UNCUT: The Corbynite leadership’s final, scorched-earth, rearguard action

18/04/2020, 10:33:46 PM

by Rob Marchant

It was all going so well: but a matter of days following the election of Keir Starmer as Labour’s new leader and it is convulsing itself over the scandal of a report, leaked widely, containing sensitive, personal information and also making serious allegations about current and past staffers, not to mention various members and non-members.

It has the makings of a PR disaster of epic proportions which, thanks to Covid-19, national media has not yet given the prominence it is likely to have in future. But it will: make no mistake about its seriousness. It could even bankrupt the party, or some of its individual figures.

Corbyn himself is gone, of course. But this week we discovered, not to much surprise, that the report was commissioned by his last lieutenant: the party’s General Secretary, Jennie Formby.

You do not have to agree that Formby created a climate of fear and bullying at Labour HQ; or that she allowed unresolved anti-Semitism complaints to balloon on her watch and then disingenuously blamed the problem on her predecessor, although there is ample evidence for both these things. But they are opinions.

Where one has to despair with some party members over recent days, in uproar on Labour’s social media echo chamber, is the wilful blindness to the following actual facts:

1. Spying on staff is not ok. Honestly, what is wrong with you people, that you think it’s fine for any organisation to spy on its staff on an industrial scale, compiling their emails and WhatsApps, whatever the nature of their comments turned out to be?If you go into pretty much any organisation in the world, you will find groups of people being rude about their bosses and colleagues on email, chat or text, in a private way: this is human nature. Most of them quite reasonably do not expect they are about to be spied on by their employer. Even if use of information extracted from such monitoring is legal under certain, specific circumstances, it is clearly not behaviour which would be calmly accepted by a workforce as a rule and rightly so.

With that one action, Formby has destroyed the trust of hundreds of people employed by the party and using its email or mobiles on a daily basis. She surely cannot continue long in her role now, for purely managerial reasons – she has clearly lost confidence of her staff.

2. A major data breach has been committed. Are we really saying that Jennie Formby, who commissioned a report she knew contained highly sensitive and personal information, should not be held responsible for its safekeeping?

And how could she realistically not have known that such a sensitive document could not possibly be kept secret in a million years, given the controversial nature of its contents?It is all very well, Ms Formby, to tell local party members not to distribute it, now you are personally implicated in a serious breach of the Data Protection Act. But your either malicious or incompetent handling of personal data has now left a number of people involved in current cases, including some minors and Jews, exposed and vulnerable.

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UNCUT: A Labour shadow chancellor: the impossible job?

14/04/2020, 10:15:36 PM

by Callum Anderson

Earlier this month, Labour decisively turned the page from the Corbyn era.

An eagerness to look to the future was the prevailing emotion for the many Labour activists and supporters, who had watched with varying degrees of resignation and despair as Labour crashed to its worst general election defeat since before the Second World War.

Yet we must not forget that Keir Starmer’s election as Labour leader can not be an end in itself. Rather, it must provide the Labour movement with a critical lifeline to change where change is needed, and rethink where rethinking is needed. We must all rally behind the new leadership to support this essential work.

As the new shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds will play a particularly key role in helping Labour earn back both the trust and the economic credibility that it so desperately lacked during the last decade.

Dodds is extremely well qualified. Despite an absence of executive experience, she served as a shadow treasury minister for the last two and half years. As an MEP, she sat on the European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs.

Nonetheless, her task is no small one.

Long regarded as one of the most difficult job in politics: a prospective chancellor must be able to understand and absorb economics, and articulate the Party position in a way which can command respect in Parliament, and is comprehensible to the person on the street, the small business owner and financial markets.

For the last decade, Labour’s achilles heal could be simply posed as a question: can it be trusted to prudently manage the public finances, while still delivering economic and social justice?

As we all remember, Messrs Miliband and Balls were never able to shrug off the (false) Conservative frequently claims that Labour profligacy had caused the 2007-8 financial crisis and had necessitated austerity.

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UNCUT: Is a London lawyer the right person to fix a Northern wall?

13/04/2020, 09:45:04 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Rifling through the thick piles of paperwork on my desk just now, I happened across Keir Starmer’s leadership campaign leaflet. Evidently, I had secreted it away for further inspection at some stage, but given the events of the past week, it perhaps bears early re-examination.

On the front there’s a moody black and white picture of the new Labour Leader. A side-profile shot of him looking pensive. No tie (a depressing affectation of modern Labour politics) and the message: ‘Another future is possible.’ A serious man for serious times, no doubt.

When you unfold it, there he is again! Much bigger this time. A3. (Presumably the hope was that members would stick his image in their windows?) Still tieless, alas, but smiling this time, head slightly askew. The words ‘Integrity, authority, unity’ hang in the bottom corner – underlined – so you get the point.

Keir Starmer’s abiding message is that he’s a grown-up.

He’s already a knight of the realm and has had a proper job as director of public prosecutions. The hope is that he’s a return to the likes of John Smith, people of gravity who resonate beyond the Labour tribe. He certainly looks the part. Tidy hair and a decent suit. Not charismatic, per se, but reliable. Competent. Efficient. Ready for the task ahead.

But what is that task?

To become Labour prime minister in 2024? Surely that is beyond anyone. Of course, you can never say never in politics and the legacy of coronavirus might well be to shift the political centre leftwards. But it might just as readily be to pull it the opposite direction. Either way, Labour’s task is epic.

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UNCUT: The party, the party, the party: an eight-point plan to save the Labour party from itself

12/04/2020, 10:26:38 PM

by Rob Marchant

We have now had the Shadow Cabinet appointments. While a few have raised eyebrows among moderates – not least the self-same Miliband who helped get us into this mess in the first place – it is not a bad selection from the limited numbers of available MPs.

Its significance will be dissected for weeks by the Westminster lobby, because that is what they see – the Westminster face of the party. But the first thing we members need to realise is that the Shadow Cabinet and, indeed, party policy in times of Covid-19, is a sideshow.

Let’s not forget: the party is finally out of immediate danger, but it is still in intensive care.

Yes, it is important in these difficult times to provide a reasonably effective scrutiny function to the highly-variable ministerial quality on the Tory benches. But most moderates, we might wager, inside or perhaps temporarily outside the party, have always seen this leadership election as a two-step battle, in which both steps are essential and not just the first.

Step one: get a decent, competent, non-extremist leader (a low bar, you might reasonably say). Tick. And with Starmer, at first glance, things looks considerably better than anyone might have expected. Then, step two: sort out the party. In short, get it back to a decent, healthy, functioning organisation without the slightest hint of anti-Semitism or far-left extremism – both of which pretty much amount to the same thing.

And it is this second one to which we need now turn. It is not a question of it being a nice-to-have or an “in the fullness of time”: any failure to act on this immediately will mean that the good guys will not return – either our members or our supporters – and the whiff of racism will remain. The party, simply, will not recover. It is a sine qua non.

Here Uncut proposes eight things which will need to happen to make that a reality, and they will all need to start – and some finish – during the first hundred days.

One. Make it abundantly clear there needs to be a new General Secretary. The GS cannot easily be fired, but it is also impractical for them to continue if a party leader really does not want them there. The only key figure who will now want Formby to continue is Len McCluskey; the PLP, NEC, Leader’s Office and other unions will not.

Two. Eradicate anti-Semitism, branch by branch if necessary, as was done with Militant. The EHRC report, when it comes, will help mobilise opinion within the party and ensure that the guilty are brought to task, but action needs to be taken before then. Starmer’s meetings with JLM and BoD have been a good start. But this cannot really happen until we deal with point one. This will also have the happy side-effect of removing some of the nastier extremists from the party.

Three. Ignore Momentum. It is not necessary to try to attack it, it is already in disarray; a fan club based around one man can hardly have much future when that man goes. It is fracturing, as the far left always does. Its anti-Semitic members will be expelled from Labour. The important thing is not to engage with it, let it have its little conference in September and let it be a flop. Ironically, an organisation called Momentum will die if it lacks that which gives it its name. Those decent members, who are not mad or extremist and joined in good faith, will drift back towards the party proper. Eventually even Unite will dump it – they will want to be where the power is. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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