UNCUT: Why did the hard left fail?

10/04/2020, 09:30:02 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The central assumption governing Labour politics for the past five years was that the shift leftwards under Jeremy Corbyn was unassailable. So overwhelming were the numbers of new members, encouraged, enthused and loyal to their man, following his unexpected election as leader in 2015, that control of the party had irrevocably decamped to the left.

Indeed, something had changed at the molecular level.

The creation of Momentum – a left-wing standing army within the party, numbered in the hundreds of thousands and solely dedicated to preserving the Corbyn insurgency – terrified moderate MPs who feared mandatory reselection was coming and with it the invitation to walk the plank, with hard-left activists jeering them on to a watery grave.

Party decision-making and policy formulation would fall into the clutches of a cabal of activists and far left trade unionists, who would then foist a shopping list of doctrinaire policies on the party. Unilateral nuclear disarmament – which had been the pivotal issue in party splits both in the 1950s and 1980s – would again incinerate Labour’s credibility as a party of government.

But the real story of the past five years is that barely a fraction of this supposed horror story ever came true.

Like Gordon Brown in 2007, Jeremy Corbyn had no real idea what he wanted to do with power. Yes, he had a few causes that drove him. Plenty of rhetoric, too. But there was no burning ambition. Still less a grand plan.

Rather than force through mandatory reselection and use his grassroots shock troops to unseat his opponents in the parliamentary party, the reselection process before the last election resulted in few victims.

Yes, Chuka and a few other disgruntled Blairite MPs who had fallen out with their local parties flounced off, but nothing like as serious as the 28 who fled to set up the SDP in 1981. And Corbyn was perfectly within his rights to try and bring some of his own supporters through. All leaders do it.

Whiny Labour MPs who simply didn’t respect his mandate and would never serve on his frontbench, just made a difficult situation worse. Credit therefore goes to the Jon Ashworth’s and John Healey’s and Andrew Gwynne’s for rolling-up their sleeves and serving the party’s broader interest.

Nor did policy drift too far to the fringes.

The cause of nuclear disarmament – once so totemic – seemed to just fall by the wayside. While the manifesto put forward at the 2017 election was merely a dialled-up version of Labour’s position from the early 1990s. A bit of nationalisation here. A bit more spending there. It was a dose of the old religion, but still recognisably social democratic stuff.

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UNCUT: 10 years ago Gordon Brown launched Labour’s general election campaign in the home counties. Keir Starmer’s job is to make that realistic again

10/04/2020, 08:30:17 AM

by David Talbot

Ten years ago this week, in a break with tradition, Gordon Brown strode out from No 10 with his Cabinet lined up behind him and addressed the nation. The then worse kept secret in politics, that the country would go to the polls on May 6, was announced and Brown immediately sped off to the home counties – back when Labour held such seats – to begin his campaign for a fourth Labour term.

Labour’s clear intention that day was to portray the strength of the party’s top team, compared to that of the perceived lightweight Conservatives.

Prime Ministers usually like to claim all the spotlight when calling an election, and the Conservatives, quite rightly in riposte, pointed out that the tactic highlighted how, unlike most leaders, Gordon Brown was clearly not seen nor portrayed by Labour as their strongest card.

Ten years on, and three leaders later, Labour’s latest leadership contest was long on process and short on suspense. The commanding victory for Sir Keir Starmer, which avoided the razor-thin margin of 2010, or the factionalism of 2015 and 2017, provides stability at the top of the party arguably not seen since the halcyon days of 2007 when the prospect of an early election closed Labour’s ranks.

Starmer has already brought some much-needed dignity to his position. The early strokes of his leadership are at once encouraging, but when pitted against such a pitiful predecessor, objective analysis becomes ever more difficult. He has been bequeathed a party left in appalling health; not just electorally, but exhausted, riddled with division, tormented over its past and unsure of its future.

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UNCUT: Finally, Corbyn is gone. But let’s not trade the sainted Jezza for the cult of Keir

08/04/2020, 09:51:37 PM

by Tim Carter

The results are in and the predictable groaning and cheering has started, people being stood down from the shadow cabinet and others promoted.

A new leader and a new approach. One of Starmer’s first acts was to send a letter to the Board of Deputies expressing his sorrow and shame on behalf of the party, a much needed action but also something that could’ve and should’ve been done years ago.

But what happens next is crucial and much is down to the membership.

Much has be written about the ‘cultism’ of the Corbyn era, whether the use of the word ‘cult’ is fair matters not, it became about one man, the talk of a movement was mainly baloney and the reactions from some prominent ‘Corbynistas’ have proven that point in bundles.

But sadly the reactions of some on the ‘anti Corbyn’ side have been difficult to witness, politics isn’t the x-factor and we should remember that in the coming days.

Sure we all have politicians we admire and want to have a ‘big role’ but we elect leaders to lead and it is the leader who has to be trusted to pick the right team.

So, I hear you ask, what is your fear?

My fear is of ‘cultism’ if we replace one cult with another we are doomed.

New Labour wasn’t about the adoration of Tony Blair, it was much more than that and looking back at that first shadow cabinet and the eventual first cabinet, it can clearly be seen – a team working hard, all with roles and all on top of their brief.

Over the years things have changed and now people, most of whom probably aren’t old enough to remember, or weren’t Labour voters at the time, have created something that didn’t exist “the cult of Blair.”

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UNCUT: How are we going to refer to Starmer’s approach and its followers?

08/04/2020, 06:02:26 PM

by Kevin Meagher

So, after the rapture of his victory on Saturday with a 56% share of the vote, followers of Labour’s new leader can be forgiven for indulging in a bout of Starmerama, but how are we to describe his credo and what are we going to call his disciples?

This mania for suffixing ‘ism’ and ‘ite’ to the names of political leaders or factions started in the 1950s with the Bevanites and the Gaitskellites – the Crip(p)s and the Bloods of post-war Labour politics.

You can’t imagine Clement Attlee going in for such nonsense and there were never really any Wilsonites either, although, like Peter Mandelson, things were done in a Wilsonian way. (And it’s not meant to be complementary).

Of course, we had Thatcherism and Thatcherites. Fair enough, given it was a distinct ideology and had a set of adherents. As were the Bennites at the opposite end of the spectrum.

So, not to be outdone and given it was then de rigeur in British politics by then, we had Blairism and Blairites.

We didn’t really have Brownism, but there were certainly Brownites.

During his five years at the helm, we had neither Milibandism, nor Milibandites. He was too much the intellectual gadfly, never settling on a coherent approach above and beyond ‘moving on from New Labour.’

Of course, there was Corbynism and Corbynites. Lots of them.

So, are we entering a bright new dawn of Starmerism? Or perhaps it will be Keirism?

Starmerite sounds like a household adhesive.

And Starmite doesn’t work because it could mean you either love him or hate him.

How to sum-up his approach?

Well, if the job of Opposition Leader is to benefit from the multifarious failings of the government of the day, then there’s only one term for his approach: Steer karma.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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GRASSROOTS: A warning from 2008: Do not assume Corona leads to a new progressive moment

08/04/2020, 10:03:58 AM

by Jake Richards

Keir Starmer has been elected leader of the Labour Party amidst crisis. His priority, rightly, is to show that the country now has a credible and coherent Leader of the Opposition who is willing to work with the Government during the outbreak of Covid-19. However, Starmer and the newly appointed Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds, will already be beginning to assess how the crisis will affect the broader political environment.

It is tempting to assume the zeitgeist of the corona outbreak will be progressive. A Conservative government has embraced the most interventionist state economic programme since the war, essentially nationalising a closed-down economy, whilst rough sleeping has been wiped out and hospitals created seemingly overnight. Images and videos of the public applauding our NHS workers have gone viral. A new appreciation for ‘key workers’ in the ‘real economy’ — rubbish collectors, those in the food supply chain, delivery drivers — has emerged. The sense of community spirit combined with the anger at examples of scurrilous businesses taking advantage of taxpayers or employees is more evidence that this is a ‘moment of the left’.

Already, articles by left-wing thinkers are heralding ‘capitalism’s gravest challenge’, the transformation of the private sector and a new popular outcry for ‘big government’.

There was a similar sense after the 2008 financial crash and government intervention around the world ended an ideological reverence to self-correcting markets. In the 12 years since, the Conservatives have won four General Elections, the UK has left the European Union, and in America, India, Brazil and Russia (and elsewhere) we have witnessed the rise of a nationalist populism many thought was confined to the 20th Century. Indeed, although the immediate response to Covid-19 has been statist in a progressive sense, it is easy to envisage a reactionary, isolationist response developing in relation to our borders and trade soon developing.

Whilst a new active state during the crisis offers Labour an array of policy options, the new leader should proceed with caution. Labour has just suffered a devastating defeat on a platform arguing for a massively expanded Government — with nationalisation of key industries, free broadband for all and the development of a universal basic income. Focus groups and polling undertaken after the election revealed voters simply did not believe many of Labour’s policies (however popular on paper) were realistic or welcome as a package. The unpopularity of a universal basic income was striking — suggesting a deep reverence to personal responsibility and work, and a suspicion of ‘free handouts’.

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UNCUT: The first step on a long road for Labour

05/04/2020, 10:25:35 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Saturday was a tremendous day for Labour. Having been knighted for services to law and criminal justice, Keir Starmer brings more impressive professional experience than perhaps any previous Labour leader. He is a serious figure for serious times. Winning on the first round with over 56% of the vote gives him a strong personal mandate.

Angela Rayner has great potential as the new deputy leader. Other deputy and leadership candidates – Lisa Nandy, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Ian Murray – emerge with credit and higher profiles. The many talents on the Labour backbenches will be brought to the frontbenches.

Candidates backed by Progress and Labour First swept the board in the NEC elections – congratulations to Johanna Baxter and Gurinder Singh Josan. The party machine can be remade in Starmer’s image.

But challenges confronting Labour remain vast: fewer MPs than at any time since 1935 and an unprecedented context of national peril.

When shortages of tests, PPE and ventilators mean people die, the new political currency is thought to be competency. Less than a week after testing positive for Covid-19, Matt Hancock appeared in public to open an emergency health facility with many people around him not observing social distancing rules. While Hancock is considered one of the government’s more competent members, this visual communicates something else.

Whereas competency might imply a politics of cool rationality, we live in a country where 5G towers are set on fire. Because, deaf to the protestations of those that told us we’d had enough of experts, they are somehow supposed to spread Covid-19.

With emotions running high, the ability to mould how people feel remains politically central. Competency means using Gantt charts to get the right stuff in the right place at the right time. That is politically necessary but insufficient. We also now seek connection with newly treasured emotions: reassurance, reliability and hope.

Speaking to the nation on Sunday evening, the Queen summons these feelings for many much more effectively than Keir Starmer – who, for all his attributes, is the leader of a deeply mistrusted party. While Starmer enjoys a reputation for competency, he confronts the formidable challenge of moving Labour beyond associations with extremism and anti-British sentiments to find new emotional connection with an anxious public.

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UNCUT: Labour’s problems are not all down to Corbyn

04/04/2020, 10:34:11 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Of course, the temptation is to grind Corbynista faces into the dirt.

After all, aren’t they responsible for the party’s drubbing in December, the worst performance in a general election since 1935?

Yes, but only to a point. Culpability for the state Labour finds itself in should be shared more widely.

The party has been in decline for at least the past 15 years and there has never been an inquest into why the Corbyn insurgency ignited in the first place.

Plainly, Jeremy Corbyn should never have been leader.

He was a classic campaigning backbencher, pulled out of position and kept in the leadership because the parliamentary party would never have nominated a replacement candidate from the left in any subsequent leadership contest.

So, there he stayed.

To his credit, he never even wanted the role, merely standing in 2015 as the left’s candidate on the cab-rank principle that it was his turn to fly the flag in a leadership contest and lose heavily, as McDonnell did in 2007 and Abbott in 2010.

Yet, as we know, Ed Miliband’s disastrous party reforms opened the door for the ‘three quid trots’ to sweep into the party and turbo-charge Corbyn’s vote. The rest is history.

Labour MPs are to blame, too, for making a bad situation worse. Their precipitous leadership challenge in 2016 played straight into the hands of left-wing activists who yelled ‘betrayal,’ galvanising them into returning Corbyn in even greater numbers.

From that point, he was unmovable.

The trade unions – representing only a sliver of the modern workforce – are to blame for indulging their fantasy politics.

The fact the main three affiliates: Unite, Unison and the GMB broke three ways for, respectively, Long-Bailey, Starmer and Nandy, is proof they are slowly coming back to the centre, but they bear responsibility for dragging the party into shallow water in the first place.

(Indeed, the hidden story in this election is just how quiet Unite and Len McCloskey have been, leaving the hapless Rebecca Long-Bailey to her own devices to run one of the poorest campaigns I can remember).

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GRASSROOTS: Covid dispatch from Madrid

26/03/2020, 02:40:38 PM

by Malcolm Kennedy

Madrid, March 25, 2020

I gaze out of the window at a clear blue sky and feel cheered up.

Watching the TV brings me back down to earth as I receive the news that the total of deaths in Spain has reached 3,434. It has risen inexorably since I arrived on February 6th to spend some time with my Spanish wife and celebrate the birthdays of her son and our friend, Gertrud.

Little did we know that come Gertrud’s birthday we would be forbidden to travel and would largely be confined to our apartment.

For over a week, now, my only ventures out of the apartment have been to put out the rubbish and go to the local supermarkets and pharmacy. Every trip out feels extremely stressful in a bustling city which has now ground to a halt.

Normally Madrid is a vibrant place with bars full, people lunching on the many terraces and tourists visiting the many cultural attractions. Around the corner from us, the teeming transport interchange for buses, coaches and the Metro in Avenida de América has died. The line of taxis is stationary and unused.

Shocking news emerges of a major ice rink being commandeered as a temporary morgue while the major exhibition centre IFEMA is transformed into a hospital.

We are in the middle of a storm and the restrictions are wisely draconian.

From afar, the lockdown in the UK seems like a half-hearted response.

I have been very impressed by PSOE President Pedro Sanchez and his government. The communication of facts, how problems are being addressed and the use of experts appears on a different level to my experience in the UK.

Well, at least, in the past decade.

There was a time when I could be proud of our country’s leaders. Pedro Sanchez and his government are making me similarly proud.

Life has been put on hold. My flight to the UK on the 23rd was cancelled. My flight back to Spain on the 8th for Holy Week obviously is useless even if it became possible.

Anyway, Holy Week has been cancelled during this unholy crisis. In a Catholic country like Spain this is unprecedented. On top of all the religious processions being cancelled the annual exodus to the Costas has been put on hold. The damage to the hospitality industry of this and the other measures is simply incalculable.

What have I learned apart from a reinforcement of John Lennon’s dictum that “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”?

Well, I hope we have all learned the importance of good political leadership and the importance of experts and science. Above all I hope we have learned the importance of health workers, shop workers, rubbish disposal workers and all those in the frontline who are helping us get through all this.

Hasta la vista.

Malcolm Kennedy is a member of Liverpool City Council. He tweets @CllrKennedy

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UNCUT: This past few weeks have only confirmed Corbynite Labour’s unfitness to govern

18/03/2020, 10:27:10 PM

by Rob Marchant

And so, while not wanting to be complacent, many of us dare to hope that the shutters are finally lifting on the Corbynite era, where the openly continuity-Corbyn candidates seem poised to lose in both Leader and Deputy Leader elections.

The beginning of the end, fingers crossed.

Even were that not the case, it seems that the dying embers of that Corbynite leadership seems bent on helping them lose, through a series of actions so cack-handed, so politically tone-deaf, that they leave even their most ardent supporters within the party are left struggling to comprehend them.

First there was the Trevor Phillips suspension from the party by Labour’s high command.

For those unfamiliar with Phillips’ record, he is a decent and sometimes thought-provoking former politician, who was the first leader of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), set up by Labour as a real step forward in protecting minorities of all kinds.

Oh and, we might just mention in passing, it is the organisation currently investigating the Labour party for anti-Semitism.

In short, Labour has decided, a matter of weeks before the likely-critical EHRC report is released, to try and clumsily discredit that organisation by association.

In fact, to try and discredit it on a trumped-up charge of “Islamophobia” for comments made years ago, levelled at a man who has not merely talked about fighting racism – all the while consorting with real racists, like the party’s current leader – but who has genuinely made it a great part of his life’s work to lead institutions and initiatives which promote tolerance between communities.

To try and dump on Phillips is transparently a move both of grubbiness and of desperation, in case we should expect anything less from the Corbyn place-people currently in charge of the party machine.

And then – were this idiocy not sufficient – we might note that the main target of Phillips’ so-called “Islamophobia” was the rape gangs in Northern cities such as Rotherham. Thus neatly putting the party on the side of the rapists and against the overwhelming majority of the British public, most of whom are both disgusted by what went on and perfectly capable of distinguishing between an ordinary Muslim and a Muslim rapist.

But that is not all. The debates have shown even some of our more promising candidates to be batshit crazy on trans self-id, let alone the leaden-footed, continuity-Corbynite duo of Long-Bailey and Burgon.

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UNCUT: Meticulous Starmer needs to plan for unknown futures

09/03/2020, 10:33:19 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“Other characteristics [Keir Starmer] brought to [his legal career] have remained with him to this day,” Martin Kettle writes in Prospect. “He was meticulous. He has integrity. He looked at the detail. He planned things out. He was extremely orderly. He was very good at spotting the winning point in a case.”

The known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns, as Donald Rumsfeld put it, create a vast spectrum of possibilities between now and the next general election. In this uncertain context, it will be challenging for Starmer, likely to soon be Labour leader, to plan a course to Labour general election victory.

Winning general election pitches typically promise to resolve the zeitgeist’s issue. For example, with their “long-term economic plan” in 2015, the Conservatives committed to maintaining a focus upon deficit reduction and economic recovery. Ed Miliband’s Labour did not sufficiently junk a reputation for profligacy to disrupt this message. More recently, Boris Johnson told us that he would “get Brexit done”. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour lacked equivalent clarity or a credible method for addressing the dominant issue of Brexit.

Whether Brexit will again be central to this parliament and how smoothly Johnson can get it done are known unknowns. When the Labour leadership election began, coronavirus was an unknown unknown. Now it threatens to usurp Brexit as the overriding political issue. If these issues were to combine (e.g. a no deal Brexit atop supply chains undermined by coronavirus), they would be even more significant.

There’s plenty of time for more unknown unknowns to emerge before the next general election. The aggressive style of the Johnson government – not content with renegotiating all our trade relationships, it is on a war footing with the civil service, BBC and judiciary – means that unintended consequences are a major known unknown.

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