UNCUT: Uncut Review: Pod Save America in London

19/01/2018, 10:02:14 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Kings of the King’s Road is a book about the Chelsea football team of the 1960s and 70s. The street has much changed since. Last Saturday, looking for somewhere serving a pint of beer, Uncut walked some distance past its high-end stores, little distinguishable from those of Manhattan, Dubai and so on. And then, inevitably, paid £6 for average IPA.

With 950 other paying customers at Cadogan Hall, we attended a self-help group for liberal America. Otherwise known as a recording of Pod Save America. Ex-Obama staffers Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett and Tommy Vietor debated politics in their inimitable way.

Comedy is the new rock’n’roll and podcasts are the new comedy. Our three heroes rode on stage to a backdrop of a video reminding us of some of Donald Trump’s most amusingly daft moments – which was reminiscent of the entrances made by some stand-ups. For example, Russell Brand on his Scandalous tour. The sense of comedic theatre did not end there: Lovett, in particular, delights in a well-timed zinger; the crowd, enthusiastic participants in a political pantomime, heartily cheered and booed on cue.

One of the targets of Lovett’s mirth was Sadiq Khan for turning down the opportunity to appear in the London show. He was busy being heckled by Trump supporters at the Fabian conference. While the headline slot at the Fabians is invariably a top gig in the early new year diaries of Labourites, it does not – unlike Pod Save America – average 1.5 million listeners per show. About as many people, as the New York Times recently reported, as Anderson Cooper draws on prime-time CNN.

These 30-somethings have transitioned from helping sow the Obama stardust to being media pioneers. Backstage influencers to main stage ringmasters. On a self-built stage.

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UNCUT: We need to talk about Momentum and anti-Semitism

17/01/2018, 01:25:56 PM

by Rob Marchant

Momentum is on a roll. It has just secured three places on Labour’s NEC. It is now on course to easily force deselections in seats where it does not like the sitting MP. It has also, as its first act in that newly-constituted NEC, just ousted the long-serving head of the Disputes Committee, Ann Black, on the left of the party – the Campaign Group, no less – but widely respected as fair and neutral.

“Fair” and “neutral” are words that we might struggle a little more to apply to her replacement, Christine Shawcroft. Shawcroft, you may remember, was one of the few party members who supported disgraced Tower Hamlets mayor, Lutfur Rahman, after he had been forced from office for electoral fraud and had not even been a party member for five years. A trick which got her suspended from the party (now reinstated). Amazingly, she was still defending him on Tuesday as the victim of “a terrible miscarriage of justice” (Rahman was also struck off as a solicitor a month ago).

Given Black’s long and distinguished tenure at the Disputes Committee, one wonders what motive there could possibly be for replacing her, other than to ensure that people on the far left that she might have found unpalatable will be allowed to join, re-join or have their suspensions lifted. You can almost picture Ken Livingstone and George Galloway rubbing their hands with delight as we speak. But more of Shawcroft later.

Momentum is clearly making moves towards its clear-but-as-yet-unstated objective of calling the shots within the Labour Party (if not necessarily of beating the Tories and securing a Corbyn government, a seemingly secondary priority).

Moderates everywhere should be concerned, not least because they are now at the start of a long process of being gradually squeezed out, constituency by constituency. This has been clear for some time and demonstrated by the examples we are about to give.

What is perhaps less obvious is that Momentum, unlike Labour, does not have such tight entry criteria or such an active Compliance Unit as Labour. This means that, although there is surely a majority of decent and well-meaning folk within Momentum’s 30,000 souls who essentially think that Corbyn is a good chap, there is a minority, for example from the old SWP, who have rather more disturbing methods of organising – a la Militant – and also more disturbing views.

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UNCUT: Will the legacy of moderate Labour be a country where only the hard right or the hard left can govern?

14/01/2018, 10:08:16 PM

by George Kendall

On most issues, I agree with social democrats and I disagree with the hard left who now control the Labour party. But not on all.

Paul Wheeler recently warned of Tory moves to entrench their political position by manipulating the political system. He called it “boiling a frog”, a great analogy. The Tories are indeed putting party interest before democracy.

But are Labour moderates much better?

At the last election, the two largest parties received 82% of the vote. If they genuinely represent the preferences of all but 18% of the electorate, that might justify a political system that stops new choices emerging. However, this is clearly not true.

In 2015, the two big parties received only 67%; in 2010 it was only 60%; and many who currently vote Labour or Conservative do so for tactical reasons. This is easy to confirm. Just go on social media and suggest to someone who opposes Brexit that they vote Lib Dem or Green. You will almost certainly be told that would “let the Tories in”, and that the only way to beat the Tories is to vote Labour.

Squeezing the third party vote has been a long-standing feature of British politics. Occasionally, if a third party builds up a bandwagon, they can use it against the Conservatives or Labour. Most of the famous Lib Dem by-election victories were built on persuading supporters of one party to vote tactically, to get the other party out. However, when it matters, in general elections, the squeeze favours the big two.

With the hard left takeover of the Labour party, some moderates must now be thinking the unthinkable, that if they are deselected by Labour, their only hope of staying in Westminster would be to stand as an independent or for another party. Yet they know that the electoral system would then crucify them in a general election.

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GRASSROOTS: “Boiling a frog” or how our voting rights have been eroded by the Tories

09/01/2018, 10:04:49 PM

by Paul Wheeler

If four years ago political commentators had suggested that millions of eligible voters would be arbitrarily removed from the electoral register or that the government would be introducing a system of voter identification at polling stations outlawed in Texas, they would have accused of paranoia.

Yet as we enter 2018 that’s precisely what’s happening in Britain – one of the world’s oldest democracies. In a classic Tory approach none of this has been announced as a public policy but in a combination of stealth and cock up we are heading to a fundamental erosion of long held voting rights.

Individual voting registration (IVR) was introduced in 2014 and sold as a way of democratising the registration process by allowing anyone to register to vote rather than relying on a self nominated (and usually male) Head of Household. The problem was that it relied on 350 local councils- the majority small district councils- to introduce this radical change at a time when their overall budgets were being dramatically slashed by central government..

The Electoral Commission, who were the cheerleaders for IVR,  could have learnt from Australia where IVR had been a feature of the electoral process for decades and relies on a comprehensive system of data tracking with government and housing agencies to maintain an accurate record (they even cross-reference to ensure that the recently deceased are automatically removed from the electoral register). They chose not to contact any of the relevant agencies in Australia presumably on the basis that Britain knows best.

Needless to say the introduction of Individual voter registration didn’t go well. Millions of forms were dispatched to individuals in a complex paper chase of which the only real beneficiaries were the Post Office and the suppliers of official stationary. Apart from a few London and metropolitan boroughs little attempt was made to cross reference the voter register with other official records to maintain an accurate electoral register. One example indicates the shambles of IVR as introduced in Great Britain. ‘Attainers’ – 16-17 year olds- had traditionally been included on the register by heads of households. Now no-one had responsibility for including them. The result was that the number of 16-17 years on the register collapsed in a large number of areas (over 50% in Liverpool). In Australia their inclusion on the register was the responsibility of schools and colleges –a sensible approach not even considered here.

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GRASSROOTS: New year, new danger

05/01/2018, 10:31:18 PM

by Tom Clements

It’s safe to assume that this time last year no one, not even Jeremy Corbyn’s most ardent supporters, would have expected the Party to be where it is today. Riding high in the polls, daring the Tories to call another election, led by a man confident enough to declare that he’ll “probably” become Prime Minister. From where we were, it’s certainly been a rollercoaster year.

But if we are to make good on our confidence and build a government that will really transform our country for the many, we must be wary of the traps that lay ahead. As we have seen so many times before in the history of our movement, our hubris can bring us down much more quickly than the Tories.

So as part of our approach moving forward, we have to start looking beyond the next year and expect that the next election will not take place until 2020 at the earliest. As a result, there are several threats that could destabilise our Party and prevent us from achieving victory at the next election.

Threat one: Theresa May
Since Gordon Brown transformed from “Stalin to Mr Bean” it is hard to remember a more spectacular disintegration from political grace than the one Mrs May has suffered this year. From being ready to crush the saboteurs in April to being trapped in Downing Street in June, it is hard to imagine her ever being in a position of authority again.

And yet, it would be dangerous to believe that May’s days are numbered. As long as she sits at the negotiating table to leave the EU, we should expect that the Prime Minister will make a comeback.

As a party we have enjoyed much of the last six months doubling down on May’s incompetence. From the paralysed response to Grenfell tower, to the defeat of the EU Withdrawal Bill and then the resignation of Damian Green; it is hard to remember a more hapless performance. And that is what the voters currently see: a hopeless Prime Minister unable to do anything waiting to be put out of her misery.

And therein lies the danger.

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UNCUT: 2018: The year of still living dangerously

04/01/2018, 11:03:44 PM

by Rob Marchant

If you thought 2017 was a disturbing time for world geopolitics, hang on to your hats. Last January we wrote about the potential bear-traps of a Trump presidency. One year into it, they are all still there and mostly look worse.

Current situations in Iran, North Korea, Syria, Ukraine and the Baltic states all look like either remaining, or escalating into, serious conflicts during 2018. Worse than that, we live in genuinely unstable times where the historical precedents are not great.

Aggressive powers – mostly Russia and its client states – have been appeased over recent years in a manner eerily reminiscent of the way fascist powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) were appeased in the 1930s, also following a few years after a major financial crisis and world recession. And that decade didn’t end too well.

The problem that Jeremy Corbyn has is, of course, that he is on the wrong side of the debate regarding all these potential flashpoints. While he will equivocate and be plausibly deniable over his support or not in each case, let’s look at the facts.

  1. Iran: Corbyn was paid to present on the regime’s propaganda mouthpiece PressTV (note that this is not the same as appearing on it, although frankly even that is a questionable action, given its banning from the airwaves by OfCom for breaches of broadcasting standards). He appeared on it even six months after its licence was revoked. Further, he has yet to even comment on, let alone support the protesters in, the ongoing scuffles and their violent suppression of the last week, or criticise Iran’s despotic and repressive government.
  2. With North Korea, although he has superficially appealed to both the US and North Korea for calm and argued for them to disarm (a somewhat optimistic appeal in either case), Corbyn’s inner circle also contains known regime apologists such as Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray. Until becoming leader, he chaired Stop the War Coalition (now chaired by Murray), an organisation which superficially advocates for peace but, strangely, never seems to criticise any governments apart from those in the West. Maintaining this disingenuous, “will both sides please step back” approach, while simultaneously implying that only one side is to blame, is typical of Corbyn’s “cognitive dissonance” approach to foreign policy.
  3. Similarly, in all his comments on Syria, he has never once criticised Bashar Assad, a dictator known to have committed mass-murder against his own citizens. He also said there was “very strong evidence” supporting the Russia-propagated position that the use of sarin gas was by the rebels and not by the Assad regime, later proven to be a lie.
  4. Finally, in Ukraine, Milne propagated the Russia-pushed (and blatantly untrue) line that the Euromaidan protestors in Kyiv were having their strings pulled by fascists. If Russia were to attempt a full takeover of the country, or march into one of the Baltic states (something not at all beyond the realms of possibility in the potentially limited window while Trump remains POTUS), you could guarantee that at best he would appeal for calm on both sides, rather than supporting Britain’s treaty obligation to respond in kind via NATO.For those who do not consider a Baltic invasion possible, by the way, please consider (i) the deep nervousness of the states themselves and (ii) the relative ease with which Putin has already browbeaten and manipulated the world into relatively passive acceptance of his invasion of three Ukrainian provinces. The cost so far has been only selective sanctions on Russian individuals, sanctions which Trump has already (unsuccessfully) attempted to lift. The only difference here is NATO: again, something which Trump is dismissive of.

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GRASSROOTS: A fortune cookie for 2018

03/01/2018, 08:48:22 PM

by John Wall

After David Cameron secured a small majority in 2015 only to be replaced by Theresa May a year later on losing the referendum promised to get the kipper vote, many expected 2017 to be relatively uneventful. The triggering of Article 50 started the Brexit countdown and Corbyn was a long way behind.

One tumultuous year on, May’s failed gamble of a snap general election left her leading a minority government dependent upon the DUP, whereas a better than expected performance means that Corbyn looks like leading Labour for the foreseeable future.

It looks like UKIP were a one man band and a one trick pony although it’s unlikely there would have been a referendum in 2016 without them. They’ve subsequently haemorrhaged support and change leaders – the latest rose without trace – more frequently than some change their socks. Farage’s outrage” at May’s deal to end Brexit Phase 1 was little more than an attempt to stay relevant.

Their local government presence seems to be in terminal decline and could be extinct by the early 2020s. Unless something happens they’ll soon be like Monty Python’s parrot.

The LibDems are the only overwhelmingly pro-EU, anti-Brexit national party but their 48% strategy failed. The 2010-15 coalition did a lot of damage but they started to recover after the referendum. In 2017 they gained MPs, but on a reduced share. They are winning council by-elections but their national poll ratings are static.

They’re a victim of the squeeze between 2015 when the two main parties achieved 67.2% of the vote and 2017 when they got 82.4%. Many see them as primarily a party of protest and some of the ill-conceived things – fox hunting!!! – in the Conservative manifesto may have driven their support to a lifelong protestor in Corbyn. The 2015 Conservative pitch to kippers was that only a vote in the blue corner would deliver a referendum, in 2017 only a vote in the red corner could prevent a Conservative landslide.

As Brexit happens they will need to reinvent themselves.

The Conservatives are shell shocked and May deserves the “Survivor of the Year” award after her – self inflicted – annus horribilus. The Conservative party is remarkably lacking in sentiment and the lack of a serious alternative is a major reason for her continued presence in No. 10.

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UNCUT: The Uncuts: 2017 political awards (part IV)

02/01/2018, 06:08:11 PM

Flash in the pan award – metro mayors

Eight months on from the election of the first swathe of ‘metro mayors’ in some of our larger conurbations, and, well…

Only Andy Burnham has anything close to a national profile, aided by the fact he has responsibility for the NHS and social care system across Greater Manchester and easily rose the occasion, responding to the ISIS suicide attack on Manchester Arena last May.

The Tories’ Andy Street – former John Lewis boss – is assiduously working away on a second tranche of devolution for the West Midlands, but his strong anti-Brexit stance will hardly endear him to his colleagues in Westminster.

The basic problem for the metro mayors is that the whole idea feels like it’s reached its peak.

They have two big problems.

First, they have a near-impossible task in showing they’ve achieved anything by the time they’re up for re-election in 2020. They have precious little in the way of retail powers. Producing a draft spatial strategy, or appointing a ‘fairness czar’ is hardly going to cut it with the voters.

The second problem is that Whitehall has moved on. Devolution was Osborne’s thing and there’s little sense Theresa May – more excited about her ‘Modern Industrial Strategy’ – is remotely interested in prolonging the experiment.

You can imagine a scenario in the Downing Street bunker when a solemn Burnham appears on the television, and the PM flings one of her garish shoes at the telly. ‘Why have we given Burnham a platform to slag us off every day?!’

‘Dunno boss,’ a flunky will say, ‘Osborne thought it was a good idea…’

And that will be all it needs. Local authority leaders on the Combined Authorities will get to keep the devo deals they’ve negotiated but they’ll no longer be contingent on having an elected mayor. The Prime Minister can leave Labour council leaders to wield the dagger quicker than you can say ‘Infamy! Infamy!’

Little local difficulty award – Ireland & Brexit

It all seemed so easy, the Irish border issue. Last January, during her Lancaster House speech setting out her initial approach to Brexit, the Prime Minister breezily passed over the issue entirely. Not one specific mention was made of how the border would be sorted, post-Brexit.

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UNCUT: The Uncuts: 2017 political awards (part III)

31/12/2017, 03:13:07 PM

Global winner of the year – Vladimir Putin

While it must be obvious to the world that, under latter-day Putin Russia is no longer a free-speech democracy – if, indeed, it ever truly was one – there is no denying his effectiveness as a manipulator of world affairs. After convincing Obama to strike an ineffectual nuclear deal with Iran and that Russia should be empowered to mediate a “peace” in Syria; or that no-one should lift a finger to help Ukraine when he invaded; last year it was apparently interfering in US and other Western elections.

This year he has been more audacious than ever: he has managed to nurture a tenant of the White House – the White House – who is actively blocking attempts to curb his informational power, such as propaganda, hacking and social media trolling; let alone any attempts to see Russia as the frighteningly real military threat it has increasingly become.

And if you doubt that last statement, you need only note that Russia spends double what most NATO nations do on defence as a proportion of GDP, while considering that it is hardly defending itself from other, belligerent nations. It can only be for aggressive actions: in old-fashioned terms, empire-building.

Yes, North Korea might be a more immediate threat to the West but, oh, guess who visited Kim Jong Il in May? Stirring up chaos is what Putin delights in.

When in 2012 Mitt Romney described Russia as “our no. 1 geopolitical foe”, Obama and many others laughed haughtily. “The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back.” They ain’t laughing now.

Straight talking, honest politics awardJeremy Corbyn

A few weeks ago, Jeremy Corbyn’s aides admitted a few weeks ago what we all knew: that he had, in fact, been consciously appealing to both sides of the Brexit debate. Corbyn, a lifelong Eurosceptic, knew that he could not get away with going for an all-out, hard-Brexit position, given the opposite view of most of the parliamentary party and party policy as set by conference. Straight talking, honest politics indeed.

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UNCUT: The Uncuts: 2017 political awards (part II)

30/12/2017, 10:40:47 PM

Honourable Order of Sisyphus – Theresa May

There’s something of a trend to the fate of Uncut’s politicians of the year. In 2015 it was David Cameron, followed by his 2016 which earned him the Honorary Order of Suez.

Last year’s politician of the year was Theresa May and in 2017, once again, she’s among the awards. This time she wins the Honourable Order of Sisyphus.

To refresh, Sisyphus was condemned for his hubris by Zeus, to push a huge boulder up a hill in the underworld, only for boulder to roll away back to the bottom as he neared the top, compelling Sisyphus to start again.

Unending frustration. Useless effort. Interminable repetition.

These are the traits of Sisyphus’ torment and the day to day life of Theresa May in Number 10.

Shorn of her majority, she’s endlessly trying to make progress on Brexit or domestic legislation, only to have the boulder roll away at the last, pushed by Conservative Remain rebels, Conservative Brexiteer rebels or the DUP.

If the experience of Tory rebellions in the 1990s is any guide, this is just the start.

These are the early adopter rebels. New rebel groups will form across new interest groups – health, education, defence – as backbenchers become used to defying the whip and getting what they want.

Legislation will pass on Theresa May’s watch. Often, it just won’t be what she intended and after each compromise or defeat, she’ll have to start the whole process again, in preparation for the next big vote.

Speech of the year – Ken Clarke

From Theresa May’s disintegration to Jeremy Corbyn’s show of strength, this year’s headline conference speeches felt telling. It may be, however, that Ken Clarke’s powerful speech on the triggering of Article 50 lives longer in the memory. As Robin Cook’s resignation speech over the Iraq war aged well as his warnings came to pass, we might come to look back ruefully on Clarke’s Brexit concerns, while the agonised faces on the Tory benches are almost as funny as his jokes.

Political comedian of the year – Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband has transitioned from a leader who lacked the timing to eat a bacon sandwich smoothly (or the sense not to attempt to do so with cameras around) to an ex-leader with the timing to unleash comedy zingers – whether on TV or Twitter, podcasts or parliament. If he keeps this up, he’ll end up as a national treasure, as Tony Benn did over his last decade or so.

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