Posts Tagged ‘Rob Marchant’

2018: The year of still living dangerously

04/01/2018, 11:03:44 PM

by Rob Marchant

If you thought 2017 was a disturbing time for world geopolitics, hang on to your hats. Last January we wrote about the potential bear-traps of a Trump presidency. One year into it, they are all still there and mostly look worse.

Current situations in Iran, North Korea, Syria, Ukraine and the Baltic states all look like either remaining, or escalating into, serious conflicts during 2018. Worse than that, we live in genuinely unstable times where the historical precedents are not great.

Aggressive powers – mostly Russia and its client states – have been appeased over recent years in a manner eerily reminiscent of the way fascist powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) were appeased in the 1930s, also following a few years after a major financial crisis and world recession. And that decade didn’t end too well.

The problem that Jeremy Corbyn has is, of course, that he is on the wrong side of the debate regarding all these potential flashpoints. While he will equivocate and be plausibly deniable over his support or not in each case, let’s look at the facts.

  1. Iran: Corbyn was paid to present on the regime’s propaganda mouthpiece PressTV (note that this is not the same as appearing on it, although frankly even that is a questionable action, given its banning from the airwaves by OfCom for breaches of broadcasting standards). He appeared on it even six months after its licence was revoked. Further, he has yet to even comment on, let alone support the protesters in, the ongoing scuffles and their violent suppression of the last week, or criticise Iran’s despotic and repressive government.
  2. With North Korea, although he has superficially appealed to both the US and North Korea for calm and argued for them to disarm (a somewhat optimistic appeal in either case), Corbyn’s inner circle also contains known regime apologists such as Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray. Until becoming leader, he chaired Stop the War Coalition (now chaired by Murray), an organisation which superficially advocates for peace but, strangely, never seems to criticise any governments apart from those in the West. Maintaining this disingenuous, “will both sides please step back” approach, while simultaneously implying that only one side is to blame, is typical of Corbyn’s “cognitive dissonance” approach to foreign policy.
  3. Similarly, in all his comments on Syria, he has never once criticised Bashar Assad, a dictator known to have committed mass-murder against his own citizens. He also said there was “very strong evidence” supporting the Russia-propagated position that the use of sarin gas was by the rebels and not by the Assad regime, later proven to be a lie.
  4. Finally, in Ukraine, Milne propagated the Russia-pushed (and blatantly untrue) line that the Euromaidan protestors in Kyiv were having their strings pulled by fascists. If Russia were to attempt a full takeover of the country, or march into one of the Baltic states (something not at all beyond the realms of possibility in the potentially limited window while Trump remains POTUS), you could guarantee that at best he would appeal for calm on both sides, rather than supporting Britain’s treaty obligation to respond in kind via NATO.For those who do not consider a Baltic invasion possible, by the way, please consider (i) the deep nervousness of the states themselves and (ii) the relative ease with which Putin has already browbeaten and manipulated the world into relatively passive acceptance of his invasion of three Ukrainian provinces. The cost so far has been only selective sanctions on Russian individuals, sanctions which Trump has already (unsuccessfully) attempted to lift. The only difference here is NATO: again, something which Trump is dismissive of.

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If there is hope for Labour, it lies in the collision course being set with unions over workers’ rights

21/12/2017, 11:27:05 AM

by Rob Marchant

“If there is hope, it lies in the proles”, wrote George Orwell in 1984. If we ignore the negative connotations of the word and interpret the word “prole” to mean simply “workers”, he might have had a point with a direct resonance for Brexit Britain.

It has been apparent for some time that the legitimate arguments of Leavers in favour of a Britain which would “take back control” were not generally made with the intention of increasing protections for workers. Naturally we might expect Tory or UKIP voters to be less interested in such protections (even among Tory Remainers), and even keen to remove them to have a supposedly “more dynamic, less red tape” economy.

And although evidently a significant portion of Labour voters (I calculate it at around 2.9m voters*) still voted Leave, given that this segment was less than 10% of the voting population, it still seems believable that the inhabitants of this modest demographic were either (a) further-to-the-left middle-class voters, who did not require such protections and further, felt it more important that the EU was preventing Britain becoming the standalone socialist paradise envisaged by Corbyn; or (b) people on more modest incomes who were simply unaware of the impact on protections that the EU afforded them and how they personally might miss them once they were gone.

And that is because in a party of “the many”, any other explanation would imply a significant number of turkeys deliberately voting for Xmas. The reality is unarguable that there are a number of basic workers’ protections which would suddenly vanish in the event of a poor deal (just ten are listed here); an outcome more Bermuda than Switzerland, certainly.

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It is indeed Labour’s greatest crisis. This man should know

07/12/2017, 09:58:05 PM

by Rob Marchant

On Saturday, Labour’s Deputy Leader during the terrible 1980s, published a piece entitled “Labour’s greatest crisis. Time to fight back”. It is not a bad summary of Labour’s current troubles.

The trigger for the article was the Militant-style takeover of the Haringey party this week, providing uncomfortable echoes for those of a certain age of what happened in Liverpool and many London boroughs in the 1980s.

It is fair to judge that Hattersley, like his old colleague Kinnock – although, as he writes in his autobiography, “we were never soul-mates”, one traditional right, one soft-left – might have erred a little in their eagerness to embrace the Miliband years. Perhaps because both of them instinctively reacted against the New Labour years as evidence that the pendulum of Labour policy had swung too far towards the Tories for either to bear, they did not seem to see the creeping rise of the far left he facilitated as a real threat, more as a natural correction back to a world they understood.

They surely do now. And, as someone at the top table during the rise of Militant, it is instructive to read the former Deputy Leader’s practical comparisons of Militant and Momentum. That is, Hattersley – and no Blairite he – should surely know.

  1. In the 1980s, moderate MPs fought back. The central pillar of Hattersley’s argument is that, during those years, there was an organised resistance to Militant among the PLP. It was there on Corbyn’s election, but seems to have all but evaporated two years later.
  2. Militant “commanded less support and was active in fewer constituencies”. In the activist base at large, that is certainly true; Momentum now has a national penetration where Militant’s was in pockets, such as the London and Liverpool parties.
  3. Militant had no trade union backing. Momentum has the backing of Britain’s largest union, Unite, with the second and third, GMB and Unison, being actively organised within to achieve the same support. Within the union movement, only a few, smaller and traditionally right-wing unions such as Usdaw and Community, are resisting.

We might add to this perhaps the most obvious point: Militant did not have a leader sympathetic to them – indeed, in the end, what is Momentum, other than a fan club for Labour’s leader? – nor a Leader’s Office happy to work the voting arithmetic in the NEC towards that organisation’s goals.

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Scottish Labour needed to reinvent itself to survive. But not like this

21/11/2017, 09:32:23 PM

by Rob Marchant

The election of Richard Leonard has, inevitably, provoked jubilation on the Party’s left and despair in the rest of the party. While despair is certainly the more appropriate reaction, there has been some misreading on both sides.

First, let’s deal with the left. Yes, Scottish Labour really needed to reinvent itself, faced with a hegemonic SNP and falling into third place – yes, third, in a country which had previously been solidly Labour as long as anyone could remember – in the 2016 and 2017 elections. But not like this.

Jim Murphy and, later, Kezia Dugdale tried and failed to carry out that reinvention. But the truth is that they were both up against an atrophied Scottish party, made soft and flabby by years of Brown-era coddling.

The history of the last couple of decades is this. Blair’s people kept out of Scotland: meanwhile Brown’s people let things drift. In particular, it allowed radical-dominated unions to take hold of various local parties until they were converted into one-horse-town fiefdoms such as Falkirk CLP, dominated by Unite’s Grangemouth oil refinery operation.

Later, the farrago of a parliamentary selection there in 2013 became the trigger for a radical rewriting of leadership election rules, the use (and abuse) of which helped secure Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader. Meanwhile, the Scottish party itself bumbled into irrelevance, leaving the way clear for the SNP to run Scotland.

Now, instead of coming up with a program which could appeal to the apparent majority of Scots who did not want independence, and rebuilding the trust of their traditional base, the party has now opted for a definitively Corbynite leader in Scotland who merely reinforces the protest-party impotence of Labour north of the border. In other words, an attempt to outflank the SNP to the left: a party which has years of experience of cannily acting left, while delivering in the political centre.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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?

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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?

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