Posts Tagged ‘David Talbot’

Covid has put the NHS front and centre. But Labour needs to beware, 2019 showed that support for the NHS does not equal votes for Labour

12/06/2020, 09:45:56 PM

by David Talbot

On the morning after consigning the Labour Party to a fourth and devastating general election defeat, the Prime Minister addressed the nation from the steps of Downing Street. In the early glow of election victory, Boris Johnson informed the party faithful and, more importantly, the millions of converted Labour voters that the “NHS is this One Nation government’s top priority”.

Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party had tried awfully hard during the preceding six weeks to make the NHS the central focus of the election. Chants of “not for sale!” reverberated around campaign rallies as a dossier exposing the “secret agenda” to sell off the NHS to US corporations was thrust into the heart of the campaign.

It was easy to understand Labour’s desire to move the debate from the Conservatives’ favoured ground of Brexit, and its pithy slogan, to the one policy area the party led on. Indeed, at the start of the campaign, the NHS was cited by more (60%) of the population than Brexit (56%) as the most important issue facing the nation. 68% of Labour’s 2017 voters also named the NHS as their number one priority, and Labour retained a lead, albeit small, on the party best placed to protect the health service.

The NHS was not only an important election issue, but it united a party which was allergic about talking about Brexit and acted as a galvanising vehicle for activists to campaign upon, whilst gnawing at the Conservative’s traditional Achilles’ heel.

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Starmer seeks to cheer miserabilist Labour

14/05/2020, 10:26:53 PM

by David Talbot

One of the many dangers for Labour following its devastating 2019 general election defeat was that, if the pattern from the previous three election defeats were a guide, rather than learning the wrong lessons, it would learn no lessons at all.

The seemingly one constant for the Labour Party since 2010, though, has been its unerring miserabilism. It has relentlessly lectured the country that its future is bleak, its prospects poor and its decision to return four Conservative-led governments wretched.

“The trouble with Ed [Miliband] is that he is just too miserable” so uttered a Shadow Cabinet member in 2015, shortly before the party went down to a second resounding defeat. Miliband had much to say about the travails of the previous five years, attacking austerity, most notably, but his introspection, subdued and ultimately quite gloomy outlook was bettered by Cameron’s innate optimism.

Jeremy Corbyn’s torrent of miserabilism sums up the party’s recent woes. Labour has won, all too rarely in its history, when it has been optimistic about the country it seeks to govern, when it inspires people, understands and enables their aspiration, and when it projects confidence both for now and the future.

The hectoring over austerity, the sheer angst and self-pitying on Brexit, this miserabilist tendency that exudes from the party’s rhetoric, tone and policies has whittled it down to its core. If now is not the time to ask whether this doom-laden strategy has been effective or not, then surely when is?

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10 years ago Gordon Brown launched Labour’s general election campaign in the home counties. Keir Starmer’s job is to make that realistic again

10/04/2020, 08:30:17 AM

by David Talbot

Ten years ago this week, in a break with tradition, Gordon Brown strode out from No 10 with his Cabinet lined up behind him and addressed the nation. The then worse kept secret in politics, that the country would go to the polls on May 6, was announced and Brown immediately sped off to the home counties – back when Labour held such seats – to begin his campaign for a fourth Labour term.

Labour’s clear intention that day was to portray the strength of the party’s top team, compared to that of the perceived lightweight Conservatives.

Prime Ministers usually like to claim all the spotlight when calling an election, and the Conservatives, quite rightly in riposte, pointed out that the tactic highlighted how, unlike most leaders, Gordon Brown was clearly not seen nor portrayed by Labour as their strongest card.

Ten years on, and three leaders later, Labour’s latest leadership contest was long on process and short on suspense. The commanding victory for Sir Keir Starmer, which avoided the razor-thin margin of 2010, or the factionalism of 2015 and 2017, provides stability at the top of the party arguably not seen since the halcyon days of 2007 when the prospect of an early election closed Labour’s ranks.

Starmer has already brought some much-needed dignity to his position. The early strokes of his leadership are at once encouraging, but when pitted against such a pitiful predecessor, objective analysis becomes ever more difficult. He has been bequeathed a party left in appalling health; not just electorally, but exhausted, riddled with division, tormented over its past and unsure of its future.

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With each passing week, McDonnell becomes more like Brown to Corbyn’s Blair

07/01/2019, 10:41:33 PM

by David Talbot

In September 2015 Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour Party, was finishing his first speech to the party faithful. Embracing the mandate for change, Corbyn, with a wry nod halfway through, noted that “things can – and they will – change”. In the preceding three years, via an internal challenge and a general election, the nature of the Labour Party has been transformed in his image. Corbyn was of course in part elected, twice, as Labour leader precisely because he represented a riposte to the previous Labour governments and to, of course, the loathed Tony Blair. However, an aspect of the duopoly which so dominated the party throughout its years in government is set to be replicated, ironically, by those who have dedicated the most to repudiating him, his image and his governments.

John McDonnell was not a universally welcomed appointment when Corbyn gave his longstanding comrade the position of Shadow Chancellor over three years ago. The antipathy reached its peak during the botched leadership challenge to Corbyn during 2016, when murmurs reached a crescendo that his departure was desperately needed to restore some semblance of party unity. The fiery, left-wing firebrand made enemies in his own party as easily as amongst the Conservatives, his reputation as a deeply divisive and electorally poisonous figure seemingly cemented.

The scepticism extended as far as Corbyn’s innermost circle, who grew to distrust the Shadow Chancellor – an opinion also widely held amongst the trade unions who had dealt with him for decades. In his early throes he actively coveted controversy and attrition, from his ‘communist salute’ at the 2015 party conference to labelling Labour moderates “fucking useless” in their cack-handed attempts to dispose the new Labour leader. Since then, a transition has begun as ambitious and calculated as the work of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to transform the electoral prospects of a moribund party in the mid-1990s.

And it is to these two towering figures of the last chapter of the Labour Party that is becoming ever more prevalent for the new, Corbyn-led, chapter. The rivalry and trench warfare, often for the sheer sake of it, that came to characterise the then Labour leader and his Chancellor is fracturing into the open between Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor. Over the summer, when Labour descended into a bitter dispute over anti-Semitism, it was the Shadow Chancellor, through the pages of the Times no less, that organ of the establishment, who made it known that he disapproved of Corbyn’s handling of the sorry saga. As to with the terrorist incident in Salisbury, where McDonnell, not Corbyn, voiced support for the security services and stated unequivocally it was “highly likely” that Russia was responsible.

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Smug self-satisfaction blinds Corbyn’s Labour to the reasons the last election was lost

19/09/2017, 10:44:02 PM

by David Talbot

As the Conservative party trudges towards Manchester and its party conference this year, fresh with Boris Johnson’s timely four thousand word intervention, you would be forgiven for thinking the conventional wisdom of politics has been suspended. The Conservatives, wrought with angst and anger over the general election, are pouring over why its seemingly insurmountable political prestige crumbled over seven tumultuous weeks. The Labour party, meanwhile, is becalmed in glorious general election defeat. Its third, in a row. A better than expected defeat, but a defeat nonetheless. Not that this fact has seemingly been acknowledged by the body politic of Jeremy Corbyn and his fervent supporters.

For the Conservatives the post-election fog is only just lifting, but the gloom remains. The Times reported at the weekend that Sir Eric Pickles and Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, are set to release their report on why the Tories lost their majority on the first day of the party’s conference. The scale of its findings have levelled criticism at the traditional boogeyman and woman of Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, but it is also highly critical of the party’s data operation. Jim Messina, no doubt hired at ludicrous expense, devised a target seat operation that saw May visit 43 ‘marginal’ constituencies. The party went on to win just 5.

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Theresa May’s big speech showcased her weaknesses as PM

18/01/2017, 11:49:16 AM

by David Talbot

When the new Prime Minister ascended to the highest office by default during last year’s tumultuous summer, her quiet authority seemingly reassured a buffeted nation. Whilst knowledge of her ideology, policy and vision for Britain was lacking, the assumption that she was competent, who, after all, survives six gruelling years in the Home Office without it, was overwhelming.

A carefully fostered reputation for toughness and competence emanated. But now, seven months on, the narrative needs to be revised and rewritten to reflect her record to date. The evidence for all the initial gushing was all rather thin: truth be told, her party, let alone the nation, hardly knew May. Her no-small-talk, reveal-nothing aloofness left a void in which anyone could characterise her as they chose.

Her speech at Lancaster House yesterday was due in part to quell the criticism that had amassed over her continued vow of silence over the most pressing political concern the nation will face in a generation. The Prime Minister’s twelve pillars, we were told, would detail her vision for a post Brexit Britain. Having obfuscated for months – beyond the meaningless regurgitation of “Brexit means Brexit” – May at last delivered a prolonged response to what the vote last June would actually mean in the years ahead.

Delivering a veiled threat to European allies, offering her first pillar as ‘providing greater clarity’, confirming years of angst for UK business with the long-expected withdrawal from the single market and customs union, whilst her Ministers travel the globe in search of fantasy free market trade deals, hardly screamed of a Prime Minster well ahead of events. Details were left for another day. By trying to simultaneously avoid spelling out her Brexit intentions and please her hard-line Brexiteers, May has chosen the riskiest course of all.

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Next May’s elections will be the test for Corbyn. If he fails, its up to the PLP to act

22/10/2015, 05:12:53 PM

by David Talbot

We are told that “something amazing happened” over the summer of 2015 in British politics. That the election of Jeremy Corbyn had “blown politics wide open”. As if it needed further reinforcement, the American actor Shia LaBeouf was said to exclaim “British politics just got very exciting”.  It is of course billed as the new politics, but is very much the old machine-style politics just with a Twitter handle.

Plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery after all, and after years of railing against Progress – a party within a party, we were so vehemently told – the left have their new vehicle: Momentum. Its raison d’etre was codified on the hallowed pages of Left Futures, now the Corbynistas headquarters, where the veteran Bennite Jon Lansman rather gave the game away,

And it will also campaign inside the Labour Party to change it into the campaigning organisation we need, rooted in communities and workplaces, a truly democratic party with polices to match the needs of the many not the interests of the few.

This is a positive outward-looking agenda and that is as it should be but there is a defensive agenda too. The fact that those who were threatening a coup until days before Jeremy’s victory stopped doing so when they saw the size of his majority does not mean that they have all changed their minds.

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Labour’s on its knees and the left’s interminable marches against austerity are part of the problem

25/06/2015, 04:30:04 PM

by David Talbot

After a second successive heavy electoral defeat, Labour finds itself in the familiar phase of conducting a leadership election. In 2010, after thirteen years of a Labour government, and the ill-fated reign of Gordon Brown, there was a widely-held sentiment that a new leader would breathe life into a visibly tired and, in parts of the country, reviled party.

It was a job of regrouping, reuniting and then combatting the unheralded coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. There was a high hope, even expectation, that a return to power after five years was all but inevitable. After all, who didn’t despise the Tories and their sell-out collaborators, the Liberal Democrats?

This was an election that Labour could have won but ultimately chose not to. The litany of excuses is already being offered up early by a clearly stupefied left. The fight to define election defeat is well under way.

It is, of course, the fault of everyone but the left.

Stunned, it has returned to its ideological redoubt. What was its first major contribution to the post-election British political landscape? To march, of course. And so they did, hundreds of thousands, or tens of thousands, depending on whom you believed, marching against austerity. Just as they had done, multiple times, to no obvious affect, since 2010.

It was a return to the purity of their comfort zone; to rail against the Tories and their cuts. One could almost feel their collective relief that Labour had lost the election and they could thus continue the struggle. The left, clearly, has learnt little over the course of two devastating election defeats.

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Whatever the question, Andy Burnham is not the answer

12/05/2015, 09:00:08 AM

by David Talbot

In the end, Ed Miliband was just a better-dressed Michael Foot. An apocalyptic result in 2010 was turned into a near-existential one five years later. The coming post mortem must be detailed and clinical. A complete overhaul of the party, of its policies, ethos, outlook and thereby electoral appeal is now a necessity. There can be no nostalgia, ingratitude, mistrust, and even downright bitterness, which, sadly, has already been witnessed, of the electorate and the verdict it delivered last Thursday. The Labour party is, as my Uncut colleague Atul Hatwal has already noted, the sole signatory of its own downfall. Only it can pick itself up and offer itself to the nation anew come 2020.

The scale of the defeat must now be fully absorbed, understood and then acted upon. It is obvious to note given the scale of the defeat, but this was a process almost entirely lacking in the leadership election of 2010. The wrong conclusion was reached. The party had chosen to be comforted rather than challenged, and we witnessed its sorry aftermath on Friday morning. The electoral landscape as it now currently is, with Labour 99 seats behind the Conservatives, means that being out of office for twenty years is a very real possibility. The importance of whom the party chooses next as its leader is now central and vital to its fortunes.

Leadership contenders will be positioning themselves in the coming weeks, with Andy Burnham an early front-runner. But for the very reason that he is the epitome of a Labour figure who would rather pander to the party’s base then reach out to the nation, he must not succeed. Merely repeating “the NHS” is not – as we have just painfully witnessed – a successful election strategy. Burnham was at the heart of this. Candle-lit vigils, people’s marches, nonagenarians deployed at party conference – Burnham descended into the politics of demagoguery over the NHS. All wistful, nostalgia nonsense that fired up our base but was ultimately ignored by the electorate.

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Labour obsesses over London while Scotland burns

09/04/2015, 07:00:28 AM

by David Talbot

Returning home over the Easter weekend, the rolling English shires are about as far removed from the London metropolis as can be imagined. In political terms, my hometown, Stratford upon Avon, is a fortress of Conservative blue. The next door constituency to the south east is the prime minister’s of Witney, but to the north lie the Labour behemoth cities of Birmingham and Coventry, ringed by marginals that defined the Labour party’s return to government in 1997.

Redditch, Warwick and Leamington Spa and Worcester symbolised Labour’s deep raid into traditionally Tory lands – with the latter even spawning the stereotypical voter that gave Labour a long look again after 18 years in the wilderness. But the difference between the attention Labour will give these seats and those in London is stark, and potentially come to symbolise its failure on election night.

A week before the Easter break an ITV poll detailed Labour’s sweeping gains in the capital, with the party nudging to nearly fifty per cent of the vote and set to take six seats off the Conservatives. London, Sadiq Khan explained, held the key to Downing Street. To reinforce the point, an Evening Standard poll the next day showed Labour holding an eleven point lead. This, in a national election that is on a knife-edge, was impressive and encouraging for Labour. As part of its general election coverage the Standard ran coverage of the closest race in London, that of Hampstead and Kilburn. But buried beneath the prose of a tight election was a key, and damning, statistic.

Two out of the four million much-fabled conversations Labour are set to have in this election are to take place in London. This is a gross distortion of manpower in already safe Labour seats and, at best, for gains that will barely scratch the surface towards a majority.

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