Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

Labour’s leadership plotting is going to end in tears

11/07/2016, 08:50:08 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Last autumn the Labour leadership issues seemed possible to discuss objectively, with a possible clean up of a deeply confused rule book. Perhaps even a sensible mid-term election could be devised while the Fixed Term Parliament Act was in force, a mid term election being discussed in passing during the summer leadership debates. This is no longer possible and even before a rumoured leadership plot is launched, the situation is becoming more confused and dangerously fraught.

The context of what Kevin Meagher rightly described as a ‘putsch‘ is internal disputes in the Whitehall bubble, mirroring tensions over Labour’s direction. There has been little to justify a leadership challenge despite the EU referendum dispute, and as Kevin Meagher pointed out, “The risk is that the current putsch plays straight into the hands of the Corbynites and inflicts lasting, long term damage on the party”. This is clearly true and while I suspect a general election in the autumn is unlikely for Theresa May, if one was called leadership dispute would seriously damage Labour.

However the immediate issues are two-fold, and centre on the nature of the putsch.

The first issue is whether they plotters can keep Corbyn off the ballot paper. If the rules are used to prevent enough supporters to nominate Corbyn, I cannot see how a legal challenge is unavoidable. He is the elected Labour leader. Whether he can be excluded is open to legal challenge but if successfully excluded, this has the effect of making the leadership a PLP matter. The membership is merely rubber stamping the PLP decision.

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The Corbynite take on Venezuela tells you all you need to know about the leadership’s judgement

25/05/2016, 04:27:49 PM

by Rob Marchant

A country with a population half that of Britain is currently collapsing. Its president was defeated in the country’s parliamentary elections last December and, in the true style of demagogic leaders the world over, finally declared a state of emergency ten days ago in an attempt to cling onto power, backed by the country’s army.

It is all the more ironic to understand that the state enjoys a massive economic blessing: it contains the world’s largest oil reserves. But it has been so terribly managed since the turn of the century that there is scarcely any food in the shops, electricity in the wall sockets or medicine in the hospitals. A clearer example of Biblical famine in the land of plenty it would be difficult to find.

The country, of course, is Venezuela. A country which, under its recent leadership, has gone out of its way to pick fights with the West: US presidents, even the King of Spain. And wasted no time in cuddling up to the West’s enemies, notably Putin’s Russia.

But, as Nick Cohen has argued many times, in Britain the current regime has long been supported by “a herd of bovine leftists”. This has particular resonance for those of us who find ourselves in a Corbyn-led Labour Party which we seem to scarcely recognise any more.

In short: in spite of the absolute dog’s breakfast it has made of running a country bursting with natural wealth, the regime of Nicolás Maduro has still has a few close political allies in the West.

Who, we ask, might those be?

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I don’t like the European Parliament or the In campaign. The EU is flawed. But I’m voting to remain

14/03/2016, 10:20:04 PM

by Robin Thorpe

The EU referendum is not really a Left-Right issue; it instead seems to separate groups of people on their age and level of education.

But membership of the EU does accord with one of the core beliefs  of the Labour movement: that we achieve more by working together than we do alone. Indeed the Labour Party rule book explicitly states that Labour is committed to co-operating in European institutions as well as the UN, the Commonwealth and other international bodies to secure peace, freedom, democracy, economic security and environmental protection for all. These are things that can only be achieved by international co-operation.

However, the Labour Party rule book (2013) also states that Labour works for “an open democracy, in which government is held to account by the people; decision are taken as far as practicable by the communities they affect; and where fundamental human rights are guaranteed”.  The current European Parliament does not correlate with these expectations. I can therefore understand why some Labour supporters may also wish to leave the EU.

David Cameron’s negotiations, although largely insignificant, had one major outcome: that the UK would not be obliged to be a part of “ever closer union”. But for me this misses the fundamental choice that faces not just the citizens of the UK but all of the peoples of Europe.

Do we truly want a common market across Europe, or do we want to remain as independent nations. Because to normalise both access to the market and quality of goods and services across Europe then we will need a common approach to much more than just fishing quotas and standard paper sizes. In my opinion we should either accept that a truly successful European Union would look like a United States of Europe, or we accept that it is flawed and make the best of a bad thing. Which is why I think that Cameron’s negotations were a failure. They didn’t just achieve nothing of use, they focused the purpose of the referendum on immigration.

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Oi journalists! Stop complaining about MPs tweeting campaign pics. It’s called democracy and it’s great

20/01/2015, 05:11:28 PM

by Ian McKenzie

There is currently a deep and widening fracture between the British people and their political parties, apparently. The chasm is so big that the political party as a concept is in terminal decline. The main two parties are in particular danger because their joint share of the national vote has fallen dramatically in the last 6 decades: it’s all over now, baby blue and baby red.

These assertions have become truths all but universally acknowledged; it’s all a bit boring really.

People do not join parties in large numbers any more. The electorate has slammed its doors on the main parties after saying “you are all the same”. People feel alienated and disenfranchised, believing that politicians are only in it for themselves and only come round at election times when they want votes and are nowhere to be seen during the rest of the electoral cycle. Yada yada yada.

I know all this because I’ve read it, and endlessly repeated variations of it, in newspapers and on Twitter.

It’s pervasive: explicit in opinion columns and covert in the news. The articles are written by political journalists and others and then tweeted and re-tweeted by them and their colleagues. These reports of widespread disconnection from the political process usually include expressions of regret; the demise of the parties is often celebrated. The theme is usually the same “you politicians had it coming, you’ve taken the electorate for granted for decades, the system’s broken and it’s your fault, you feckless, lazy reprobates.”

But the last couple of years have seen a little twist: Twitter has gone mainstream and not just in Westminster either. Hundreds of MPs and thousands of activists, in most constituencies, have continued doing what they have been doing for decades, knocking on doors and staying in touch with electors, only now they are doing it on Twitter.

In fact, Twitter has helped motivate and mobilise activism. Any Labour organiser will tell you there’s nothing like a bit of peer pressure and leading by manifest example to get people off their sofas and onto doorsteps. These days, hundreds of MPs, even those who once swore they would never stoop so low, and their campaign teams post thousands of tweets from, say, Acacia Avenue. We know it’s Acacia Avenue because the team is usually snapped in front of the road sign.

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Give PCCs a chance

02/09/2014, 12:07:40 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Okay, it’s not been a good week for police and crime commissioners. The derisory 10.4 per cent turnout in the by-election to elect a new commissioner for the West Midlands was bad enough; but the shambles over South Yorkshire’s commissioner, Shaun Wright, quitting the Labour party in order to hold onto power, after previously being responsible for children’s services in Rotherham, plumbed a new depth.

A gift, then, to those who would happily see the entire model of direct public accountability over the police fail. Unfortunately, this appears to extend to the Labour frontbench. At the weekend, the Sunday Mirror quoted a party source, apparently reading the last rites over PCCs: “They’re finished. The only question now is what we will replace them with.” What indeed?

When the legislation was introduced in 2010, Labour described PCCs as an “unnecessary, unwanted and expensive diversion”. This reflected the view of the police establishment. The then president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir Hugh Orde, predicted chief constables would quit rather than endure a new layer of democratic accountability. It was an empty threat.

Even so, the police hate police and crime commissioners, hankering for a return to the old system of servile police authorities made up of “invisible” political placemen who were, in reality, little more than ciphers for the chief constable.

Theresa May – the most reforming home secretary in decades – remains unmoved. She has pressed on, smashing the cosy, ineffectual consensus around police accountability. The introduction of PCCs has been accompanied by long overdue reforms to police pay and conditions and she has brought in a tough outsider, Tom Winsor, as chief inspector of constabulary to drive improvements in service standards.

Unfortunately, Labour now finds itself cast as the conservative party when it comes to police reform; willing to do the chief constables’ bidding by focusing on cuts rather than reform, even though this leaves the party on the wrong side of the facts. Police staffing may have reduced since 2010 but there has been no increase in recorded crime.

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Why I spoiled my Labour Euro-selections ballot paper

06/06/2013, 07:00:27 AM

by Ben Cobley

Electoral Reform Services will have received my ballot paper by now.

I had thought of writing rude messages on it, or tearing it into small pieces and dropping them into the envelope as a mark of my disdain, but on the balance I plumped for a classic piece of English fudge/moderation: a big X scrawled across the page and a little message offering my unsolicited opinion on the Labour party’s approach to democracy.

This is the first time I have ever treated a ballot paper in such a way. I used to approach them with a form of reverence, taking voting as a privilege and a pleasure.

Then I joined the Labour party.

These latest selections for European Parliament candidates are just the latest example of an approach to democracy within Labour that Erich Honecker would have recognised and admired (and which I like to call institutionalised fixing”.

Let’s put aside the ceaseless cascade of emails that have been filling members’ inboxes with blandities, platitudes and waffle (though any more talk of “campaigning”, “a fairer Europe” or “Labour values” and I might run for the hills).

Instead, let’s talk about choice.

As a Londoner, I am faced with no choice in whether I wish to re-select Mary Honeyball and Claude Moraes, despite them having a track record for which they can be held accountable. They will automatically come top of the ballot.

Then I am given a clutch of six other candidates whose views seem to be almost interchangeable (unless you can see beyond the double-speak which hides their more interesting and contentious views).

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AV may be dead, but our obsession with marginals needs to go too

14/05/2011, 02:43:21 PM

by Ben Cobley

So the AV referendum is come and gone. Life has quickly gone back to normal without many of us giving the whole blasted charade much more thought.

That is in many ways a blessing, for while plenty of energy was injected into the campaigns, they quickly reverted to the sort of down-and-dirty tribal mud-slinging that we already get more than enough of in party politics. Once the campaign went down this route, the coalition of Tories and Labour tribalists on the No campaign was always going to triumph.

For Labour, there is now a temptation for us to shrug our shoulders, be thankful that we did not have a disastrous split, and continue as we were.

However that would be a mistake; there are lessons to be learned. The debate on AV gave us an opportunity to think deeply about the way we do our politics both within the Labour party and in the country as a whole– and for some of us it cast a light on the present way of doing things that was far from flattering.

The lessons to be learned also tie in with those issues arising from disastrous Scottish election results and the disappointingly piecemeal gains in southern England, which remains a desert for Labour. They are about how we do our politics –particularly the way that we willingly turn our backs of whole swathes of the nation in a quest for short-term advantage in a few marginal seats. (more…)

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Where next for the democracy movement?

11/05/2011, 05:00:07 PM

by Emma Burnell

The question of electoral reform is now closed for a generation. Anyone who disagrees with this statement is part of the much wider problem that the democracy movement has.

The movement likes to believe that it listens and that it represents “the people”, but, generally, what that has meant in my experience is that people who agree with the aims of the movement get a hearing as to how their aims might be achieved, while those who question the priorities of the reformers are dismissed as dinosaurs and not engaged with to understand their reticence. And while the movement certainly represents some of “the people”, who deserve a voice as much as anyone else, the inability to grow from a niche to a mass movement demonstrates clearly that it is not the voice of all the people.

At the moment, the blame game is moving quickly. So far we have the mendacious No campaign, the toxicity of the Lib Dems and particularly the childish tantrums of Chris Huhne, the intervention of the prime minister and the split in the Labour party. All of which did – of course – play a part in why the Yes campaign failed. But for my money, the biggest reason the campaign failed is because it was run by people who don’t know the electorate and don’t understand what they want and what they fear. (more…)

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Some people still believe in democracy

05/05/2011, 07:00:35 AM

by Peter Watt

When you are involved in politics in an active way it can be quite easy to forget what really matters.  The fight becomes more important than the victory. Scoring points and getting one over on your opponents become what really matters. Of course losing is tough – but it is all too often actually losing, rather than the consequences of losing, that hurts the most. It is easy to see why this happens; politics can be an emotionally bruising affair. Getting on involves hours of leafleting, meetings and door knocking. You take to the stump armed only with your credibility and after all those hours spent on a single endeavour – winning – the outcome is obviously going to be felt pretty personally. All in all, politics can be a pretty nasty addiction if you get seriously hooked.

The AV referendum campaign has been a particularly classic case of a campaign fought between addicts. It has felt exclusive, otherworldly and somehow just not important. The key campaign messages seemed to be more point scoring between people in an elite club. There was a certainly a lot of shouting and calculation of the most tribally beneficial outcome. Yah-boo politics of the worst kind. As a result, the campaign has passed most non-politicos by. In fact, it has passed many politicos by as well.

It certainly hasn’t been the celebration of democratic renewal that I suspect the Yes campaign hoped for – whatever the result.

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David Cameron can learn from Donald Trump

12/04/2011, 03:00:31 PM

by Dan Cooke

It’s the start of US presidential primary season and so, for some, the time has come to enjoy a condescending glance at the state of democracy in America.

One poll has placed the professional billionaire and front-man for the original Apprentice, Donald Trump, as joint second favourite for the Republican nomination. It seems that our transatlantic cousins, many of whom, according to the Guardian will “believe anything”, have confused the scripted certainties of the prime time boardroom for real leadership. Thank goodness it could never happen here, right?

Well, passing over the fact that our own “Mr Serious”, Gordon Brown, was inspired to appoint the poor man’s Donald Trump, Alan Sugar, as an adviser, there are deeper reasons why a sense of detached superiority would be misplaced.

The popularity of the Apprentice on both sides of the Atlantic (and beyond) reveals a widespread faith in the “great man” theory of business leadership.  The tycoon, vindicated by success in rising to his exalted perch (particularly if, like Sugar, though not Trump, he pulled himself up from humble origins), is deemed to be the supreme arbiter on all that goes on in his own business and, possibly beyond.  He may not actually owe his success to facility with, say, dressing a store, locating cheap products or working in a team; like anyone else he will have a mixture of strengths and weaknesses. But, as the boss, he has carte blanche to decide what is bad and what is good in any of these and other areas.

And it’s not just because snap judgments on random tasks make good TV. Most people who have worked in a large organisation will know what it’s like when the diktat comes down from on high that something needs to change in a certain way – even when it’s sadly obvious that the higher authority doesn’t understand the impact.

There is something pre-modern about this idea of the Solomon-like leader, able to find the right answer in any situation. In an increasingly specialized world, no boss can really understand everything that will impact on the success of their goals. Good management should consist in large part of knowing how to delegate effectively and when to take advice. But it doesn’t always work like that and, in its own small way, the Apprentice fosters a different idea of leadership.

So a certain proportion of the American electorate may see Donald Trump as the guy they can trust to make the right call in the White House even if he never thought about many of the issues before.  By contrast, in the UK, one might think we could pass a rare vote of thanks for the professionalisation of politics. We are governed by individuals who have generally spent years working on their humility, picking up some policy knowledge and, crucially, living through numerous shifts in their party’s policy too. So we might expect an administration that understands there is rarely a simple answer, is cautious of jumping to precipitous conclusions, consults widely before introducing dramatic changes and respects expert advice.

Yet in this of all weeks, after the shambles of the coalition’s climb-down on health and its continued disarray in describing what will happen next, it is painfully obvious that such enlightened political leadership is only a distant hope.

And in David Cameron we have a prime minister who runs his administration just like a know-it-all chairman who has just taken over the family business.  The word has gone out to the underlings that the boss does not plan to put in long hours in the office. But when the mood takes him he will wonder around the shop floor to tell the workers what they’re doing wrong  – or haul them into his office for a lecture.

In the corporate world, the chaos and climb-downs that can result when the boss overestimates his understanding of the detail often remain a guilty secret between him and his underlings. But in the political arena it is cruelly exposed for all to see, as Chairman Dave is now finding out.

Last month he claimed that even his baby daughter could tell civil servants what “ridiculous” regulations had to be repealed. Yet this month, while the mandarins wait for instructions from the Cameron household, the public have had to be roped in to help out instead. The serial policy U-turns of the government are a more serious sign of its tendency to over-confidence and under-preparation.

So if Trump does make it to the White House in two years, an older and hopefully wiser David Cameron might be in a position to give him some advice about what not to do. But if he doesn’t learn from the damage his ego has already inflicted, the prime minister may himself receive a harsh message sooner than he thinks: “you’re fired”.

Dan Cooke is a Labour lawyer and activist.

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