Posts Tagged ‘Keir Starmer’

Corbyn’s toxic legacy lingers on in Unite

08/10/2020, 10:43:56 PM

by David Talbot

The seeds of Unite the Union’s recent act of self-immolation were sown in early 2018. In an article for the New Statesman, Len McCluskey opined that Labour MPs who were hostile to Jeremy Corbyn’s then leadership were using antisemitism as part of a “sustained smearing” campaign against the embattled Labour leader. Praising “the great advances” made in the previous year’s general election, the party’s third historic defeat in a row, he vowed that Corbyn’s critics would have to face the consequences.

The following morning the then shadow Brexit Secretary, and now leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, popped up on the Today programme to disavow the party of the General Secretary’s comments. It was “obvious” the party had a sustained problem with antisemitism, Starmer said, and that “denying the problem is part of the problem.”

McCluskey, for all his written word to the contrary, has a repeated history of lashing out against opponents of antisemitism in the Labour Party. A longstanding Jewish Labour Member of Parliament, Margaret Hodge, was “disgraceful and despicable”, British Jewish leaders demonstrated “truculent hostility” and he was “disappointed” in the Jewish Labour Movement when it published a dossier full of testimonies of antisemitism in the party, noting rather darkly that it “doesn’t support Jeremy Corbyn”.

McCluskey had his rematch with Starmer over Rebecca Long-Bailey’s sacking from the Shadow Cabinet in June, calling the left’s fallen protégé sacking “an unnecessary overreaction to a confected row”.

In August, the Unite leader laid the foundations for this week’s announcement telling the Observer that he was infuriated with the Labour leader’s decision to pay substantial damages to seven former party staff who had appeared in the BBC’s Panorama documentary. As the Board of Deputies has rightly noted, it is both ironic and deeply shameful that the leader of a trade union should so disparage and attack party workers for the treatment they endured at the hands of their employers.

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No Deal Brexit could blow Starmer’s strategy

01/10/2020, 10:43:42 PM

by Dan Cooke

Brexit is back. After months when the government’s shambolic response to Covid has monopolized political debate, the imminent expiration of the Brexit transition period on 31 December has reignited the intermittent interest of UK commentators in the nation’s future relationship with the giant trading block on our doorstep.

It took even more than this looming deadline to force Labour’s new Leader and his team to break their strategic vow of silence on anything related to Brexit. Only the furore over Johnson’s lawbreaking internal market bill forced a vocal but limited Labour response: to stress repeatedly that the government must focus on agreeing a deal; and No Deal would be a “failure “ that Johnson would have to “own”.

The first part of this assertion is self-evidently correct. No Deal would be disastrous – not just for Britain’s terms of trade, with the resultant imposition of EU tariffs on goods including cars, food and cosmetics, but also for essential co-operation on national security –  and would simultaneously create the worst possible environment in which to resolve the many vital open matters outside the scope of the current negotiations, such as seeking recognition of equivalence for Britain’s financial services sector.

Such an outcome would be, as Johnson once put it, an epic “failure of statecraft”, for which he and his advisers would be damned by history. However, if that verdict concerned them in the slightest they would have long since stopped getting out of bed in the morning. Instead, they know all too well that the Devil has all the best tunes. They most likely recognize – as Labour should too – that, in the foreseeable future, the fall-out from No Deal offers more favourable political terrain to this government – and one more challenging for the Opposition  – than any deal reasonably in prospect.

Let’s start with the alternative. Suppose a deal is announced with great fanfare in late October, in time to be ratified by year end. Johnson reprises his trick of last November, by returning from Brussels with a last minute agreement, achieved by compromising on his own red lines behind the cover of bombast and boosterism. This time around, the implicit threat of imposing a hard border in Northern Ireland through the Internal Market Bill is likely to be presented as having intimidated the EU into imagined concessions.

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Labour must beware the Tories’ ‘Miliband minority’ attack line – it worked before, it could work again

30/09/2020, 10:53:48 PM

By David Talbot

The country has become rather used to going to the polls. Three times in four years, no less. The hattrick of recent elections ushered in a Conservative majority for the first time in 23 years. The Conservatives were successful in turning the 2015 election into a de facto referendum on a minority Labour government. The attacks on Labour’s supposed dependence on the SNP gained wider resonance because of voters’ deeper suspicion of its leader and the party he led, but the Conservatives’ campaign created a palpable fear of a minority Miliband.

Fast forward two elections and Brexit has created a remarkable Conservative alliance. By making people’s identity, and the values they hold, the central tenet of the past four years of British politics, the Conservative party has fundamentally reinvented itself from Cameron’s modish liberalism.

From its traditional affluent, Shire-dwelling support to ripping through the Red Wall, it has taken the party to the highwater mark of British politics: 14 million votes. This is in and around the number of votes the Labour Party must achieve if it is to win the 2024 election.

The government’s electoral coalition, although mighty, is unstable. That is why it will continue to focus on socially conservative signalling and policies on law and order, national security and cack-handed attempts to reheat Brexit’s culture wars.

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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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Labour needs to talk about Brexit

15/09/2020, 11:13:23 PM

by Robert Williams

There is an ongoing debate in the Labour Party about whether Sir Keir Starmer should talk about Brexit. There have been so many other sticks with which to beat the government with, on COCIV test and trace, the highest excess death rate in Europe, the neglect of care homes, the growing scandal of PPE procurement contracts that make Al Capone look like an honest businessman, the A level fiasco. I could go on, and simply list the failures of Boris Johnson and his government for another few thousand words, but readers might lose the will to live.

So why reopen the wound of Brexit, which certainly contributed to Labour’s worst electoral performance since 1935. Why should Labour risk the wrath of its former Red Wall voters? They may not have liked Jeremy Corbyn, and that played no small role in making Labour less popular than a bad case of diarrhoea, but the Brexit saga was also significant. (Sorry for the analogy, but Corbyn was utterly toxic to voters, including former Labour voters, and it feels appropriate for his effect on the body politic).

Voters were exhausted by the political drama and wanted it over. They seized, or at least a large enough proportion of voters in key target seats did, on the promise of an “oven ready deal” and gave the Tories their largest majority since 1987. So one can understand why Labour has been as quiet as a monk in a silent order on Brexit. Even at last week’s PMQs, Keir Starmer did not mention, even in a limited and specific way, the government’s proposals to break international law.

The Labour leadership thinks that talking about Brexit at the moment is a lose-lose situation for them. It will remind voters, particularly those in the “Red Wall” that Labour backed Remain (it didn’t, they promised to renegotiate Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal and put it to another public vote – and yes, it was a farcical policy). Labour also fears that raising Brexit again will take the focus off the government’s handling of our exit from the EU. The “don’t interrupt your opponent making mistakes” view. And finally, Labour thinking is that they cannot do anything about Brexit in any case now that the government has a majority of 80.

So silence, as the government damages its own reputation for competence and now reneges on its own election manifesto – the one Johnson made every one of his candidates pledge to support – is, possibly sound politics. Let the government destroy themselves and wait on the sidelines. It is appealing, but I think it is wrong

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“Incompetence” is the most dangerous word in politics. Boris beware

20/08/2020, 10:45:53 PM

by David Talbot

In the Autumn of 2007, a resurgent Labour Party, galvanised by Gordon Brown’s elevation to Number Ten, met in Bournemouth buoyant at the prospect of an early general election. Under the banner ‘The strength to succeed’ Brown had spent the first few months of his ultimately doomed premiership reassuring the nation. From donning his wellies in flooded, predominantly Conservative-dwelling, shires, to soothing the nation following terrorist attacks in Glasgow and London, Brown’s early brand was based on solidity and, most of all, competence.

The problem of creeping incompetence usually arises towards the end of a government’s life, when Ministers are tired and a smell of decay whiffs through the air. But this government has developed a competence problem after merely a year in office.

COVID-19 was not, of course, the design of Boris Johnson’s government but its response to it has been lamentable and incompetent in the extreme. It squandered two precious months to prepare the nation, its much vaunted “world beating” track and trace system is a disgrace, it failed to protect frontline NHS staff through the heat of the pandemic, and it turned the nation’s care homes into breeding grounds for a disease whose mortality is intertwined with those aged 65 years and above.

From surcharges for migrant NHS workers, school meal vouchers for the nation’s most vulnerable schoolchildren to levelling down students’ futures, this government has exuded wanton incompetence in every nuance of an increasingly desperate defences. Even on its flagship raison d’être, Brexit, its “oven ready” deal has been strangely aloof since it was lauded every day for two months late last year.

Johnson’s limitations have been well-known and widespread for years; his disorganisation, his lack of attention to detail, his bluster and bumbling incompetence. In politics, if you take an ideological stance it will always mean you lose someone. But develop a reputation for incompetence, and you lose everybody.

And it is on this ground that Sir Keir Starmer has staked his early strategy. Through demonstrating competence, severely lacking for years under the previous administration, Labour has at last emerged as a serious party determined on seeking power. It is easy to see why this attribute is so important to Labour, not only as a core prerequisite for any party seeking power, but through polling – such as the Observer last month on the perceptions of the two party’s leaders:

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Labour centrists can be optimistic. The hard left is going to turn Keir Starmer into a Blairite

30/07/2020, 10:38:55 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Keir Starmer is not a Blairite. His closest political ally is Ed Miliband and like the younger Miliband, his politics are those of the soft left.  But if the hard left continue to oppose his leadership in their current manner, they’re going to change him. The result will be the mirror image of what they seek; rather than bind him to the 2019 manifesto or constrain him to a more left-wing position, they’re going to Blairform him.

The response of the Corbynites to Labour’s apology to the whistle-blowers over anti-Semitism has been typical. Look no further than J Corbyn himself, who called the decision “political” not ” legal” and has opened himself up to being sued by John Ware from Panorama.

But it’s not just on anti-Semitism that they react in this way, it’s everything. Here’s Matt Zarb Cousin, following the release of the parliamentary Intelligence committee’s Russia report,

Ahead of the impending Unite leadership election, in the contest to be the candidate for the United Left – Unite’s hard left faction which has dominated the leadership in the past decade – Keir Starmer was used as a wedge issue, an enemy to take on as a demonstration of left wing bona fides. Howard Beckett had this tweet pinned to the top of is Twitter timeline.

A politician’s ideological heading at the start of their career is often quite different by the end.  The process of politics, their experience on the journey, changes them. When looking for portents of the future for a new soft left leader who is picking up the pieces following a shattering defeat, compare and contrast the Neil Kinnock of 1983 with that of 1992.

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After Starmer’s first 100 days came Labour’s tipping-point week

29/07/2020, 10:53:43 PM

by Rob Marchant

At the 100-day point in mid-July, there was much favourable chatter about the new leader. Good poll ratings, clear change of position on anti-Semitism, control of the NEC. The Corbynites have been on the back foot and the party looks vaguely presentable again.

Continuity Corbynite figurehead Rebecca Long-Bailey was, much to the surprise of many, not forced to resign but humiliatingly sacked from the Shadow Cabinet for tweeting an article containing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

It has not been all plain sailing: Starmer is a new leader, after all, and new leaders make mistakes as they learn. One was to have commissioned yet another useless “reforming the party” report, this time with involvement from Ed Miliband, who had already presided over the release of two such useless reports in his own term as leader.

Then there was the clearly unfair suspension of Emilie Oldknow, the former Assistant General Secretary. who had done little more than slag off some of her colleagues on WhatsApp (we would most of us be sacked, were spying on one’s staff a widespread practice among UK employers).

Worse still than that unfairness, was the credence it gave to the highly questionable “report” commissioned by former General Secretary Jennie Formby into the party’s handling of anti-Semitism. A report conceived and executed by that administration in unquestionably bad faith, with the intent of rebutting in advance its inevitable, forthcoming slamming by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

In other words, a last, desperate attempt to save the reputations of those involved in the Corbyn project.

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Labour needs a clear, distinctive, and credible economic message

23/07/2020, 08:00:31 AM

by Jonathan Todd

More people than not think that Keir Starmer looks like a prime minister in waiting (38% versus 34% in a YouGov poll conducted in early July), while more than twice as many think Labour is not ready for government than think Labour is (54% versus 23% in the same poll).

Other polling reveals that voters now think that Starmer would make a better prime minister than Boris Johnson.

Yet Labour trail the Tories by somewhere between 6 and 10 points on voting intention – with Survation putting it at the lower end of that range, Kantar being at the higher end, and Opinium in-between.

These deficits cannot be explained in terms of Starmer. It is the rest of the party that holds us back.

“Labour is under new management,” said Starmer at PMQs. Where Labour previously made commitments that voters struggled to believe, Labour now needs credible answers. Yet big enough to meet the UK’s challenges.

These do not come any bigger than the economy. The number of people aged 18-24 claiming Universal Credit or Jobseeker’s Allowance doubled in the last three months. Unfortunately, with furlough ending, demand not recovered to pre-Covid levels, and the risk of a second wave, our economic struggles are likely to persist.

With respondents being allowed to tick up three options, YouGov asked: Which of the following do you think are the most important issues facing the country at this time?

Health and the economy came joint top on 57%. Far ahead of the next most important issues: Britain leaving the EU (43%); the environment (24%).

It is noteworthy that over four-in-ten of the public do not see Brexit as “oven ready” and unsurprising that health is a concern amid a global pandemic – which will further rise if there is a second wave. But, as we learn more about Covid-19, improve our systems for containing it, and advance towards a vaccine, the economy will likely usurp health as the public’s biggest worry.

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Get ready for the winter of discontent, 2020/21

02/07/2020, 10:30:20 PM

by Jonathan Todd

We have reached the mid-point of the longest year. Football’s back, pubs and shops are open, the sun shines. The government are eager for consumers to spend the economy back to health. But our winter of discontent looms.

Only the rich and/or complacent are secure in their incomes. Fear of Covid-19 remains – while not always deadly, especially among the young, it can induce long-term health complications. It is hard to be confident that all children, many out of school since March, will be in class in September.

“Open unemployment,” warns Professor Paul Gregg, “is likely to rise from 4 to 14% without further policy intervention.” Over 4 million on the dole, before the possible economic tsunami of no-deal Brexit.

“Currently the government’s drive to open up as quickly as possible bears a risk of another increase in infections,” fears Professor Devi Sridhar, “similar to what is being experienced in several US states such as Florida, Arizona and Texas, and in Iran.”

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, recently said: “The NEU is of course in favour of all children being back in school, but even with a one-metre rule that will need more teachers and more spaces.” It remains to be seen if the plans announced by Gavin Williamson will deliver upon this.

Ignore these people if you have had enough of experts. The rest of us might conclude:

We need more testing and tracing, with much better data sharing and collaboration with local authorities, to contain the virus. We need more physical and human resources to reopen schools. Without decent public health and education, attempts to build, build, build rest on the shakiest foundations.

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