UNCUT: Labour’s right must find a new clarity of mission

26/09/2015, 03:35:02 PM

by David Butler

Saturday September 12th was perhaps the worst internal defeat ever suffered by the Labour right. The scale of Corbyn’s victory was as vast as it was stunning. To recover, the Labour right must rediscover a clarity of mission and craft a new story to tell the party and the country.

This defeat was worse than Michael Foot’s victory in 1980 and the internal setbacks of the late 70s and early 80s.  Foot was picked by a divided and fearful PLP. A minority of ideologically uncompromising activists drove the Bennite surge. Corbyn’s victory was, by contrast, a popular one; the Party’s members, supporters and affiliates dealt the blow.

Like the Liberals in 1906, this may be a victory from which the left of the party never recovers. Yet Corbyn’s failure, if that occurs, will not be sufficient to win back the hearts and minds of the party faithful.

Phil Collins argued that internal regeneration has three parts: intellectual, organisational, and personal. Intellectual renewal precedes the latter two. This involves not just reflecting upon ideology but also the strategic context that Labour operates within. Critically, it is also about finding a new clarity of mission.

The leadership election had a clear message: dry arguments about process, policy and electability are not enough to win. Too much time spent on these and too little time on developing a vision cursed the three moderate candidates in the race. The candidates of the right, unfairly or otherwise, came across as hollow.

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UNCUT: Corbyn and McDonnell are finding out why most politicians are all things to all people

25/09/2015, 04:07:32 PM

by Kevin Meagher

John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn are a pair of Philips screwdrivers. That’s not meant as a derogatory analogy (‘a pair of spanners’ etc) but merely to point out that, hitherto, during their long years as Members of Parliament, they have performed a single, unique function.

As “campaigning backbench MPs” of a type that Labour has a long tradition of indulging, they champion causes that are outside ‘safe’ political confines. This is not to everyone’s taste, clearly, and from time to time they will say something, or be photographed or share a platform with someone that gets them into trouble with the political mainstream.

But that’s fine; political parties need to be broad churches under first-past-the-post and reach out to as many people as possible. So, every once in a while, an issue that’s deemed to be beyond the pale today graduates into everyone’s favourite cause tomorrow. In this context, MPs of the kind Corbyn and McDonnell were can have a legitimate and sometimes useful role as a conduit to bring those outside in from the cold. (That said, whether they are visionaries, or merely contrarians, is moot).

I say were because a problem arises when you try to use a Philips screwdriver on the more familiar slot-headed screw. It’s an awkward fit. Actually, it doesn’t fit at all.  Like when you take “campaigning backbench MPs” and put them into the top two positions in the Labour party. All their previous views and associations are pored over and thrown back at them. Such is the price for rebels turned statesmen.

The issue has crystallised around John McDonnell’s explanation about why he spoke to a gathering of Irish republicans back in 2003, making the case that it was the IRA’s “bombs and bullets and sacrifice” that brought the British state to the negotiating table. Speaking on last week’s Question Time, he apologised for any offence caused by his remarks, arguing it was a genuine attempt to engage wary republicans and deter them from drifting away from the peace process at a critical time.

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UNCUT: The soft left made Corbyn leader. They’re Labour’s swing vote and need to be won back for the centre

24/09/2015, 10:06:42 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Jeremy Corbyn’s been in post for 13 days. It still doesn’t seem real. On Tuesday he will give his inaugural conference address as Labour leader against a backdrop of splits on unilateralism and talk of mandatory reselections for MPs.

The party has been bundled into a DeLorean and now we’re back in the 1980s.

During the leadership campaign I wrote a couple of pieces predicting doom for Corbyn’s candidacy. When YouGov published their first poll I was pretty disparaging. Surely the majority didn’t want to go back to 1980s Labour?

Clearly I was wrong, wrong as it’s possible to be. YouGov were right, the Corbynistas were right, the earthquake happened and everything came crashing down. The Tories are jubilant and privately looking at a majority in 2020 that could tip over into three figures.

In the past fortnight, since Labour’s election results I’ve spent time speaking to members, registered supporters, CLP office-holders, MPs and candidates to understand the answer to two questions: who switched to Corbyn – because this level of support for the hard left in the party is unprecedented – and why.

Back in August, Mike Harris articulated the scale of change at a local level in this excellent post. As Mike says, it’s like an entirely different party has been created.

However, this new party isn’t an entirely unfamiliar party.

CLP chairs and secretaries are uniformly clear that most new members and supporters have been involved with the party before.

The defining characteristic of the majority in this group is that they are from the soft left. Not the hard left from where Corbyn hails, nor Trotskyite entryists or Stalinist tankies from fringe groups outside the party (the far left in the declension of the British left).

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GRASSROOTS: Labour desperately needs a soft left revival

23/09/2015, 10:05:24 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The Labour leadership campaign was a traditional selection process, despite extraordinary features.

While the Corbyn surge and the tripling of numbers entitled to vote flowed from changes made in the procedure, the thinking behind the leadership selection has lapsed behind the constitutional changes made and being made by the coalition government and its Tory successor, most importantly the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

This meant that the new leader has to spend the best part of five years in opposition. By the time the conference season is over, by October 7th, the leaders of all the opposition parties will be facing four years and seven months in opposition. Pledges to do this and that in government are marginal at best. As Fiona Millar has said, the duty of an opposition is to oppose.

The Labour leadership election was thus de facto not about electing a possible future prime minister. It was about leadership in opposition. This reality vanished from the selection process, which produced a series of policy initiatives for a manifesto which is in the remote future.

If there is no successful opposition, then the policies to renationalise rail, bring schools back under local authority control, or whatever are irrelevant. Labour remains, as it has been since it was set up in 1900, a vehicle for representing Labour at Westminster, but there is no strategy for doing this in a way which derails the government and build support in the country.

A key lesson set out by Professor David Runciman in the London Review of Books immediately after the election (10th-21st May 2015) has been missed. Runciman argued “For Labour it is finally time to abandon the idea that its primary purpose is to secure majorities in the House of Commons and that it should do nothing to put that prize at risk. It needs to become more like a typical European social democratic party, which recognises that nothing can be achieved without forging alliances with others.”

Runciman accepts that this will be difficult, but is himself behind the curve of European social democracy and other centre currents which are clearly in trouble.

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UNCUT: What to expect from Tim Farron

23/09/2015, 10:20:10 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Commenting on Tim Farron’s Liberal Democrats on BBC Daily Politics on Monday, Kelvin MacKenzie claimed, “it’s like that line about the Pope. How many divisions has he got?” He meant, “he doesn’t have enough MPs to matter”. But if MacKenzie reflected on the origin of the quotation, he might come to a different conclusion.

While Stalin asked this question of the Pope in 1935, the Catholic Church remains and the Soviet Union does not. If all that mattered were divisions, this would not be so. Ideas matter too. Ultimately, more than divisions. The ideas of the Soviet Union weren’t strong enough for their divisions to sustain it.

During this Liberal Democrat conference week, the question ought to be: Do they have compelling enough ideas to avoid the Soviet Union’s fate?

It’s easy to mock their dearth of divisions – even MacKenzie can do it. It’s harder, yet more important, to assess the force of the ideas that sustain them.

The idea that Farron is selling is “social justice and economic credibility”. Listen to him on TV and radio this week, he keeps coming back to this very New Labour couplet. He’ll do so again – and probably again – in today’s speech.

It ill behoves me to comment on Farron without acknowledging the crushing defeat that he inflicted on me as Labour’s candidate in Westmorland and Lonsdale in 2010. I was road kill on Farron’s ruthlessly efficient transformation of a safe Conservative seat into that now very rare thing, a Liberal Democrat citadel.

“The trouble with Michael is that he had to buy all his furniture”. Michael Jopling may be best remembered on the national political scene for being reported in the Alan Clark diaries as saying this about Michael Heseltine. In Westmorland, he is better remembered for consistently riding on the back of truck at the County Show and making sure that everyone knew he was there. Vehicle aided, this could be quickly accomplished, a good lunch doubtless earned. His successor, Tim Collins, is said to have later spent more time at the show but lingered uncomfortably throughout in the shadows of the Tory tent. Accustomed to Jopling’s routine, voters enquired, “where is our MP?”

They’ve never had cause to ask this of Farron since he defeated Collins in 2005, a campaign in which Collins maintained all shadow ministerial commitments across the country, confident that Westmorland would remain blue. Tireless pavement politics put Farron into parliament and allowed him to spectacularly grow his majority five years later.

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UNCUT: Of course #Piggate is nonsense, but it exposes weaknesses in Cameron’s Tory party

22/09/2015, 10:27:09 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Like most people, I didn’t think I would find myself writing about whether or not a young David Cameron inserted his penis into the severed head of a pig in order to join one of those ghastly upper-crust Oxbridge dinin’n’cavortin’ clubs, but, here we are, having a good giggle at his expense.

But behind the head shaking wonderment at how the other half lives lie some interesting revelations about how Cameron deals with people and how he copes in a crisis.

  1. The first is that a Conservative peer and former political editor of the Conservative-supporting Sunday Times (Isabel Oakeshott) are responsible for bringing the grisly revelation to light. Lord Ashcroft, for it is he, is quite open about his “beef” with Cameron for not apparently honouring a promise of a government job after 2010. So is this his elaborate revenge? If so, it doesn’t say much for Cameron’s people management skills that he cannot handle his dealings with the biggest single donor to his party over the last 15 years and, perhaps, that he cannot honour a deal.

    But what of the source for the story? Ashcroft/Oakeshott insist it was a Conservative MP (and assumed contemporary of Cameron) who repeated the tale to them, on several occasions. Cui bono? And why the alacrity in sticking the knife into their own leader?

  1. Then there’s the handling of the revelation itself. Downing Street initially poured cold water on the story, haughtily refusing to “dignify” the allegation with a response. This avoids the follow-up headline: ‘Cam rejects claim he put his penis in a pig’s mouth,’ but it’s also a classic ‘non-denial denial’. It urges us to move along without actually rubbishing the veracity of the tale.

    Indeed, it’s interesting there has been no retinue of Conservative MPs hitting the airwaves to denounce it. (It comes to something when Toby Young is the ‘go to guy’ to offer Downing Street’s off-the-books counter-spin). Perhaps Tory MPs calculate that being on the right side of Michael Ashcroft is better for their long-term prospects than helping out a Prime Minister who will be gone in the next four years?

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UNCUT: Corbyn won’t be leader into 2020, but he will decide who is

21/09/2015, 09:54:15 PM

by Kevin Meagher

If you don’t like heights, then it’s probably not worth setting your heart on becoming a steeplejack. Given Jeremy Corbyn has never sought a frontbench job in his 32 years as a Labour MP until it was “his turn” to stand for the leadership as the left’s standard bearer, how will he now cope with the demands of the job?

After his first week he will have discovered that leading a political party (and not just any party, but the official opposition) is all-consuming. Wooing people you don’t like (and who may not like you in return). Defusing internal rows. Prepping for PMQs. An endless cycle of trudging around the country on visits. Round after round of media interviews. A big part of the job is trying to get noticed (for the right reasons) and stay relevant to what is going on in the news.

Then there’s the small matter of Corbyn’s track record as a serial rebel, plus an array of causes and radical positions he has spent three decades adopting that will require endless defending and explaining. There is a reason why our successful professional politicians are all things to all people.

To his credit, Corbyn is not a personally ambitious man. There is no yellowing envelope in his jacket pocket plotting each stage of his rise to greatness. He does not covet power and thinks, instead, as part of a collective, “a movement” as he puts it.

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UNCUT: What’s so left-wing about bashing Britain?

17/09/2015, 10:16:02 PM

by David Ward

Two events summed up an issue at the core of Jeremy Corbyn’s recent problems. First, at the TUC conference, a hunched figure looked over his glasses to remind us of individual Trade Unionists bravery and organisation to set up a movement which represented workers rights’ in disparate small businesses. Second, a suited man stood straight and stony faced while everyone else sung the national anthem at the Battle of Britain memorial ceremony.

Let’s leave aside the visual spectacle of these two clips on the news – although be in no doubt it was awful. What came across was a man who feels at home lecturing people about one set of heroes of the left in a safe space, but somehow feels a statement must be made about his views on the monarchy at a memorial service.

The question in my mind, and I’m sure many others, was what kind of message this sends to the Battle of Britain pilots and groundcrew who might also have been members of a trade union. What kind of morality feels at home distinguishing between them?

It is the kind of politics more at home in the student union bar than on the national stage. What would trade unionists like Ernie Bevin would have made of it? Or even Tony Benn who served along with his father and brother in the RAF during the second world war?

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GRASSROOTS: The leadership election and Corbyn’s shadow cabinet show that Labour needs All Women Shortlists more than ever

16/09/2015, 10:19:09 PM

by Alex Ross Shaw

2015 marks the fortieth anniversary of the election of Margaret Thatcher as leader of the Conservative Party. 2015 is also the year that the Labour party, which used to love to taunt the Conservatives over their ‘women problems’, elected a man to be the Leader, Deputy Leader and their London Mayoral candidate.

Following Harriet Harman’s departure from her second stint as acting Leader of the party, a role twice fulfilled by women otherwise kept out of the magic circle of leadership, it’s worth reflecting on the necessity of All Women Shortlists (AWS) in our party and their failure to supply a leader in the 20-plus years they’ve been put forward.

Instinctively, I don’t support AWS. I have seen them foster resentment among colleagues male and female. I would prefer a system where shortlists are made up of 50:50 male to female ratios but sadly, what I would prefer in an ideal world does not work. Therefore my support for AWS is based on evidence of which the 2015 Labour internal elections are merely the latest in a long line.

If you believe men and women are equal you have to address why men dominate the upper echelons of society and politics and always have. The answer is structural and perhaps even inherent in how society and people operate. Clearly, simply increasing the number of female candidates is not enough. Labour has a much larger talent pool of female MPs than the Conservatives and we’ve still failed to elect a woman leader.

The fact that having two strong candidates in 2015 after having one candidate in 2010 on borrowed votes is seen as progress shows how far we have to go. 2015 should be the bare minimum, not our best effort yet.

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UNCUT: Looking-glass Labour: what happens next

16/09/2015, 10:42:43 AM

by Rob Marchant

On Monday, a smiling photo was published of the first Cabinet meeting. A plucky attempt at “business as usual”. But business is now anything but usual, as the disarray at his first parliamentary meeting showed.

As John Slinger wrote at Uncut back in July, we are now in the realm, not of New Labour or Blue Labour, but “looking-glass Labour”. A strange, almost psychedelic parody of what chimes with the public and wins elections for Labour.

Just like with Alice, from the other side of the mirror things look as if the looking-glass side is exactly the same. But it is only when you get through to the other side of the looking-glass, that you see the parts which you could not see so easily before. The bit behind the mantelpiece. The part through the parlour door. They are different.

This is not a prediction. Things will happen at different speeds, and perhaps some will not happen at all. But, according to well-travelled historical precedent, the following is what generally happens in this party, when it develops a critical mass from the far left, as it did in the 1980s; it is essentially the manner of warring factions and coups on which the SWP runs. It is effectively what is happening now within Labour.

One. Corbyn is not a leader. The people around Corbyn now hold the power, he does not. The kitchen cabinet. They are likely to start to agitate early on, in terms of policy and running the party machine. When we talk about the leadership, we therefore mean the leader’s Office, trusted hard-left MPs inside and outside the shadow cabinet, selected members of the NEC and the main trade union leaders, particularly Unite. These people will collectively call the shots, not Corbyn.

Two. There will be an attempt to take over party machinery, as there was a more modest attempt under Miliband: the NEC and the party staff. Many of the party’s longest-serving staff are Blairites and Brownites, and may well be forced out.

Three. Policy will, at the beginning, be a disorganised free-for-all. After the new cabinet have spent some months looking like a rabble, things will settle down, as sensible voices are drowned out, side-lined or reshuffled out, to give way to reliable hard-left thinking. As to the direction of policy, the death of public-sector reform, fairy-tale economics and isolationist foreign policy is probably a good bet.

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