UNCUT: When we were giants

22/01/2020, 10:27:35 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The year is 1976. Harold Wilson has just resigned as prime minister and Labour leader. The race is on to replace him. Step forward the strongest field of candidates to ever seek the leadership.

A veritable ‘who’s who’ of Labour greats. Serious, heavyweight figures from every section of the party.

James Callaghan, currently foreign secretary, but also a former home secretary and chancellor. The eventual winner, he is still the only person to have occupied the four great offices of state.

Next, Roy Jenkins, home secretary and another former chancellor. He would go on to become the President of the European Commission and eventually split off to form the SDP.

Denis Healey, current chancellor and former defence secretary. A future deputy leader, he would lend vital credibility to the party’s fightback through the long, fruitless years of the 1980s.

Then there was Anthony Crosland. A reforming education secretary who pioneered comprehensive schooling, (after the NHS and benefits system, the greatest Labour achievement in office). While his book, ‘The Future of Socialism’ became the bible of moderate reformers in the post-war era.

From the left of the party came Michael Foot. Employment secretary at the time and a renowned orator and journalist. (He became deputy leader under Callaghan and later succeeded him as leader).

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INSIDE: ‘Aspirational socialism.’ Again.

20/01/2020, 09:55:39 PM

The big mistake political campaigners often make when they come up with slogans for their candidates is hubris.

They assume that the pithy little phrase they have dreamt up to encapsulate their candidate’s credo is an original. A gem they have found in the rough which they will polish until it shines.

To her detractors, she’s the ‘continuity Corbyn’ candidate, but it seems Rebecca Long-Bailey might be drawing inspiration from more mainstream Labour figures.

On Saturday, during the leadership hustings in Liverpool, she referred to her beliefs as “aspirational socialism.”

It’s a neat little line, combining, as it does, the ‘S’ word, which pleases the grassroots, with something vague and modern sounding. Who could be against people having aspirations? Rather than levelling down – the traditional criticism of left-wing politicians – it implies levelling-up. ‘You can still do well, but we just want more people to do well.’

Well, for someone deeply committed to Labour’s Green Industrial Revolution, Long-Bailey clearly practices what she preaches when it comes to recycling.

‘Aspirational socialism’ was used by Andy Burnham in his 2010 leadership campaign. The one where he came fourth in a field of five.

Perhaps, though, there’s an older vintage?

Here’s Long-Bailey’s predecessor as MP for Salford, Hazel Blears, back in 2010: “New Labour is about aspiration and ambition, which is absolutely how I come to be doing what I do, because my parents were ambitious and aspirational for me.”

Continuity Corbyn or Version 3.0 New Labour?

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UNCUT: Unison’s backing of Keir Starmer signals wider trouble for Len McCluskey’s United Left faction in Unite

08/01/2020, 10:13:15 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Unison’s backing of Keir Starmer is an undoubted coup for his leadership campaign but it is also a signal of a growing set of problems facing Len McCluskey’s United Left faction in Unite.

Solidarity and unity might permeate the public statements of the unions about their movement but the reality is that unions are competitors – rivals in shaping Labour party policy and in chasing after the same diminishing pool of potential members. The days of unions that specialised in discernable sectors or niches are long gone, most are now generic, public sector focused recruiting machines, facing dire pension liabilities and in desperate need of increasing revenue.

Since 2010, Unite has been in the ascendant on all fronts. Growing in political influence and attracting members off the back of its strident posturing and some real victories in labour disputes. Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure as Labour leader has represented the zenith of power for Unite and the hard left cabal that run it.

But now, the tide has stated to flow out for Unite and the United Left.

The union faces two challenges – within Unite, the hard left’s prospects of holding onto the General Secretary’s office are under serious pressure and without, Unison and the GMB are reasserting their more moderate position, dislodging Unite from it’s primus inter pares role amongst the big unions.

The hope within Unite’s hard left leadership was that a successful general election campaign, which bolstered Jeremy Corbyn and maybe even saw him enter Number 10, would enable them to ride out the growing challenges.

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UNCUT: Is Keir Starmer the man to reconnect with Labour’s base?

06/01/2020, 05:46:33 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The video put out by Keir Starmer yesterday, as he officially launched his bid for the Labour leadership, was brilliantly affecting, with a series of talking heads reflecting on the legal support he gave to striking miners, environmental activists and other worthy causes throughout his long legal career, which culminated in him heading in the Crown Prosecution Service.

He is clearly an admirable man, self-effacing and well-liked by those who know him. A quiet radical, he has used his legal skills to fight the good fight. The video is quiet and sensible, qualities presumably, his team want to associate with him over coming weeks.

The problem for Starmer is not his illustrious legal career but what he has done in politics since first being elected to the Commons in 2015. Creditably, he stayed on the frontbench under Jeremy Corbyn, while other moderates ripped up their tent pegs and went to sulk, to no obvious effect, on the backbenches.

Starmer has been at the centre of Labour politics as the party’s Brexit spokesman, but it’s not clear what effect he has had. I cannot help but wonder what Robin Cook might have done in the same role. Nor can I recall Starmer skewering ministers for the multiplicity of failings throughout the Brexit imbroglio. Or, for that matter, a particularly memorable speech or media performance from him.

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UNCUT: Johnson has made undeliverable promises to win from Sedgefield to Sittingbourne. This is what Labour needs to focus on, not his latest culture war dead cat

05/01/2020, 09:57:49 AM

by David Ward

If there’s one thing we’ve seen with the Johnson government so far, it’s that they aren’t going to be content with gentle managerial government. Like a five year old with a remote controlled car, he wants to move fast and break things.

To cut through in the next five years, the new Labour leadership is going to need a hugely disciplined operation focused on how we will make a positive, and credible, difference to people’s lives.

It’s clear that the Johnson government has a tall order in restoring growth to areas in long term global decline. We’ve been talking about HS2 since God was a boy, so forgive my scepticism about it happening in the next five years.

So to keep their voting coalition of leafy shires and newly won northern and midlands towns together the Conservatives will want to be on the front foot on other issues. One thing that unites these groups of voters is socially conservative instincts.

Much ink has already been spilled about the patriotic values of former Labour heartlands. But the seam for Conservatives to mine goes much deeper than that. In August 2019 Yougov produced some interesting research on the surprising views held by people who describe themselves as left or right wing. It found 72% of those who want redistribution of wealth also believe the criminal justice system is too soft. 66% who support Trade Unions want more restrictions on immigration. While 60% of those who support renationalising the railways also want to reintroduce capital punishment.

Of course Labour should always be the party of progress and progressive values, but we have to be mindful of bringing a majority along with us. Just as the party has in the past. In the 1960s Roy Jenkins gave tacit support to backbench bills to legalise abortion, decriminalise homosexuality and abolish the death penalty. Tony Blair’s government scrapped Section 28 and banned fox hunting, but combined those with Anti Social Behaviour Orders and a points based immigration system.

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UNCUT: Let’s be clear from the start: Labour’s next leader is never going to be PM

03/01/2020, 05:58:17 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Sorry to start the New Year with an Eeyorish warning, but it needs saying from the outset. Labour has zero chance – absolutely no hope whatsoever – of winning the next election in 2024 or thereabouts. The glass is definitely half empty – with a crack in the bottom. Short of an almighty calamity – bigger in magnitude to Brexit – Boris Johnson is going nowhere for the next few years.

Forget the permanent revolution nonsense emanating from Dominic Cummings. Boris’s instinct will be to cut an early deal with the EU on our future trading arrangements and then consolidate his position. He would much rather govern as a benign figure that a malevolent force. He will prove formidable if he does. His victory is already seeing the Tories mobilise their tanks on what remains of Labour’s front lawn, in what may become a strategic realignment of British politics.

Rewriting Treasury rules to favour the North? Check. Inflation-busting increase in the National Living Wage? Check. Renationalising Northern Rail? Check. The new political battleground in British politics cuts across large chunks of what used to be safe Labour territory. The Tories already know this and are wasting no time in preparing their fortifications.

Last month’s result was no fluke. It was a long time coming.

So many of the seats Labour lost in unfashionable towns in the north and midlands were places that underwent 20 years of Thatcherite deindustrialisation, followed by a decade of New Labour pumping money into the public sector, but not replenishing decent jobs in lost industries. This was book-ended by ten more years of Tory austerity. Four decades of misery and disappointment. It just so happens that the timeline corresponds perfectly with our membership of the EU, so, for many, their unhappy experience of politics, which only ever seems to disappoint and frustrate, was taken out in the Brexit referendum.

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UNCUT: The Uncuts: 2019 Political awards (pt II)

31/12/2019, 01:57:43 PM

Labour politician of the year – Anna Turley

It’s not been a great year for Labour. A crushing electoral defeat, the party’s policy and organisational platform shattered and a shell-shocked frontbench lacking any collective sense of where to go next. It is to the backbenches the Uncut has looked for a Labour politician to inspire a fightback and there is one stand out candidate: Anna Turley.

Few will have had as difficult a year as Anna Turley but she has distinguished herself as being the epitome of the fighting spirit Labour now needs to show.

On the biggest political issue of the past few years, Brexit, the easy choice would have been to fold in behind the Leave vote in her constituency. But standing up for what’s right is part of her political DNA as it should be part of Labour’s and the manner in which she fought for a People’s Vote as the best way to protect her constituents’ jobs and services is a testament to her commitment to doing right by her constituents, even when steering into a fierce headwind.

It was the same fight she displayed when dealing with the aftermath of the closure of the SSI steelworks in Redcar.

And it’s the fight she showed when taking on the bully boys of Unite and Skwakbox in a court case that exemplifies the internecine bitterness and malice which now permeates the Labour party.

They libelled her and rather than accepting their mistake early, escalated the action through the courts, raising the stakes by running up huge legal costs, a well-known tactic to discourage plaintiffs from pursuing their case. Unite and Skwakbox’s actions ultimately compelled a Labour MP to take time out from the general election campaign to give evidence at the High Court.

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UNCUT: Rebecca Long-Bailey is not ‘continuity Corbyn.’ She’s just been a good sport

31/12/2019, 08:00:15 AM

by Kevin Meagher

As campaign launches go, it was inauspicious. Rebecca Long-Bailey’s piece in yesterday’s Guardian was her first public attempt to flesh out both an analysis of the party’s disastrous election defeat and to tentatively suggest why she is the person to repair the damage.

How did it go? As I say, inauspicious. There was some stuff about upending ‘the broken political system’ and uniting communities ‘in all their diversity’ through ‘progressive patriotism.’

But she is still ‘considering’ whether to stand for leader. (It might have been wiser, then, for those advising her to set some clearer expectations about her strategy and timeline?)

Hey-ho.

What was interesting, however, amid the bromides about having an ‘honest discussion about why we lost and how we can win,’ is what she didn’t say.

There wasn’t a single reference to Jeremy Corbyn in the piece, less still to him having ‘won the argument,’ if not the actual, you know, election.

There was no attempt to justify the party’s manifesto, widely seen, to misquote Mario Cuomo, as an attempt to ‘govern in poetry’ with a string of unaffordable and outdated commitments.

‘There are many lessons to learn from the defeat,’ she said, ‘but it’s clear we didn’t lose because of our commitments to scrap universal credit, invest in public services or abolish tuition fees.’ (Code for ‘our expensive programme of nationalisation was a disaster?’)

Creditably, there was nothing that sought to gloss over the failings of the election defeat.

What she did say is that Labour cannot ‘blame Brexit alone’ (code, presumably, for ‘yes, Jeremy was an issue on the doorstep’) and the party ‘must recognise that it’s no good having the right solutions if people don’t believe you can deliver them.’ (Translation: ‘No-one believed our grandiose policies could be paid for’).

(One interesting footnote is that she didn’t use the word ‘socialism’ once – a de rigour affectation in Labour politics since the 2010 defeat).

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UNCUT: The Uncuts: 2019 political awards (part I)

30/12/2019, 08:50:15 PM

Politician of the year: Boris Johnson

In this supposed period of Labour reflection, many would concede that Boris Johnson faced a weak opponent in Jeremy Corbyn. And that Corbyn was foolish, given the leverage afforded to him by Johnson’s lack of a Commons majority, to allow Johnson a general election at the time and on the terms that he desired.

But you can only beat what is in front of you and Johnson did this comprehensively. With Mandelsonian message discipline (get Brexit done) and a Blair-like pitch for the centre. “We were elected as New Labour and we will govern as New Labour,” said Blair in 1997. Substitute One Nation Tories for New Labour and you have the key ingredient of Johnson’s acceptance speech.

This is easy to mock. But what was Labour’s slogan in 2019? And what was our pitch to mainstream Britain?

Perhaps we should see these things as less New Labour and more essential requirements of any political success, which Johnson much more effectively provided than Corbyn.

Johnson has no time to rest on his laurels: a Catalonia-type standoff with Scotland is pending; a trade deal with the EU, on the timescale that he insists upon, will require compromises that he has not yet acknowledged. But he now enjoys a majority large enough to make Mark Francois as marginal as Corbyn was in the Blair years.

Johnson is deadly serious, like a contemporary Disraeli, about using this new authority to sufficiently deliver for the north and the Midlands that the new blue wall keeps him in power for a decade. It is time, finally, for Labour to stop underestimating him and start – without descending to clichés about London coffee bars and northern towns – taking the steps to stop him.

“Sharp Elbows” award for earliest use of a personal logo in a leadership election

This special award, in leadership election season, marks out Rebecca Long-Bailey for her committed start to campaigning to be party leader, even long before the 2019 general election was lost. Read the rest of this entry »

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UNCUT: The Labour Together election review showcases everything that’s wrong with the Milibandite approach to politics

27/12/2019, 05:20:32 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Since it was announced, the Labour Together review has had a strangely unifying impact on the party: voices from across the ideological spectrum, hard left through to the old right, have panned it. Earlier this week on Tuesday, Lisa Nandy, one of the people leading the review, was on the Today programme, giving the opposite of a ringing endorsement,

“I have to be honest though, I didn’t know anything about this review until two days ago.

And if the lesson is drawn from this election is, a review can be drawn up in a meeting room in Westminster without any reference to the two parts of the Labour movement – our councillor base and trade union base, that were probably the reason we didn’t have a worse result, I just don’t think that people are drawing the right lessons at all.

We need to be out in places like Ashfield, listening to people like the ex-miner I met yesterday, not sitting in meeting rooms in Westminster trying to debate this out amongst ourselves with the help of a few think-tanks.

I just think the approach is wrong.”

The reason the review has brought together so many disparate strands of the Labour movement in eye-rolling frustration is twofold.

Problem number one: The review dodges the tough questions.

To inform the review’s analysis is a survey. An OK idea. Less OK is the manner in which it completely ignores the obvious. Options for Labour’s terrible showing are offered but these focus on campaign organisation and individual policies. In all of the possible reasons that Labour did badly, nowhere is any mention of the leader and his vote-repelling impact on the doorstep. Nor is there any acknowledgement of the public’s incredulity at the wish-list manifesto and its role in dissuading the the electorate that Labour was a serious choice for government.

Needless to say, the term “anti-Semitism” does not appear anywhere in the survey.

As with all these types of party commissions, there’s an onus on doing some original research. Hence the survey and interviews with defeated candidates. But in the terms of reference, there seems to be no acknowledgement of the vaults of existing quantitative and qualitative analysis. There’s so much that it is near pointless doing the sort of partial effort proposed by Labour Together.

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