Posts Tagged ‘Joe Biden’

It is time to start believing – Labour can change Britain

15/05/2024, 09:48:39 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Labour and the Tories were both in the mid-30s in the polls at the end of 2021. Briefings that Boris Johnson would govern into the 2030s followed the Hartlepool by-election. Labour government was a two-term project, experienced campaigners insisted.

This seemed too pessimist to me. It was, I wrote, time to start believing – Labour can win the next general election.

Check my working:

  1. Boris Johnson will never again be the political force that he was in December 2019: Far from governing into the next decade, Johnson’s reputation is irredeemably low.
  1. The next general election will not be about Brexit: Neither the Tories (because of Brexit’s failings) nor Labour (due to its enduring sensitivities) want to talk at this election about the only topic of the last.
  1. Johnson’s kingdom of sand bequeaths little to the next Tory leader: Even less after the short, benighted, economically ruinous reign of his successor.
  1. Liberal Democrat revival helps Labour: In a political environment most characterised by antipathy to the Tories, Labour is strengthened by having viable vehicles for the expression of anti-Tory sentiment as widely dispersed as possible, as the byelections of North Shropshire, Tiverton and Honiton, and Somerton and Frome have evidenced.
  1. Labour strength across the UK builds Labour recovery in Scotland: As the probability of PM Starmer has increased, the prospects of Scottish Labour have improved – with polling now pointing to 28 Scottish Labour MPs.

 We should now believe that Labour can not only win the election, but profoundly change Britain.

Liverpool Football Club experienced the power of belief under Jürgen Klopp, who urged fans to move from doubters to believers.

“Given the scale of Labour’s defeat in 2019,” I wrote in December 2021, “the idea that Labour could win in 2024 might be as unlikely as Liverpool overcoming Barcelona after a 3-0 defeat in the Camp Nou. The starting point for that famous victory in May 2019 was that 60,000 believers arrived at Anfield, determined to back their team to the hilt. Even Lionel Messi doubted himself in this context.”

Here we are in our Anfield of 2024: millions of Labour supporters believe that victory awaits; Messi still shines at Inter Miami, while Johnson is washed-up; and Klopp is leaving Liverpool Football Club in a city transformed.

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The Uncuts: 2023 political awards (Part II)

01/01/2024, 04:42:03 PM

Politician of the year: Team Starmer

For the 2023 award, Uncut is bending the rules a little to hand the politician of the year gong to a team. There is a logic. Keir Starmer had an excellent year, he has palpably learned, adapted and overcome the challenges in front of him. But politics is a team sport and while he has been front of office, the back-office team have made much of this progress possible.

In the 1990s, Tony Blair had a close-knit team around him that propelled him to power. The big names are well known – Jonathan Powell, Anji Hunter, Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson and Sally Morgan. Even at the time, each had their own distinct profile, just as Gordon Brown’s team with Charlie Whelan, Ed Balls and Ed Miliband, each had their own media profile.

The difference in the 2020s is that team Starmer is just that, a single unit, there is little briefing or publicity for the different members. No running storyline on tensions with the shadow chancellor’s team where the advisers become the story. After the psychodrama of the TB-GBs, fuelled in large part by advisers, and the scorched earth of Dominic Cummings tenure, a return to the days when advisers remained firmly in the back-office is a welcome change, not to mention an important part of minimising stories of splits and backbiting in any future Labour government.

So, congratulations to Morgan McSweeney, Matt Pound, Matt Doyle, Deborah Mattinson, Peter Hyman and Muneera Lula for not being the story with an honourable mention for Sue Gray, only recently in post as chief of staff, following a highly publicised exit from the civil service, but resolutely absent from the headlines in her new role.

Most underrated in 2023: President Biden

America is heading towards a presidential election between a candidate facing nearly 100 criminal charges and another that has delivered unprecedented and, given the shocks of Covid and Putin’s war, unexpected economic strength.

It should be a no brainer that the latter will win. By a landslide. And yet the polls suggest otherwise and nervousness – Democratic (as in the party) and democratic (as in the political system) – is pervasive.

When Americans vote, Democrats win. In the 2022 midterms, Democrats won by larger margins than in the 2020 presidential election in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania — all battleground states. Democrats also performed strongly in 2023: flipping a Supreme Court seat in Wisconsin; defeating a six-week abortion ban in Ohio; and keeping the Virginia state house.

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The Uncuts: 2022 Political Awards (Part I)

30/12/2022, 10:33:03 PM

Labour frontbencher of the year: Rachel Reeves

The numbers speak for themselves. At the end of 2021 Rachel Reeves trailed Rishi Sunak in Yougov’s tracker on who would make the best chancellor by almost 20 points, 11% to 30%. Now she is in a statistical tie with the current Tory chancellor, Jeremy Hunt who is on 19% versus 17% for Rachel Reeves.

Clearly the Conservatives have played the leading role in detonating their reputation for economic competence, but how many times have Labour shadow chancellor’s fluffed the opportunity when Tory incumbents have stumbled? Not Rachel Reeves.

Her tenure in 2022 has been synonymous with three changes in how Labour makes its economic case.

First, there is now internal self-control on spending. A shadow minister recently summarised the situation to Uncut, “I wouldn’t dare fly a kite about spending in a briefing or make a speech, that’s not how we work any more.” Not since the days of Gordon Brown as shadow chancellor in the mid-90s and the iron grip of his economic secretariat has a Labour opposition been so disciplined.

Second, Labour is developing self-contained policy initiatives – where revenue raising and spending are balanced – that target Tory fault lines. The windfall tax is just one example where Labour moved early, announced the policy with the government ultimately capitulating, but not before it had repeatedly aired its splits on the issue. This fusion of economics and politics is the essence of successful opposition. David Cameron and George Osborne did it very well (see the 2007 election that never was, following Osborne’s announcement on taking most people out of inheritance tax) and needless to say Tony Blair and Gordon Brown ran the Tories ragged with this approach.

Third, when Labour has had to respond to Tory economic announcements, reversals and general chaos, Rachel Reeves has been more than equal to the task. Her speeches have been authoritative with the right soundbite for the news clips. The rise in Labour confidence in the House of Commons over the year has been evident and the media reporting describes a party that has real momentum on the economy.

Rachel Reeves is Uncut’s frontbencher of the year for the herculean achievement of making Labour competitive again on the economy. More needs to done but after years – well over a decade – of utterly abysmal ratings and constantly trailing the Tories by double digits, the party has solid grounds for optimism heading into 2023.

International politician of the year: Joe Biden

With the catastrophic collapse of Xi’s “zero Covid” strategy and Ukraine’s defiant refusal to welcome Putin, 2022 was a year in which reality caught up with autocrats. Macron and Lula also beat Le Pen and Bolsanaro. But, alas, Italy now has its most right-wing government since World War II and Israel has its most extreme government ever.

The global battle for democracy and democratic values persists. With America being foundational.

Joe Biden was the big winner of this year’s midterms, Donald Trump the big loser. Trump-backed candidates were defeated (to a greater extent than other Republicans), Biden’s party strengthened its hold on the Senate. Trump deepened America’s culture wars, Biden waged economic war for the heartlands – securing massive investment in America’s industrial and green capacity through landmark legislation, such as the Inflation Reduction Act. Trump maintains the fiction that he won in 2020, Biden said democracy was on the ballot in 2022. America’s verdict in both years favoured Biden.

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The west is dead, long live the west!

23/08/2021, 10:32:16 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“The ground under the German town of Erftstadt is torn apart like tissue paper by flood waters; Lytton in British Columbia is burned from the map just a day after setting a freakishly high temperature record; cars float like dead fish through the streets-turned-canals in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou.

“The most terrible thing,” according to a Leader in The Economist a month ago, “about the spectacular scenes of destruction that have played out around the world over the past weeks is that there is no safe place from which to observe them.”

In the intervening period, safety has deteriorated, for different reasons, in Afghanistan. The US could have acted to prevent this. Other NATO members could have better supported the US toward this end.

But even if Taliban recapture of the country had been prevented (or, at least, delayed), we would still be awaiting a durable settlement between Afghanistan’s warring factions. In the world we are in, we hope for the same.

In both scenarios, we wait for a reconciliation that has been illusive for decades. One comes with more deaths for NATO soldiers. The other with more refugees for NATO countries. There are no perfect options.

We arrived with the option that we did because the US, the indispensable nation, decided that it is dispensable. Or, more precisely, American interests are less dispensable than non-American interests.

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Labour should be excited about President Biden demonstrating that another future is possible

19/04/2021, 10:28:47 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“I’ve been hired to solve problems, not create division,” President Biden told a press conference at the end of March. This contrasts with his antagonistic predecessor and imposes his interpretation on a mandate gained with 81 million presidential votes.

When Barack Obama won the presidency with a then record-breaking 69 million votes, no one imagined that his vice president would go nearly 12 million votes better 12 years hence. Even more absurd would have been the idea that the 2020 election would also see Donald Trump beat Obama’s 2008 tally by 5 million votes.

Trump’s appeal may have been strong enough to secure victory without Covid-19 – which raised the stakes of the election. If profiting from division was all that mattered, we would be in Trump’s second term.

As performative patriotism abounds and blame for Brexit’s shortcomings is heaped on the EU, we do not need to look across the Atlantic to know that manipulation of division can seem a route to political dividend.

Labour’s challenge – like Biden’s – is to make a politics of solutions more compelling than that of division. The former is about tangible optimism, the latter stoking grievance.

The historically unprecedented speed with which Covid-19 vaccines have been developed is testament to humanity’s enduring capacity to think our way to reasons for cheerfulness. But now is not the time to stop thinking.

We need to vaccinate the world more quickly than the virus can mutate to evade our vaccines. To not do so risks global economic and social calamity.

We need to tackle climate change with the same innovative intensity as produced the vaccines. The alternative is disaster to dwarf Covid-19.

We face tremendous challenges that evade borders. What happens in Brazil, for example, does not stay in Brazil. The more Covid-19 skyrockets in south America’s most populous country, the more likely we are to suffer a vaccine-resistant mutation. The more the Amazon is destroyed, the harder it will be for us to limit climate change.

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The ripples from the US election and its aftermath could profoundly affect Labour’s journey from here

25/01/2021, 09:17:33 AM

by Rob Marchant

It should be uncontroversial at this point, for any (small-“d”) democrat, to say that the election of Joe Biden is immensely good news for the world in general. Following the final debacle of Trump’s disastrous presidency, the Capitol insurrection, the alternative in retrospect seems ever more unthinkable, because it is now clear that his open contempt for democracy could easily have led the US to a much, much darker place than happened on the 6th of January.

We are now at least in the happy position of going back to something resembling politics-as-usual. We can finally start to critique the new presidency as we would have done any other and, for us on the left, things mostly look very promising. But there are also some flaws, as we shall see.

But, at the risk of seeming a little parochial, what’s in it for us? What difference does it make to us, the Labour party, in its struggle to clean itself up and get back into power?

The good news is that, obviously, we will have an occupant of the White House who might be reasonably expected to prefer a Starmer-led government to a Johnson-led one (as indeed he would prefer an anyone-led government, if insider accounts of Biden’s dislike for our current PM is to be believed. One thing is clear: there will be a serviceable working relationship between the two leaders – there always is – but it will not be a chummy, personal one, like Clinton-Blair or Bush-Blair).

There are two caveats to this positive: first, Starmer needs not to do anything ill-advised. For example, this effect didn’t work so well with Ed Miliband, who was reportedly persona non grata in the Obama White House for some time, following his disastrous handling of the Syria vote in the Commons. Second, that this kind of “left-left” alignment is not usually much direct help anyway, although some occasional supportive noises from the president might help a little to build Starmer’s desired image as a PM-in-waiting.

And now to the bad news.

First, there will be things Starmer will want just as much as Johnson, which Biden may not help with, or even actively work against. On a post-Brexit trade deal, for example, all the signs are that Biden may well opt for Obama’s celebrated “back of the queue” position. Or that from this, the first president with Irish roots to win office in twenty-eight years, help in resisting what is likely to be increasing pressure towards Irish reunification seems unlikely to be forthcoming. These issues need to be handled with care.

Second, and perhaps more concerning, there are concrete things Biden has already done, and others he might do very soon, which can create a negative knock-on for Starmer. Why so?

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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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The Uncuts: 2020 Political Awards (part I)

30/12/2020, 10:30:02 PM

Best International Politician: Joe Biden  

Our hearts may have entered 2020 longing for it to be last year of Donald Trump’s presidency. But our heads should have told us that one term presidents are rarely beaten, especially when benefitting from a growing economy and strong approval ratings for economic management.

In early February, Joe Biden secured a lower vote share at the Iowa caucus than Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg (we said, this time last year, he was one to watch and is now the President-elect’s nominee for Secretary of Transport).

Covid-19 transformed the Trump presidency and the Biden candidacy. It took a global pandemic to politically expose Trump’s inability to effectively run the federal government and make resonate Biden’s backstory of grief, resolve and decency.

While Covid-19 upended the presidential race, Biden deserves immense credit for fighting it on his own terms – not allowing himself to be goaded by Trump into spats on Twitter or elsewhere, failing to provide an easy target for Trump’s attacks on “radical socialism”, and maintaining consistent message discipline throughout the campaign.

Now this message – building back better for all Americans – needs to be made real. In a deeply divided country, with a political system grounded in bipartisanship, this will not be easy. But is a fight that Biden must win to overcome Trumpism, even if his victory over Trump makes him one of 2020’s heroes.

Political Self-Harm Award: Jeremy Corbyn.

In an unrivalled act of foot-shooting the former leader decided, after explicitly being asked not to undermine in any way the results of the EHRC report into anti-Semitism, did exactly that, declaring that said anti-Semitism had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons”.

For his trouble, he earned himself a suspension of the PLP whip and his party membership, suspensions which the party reportedly had not remotely planned to impose until his unwanted intervention.

While the party’s existing and undeniably flawed disciplinary procedure allowed his reinstatement as a party member, Keir Starmer informed him that the PLP whip, which was a matter for the leader personally, would not be reinstated and that Corbyn would sit for the present as an independent in the Commons.

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President Biden: a great victory for America, the world, and the left

08/11/2020, 10:39:13 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Benjamin Netanyahu has been prime minister of Israel for longer than anyone else in the history of the state. Vladimir Putin is Russia’s longest-serving leader since Stalin. Silvio Berlusconi served as prime minister of Italy for longer than anyone since World War II.

America has done well to rid itself of its right-wing populist president in only four years – especially when set against the infrequency of one-term US presidents and the advantages bestowed on the Republicans by the Electoral College.

It seems, more than anything else, his shambolic handling of a pandemic that has now killed approaching 240,000 Americans undermined President Trump. The departing president has had an uneasy relationship with scientists, like Dr Anthony Fauci, that advise on Covid-19.

Rather than being beheaded, as Trump’s former adviser, Steve Bannon, suggested, Fauci will be empowered under President Biden. While no heads appeared on pikes outside the Trump White House, he went further than any other US president to normalise violence as a political tool – recently, for example, failing to condemn his supporters who blocked Biden’s campaign bus.

The transition to Biden is a step away from aggression and grievance, towards compassion and reason. America has turned a page. With more votes than other candidate in American history and the highest vote share of any challenger since FDR in 1932, Biden will win the popular vote by more than four million.

Polls prior to the election indicated that the Democrats would win the presidency, Senate and House so decisively that Biden would enjoy the latitude to introduce a programme of reform as ambitious as that introduced by FDR with relative ease. Sadly, America did not quite so comprehensively turn the page. But Biden enters the White House with the need for such transformative legislation much more widely recognised – including, it might be suspected, by the incoming president himself – than when his most immediate Democratic predecessors, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, did so.

Having campaigned in poetry, there is a desperate need for Biden prose big enough to meet America’s deep problems. However, notwithstanding the opportunity afforded in January by two elections in Georgia to salvage Democratic control of the Senate, such ambitions likely depend upon Republican Senate votes.

Biden represents change, the persistent importance of Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, continuity. Perhaps, given the sand that McConnell threw in Obama’s wheels, bitterly so.

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What story has Starmer come to tell Britain?

21/09/2020, 08:15:07 AM

by Jonathan Todd

At a recent meeting of the PLP, Kevin Brennan congratulated Keir Starmer on, “getting us from the carousel at Katmandu airport to base camp at Everest, in good shape for the long climb ahead.”

While Labour party conference should digitally pat itself on the back for six months of progress under Starmer, the challenges ahead remain daunting.

Harold Wilson won four general elections. Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair both won three. Absorbing what these different characters had in common might help Starmer.

“At their peak,” writes Steve Richards in his wonderful study of modern prime ministers, “they were all political teachers. They sought to make sense of what they were doing or what was happening around them. This was especially the case with Thatcher and Blair. Thatcher was an instinctive teacher, making complex ideas and contentious policies become reassuringly accessible.”

Thatcher came along at about the same time as Reagan, as Blair overlapped with Clinton, and Johnson with Trump. As if there is some Atlantic ideological synchronicity.

“In the competition with the USSR,” which Reagan won with the support of Thatcher, “it was above all the visible superiority of the western model that eventually destroyed Soviet communism from within,” writes Anatol Lieven in October’s Prospect magazine. “Today, the superiority of the western model to the Chinese model is not nearly so evident to most of the world’s population; and it is on successful western domestic reform that victory in the competition with China will depend.”

The global sense that quality of life was greatest in the west, which the Reagan and Thatcher era exuded, morphed into a hubris that left weaknesses within the west unaddressed during the Clinton and Blair epoch, so much so that the focus of the magazine in which Lieven writes is whether democracy can survive the Trump and Johnson years.

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