UNCUT: It’s time for Labour MPs to stop moping and muck in

06/01/2017, 10:33:50 PM

by Kevin Meagher

If you think it’s cold wherever in the country you are reading this, just imagine how cold it is running a by-election campaign in Copeland in West Cumbria in the winter.

For those unfamiliar with the area, the answer is, of course, bloody cold. Not a place, certainly, to find yourself at this time of year, trudging the highways and byways, in the teeth of an icy Cumbrian gust.

Nevertheless, this is the lot of Andrew Gwynne for the foreseeable future.

The intrepid shadow minister without portfolio, has be despatched this week to run Labour’s by-election campaign to hold onto the seat Jamie Reed is set to vacate and stop the Tories overturning his slender 2,564 majority.

It’s a tough gig.

Lots of jobs reliant on Sellafield. And a suspicion, no doubt, that Labour is not particularly enamoured with the very industry that pays the wages of thousands of Copeland’s voters.

Joining Gwynne up there to kick start the campaign the other day was Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth.

He was visiting West Cumberland Hospital to campaign against the downgrading of its services, which will see consultant-led maternity services moved 40 miles up the road to Carlisle.

This was a smart spot. A solid, resonant local issue to base a campaign around that helpfully plays to Labour’s strongest card.

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UNCUT: Uncut predictions for 2017: Ukip won’t win the Copeland, Leigh or Walton by-elections

06/01/2017, 04:55:22 PM

The first test of Ukip’s electoral potency under its new leader, Paul Nuttall, comes in the Copeland by-election, following the unexpected decision of Jamie Reed to stand down from Parliament.

Despite voting for Brexit by 62/38 per cent, the West Cumbrian seat doesn’t feel a natural prospect for the kippers. Certainly when compared to parts of Lancashire, Merseyside and Greater Manchester. Remote and politically tribal, Copeland feels like a straight Labour/Tory face-off.

Having polled extremely well in the Heywood and Middleton by-election in October 2014, coming within 600 votes of beating Labour, Ukip has very publicly struggled to assemble a decent ground game and lacks campaigning apparatus and experience when it matters most.

Other by-elections in Wythenshawe and Sale East in February 2014 and Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough in May 2016 have revealed this telling weakness, with underwhelming Ukip performances in seats where they should have pressed much harder.

Anyway, the party is under new management and needs to show momentum in the post-Brexit and post-Farage era.

Nuttall, an MEP for the North West, knows this and will be looking for a decent showing in the Leigh and Liverpool Walton by-elections that will follow May’s election of Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram to the new metro mayoralties in, respectively, Greater Manchester and Merseyside.

Liverpool’s Labour party is well-organised for such a fight and the city was one of the few Labour heartlands to vote Remain (58/42 per cent). But it’s academic: Walton is Labour’s safest parliamentary seat in the country, with a gigantic 27,777 majority and 81 per cent of the vote.

Although Labour had a 14,096 majority in 2015, Leigh has suffered a precipitous decline from its heyday as a mining and textiles town and it’s exactly the type of working-class seat where the kippers hope they can break through.

Indeed, Nuttall is said to be mulling a run as the candidate himself.

The reason he initially decided against challenging for the Ukip leadership was because he wanted to focus on winning a parliamentary seat himself. He knows the stakes are high and a strong performance is essential to maintain Ukip as a brooding threat in Labour’s backyard, his professed electoral strategy.

But he’ll get no joy in Leigh either. There are no Ukip councillors for a start, while Burnham is popular locally and his (slightly) controversial speech castigating free movement the other week, was an early attempt to head off Ukip’s appeal on the issue. Moreover, Leigh has only had four MPs since 1923 – all Labour. The seat will remain loyal.

Expect to hear Nuttall hedging his bets about standing in Leigh until the kippers get the lie of the land.

Then, when they do, he’ll pretend he was never going for it.

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UNCUT: With Trump in the White House, 2017 will be the year of living dangerously

04/01/2017, 10:27:31 PM

by Rob Marchant

It seems like a statement of the blindingly obvious but, during the current calm of the Obama fin-de-siècle, and before the storm which the Trump inauguration is likely to kick off, it seems like America has almost forgotten itself. The impact of the outsider’s November victory has temporarily become 2016’s giant elephant in the room. But the impacts may well resonate for years.

Those who think Trump is a Good Thing remain delighted, revelling in their apparent vindication, although perhaps slightly nervous at a victory they did not expect. On the other hand, the majority of voting Americans – who did not want Trump, and whose number included many registered Republicans – almost seem to have become numb to what is about to happen. They should not.

As New Republic’s senior editor Jeet Heer put it,


In many ways, this numbness, this complacency is something that Democrats have brought upon themselves. Not, to be clear, because they fielded the wrong candidate: it has now become a particularly dumb conventional wisdom on the left that the Dems should blame themselves, as if somehow the primary process could be manipulated by the DNC to get the candidate they wanted, and they chose Clinton.

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UNCUT: Uncut predictions for 2017: Blair will abandon support for free movement

04/01/2017, 06:23:29 PM

How to solve a problem like Brexit?

Ostensibly, it’s the reason for Tony Blair’s return to fray. He wants a second referendum to reverse the public’s decision to quit the EU back in June, but polls show the voters simply don’t regret the decision.

To get them to change their minds, the facts must change.

Ever the pragmatist, Blair knows full well this means abandoning free movement of people as an article of faith for the pro-globalisationists of British politics, of which, he remains the undisputed leader.

Could he follow contemporary Labour luminaries like Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, Rachel Reeves, Chuka Umunna and Hilary Benn who have each recently called for an end to free movement?

The impact of mass migration was the defining issue of the campaign and reforming it is an essential down payment in securing any fresh plebiscite. But, even then, there’s no guarantee one can be justified.

Of course, it also requires Europe to even discuss a special deal for Britain, which, variously, Angela Merkel, the Commission and east European Member States have all flatly rejected.

But we are through the looking glass in 2017.

And if John Major could secure his Maastricht Treaty opt-outs from joining the single currency and social chapter, Blair might calculate that a fresh deal on free movement is achievable.

After all, 2017 may be another tumultuous year for the EU, if Marine Le Pen wins the French presidency, or if Merkel is ousted in German federal elections later in the year.

Buying off the truculent Brits with a concession on free movement might seem the cheap option for a bit of stability.

Watch this space.

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UNCUT: Uncut predictions for 2017: Labour to hold Copeland if it goes local

03/01/2017, 10:14:15 PM

It takes six hours to drive from London to the West Cumbrian seat of Copeland. About the same time it takes to fly from Heathrow to Rome. And back.

After eleven years of tortuous commuting, Labour’s Jamie Reed is calling it a day, announcing his retirement from Parliament before Christmas.

Distance matters in this by-election.

Copeland is a long way from Westminster, physically and culturally. This almost exclusively White, working class and heavily unionised seat has been loyal to Labour for generations.

It is competitive, yes, with Reed winning in 2015 by just 2,564 votes over the Tories, but it’s still a realistic prospect for the party.

Despite talk of the Tories grabbing it, it remains Labour’s to lose.

And the party still has some advantages to exploit.

Good organisation and grassroots support matters in by-elections held in wet winter months.

It seems unlikely the by-election will be held over for five months until May’s county council elections, so that means each party trudging the highways and byways of Copeland (and there are rather a lot of them) in the cold wet evenings of January and February, with voters loathe to open the door.

It also means street stalls are a wash-put and bussing up activists is costly, with few enough volunteers willing to make the epic journey.

The weekly Whitehaven News will only report so many key campaigner visits, so despatching half the Cabinet up there to accrue little or no media coverage becomes a pointless task.

Everyone will struggle with their ground game.

What matters, then, is having existing relationships with the voters and it is here where Labour has some cards to play.

If the party picks a decent local candidate (preferably someone working at nearby Sellafield, the biggest employer in the area) and runs a relentlessly local campaign utilising its existing voter contact, it has a good chance of holding the seat.

It’s easier for Labour to build on its existing support than it is for the Tories and Ukip to make inroads in the time available.

As a Cumbrian MP himself, Tim Farron will probably judge Copeland a bridge too far for the Liberal Democrats (who came a distant fourth in 2015). A weak Lib Dem effort would help shore up Labour’s vote.

So call the by-election early and make the other parties feel the disadvantages of distance, weather and terrain.

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GRASSROOTS: Letting Farron and Sturgeon lead the pro-European camp is a road to ruin for Labour

02/01/2017, 10:20:09 PM

by Trevor Fisher

2017 will be a more challenging year than 2016, a year when progressives lost on all fronts.  In the USA the Democrats lost the Presidency to Trump and in Congressional elections. At home, Labour and pro Europeans lost the popular vote to Remain, and the far right advanced all over the European Union. The trends are ominous.

There is growing evidence that Brexit is now the defining issue in British politics, gridlocking all debates at Westminster and shaping voting attitudes. As commentators have noted, notably the UK in a Changing Europe report, Labour is in danger of slipping into a black hole with pro-Remain Labour voters going Lib Dem, and Leave inclined voters supporting UKIP. Labour could face challenges in England and Wales mirroring those in Scotland, where the political option is now Tory vs SNP on the dominant issue independence.

Some Labour MPs, having noticed a significant number of working class voters opted for Leave, seek an accommodation with Brexit. But there is no political advantage in accepting Brexit. Principled politics already demand rejecting the reactionary Brexit position, but practical politics indicate there is no mileage in betraying the majority of Labour voters who supported its position.

The concerns of those who voted to Leave have to be addressed, but not by accepting Brexit. Keir Starmer and John McDonnell are showing welcome signs that Remain to Reform policy is more than a slogan. But this will be irrelevant unless Labour can hold the line on the key issue – opposition to Brexit.

Political reality is that the vote on June 23rd, while massive, was effectively suicidal for UK politics and Brexit cannot be delivered without severe damage to the UK in general, and working class people in particular. This will become increasingly clear as Article 50 is triggered.

There will be a second independence referendum in Scotland unless Brexit can be defeated, although a Brexit which does not apply to Scotland is an illusion. Britain will be faced with chaos as its internal politics collapses and the chill winds of political reality bite.

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UNCUT: Uncut predictions for 2017: We are heading for train-wreck Brexit

02/01/2017, 07:00:39 PM

Nigel Farage is pushing for hard Brexit – a rapid severing of all ties between the UK and the EU. George Osborne prefers a soft Brexit – moving at a slower pace to minimise the risk of economic disruption, quite likely entailing an acceptance of some form of ongoing free movement of people between the UK and the EU. Philip Hammond, the man carrying the can for Farage’s push for a referendum and Osborne’s failure to persuade enough to vote Remain in it, is displaying signs of fearing train-wreck Brexit. Under this scenario, we fail to agree terms for the UK’s exit from the EU in the two-year window afforded by Article 50. Neither hard nor soft; just in limbo.

Given that this would only require one of the 28 EU member states to black ball the terms offered to the UK, privileging the capricious whims of domestic politics over economic calm and fidelity to perfidious Albion, the train wreck is not hard to spot. It is generally assumed, though, that the worst that could then happen is that the UK trades on WTO terms with the EU states, meaning that economically damaging tariffs would be paid on goods and services moving from the UK to the continent. It could, however, be worse than that. The UK is only a member of the WTO via EU membership and would, therefore, need to reapply to join the WTO; an application that could be blocked by any WTO member, including Russia, which might make mischief.

Some form of transition arrangements between the UK and EU would help avert this train wreck, which is why Hammond is supposedly sensibly keen on them.

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UNCUT: Uncut predictions for 2017: More moderates will rejoin the frontbench

02/01/2017, 12:03:55 PM

They may not agree about the destination, but more Labour moderates will return to frontbench duties in 2017.

They will come to two inescapable conclusions.

The first is that its essential Labour improves its woeful performance in holding the government to account. The party – actually, the country – deserves a functioning Opposition. The current offering is decidedly Sunday League.

The second conclusion is more personal.

Moderate figures will eventually realise that only someone who has shown they can work with the grain of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership will succeed him, probably after the party loses the 2020 general election, or perhaps earlier Corbyn if calls it a day before then.

They will look at Keir Starmer and see him edging ahead of the pack, using his role shadowing David Davis to good but not spectacular effect (imagine what Robin Cook would do with the job…)

How much longer can figures like Dan Jarvis, Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt afford sit on the sidelines and allow their leadership chances to wither?

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UNCUT: Uncut predictions for 2017: Jezza’s going nowhere

01/01/2017, 10:01:19 PM

Like his great hero, Fidel Castro, Jeremy Corbyn has proved adroit at foiling his would be assassins in 2016.

The rash decision by panicky Labour MPs to try and oust him after the Brexit vote was doomed from the start.

Trying to hang the result around the Labour leader’s neck always felt like a losing approach, while the silly and undignified ‘drip, drip’ resignations from the frontbench only provoked his legions of supporters in the membership (and among many non-Corbyn supporters too) to give him another, even more thumping victory (up from 59.5 per cent in 2015 to 61.8 per cent this year).

The would-be challengers in the PLP were painted into a corner as splitters and schemers, while a weak and uninspiring leadership bid by Owen Smith made the result a foregone conclusion.

In one of his many unguarded comments, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell quipped that Labour MPs were “fucking useless” at plotting.

Hard to disagree.

Short of falling into a vat of his own damson jam, Jeremy Corbyn’s going nowhere in 2017.

Jeremy Corbyn consults Labour’s new polling service

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UNCUT: The Uncuts: 2016 political awards (part II)

31/12/2016, 02:47:52 PM

Labour politician of the year – Sadiq Khan

Jeremy Corbyn has had an unprecedented 2016. No one has ever been twice elected Labour party leader – with impressive margins on both occasions. He is entitled to feel tremendous pride. The chord that he has struck is undeniable.

It remains to be seen, though, whether this chord resonates with the wider public. This requires validation in a general election. While Sadiq Khan has not won a general election as Labour leader, his election as Labour Mayor in London is as near as a non-leader can get to these giddy heights.

Belief in clause one socialism, incrementally securing the common good via the tools that elected office affords, demands that Sadiq Khan be recognised as Labour politician of the year.

Khan’s campaign brilliantly weaved biography with policy – the son of a bus driver to fix the buses; the boy from the council estate to sort the houses – and has won a massive mandate for the implementation of progressive politics. At a time when, with Hillary Clinton defeated and Brexit happening, such politics is thought to be in reverse. That Khan made this happen with his status as a Muslim barely commented upon – except, sadly, by his Conservative opponent – is testament not only to his talents but also to the open and tolerant instincts of London, which, with Mayor Khan, London will preserve in the Brexit era.

In a bleak year, Khan’s victory was a beacon of light. For sake of Labour, progressives more generally, and all that is best about London, it is vital that he does not squander the bright future that he has managed to craft for himself.

Contribution to post-truth politics – Jeremy Corbyn

The exponential growth of fact-free politics during 2016 has led the judges to create this new award, and it is an already-crowded field. Clearly Donald Trump’s chutzpah in creating an entire campaign based on manipulating information obtained by Russian hacking, not to mention a swathe of old-fashioned untruths, put him clearly in the running. Then the Brexit campaign’s celebrated “£350m savings for the NHS”, later proven to be utter tosh, brought the whole thing to a new level.

However, the jury felt that it should not just be the degree of economy with the actualité, but also the length of time that the nominee had been involved in the politics of post-truth. And here there was one candidate who was felt to have started long before the others. the Contribution To Post Truth Politics Award for 2016 therefore goes to…Jeremy Corbyn.

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