UNCUT: John McDonnell has finally lost it

06/03/2017, 12:49:39 PM

by Rob Marchant

It was a cold February morning, when the Shadow Chancellor finally gave in to his demons and went “full conspiracy theory”.

To be fair, he probably didn’t feel too well. Labour had just suffered a “historic” by-election defeat at the hands of the governing party, something unheard of in thirty-five years and with the biggest pro-incumbent vote increase in a half-century.

It all had to be, of course, the fault of the Blairites. Particularly the man himself for his recent intervention over Brexit, who will shortly celebrate a decade of, er, not being the leader of his party. Not to mention Lord Mandelson, the incarnation of all evil to a Corbynite.

As John Rogan pointed out last August, it’s not as if McDonnell holds views consistent with a life at the top table in a major political party. When the IRA came to the negotiating table, he said they could only settle for a united Ireland. The organisation he chairs, the Labour Representation Committee, in 2012 called for the release of all Irish “political prisoners”, including those who had murdered that same year, 14 years after the peace agreement.

In other words, McDonnell and his colleagues set themselves in a position considerably more uncompromising than Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, by then getting on with the substantially more serious business of governing Northern Ireland.

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UNCUT: How Labour’s potential leadership candidates measure up against member priorities

02/03/2017, 02:36:23 PM

by Atul Hatwal

This is Jeremy Corbyn. Like Wile E Coyote he has run off the cliff. Yes, he’s still leader, but after Copeland, it’s just a matter of time until political gravity exerts its force, most likely in 2018.

Croydon Central is in many ways a bellwether CLP for Corbyn. In 2015, it voted to endorse him 80% to 20%, reflecting the final vote among registered supporters. Last year, it backed him against Owen Smith by 60% to 40%, in line with the eventual overall result. Speaking to party members and local officials over the weekend, estimates of the balance between pro and anti-Corbyn support were 50-50, tipping steadily against the Labour leader with each passing month. Similar movement is being reported in pro-Corbyn CLPs across the country.

By 2018, whether Jeremy Corbyn steps down voluntarily or is challenged, his time as leader will end.

When that happens, four criteria will determine the identity of Corbyn’s successor: parliamentary nominations, Brexit, baggage (absence thereof) and whether they are a woman or a minority.

  1. Nominations

The first goal for candidates is to secure the backing of 15% of their UK and European parliamentary colleagues. This translates as 37 nominations in the PLP and 1 from European Parliamentary Party.

Regardless of how a candidate polls among the general public, their popularity with journalists or the polish of their performance on TV, they need the support of their colleagues to get on the ballot.

The Corbynites are desperate to secure an amendment, which would reduce the nomination threshold from 15% to 5%. The McDonnell amendment – so called after the barely concealed ambition of the shadow Chancellor – would need to be passed by conference and at this stage, it looks unlikely.

The threshold will remain as will the need for a credible level of PLP support. This time round, no nominations will be lent to candidates unable to make the ballot unaided.

  1. Brexit

More than any other issue, Brexit has undone Corbyn. It has united Blairites, the soft left and even sections of the hard left. Corbyn’s Praetorian Guard, Momentum, surveyed its 11,000 members during the referendum campaign with 66% backing Remain and 20% Brexit.

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INSIDE: Manchester Gorton hopefuls limber up

01/03/2017, 10:11:16 PM

There will need to be a big ring for all the hats that are being thrown into the contest to succeed Sir Gerald Kaufman as Labour MP for Manchester Gorton.

Already, a cast of hopefuls that would not disgrace a Cecil B DeMille epic are ‘letting it be known’ they are challenging for the seat, following Sir Gerald’s funeral in Leeds on Tuesday.

There is talk, however, that some candidates have been actively ‘working’ the seat in recent months while Kaufman was ailing.  Alas, such tasteless behaviour is becoming par for the course with Labour selection processes.

Of the serious candidates, much attention will be paid to Afzal Khan, an MEP for the North West and former Manchester Lord Mayor. It is not clear at this stage, however, if Labour’s National Executive would agree to him quitting Brussels to contest the seat.

The concern will be that it sets a precedent that might see other MEPs abandon their roles early in order to run for parliamentary selection processes ahead of Britain’s departure from the EU in 2019.

Other names in the frame include local councillors Julie Reid, Rabnawaz Akbar and Amina Lone, as well as Luthfer Rahman, the executive member for culture and leisure.

Earlier this week, the Huffington Post speculated that a pro-Corbyn hopeful, Sam Wheeler, a member of Momentum’s steering committee, is being pushed by the leadership. Although growing up in the Longsight area of the constituency, he is not well known to local members Uncut has spoken to.

A strong challenge will come from local councillor, Mike Amesbury. A well-liked figure in Labour politics, he is a former adviser to Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary and currently works for Andy Burnham on his campaign to become Manchester’s first metro mayor in May.

He came runner-up to Lucy Powell in the Manchester Central selection in 2012.

Nominations open next Monday and it’s expected that the by-election will be held on May 4 to coincide with the metro mayoral and county council elections.

With a 24,079 majority, the end result in Manchester Gorton shouldn’t give Jeremy Corbyn any sleepless nights.

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UNCUT: Labour has a lot to do in Stoke to make it a safe seat again

27/02/2017, 09:54:29 PM

by Matt Baker

For far too long the default position of the Labour Party in Stoke has been to look to the past. This is not just exemplified by Tristram Hunt’s decision to quit Parliament to take up a job in a museum. Or the previous MP, Mark Fisher’s similar interest in museums (he wrote a book about museums and had a second job as a museums adviser in Qatar).

The most worrying example of this mindset actually saw some in Labour show pride at peddling politics from a bygone era.

When Stoke experimented with a directly elected mayor at the turn of the millennium, it elected the progressive independent, Mike Wolfe, whose campaign was heavily critical of “Labour dinosaurs”. Bizarrely, some Labour councillors took this as a compliment and would wave plastic dinosaurs at the Mayor in the Council Chamber.

In the 20-years I lived in the city, with the exception of Wolfe, the tendency to look to the past became synonymous with its political leaders. It was a mind-set that guaranteed decline. The feeling that the city’s past shone so much brighter than its future was palpable. Sandwiched between its neighbouring cities of Birmingham and Manchester, which were both experiencing an urban renaissance, there was a keen sense that Stoke was missing out. Living standards were deteriorating and it was crying out for a vision of the future. But its leaders, and the Labour Party in particular, had no answers and all it could do was fall back on nostalgia.  

When Sir Stanley Matthews, the city’s favourite son, died in 2000, more than a hundred thousand people lined the streets and I saw people in tears as the funeral procession slowly made its way round his home town. Mixed in amongst the grief was the sense that a bright link to a better time had been finally broken.

Restoring that link to a strong sense of pride in Stoke and optimism about the future has to be the number one priority for Labour and Gareth Snell.
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UNCUT: Gerald Kaufman: a master of high politics and low skulduggery

27/02/2017, 03:15:38 PM

by Kevin Meagher

My favourite anecdote about Gerald Kaufman goes like this. Around twenty-five years ago, following Labour’s 1992 election defeat, there was a move to deselect Kaufman from his Manchester Gorton seat.

He had been Member of Parliament since 1970 and was, even then, knocking on a bit. It was not implausible that a shove would dislodge him. In multi-cultural Gorton, there was a significant Muslim population and they wanted one of their own for the seat.

A friend of mine, who had recently moved into the area and was keen to get a seat on Manchester City Council, thought it would be worth joining in this attempted putsch.

The long and the short of it is that Kaufman saw off his would-be political assassins and a few months later my friend found himself shortlisted for a safe council seat in Gorton.

He duly rolled up for what he assumed was a shoo-in. The other candidates were no-hopers and he had done his homework and buttered-up the key activists. Only it didn’t quite go to plan.

There were more members at the meeting than expected and they were hostile. Briefed on what to ask him, my friend struggled with their questions, fluffed it, and duly lost the nomination.

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UNCUT: Labour might have won in Stoke but long term problems remain

26/02/2017, 08:26:55 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The by-election of February 23rd 2017 brings to the end the history of a seat which has been Labour since its creation in 1950. The seat will disappear under boundary changes, and its history really falls into two stages – a safe Labour seat until Tristram Hunt was parachuted in before the 2010 election, and the collapse of turnout and reduction of the Labour vote to a minority in the era after New Labour took control.

A safe seat I define as a seat where the candidate for one party gets a vote share of 50% plus, in contests with more than one opponent, and Labour did this in all elections before 2010 save 1983 where there was a Social Democrat third candidate. Labour got 48.1% of the poll in 1983. It was still a safe seat under this definition until New Labour took a hand in 2010. It then clung on, but with a minority of the votes cast in the 2010, 2015 and 2017 elections.

However Stoke Central not only declined as a Labour seat but also as a seat where working class people vote, making it a challenge for democrats. In 2015 it had the lowest turnout in the UK at 49.9%. This was however better than 2001 (47.4%) and 2005 (48.4%). Stoke thus had for a decade and a half in its centre, the apathy centre of the UK. In the EU referendum Stoke was the Leave capital city of the UK. The rejection of the EU in the referendum was a striking out at a metropolitan class which had let the city rot.

The two things are linked. Politicians in Stoke have to face the challenge that for most of its citizens, parliamentary politics and especially Labour politics, is largely irrelevant, even if the largest minority of those who still vote have voted Labour in Stoke Central. But at below 40% of the vote in three of the last four elections, winning with a declining mobilisation of actual voters should sound the alarm bells for both Labour and democracy itself.

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GRASSROOTS: Brexit lost in Stoke. Time for Labour faint hearts to learn the lessons

24/02/2017, 10:15:45 PM

by James Valentine

Officially Labour won in Stoke on Thursday but the real result is that the Brexiteers lost.  This was supposed to be UKIP’s high point – their triumph, when they would have fatally undermined the Labour party, possibly leading to an apocalyptic decline, such as that suffered in Scotland. But the idea that “Leave” voters would apply transfer their preferences to a contest where that choice was not on the agenda was a fallacy. Labour faint hearts, worried about election chances in “Leave” constituencies, should take note and start standing up for Britain’s future in Europe.

Mr Nuttall losing in Stoke will still not mean the end of UKIP. It merely confirms a pattern – the previous leader Farage was after all a multiple election-loser. UKIP is a chaotic party run by dubious individuals but it will continue to appeal to xenophobic and anti-immigrant feeling, now made more “respectable” following the Referendum vote. But the result puts paid to the idea that some Labour constituencies, primarily in the North are vulnerable to UKIP purely because of their high “Leave” component. And it can’t just be put down to Nuttall’s lamentable campaign. Copeland was clearly a disaster for Labour, but under entirely different circumstances, the UKIP vote plunged.

So why has this happened? The European Union, as such, has not been the most important issue for electors. Pollsters such as YouGov have repeatedly shown that when salience of voting issues is measured then “Europe” or “the EU” comes well down the list, after the immigration, the NHS, crime and so on. But if you offer the electors a choice about Europe, they will always give negative answers. This is what happened at the Referendum. A proportion of electors who never vote at General Elections turned out. And voting against the “EU” was widely interpreted as a vote against the political establishment and a reaction to economic austerity.

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UNCUT: By-election Winners and Losers

24/02/2017, 02:18:13 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Winners:

Gareth Snell. Congratulations are due to Snell, having been put the ringer these past few weeks for derogatory remarks he had previously made on Twitter about, inter alia, Loose Women, Janet Street-Porter was why Brexit is ‘a massive pile of shit.’ He withstood the ‘media bomb’ they generated and can now look forward to joining the intra-party tussle for a seat in 2020, as proposed boundary changes scrap Stoke Central.

Jack Dromey. As Snell’s campaign manager, Dromey will take credit for ‘seeing off Ukip’. In reality, Ukip saw off Ukip (see below), but credit where credit’s due: A win is a win in politics and, as captain of the team, Dromey deserves credit.

The Tories. For a government to win a by-election seat from the opposition is a rarity indeed and symptomatic of the state of British politics in 2017, with Labour no longer able to hold what it has. One other point. Like they did in 2015, the Tories are becoming adept at under the surface campaigning. With massively fewer volunteers than Labour, they are plainly making other assets count. Labour needs to be better at reading their game.

The turnout. Despite the noisy intervention of Storm Doris, 51 per cent of Copeland’s voters braved the elements, while 38 per cent of Stokies also made it to the polling station. Both turnouts were better than expected and serve to make the results fairly representative of current opinion. So what’s the message for Labour? The party can hang on in its heartlands (Stoke), but can’t assume it will (Copeland). This will now be interpreted whichever way the high priests of Corbynism and neo-Blairism want it to.

Losers:

Labour’s NHS campaign. ‘It’s the economy stupid’ needs writing on the wall of Jeremy Corbyn’s allotment shed. The Labour campaign team in Copeland played the best card they had and ran a strong campaign on the local NHS. But given the long shadow Sellafield casts over the area, where many of the locals make their living, you can’t expect to prosper when the party leader opposes nuclear energy. Labour’s contract with its voters is that it will look after them economically. (It’s maddening that I need to actually write that).

Paul Nuttall. Ukip has again fluffed the ball over the bar in a by-election it should have won. Worse than that, there was clearly no scenario planning or expectation management in case Nuttall didn’t win. Party spokesmen were left flapping around trying to spin the defeat, while a retreating Nuttall (who didn’t stay for a concession speech) was left surrounded by a media pack when his car wasn’t there to pick him up. Ukip still can’t get out of its amateur hour rut. Until it can, the party is going nowhere.
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UNCUT: Opposing Brexit would unite Labour, rout Corbyn and rob the Lib Dems & SNP of their faux radicalism

20/02/2017, 10:35:28 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The vote on Article 50 underlined Labour’s existential problem. It is clear that a party which makes a case then abandons it is in trouble but this is not a Corbyn problem as it is the story of the party over the last 25 years, since the 1992 election and the abandoning of John Smith’s National Insurance increases. Having lost the “double whammy” election, this was rational, but  Labour then adopted moving to the right  as a policy – ‘triangulation’ – which left Labour without an identity. And as Atul Hatwal argued on 28th January, Labour’s internal politics from 2015 were dominated by a return to ideological purity when the parliamentary tactic of abstaining on the Benefits issue led to the election of Jeremy Corbyn. However Corbyn has taken the MPs into the lobbies in support of Theresa May. You could not make it up.

With Jezza turning into Tony Blair, it’s time to address the root issue. New Labour accepted the Thatcherite view that There Is No Alternative, so appeasement was the answer, and this worked in the 1997 and 2001 elections. But not thereafter. Now Labour faces challenges on all fronts. It has already lost Scotland, and in England and Wales Lib Dems can take the Remain voters and Tories and UKIP the Leave voters. A party can be wobbly on some issues some of the time, but not on the defining issue of an era.

However a week in politics is a long time, and as a by election strategy giving in to the Brexit lobby has some short term advantages. How it plays in Copeland I do not know, but in Stoke accepting Article 50 has made sense though UKIP is still playing the card that Labour will ignore the Referendum. Hardly! In the local paper the Stoke Sentinel, (17th February) Labour candidate Gareth Snell’s statement is “I accept without hesitation the Referendum result. I have said repeatedly that if I had a vote in parliament I would have voted for Britain to leave the EU. My focus now is on winning the best Brexit deal for Stoke on Trent”. This has allowed Snell to avoid the criticism levelled at Paul Farrelly, in neighbouring Newcastle Under Lyme, who was a rebel.

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UNCUT: Jam-eaters will decide Copeland. Based on her trip north, Theresa May has clearly never heard of them

18/02/2017, 10:30:26 PM

by Jonathan Todd

It is easy to poke fun at Cumbria. The land that time forgot. Northern accents that can’t quite be placed – “I thought you were from Yorkshire”. Withnail and I going, “on holiday by mistake”. Lots of sausage. Little hip and happening.

Most people in Cumbria, I feel, look at Millom, a town of 8,000 people in the south of Copeland, scene of one of this week’s byelections, as the rest of the country looks at Cumbria – far-flung, incomprehensible. “It is,” I was once told by a friend from Workington, “a funny place, Millom, isn’t it?” Millom, in turn, redirects this perception to Bootle, a nearby village.

“What is it that you don’t have in Bootle? Electricity?”

Coming from Bootle, I grew accustomed to mocking enquiries such as this in the Millom schoolyard. At least, no one called me, “bad Bootle UKIP meff”. That is Paul Nuttall from Bootle, Merseyside – a more gritty and urban place.

The sitcom Porridge is set in a prison just outside Millom. A hapless guard bemoans losing his wife to, “the bright lights of Workington”. A lag, played by Ronnie Barker, sympathises that he, “can’t compete with that”. As much as the canned laughter indicates that the rest of the country find the notion of a cosmopolitan Cumbria oxymoronic, the Millom prison guard and my Workington friend would see themselves as coming from different places.

While there is a rivalry between Whitehaven, very much in the Copeland constituency, and Workington, a town just north that gives its name to a separate seat this side of the boundary review, they’d see each other as fellow jam-eaters and Millom and Bootle as remote outposts.

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