Posts Tagged ‘Rob Marchant’

The shame of Barnet: losing a council because the voters think you’re racist

11/05/2018, 08:21:19 AM

by Rob Marchant

The general consensus of the UK media is that Labour did not achieve the result it needed to last Thursday. As largely expected, it had lukewarm results in London overall and disappointing results outside.

But the most significant result of the night was surely that in Barnet, where the Tories in midterm, in London, actually regained a council that they recently lost to No Overall Control.

The reason? Unsurprisingly, the Jewish voters of Barnet, surely the council with the highest Jewish contingent in Britain, turned away from Labour in droves. Because they were fed up with Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to tackle anti-Semitism, two years after the Chakrabarti report. And, as the Jewish Chronicle’s Stephen Pollard pointed out:

Quite. While there was enough evidence from polling returns by ward, the anecdotal evidence was strong, too. Journalists deployed to the borough noted the extraordinary strength of feeling they found on the doorstep. As John Mann, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Semitism, put it:

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Hungary: a lesson for lovers of populism on left and right

26/04/2018, 05:02:57 PM

by Rob Marchant

It is pleasing to see Jeremy Corbyn get something right, for once.

A couple of months ago, he recorded this video message in support of Hungarian socialists, rightly warning how their country was in danger of becoming home to despotism, although he put it more politely. In his words, that the far-right government “is not only weakening democracy, but allowing intolerance and racism to take hold” (ok, so the irony meter in the Leader’s Office was switched off that day).

In contrast, our country’s government, in the person of its idiot Foreign Secretary, was quick to congratulate recently reelected president Viktor Orbán in a lugubrious tweet, failing to mention his racist campaign, or his fixing of the media and electoral system to win. I suppose that, in the post-Brexit world, his low calculation is less maintaining a democratic continent and more “any port in a storm”.

As Nick Cohen pointed out recently, Orbán is – like Putin – starting to treat harmless NGOs as enemies of the state. Not to mention demonising one of the country’s great entrepreneurs and philanthropists, George Soros, by fabricating ridiculous stories that he will flood the country with immigrants (he is clearly neither a government nor standing for office). As Cohen says, “It’s as if UK ministers were pretending the choice before the electorate was between the Conservative party and Human Rights Watch.” Quite. But more of Soros later.

Back to Budapest, where I was last week. A beautiful city and not – not yet – the seat of a dictatorship.

But it very soon is likely to be, as its election a matter of days ago has largely demonstrated. Not only did Orbán’s authoritarian Fidesz party win (again), the anti-immigration rhetoric seems now to have reached fever pitch. And that’s before we even start with Jobbik, an ugly and even more far-right party, which came in second with a fifth of the vote. In short, the “top two” choice is now between the far right and the really far right.

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Labour’s current situation with anti-Semitism is unsustainable

13/04/2018, 11:10:42 PM

by Rob Marchant

Let’s try an experiment. Since anti-Semitism is a form of racism, let’s simply use the word “racism” as we outline the following facts.

In the last three weeks, a British mainstream political party has:

  • Received a letter, addressed to its leader by two well-respected national community groups, protesting perceived institutional racism within it;
  • Been demonstrated against, twice, by anti-racism campaigners, the first of which demos was attended a number of its own MPs;
  • Had various members threatening those same MPs with deselection and abusing them online over their attendance of said anti-racism demo, including a celebrity member demanding their expulsion;
  • Had hundreds of members attending a counter-demo, against the anti-racism demo, which included a banner from the country’s biggest trade union;
  • Had its leader attend a controversial event with a radical left-wing group who also criticised the first anti-racism demo;
  • Had its leader found to be a member of a number of Facebook groups infested with racists, ultimately forcing him to close his Facebook account;
  • Had its leader support in an online Facebook comment the painter of a racist mural;
  • Had its Head of Compliance resign, after his department had already been significantly beefed up to deal with a flood of disciplinary issues connected with racism;
  • Appointed a leader to the party machine – ultimately in charge of dealing with first-level disciplinary issues – who had previously been in controversy over remarks that many perceived as downplaying racism;
  • Had to remove the chair of its Disputes Panel for championing an activist suspended for posting about the “Holocaust Hoax”, and only after public outcry was said chair actually removed from its National Executive Committee;
  • Replaced said chair with NEC member who worked for, and has in the past defended, former London mayor Ken Livingstone, also currently suspended for alleged racism;
  • Had another NEC member write a piece in the Guardian criticising MPs who attended the anti-racism demos;
  • Had a cross-party group of peers ask the Met to investigate various Facebook posts by its members for inciting racial hatred;
  • Had a sister party in another country suspend relations with it over perceived tolerance to racism.

It’s not pretty, is it?

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The Labour MP’s dilemma: when does this become party before country?

22/03/2018, 09:19:22 PM

by Rob Marchant

If there were a week for Labour MPs to question their continued acceptance of the party whip, it was surely the last one.

Should we cite the lack of apparent sanction on Chris Williamson MP, who appeared onstage with Jackie Walker, suspended from the party for anti-Semitism along with Tony Greenstein, and then proposed their readmission to the party, to rapturous applause?

Or the stitch-up of the General Secretary choice, effectively handing control of the party machine to Len McCluskey and his acolytes? Triggering the resignation of six key staff-members? While the aforementioned Walker and Greenstein celebrated outside party HQ, barracking the party’s remaining staff and telling them they were coming for the rest of them? And a General Secretary herself, notorious for questioning the neutrality of Baroness Jan Royall to run an anti-Semitism inquiry, on the spurious grounds that she had once visited Israel?

But the real question for Labour MPs is simple: can you genuinely look yourself in the mirror in the morning and say “I want Jeremy Corbyn to be Prime Minister”?

Yes, we know there are millions of supporters to whom we owe a Labour government. Yes, we know you may well think he’ll probably never get there, but that’s not the point. What if he does?

What if someone who has shown, as Corbyn did last week that he cannot support the Prime Minister even in a fundamental matter of national security, like an attack by foreign agents on British citizens on British soil? A feat which is probably a first in postwar Britain?

That he cannot, in short, be trusted in that most fundamental governmental matter of all, the security of the nation?

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Turning on Labour councils, not Tory ones: the next step in the Momentum plan

15/02/2018, 10:40:36 PM

by Rob Marchant

If the shenanigans which have led to widespread resignations and deselections in Labour-run Haringey council were not enough, for the hard left, this seems to be just the beginning.

Of course, the Tories must be delighted to see the spectacle of Labour eating itself, rather than them.

Enter Sir Robin Wales, leader of Newham council and whose tenure must, under any reasonable analysis, be seen as a pretty much runaway success. Four consecutive terms in office means you must have done something right with your local electorate. Indeed, Newham under Wales is exactly the kind of council that Labour should be promoting as a beacon to others across the country.

However, the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is not one which seems to have ever occurred to the doyennes of Momentum.

After weeks of pressure to force Wales’ reselection in an open contest, they finally got their way and there will now be a selection process which may or may not result in his continuing as Labour’s candidate in May. Unsurprisingly, Corbynites were quick to point out that BAME and women were under-represented in directly-elected mayors (subtext: we don’t care how good you are, Robin, you’re a white bloke). This is a particularly idiotic comment when one considers that there are only a handful of such mayors in the country anyway.

The “canary in the coalmine” at national level of all this plotting was, of course, the Canary a couple of weeks back: the hard-left’s favourite conspiracy site decided that it was bored attacking the Tories and decided that laying into a successful Labour council was much more fun. “Labour council lurching from crisis to crisis” and “rotten borough” screamed the headline of the Wales/Newham hatchet job. (Special mention should go, by the way, to the wonderfully theatrical audio propaganda which accompanies the piece: with actors, the Canary has cleverly mocked up a “Radio 4” style news clip to sound “official”, with the difference that, of course, Radio 4 does generally objective and responsible journalism, rather than simply making things up.)

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BREAKING: Labour leader leaves national television interview with pants on fire

31/01/2018, 10:07:17 PM

by Rob Marchant

You could be forgiven for thinking that Andrew Marr’s interview last Sunday was to be an unremarkable one.

The first 16 minutes are fairly anodyne: the leader’s normal waffle on economics and the standard, disingenuous, face-both-ways position on Brexit. Important, but all things we know already.

From 16:25 we get onto Corbyn’s view that transgender people can self-identify, an issue rightly concerning a number of Labour women who see the incorporation of this into the Labour rulebook as a change fraught with opportunities for abuse, at “cis” women’s expense. A fair point. But to be realistic, this is an issue of probably minor importance to the electorate at large.

Then, nearly 19 minutes into a 21-minute interview, Marr, in a Lieutenant-Columbo-like manoeuvre, comes up with “just one more thing”, as he is metaphorically walking out the door, away from the scene of the crime.

“I was reading a poster, about an event celebrating the Iranian revolution, at which you spoke.”

Marr is gently pointing out that he had actively supported the Iranian regime in the past and not merely “engaged” with it.

“What?” The normally genteel Corbyn, for a second, is so startled, he almost snarls.

At this point, Corbyn recomposes himself and explains that he was on a delegation to Iran with other MPs, including former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, discussing nukes and human rights. So that’s all right then.

But it wasn’t all right. It wasn’t at all.

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We need to talk about Momentum and anti-Semitism

17/01/2018, 01:25:56 PM

by Rob Marchant

Momentum is on a roll. It has just secured three places on Labour’s NEC. It is now on course to easily force deselections in seats where it does not like the sitting MP. It has also, as its first act in that newly-constituted NEC, just ousted the long-serving head of the Disputes Committee, Ann Black, on the left of the party – the Campaign Group, no less – but widely respected as fair and neutral.

“Fair” and “neutral” are words that we might struggle a little more to apply to her replacement, Christine Shawcroft. Shawcroft, you may remember, was one of the few party members who supported disgraced Tower Hamlets mayor, Lutfur Rahman, after he had been forced from office for electoral fraud and had not even been a party member for five years. A trick which got her suspended from the party (now reinstated). Amazingly, she was still defending him on Tuesday as the victim of “a terrible miscarriage of justice” (Rahman was also struck off as a solicitor a month ago).

Given Black’s long and distinguished tenure at the Disputes Committee, one wonders what motive there could possibly be for replacing her, other than to ensure that people on the far left that she might have found unpalatable will be allowed to join, re-join or have their suspensions lifted. You can almost picture Ken Livingstone and George Galloway rubbing their hands with delight as we speak. But more of Shawcroft later.

Momentum is clearly making moves towards its clear-but-as-yet-unstated objective of calling the shots within the Labour Party (if not necessarily of beating the Tories and securing a Corbyn government, a seemingly secondary priority).

Moderates everywhere should be concerned, not least because they are now at the start of a long process of being gradually squeezed out, constituency by constituency. This has been clear for some time and demonstrated by the examples we are about to give.

What is perhaps less obvious is that Momentum, unlike Labour, does not have such tight entry criteria or such an active Compliance Unit as Labour. This means that, although there is surely a majority of decent and well-meaning folk within Momentum’s 30,000 souls who essentially think that Corbyn is a good chap, there is a minority, for example from the old SWP, who have rather more disturbing methods of organising – a la Militant – and also more disturbing views.

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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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