UNCUT: If moderates want to stop Corbyn, they need to back Burnham

22/07/2015, 12:01:47 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The most obvious point about the Yougov poll for The Times showing Jeremy Corbyn leading the Labour leadership race on 43 per cent, is that 57 per cent of members are not backing him. A clear majority of Labour’s members do not support taking the party sharply to the left.

The other obvious point is that Corbyn’s wild card status in this contest, ostensibly to “broaden the debate” has spectacularly revealed just how little the parliamentary party and the professional class around Labour politics actually now understands the grassroots.

Corbyn was seen, to be brutally honest, as lefty ballast. A bit-part player to be politely tolerated while the serious professional politicians got on with it.

So how do party moderates now respond, having made what looks like a gigantic miscalculation?

If these polling figures bear any relation to the actual result, there is no room for complacency.

No-one thought a Granita-style pact was necessary in order to give the centrist, social democratic perspective in the party a clear run in this contest, but this is precisely what is needed.

It’s probably too late and too messy for anyone to drop out at this stage, but the Burnham, Cooper and Kendall camps need to appreciate the risk of a Corbyn victory and maximise the chances of a centrist winning.
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UNCUT: Chairman Mao lives in the 48 PLP members that rebelled

21/07/2015, 05:32:53 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Chairman Mao lives in 48 PLP members, including 19 elected under Ed Miliband: “We should support whatever the enemy oppose and oppose whatever the enemy supports”.

When the Conservatives cut tax credits in a way that is unnecessary, will increase poverty and reduce work incentives, it is sorely tempting to oppose them.

But George Osborne prefers Sun Tzu to Mao. The Art of War stresses the importance of positioning in military strategy. By delivering his summer budget, setting a trap for Labour and watching much of the opposition walk into it, Osborne will feel that he has secured his desired positioning.

There is a third way. Between Chairman Mao and Sun Tzu. Labour should seek whatever positioning does most harm to the Conservatives and vacate whatever positioning does most harm to ourselves.

Osborne follows the inverse path. He seeks whatever positioning does most harm to Labour and vacates whatever positioning does most harm to the Conservatives – or, at least, him and his prime ministerial ambitions, which become ever more naked.

Janan Ganesh, Osborne’s biographer, recently summarised the core ideas behind the chancellor’s politics in the Financial Times. Ganesh then conceded to John Rentoul, biographer of Tony Blair, that the “Tao of George is also the Tao of Tony”.

In the decade since the last of his three general election victories, Blair has become ever more toxic within Labour, while Osborne has prospered by applying the tenants that Labour discarded in our abandonment of all things Tony. This doesn’t make Osborne a Blairite. The core precepts that they both follow are neither Blairite nor Osbornomics, not left or right. They are more essential than that. Whether we lean left or right, the political world is flat.

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UNCUT: Labour should have vaulted the welfare trap

21/07/2015, 02:29:22 PM

by Kevin Meagher 

Conventional wisdom has it that you either fall headlong into a political trap or you carefully inch around it. This is said to have been the choice presented to Labour MPs at the Second Reading vote of the government’s welfare bill last night.

The measures contained in it represent a Daily Mail leader writer’s bingo card of populist welfare-bashing themes. £12 billion worth of cuts. A four-year benefits freeze. A reduced benefits cap. Scrapping child tax credits for working families. And restrictions on some benefits for families with more than two children.

The choice presented to Labour MPs was to vote against the bill and look flaky about welfare reform. Or to vote for it and risk the ire of the party’s core voters.

But there was a third option in overcoming this particular political trap: the party could have tried to vault over it. Labour’s frontbench should have focused on countering the callow game-playing of a government misusing the parliamentary process for its own ends by changing the conversation.

Instead of arriving at the position of either backing the government’s welfare bill or forever being depicted as the friend of the scrounger, shadow ministers should have been making a big argument about the regressive nature of the Budget, the lamentable symbolism of effectively scrapping child poverty targets and the removal of in-work benefits to those eponymous hard-working families.

The party could have welcomed measures in the bill to boost apprenticeships but laid the ground for opposing the egregious parts, which will do little to meet the bill’s stated intentions of promoting social mobility and tackling joblessness and will simply increase poverty among working families.

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UNCUT: Ten hard truths for Labour

20/07/2015, 10:52:10 PM

by David Butler

Labour looks like it is coming apart at the seams.  A big Labour rebellion on welfare, a leadership contest that is dragging the party ever further from the centre ground and George Osborne busily moving the Tories onto the territory vacated by Labour – this is the backdrop to Labour’s long hot summer.

Just over a week ago, Tristram Hunt called for a summer of hard truths.  Anthony Painter gave an excellent starter for ten. Here are ten more:

1. The state can be just as oppressive, destructive and amoral as market forces. This manifests itself in actions from the harsh sanctioningof benefit claimants to NHS staff behaving in an unpleasant, uncaring and unaccountable manner.

2. Power in the modern world is more fragmentedthan in the past. This reduces the governments to impose change from above.

3. Labour has offered no convincing answer to the challenges posed by secular stagnationand the UK’s productivity puzzle.

4. The idea that Labour loses elections because it is insufficiently left-wing has no basis and is a myth that should not be indulged.

5. The public are not interested in the talk of bold, radical plans so beloved of certain sections of the party. In a post-election poll by GQR Research on behalf of the TUC, when asked to choose between parties offering “concrete plans for sensible changes in this country” and parties promising “a big vision for radical change in this country”, the public overwhelming preferred the former. This result was replicated across social grade, country, 2015 vote, gender and age group.

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UNCUT: The Conservative view: There’s no doubt, Liz Kendall is the candidate that Tories fear

20/07/2015, 01:22:09 PM

by Matthew Plummer

Life since our epic victory on May 8th has been a bit like recovering from Christmas lunch – having gorged myself on Christmas pudding, goose (of course) and canvassing I’ve been struggling to find the enthusiasm for things like charades, EVEL and reform of the Human Rights Act. But I was jolted out of the obligatory post-election / Queen’s Speech snooze when my local MP Sadiq Khan livened things up by nominating Jeremy Corbyn for your leadership contest.

Corbyn’s opposition to PFI and the Iraq War always struck me as principled and decent, but politically he makes Ed Miliband look like pure box-office. So when the midday deadline for nominations passed tribalism duly kicked in: I downloaded my ‘Corbyn for Leader’ twibbon (apparently that’s how you lefties do things) and began to tweet excitedly about Brother Jeremy. Although being really honest I can’t say I had any intention of parting with the £3 needed to become a registered supporter of the Labour Party – #JezWeCan and your open primary didn’t seem like my business.

And your leadership options aren’t exactly inspiring. Andy Burnham was in charge of the nation’s purse strings when the public finances started to run out of control and – uncomfortably for him – he failed to act decisively over the Mid-Staffs abuse scandal when he was Secretary of State for Health. His schtick is scaremongering about Tory privatisation of the NHS. Good luck with that: we are pro-market because we believe that is the way to drive up care standards, which is perhaps why Burnham himself oversaw the privatisation of Hinchinbrooke Hospital.

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GRASSROOTS: Labour must be more than technocrats. The challenge is to lift Britain out of its moral depression

17/07/2015, 03:37:48 PM

by Gordon Lynch

A common observation about the Labour leadership contest this summer is that the candidates, for all their relative strengths, have not yet succeeded in providing a compelling vision of our country’s future and the role of the Labour party within it.

Where this wider debate has begun to open up it has been primarily in terms of differing positions towards deficit reduction and austerity. But whilst Labour’s ability to provide a credible economic plan for Britain’s future is undoubtedly the threshold that must be met for it to be taken seriously by the electorate, it is not sufficient to provide a powerful vision of our collective future. Nor does a focus on the failings of Labour’s last general election campaign provide a sufficient analysis of the depth of electoral disillusionment with progressive politics at the moment.

The roots of this disillusionment do not lie simply in the public blaming Labour for the current financial deficit. It lies in a moral depression which began before the financial one.

Since the relative euphoria of Labour’s electoral success in 1997, there have been three significant moral traumas in which public confidence in progressive politics has been deeply damaged. The first was the decision of Tony Blair’s government, with strong Conservative support, to engage in the 2003 Iraq War against unprecedented popular opposition. The party that had won in 1997 by articulating the public’s moral aspirations betrayed this six years later when it embarked on a war that was so deeply at odds with the ethical foreign policy that it initially espoused. The fact that the 2003 war set in motion a chain of events that has now led to the horrors of the rise of ISIS only perpetuates a residual sense of despair at such a fundamental failure of Britain’s political institutions to respect the moral convictions of its people.

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GRASSROOTS: Would Corbyn really lead us back into the political wilderness?

17/07/2015, 11:19:35 AM

by Brian Back

Let me make this clear from the start; I am backing Liz Kendall for the leadership of the Labour Party. I believe that she has the vision, the strength, the passion, conviction and charisma that we require in a leader, if we want to be successful.

When I read that Jeremy Corbyn was ahead in the polls, I was understandably dismayed. However, my dismay came; not at the thought of Corbyn leading the party, but at the thought of how members of the party would react to this news.

I was right to be dismayed, as various explanations of how Corbyn would be a disaster for the party soon surfaced and the predictable spats on social media dutifully followed. This has clearly demonstrated to me, that the biggest danger we face within the party, is not the issue of going too far to the left, right, or centre, but the problem of disunity.

It is division, rather than political position, which should be our primary concern.

All Labour members must remember we are defined much more by what unites us, than what divides us. We all want the same thing- a fairer society; only our methods for achieving this differ.

As long as we are guided by the values and principles we profess to hold- those of fairness, equality and democracy, then any of the candidates should be able to do a decent job of leading the party.

Every one of the candidates has grown and bloomed, because of the demands of the leadership contest and they have all shown themselves to be very worthy of our support.

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GRASSROOTS: What happens when you ask normal voters what they think of the Labour leadership candidates?

16/07/2015, 05:38:05 PM

by Karen Bruce

On Saturday while many Labour members in Yorkshire were at the leadership hustings in Leeds I was with my ward colleague Cllr David Nagle running our local Labour party stall at the Rothwell carnival.

It’s a great opportunity to be seen by hundreds of local people and to chat with them about local issues. This year we decided to ask them two questions. The first was a specific local issue about how to spend £180,000 of ‘Section 106’ money from housing developers that has to be spent on environmental and greenspace projects. The second was to listen to what they thought about the four Labour leadership candidates.

To make it a bit more fun we had buckets with each leadership candidate’s picture on and lots of coloured balls so people could put one in their choice of candidate’s bucket.

We also created a one-page profile on each candidate so people could read and find out a little bit more about them. I’d originally wanted to put a 35 word statement from each candidate saying why Rothwell people should vote for them. I tweeted all four campaigns at 10:25 on Friday morning, but unfortunately only Andy’s campaign replied so we had to create the profiles ourselves.

The first paragraph of the profile was about their personal history – where they came from and what they did before they entered politics. The second paragraph detailed their experience in parliament and government. Both of these were taken from information on each candidate’s website and Wikipedia. The third paragraph was from their websites and was quotes about what they stood for and believed in.

Both of our questions sparked quite a bit of interest. The photos of the candidates on our buckets certainly made people look to see what we were doing. The results were interesting.

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GRASSROOTS: All Labour members should watch the Wilderness Years, particularly those thinking about voting for Jeremy Corbyn

15/07/2015, 06:21:14 PM

by Frederick Cowell

In late 1995 the BBC produced an incredible four-part documentary entitled Labour the Wilderness Years. All Labour party members should watch it, particularly if the party is contemplating electing Jeremy Corbyn as leader.

What makes it an astonishing documentary is that by 1995 the Tory government were exploding – in the summer of that year Major had infamously resigned and fought and leadership battle with John Redwood as the Conservative parliamentary party fell apart. Off the record briefings given to Hugo Young between 1995 and 1996 showed that top ministers knew that a Labour party led by Tony Blair was about to annihilate them. Yet this documentary was produced and it told in excruciating detail Labour’s long civil war after its 1979 defeat. What makes it wonderful is that is a documentary told without out the subsequent teleology of Blair and his victories. This makes it the most vital piece of political introspection ever produced.

Listen to Roy Hattersley’s doom laden assessment of the period after 1979 – “for a number of years the Labour party was in opposition to itself” – and you get a sense of just how disastrous things became. The divisions were so bitter during those years that the party ceased to be a meaningful force in British politics.

It is Peter Shore’s assessment at the start of the first episode, that the Labour party must take “responsibility for its own failure” and he was clear that Thatcher and Thatcherism, was a result of the Labour party being ridiculous. This is perhaps the most damning verdict. Shore was a veteran left-winger but even he could see that the endless internecine warfare had created a world where Thatcher was free to win election after election by essentially being the only meaningful political choice on offer. As Hattersley continued, “we must feel some guilt” about not coming to the assistance of the most disadvantaged in society.

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UNCUT: Labour has stepped through the looking glass

14/07/2015, 07:00:34 PM

by John Slinger

Imagine if David Miliband had won the Labour leadership on 2010 and had taken the party to the right of Tony Blair, or even just continued where Blair left off in 2007.

Imagine if he’d led a centralised operation focused on the theorising and advice of a small group of advisers.

Imagine if he’d turned out to be an unpopular leader who had stuck to his central message that Labour needed to move to the right, entertain radical reform of public services, tackle the deficit through cuts and be avowedly pro-business, even though many commentators and many in his party thought that the cost of living crisis and pre-distribution were more important themes.

Imagine if he’d made some major tactical and PR blunders but that he managed to keep the party united and left-wingers had remained supportive and loyal (if ultimately unconvinced).

Imagine if he had stuck to his key narrative on the deficit and business before switching to the cost of living crisis with just a month to go to polling day and put it on page one of the manifesto.

Imagine he’d been level pegging in the polls for a year but in the end, led the party to a crushing and surprise defeat.

Imagine if, in the aftermath, rich backers from the right of the party were saying threatening things about leading left-wingers and spending their money to sign-up non-members to sway the next leadership race.

Imagine if his supporters, the so-called “Blairites”, argued that we lost because David hadn’t been allowed to be “Blairite” or right-wing enough and had been prevented from doing so by the lefties even though the lefties had been loyal.

Imagine if the right foisted an extreme right-wing candidate on the ballot and coalesced around him or her?

Imagine if silky voiced right-wingers took to the airwaves and spoke with utter confidence about the rectitude of their cause as if they’d won the election.

It’s hard to imagine but if you switch “right-winger” for “left-winger” then this is the Alice in Wonderland world being constructed by some in the Labour party now.

Sadly, it’s not fiction.

John Slinger is a strategic communications consultant and Chair of Pragmatic Radicalism. He blogs here http://slingerblog.blogspot.com

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