Posts Tagged ‘Brexit’

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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Labour, co-owner of #brexitshambles

03/02/2020, 10:30:38 PM

by Rob Marchant

We are out. That’s it, the fat lady has sung.

But of course we are not out at all, not in any meaningful sense. This is just the start of a tortuous, eleven-month scramble to try and get some kind of a sensible result in place by the end of the year.

Remainers have to admit that they – we – lost the argument, at least for now. Leavers have got what they wanted and, ultimately, that’s democracy.

But, Leaver or Remainer, we have had in many ways the worst of all possible worlds. Leavers have not really got what many wanted, at least, not yet. If we leave aside the semi-suicidal, macho contingent who are happy to have the hardest of hard Brexits, moderate Leavers will now see that we now have eleven months to get somewhere on the sliding scale between what one former PM has rightly called the “pointless Brexit” and the “painful Brexit”.

If we end at the “pointless Brexit”, people on both sides will rightly say, we might as well have stayed in. Most of the benefits but without a seat at the table.

If we end at the “painful Brexit”, for example, with few and/or poor-outcome trade deals in place, the economic jolt to come will be memorable. And, it must be said, we have both precious little time to get those deals in place and the poor bargaining power of the supplicant. But we are where we are.

And somewhere in the middle? A bit of both of the above or, perhaps, not even really possible. Perhaps it will quickly converge down to just that binary choice of one or the other: who knows.

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Is Keir Starmer the man to reconnect with Labour’s base?

06/01/2020, 05:46:33 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The video put out by Keir Starmer yesterday, as he officially launched his bid for the Labour leadership, was brilliantly affecting, with a series of talking heads reflecting on the legal support he gave to striking miners, environmental activists and other worthy causes throughout his long legal career, which culminated in him heading in the Crown Prosecution Service.

He is clearly an admirable man, self-effacing and well-liked by those who know him. A quiet radical, he has used his legal skills to fight the good fight. The video is quiet and sensible, qualities presumably, his team want to associate with him over coming weeks.

The problem for Starmer is not his illustrious legal career but what he has done in politics since first being elected to the Commons in 2015. Creditably, he stayed on the frontbench under Jeremy Corbyn, while other moderates ripped up their tent pegs and went to sulk, to no obvious effect, on the backbenches.

Starmer has been at the centre of Labour politics as the party’s Brexit spokesman, but it’s not clear what effect he has had. I cannot help but wonder what Robin Cook might have done in the same role. Nor can I recall Starmer skewering ministers for the multiplicity of failings throughout the Brexit imbroglio. Or, for that matter, a particularly memorable speech or media performance from him.

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Johnson has made undeliverable promises to win from Sedgefield to Sittingbourne. This is what Labour needs to focus on, not his latest culture war dead cat

05/01/2020, 09:57:49 AM

by David Ward

If there’s one thing we’ve seen with the Johnson government so far, it’s that they aren’t going to be content with gentle managerial government. Like a five year old with a remote controlled car, he wants to move fast and break things.

To cut through in the next five years, the new Labour leadership is going to need a hugely disciplined operation focused on how we will make a positive, and credible, difference to people’s lives.

It’s clear that the Johnson government has a tall order in restoring growth to areas in long term global decline. We’ve been talking about HS2 since God was a boy, so forgive my scepticism about it happening in the next five years.

So to keep their voting coalition of leafy shires and newly won northern and midlands towns together the Conservatives will want to be on the front foot on other issues. One thing that unites these groups of voters is socially conservative instincts.

Much ink has already been spilled about the patriotic values of former Labour heartlands. But the seam for Conservatives to mine goes much deeper than that. In August 2019 Yougov produced some interesting research on the surprising views held by people who describe themselves as left or right wing. It found 72% of those who want redistribution of wealth also believe the criminal justice system is too soft. 66% who support Trade Unions want more restrictions on immigration. While 60% of those who support renationalising the railways also want to reintroduce capital punishment.

Of course Labour should always be the party of progress and progressive values, but we have to be mindful of bringing a majority along with us. Just as the party has in the past. In the 1960s Roy Jenkins gave tacit support to backbench bills to legalise abortion, decriminalise homosexuality and abolish the death penalty. Tony Blair’s government scrapped Section 28 and banned fox hunting, but combined those with Anti Social Behaviour Orders and a points based immigration system.

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The Uncuts: 2019 Political awards (pt II)

31/12/2019, 01:57:43 PM

Labour politician of the year – Anna Turley

It’s not been a great year for Labour. A crushing electoral defeat, the party’s policy and organisational platform shattered and a shell-shocked frontbench lacking any collective sense of where to go next. It is to the backbenches the Uncut has looked for a Labour politician to inspire a fightback and there is one stand out candidate: Anna Turley.

Few will have had as difficult a year as Anna Turley but she has distinguished herself as being the epitome of the fighting spirit Labour now needs to show.

On the biggest political issue of the past few years, Brexit, the easy choice would have been to fold in behind the Leave vote in her constituency. But standing up for what’s right is part of her political DNA as it should be part of Labour’s and the manner in which she fought for a People’s Vote as the best way to protect her constituents’ jobs and services is a testament to her commitment to doing right by her constituents, even when steering into a fierce headwind.

It was the same fight she displayed when dealing with the aftermath of the closure of the SSI steelworks in Redcar.

And it’s the fight she showed when taking on the bully boys of Unite and Skwakbox in a court case that exemplifies the internecine bitterness and malice which now permeates the Labour party.

They libelled her and rather than accepting their mistake early, escalated the action through the courts, raising the stakes by running up huge legal costs, a well-known tactic to discourage plaintiffs from pursuing their case. Unite and Skwakbox’s actions ultimately compelled a Labour MP to take time out from the general election campaign to give evidence at the High Court.

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Courage or supplication. Whither now Labour?

20/12/2019, 08:08:50 AM

by Robert Williams

If you are reading this and Jeremey Corbyn is still leader of the Labour party, then the party has barely started in its collapse.

After Labour’s worst defeat since 1935, in which they lost 60 seats and gained one, seats went Tory that had never previously been anything but Labour since they were created, they lost 2 million votes.

All this against the worst government of any sort in British history, which has been in power for the last nine years, and with Boris Johnson as leader, described thus by the redoubtable Chris Grey “Even if it were not for Brexit, the prospect of a country run by a compulsive liar whose fake bonhomie scarcely conceals a priapic, vicious, moral void would be a woeful one.”.

This was a historic defeat at a time of national crisis, and we are all set to suffer the consequences, which will be dire. There are no upsides of “Brexit certainty” apart from the absolute certainty that we will be worse off and with fewer rights and opportunities.

So we are in deep, deep trouble as a country. We have a new government that will not bring us together but which will make the divisions much, much worse. And we have no functioning opposition worthy of the name.

Corbyn and his team are promising to spend the next three months “reflecting” on the results. That will mean, for a start, Jeremy Corbyn facing Boris Johnson at PMQs for the next three months. Labour MPs – the ones that survived – will have to sit in grim purgatory listening to the man who led them to defeat waffle on about what a nasty country we are, or austerity, or anything, actually, as Johnson swats him away time and time again. How can any of them face that weekly humiliation?
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What kind of country elects Boris Johnson as its prime minister?

09/12/2019, 09:59:48 AM

by Jonathan Todd

The Italians and Berlusconi, the Israelis and Netanyahu, the Americans and Trump. Why, we wondered, did countries subject themselves to bunga bunga leadership?

It couldn’t happen here, we used to think. Now, however, we seem set to elect as prime minister, “a compulsive liar who,” according to Nick Boles, “has betrayed every single person he has ever had any dealings with: every woman who has ever loved him, every member of his family, every friend, every colleague, every employee, every constituent.”

It is civic self-abuse to return to office those responsible for this decade’s indignities: from the hostile environment to universal credit, from the bedroom tax to 320,000 homeless, from the longest pay freeze in 200 years to the tragedy of Dickensian poverty depicted by Dispatches.

The Supreme Court annulled Boris Johnson’s illegal prorogation of parliament. They can’t make him face Andrew Neil. If convenient, any convention can be bent, any truth elided.

“Will Northern Irish businesses,” asked Andrew Marr in an interview that he deigned to, “have to fulfil customs declarations to trade with the rest of the UK?” Johnson insists not – contradicting his Brexit secretary.

“Is the NHS,” Labour has asked, “for sale?” No, says Johnson. But the US, especially big pharma, one of the most influential lobbies in Washington DC, will require otherwise.

“Can he,” we should wonder, “get Brexit done?” No trade deal on the scale of that Johnson seeks with the EU has been concluded on the timescale that he imposes.

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The narrow path to another Labour surprise on election day

05/12/2019, 07:35:47 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Most polls point to a big Tory victory and each media appearance by Jeremy Corbyn seems almost focus-grouped to boost their majority. But despite the sea of data and commentary, there has been relatively little consideration of the factors which made 2017 the thunderbolt result that it was. These haven’t gone away and could yet mean 2019 turns up another surprise Labour result.

Four were particularly relevant in 2017: the revolt of the under 44s, Corbyn’s ability to turn out non-voters, demographic change in Southern constituencies and the propensity for Remainer tactical voting.

In 2015, the Conservative victory was built on fighting Labour to a draw among 25-44 years olds and then winning well among over 55s. In 2017, Labour built huge leads in age groups up to 44 but then lost even more heavily among voters aged 55 and older. Here are Ipsos Mori’s figures from their 2015 and 2017 exit polls:


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Labour’s manifesto needs to support a referendum on Irish unity

15/11/2019, 07:45:07 AM

by Kevin Meagher

As the midwife to the Good Friday Agreement back in 1998, Labour is, quite rightly, immensely proud of book-ending 30 years of the troubles with a political deal, that while not perfect, has delivered the prospect of peace, reconciliation and progress in Northern Ireland.

Ever since its signing, Labour conference speeches have been replete with references to it. As soon as Tony Blair mentioned her in his leader’s speech at the 1998 conference, the hall rose to applaud Mo Mowlam, the Northern Ireland Secretary who did so much to bring about the agreement.

As recently as the 2017 manifesto, there was a customary reference:

‘The Good Friday Agreement, which Labour helped to negotiate, is one of the greatest achievements of Labour in office…and we remain committed to working with all sides to deliver real peace and greater prosperity to Northern Ireland.’

As party grandees gather this weekend to thrash out the contents of Labour’s next manifesto during its Clause Five meeting, they need to include some specific provisions in relation to Northern Ireland, recognising the tectonic plates are shifting and Labour can’t rely on past glories.

Let’s start with the obvious. As well as a deal securing a devolved power-sharing assembly and all-Ireland institutions, the Good Friday Agreement is also something else. It is – and was always meant to be – a blueprint for bringing about Irish unity through exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

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Labour needs to avoid another Gogglebox moment on its Brexit policy

09/11/2019, 10:39:25 PM

by Tom Clements

I still remember the agony of the 2015 exit poll with vivid horror. The chiming of Big Ben leading to David Cameron and the words ‘Largest Party’ winded me; and then David Dimbleby’s confirmation of the projected number of Labour seats knocked me to the ground. I hadn’t given up hope until the result of South Swindon was announced showing that the Tories had done more than enough to continue to govern.

Dazed and confused, it took me a while to process the result before starting to think about what factor could possibly explain it. It wasn’t until I watched that week’s Gogglebox election special that I could start to understand why Labour had been so decisively rejected in 2015.

From the Leader’s Question Time event in Leeds, they saw a voter ask Ed whether he thought New Labour had spent too much. When Ed replied that he didn’t, despite some grumbles from the audience, I barely batted an eyelid.

But on the Gogglebox sofas, family after family spluttered their disbelief. Whatever the validity of the coalition government’s argument about the public debt, it had clearly stuck Miliband and Labour as being economically profligate defecit deniers. And in the stark light of the disastrous election result, the realisation hit me that this is what people had thought all along and we had been unwilling to counter it.

Whether or not we would learn from this has been low on the list of problems facing the Party since 2015 so I hadn’t given it much thought.

Until recently.

Hearing Corbyn, Starmer and other favourites of the front bench struggle through explaining the Party’s Brexit policy, I felt a familiar dread. Upon hearing the dear leader proclaim that his plan is “clear and simple” brought me out in a cold sweat.

Unless Labour establishes a clear, coherent and easily explainable position on the key issue of this election, then we will be facing a similar Gogglebox moment. And, even though it has been plain to many for some time, now that the definitely, maybe plan has been exposed to the public, the penny might finally drop.

So Labour needs to get real on its Brexit indecision and establish a clear plan.

Firstly, they need to publish their proposed deal. Despite the embarrassment of the Ed Stone and shadow budget in 1992, if we are to be taken seriously on Brexit then it is the least we can do. We need to explain why we believe in maintaining the custom’s union and keeping strong ties with the EU.

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