Posts Tagged ‘Brexit’

Stormy waters lie ahead for Labour in local government, most of all in London where the conflict over ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ brings overtones of Brexit

20/10/2021, 10:32:16 PM

by Paul Wheeler

For generations Labour locally had a unique and enduring offer for working class communities. Labour councils provided decent and affordable housing for millions of families and in time their adult children, they offered high standards of education for their children and in many instances provided secure employment across a range of skills. In return those communities provided the bedrock of Labour support across a whole range of towns and cities.

But that solidarity has been shattered by decades of privatisation and council house sales and none of those essential services are now provided on any scale by local councils. More recently national politicians have urged supporters to view local elections as a referendum on the respective party in power centrally (‘send them a message’) much to the outrage of local councillors who wanted to be judged independently of their parties national standing.

But that strategy has faltered in recent elections. Local politics has become more transactional. This is most clearly seen in the rise of hyper localist independent groups bidding for council seats and usually aligned with a desire to maintain property values and stop any form of housing development. For the Conservatives the trend is most clearly seen in rural and suburban District Councils where they have lost control to an array of Residents Groups and Liberal Democrats trading on a localist anti-development platform

For Labour the trend is more complex. In many of its metropolitan councils and county councils the hyper-localist parties have been able to exploit long standing grievances in local Townships that the ‘Town Hall’ doesn’t understand or care about their concern. There was evidence of this in the recent Batley and Spen by-election in respect of the policies of the ‘remote’ Kirklees Council. Across conurbations such as Greater Manchester such discontent has translated into support for independent councillors in traditional Labour towns such as Radcliffe, Farnworth and Failsworth.

The Conservatives as the governing party have a range of responses to the rise of transactional politics. They can offer a range of financial incentives such as Town Fund Bids (which have an unerring tendency to be awarded to Tory councils and constituencies) to keep voters on board locally. They can also simply abolish troublesome District Councils as part of a wider move to larger unitary councils.

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Another stab in the back myth: The hard left is trying to blame the 2019 defeat on Starmer and the party’s Brexit policy. One problem. I’ve got the receipts

03/10/2021, 10:24:02 PM

by Patrick Heneghan

The rewriting of history is underway. The charge is that Labour lost the last election because of our Brexit policy which was led by Keir Starmer. Len McCluskey was at it during interviews to promote his book and at the end of last week Andrew Fisher was writing about it.

While it’s obviously true that Keir Starmer was Shadow Brexit Secretary, the muddled Brexit policy Labour put before the electorate in 2019 was by no means Starmer’s policy – in fact the position Labour adopted was then hailed as a victory for Corbyn over the pro European wing of the Party. And you don’t need to take my word for it, I’ve been back over the comments and articles from the time, and they tell a very different story about how and why Labour ended up with the Brexit policy it did.

The real pressure to change the position on Brexit began after the 2019 Euro Elections. Labour had recorded less than 15% of the vote – it’s lowest ever vote share in a national election.

Following those elections, it was no secret that Corbyn’s most inner circle was split. Diane Abbott was clear “something is wrong with our strategy. We need to listen to our members and take a clearer line on a public vote” and John McDonnell responded to the results by stating “we must unite our party & country by taking the issue back to (the) people in a public vote.”

Momentum, had already balloted their members, the results of which showed clear support for a second referendum.

The Guardian reported that Len McCluskey was accusing some of those calling for a second referendum of trying to whip up a coup against Corbyn. Did he mean John, Diane, and Momentum?

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Johnson and Frost’s attitude to the Northern Ireland Protocol repeats the Tories’ worst habits in relation to Ireland

01/10/2021, 09:02:41 PM

by Matthew O’Toole

This piece is part of a new book “Labour’s Reset: The Path Back to Power” released this week. Click here to download it. The book looks at the barriers for voters in picking Labour, what the party can do in opposition to tackle these issues and the type of policy platform that would attract switchers to Labour at the election

If Boris Johnson actually cared it wouldn’t be so bad. His and his government’s wilful disavowal of a treaty they signed (and trumpeted in an election campaign), their intermittent gaslighting of people and businesses in Northern Ireland – if any of it was based on sincere conviction it would be easier to stomach. The empowering of extremists representing glorified crime gangs, the naked refusal to acknowledge the plain facts of international trade.

Political actors in Northern Ireland of all shades don’t just distrust the Johnson Government and its approach to the Protocol, they – we – are disoriented by it. Since everyone has been lied to, there is now next to no reserve of trust from which UK ministers can draw as Brexit makes relationships sharper and more difficult. So, what should happen now? Part of the answer lies in remembering the lessons of the past: the importance of delivering on commitments made in good faith and avoiding the crude assertion of British sovereignty in Northern Ireland as if it were the same as Suffolk.

Conservative indifference to the consequences for the island of Ireland of English political choices is nothing new. Whatever Northern Ireland’s future constitutional arrangements, defending pluralist institutions and British-Irish relations from thuggish Tory nationalism will require an active and engaged Labour Party. That should start with delivery of the complex and imperfect commitments in the EU withdrawal agreement.

One hundred years ago, the Westminster political class was bored of Ireland. The subject had dominated Parliamentary debate on a recurring basis for at least four decades. From the perspectives of both those Liberals – and Labour – who had supported successive attempts at Home Rule, and the Tories who had opposed them, first in relation to all of Ireland and latterly for the province of Ulster, the complicated denouement of 1920 and 1921 signalled time to move on from the Irish question.

First, the Government of Ireland Act of 1920 provided for the exclusion of six northern counties from any form of self-governing proto-independent state. Then after months more of fighting between republicans and the British state, by the end of 1921 a treaty providing a ‘Free State’ with dominion status in the other 26 counties was agreed between Lloyd George’s Government and Sinn Fein, which subsequently split but with the treaty itself surviving.

As Charles Townshend’s new book on partition points out, by 1921 many MPs were exasperated at the oxygen consumed by the ‘Irish question’ – and the demands of unionism very much included in that category. Then, as now, there was a striking disinclination to view said Irish question as one in which English politics and English power were implicated, or to put it more directly: one for which English politicians were in large part responsible. For better or worse, Irish issues were to be marginal in British politics (notwithstanding the fact that part of Ireland remained in the UK) for the next half century. In that sense, one of the key aims of Lloyd George’s Government – to stop talking about Ireland – was overwhelmingly delivered.

What does any of this have to do with 2021, and the question of how the UK Government – and British politics in general – approaches the implementation of another treaty, the EU withdrawal agreement and specifically the Protocol on Northern Ireland? It is to demonstrate that nothing happens in the British-Irish relationship outside the historical burden of that relationship; and that relationship is marked by asymmetry of both power and knowledge. Where London possesses the greater power – and not only over the jurisdiction where it is the sovereign power – Ireland (by which I mean the island and both historic ‘traditions’) possesses the greater memory and knowledge, of both historical fact and grievance.

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Don’t expect buyer’s remorse – it is going to take hard slog to rebuild the Red Wall

29/09/2021, 08:54:35 AM

by Jo Platt

This piece is part of a new book “Labour’s Reset: The Path Back to Power” released yesterday. Click here to download it. The book looks at the barriers for voters in picking Labour, what the party can do in opposition to tackle these issues and the type of policy platform that would attract switchers to Labour at the election

People in Leigh call their neighbours in Wigan ‘pie eaters’. It is not a comment on their culinary habits; it refers to the 1926 general strike where Wigan miners were said to have gone back to work sooner than those in Leigh. It is hardly surprising, then, that the parliamentary seat was solidly Labour from 1922 onwards. (And Liberal before that, with the Manchester Guardian owner, CP Scott, once representing the town.)

That was, of course, until November 2019. I was the unfortunate losing candidate – after first being elected in 2017 – as Labour was mown down, not only in dozens of so-called ‘Red Wall’ seats, but in the traditional coal and steel seats that today have Conservative MPs.

Coal and steel seats

For Leigh, read Bassetlaw, Blyth Valley, Bolsover, Redcar, Rother Valley or Penistone and Stocksbridge. These are places where Labour is in the local DNA, but they all fell to the Tories, many for the first time in decades, if not the first time ever. In fact, if it was not for the Brexit party splitting the Conservative vote, things would have been much worse and we would have lost dozens more seats, with even places like Barnsley – the epicentre of the Miner’s Strike – in danger of turning blue. (The absence of the Brexit party helps to explain why we lost the Hartlepool by-election in May.) All of which is an around about way of saying that we should count our blessings. The hole we find ourselves in as a party could have been even deeper.

Horrific campaign

Let me return to the 2019 campaign. Our experience on the doorstep was just awful. In fact, horrific is the word I would use. It was a hot reception – and, also, an icy one. Hot in that everyone seemed angry. (more…)

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This was a self-serving reshuffle designed only to level up Boris Johnson’s standing in the Tory party

16/09/2021, 10:32:38 PM

by David Talbot

For someone who supposedly dislikes upsetting people, the Prime Minister has a unique way of showing it. During his twenty six months in power, Johnson has sacked twenty seven Cabinet Ministers – an attrition rate worse than Donald Trump’s tumultuous administration.

The long-mooted reshuffle was previewed as “uniting and levelling up the whole country”. The reshuffle confirmed, though, if nothing else, that the only levelling up the Prime Minister is preoccupied with is with himself. Johnson has never sought to assemble the strongest possible Cabinet to the benefit of the country. He is perpetually afraid of being outshone, which has directly led to the lack of clarity on the central purpose of his government. Despite most of the media gushing that the Prime Minister was ‘ruthless’ he has still surrounded himself with Brexit and personal loyalists.

The Prime Minister fell back on his oldest tried and tested trick; to please the party faithful. Nadine Dorries may well have been an effective and diligent Health Minister during the pandemic, but her views on cultural issues are well-known and demonstrably offensive to many. Indeed, if her promotion was based on the success of her book sales, as the Defence Secretary has suggested, then – to use a Johnsonian turn of phrase – one can object purely on literary grounds alone.

This is a government which, having taken credit for the successful vaccination rollout that the NHS devised and then implemented, is bereft of ideas and purpose. If, as reports suggest, the Prime Minister truly is intent on fighting the next general election on Brexit – and supposedly how the dastardly EU would scupper ‘freeports’, for instance – then this repeat will be much like the digital ABBA concerts for once popular concepts which should have long since been retired. Leave won the argument, many years ago, it needs to own it, and start delivering on its promise to voters which either backed it in 2016 or wanted rid of the ongoing trauma of it in 2019.

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Jack Lesgrin’s week: ‘Catch-Up Tsar’ or ‘Level-Up PM’ show Rhetoric and Reality are the new Jekyll and Hyde

10/06/2021, 10:08:11 AM

by Jack Lesgrin

Eventually, the two opposing forces of rhetoric and reality will collide. They always do with Tory governments. For most of the 20th and 21st-centuries, the Tories have been better at creating and owning the narrative, at opportunistic and sometimes vicious campaigning, and some might say, for short periods, at governing too.

As with all parties, they look upon the social, political and economic consensus of the day, that was moulded by governments of different colours over decades, and adapt accordingly, seeking to shift the dreaded ‘dial’ up, down, right or left-wards. The Tories accepted the NHS and welfare state, and Labour came to accept reform of trade unions and a greater role for private enterprise. In seeking election, parties sometimes seek an armed annexation of opponents’ territory, as with Blair’s “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”, or indeed Cameron’s 2006 embrace of environmentalism and oft mis-quoted literal embrace of “hoodies”.

But no amount of spinning, campaigning, Johnson-esque ‘hope-for-the-bestery’ can prevent the clash between a hardwired mentality among most Conservatives that lower spending is more important than higher achievement. This is because, ultimately, despite a few admirable exceptions such as Rory Stewart, or Jeremy Hunt, most Tories, in their heart of hearts do not believe that it is the state’s responsibility to seek to make society fairer, or safer. They will try everything under the sun to avoid admitting the obvious truth that the state is the only actor capable of affecting genuine change, hence Tory governments’ default position of seeking ‘consultation with industry’, or attempting a ‘voluntary code’ to do X,Y or Z.’ Usually, about a decade later, they have to concede that only the state, and law, can sort the issue out. Sugar tax is a good example. Perhaps the most egregious recent example is cigarette advertising. It’s no surprise that it was a Labour government, believing in the role of the state, that banned indoor smoking.

We should beware the illusory effects of the pandemic on British politics. As noted in last week’s column, the clouds parted long enough for the Magic Money Tree to be glimpsed, but the tree is already being hidden away, protected by heavily armed Conservative policy boffins. The government is to be praised for the largesse the state bestowed on people needing support during this crisis. But it would be foolish of the British people, especially the vulnerable, to infer that this is a government of an epoch changing nature akin to that of Atlee, or elements of Blair/Brown.

The Tories’ messaging, and campaigning efficiency in 2010, 15, 17 and 19, conveniently combined with their facing an ineffectual opposition, can convince large enough numbers of voters that compassionate conservatism is on the rise, as Cameron’s environmentalism, or May’s rousing initial emphasis on meritocracy and “fighting against the burning injustice” attests.

Mr Johnson won in 2019 largely on the back of his “Get Brexit Done” mantra, but no one can doubt that the “levelling up” and “Build Back Better” agenda was part of the allure. All rational voters would agree that alongside enjoying apple pie, it would be better to lift-up poorer areas and people to the level of those doing better and it would be good to build a more prosperous and fairer society post-pandemic.

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Labour was right about Brexit in 2017 and wrong in 2019

05/01/2021, 11:20:30 PM

by Kevin Meagher

There was a pretty big irony about last week’s vote on the government’s Brexit bill.

By whipping his MPs into supporting Boris Johnson’s deal, Keir Starmer was making good on a manifesto commitment: ‘Labour accepts the [Brexit] referendum result and a Labour government will put the national interest first.’

Of course, this was from the 2017 Labour manifesto, not the 2019 edition.

That version, influenced by the lobbying of the second referendum mafia, gave a quite different commitment. It promised to ‘

give the people the final say on Brexit.’ After a period of renegotiation, a new deal would be put to the vote, ‘alongside the option to remain.’

It was a lousy policy.

It would have seen Labour ministers constructing a new deal that honoured the party’s red lines around labour market standards, environmental protections, and single market access, only for the party to campaign against it in a fresh referendum, in order to remain in the EU.

Voters are not as gullible as politicians consistently believe.

Right along the Brexit-supporting Red Wall, they smelled a rat, sensing that Labour had no intention of respecting their choice to leave the EU and made plain their displeasure. The rest is, well, history.

So last week’s vote was about earning a fresh hearing with voters. The rights and wrongs of Brexit (mainly wrongs) will have to come out in the wash. There are no votes to be gained in prolonging the agony any longer.

In seeking to modernise Labour after last year’s rout, Starmer will carry on repudiating Labour’s recent past. It is the equivalent of a spring clean, expunging mistakes and decluttering the record in a bid to win a second look from the voters. More often than not, it is an exercise that culminates in a gentle dagger thrust into the last guy’s rep.

In which respect, Keir Starmer was in effect knifing himself last week.

He was the architect of Labour’s policy to back a second referendum in 2019. Jeremy Corbyn must take the overall blame for the party’s various policy, strategy, and presentational mistakes, but he was only trying to keep the peace by backing the muddled Brexit policy that Starmer and others were so keen on.

Perhaps Corbyn should have put his foot down – his policy in 2017 was both straightforward and popular.

Indeed, if the party had stuck with the 2017 commitment – avoiding the impression that they were trying to usurp the voters’ decision about the referendum – there would have been more scope to criticise the final deal. As it was, most Labour MPs ended up voting for a package they don’t believe in and one that Keir Starmer himself conceded was ‘thin.’

Now it is done, Brexit is delivered, and Labour can finally move on. But there will be many other painful concessions to make on the journey towards 2024. Labour still has a mountain to climb and is barely out of the foothills.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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Let’s face it, the moment belongs to Farage

04/01/2021, 08:51:42 AM

by Kevin Meagher

There he was on New Year’s Eve. On Twitter, where else? A simple photo, savouring his victory. A drained wine glass in one hand a well-drawn cigarette in the other. A smile like a crocodile that has just devoured a resting zebra.

He is not bothered about the constant abuse he receives, or even the gallons of milkshake that are poured over him. Its all been worth it. Nigel Farage knows the moment belongs to him.

‘25 years ago they all laughed at me,’ he wrote, (inadvertently paraphrasing a Bob Monkhouse gag), ‘Well, they’re not laughing now.’

And, indeed, we are not. We are out of the European Union and without Farage’s constant endeavours over the past quarter of a century, there would have been no Brexit.

Boris will convert the opportunity, but it is Farage who created it in the first place. A Home Counties John the Baptist. Starting out in the political wilderness, converting an army of believers one at a time with a mixture of unshakable conviction and his reptilian charisma.

He may be a figure of loathing for the left/liberal/SJW cohorts, but he is also something they themselves want in a leader. He is conviction politician. Ideologically coherent. Authentic to voters. He leads from the front. Eternally optimistic. If only the left could offer someone with similar attributes.

You do not have to like him to concede that he has made the biggest impact on British politics since Thatcher. His influence may well be baleful, but it is pervasive. A brilliant communicator and the best campaigner since Blair, he is a worthy adversary.

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The Uncuts 2020 (part III)

01/01/2021, 09:52:21 PM

U-turn of the Year: Boris Johnson and the Northern Ireland Protocol

‘You turn if you want to,’ Margaret Thatcher famously declared at the 1980 Conservative conference, ‘the Lady’s not for turning.’

Only she was.

Having let ten republican hunger strikers go to their deaths a few months later, she quietly relented on their central demands to be treated as political prisoners.

And having promised Ulster unionists that she would not play footsie with Dublin, Thatcher foisted the Anglo-Irish Agreement on them out of the blue in 1985 – guaranteeing the Irish government a say over Northern Ireland’s affairs.

Following in his heroine’s footsteps, Boris Johnson has also pulled off a similar U-turn, with the smell of burning rubber still hanging in the air.

The Northern Ireland Protocol guarantees there is no hard border on the island of Ireland by introducing a border in the Irish Sea instead – a key demand from Brussels, with adroit lobbying from Dublin and a not-so-subtle intervention from US President-elect, Joe Biden.

It means that Northern Ireland effectively stays inside the ambit of the EU when it comes to the import and export of goods.

This is not, shall we say, what Boris Johnson promised when he addressed the Democratic Unionist Party conference in 2018.

Back then, he told delegates that special arrangements for Northern Ireland would mean consigning it to the status of an ‘economic semi-colony of the EU.’

This would be ‘damaging the fabric of the Union’ and mean regulatory checks and customs controls between Britain and Northern Ireland.

‘No British Conservative government could or should sign up to anything of the kind,’ he said.

You do not need a crystal ball to work out what happened next.

To say there is apoplexy among unionists and loyalists over Boris’s betrayal is an epic understatement. (And we are talking David-Lean-Lawrence-of-Arabia-epic).

Yet, there are fewer and fewer unionist sympathisers in Westminster and so no-one is particularly miffed on their behalf.

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Labour must not try to board a sinking ship

30/12/2020, 08:02:17 AM

by Robert Williams

Promising to commit national economic suicide and break up the country more compassionately and efficiently is not really a vote winner.

Nevertheless, that is what Keir Starmer’s New! Improved! Shallow Cabinet is determined to do.

Despite splits over whether to back a Brexit deal, with some shadow ministers threatening to resign and backbench Labour MPs warning that up to 60 could rebel if Keir Starmer insists they back the government’s truly awful thin gruel deal, the party seems determined to lay claim to be the second worst opposition ever.

Labour’s dilemma is a continuation of its uncertain and internally divided position on Brexit and has been a sore point long before Keir Starmer became leader. The harsh justice is that. Labour has been consistently awful, short-termist, dishonest and cowardly for the last four years, and deserves severe criticism.

If Starmer carries through his intention to whip Labour MPs to vote for this deal, they will be neither honourable, honest or credible. You cannot be if you accept a tissue of lies, know very well that they are profoundly damaging, and do not dare oppose them because you might offend those who believed the lies.

Since he became Labour leader, Keir Starmer has, rightly, focused on competence, or rather the complete lack of it in the Johnson government. But he has deliberately ignored Brexit and the consequences of our exit from the EU, ostensibly to avoid falling into the “trap” of appearing to be pro EU. And yet there is no policy more incompetent and based on ideological lunacy than Brexit.

Quite why pointing out the damage any Brexit will cause (and is already causing) is bizarre. It becomes clearer with every passing day.

Ah, but Labour wants to show it has “moved on” from Brexit to it’s former “Red Wall” seats in the North, say some shadow ministers. Shadow Business minister Lucy Powell suggested on HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast that refusing to vote for a deal would amount to “putting two fingers up” to ex-Labour voters who back Brexit. The shadow business minister said it was “better to be strong” and take a position.

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