Posts Tagged ‘Rob Marchant’

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).

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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.

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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

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The final straight of two terrible campaigns

01/06/2017, 05:21:00 PM

by Rob Marchant

A week left of campaigning, and Britain’s political race to the bottom is in full flight. Polls all over the shop; but narrowing at the end, as they invariably do.

In different ways, the Tory and Labour campaigns are spectacularly failing to enthuse the electorate.

The Tories, for whom the election has always been theirs to lose, seem intent on torpedoing their own campaign. Uncosted pledges – almost unheard of for usually-meticulous Tories – and their fiasco on the “dementia tax”, resulting in a mid-campaign U-turn by May.

Then there is the air campaign. First she is front and centre: then the party panics and sees her wooden, unengaging and largely absent. John Prescott reports a senior Tory viewing the campaign as “a disaster”, and that opinion is surely not a one-off among the grandees, let alone the commentariat.

To round off her dismal campaign, she has made an awful blunder, not so much in boycotting the televised debates, but worse: sending a substitute and saying she is too busy “thinking about Brexit negotiations”. The optics, as they say, of such a high-handed approach are awful, and the natural response uncomplicated. “I’m sorry? Who was it actually called the election?”

The one ray of light on the horizon for the self-sabotaging May must surely be that the poll-narrowing currently taking place will probably be enough to animate her base to come to the polling station, rather than stay at home. Meaning she will win comfortably where she does not deserve to. But, then again, neither does her opposite number.

Ah yes, Labour. Where to start?

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Two rays of hope for Labour in the electoral post-apocalypse

18/05/2017, 03:29:26 PM

by Rob Marchant

Even for these unusual times, we might note that this is a highly unusual election.

First, it is a snap election, the first in over four decades. Labour is even more woefully unprepared than it would have been in 2020.

Second, it has local elections in the middle of the short campaign, for which there is no recent precedent (in 2001, when the general election was in June, the locals were too). It gives a highly unusual pre-poll to the general election.

Third, it has had the critical-for-Europe-and-the-world, French election in the middle of the short campaign as well. We’ll come on to that.

A recap of the glaringly obvious: It is difficult to see those local election results as anything but disastrous. Vote-share down to an appalling 27%. Governing party up rather than down in mid-term. In Scotland, SNP seats swinging away from them going to the Tories, not Labour.

The general election prognosis, then: the Tory lead likely to be between 12% and whatever that lead is currently polling (currently around 18%), as I have argued here. Around 16% gap would be a conservative estimate, which would give a Tory majority of 100. But taking YouGov’s regional polls – which one would expect to be more accurate – and extrapolating using the Electoral Calculus predictor, you can see the possibility of it being well over 200 seats.

If all this were not enough, Corbyn this week selected Stalin apologist, Andrew Murray, from the Stop the War Coalition, to lead Labour’s campaign. Imagine the reaction if the Tories appointed joined up a Nazi apologist from the BNP and then appointed them campaign chief. As one Labour insider commented to HuffPo’s Paul Waugh, Murray is to Corbyn as Steve Bannon is to Trump. An unapologetic extremist.

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Election 1997 20th anniversary: Trundling across the Yorkshire Dales in “that old jalopy”

01/05/2017, 02:51:04 PM

In a series of pieces, Uncut writers look back at election day 1997. Rob Marchant was the candidate in Skipton and Ripon.

The day was sunny, and my little Triumph Herald – referred to somewhat unkindly by my Tory opponent, David Curry, as “that old jalopy” – trundled its way across the Yorkshire Dales, blaring out D-Ream’s “Things Can Only Get Better” from a speaker strapped across its roof for the day by my friend Richard’s dad.

The campaign strategy in Skipton and Ripon, the Tory heartland constituency where I went to school, had been simple. Make any kind of noise at all to show them you’re alive, and people would come out for you who didn’t usually even realise there was a Labour candidate standing. Good people came out to help us. People who simply saw Labour as a force for good and would come out and leaflet with us in Ingleton, Settle or Skipton in the rain.

That sunny day, though, there was change in the air. Indeed, you felt that by merely repeating “Britain Deserves Better”, the campaign slogan, endlessly through the PA system, you were somehow personally willing the end of 18 years of Tory government, something that had become almost impossible to conceive.

The Tories had not only messed up the economy through its antics in the ERM, the forerunner to the Euro; they had given us the Poll Tax which taxed you regressively for having the temerity to vote; and the hated Section 28, which essentially institutionalised the idea that gay people were bad.

They had it coming. But the only reason for their longevity then, as now, had been the fundamental uselessness of Labour as an opposition over a long period. We needed only to get our act together, and they crumbled.

That evening, after three solid weeks of morning-till-night campaigning, I remember collapsing into an armchair, thinking that the exit polls were really looking pretty good. There was no Portillo moment for me: I woke up the next morning to attend my own count around lunchtime, the fact of not winning myself massively outweighed by the shining, stunning achievement of the first Labour government of my voting life.

We never going to win, of course, although 12,171 good-hearted Labour supporters helped us make a good dent. We didn’t care. Labour was in and, as Wordsworth wrote of the French Revolution, bliss was it in that dawn to be alive.

This was a very gentle, English kind of revolution, though. And for a brief moment a nation, which had spent a great deal of its recent past gazing nostalgically at its own navel, had become a little more tolerant, open and kind.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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Corbyn’s a disaster but we must fight, fight and fight again to save the party we love

19/04/2017, 10:11:48 PM

by Rob Marchant

It all seems so obvious now. But none of us was predicting it over breakfast yesterday, partly because Theresa May had several times denied it was a possibility. In some ways, it might have paid her to let Jeremy Corbyn stay in a few more years and hurt Labour’s polling more.

But the combination of the lack of a decent majority and the lack of legitimacy of a prime minister who has never gone to the polls, combined with Labour’s unprecedentedly awful polling made it a very modest gamble indeed. And leaders, to be a success, need to learn how to gamble when the odds are good.

News correspondents, bless them, for the purposes of unbiased reporting need to now pretend for the next seven weeks that Labour has a chance of winning. But no serious commentator is predicting any such thing. It is simply impossible. The party is in damage limitation in a way it is difficult to imagine it has ever been before. It is fighting for its life.

Its problems can be summarised in four points.

One: this is the Brexit election and Labour has no answers. Its leader pretended to be anti-Brexit but was really pro. He has now even stopped any pretence otherwise and the party’s message is therefore utterly confused. With the result that Labour is now mistrusted by many in both pro- and anti- camps. Worse, current polls show that voters care more about Brexit than they do political colours. So Labour can effortlessly be squeezed by UKIP and the Tories in some constituencies and the Lib Dems or Greens in others.

Two: the snap election means that Labour’s ground war will be its worst ever. This is the first snap election in forty-three years. There are very few staffers, if any, who even remember the last one.

Given the point in the parliamentary cycle, Labour has few new candidates selected, and had to endure hours yesterday of the prospect of the Leader’s office suicidally attempting to enforce mandatory reselections on the sitting MPs. Fortunately this was ultimately abandoned but not before souring relations at the top of the party even further.

The Tories won’t be much more advanced in terms of candidate selection, but in the marginals they should easily be able to find candidates who fancy a spell in Westminster and have a really very good chance of arriving there.

Although Labour has a little more from the influx of new members, it is still strapped for cash and will be easily outspent by the Tories.

Electoral data is two years out of date already and there is no time to update it. Their new, Corbyn-supporting activists will largely not door-knock and their old ones will struggle to motivate themselves.

In short, the party would have been poorly placed for street campaigning if it had the normal five years to prepare. This time it has seven weeks. (more…)

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Labour and anti-Semitism: can’t get the stink off

05/04/2017, 10:57:15 PM

by Rob Marchant

“Can’t get the stink off/He’s been hanging round for days”, wrote Thom Yorke in 1993. “You do it to yourself, you do/And that’s what really hurts”. Lines that could have been written for Labour’s troubled, Stockholm-syndrome relationship with one man. A man who is still hanging round a party which somehow cannot seem to shake him off, either.

Last Tuesday, Ken Livingstone was, essentially, let off. A man who for years has ridden perilously close to anti-Semitism in his behaviour – we shouldn’t forget the “concentration camp guard” incident with a Jewish journalist in 2005 – finally crossed the line a year ago when he decided to argue that Hitler was a Zionist.

It is difficult to overstate how offensive both remarks was to Jews.

First, the obvious: mentioning Hitler in this context immediately spells “Holocaust” in the minds of most Jews.

Second, because the term “Zionist” has lately become a term of abuse on the left and code for “Jew”, rather than its literal meaning of someone who believes in Israel’s right to exist (hardly a high bar for most people – if you don’t believe it has a right to exist, you must believe it should be destroyed and, presumably, all its inhabitants either killed or deported).

Third, because it is grossly insulting to pretend that Israel, for all its many faults, is directly comparable to a regime which systematically massacred a whole people – themselves – on grounds of their race.

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The “soft coup” might be on, but it surely ain’t from the right

24/03/2017, 06:41:00 PM

by Rob Marchant

For weeks now, the party’s left has been whispering about a “soft coup”. Ah, the old Soviet tactic, much beloved of today’s Vladimir Putin: confuse things by accusing your opponents of whatever you are up to yourself. Oh, and make them feel under attack, so they close ranks.

There is a coup going on, but it is clearly not the evil Blairites named by John McDonnell.

As revelations about Jon Lansman’s declared strategy for Momentum as an alternative power base to the party itself became public, it seems Monday night’s PLP meeting was converted into something of a showdown.

Corbyn jeered. Watson cheered. The PLP, depressed and muted for months since Corbyn’s re-election, suddenly found its voice.

And it was that same Tom Watson leading the charge – a loyalist clearly adept at unearthing the truth but in this case apparently with a couple of years’ time-lag.

(We should probably gloss over his part the plot to bring down Tony Blair; or the fact that, in the Falkirk selections debacle – in which his own parliamentary office was directly implicated, along with Unite, let us not forget – he helped lead to the change in the electoral system which let in Corbyn in the first place.)

And the revelation was that – hold the front page! – Momentum is actually organising for the takeover/destruction of the Labour Party (delete as applicable), just like Militant before it, in conjunction with that same Unite union. Where were you in 2015, Tom, when it was obvious to everyone? Or in 2013, when Unite were stitching up selections for the hard left?

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John McDonnell has finally lost it

06/03/2017, 12:49:39 PM

by Rob Marchant

It was a cold February morning, when the Shadow Chancellor finally gave in to his demons and went “full conspiracy theory”.

To be fair, he probably didn’t feel too well. Labour had just suffered a “historic” by-election defeat at the hands of the governing party, something unheard of in thirty-five years and with the biggest pro-incumbent vote increase in a half-century.

It all had to be, of course, the fault of the Blairites. Particularly the man himself for his recent intervention over Brexit, who will shortly celebrate a decade of, er, not being the leader of his party. Not to mention Lord Mandelson, the incarnation of all evil to a Corbynite.

As John Rogan pointed out last August, it’s not as if McDonnell holds views consistent with a life at the top table in a major political party. When the IRA came to the negotiating table, he said they could only settle for a united Ireland. The organisation he chairs, the Labour Representation Committee, in 2012 called for the release of all Irish “political prisoners”, including those who had murdered that same year, 14 years after the peace agreement.

In other words, McDonnell and his colleagues set themselves in a position considerably more uncompromising than Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, by then getting on with the substantially more serious business of governing Northern Ireland.

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