Posts Tagged ‘Rob Marchant’

Stopping Brexit is a race against time. Labour MPs are in pole position

01/11/2017, 10:27:42 PM

by Rob Marchant

Perhaps, just perhaps, historians might look back at this week and say, that is the week that the tide started to turn against populist politics and at least some parts of the world managed to save themselves from it.

Probably for some states, Turkey, Hungary, Russia and perhaps Poland, from where I write, it is too late. But some with longer-established democratic traditions still may have the will and the mechanisms to turn it around, in time to prevent lasting damage.

It has been the week of two signal events: the first indictments in Trump/Russia, which may yet lead to the early collapse of an ignominious presidency; and a poll showing that public opinion may finally have twigged that Brexit negotiations are headed down a blind alley with no good result for Britain.

The first is the tip of an immense iceberg which is as yet far too early to call. But the second we can project a little into the future. So, when a YouGov poll says 53% of voters think we were wrong to leave the EU and 47% right, it is worth reflecting on. First, it could be a mere blip, an outlier. Second, this does not mean the Remainers in that poll think that we can even try and leave, as YouGov themselves argue here.

But let’s suppose that 53% were to become 60%, or even 70%. At what point does public opinion become strong enough that politicians have to sit up and think about remedial action? Clearly that point exists, if you can push the percentage high enough. Public opinion can be a fickle thing: but when it starts to decide something unequivocally, it cannot be ignored.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Young Labour is just the start. Momentum is coming for Labour’s soul

20/10/2017, 01:56:15 PM

by Rob Marchant

Last week, in a set of motions to conference, Labour railed against British “imperialism”, decided to come out of NATO, nationalise the City and advocated that Israel can happily be abolished.

Actually, no. That was Young Labour. Bless them: there were probably tens or hundreds of sensible motions there which got no coverage (and you could almost forgive the howling historical gaffes in the text of these: Britain was in the Vietnam War? Really?)

But, as often in politics, the outliers tell a story: it was a useful indicator of what is likely to happen within Labour itself over the next few years, if there is no successful challenge to the current leadership.

The logic is not complex: the direction of travel of conference motions is clearly moving ever further towards the nutty. And naturally, what is commonplace in Young Labour today is going to be commonplace in Labour itself tomorrow.

It is typical in Labour circles – as in many unions – to argue that no-one pays any attention to such motions, it’s all a storm in a teacup, and so on. In the case of unions, that is almost certainly the case – union conferences rarely get much press coverage nowadays, and there have always been nutty motions.

The difference is that, in the case of the Labour Party, people do pay attention. In fact, the party spent years painstakingly recovering its credibility after its disastrous early 1980s conferences descended into farce, through precisely that kind of behaviour. It was only in 1985 when Kinnock raged brilliantly against Militant in his “scuttling around in taxis” speech, that there came a turning point in the party’s long, hard road back to credibility and, ultimately, to government.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Letter from Barcelona: Labour’s Spanish lessons

03/10/2017, 10:13:45 PM

by Rob Marchant

In between the petty spats of the Tory conference this week or the surreal cult of Labour’s gathering last week, there was a potentially seismic political event for Europe (and Britain) a thousand miles away: Sunday’s referendum for Catalan independence. It is big news: while a major general election campaign was happening in the EU’s most populous country, this little region’s impending vote was stealing the headlines for much of it.

It seems suddenly shocking but, for those of us familiar with Spanish and Catalan politics, it is essentially an event that has been at least a decade in the making, but which has approached Spain’s now largely stable democracy like a relentless iceberg, and which the national government’s general cack-handedness has made it seemingly powerless to stop.

This time, around 90% of the votes have been cast for “Sí”, although the vote is technically illegal and many anti-independence voters have naturally boycotted it. Reasons are many: there is first raw, emotional nationalism; then more rational, economic unfairness (Catalonia is a net contributor to taxes and “subsidises” poorer regions; some may even have voted yes in the (mistaken) belief that Spain’s foreign policy had somehow helped precipitate recent ISIS attacks in Barcelona and an independent Catalonia would instead be safe.

So the result, illegal or otherwise, is hugely important for Catalonia, Spain and Europe. But how did they get here?

For about a quarter-century following the “Transición” (the transition to democracy after Franco’s death), the Catalans had a nationalist party running their regional government, the CiU (Convergéncia i Unión).

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

The real story of the Commons Brexit vote was the leadership’s disingenuous positioning

18/09/2017, 10:27:22 PM

by Rob Marchant

“Dennis Skinner…votes with Tories” ran the headline. But the truth is that Dennis Skinner actually voted for what he believes in: that Britain is better-off outside the EU. He only did what Jeremy Corbyn had already done hundreds of times (about five hundred, reportedly): vote with the Tories against his own party. As did six of his backbench colleagues (interestingly, Caroline Flint MP, who abstained, seemed to get more grief on social media than Skinner, who voted for the motion. We leave readers to draw their own conclusions as to why that might be).

Corbyn’s calculation, in contrast, was based on what it usually is: what he could get away with. Does anyone seriously believe that he has changed his opinion on the EU after over three decades opposing it as an MP?

Of course not. The calculation was that he could not get away – either with the public or his own party – with asking the PLP to support the Tories in a hard Brexit, so he allowed Keir Starmer to lead the charge and got out of the way.

And so we ended with the bizarre spectacle of two long-time, hard-left colleagues on opposite sides of the fence: one because he actually believed the same of the Tories, for once; and one because he also believed the same as the Tories, but couldn’t say so.

There was a helpful, complicating factor: that the Tories had come close to overreaching themselves, in insisting on giving themselves a muscular authority over governmental decisions which went so far as to pretty much break the principle of separation of powers between legislature and executive.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Labour’s life-support conference approaches

23/08/2017, 09:55:17 PM

by Rob Marchant

It does not take a Nostradamus to predict that this year’s will have to be the craziest Labour conference since 1985 or, quite possibly, ever.

On the one hand you will have hubris: bright-eyed young Corbynite new recruits, feeling buoyed and excited by the party’s “success” in the general election (i.e. we did not lose too badly). The old-fashioned Trots, to their surprise finding themselves back in the party and with their day in the sun. And some of the long-time, idealistic soft left, not yet jaded by the disingenuousness of their leader’s position on Europe.

On the other you will have something approaching despair: the party’s centrists, Blairites, Brownites (as if those labels mean anything any more) and perhaps some old-time trade unionists and working-class members, seeking out each others’ company for warmth, in the party’s long, cold, dark night of the soul.

But the polls, the Corbynites will say, glowingly.

It is not, patently, about how Labour is doing in the polls against a terrible government. It is about the structural carnage it is wreaking on itself and whether that is sustainable in the long run. Or whether it has reached the tipping point of irreparable damage.

One day, it will not be up against a useless government grappling hopelessly with Brexit. Indeed, Theresa May might even – as Michael Heseltine has implied – dump her current Brexit ministers to draw the sting, then renew her premiership with a more workable approach and new people, in the process dodging the numerous bullets currently being aimed at her. It could happen.

No matter: one day there will be a half-decent Tory leader who will mercilessly take apart their bearded opponent. But at the moment this is not happening, because (a) it’s clearly better for the Tories he stays where he is, and (b) on Brexit, the main issue of the day, he pretty much supports their policies. Why fix what ain’t broke?

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Venezuela: a Corbynite touchstone. An unmitigated human and democratic disaster

10/08/2017, 06:03:39 PM

by Rob Marchant

It is not for months but, in fact, years that some of us have tried to draw attention to the pathological infatuation of Labour’s hard left (and even some of the soft left) to the Venezuelan regime of Hugo Chávez.

The attraction was straightforward: a kind of “Cuba-lite”, where in contrast defenders could always point to at least some kind of democracy, slanted towards the ruling party with various “cheats” though it was (such as the inequitable use of state television for propaganda). Not to mention, of course, a dazzling oil wealth which could comfortably mask the self-enriching activities of the ruling kleptocracy and still leave a bit of largesse to spread among its voters around election time, in the name of “true socialism”.

Indeed, so attractive was it that some of our current crop of hard-left doyennes, in perhaps less elevated times than they now sit, headed out for the Caribbean in 2012, the October of Chávez’s last election before his death.

Step forward, Diane Abbott and sidekick Owen Jones, “impartial observers” of the election. Except that they weren’t, of course, they were friends of one side only, as I helpfully pointed out to them while they were in Caracas as the guests of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (run by a Chávez crony, incidentally).

Abbott, as patron of the Chávez-supporting Venezuela Solidarity Campaign, claimed without irony that she was “at pains to say that I wasn’t going to Venezuela to support any particular candidate”. So that’s all right, then.

It was an election, it should be noted, at which there were no international observers from any reputable organisation: only UNASUR, a regional body dominated by Venezuela itself. Then again, for 2012 Abbott, the likelihood of a formal Shadow Cabinet post probably seemed small, especially after various faux pas like the famous “white people love to divide and rule” comment. So she probably paid a little less attention to what might be the impact of her visit.

Oh, how dull and carping we were, who would criticise the Chávez regime or its slanted electoral system. But even then, all the signs were there. Why the need to invite, for want of a better word, your mates, to observe an election? Because, apart from UNASUR, no-one else came to the party. The EU and the UN had been invited to previous elections, why not this one? Could it be that the regime knew it would be heavily criticised for unfairness?

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

To those who voted for Labour as a pro-Remain party: you’ve been suckered

26/07/2017, 10:38:24 PM

by Rob Marchant

The madness that is British politics in 2017 this week continued apace. While Tories continued to flounder in their Brexit negotiations and, Trump-like, blame the media for their self-inflicted disasters, we finally arrived at the point of disarray where the half-bonkers Jacob Rees-Mogg, a throwback, cartoon Tory backbencher, is considered 2nd favourite to be the next Tory leader, when Theresa May is finally defenestrated.

Even so, Labour aimed to outdo them in the madness stakes. The man who was, in theory, the most senior opposition politician campaigning against Brexit, finally admitted that he was not, if he ever had been, anti-Brexit at all. In fact, the Labour leader was now in favour of the hardest of Brexits. Britain would unequivocally leave the Single Market.

Furthermore, it seems that Corbyn does not actually understand the phenomenon of the European Economic Area; he believes that you have to be in the EU to be part of the Single Market (you don’t, as Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland will attest).

His pro-European supporters on the left, such as the redoubtable Guardian columnist Owen Jones, scrambled to find a simultaneously pro-Corbyn and pro-European position which did not involve Houdini-like logical contortions. They failed.

All in a party where the vast majority of the membership, most supporting unions and the majority of the PLP resisted Brexit in the referendum. The party’s Brexit policy, between Corbyn, McDonnell, Keir Starmer and Barry Gardiner is now a jumble of contradictions which shifts daily.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Those who think the Corbyn leadership can change are dreaming. Appeasement will only strengthen the hard left’s hand

12/07/2017, 10:38:05 PM

by Rob Marchant

Last week Luciana Berger, prominent centrist, Jewish MP and Corbyn critic, underwent a coup on her local party’s Executive Committee, with nine out of ten places going to Momentum members.

Shortly afterwards, one of said members, Roy Bentham, demanded a pledge of allegiance to the leadership from her, the implication being that, if she did not start to be behave herself as a good Corbynite, she would soon face deselection: “Luciana needs to get on board quite quickly now…she will have to be answerable to us. We would like her to come out publicly like other MPs have done and apologise for not supporting him in the past.”

We could look at this story in two ways. First, the way that the local party and, ultimately, Berger herself have spun it: that it was an exaggerated story from the Liverpool local press, stirring up trouble. There was a tweet to that effect from Berger, disassociating herself from the Sunday Times tweet on the story, and a statement that the party was doing well under Corbyn. The local CLP also distanced itself from the remarks made by Bentham.

The second way is this: exactly what the Times said in its leader (£). In short, whatever the local party or MP might claim, there will definitely be a move to oust Berger, at least unless she toes the Corbynite line from now on. It is not hard to see that this is the right interpretation, whether Berger wants to accept it or not. One has to ask why Momentum would bother to take control a local party and then leave in place an MP who has views diametrically opposed to the Momentumites.

One might also reasonably ask the question, why mention the fact here that Berger is Jewish? The answer is, sadly, because it matters in some quarters of the Labour party nowadays, especially for some (although surely not all) members of Momentum.

There are four female, Jewish MPs in the PLP. All have experienced considerable and documented anti-Semitic abuse in recent months. While some comes, inevitably, from the far right, much comes also from the far left, particularly the Palestine-supporting, BDS (sanctions against Israel) crowd.              But it also seems that the vitriol is particularly reserved for women, where the misogynism of the far left is already a well-known phenomenon (cf. the Comrade Delta rape case in the Socialist Workers Party).

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Progress has been a force for good and the party needs it

03/07/2017, 10:15:14 PM

by Rob Marchant

Ten days ago it was announced that Progress, the centre-left pressure group within the Labour party, would cease to be funded by its patron for over a decade, Lord Sainsbury.

Progress has always been the part of the party most in tune with the British public, rather than Labour members or supporters, and has been unafraid to challenge Labour to engage with new voters, rather than preach to the converted.

It has therefore, as one might imagine, had a somewhat tough time since the party’s return to opposition and its gradual move to the left since that point. During the Miliband era, it continued to push quietly but firmly towards the centre, providing a useful ballast creeping “hullo clouds, hullo sky” impossiblism of the party’s then leadership.

However, even during that era, it was under attack: Miliband’s appeasement of the increasingly militant Unite union required the organisation in 2012 to take measures to defend itself against those, like Unite’s leader Len McCluskey, who accused it of “manipulations” and who would happily see it severed from the party body politic.

Eventually, even Miliband stood up to Len McCluskey after the Falkirk selection debacle; but by mis-specifying the solution, he lost. Unite saw its chance, in Miliband’s adoption of a US-style primary to select its leader, to push the party in its direction. The result was the election of an outside candidate which the PLP did not want and a resulting influx of new, Corbyn-supporting members who have by now displaced many of the old-timers.

The resulting onset of the Corbyn years saw, rightly, an even more robust defence of centrist politics from Progress, presumably on the grounds that, faced with a hard-left leadership, attack was the best form of defence.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Reality check: a winning party needs to win, you know, seats

14/06/2017, 11:21:42 AM

by Rob Marchant

For some MPs and commentators, suddenly everything has changed about Labour’s situation. But what, exactly? Did we win, as Emily Thornberry thought we did? Has Jeremy Corbyn now become the nation’s best choice for prime minister? Is it just “one more heave”?

Hmm. Not really. In fact, dig a bit deeper and we might observe the opposite: that in fact, very little has changed at all.

Yes, Corbyn confounded expectations of the votes he could poll nationally. As did Theresa May. However, the mere fact that his impressive upswing in vote-share did not actually win him the election should give us pause, for three reasons.

One: an increase in vote-share (in this case, the largest since 1945) is, self-evidently, not just down to the party and its leader in a given moment. Logic dictates that it is down to three other things as well: the opposition, the leader and state of the party last time, and the opposition last time.

In this case we are talking about May, a leader almost universally derided at time of writing, and who may yet turn out to be the shortest-serving prime minister not to resign through ill-health in nearly two centuries; Cameron, who was felt by the public not to be a bad leader (at least at the time of the 2015 election) and increased his vote; and Miliband, who brought Labour’s number of parliamentary seats close to its 1980s post-war nadir.

In this context, Corbyn’s achievement looks somewhat less impressive: he has done better, set against the terrible May, than the terrible Miliband did against the half-decent Cameron. A low bar indeed.

Indeed if, instead of looking at the swing, we look at his vote-share compared with that of other Labour leaders (perhaps a better measure), we can see that he is around the middle of the table. The real news is the confounded expectations, not the absolute result.

Two: the maths. There is also one thing which really stands out about the big upswing in vote-share compared with other general elections: Labour’s abject failure in translating it into seats. In fact, if we map swings against seats for elections since 1945, we can see that it is a marked outlier.

Fig. 1: Swing vs. seats since 1950. Source data: http://www.ukpolitical.info/ConvLab.htm

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon