With each passing week, McDonnell becomes more like Brown to Corbyn’s Blair

07/01/2019, 10:41:33 PM

by David Talbot

In September 2015 Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour Party, was finishing his first speech to the party faithful. Embracing the mandate for change, Corbyn, with a wry nod halfway through, noted that “things can – and they will – change”. In the preceding three years, via an internal challenge and a general election, the nature of the Labour Party has been transformed in his image. Corbyn was of course in part elected, twice, as Labour leader precisely because he represented a riposte to the previous Labour governments and to, of course, the loathed Tony Blair. However, an aspect of the duopoly which so dominated the party throughout its years in government is set to be replicated, ironically, by those who have dedicated the most to repudiating him, his image and his governments.

John McDonnell was not a universally welcomed appointment when Corbyn gave his longstanding comrade the position of Shadow Chancellor over three years ago. The antipathy reached its peak during the botched leadership challenge to Corbyn during 2016, when murmurs reached a crescendo that his departure was desperately needed to restore some semblance of party unity. The fiery, left-wing firebrand made enemies in his own party as easily as amongst the Conservatives, his reputation as a deeply divisive and electorally poisonous figure seemingly cemented.

The scepticism extended as far as Corbyn’s innermost circle, who grew to distrust the Shadow Chancellor – an opinion also widely held amongst the trade unions who had dealt with him for decades. In his early throes he actively coveted controversy and attrition, from his ‘communist salute’ at the 2015 party conference to labelling Labour moderates “fucking useless” in their cack-handed attempts to dispose the new Labour leader. Since then, a transition has begun as ambitious and calculated as the work of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to transform the electoral prospects of a moribund party in the mid-1990s.

And it is to these two towering figures of the last chapter of the Labour Party that is becoming ever more prevalent for the new, Corbyn-led, chapter. The rivalry and trench warfare, often for the sheer sake of it, that came to characterise the then Labour leader and his Chancellor is fracturing into the open between Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor. Over the summer, when Labour descended into a bitter dispute over anti-Semitism, it was the Shadow Chancellor, through the pages of the Times no less, that organ of the establishment, who made it known that he disapproved of Corbyn’s handling of the sorry saga. As to with the terrorist incident in Salisbury, where McDonnell, not Corbyn, voiced support for the security services and stated unequivocally it was “highly likely” that Russia was responsible.

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The Uncuts: 2018 political awards (part IV)

01/01/2019, 07:34:04 PM

Dunce of the Year: Karen Bradley

Easy one this, you might imagine. Throw a stick in Westminster and you’ll hit a suitable candidate. Ah, but there’s a subtlety here. There’s lots of incompetence around the place (and if that’s your thing then Chris Grayling is usually your man) but what about genuine idiocy? Proper full-fat political ignorance?

Step forward the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley.

Back in September, she told The House magazine that when she was appointed she “didn’t understand” that in Northern Ireland “people who are nationalists don’t vote for unionist parties and vice-versa.”

She added: “That is so incredibly different and it’s when you realise that, and you see that, that you can then start to understand some of the things that the politicians say and some of the rhetoric.”

In a tense year, she managed that rare feat of uniting the whole of Northern Ireland in a genuine ‘WTF’ moment. It begs the obvious question: What else doesn’t she know?

A close runner-up was Gavin Williamson, incongruously the Secretary of State for Defence.

Back in March, Field Marshall Chickenhawk told Russia to “go away and shut up” following the Salisbury Novichok attack. Asked if Britain and Russia were entering a new Cold War, he replied: “Relations ain’t good are they?”

The former fireplace salesman probably thinks a ‘firefight’ is when two customers lay claim on the same cut-price Aga in the January sale. Like Bradley, Williamson is a factotum of Theresa May, who likes her ministers thick and loyal.

Also taken into consideration, was the memorable contribution from Leader of the House, Andrea Ledsom, who, while referring to the new tenner, described Jane Austen as “one of our greatest living authors.” This generated some epic trolling from an unexpected quarter, with Waterstones tweeting: “We are currently moving all our Jane Austen stock from Classics into Greatest Living Authors.”

Decency that will be missed: Paddy Ashdown

What if Tony Blair had won in 1997 with a much smaller majority – or no majority at all? Would we have seen the Liberal Democrats under Paddy Ashdown in coalition with Labour?

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The Uncuts: 2018 political awards (part III)

31/12/2018, 07:35:29 PM

Best Demonstration of the Power of a Union: Leo Varadkar

2018 was the year that Tory and Labour Brexiteers alike saw the power of being in a union. Blowhards such as Andrew Bridgen or Kate Hoey might have dismissed Ireland’s interests when compared to the mighty United Kingdom, but the solidarity of the EU 27 behind Leo Varadkar and Ireland’s red lines on a hard border showed how collective action protects the sovereignty of the individual.

Of all the many flaws in Theresa May’s proposed deal with the EU, she has come to grief with her backbenchers over the backstop – the commitment to avoid a hard border between south and north by keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union and key parts of the single market, if needed. The backstop exists because the EU did not trade away Ireland’s priorities in negotiating with the UK.

There were ample opportunities – everything from extra financial contributions to preferential trade arrangements were reportedly offered by the UK – but the point of a union is unity. Leo Varadkar and his team made this case skilfully and persuasively in Brussels. The British, by all accounts, did not.

The result is that Leo Varadkar has what he wants while Theresa May continues to scramble about, ringing EU leaders ahead of January’s meaningful vote, hoping for something, anything, that might give her a way out of the backstop.

It won’t be forthcoming.

Most Indefatigable Labour MP: Luciana Berger

The Patchwork Foundation, a new organisation aiming to make politics more accessible to young people from disadvantaged and minority communities, named Luciana Berger as Labour People’s Choice MP of the Year. Berger, though, is less popular with anti-Semites, as she detailed in a speech to the Commons in April, drawing applause from fellow MPs. The abuse that Berger endures is as troubling as her stoicism is impressive. Appallingly, Berger is far from unique among MPs in receiving this kind of hateful treatment. We profoundly hope that a new year brings a new civility.

Most Shameless Political Honour: Sir John Redwood (more…)

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The Uncuts: 2018 political awards (part II)

31/12/2018, 03:11:28 PM

Most Dearly Departed: Tessa Jowell

Tessa Jowell, according to her obituary in the Guardian, “exuded cheerfulness and gave even those she had only just met the sense of being one of her old friends.” Uncut’s experience of Jowell chimed with this. In our age of division, Jowell’s relentless positivity and easy warmth is much missed.

The personal is political. The last time we felt like a country pulling together to reach for the stars was during 2012’s Olympic summer. An experience that we would not have known without Jowell’s personal qualities.

That Jowell persuaded an initially sceptical prime minister Tony Blair of the wisdom of an Olympic bid reminds us of the importance of leaders having confidants prepared to speak truth to power. Next to today’s shrivelled Downing Street bunker, the near past seems a distant universe.

Straight Talking, Honest Politics: Jeremy Corbyn and Wreathgate

In previous years, it has mostly been possible for observers and many party members to take Jeremy Corbyn’s words as misconstrued, misguided or mildly disingenuous. This year, however, the party’s own leader has been responsible for such blatant whoppers that he alone, astonishingly, bagged all nominations in this category.

Nominations came in for:

–    Claiming not to have called the prime minister a “stupid woman”, when he is actually caught on video mouthing those exact words and a team of lip-reading experts disagreed.

–    Claiming to be anti-Brexit, when in fact he has spent his entire political career being anti-EU. In particular, voting against Brexit in the September Commons vote, but only because he couldn’t get away with voting otherwise with the members, using the fig-leaf that the government’s resulting powers would be too strong. I mean, who could say that in Iran, Venezuela or Cuba the government’s powers are “too strong”, eh?

–    In close contention for the top spot, there was the Marr interview where he actually told three untruths in the space of twenty seconds.

But the ultimate prize in this prestigious award was given for the culmination of the “Wreathgate” saga, where our Dear Leader claimed not to have put a wreath on a terrorist’s grave, even though all evidence pointed to the fact that he had done just that. To round things off, in a brilliantly disingenuous move, his office then reported to the press regulator that the coverage had been unfair, only to drop the complaint again a few months later, claiming the process had been “compromised”. A well-deserved win.

the possibility for socialists to lead a political transformation

Most Forensically Persistent: Robert Mueller

Liberal America remains in therapy. Pod Save America helps. Slow Burn, telling the story of Watergate, is another wildly successful podcast. The resignation of president Richard Nixon did not happen overnight. It was a glacial journey into an unknown territory.

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The Uncuts: 2018 political awards (part I)

30/12/2018, 09:37:17 PM

Politician of the Year: Vladimir Putin

Sometimes the bad guy wins. Vladimir Putin is Uncut’s 2018 politician of the year.

This was the year his primary strategic objective in Europe – to weaken and fracture the EU – came so much closer. Brexit chaos in Britain, yellow jackets in France and the political twilight of Angela Merkel mean Putin’s western border has rarely seemed so fissiparous or vulnerable.

In the US, Putin has continued to reap the benefits of Donald Trump’s election as the White House wrecking ball keeps crashing through the structure of American military and trading alliances, built up over many decades, that have underpinned the global world order.

Vladimir Putin is not an all-seeing, all-knowing puppeteer. Events have been kind to his agenda. But he has done what’s possible within and without the law to drive home his advantage. Sometimes this has been run through with incompetence as with the attempted Skripal assassination, but more often than not, Russia’s efforts have been effective, particularly in terms of cyber warfare.

That said, Uncut’s is not entirely a counsel of despair. Russia’s fundamental weakness is becoming more acute – Putin’s economy is stagnating. Russia’s wealth per capita places it behind countries like Romania, Oman and Costa Rica. The economy remains one third smaller in 2018 than 2013 and just as with the Soviet Union, a weak economy and expansive military are not compatible in the medium term.

But as we stand at the end of 2018, Vladimir Putin was the judges’ unanimous choice for politician of the year.

It’s worth pausing for a moment to consider why he won the award, and not a name closer to home.

Traditionally, Uncut politician of the year is an award that goes to a UK party leader (last year Putin won the Uncut’s version of the overseas category). But this year has been remarkable, without comparison in recent memory in that all of the UK’s party leaders have had a dreadful year.

Earlier this month, nearly two-thirds of Theresa May’s backbenchers declared no-confidence in her. Her pitch to stay on as leader involved promising she’d step down before the next election and daily life in the Conservative party is now defined by the tumbling race for the succession.

Jeremy Corbyn (Uncut’s 2017 politician of the year) did not make it into Downing Street as he was predicting last year, nor has he made any breakthrough in polling. Even though pollsters have updated their methodology following the 2017 general election, Labour remains locked in a tie with possibly the most ineffective government in a century. Worse still, Jeremy Corbyn frequently comes third in a three-way choice for Prime Minister involving him, Theresa May and Don’t Know.

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As the country contemplates “to leave or not to leave”, Corbyn’s position may just become an irrelevance

27/12/2018, 10:38:38 PM

by Rob Marchant

December has been a mad, rollercoaster month for British politics. The first half brought a good couple of weeks for Remainers. There were the three Commons defeats for May; and then the government’s own legal advice was finally published, which said that the Irish border question is essentially insoluble within any kind of Brexit. I mean, who knew?

And then there was the European Court of Justice ruling, saying that Article 50 was unilaterally cancellable by Britain. This means, as John Rentoul noted, a referendum is now more likely.

Then the vote on May’s deal was postponed and the PM herself survived a no-confidence vote from her Tory party colleagues. Though it was painted as bad news for her by the media, it also weakened the Moggite fringe on the right of her party, who underestimated her support and were made to look silly. It also still means she is not leaving No. 10 any time soon, not at least without a general election – which now looks unlikely after Corbyn’s crying off from a parliamentary no-confidence vote, an altogether different level of bad.

It is hard not to see all this as something of a victory for Remainers and moderate Leavers. But where does it leave us?

If there is a People’s Vote, the key thing, as always with referenda, is the question.

May has made it clear that there are three options: Remain, Chequers and No Deal. But Many commentators seem to miss the fact that a three-way referendum would be highly unlikely to be practical: it would both lack legitimacy and further run the risk that the public didn’t actually get what it wanted – and everyone would be unhappy. No, a referendum must surely have two clear options and so one must be taken off the table. But which?

  1. Remain vs Chequers: Remain wins, as YouGov’s polling shows.
  2. No Deal vs Chequers: unlikely to happen. A People’s Vote can only really become a reality if the pendulum has swung towards Remain – that is, if the government suffers public pressure to do so.
  3. Remain vs No Deal: if a parliamentary vote happens first, Chequers loses and there is a last-minute swing to Remain, it could be that this becomes the vote. In the end, no-one knows what would happen, because it is not the same as the hypothetical vote polled for here in a three-way poll. Removal of one option would probably affect the other two. Even then, Leave vs. Remain is still roughly 50-50, as it was back in 2016. One can’t help feeling that, if No Deal were the only option, some Leavers would back away and it only takes a few per cent to swing things for Remain.

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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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