Posts Tagged ‘Brexit’

Indyref2 adds another twist to Brexit that Labour cannot handle

21/03/2017, 11:30:33 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Harold Wilson rightly said that a week is a long time in politics. Philip Hammond would agree, but the real shift in emphasis post budget was the SNP decision to go for a second independence referendum if they don’t like the Brexit deal. Or rather before the Brexit deal, as they want a vote before we know what the deal actually is. This adds another twist to the Brexit saga that the Labour leadership cannot handle.

As I noted in my post after the Open Labour meeting on March 11th, Miliband dampened hopes by backing the Corbyn- Starmer line. This is an acceptance of Britexit – without the escape clauses of referring a deal to the electorate agreed by Party conference last year – and an attempt to get a few concessions which they can sell publically as a Soft and so acceptable Brexit. The Tories will not allow this to happen.

May’s strategy is to win over the UKIP vote which if successful in leave constituencies – like Copeland –  would make the Tories invincible. Labour loses two ways backing soft Brexit. Labour can lose to the Lib Dems or SNP in Remain seats, and to Tories in Leave seats. UKIP don’t seem a serious challenge unless they can resist the Tory surge, and this remains possible. But what is clear is that Labour’s strategy cannot work, and the last week provided depressing evidence that this was the case.

The debate and vote on the Article 50 bill (European Union, Notification of Withdrawal) Bill came up for a derisory two hour debate on March 13th. Poor in content and almost contemptuously handed by David Davis, its only notable feature was the defeat of the two Lords amendments which would have provided some safeguards. Given the Tory majority, these could only be passed if Tory MPs rebelled. The significantly titled shadow minister for Brexit, Keir Starmer MP, pointed out these were Labour proposals accepted by the Lords.

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Uncut Review: A United Ireland, why unification is inevitable and how it will come about, by Kevin Meagher

20/03/2017, 10:22:09 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“Before there was a United Nations, before there was a United States, before there was a united anything, there was a United Kingdom.”

Bob Geldof delivered these rousing words to a rally in Trafalgar Square in 2014, organised to encourage Scotland to stay in the UK.

Will #indyref2 also see similar English outpourings of fraternal expression toward Scotland?

There must be more risk this time around that England shrugs its shoulders. Certainly, in the event of a referendum in Northern Ireland on its status within the UK, it is hard to imagine Unionist rallies springing up on mainland Britain.

“Where Scotland is seen to be an opportunity worth holding on to,” writes Kevin Meagher in A United Ireland, why unification is inevitable and how it will come about, “Northern Ireland is quietly regarded as a problem eventually worth jettisoning.”

Britain, as Meagher titles a chapter, is just not that into Northern Ireland. Whatever affinity the English retain for Scotland, it dwarfs Northern Ireland kinship – a place that feels faraway, with alien customs and obsessions.

Opinion in Northern Ireland itself, not on the mainland, will determine its future. Meagher assembles the economic evidence that it would be richer within the Republic of Ireland. And the stark divergence in social attitudes between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. In spite of these economic and social drivers, there remains, of course, a majority community in Northern Ireland defined by loyalty to the UK.

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Nicola Sturgeon has gambled with her move for independence. It’s not such a bad bet

14/03/2017, 03:39:53 PM

by Atul Hatwal

There are three stages to processing the news that we seem to be heading for a sequel to the Scottish independence referendum.

Stage one: why the shock.

What is surprising about a Scottish nationalist politician calling for independence from the rest of the UK? Surely, the clue is in Nicola Sturgeon’s party title.

Brexit offers a justifiable opening to ask the question which was meant to have been answered for a generation. The fundamental circumstances of Britain’s position have changed and the post-2014 settlement was predicated on a United Kingdom in Europe.

Stage two: Sturgeon has miscalculated.

But once the campaign begins, the same economic pressures will be brought to bear again on the electorate. Set aside for a moment the ludicrous hypocrisy of a Tory Brexiteer government running a facsimile of the Remain campaign’s economic arguments about leaving a union, the threat that will be articulated is not only real but potentially greater than in 2014.

Many will talk about the importance of identity and nationalism but that doesn’t pay the mortgage or put food on the table.

There was a reason the SNP lost in 2014 by 10%: the economy, stupid.

Stage three: hang on, what if the UK is about to crash out of the EU without a deal?

The kicker for unionists comes courtesy of the Tory government’s approach to Brexit.

At the weekend, Boris Johnson was on our screens giving his considered view as Foreign Secretary that exiting the EU without a deal would be just fine.

If, and it’s a big if, the SNP could promise some form of ongoing EU membership while the rest of the UK wilfully stepped off the trade cliff, babbling about empire, the nineteenth century buccaneer spirit and British pluck, which outcome would represent the greatest economic danger for Scotland: independence or remaining in the UK?

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At Open Labour, Ed Miliband backed the Corbyn-Starmer line on Brexit. A line that leaves Theresa May calling the shots

13/03/2017, 10:40:48 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The first Open Labour conference on March 11th was a successful launch of the project. In a school hall, 230 attendees took part for an afternoon of discussion.  Not all were members, but when a tight vote on an amendment led to tellers counting, 104 members had voted. This was a respectable number. I had sympathy with the colleague who asked “have we not decided this?”, not so as this was a first event, but OL was understandably treading a familiar path at this early stage. It will be for the perspectives conference in June to decide what the Unique Selling Point of OL will be.

The attendees seemed to be drawn from the Miliband cadre who had come to hear their leader. The age profile was around half over 50, about the same under 30. Anyone in their 30s or 40s and joined during the New Labour years seem not to warm to Open Labour so both the pre- New Labour and post New Labour cohorts seem to be the people attracted to Open Labour. However whether Open Labour can confront the failures of the Miliband era as well as those of earlier years is an open question – and very much open after Ed Miliband spoke to end the conference,

Miliband rightly focused almost entirely on Brexit in his 15 minute contribution, correctly as this is the defining issue of the current period, and supported the current Corbyn-Starmer line. This is to accept Brexit and the 2016 referendum but to seek a soft Brexit with concessions, none of which are on offer – certainly not EU citizens’ rights and access to the single market, currently dominating the debate. It is a fact that none of the amendments Labour put to the Article 50 bill were accepted, and the Tories did not accept any of the Lords amendments.  Labour is not likely to propose a constitutional crisis by using the Lords to overturn the rights of the Commons as the last thing an unpopular Labour Party can do is use the unelected Lords to block the decisions of the elected chamber. Certainly not to challenge the referendum result, which gave the government the mandate to trigger Article 50.

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The future for Corbyn is grim but Saturday’s Open Labour conference gives cause for hope

09/03/2017, 07:10:40 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The by-elections in Stoke Central and Copeland showed that Brexit remains the dominant fact in British Politics – and while Corbyn’s shift to a pro- Brexit stance while helpful in retaining Stoke did nothing to provide a national UK wide strategy. Paul Mason believes the strategy was purely by election driven. In fact it is not even by election driven, it would not work in strong Remain seats. These two had Leave majorities, which seems to have dictated the shift. In the event, in both seats the majority of those voting on a low turnout voted for real pro-Brexit parties, discounting Labour as its conversion was insubstantial – as UKIP pointed out. And a further conclusion has to be that while the Compass strategy of a progressive alliance could theoretically work in by elections where there is a Remain majority, in Leave seats it does not work.

The share of the vote for the strong Leave parties, Tories and UKIP, discounting Labour’s shift to a Leave position, was virtually identical and greater than the other three parties in both seats. In Copeland, UKIP fell to 7.2% of the vote and Tories rose to 44.2% presumably in consequence, giving the strong Leave parties 51.4%.  As Labour got 37.3%, Libs 7.2% and Greens 1.7%, had the Compass strategy operated and all the Lib Dem and Green votes transferred – a very big assumption – the Labour share plus the others would have been  46.2%. This would have outvoted the Tories on the day had it happened, but would still be less than the strong Leave parties combined.

In Stoke Central the Labour share totalled 37.1%, confirming this was no longer a safe Labour seat. If the Tories, with 24.4%, can do what they did in Copeland and gain UKIP votes, UKIP  gaining 24.7% in Stoke Central, Tories could do well in the successor seat – Stoke central is about to vanish. As for Progressive Alliance, while it was not needed, its worth noting that with Lib Dems getting 9.8% of the vote and the Greens 1.4%, the total of 48.3% would have been less than the 49.1% the two strong Brexit parties totalled.  All academic of course, but no great advert for the progressive alliance which in Leave voting seats is unlikely to deliver the anti- Tory Vote compass thinks is needed.

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The problem with the Labour Left…

06/03/2017, 11:03:48 PM

In the second of a pair of short essays on the state of the party, Kevin Meagher casts a critical eye over the state of the Labour Left.

When did unpopularity and electoral failure become synonymous with the Left? On the face of it, seeking to level-up the world for those who get a rough deal should commend left-wing solutions to millions – tens of millions – of voters who, well, get a rough deal.

So why does it never turn out that way? Why is Labour languishing at 24 per cent in the polls? Why is Jeremy Corbyn less popular than the Black Death? Or Leicester City’s board?

The Labour Leader’s relaunch, much talked about at the start of the year, came to a juddering halt in the cold, wintry lanes of Copeland last week. A Labour seat, made up of workers in a heavily-unionised industry, left Jeremy Corbyn high and dry.

Of course, it was the nuclear industry, so it didn’t help that he’s implacably opposed to how so many of the voters there make a living.

Ah, but what about Stoke? Labour held on there.

Fair enough, Labour is still capable of holding some of its safest seats. But what Stoke showed is that White working-class voters in ‘drive past’ towns are loyal in their bones and will not readily abandon Labour, despite the endless provocations from the liberal-left that they are all ignorant, Brexit-voting racists.

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Labour has a lot to do in Stoke to make it a safe seat again

27/02/2017, 09:54:29 PM

by Matt Baker

For far too long the default position of the Labour Party in Stoke has been to look to the past. This is not just exemplified by Tristram Hunt’s decision to quit Parliament to take up a job in a museum. Or the previous MP, Mark Fisher’s similar interest in museums (he wrote a book about museums and had a second job as a museums adviser in Qatar).

The most worrying example of this mindset actually saw some in Labour show pride at peddling politics from a bygone era.

When Stoke experimented with a directly elected mayor at the turn of the millennium, it elected the progressive independent, Mike Wolfe, whose campaign was heavily critical of “Labour dinosaurs”. Bizarrely, some Labour councillors took this as a compliment and would wave plastic dinosaurs at the Mayor in the Council Chamber.

In the 20-years I lived in the city, with the exception of Wolfe, the tendency to look to the past became synonymous with its political leaders. It was a mind-set that guaranteed decline. The feeling that the city’s past shone so much brighter than its future was palpable. Sandwiched between its neighbouring cities of Birmingham and Manchester, which were both experiencing an urban renaissance, there was a keen sense that Stoke was missing out. Living standards were deteriorating and it was crying out for a vision of the future. But its leaders, and the Labour Party in particular, had no answers and all it could do was fall back on nostalgia.  

When Sir Stanley Matthews, the city’s favourite son, died in 2000, more than a hundred thousand people lined the streets and I saw people in tears as the funeral procession slowly made its way round his home town. Mixed in amongst the grief was the sense that a bright link to a better time had been finally broken.

Restoring that link to a strong sense of pride in Stoke and optimism about the future has to be the number one priority for Labour and Gareth Snell.
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Brexit lost in Stoke. Time for Labour faint hearts to learn the lessons

24/02/2017, 10:15:45 PM

by James Valentine

Officially Labour won in Stoke on Thursday but the real result is that the Brexiteers lost.  This was supposed to be UKIP’s high point – their triumph, when they would have fatally undermined the Labour party, possibly leading to an apocalyptic decline, such as that suffered in Scotland. But the idea that “Leave” voters would apply transfer their preferences to a contest where that choice was not on the agenda was a fallacy. Labour faint hearts, worried about election chances in “Leave” constituencies, should take note and start standing up for Britain’s future in Europe.

Mr Nuttall losing in Stoke will still not mean the end of UKIP. It merely confirms a pattern – the previous leader Farage was after all a multiple election-loser. UKIP is a chaotic party run by dubious individuals but it will continue to appeal to xenophobic and anti-immigrant feeling, now made more “respectable” following the Referendum vote. But the result puts paid to the idea that some Labour constituencies, primarily in the North are vulnerable to UKIP purely because of their high “Leave” component. And it can’t just be put down to Nuttall’s lamentable campaign. Copeland was clearly a disaster for Labour, but under entirely different circumstances, the UKIP vote plunged.

So why has this happened? The European Union, as such, has not been the most important issue for electors. Pollsters such as YouGov have repeatedly shown that when salience of voting issues is measured then “Europe” or “the EU” comes well down the list, after the immigration, the NHS, crime and so on. But if you offer the electors a choice about Europe, they will always give negative answers. This is what happened at the Referendum. A proportion of electors who never vote at General Elections turned out. And voting against the “EU” was widely interpreted as a vote against the political establishment and a reaction to economic austerity.

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Opposing Brexit would unite Labour, rout Corbyn and rob the Lib Dems & SNP of their faux radicalism

20/02/2017, 10:35:28 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The vote on Article 50 underlined Labour’s existential problem. It is clear that a party which makes a case then abandons it is in trouble but this is not a Corbyn problem as it is the story of the party over the last 25 years, since the 1992 election and the abandoning of John Smith’s National Insurance increases. Having lost the “double whammy” election, this was rational, but  Labour then adopted moving to the right  as a policy – ‘triangulation’ – which left Labour without an identity. And as Atul Hatwal argued on 28th January, Labour’s internal politics from 2015 were dominated by a return to ideological purity when the parliamentary tactic of abstaining on the Benefits issue led to the election of Jeremy Corbyn. However Corbyn has taken the MPs into the lobbies in support of Theresa May. You could not make it up.

With Jezza turning into Tony Blair, it’s time to address the root issue. New Labour accepted the Thatcherite view that There Is No Alternative, so appeasement was the answer, and this worked in the 1997 and 2001 elections. But not thereafter. Now Labour faces challenges on all fronts. It has already lost Scotland, and in England and Wales Lib Dems can take the Remain voters and Tories and UKIP the Leave voters. A party can be wobbly on some issues some of the time, but not on the defining issue of an era.

However a week in politics is a long time, and as a by election strategy giving in to the Brexit lobby has some short term advantages. How it plays in Copeland I do not know, but in Stoke accepting Article 50 has made sense though UKIP is still playing the card that Labour will ignore the Referendum. Hardly! In the local paper the Stoke Sentinel, (17th February) Labour candidate Gareth Snell’s statement is “I accept without hesitation the Referendum result. I have said repeatedly that if I had a vote in parliament I would have voted for Britain to leave the EU. My focus now is on winning the best Brexit deal for Stoke on Trent”. This has allowed Snell to avoid the criticism levelled at Paul Farrelly, in neighbouring Newcastle Under Lyme, who was a rebel.

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Labour’s Article 50 rebels are the party’s best hope for challenging a hard Tory Brexit

14/02/2017, 10:09:26 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The vote on Article 50 saw Labour officially support a viciously reactionary Tory proposal, which it had failed to amend in any way. Corbyn’s official order to vote for an unamended Article 50 undercut any future influence Labour may have on the next steps. Given that voting for a Tory measure was the complaint against Harriet Harman and the front bench in the summer of 2015 when Corbyn gained the support needed to win the leadership, this is more than a mistake. It is to repeat the mistakes of the Blairite past.

The official Labour position was to move amendments to improve the bill which would allow it to support the trigger of Article 50. While a concession was made, and this needs examination, it was not to satisfy Labour. It was to keep Tory MPs from rebelling and with the exception of Ken Clarke it succeeded. The overall effect, as the hard left Another Europe Is Possible put it, in an accurate observation

“The vote wasn’t close, because Labour voted for it despite losing all its amendments”.

The actual concession was described by AEIP, accurately but not entirely correctly, as “the government agreed that parliament will get a vote on a Brexit deal before it is concluded. This is meaningless, because when this vote happens MPs will have a gun to their heads. Either they accept the government’s deal or the UK gets no deal and crashes out of the EU anyway.”

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