire. This might have been the same year that we watched Andy Murray become the first male British Wimbledon champion since 1936. When Murray secured this victory, Tessa punched the air in the house backing on to Dulwich Park that has witnessed many of these annual events.

More immediately after Tessa became a dame, there was a party in the Commons to celebrate this elevation. While the eschewing of political honours exemplified by Keith Hill, Tessa’s sometime neighbouring MP, is impressive, there was also a lot to admire in the big tent assembled for Tessa’s party. From Tony Blair to Ken Livingston, from Kay Burley to the Southwark News, from Seb Coe to Brixton charities, it exemplified Tessa’s capacity to bring diverse people together.

I saw Tessa most closely in a less high-profile context than delivering the Olympics and Sure Start. At GC meetings in a chilly hall in Herne Hill. My decade on the DaWN GC is the only GC that I have known. I wasn’t going to do anything as sober as serve on a GC as a student and I’ve since moved to a CLP (Birmingham Ladywood) that doesn’t have one.

GCs are like wines. The more you experience, the more – if you pay attention – you appreciate. It initially seemed pretty uninviting and tedious. Over time, the personalities, politics and issues revealed themselves. I came to know DaWN through its GC and my understanding of Ladywood is hampered by its lack of a GC.

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