Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Todd’

We are locked in a Dad’s Army politics of the left and right

02/02/2016, 02:44:44 PM

by Jonathan Todd

As Europe faces its biggest refugee crisis since World War II, our prime minister tours the continent talking tax credits. The puniness of David Cameron next to the magnitude of events, the narrow, inward focus of his preoccupations, means that if he were a film he’d be a Dad’s Army remake.

Why, Peter Bradshaw not unreasonably asks in his Guardian review, do we need this film?

The answer, Uncut suspects, is involved with an observation previously made by Bradshaw’s Guardian colleague, Jonathan Freedland: “We have turned 1939-45 into a kind of creation myth, the noble story of modern Britain’s birth”. Basking in this myth is preferable to the grim reality of Europe’s shared contemporary challenges.

During World War II, Freedland argues, “we were unambiguously on the side of good. That, of course, is a key difference between us and our fellow Europeans, for whom that period is anything but simple or unambiguous.” The war has inculcated a sense of Britain, separate and special. This is reinforced as consistently on the printed pages of the Daily Mail as the Kardashians feature in its digital edition, wildly popular in the US. Soft porn celebrity, soft porn history.

While it is to be hoped that no one invested in Dad’s Army anticipating box office on the continent, some jokes amid the myth do little harm. It is our myth, our humour, our film. Let’s not expect it to pack Berlin cinemas.

Entertainment is one thing; politics is another. Politics ought to be more than myth peddling. But that is what Cameron provides when he claims that tax credit collection by citizens of other EU countries in the UK is the big issue now facing us and the rest of the Europe.

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Who’d want to be “the next Labour leader”?

25/01/2016, 12:26:31 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“You have to be ready for anything,” Dan Jarvis told the BBC when they recently asked about his Labour leadership ambitions. “Owen Smith: I am interested in being Labour leader,” reads a New Statesman headline from earlier this month. This appeared not long after Jess Phillips had been the subject of similar in the Spectator. Stephen Kinnock and Michael Dugher have also been touted as future leaders.

That foraging in the undergrowth is the cut and thrust of competition to be trademarked “the next leader of the Labour party”. Andy Burnham was sufficiently deemed so to enter the 2010 leadership election as favourite, while Chuka Umunna once had the strongest claim on this title among the 2010 intake. Those comprehensively beaten by Jeremy Corbyn (Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, as well as Burnham) may struggle to again accumulate the political capital necessary to mount viable leadership campaigns, while Umunna has slipped behind the likes of Jarvis et al in “the next leader” stakes.

The experiences of Burnham and Umunna ought to be salutatory to those now seeking to be “the next leader”. “The next leader” is rarely the next leader. Gordon Brown in 1994, for example, was “the next leader”; Tony Blair was then the next leader. Given that Labour is unlikely to recover in 2020 the 59 parliamentary seats lost in Scotland in 2015, and the boundary review will probably cost Labour a further 20 seats, a new leader before 2020 seems a much worse bet than Blair in 1994 to be the next Labour prime minister.

All the more reason to not want to now be “the next Labour leader,” right?

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The Progressive Dilemma remains – only sharpened

07/01/2016, 06:43:58 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The reshuffle has done little to dampen perceptions that Jeremy Corbyn is the most left-wing, pacifist and unbending Labour leader ever. Keir Hardie and George Lansbury might compete. Corbyn, nonetheless, is still the most preeminent such leader since Clement Attlee succeeded Lansbury in 1935.

In this sense, the dilemmas posed by the Corbyn leadership feel uncharted. They portend, however, only a deepening of the British left’s core dilemma.

Throughout the period since Labour overhauled the Liberals as part of the duopoly of UK politics, as David Marquand wrote in the second edition of The Progressive Dilemma (1999), “apart from a brief period in the early 1980s, Labour was strong enough to prevent anyone else offering a serious challenge to the Conservatives, but too weak to make its own challenge effective.”

For all the reshuffle’s sound and fury, this position remains, only painfully deepened. Recent analysis by Glen O’Hara and Adam Boulton suggests that Labour remains too feeble to overhaul the Conservatives, while being too electorally entrenched for anyone else to.

Having waded through the evidence on polling and electoral performance, O’Hara concludes at the Staggers that, “the Party is dicing with a double-digit defeat at the 2020 general election.” Equally, however, as Boulton warns (£) in the Sunday Times, “Labour’s core vote is a lot for Corbyn’s internal opponents to walk away from, as some Bravehearts would like, and to form a new party”.

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Centrists need new ideas and purpose, not a new party

15/12/2015, 11:40:32 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Phil Collins comments in the Times on speculation within Labour of an SDP type breakaway. Those favouring this move believe that, “the volatility of politics makes 2016 a more propitious moment for novelty than 1981.” Collins, who remains a Labour member, is unconvinced. “The only reason to stay (in Labour),” he wrote a few weeks earlier, “is that it (the Corbyn leadership) can’t last.”

“Corbynism for a decade?” asks Stephen Bush in the New Statesman. “It no longer sounds ridiculous”. In the sense that it was until very recently a widely unanticipated outcome, which would leave many, not least the likes of Collins, distraught, it still sounds pretty ridiculous. But what Bush means is clear.

“Many more than the 66 (Labour) MPs who did vote for airstrikes were convinced on the case for extending British bombing against Isis from Iraq into Syria,” reports Bush, “but pulled back due to pressure from their constituency parties”. CLPs, which MPs need to support them if they are to remain so, are increasingly under the grip of Corbynism.

If MPs are prepared to place political self-preservation before voting with their consciences on Isis, there’s probably nothing – no indignity, daftness, or nastiness – that they wouldn’t endure to extend their political careers. If in the dark nights of their souls, they affirm that this makes them happy, we can only wonder about their souls.

They might read how Tom Harris is happier as an ex-MP than he was as an MP. And Harris got out before Corbyn began. You get the sense that he doesn’t envy Ian Murray, Labour’s only Scottish MP.

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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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