UNCUT: The Tories are about to swiftboat Sadiq on terror. How he responds will determine the Mayoral result

27/01/2016, 10:16:23 PM

by Atul Hatwal

The conventional Westminster wisdom is that this is Labour’s year in London. Labour thrashed the Tories in the capital at last year’s general election by 44% to 35% and in a recent poll, Sadiq led Goldsmith by seven points.

However, the conventional wisdom is about to be tested.

In the next few weeks, the Tories are going to roll out their main attack on Sadiq Khan: terror.

Lynton Crosby is running Zac Goldsmith’s campaign and he is nothing if not politically obvious.

The Mayoralty is not a role where conventional attacks over economic issues will resonate.

The public, and Crosby, know that the Mayor cannot crash the economy so the Tory line on what Corbyn’s Labour would do to jobs, growth and taxes, will not be effective.

Neither is the Mayor going to make a profound difference to the state of London transport – no-one can wave a wand and create the extra tube lines or rail services that the capital desperately needs.

Identity and personality not policy will determine voters’ choice.

The Mayoralty is overwhelmingly a symbolic and representative role. Who sits in City Hall says something about how Londoners’ see themselves.

As the son of a migrant, from a working class family, who rose to run a high profile legal firm, Sadiq Khan’s biography is London’s story told best.

Sadiq has also moved deftly to buttress the independence of his brand by pitching himself against Jeremy Corbyn with a range of centrist, business-friendly positions.

He is doing all that’s required to pass the Mayoral threshold in an increasingly Labour city.

The Tories need a game-changer. Something that irrevocably redefines Sadiq in the eyes of Londoners and casts him as Jeremy Corbyn’s candidate.

Cue the impending attack over terror.

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UNCUT: Labour’s NEC needs to stop being an echo chamber and stand up for members’ interests

26/01/2016, 09:41:15 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Labour’s National Executive Committee meets today to discuss, among other things, Margaret Beckett’s anaemic report into why the party lost the last election so comprehensively.

It promises to be a courtly affair, reflecting the rarefied world at the top of Labour politics where there is little, ever, in the way of transparency or plain-speaking.

This is because the NEC serves as a proxy of the leadership, or the unions, or as a symbolic battleground about who controls the party at any one time.

Yet it’s high time it started acting like any other non-executive committee in any other organisation and properly scrutinised how the party is managed and financed.

Take two recent examples.

Last week, the Electoral Commission detailed the general election spending of the main parties. While the Tories spent somewhere in the region of £3.5 million more than Labour, its revealing how and where the parties deployed their limited resources.

While the Tories made canny use of Facebook advertising, Labour relied on planting magic beans.

The party spent a small fortune – of party members’ money – hiring US election guru, David Axelrod, the man who ran Barack Obama’s campaigns, to sprinkle some of his magic dust.

Nearly quarter of a million pounds was spent retaining his services, (which seemed to amount to the odd sojourn to this side of the pond, expounding the bleeding obvious to the slavering US fan-boys that abound in Labour politics) only for him to prove a complete dud.

An NEC doing its job properly would be urging the party’s officers to recoup costs for his manifestly unsuccessful advice.

Then there’s the amount spent on a debating coach for Ed Miliband. The princely sum of £184,609.67 went on yet another US consultant, Michael Sheehan.

Putting aside questions of why a professional politician should need such advice, or, indeed, why perfectly experienced Labour staff couldn’t provide the service, the sheer scale of what was spent is staggering.

It’s enough to make the £7,700 the party spent on Cherie Blair’s hairdresser back in 2005 seem like a good deal.

The NEC needs to stop being either an echo chamber or a gladiatorial arena and concentrate on its more prosaic role in overseeing the management of the party. It could start by ensuring the party leader – any leader – isn’t able to fritter away money like this again.

The cash misspent on US consultants would have paid for an extra dozen party organisers working on the ground for 12 months in marginal seats.

Nearly half a million pounds spent on comfort blanket appointments that contributed nothing to Labour’s chances. Is it any wonder the country didn’t trust the party to run the economy?

Labour’s NEC needs to bare its teeth and stand up for members’ interests – and basic financial probity.

It could start by sinking them into the next US guru that appears in HQ.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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UNCUT: Who’d want to be “the next Labour leader”?

25/01/2016, 12:26:31 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“You have to be ready for anything,” Dan Jarvis told the BBC when they recently asked about his Labour leadership ambitions. “Owen Smith: I am interested in being Labour leader,” reads a New Statesman headline from earlier this month. This appeared not long after Jess Phillips had been the subject of similar in the Spectator. Stephen Kinnock and Michael Dugher have also been touted as future leaders.

That foraging in the undergrowth is the cut and thrust of competition to be trademarked “the next leader of the Labour party”. Andy Burnham was sufficiently deemed so to enter the 2010 leadership election as favourite, while Chuka Umunna once had the strongest claim on this title among the 2010 intake. Those comprehensively beaten by Jeremy Corbyn (Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, as well as Burnham) may struggle to again accumulate the political capital necessary to mount viable leadership campaigns, while Umunna has slipped behind the likes of Jarvis et al in “the next leader” stakes.

The experiences of Burnham and Umunna ought to be salutatory to those now seeking to be “the next leader”. “The next leader” is rarely the next leader. Gordon Brown in 1994, for example, was “the next leader”; Tony Blair was then the next leader. Given that Labour is unlikely to recover in 2020 the 59 parliamentary seats lost in Scotland in 2015, and the boundary review will probably cost Labour a further 20 seats, a new leader before 2020 seems a much worse bet than Blair in 1994 to be the next Labour prime minister.

All the more reason to not want to now be “the next Labour leader,” right?

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UNCUT: What The Keystone XL Case Tells Us About TTIP

21/01/2016, 10:21:33 PM

by Sam Fowles

Last week TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline, filed notice that it intends to sue the USA, demanding $15bn in compensation for President Obama’s decision not to grant a permit for the pipeline. But this is not just a piece of trade litigation on the other side of the Atlantic, the Keystone arbitration should serve as an indication of what we can expect if the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is passed un-reformed.

1. This is not just about protection for western investors in developing states

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) tends to dismiss concerns about the treaty with the, somewhat airy, assertion that, despite being signed up to 93 similar treaties, the UK has never been successfully sued. Yet the more you increase your exposure, the more likely you are to get sued. When combined with the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA – the equivalent deal between the EU and Canada) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP – the equivalent between the USA and pacific-rim states), TTIP will increase the coverage of trade with Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) by over 300%. While most of the UK’s existing treaties are with states which provide little investment into the UK (thus minimal risk of action), TTIP will extend the same right to the top provider of investment into the UK.

Like the UK, the US has never lost a case in ISDS but the Keystone arbitration looks likely to end that streak. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA – the treaty on which TransCanada are basing their suit) prohibits discriminatory or arbitrary treatment of investors. TransCanada’s notice of action asserts that the Obama Administration rejected the Keystone permit despite awarding permits for almost exactly identical projects, that it ignored its own environmental impact reports and that Administration officials appear to have openly admitted that the decision was made for political rather than environmental reasons. If TransCanada’s lawyers can prove the truth of any of these assertions, the Administration will struggle to defend the suit.

2. TTIP isn’t just about nationalisation

When challenged in the EU Select Committee by Geraint Davies, Lord Maude claimed that investment protection provisions in TTIP would only apply to nationalisation without compensation. The Keystone arbitration shows his understanding is outdated. TransCanada claim that, in denying them permission to build the pipeline, the Obama Administration has deprived them of profits they may have made in the future. This isn’t an absurd claim in the context of ISDS. When a similar claim was made in Ethyl v Canada, the company won.

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UNCUT: Seven rubbish defences for Labour’s defence policy review

20/01/2016, 09:49:38 PM

by Rob Marchant

While the party membership has been convulsed by the burgeoning civil war over the Corbyn leadership phenomenon, policy has – understandably – taken something of a back seat.

However, in recent weeks it has been in the news over one area. Surely, you say, it must be how to rework Labour’s economic policy to make it more electable? After all, aside from the public’s lack of personal engagement with Ed Miliband, that’s the factor generally accepted (including in Labour’s own post-mortem, the Beckett report) to have essentially lost it the last election?

Oh, how naïve. It’s defence, of course. Not because it was an election-loser for Labour, you understand, or even figured highly in doorstep conversations, but because it is a personal hobby horse of Our Beloved Leader and his entourage (prominent kitchen Cabinet members Andrew Murray and Seumas Milne, for example, being long-time Stop the War Coalition stalwarts).

The original brief for the defence review thus considered everything the Stoppers hold dear, from dumping Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent to leaving NATO. That said, last week the leadership rowed back from the latter and sidelined Ken Livingstone from the defence review, realising that leaving NATO was really a step too far for most.

This “most”, interestingly, includes major unions like Unite and the GMB, who realise that many defence jobs are dependent on Britain’s relatively high world profile on defence, not to mention those at Barrow-in-Furness who work for Vickers on Trident. Here membership realpolitik easily trumps a natural inclination for these unions’ leaderships away from nuclear weapons. We now have the absurd compromise of keeping Trident submarines without the warheads.

The review is however still chaired by Emily Thornberry, a keen unilateralist, so Trident is clearly still in play. If anyone doubts that the Stoppers will have an influence on policy, it is virtually laid out in a quote from her last week:

“We will encourage the widest possible participation of Labour party members and affiliates, as well as defence specialists, NGOs and the armed forces.”

This surely has to be the first time in British political history that an NGO has been consulted on matters of national security, hardly a field for NGOs to start with. And, hmm, I wonder which “NGO” she must be talking about? The Stoppers, of course. A political pressure group is not, of course, anything like an NGO, but hey.

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UNCUT: The Beckett report reminds us of the utter uselessness of Labour’s establishment

20/01/2016, 10:25:50 AM

by Atul Hatwal

The Beckett report is a woeful reminder of the paucity of insight that characterised Labour’s pre-Corbyn establishment.

Commissioned by Harriet Harman in her second stint as acting leader, with Margaret Beckett -the only MP to have served in every Labour government since Wilson’s in the 1970s – leading the drafting team, this report is steeped in the mores and perspectives of Labour’s old guard.

The resulting analysis manages to be both asinine and anodyne in equal measure

Meaningless blandishments that would be laughed at if written in a GCSE essay are proffered as pearls of wisdom. For example, on communications, this is Beckett’s recommendation,

“We need a comprehensive media strategy, which includes local, regional and national media, print, broadcasting and social media. “

Yes, really.

On Labour’s vision for the country, the report says,

“We must set out a vision for the country’s future, which shows both what we believe the country needs and what we will contribute to its achievement.”

Who would set out a vision based on what the country didn’t need and how Labour wouldn’t contribute to things getting better? Was the team writing this report ill?

Simultaneously, fundamental reasons for defeat such as Ed Miliband’s leadership are glossed over.

“Over the period 2010 – 15, what the polls did consistently show was that, when asked if ‘this man could be Prime Minister’, David Cameron was rated above Ed Miliband. Since he actually was Prime Minister, this response was perhaps less than surprising.

It is the fate of every Labour Leader of the Opposition to be the target of ferocious attack from partisan sections of our media. Tony Blair was called ‘Bambi’, and described as too young and inexperienced to be up to doing the job.”

This glib statement is tossed in without the salient qualification that Ed Miliband trailed David Cameron on preference for Prime Minister by double digits while Tony Blair led John Major by a similar margin.

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UNCUT: Three reasons for Labour moderates to stay and be confident the fever will eventually break

14/01/2016, 07:44:33 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Optimism has been in short supply for Labour moderates. Ed Miliband, general election disaster and now Jeremy Corbyn. What a time.

But in the gloom of Labour’s long winter, all is not lost.

It will take patience. Years, maybe. But as George RR Martin might not say, summer is coming. Perhaps at the same pace as Martin’s next novel, but nevertheless, come it will.

Here are three reasons to be confident that these hard times will pass.

1. The soft left will switch

A common thread in the interviews and analysis of Labour’s massive influx of new members and supporters is that while the overwhelming majority supported Corbyn, they are not from the hard left.

Over the past three months I’ve spoken to CLP officers from over 30 constituencies on the make-up of the new membership and the response of Jane Middleton, chair of Bath CLP, in the Guardian’s recent survey of 100 CLPs exemplified what I’ve been hearing,

“They are mainly Corbyn supporters, some of them enthusiastic Corbyn supporters, who joined specifically because of him…A number of them had left during the Blair years and the Iraq war. What they are not is members of the far left. These people are in no way like the radicals of the 70s and 80s.”

This is the soft left. The Labour party is currently softer and lefter than it’s ever been.

The soft left view at the leadership election can be characterised as apathy at Yvette’s establishment, Brownite grind; an allergic reaction to Liz’s late-Blair confrontation and scepticism at Andy’s reprise of Ed Miliband’s muddled equivocation.

In the absence of an alternative, Labour’s largest grouping opted for the only choice before them not to have demonstrably failed in the past twenty years – Jeremy Corbyn’s hard left dreaming.

The trouble with dreams is that they rarely come true and sometimes turn into nightmares.

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GRASSROOTS: For Ed Miliband, One Nation was a soundbite. For moderates it should be the rallying cry to take on Corbyn

11/01/2016, 05:30:25 PM

by Tom Clements

There is much to regret about the leadership of Ed Miliband; not least the election defeat and changes to leadership election rules that have led to the election of Jeremy Corbyn. But for me, it’s the abandonment of One Nation Labour. At the time, I thought that this was the game changer. A genuinely inclusive and unifying offer with which we could change the country for the better.

I was wrong.

It wasn’t a genuine offer or an ideological framework. It was a cheap parlour trick. One that was designed to win a few headlines and embarrass the Prime Minister by taking a conservative idea and claiming it for Labour. That’s what makes me angry about Ed’s leadership.

It could’ve been so bold.

Instead, the idea fell up against the ‘predistributing’ instincts of Miliband. The instinct that the rich weren’t really part of Miliband’s One Nation. They were just there to foot the bill. He fell into that worst Labour tradition of implying that being rich and wanting to be rich was something to resent.

Not that there is anything wrong with the rich paying their fair share. Far from it, it’s the only way that a society can function in harmony. As the brilliant Senator Warren argues “no one gets rich on their own” and it’s there duty to give “a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid that comes along”. And that is right.

And it wasn’t just about the rich.

He forgot about the traditional working class; those who UKIP are trying to woo. We treated their concerns about immigration and benefits with suspicion not understanding. Suspicion that meant that the white van in Rochester was only the tip of the iceberg. Suspicion that meant they stayed at home or put their cross in a different box on election day.

And this is what cost us the election.

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UNCUT: Sorry Jeremy, foreign policy doesn’t win elections

08/01/2016, 06:09:02 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The weeks of speculation over Hilary Benn’s sacking/non-sacking/neutering as shadow foreign secretary obscures the fact that Jeremy Corbyn clearly wants to make foreign policy a priority under his leadership.

Why else make such a fuss about ensuring there are no further policy divisions, following their very public ‘difference of emphasis’ (as a diplomat would put it), over last month’s vote on bombing Syria.

At one remove, we shouldn’t be surprised. Jeremy Corbyn is intensely committed to his foreign policy positions, especially in support of the Palestinians and anti-imperialist/ workerist causes more generally.

But elections are not won, to put it bluntly, on where Labour stands in relation to the plight of Columbian miners, however virtuous a subject that might be.

Polling on the public’s main concerns repeatedly makes this clear. An Ipsos-MORI poll during the election campaign showed the future of the NHS (47%), immigration (36%) and the economy (36%) were the top issues exercising voters’ minds.

A cocktail of ‘defence/foreign affairs/terrorism’ came in at 13% (which is why foreign policy was squirreled away on Page 74 of the Labour manifesto and Page 75 of the Conservatives).

Its lack of salience, especially to an opposition party, usually means the role of shadow foreign secretary is a gilded cage, a sinecure for an elder statesman like Jack Cunningham (under John Smith) or Gerald Kaufman (under Neil Kinnock).

Before 1997, Tony Blair ostensibly promoted Robin Cook from shadow secretary for state for trade and industry to shadow foreign secretary in a bid to sideline him from shaping economic policy.

Cook saw it as a demotion.

Was the delay in confirming that Benn would stay in his role a result of he and Corbyn twirling a globe to see where their beliefs matched up?

There’s certainly an awful lot going on in the world to be concerned about. But it simply doesn’t decide how people vote

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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UNCUT: The Progressive Dilemma remains – only sharpened

07/01/2016, 06:43:58 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The reshuffle has done little to dampen perceptions that Jeremy Corbyn is the most left-wing, pacifist and unbending Labour leader ever. Keir Hardie and George Lansbury might compete. Corbyn, nonetheless, is still the most preeminent such leader since Clement Attlee succeeded Lansbury in 1935.

In this sense, the dilemmas posed by the Corbyn leadership feel uncharted. They portend, however, only a deepening of the British left’s core dilemma.

Throughout the period since Labour overhauled the Liberals as part of the duopoly of UK politics, as David Marquand wrote in the second edition of The Progressive Dilemma (1999), “apart from a brief period in the early 1980s, Labour was strong enough to prevent anyone else offering a serious challenge to the Conservatives, but too weak to make its own challenge effective.”

For all the reshuffle’s sound and fury, this position remains, only painfully deepened. Recent analysis by Glen O’Hara and Adam Boulton suggests that Labour remains too feeble to overhaul the Conservatives, while being too electorally entrenched for anyone else to.

Having waded through the evidence on polling and electoral performance, O’Hara concludes at the Staggers that, “the Party is dicing with a double-digit defeat at the 2020 general election.” Equally, however, as Boulton warns (£) in the Sunday Times, “Labour’s core vote is a lot for Corbyn’s internal opponents to walk away from, as some Bravehearts would like, and to form a new party”.

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