Posts Tagged ‘Atul Hatwal’

Three Labour reflections on Tory conference

08/10/2015, 03:27:12 PM

by Atul Hatwal

It’s always an odd experience attending Tory conference (I was there to speak for the Migration Matters Trust at a fringe), particularly this year. As a Labour member it felt almost like Her Majesty’s Opposition had ceased to exist as a practical concern for the Tories.

Here are three reflections on how and why.

1.The protests have utterly toxified Labour’s relationship with the media

It’s not nice being spat at. Or being called scum. Nor seeing women being called whores and threatened with rape.

That’s the experience virtually everybody attending Tory conference had at the start of the week.

The people shouting and spitting weren’t necessarily Labour party members or supporters but the ideological comity between Labour’s leadership and the more extreme protesters is clear.

Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell is on the record as backing “insurrection” and “direct action” and there were plenty of Labour members and even parliamentary staffers on Twitter, eager to Corbsplain the abuse.

For the journalists, whose words and pictures will frame public views of the party, Tory conference indelibly connected the dots between Labour’s leadership and the nutters.

Beyond the horrendous nature of the experience for the journalists, it set a prism, one of extremism, through which most will now perceive – even sub-consciously – Labour politics.

It would be a miracle if this then didn’t shape their reporting.

2.The Tory leadership succession will dominate UK politics for the next few years (more…)

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Jeremy Corbyn’s speech will have confirmed voters’ worst fears about Labour

29/09/2015, 03:33:36 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Expectations are now so low for Jeremy Corbyn that anything short of a full nervous breakdown at the microphone is regarded as a success.

He delivered his speech. He didn’t collapse. He didn’t promise to nationalise the top 100 companies and troops did not ring the auditorium as a prelude to the revolution.

Given the unbelievably low expectations going into this speech, it was a case of job done. Certainly within the bubble of Labour conference.

But step outside of the bubble for a moment. Step into the shoes of the general public. Look at this speech from their viewpoint. Think about what they saw.

A decent man. A passionate man. A man who should be kept as far from any position of power as is humanly possible.

Jeremy Corbyn is an uber-Miliband.

An agitated academic who rehearses his protest points with vigour but fails to describe any alternative.

Corbyn’s jumble of unhappy reflection on past foreign policy and declarations of long held positions will have seemed utterly esoteric to the practical issues facing most people in Britain today.

Problems such as Syria and Iraq were listed, but solutions? Not so much.


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John McDonnell is fermenting Special Brew Milibandism

28/09/2015, 01:47:30 PM

by Atul Hatwal

John McDonnell might have a history of ranting radicalism, but he offered a different approach in his speech to Labour conference.

The florid attacks on austerity and business were familiar but the policy content wasn’t quite as red in tooth and claw as his previous rhetoric might have suggested.

Talk of paying down the deficit, briefings to the press on signing Osborne’s fiscal charter and new caveats on implementing Peoples Quantitative Easing (also known as printing money) show how sails have been trimmed.

At conference, there’s been some head-scratching. What’s McDonnell doing?

Labour’s shadow chancellor is fermenting a Special Brew version of Milibandism.

Harsher, more pungent and stronger than the beverage offered by Labour’s last leader, but a version, nonetheless.

Ed Miliband clearly didn’t like the idea of cuts to public services, John McDonnell committed to avoiding any cuts altogether.

Ed Miliband spoke in abstract terms about predators and producers, John McDonnell named Starbucks, Amazon, Google and Vodafone.

And Ed Miliband worried about welfare cuts, McDonnell promised there would be none.

However, in common with Milibandism classic, McDonnell’s speech left a trail of questions unanswered.

He talked blithely about using funds from economic growth and crackdowns on tax avoidance and corporate welfare to avoid austerity.

This might sound good in a Labour conference speech and offer up some easy clap lines but Ed Miliband’s position unravelled on the specifics.

John McDonnell is just as vulnerable.

Seema Malhotra, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, went on the Daily Politics with Andrew Neil immediately after the speech and endured a painful dissection of Labour’s missing policy detail.

How would tax avoidance be stopped? How much could be recovered? Which corporate taxes would go up to reduce the deficit? How much deficit reduction would be from these sources?

She tried to respond but the cupboard was bare.

This is why McDonnell is offering a punchier version of Miliband’s economics, not something fundamentally different.

He’s dodging the same questions.

Just like Miliband, McDonnell seems to be worried by the response of the public to higher taxes and borrowing, so he falls back on intangibles like growth and tax avoidance.

And as with Miliband, the Tories will skewer McDonnell on the lack of specifics and confirm public doubts about Labour and economic competence.

The key difference with McDonnell’s Special Brew Milibandism, is that the hangover is going to be that much worse.

Labour will soon be perceived as being even more anti-business and even less trustworthy with the public finances than at the last election.

Welcome to the new politics. Not so different to the old politics.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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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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Liz Kendall 1. Yvette Cooper 2. Andy Burnham 3

22/08/2015, 12:58:45 PM

by Atul Hatwal

The ballot has finally arrived so it’s time to vote. Time to back the candidate who is right about what Labour must to do to regain power; to give a second preference to the candidate who could yet save Labour from self-immolation and register a third preference for a candidate not called Jeremy Corbyn.

Liz Kendall is my first preference. She has displayed guts and determination in her campaign. She’s right about the big issues and of all the candidates is the one who grasps the magnitude of Labour’s challenge in winning back public trust on the economy.

The personal abuse and level of misogyny that she’s faced is ludicrous and her response has revealed the type of steel Labour needs in its leaders.

Despite the trolls and the torrent of hate, she’s managed to secure endorsements from council leaders, trade unionists and the best and brightest of Labour’s new generation of MPs such as Chuka Umunna, Tristram Hunt and Emma Reynolds.

Liz Kendall and her platform are the future of the Labour party. It’s just a shame that her campaign hasn’t harnessed this as effectively as it might.

Too often, the message communicated to Labour members has been that they’re wrong and have to accept they are wrong.

Whatever the bald facts of a situation, simply telling voters’ that they’re mistaken is always a losing strategy.

Just as Labour’s economic message cannot continue to be based on telling the public they were wrong at the 2010 and 2015 election about the party’s spending record a decade ago, so an aspiring Labour leader cannot just be the bearer of bad tidings to the membership.

In 1994, the Blair leadership campaign was built around bridging the divide between the membership and the electorate, not telling them to jump it.


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Ignore Twitter. Forget the polls. Corbyn’s not going to win

17/08/2015, 05:18:43 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Jeremy Corbyn will not win the Labour leadership. No matter how real the fevered hallucinations currently seem on this acid trip of a leadership contest, they aren’t real.

Predictions of a Corbyn triumph are based on two assumptions: that the polls are right and Labour’s new recruits have been drawn in because of him and his agenda.

Both are wrong.

The polls and campaign canvass returns overstate his support in the same way that Labour’s support was over-estimated in general election polls and the party’s new mass membership is not a seething hotbed of radical ideologues.

The coda for pollsters from the general election was that simply asking people for their voting preference didn’t give answers which reflected actual voting intention.

Mark Textor, Lynton Crosby’s business partner and the man who conducted the Tories’ internal polling, recently held forth on why his polls were right when so many others were so wrong.

He made two points of note.

First, voters frequently use opinion polls as an outlet for protest.

In an online world of one-click opinion, sticking two fingers up at the Tories by backing Labour in a poll was simple, cost free and gratifying. Less easy to actually vote Labour when most did not trust the party on the economy and it was led by someone who few believed to be prime ministerial.

Second, voters’ make their choice on the basis of the outcome they want to avoid as well as the party they support.

While waverers might have been prepared to consider the idea of a Labour government, even with reservations on leadership and the economy, the prospect of a Labour-SNP coalition, with Ed Miliband run ragged and dragged even further left on spending by Nicola Sturgeon, tipped the balance. So they voted tactically to prevent what they most feared – even if this meant holding their nose and voting Tory.

These insights are directly relevant to Labour’s leadership race.

After a crushing, demoralising general election defeat for the party, what better way for frustrated members and supporters to flick the bird at the leadership than to tell pollsters and canvassers they are backing Corbyn?


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Sorry, that Labour leadership poll is nonsense. Jeremy Corbyn is going to finish fourth

22/07/2015, 05:24:43 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Remember the general election, when most reports on voting intention turned out to be total tosh?

Well, here we go again.

The general election hopelessly wrong-footed most commentators for two reasons: dodgy polls and shouty lefty Twittervists.

The polls created an illusion that Ed Miliband and Labour were a nose in front. Labour’s voluble activist base on Twitter then leapt on every iffy poll and each tweet describing yet another great session on the #Labourdoorstep to amplify and broadcast the narrative that Ed Miliband was about to become prime minister.

Understandably, most journalists looked on and followed the crowd. The pollsters and the Twittervists seemed to be saying the same thing.

A self-reinforcing spiral of delusion took hold that was only broken when the public’s actual votes shattered the Westminster’s conventional wisdom on the evening of May 7th.

Now, it’s happening again in the Labour leadership race.

YouGov have provided the poll and the Twittervists have been hard at work since news of it broke last night (though in truth, this process was already under way, with the equally misleading CLP nominations being used as the metric of choice by Corbyn’s online barmy army).

The problem, as at the general election, is that the polling is misleading.

In the case of the Labour leadership race, the capability of any polling company to accurately sample members is highly questionable.

For online polling, the problem is particularly acute.


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The Tories need to be introduced into Labour’s leadership race

18/06/2015, 10:52:14 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Labour’s leadership race needs to become a lot less comradely. Last night’s debate was a pedestrian trot through the expected.

There was little direct challenge with even less to enlighten members on how these candidates would bear up when facing the Tory meat-grinder.

This has to change.

Gordon Brown serenely glided through his selection without having once been put under the type of pressure the Tories subsequently exerted on him every day.

While his disastrous leadership was little surprise to several of those who had worked with him at close quarters in government, for the rest of the Labour party his inability to deal with sustained political attack was a nightmarish revelation.

Ed Miliband triumphed without once having been robustly challenged on his innate lack of electability or an economic platform that totally ignored the judgement of the British people at the 2010 election.

Yet again, the Labour party was largely unprepared for what the Tories did to him.

This time, the membership need to see the leadership contenders run through their paces in a live-fire environment.

US primaries vet their aspirants in a way British parties’ leadership elections rarely do. Obama was a far better candidate for having faced Hillary and her 3am call ad.

The Tories need to be introduced into Labour’s leadership election.

What would they do to these candidates?

Andy Burnham is in many respects the ideal contender on paper. Experienced, decent and committed.

But he was also chief secretary to the Treasury just before the crash and opposed a full public inquiry for Mid Staffs as secretary of state for health.

This clip from the general election, highlights the continuing political danger from Mid Staffs and his inability to answer the most obvious and basic Tory attack. (more…)

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According to Westminster groupthink, Andy Burnham is favourite for leader. Yet again, it’s wrong

18/05/2015, 06:32:58 PM

by Atul Hatwal

The Westminster groupthink, which recently had Ed Miliband walking into Downing street, has a new favourite: Andy Burnham.

Labour MPs talking among themselves and to journalists, journalists talking to each other in Westminster bars and on the conveyor belt of rolling news comment slots, then bouncing off MPs and vocal activists on Twitter – this is the echo chamber that got the result of the general election so badly wrong and has now reconvened to similar effect for the Labour leadership race.

Andy Burnham certainly has support in the PLP, almost half by some accounts, and an active briefing operation shaping journalists’ perceptions. If the leadership election was to be decided among MPs, journalists and Twittervists, he justifiably would be a runaway favourite.

But party members are also involved. Over 220,000 of them. And they do not even vaguely resemble any of the participants in the Westminster groupthink bubble.

Instead, Labour’s members are like the general public.

According to internal party estimates, over 95% do not attend a single party meeting in a year, deliver a leaflet or knock a door. They are not consumed with the minutiae of politics or deeply tribal.

They’ve just made a choice to join Labour, as many people join clubs and societies without any sense that this membership defines their life.

Under Labour’s new leadership election rules, it’s one member one vote. With a membership that reflects the public, the same priorities which so recently decided the general election will similarly shape this race.

Economic competence and the preference for prime minister will be the key criteria against which contenders are to be judged and on both counts Andy Burnham’s candidature is critically flawed.


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Chuka the unready

15/05/2015, 01:49:34 PM

by Atul Hatwal

In politics, you’re either on the way up or headed down. Chuka, unfortunately, is headed down.

After the shock at his withdrawal and the sympathy at what politicians have to put up with in terms of intrusion, one view will linger: he has suspect judgement.

And that will blight him for the rest of his career.

If there is a scandal about to break, of sufficient scale to force him out of the running, the question will be why he ran at all?

If there is no scandal, then in a way, it will be worse. To have jumped in, and then out, within days hardly suggests decisive leadership.

Chuka has a point about the difference between expecting and experiencing greater scrutiny, but the job he was running for was not some minor office, ultimately it was to be the prime minister of Britain. It’s right that there should be scrutiny and lots of it.

Chuka’s team are briefing that he might seek the leadership again one day, but this is fanciful. Despite his many skills and his ability as a communicator, questions over his judgement will hang silently unanswered, over all that he does from now on.

Many things are forgivable in politics. Bad judgement is not one of them.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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