Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Todd’

The renaissance of the Livingstone tendency

30/11/2015, 09:25:22 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“There are people within the PLP who have never accepted the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn,” claimed Clive Lewis on Today on Saturday morning, in the context of a debate on Syria. This hints at the charge that Diane Abbott has previously made: Labour MPs want to bomb Syria to harm Corbyn. It takes a particular cynicism to suggest that MPs would put political advantage before matters of life and death.

It is precisely because the decision to go to war is so consequential that elected representatives cannot be bound by mere partisan calculation. MPs need to be able to look constituents in the eye and tell them that they acted as they thought necessary to keep them safe. They cannot – and, pace Abbott, do not – let how they feel about a party leader, or a whip, stand between them and doing so.

Ministers similarly need to be able to look people in the eye. They must be prepared to defend military intervention undertaken or not undertaken by the governments of which they are a part. The shared position of ministers forms the line of the party in government and all parties that wish to be taken seriously as parties of government require such common positions.

If ministers or shadow ministers cannot support these positions, they should resign from the frontbench. If backbench MPs cannot support whips consistent with these positions, they should not so vote. Whether the grandest prime ministers or the most humble backbenchers, all act in accord with their interpretation of the national interest.

We might – though it strains practical limits – live in a direct democracy, where military decisions are determined by popular referendum. We might – though it is also impractical in a world of classified military intelligence and rapidly emerging security threats – have a have a parliament of delegates, who vote as mandated by local electors or party members. Neither, however, are this country.


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Activist or MP, it’s time to take a stand

23/11/2015, 09:17:56 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“Criminals were victims of the capitalist system. The police were agents of repression. Riots were popular uprisings against capitalist injustice.” These, according to Peter Mandelson’s autobiography, were commonplace views in the early 1980s vintage of London Labour.

“The three hate-ideas of the idiot savant left are capitalism, imperialism and America, or CIA for short,” Phil Collins wrote recently. The CIA are now as acceptable in Labour as they were in the 1980s.

Then Mandelson, “was part of Ted Knight’s increasingly Soviet-style Labour group on the (Lambeth) council”. He recalls making the case for moderation to the Labour group. “Ted would invariably open the next meeting by glaring in turn at me and other recalcitrants, and saying: ‘Certain comrades are misperceiving the situation…’ The atmosphere was very intimidating.”

Having experienced the Knight glower, I have some sense of the mood described. On a GC that was fiercely loyal to our MP, Tessa Jowell, Knight would sit at the back. The comrade who put the loony into Lambeth remained resolute, 30 years on. If you said something that he disagreed with, you knew about it. He was an imposing figure, even when much of the room was against him.

“The past isn’t dead,” as William Faulkner famously put it. “It isn’t even past.” The party still trawls through the bowels of the 1980s. We are re-infused with CIA thinking, as Knight, I am told (I moved away from the CLP earlier this year), has picked up his GC participation since Corbyn’s election.


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Where is Liam Byrne headed?

09/11/2015, 05:20:56 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Liam Byrne is nothing if not industrious. After a hotly contested by-election, a minister five minutes after becoming an MP. The hard work continued on the opposition front bench, even if he felt too Blairite to be in vogue during the Miliband years. When he might have been expected to back the more Blairite Liz Kendall, he enthusiastically supported Yvette Cooper.

Cooper outperformed Kendall but Byrne’s candidate was left to eat Corbyn’s dust, as a much changed party from the one that Byrne was first elected to represent was created. Back then Byrne was the poster boy for Blair’s ability to win by-elections in the face of impassioned campaigning by parties, the Liberal Democrats and Respect, opposed to the Iraq war. Now Labour has a leader who can seem to be willing Blair toward the Hague.

No defeat or indignity, it appears, deters Byrne. The grafting just persists. He wants to make the best of Corbyn, as he made the best of Blair, Brown and Miliband. But not from the frontbench. No longer does he defend the leadership on all fronts. A big olive branch was, nonetheless, offered in his recent Policy Network speech.

This conciliation was Tony Crosland shaped. In the 1950s, a civil war waged between Bevanites and Gaitskellites. Europe and nuclear deterrence loomed large. As, oddly enough, they did during the convulsions of the 1980s. And they do again now. There must be something about these issues that brings them to renewed prominence at times of heightened Labour flux.

Crosland’s The Future of Socialism sought to cut through these differences by appealing to a shared commitment to equality. What divided Bevanites and Gaitskellites was merely the means; the end of equality united them, argued Crosland.

“I love Jeremy’s passion for tackling inequality,” Byrne insisted at Policy Network. “He is not a Trot. I am not a Tory. We are both Labour.” Reaching beyond the differences, like Crosland sixty years ago, to find the common conviction.


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What next for Labour’s moderates

20/10/2015, 09:52:46 PM

As Labour continues to struggle in the polls, Uncut writers look at what the party moderates need to do. First up, Jonathan Todd.

Labour moderates need a new name (not Blairite or anything redolent of), philosophy (vintage in tapping into the same revisionist traditions as the Third Way, while also being thoroughly contemporary), and (having been comprehensively out organised by the left during the leadership election) structures. Apart from that, everything is fine.

Acknowledgement of these profound challenges is not original. David Butler stressed philosophy here. Spencer Livermore elsewhere. Liam Byrne even wants to emphasise it through a new Clause 4. And renewed organisational vitality comes from Labour First and Progress.

This fusion of names and groupings associated with Blair (Byrne/Progress) and Brown (Livermore/Labour First) and a new generation (Butler) shows that the old war is over. Imagine what combatants might have achieved if their generals – Blair/Brown – had remained as united as those now ruling the roost – Cameron/Osborne.

The dilemma now is whether to train all artillery on these national rulers or reserve some strategic strikes for our new party leaders.

Cut moderates and we bleed Labour red. In this red, we must draw lines of differentiation with both national and party leaders. Lines that are coherent in deriving from relevant intellectual traditions – the philosophies imbibed by Livermore, Butler and Byrne, a new firm of provincial solicitors with big ambitions. Yet accessible in being painted in everyday language and concerns, not lofty principles.

Name. Philosophy. Structures. All hard enough. The red lines may be harder still. Yet perhaps the most vital part of a package, which depends upon both the deep reflection that sustains high principle and the quick fire action of low cunning.

The moderates have underperformed for years, which is why Labour is where it is. We should go home or get better.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut  

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How to think about the next ten years for Labour

09/10/2015, 04:59:41 PM

by Jonathan Todd

We have transitioned from a summer of hard truths to an autumn that painfully strains credulity. On BBC Question Time, we’ve had everything from John McDonnell’s non-apology apology for IRA comments to Chris Bryant’s self-depreciating “aww shucks” routine when Labour is reduced to mirth; from Stephen Kinnock’s failure to make anything straight from the crooked timber of Labour on the nuclear deterrence to Lisa Nandy’s struggle to disassociate Labour with violence at the Conservative Party conference.

At the time, I thought we’d reached the bottom of the market for the Labour currency on 7 May 2015. That the cycle would move in our favour from that point. Things could only get better. Actually, we’ve not only continued to fall, we have debased our stock. And debasing money, as Zero Hedge notes, debases trust.

Parties win general elections, as Uncut has long observed, when their leader is most trusted to best execute the functions of prime minister and their capacity for economic decision making holds the trust of the electorate. Electing the most unpopular new opposition leader in the history of polling does not seem the way to build these forms of trust.

The breakdown in relations between Labour and the country is such that we can arrive at another hard truth: It is unlikely that Labour will form a government after the next general election, expected in May 2020.


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What to expect from Tim Farron

23/09/2015, 10:20:10 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Commenting on Tim Farron’s Liberal Democrats on BBC Daily Politics on Monday, Kelvin MacKenzie claimed, “it’s like that line about the Pope. How many divisions has he got?” He meant, “he doesn’t have enough MPs to matter”. But if MacKenzie reflected on the origin of the quotation, he might come to a different conclusion.

While Stalin asked this question of the Pope in 1935, the Catholic Church remains and the Soviet Union does not. If all that mattered were divisions, this would not be so. Ideas matter too. Ultimately, more than divisions. The ideas of the Soviet Union weren’t strong enough for their divisions to sustain it.

During this Liberal Democrat conference week, the question ought to be: Do they have compelling enough ideas to avoid the Soviet Union’s fate?

It’s easy to mock their dearth of divisions – even MacKenzie can do it. It’s harder, yet more important, to assess the force of the ideas that sustain them.

The idea that Farron is selling is “social justice and economic credibility”. Listen to him on TV and radio this week, he keeps coming back to this very New Labour couplet. He’ll do so again – and probably again – in today’s speech.

It ill behoves me to comment on Farron without acknowledging the crushing defeat that he inflicted on me as Labour’s candidate in Westmorland and Lonsdale in 2010. I was road kill on Farron’s ruthlessly efficient transformation of a safe Conservative seat into that now very rare thing, a Liberal Democrat citadel.

“The trouble with Michael is that he had to buy all his furniture”. Michael Jopling may be best remembered on the national political scene for being reported in the Alan Clark diaries as saying this about Michael Heseltine. In Westmorland, he is better remembered for consistently riding on the back of truck at the County Show and making sure that everyone knew he was there. Vehicle aided, this could be quickly accomplished, a good lunch doubtless earned. His successor, Tim Collins, is said to have later spent more time at the show but lingered uncomfortably throughout in the shadows of the Tory tent. Accustomed to Jopling’s routine, voters enquired, “where is our MP?”

They’ve never had cause to ask this of Farron since he defeated Collins in 2005, a campaign in which Collins maintained all shadow ministerial commitments across the country, confident that Westmorland would remain blue. Tireless pavement politics put Farron into parliament and allowed him to spectacularly grow his majority five years later.


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Anger is an energy in politics and football

14/09/2015, 09:04:24 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Anger is an energy, John Lydon told us. I hope so after Saturday. IKEA is blood pressure raising, especially when your visit coincides with Jeremy Corbyn winning big. Liverpool’s tame defeat at Old Trafford later in the day did not reduce the steam bellowing from my ears.

Labour have elected a leader that even his supporters do not see as prime minister, which runs contrary to the basic function of opposition. We have, therefore, abdicated the status of an aspirant party of government, rendering us pretty pointless.

Ed Miliband sometimes ran the party as if it were a pressure group. Corbyn completes that journey. Labour should always believe in itself enough to be more than that.

Liverpool players should always believe in themselves enough to play on the front foot. To aggressively dominate with and without the ball. Give the opponents the run around when in possession. Press high and hard when not. Particularly against a team as poor as the current Manchester United.

David Cameron and Louis Van Gaal, the United manager, are paper tigers. Yes, Cameron recently won a general election and holds formidable advantages. Yes, Van Gaal’s team has had many millions spent on it and trips to Old Trafford are invariably challenging.

But both Cameron and Van Gaal preside over unhappy camps. Cameron is in constant conflict with his backbenches over Europe. Van Gaal imposes training methods on unwilling players who often reward him with stifled performances. The weaknesses of Cameron and Van Gaal would be exploited by a Labour and a Liverpool with the confidence that should come as standard.

As Europe should be pulling together to tackle its biggest refugee crisis since World War II, we have a prime minister pulling it apart with narrowly self-interested demands. Instead of setting out why this is wrong and how we’d do things differently, Corbyn equivocated over Europe, even absorbing the erroneous criticisms of the EU that Putin has made on the Ukrainian calamity.


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Cooper vs Corbyn is our Healey vs Benn

17/08/2015, 10:24:42 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Yvette Cooper versus Jeremy Corbyn is our generation’s Denis Healey against Tony Benn. In September 1981, it wasn’t just the deputy leadership at stake. The party’s future was too, as it is now.

If Benn had won, more Labour MPs, councillors and activists would have joined the SDP, who’d have usurped Labour as the second largest party. If Corbyn wins, he’ll struggle to find enough MPs to serve as his shadow ministers, which isn’t the position of a party on the verge of government.

MPs only demur from advancement, bringing with it PLP disunity that they invariably seek to avoid, when genuine differences exist.

Corbyn says attacks upon him are unedifying “personal attacks”. But the differences that Labour MPs have are not personal. They are not about his sartorial style. Even if it’s a stretch to see this as screaming “prime minister”. The differences are political.

“He has shown,” Ivan Lewis writes, “very poor judgment in expressing support for and failing to speak out against people who have engaged not in legitimate criticism of Israeli governments but in anti-semitic rhetoric.” “I know,” Liz Kendall notes, “there are many people who have concerns about where Jeremy Corbyn has stood in the past on” Northern Ireland. Not personal, political.

When Anne Applebaum describes Corbyn as “one of many on the European far-left as well as the far-right who appears to have swallowed wholesale Russia’s lie that war in Ukraine has been created by NATO,” and when David Aaronovitch reminds us that for Corbyn, “it is always, always, always the West’s fault,” these are not personal criticisms. They are political concerns shared by many Labour MPs, who see in Corbyn’s foreign policy what Healey once saw in Benn’s: “deserting all of our allies at once and then preaching them a sermon”.


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Ten hard truths for Labour

07/08/2015, 12:34:57 PM

Following Tristram Hunt’s call for “a summer of hard truths” Labour Uncut is running a short series laying them out. Here’s Jonathan Todd with his top ten.

1. Most people are not interested in politics. At best they see it as irrelevant to them. At worst they are actively hostile. Most politics, therefore, passes most people by most of the time. They only pay attention when things they hadn’t expected happen.

2. People get that Labour cares. Labour did not lose the election because we were insufficiently stout in our defence of the NHS and other causes typically dear to Labour hearts. Most voters expect Labour to care about the NHS and other institutions – like local schools and Sure Start centres – that tend to (but not always) make the world better. Because they expect this from Labour, noting point 1, they don’t really register Labour providing this.

3. It’s the economy, stupid. Doubts about Labour’s capacity as custodians of the economy and public finances, as well as Labour’s ability to have mutually productive relations with business, contributed toward this year’s defeat.

4. We need to show we’ve changed on business and the economy. If we accept that only counter intuitive political moves gain real public traction and that concerns about Labour’s economic and fiscal management gravely imperil the prospects of Labour government, Labour should be seeking strongly counter intuitive moves that challenge these negative perceptions. This means more than mouthing platitudes about being pro-business or fiscally responsible. It requires actions that show and reshow this to the public. Till the political professionals are bored stiff and the activist class are blue with frustration. Then the public might hear.

5. The case for a reformed EU needs to be made. While voters are paying little attention to UK politics, they are paying even less to EU politics. For the majority of the time that the UK has been in the EU, pro-Europeans have asked Brits to be part of a successful club. The Germans prosper. The French have fast trains. The Italians are well-dressed. Attachment to these successes has been the bedrock of the UK’s EU membership.


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