UNCUT: Labour was right about Brexit in 2017 and wrong in 2019

05/01/2021, 11:20:30 PM

by Kevin Meagher

There was a pretty big irony about last week’s vote on the government’s Brexit bill.

By whipping his MPs into supporting Boris Johnson’s deal, Keir Starmer was making good on a manifesto commitment: ‘Labour accepts the [Brexit] referendum result and a Labour government will put the national interest first.’

Of course, this was from the 2017 Labour manifesto, not the 2019 edition.

That version, influenced by the lobbying of the second referendum mafia, gave a quite different commitment. It promised to ‘

give the people the final say on Brexit.’ After a period of renegotiation, a new deal would be put to the vote, ‘alongside the option to remain.’

It was a lousy policy.

It would have seen Labour ministers constructing a new deal that honoured the party’s red lines around labour market standards, environmental protections, and single market access, only for the party to campaign against it in a fresh referendum, in order to remain in the EU.

Voters are not as gullible as politicians consistently believe.

Right along the Brexit-supporting Red Wall, they smelled a rat, sensing that Labour had no intention of respecting their choice to leave the EU and made plain their displeasure. The rest is, well, history.

So last week’s vote was about earning a fresh hearing with voters. The rights and wrongs of Brexit (mainly wrongs) will have to come out in the wash. There are no votes to be gained in prolonging the agony any longer.

In seeking to modernise Labour after last year’s rout, Starmer will carry on repudiating Labour’s recent past. It is the equivalent of a spring clean, expunging mistakes and decluttering the record in a bid to win a second look from the voters. More often than not, it is an exercise that culminates in a gentle dagger thrust into the last guy’s rep.

In which respect, Keir Starmer was in effect knifing himself last week.

He was the architect of Labour’s policy to back a second referendum in 2019. Jeremy Corbyn must take the overall blame for the party’s various policy, strategy, and presentational mistakes, but he was only trying to keep the peace by backing the muddled Brexit policy that Starmer and others were so keen on.

Perhaps Corbyn should have put his foot down – his policy in 2017 was both straightforward and popular.

Indeed, if the party had stuck with the 2017 commitment – avoiding the impression that they were trying to usurp the voters’ decision about the referendum – there would have been more scope to criticise the final deal. As it was, most Labour MPs ended up voting for a package they don’t believe in and one that Keir Starmer himself conceded was ‘thin.’

Now it is done, Brexit is delivered, and Labour can finally move on. But there will be many other painful concessions to make on the journey towards 2024. Labour still has a mountain to climb and is barely out of the foothills.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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UNCUT: Let’s face it, the moment belongs to Farage

04/01/2021, 08:51:42 AM

by Kevin Meagher

There he was on New Year’s Eve. On Twitter, where else? A simple photo, savouring his victory. A drained wine glass in one hand a well-drawn cigarette in the other. A smile like a crocodile that has just devoured a resting zebra.

He is not bothered about the constant abuse he receives, or even the gallons of milkshake that are poured over him. Its all been worth it. Nigel Farage knows the moment belongs to him.

‘25 years ago they all laughed at me,’ he wrote, (inadvertently paraphrasing a Bob Monkhouse gag), ‘Well, they’re not laughing now.’

And, indeed, we are not. We are out of the European Union and without Farage’s constant endeavours over the past quarter of a century, there would have been no Brexit.

Boris will convert the opportunity, but it is Farage who created it in the first place. A Home Counties John the Baptist. Starting out in the political wilderness, converting an army of believers one at a time with a mixture of unshakable conviction and his reptilian charisma.

He may be a figure of loathing for the left/liberal/SJW cohorts, but he is also something they themselves want in a leader. He is conviction politician. Ideologically coherent. Authentic to voters. He leads from the front. Eternally optimistic. If only the left could offer someone with similar attributes.

You do not have to like him to concede that he has made the biggest impact on British politics since Thatcher. His influence may well be baleful, but it is pervasive. A brilliant communicator and the best campaigner since Blair, he is a worthy adversary.

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UNCUT: Uncut lookahead for 2021: The under-recognised triumph of Carrie Symonds

02/01/2021, 10:56:26 PM

The king is dead. Long live the queen.

Dominic Cummings defenestration from the top window of the Number 10 flat has been widely dissected. Less well written is scale of Carrie Symonds’ triumph in pushing him out.

Some of the ex post spin has been that a Cummings exit had always been planned but the reality is plainly quite different – one small example: would someone planning a swift adieu have spent so long poring over a reorganisation of Number 10, down to making changes to the layout of the office floor plan, a few weeks before leaving?

Carrie Symonds has featured in most of the stories as one of the protagonists but principally as “Princess Nut Nuts,” whispering (or shouting) in Boris’s ear, getting in the way of Dominic and the Leave team’s master plan. Agency has been with Cummings and as the drama around his departure played out, the reporting tended to focus on the gravity of his loss to Boris and what he might do next. The substantive question of who would run the political operation in Number 10 was almost a secondary concern.

But for politics in 2021, this is what matters most and the answer is now crystal clear. Carrie Symonds not only prised Dominic Cummings out of Number 10, she is the pre-eminent political counsel to the Prime Minister.

The key piece of evidence as to her primacy is in the identity of the new Chief of Staff: Dan Rosenfield.

When the appointment was announced, the general response across Westminster was “Who?”

As a former Treasury civil servant and close aide to Alistair Darling, there were some positive quotes from Treasury old boys as varied as Damian McBride and Rupert Harrison. But the reality is that this is not a Chief of Staff in the mould of most of his predecessors.

Think of Charles Powell for Margaret Thatcher, or Jonathan Powell for Tony Blair or Ed Llewellyn for David Cameron. Dan Rosenfield does not have either the long term political relationship with the Prime Minister or deep Westminster roots that mean his words on the government’s direction and Prime Minister’s preference will be accepted as sacrosanct.

He is the quintessential outside appointment and whenever anyone disagrees with his position, civil servant or politico, Rosenfield will be subject to being bypassed via side conversations and lobbying directly of the Prime Minister. What odds on Boris Johnson holding the line and backing his new Chief of Staff ? All it takes is one or two decisions to be overturned and authority evaporates.

The only vaguely comparable situation was when Gordon Brown picked Stephen Carter, former head of Ofcom, to be his senior lieutenant. Suffice to say, it was neither a happy nor long tenure.

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UNCUT: The Uncuts 2020 (part III)

01/01/2021, 09:52:21 PM

U-turn of the Year: Boris Johnson and the Northern Ireland Protocol

‘You turn if you want to,’ Margaret Thatcher famously declared at the 1980 Conservative conference, ‘the Lady’s not for turning.’

Only she was.

Having let ten republican hunger strikers go to their deaths a few months later, she quietly relented on their central demands to be treated as political prisoners.

And having promised Ulster unionists that she would not play footsie with Dublin, Thatcher foisted the Anglo-Irish Agreement on them out of the blue in 1985 – guaranteeing the Irish government a say over Northern Ireland’s affairs.

Following in his heroine’s footsteps, Boris Johnson has also pulled off a similar U-turn, with the smell of burning rubber still hanging in the air.

The Northern Ireland Protocol guarantees there is no hard border on the island of Ireland by introducing a border in the Irish Sea instead – a key demand from Brussels, with adroit lobbying from Dublin and a not-so-subtle intervention from US President-elect, Joe Biden.

It means that Northern Ireland effectively stays inside the ambit of the EU when it comes to the import and export of goods.

This is not, shall we say, what Boris Johnson promised when he addressed the Democratic Unionist Party conference in 2018.

Back then, he told delegates that special arrangements for Northern Ireland would mean consigning it to the status of an ‘economic semi-colony of the EU.’

This would be ‘damaging the fabric of the Union’ and mean regulatory checks and customs controls between Britain and Northern Ireland.

‘No British Conservative government could or should sign up to anything of the kind,’ he said.

You do not need a crystal ball to work out what happened next.

To say there is apoplexy among unionists and loyalists over Boris’s betrayal is an epic understatement. (And we are talking David-Lean-Lawrence-of-Arabia-epic).

Yet, there are fewer and fewer unionist sympathisers in Westminster and so no-one is particularly miffed on their behalf.

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UNCUT: The Uncuts 2020 (part II)

31/12/2020, 05:45:35 PM

Politician of the year: Keir Starmer

Politics is a trade conducted exclusively in the moment so it’s worth restating the position at the point Keir Starmer became leader. Just over a year ago, Labour crashed to its worst defeat since 1935, collapsing to 203 MPs and trailing the Tories by just over 11% in the popular vote. Few alive had seen the party laid so low.

Nine months on from the leadership election, Labour is currently level pegging with the Tories, Starmer himself is consistently ahead of Boris Johnson and the Conservatives have yet to work out a consistent line of attack on him. The process of returning Labour to electoral contention will be a work of years, but the early progress under Labour’s new leader is evident.

Keir Starmer’s resolution in winning back the Jewish community’s trust and tackling anti-Semitism with Labour has combined moral and political imperatives, establishing the clearest possible dividing line with the previous leadership (albeit, helped unintentionally by the hard left’s inexplicable decision that this is the hill to die on).

British politics in 2020 has spawned many losers. Boris Johnson has squandered the public’s trust following his victory and is vulnerable, Ed Davey isn’t yet a blip in the opinion polls and even Nicola Sturgeon faces unprecedented challenges with the burgeoning civil war within the SNP between her’s and Alex Salmond’s factions. Against this backdrop of political struggles and reverses, Keir Starmer is the one British party leader who has made significant progress over the year.

Nothwithstanding the recent intra-party challenges over Brexit, he enters 2021 with a level of momentum and an expectation of further progress.

Shortest-lived Frontbencher Award: Rebecca Long-Bailey

Perhaps against the better judgement of some of his more seasoned colleagues, in April Keir Starmer opted to appoint a few of the younger Corbynites to frontbench roles, in a “unifying” play to move on from the Corbyn years. Despite his best efforts, it didn’t last.

By June Rebecca Long-Bailey, the Momentum-anointed candidate to replace Corbyn as leader, had gushingly tweeted a Guardian article by resident hard-leftie-luvvie Maxine Peake, where she regurgitated an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. While Peake herself later distanced herself from her own words as a mistake, Long-Bailey somewhat loftily refused to withdraw the tweet and apologise herself. This went down in the LOTO’s office like a lead balloon.

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UNCUT: The Uncuts: 2020 Political Awards (part I)

30/12/2020, 10:30:02 PM

Best International Politician: Joe Biden  

Our hearts may have entered 2020 longing for it to be last year of Donald Trump’s presidency. But our heads should have told us that one term presidents are rarely beaten, especially when benefitting from a growing economy and strong approval ratings for economic management.

In early February, Joe Biden secured a lower vote share at the Iowa caucus than Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg (we said, this time last year, he was one to watch and is now the President-elect’s nominee for Secretary of Transport).

Covid-19 transformed the Trump presidency and the Biden candidacy. It took a global pandemic to politically expose Trump’s inability to effectively run the federal government and make resonate Biden’s backstory of grief, resolve and decency.

While Covid-19 upended the presidential race, Biden deserves immense credit for fighting it on his own terms – not allowing himself to be goaded by Trump into spats on Twitter or elsewhere, failing to provide an easy target for Trump’s attacks on “radical socialism”, and maintaining consistent message discipline throughout the campaign.

Now this message – building back better for all Americans – needs to be made real. In a deeply divided country, with a political system grounded in bipartisanship, this will not be easy. But is a fight that Biden must win to overcome Trumpism, even if his victory over Trump makes him one of 2020’s heroes.

Political Self-Harm Award: Jeremy Corbyn.

In an unrivalled act of foot-shooting the former leader decided, after explicitly being asked not to undermine in any way the results of the EHRC report into anti-Semitism, did exactly that, declaring that said anti-Semitism had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons”.

For his trouble, he earned himself a suspension of the PLP whip and his party membership, suspensions which the party reportedly had not remotely planned to impose until his unwanted intervention.

While the party’s existing and undeniably flawed disciplinary procedure allowed his reinstatement as a party member, Keir Starmer informed him that the PLP whip, which was a matter for the leader personally, would not be reinstated and that Corbyn would sit for the present as an independent in the Commons.

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UNCUT: Labour must not try to board a sinking ship

30/12/2020, 08:02:17 AM

by Robert Williams

Promising to commit national economic suicide and break up the country more compassionately and efficiently is not really a vote winner.

Nevertheless, that is what Keir Starmer’s New! Improved! Shallow Cabinet is determined to do.

Despite splits over whether to back a Brexit deal, with some shadow ministers threatening to resign and backbench Labour MPs warning that up to 60 could rebel if Keir Starmer insists they back the government’s truly awful thin gruel deal, the party seems determined to lay claim to be the second worst opposition ever.

Labour’s dilemma is a continuation of its uncertain and internally divided position on Brexit and has been a sore point long before Keir Starmer became leader. The harsh justice is that. Labour has been consistently awful, short-termist, dishonest and cowardly for the last four years, and deserves severe criticism.

If Starmer carries through his intention to whip Labour MPs to vote for this deal, they will be neither honourable, honest or credible. You cannot be if you accept a tissue of lies, know very well that they are profoundly damaging, and do not dare oppose them because you might offend those who believed the lies.

Since he became Labour leader, Keir Starmer has, rightly, focused on competence, or rather the complete lack of it in the Johnson government. But he has deliberately ignored Brexit and the consequences of our exit from the EU, ostensibly to avoid falling into the “trap” of appearing to be pro EU. And yet there is no policy more incompetent and based on ideological lunacy than Brexit.

Quite why pointing out the damage any Brexit will cause (and is already causing) is bizarre. It becomes clearer with every passing day.

Ah, but Labour wants to show it has “moved on” from Brexit to it’s former “Red Wall” seats in the North, say some shadow ministers. Shadow Business minister Lucy Powell suggested on HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast that refusing to vote for a deal would amount to “putting two fingers up” to ex-Labour voters who back Brexit. The shadow business minister said it was “better to be strong” and take a position.

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UNCUT: Ignore the teenage scribblers on the left, Keir Starmer has got this

23/12/2020, 10:36:38 PM

by David Talbot

As dusk falls on the most punishing of years, the political fortunes of the Government has oscillated from “a fantastic year for Britain” to Christmas being cancelled across a country decimated by COVID-19, economic collapse at home, ostracisation abroad and uniform exhaustion at life being halted as we know it.

For the Prime Minister, who ushered in the New Year with what can now rightly be seen as one of the most macabre of reassurances, his bombastic optimistic, jingoism and bravado – which were all either once lauded or played significantly to his base – have become his wickeder traits as reality finally catches up with his fantasies and self-obsession.

For the Labour Party, the direction of travel has been diametrically opposed but no less difficult.
Jeremy Corbyn’s influence on the Labour Party had been profound. Corbyn, and Corbynism, was ushered into a party rootless after 13 years of power and the failure of Ed Miliband to carve out distinct ground to the left of his predecessors, whilst still appeasing a membership and trade union base yearning for “transformative” policies. The 2019 election result was the final sorry denouement to that particular thought exercise.

Labour has now been out of power for 10 years, half of that time under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. The hegemony that he held over the party, particularly post the 2017 general election defeat, has now been ceded.

One of the many early tasks for the new Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, was to establish himself before anyone else could define him.

The Conservatives’ inability to define and sustain a line of attack on the Labour leader is self-evident; he most obviously is not, for one, a far-left sympathiser of Jeremy Corbyn, nor is he – as has been highlighted to no great joy – Captain Hindsight.

Starmer rightly recognised early on in his leadership that he needed to earn the trust of the British public to be listened to again. It involves a long-term commitment to listening to and understanding why communities moved away from a party historically created to represent them.

Policies are, of course, important in politics. But so are people. Labour presented a dazzling array of policies at the general election last year which, whilst collectively popular, were holed by a complete lack of credibility and competence by those espousing them.

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GRASSROOTS: Labour’s splits over Brexit and Corbyn are threatening to spiral out of control

30/11/2020, 11:34:35 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Brexit has been driven off the front pages by Covid 19. This has created what can only be called The Reality Gap. The real world of the negotiation on the Withdrawal Agreement has been overlaid by the determination of the Johnson administration to walk out on January 1st whatever happens. A sensible government would have extended the deadline until after the Pandemic was beaten, but sense and sensibility are absent in an increasingly unreal world where debate is minimal.

The negotiations are clearly posing serious threats, either of a thin agreement – still the most likely outcome – or a No Deal. The slogan which won the 2019 election of an Oven Ready Deal was never realistic. A deal likely to keep the same terms as the UK now enjoy was not on the table. As the pandemic has done major damage to the British economy, a thin deal could create a major recession. No Deal would be worse. But as the British cannot deal with two major threats at the same time, Brexit has become invisible.

The risks were underlined in mid-November by the BBC report that Felixstowe – Britain’s major container port – was blocked and imports were stranded, some having to go to Rotterdam and come in by other ports. The delays will continue through December and into the New Year – withdrawal is not going to help the situation.

In Kent the lorry access through Dover and the Channel ports after January 1st is so problematic that lorry parks for up to 7000 lorries are being built. For the companies that rely on imports and exports, on top of the pandemic, the financial consequences of the Felixstowe bottleneck are already very serious.

Since problems with trade have such major risks, the Labour Party should be putting all its energies into holding the government to account. Sadly it is in danger of lapsing into civil war over the EHRC report and the removal of the parliamentary whip from Jeremy Corbyn. As this could involve legal action -hopefully this will not happen – any discussion of this is inadvisable and could be sub judice.

Indeed some elements of the Left – including Jon Trickett – believe Labour should apologise for backing a confirmatory referendum and not lining up with Farage, Johnson and Cummings in regarding the 2016 vote as the last word. Their views were set out in an article on Labour List on November 12th demonstrating continued fault lines in the Party over the successful attempt by the Tory Right to split progressive forces. However this does not mean that Labour should ignore the problems coming in six weeks time. Certainly the current internal ructions are a further distraction, and if unions do withdraw election funding the next five months up to the May elections this will threaten the basic function of the Labour Party – to fight and win voter support.

The Party is starting to spiral out of control.

Trevor Fisher was a member of the Labour Coordinating Committee executive 1987-90 and secretary of the Labour Reform Group 1995- 2007. He was a member of the Compass Executive 2007-2009

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GRASSROOTS: Yes Labour must bold, but it must not fall into civil war

25/11/2020, 11:07:49 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Only two responses to my recent piece on the need for Labour to be bold, addressed the issues. Ted Wilson is wrong to argue that the SNP should be held to its 2014 “Once in a Generation” slogan and no 2nd vote be allowed, this is the Boris Tory line and it is both politically and constitutionally wrong.

Constitutionally it has always been the case than campaign slogans cannot be enforced. Bill Clinton won his first presidency on Keynesian economics, went to the treasury and promptly junked all his campaign pledges – and embracing treasury orthodoxy did him no harm at all. No campaign slogan is ever enforceable. As Johnson is currently showing with the “Oven ready deal” slogan of 2019. Politically it is not the case, as Theresa May accepted, that a second referendum can be denied, so Labour should stop endorsing the Johnson-Tory position.

Meanwhile Labour’s internal politics are becoming toxic. Corbynites and anti-Corbynites are tearing the party apart. The three month suspension should be accepted and hostilities suspended.  As legal proceedings may happen, any discussion of the EHRC report and implications are sub judice, but a deeply ominous threat has emerged from three unions who are reported to have threatened to remove funding for the May 2021 elections unless Corbyn has the whip restored immediately.

According to the Mirror, Unite, CWU and FBU have made this threat which must be withdrawn. It is a direct attack on Labour’s campaigning and helps the Tories. Activists fighting elections depend on having central funding when needed, especially for Commissioner elections. The threat by the three unions goes to the heart of what Labour, as the Labour Representation Committee, was formed in 1900 to achieve – fight and win elections. Elections cannot be won without funding. Withdraw this threat NOW.

And the second valid comment on my article? Tafia for once got something right. Michael Meacher was indeed a lovely man. And saved the Labour Party. At a crucial moment in the battles of the 80s when the NEC was finely balanced between the factions, a vital vote was on a knife edge and Meacher normally voted with the left. Neil Kinnock whispered to Meacher, sitting next to him, “If I lose this vote I am resigning”. Michael switched his vote and won the day. I bought him a drink when next I met him, he did enjoy a drink. But he was also a political realist and knew when the leader had to be backed.  Activists on the NEC have a choice to make. Back the current leader, not the last one, and stop a civil war.

Trevor Fisher was a member of the Labour Coordinating Committee executive 1987-90 and secretary of the Labour Reform Group 1995- 2007. He was a member of the Compass Executive 2007-2009

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