Posts Tagged ‘Brexit’

Labour’s splits over Brexit and Corbyn are threatening to spiral out of control

30/11/2020, 11:34:35 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Brexit has been driven off the front pages by Covid 19. This has created what can only be called The Reality Gap. The real world of the negotiation on the Withdrawal Agreement has been overlaid by the determination of the Johnson administration to walk out on January 1st whatever happens. A sensible government would have extended the deadline until after the Pandemic was beaten, but sense and sensibility are absent in an increasingly unreal world where debate is minimal.

The negotiations are clearly posing serious threats, either of a thin agreement – still the most likely outcome – or a No Deal. The slogan which won the 2019 election of an Oven Ready Deal was never realistic. A deal likely to keep the same terms as the UK now enjoy was not on the table. As the pandemic has done major damage to the British economy, a thin deal could create a major recession. No Deal would be worse. But as the British cannot deal with two major threats at the same time, Brexit has become invisible.

The risks were underlined in mid-November by the BBC report that Felixstowe – Britain’s major container port – was blocked and imports were stranded, some having to go to Rotterdam and come in by other ports. The delays will continue through December and into the New Year – withdrawal is not going to help the situation.

In Kent the lorry access through Dover and the Channel ports after January 1st is so problematic that lorry parks for up to 7000 lorries are being built. For the companies that rely on imports and exports, on top of the pandemic, the financial consequences of the Felixstowe bottleneck are already very serious.

Since problems with trade have such major risks, the Labour Party should be putting all its energies into holding the government to account. Sadly it is in danger of lapsing into civil war over the EHRC report and the removal of the parliamentary whip from Jeremy Corbyn. As this could involve legal action -hopefully this will not happen – any discussion of this is inadvisable and could be sub judice.

Indeed some elements of the Left – including Jon Trickett – believe Labour should apologise for backing a confirmatory referendum and not lining up with Farage, Johnson and Cummings in regarding the 2016 vote as the last word. Their views were set out in an article on Labour List on November 12th demonstrating continued fault lines in the Party over the successful attempt by the Tory Right to split progressive forces. However this does not mean that Labour should ignore the problems coming in six weeks time. Certainly the current internal ructions are a further distraction, and if unions do withdraw election funding the next five months up to the May elections this will threaten the basic function of the Labour Party – to fight and win voter support.

The Party is starting to spiral out of control.

Trevor Fisher was a member of the Labour Coordinating Committee executive 1987-90 and secretary of the Labour Reform Group 1995- 2007. He was a member of the Compass Executive 2007-2009

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Labour needs to be bolder. Keir Starmer should call for an extension to the Brexit deadline until Covid is under control

15/11/2020, 11:23:53 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Whatever is happening inside Number 10 with Cummings and Lee Cain reportedly ousted, it is clear that a turning point has been reached. This is likely to be Brexit related, as it was never the case that the slogan “Get Brexit Done” was within reach even before the pandemic struck. There was no “Oven ready deal” that could be simply signed off, and the sensible thing to do even for committed Brexiteers was to postpone the extension deadline to get the pandemic sorted. Labour should be saying this, but instead the Hard Left spokesmen Jon Trickett, Ian Lavery and Laura Smith issued a report titled No Holding Back on 12th November.

This lined up with full throttle Brexiteers who aim to take Britain out of the remaining EU arrangements on January 1st, advocated by Nigel Farage and his associates on the Far Right of the Conservative Party. Farage reacted to reports Cummings was going with the fear that Brexit would not be delivered. We will see in the days to come whether this is the case, but in the meanwhile Trickett and Co demanding that Labour apologise for cautiously wanting a confirmatory referendum on Brexit is nonsense. The 2019 result was bad: it would have been much worse if Labour had drive Remain voters into the arms of other parties: as it managed to do in Scotland anyway.

While a postponement of the Brexit negotiations is the compromise even  Brexiteers could accept,   the fundamentalists like Cummings, Cain and Farage were always unlikely to do so, but Labour could and should be saying it is time to postpone negotiations. Sadly even on less contentious issues Labour is unable to require sensible changes of course by the government. The most immediate is cancelling school exams in England in summer 2021. Tory policy to reinstate exams next summer is a bridge too far. Schools have lost five months teaching March to July. The only pupils who will have been taught the syllabuses completely are in boarding schools, or pupils with rich parents who can buy in coaching or online teaching or both.

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No Deal Brexit could blow Starmer’s strategy

01/10/2020, 10:43:42 PM

by Dan Cooke

Brexit is back. After months when the government’s shambolic response to Covid has monopolized political debate, the imminent expiration of the Brexit transition period on 31 December has reignited the intermittent interest of UK commentators in the nation’s future relationship with the giant trading block on our doorstep.

It took even more than this looming deadline to force Labour’s new Leader and his team to break their strategic vow of silence on anything related to Brexit. Only the furore over Johnson’s lawbreaking internal market bill forced a vocal but limited Labour response: to stress repeatedly that the government must focus on agreeing a deal; and No Deal would be a “failure “ that Johnson would have to “own”.

The first part of this assertion is self-evidently correct. No Deal would be disastrous – not just for Britain’s terms of trade, with the resultant imposition of EU tariffs on goods including cars, food and cosmetics, but also for essential co-operation on national security –  and would simultaneously create the worst possible environment in which to resolve the many vital open matters outside the scope of the current negotiations, such as seeking recognition of equivalence for Britain’s financial services sector.

Such an outcome would be, as Johnson once put it, an epic “failure of statecraft”, for which he and his advisers would be damned by history. However, if that verdict concerned them in the slightest they would have long since stopped getting out of bed in the morning. Instead, they know all too well that the Devil has all the best tunes. They most likely recognize – as Labour should too – that, in the foreseeable future, the fall-out from No Deal offers more favourable political terrain to this government – and one more challenging for the Opposition  – than any deal reasonably in prospect.

Let’s start with the alternative. Suppose a deal is announced with great fanfare in late October, in time to be ratified by year end. Johnson reprises his trick of last November, by returning from Brussels with a last minute agreement, achieved by compromising on his own red lines behind the cover of bombast and boosterism. This time around, the implicit threat of imposing a hard border in Northern Ireland through the Internal Market Bill is likely to be presented as having intimidated the EU into imagined concessions.

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Labour must beware the Tories’ ‘Miliband minority’ attack line – it worked before, it could work again

30/09/2020, 10:53:48 PM

By David Talbot

The country has become rather used to going to the polls. Three times in four years, no less. The hattrick of recent elections ushered in a Conservative majority for the first time in 23 years. The Conservatives were successful in turning the 2015 election into a de facto referendum on a minority Labour government. The attacks on Labour’s supposed dependence on the SNP gained wider resonance because of voters’ deeper suspicion of its leader and the party he led, but the Conservatives’ campaign created a palpable fear of a minority Miliband.

Fast forward two elections and Brexit has created a remarkable Conservative alliance. By making people’s identity, and the values they hold, the central tenet of the past four years of British politics, the Conservative party has fundamentally reinvented itself from Cameron’s modish liberalism.

From its traditional affluent, Shire-dwelling support to ripping through the Red Wall, it has taken the party to the highwater mark of British politics: 14 million votes. This is in and around the number of votes the Labour Party must achieve if it is to win the 2024 election.

The government’s electoral coalition, although mighty, is unstable. That is why it will continue to focus on socially conservative signalling and policies on law and order, national security and cack-handed attempts to reheat Brexit’s culture wars.

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Labour needs to talk about Brexit

15/09/2020, 11:13:23 PM

by Robert Williams

There is an ongoing debate in the Labour Party about whether Sir Keir Starmer should talk about Brexit. There have been so many other sticks with which to beat the government with, on COCIV test and trace, the highest excess death rate in Europe, the neglect of care homes, the growing scandal of PPE procurement contracts that make Al Capone look like an honest businessman, the A level fiasco. I could go on, and simply list the failures of Boris Johnson and his government for another few thousand words, but readers might lose the will to live.

So why reopen the wound of Brexit, which certainly contributed to Labour’s worst electoral performance since 1935. Why should Labour risk the wrath of its former Red Wall voters? They may not have liked Jeremy Corbyn, and that played no small role in making Labour less popular than a bad case of diarrhoea, but the Brexit saga was also significant. (Sorry for the analogy, but Corbyn was utterly toxic to voters, including former Labour voters, and it feels appropriate for his effect on the body politic).

Voters were exhausted by the political drama and wanted it over. They seized, or at least a large enough proportion of voters in key target seats did, on the promise of an “oven ready deal” and gave the Tories their largest majority since 1987. So one can understand why Labour has been as quiet as a monk in a silent order on Brexit. Even at last week’s PMQs, Keir Starmer did not mention, even in a limited and specific way, the government’s proposals to break international law.

The Labour leadership thinks that talking about Brexit at the moment is a lose-lose situation for them. It will remind voters, particularly those in the “Red Wall” that Labour backed Remain (it didn’t, they promised to renegotiate Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal and put it to another public vote – and yes, it was a farcical policy). Labour also fears that raising Brexit again will take the focus off the government’s handling of our exit from the EU. The “don’t interrupt your opponent making mistakes” view. And finally, Labour thinking is that they cannot do anything about Brexit in any case now that the government has a majority of 80.

So silence, as the government damages its own reputation for competence and now reneges on its own election manifesto – the one Johnson made every one of his candidates pledge to support – is, possibly sound politics. Let the government destroy themselves and wait on the sidelines. It is appealing, but I think it is wrong

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Labour needs a clear, distinctive, and credible economic message

23/07/2020, 08:00:31 AM

by Jonathan Todd

More people than not think that Keir Starmer looks like a prime minister in waiting (38% versus 34% in a YouGov poll conducted in early July), while more than twice as many think Labour is not ready for government than think Labour is (54% versus 23% in the same poll).

Other polling reveals that voters now think that Starmer would make a better prime minister than Boris Johnson.

Yet Labour trail the Tories by somewhere between 6 and 10 points on voting intention – with Survation putting it at the lower end of that range, Kantar being at the higher end, and Opinium in-between.

These deficits cannot be explained in terms of Starmer. It is the rest of the party that holds us back.

“Labour is under new management,” said Starmer at PMQs. Where Labour previously made commitments that voters struggled to believe, Labour now needs credible answers. Yet big enough to meet the UK’s challenges.

These do not come any bigger than the economy. The number of people aged 18-24 claiming Universal Credit or Jobseeker’s Allowance doubled in the last three months. Unfortunately, with furlough ending, demand not recovered to pre-Covid levels, and the risk of a second wave, our economic struggles are likely to persist.

With respondents being allowed to tick up three options, YouGov asked: Which of the following do you think are the most important issues facing the country at this time?

Health and the economy came joint top on 57%. Far ahead of the next most important issues: Britain leaving the EU (43%); the environment (24%).

It is noteworthy that over four-in-ten of the public do not see Brexit as “oven ready” and unsurprising that health is a concern amid a global pandemic – which will further rise if there is a second wave. But, as we learn more about Covid-19, improve our systems for containing it, and advance towards a vaccine, the economy will likely usurp health as the public’s biggest worry.

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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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