GRASSROOTS: Stormy waters lie ahead for Labour in local government, most of all in London where the conflict over ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ brings overtones of Brexit

20/10/2021, 10:32:16 PM

by Paul Wheeler

For generations Labour locally had a unique and enduring offer for working class communities. Labour councils provided decent and affordable housing for millions of families and in time their adult children, they offered high standards of education for their children and in many instances provided secure employment across a range of skills. In return those communities provided the bedrock of Labour support across a whole range of towns and cities.

But that solidarity has been shattered by decades of privatisation and council house sales and none of those essential services are now provided on any scale by local councils. More recently national politicians have urged supporters to view local elections as a referendum on the respective party in power centrally (‘send them a message’) much to the outrage of local councillors who wanted to be judged independently of their parties national standing.

But that strategy has faltered in recent elections. Local politics has become more transactional. This is most clearly seen in the rise of hyper localist independent groups bidding for council seats and usually aligned with a desire to maintain property values and stop any form of housing development. For the Conservatives the trend is most clearly seen in rural and suburban District Councils where they have lost control to an array of Residents Groups and Liberal Democrats trading on a localist anti-development platform

For Labour the trend is more complex. In many of its metropolitan councils and county councils the hyper-localist parties have been able to exploit long standing grievances in local Townships that the ‘Town Hall’ doesn’t understand or care about their concern. There was evidence of this in the recent Batley and Spen by-election in respect of the policies of the ‘remote’ Kirklees Council. Across conurbations such as Greater Manchester such discontent has translated into support for independent councillors in traditional Labour towns such as Radcliffe, Farnworth and Failsworth.

The Conservatives as the governing party have a range of responses to the rise of transactional politics. They can offer a range of financial incentives such as Town Fund Bids (which have an unerring tendency to be awarded to Tory councils and constituencies) to keep voters on board locally. They can also simply abolish troublesome District Councils as part of a wider move to larger unitary councils.

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UNCUT: Labour must bin its ‘Point of order, chair’ culture if we want a campaign machine that will beat the Tories

14/10/2021, 10:37:21 PM

by Anthony Lavelle

This piece is part of a new book “Labour’s Reset: The Path Back to Power”. Click here to download it. The book looks at the barriers for voters in picking Labour, what the party can do in opposition to tackle these issues and the type of policy platform that would attract switchers to Labour at the election

Just 11 years ago, we had a Labour Prime Minister in Downing Street, but even for a 26-year-old like me it feels much longer. In that time, we have lost four general elections in a row – the last, in 2019, disastrously so, securing the lowest number of Labour MPs since 1935. In the 12 years I have been a party member, only one of them has seen us in government. The rest have involved crushing defeats.

I remember attending a conference back in 2011. It was my first, and also the first time it was held in my home city of Liverpool. I was the youth delegate for my CLP and was the last delegate to be called to speak in a debate about ‘Refounding Labour’. I talked about why we must look to our traditions as a community-based movement where the voices of individual members were always valued. But we must also widen our horizons and never become inward-looking.

It was vital, I argued, that the public had a say in the future of our party and that we always reflected their priorities, channelled their hopes and desires and provided an open and optimistic vision for the future of our country; one that was inspiring but also rooted in relatable politics. If we do not listen, what chance do we have of being listened to?

Anyway, the rest is history, and here we are, a decade on and no nearer to power than we were back then. Despite a proud record of achievement during its thirteen years, the New Labour government lost its way and ended up with hundreds fewer councillors, thousands fewer members, and had five million voters turn away from us by the time we lost the 2010 general election.

By the time I got involved, the activist base had been seriously depleted and many members felt deeply disillusioned. Yet we need to remember that we are always the party that embraces hope, equality and prosperity for all, and that the Conservatives will always be the party of the few over the many (as they have shown with their National Insurance rise). It is cities like Liverpool, and communities like mine in Croxteth, that get a bad deal and suffer the most when Labour is not in power.

So, after too long in the political wilderness, and too much bickering in recent years, we must put our political differences aside and work together for a Labour victory at the next election, which may be only 18 months away. In recent years, however, many local parties have been taken over by activists who, in too many cases, perceive Labour’s time in government in a wholly negative way. There was ‘nothing to be proud of’ prior to 2015. The Iraq War is, and remains, a running sore (for understandable reasons, but the left does not have a monopoly on that).

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GRASSROOTS: Most of us know we won’t be the best. We do normal jobs and try to enjoy what we’ve got. Politicians should spend more time celebrating this

13/10/2021, 10:38:18 PM

by Jack Lesgrin

This is an age when we need to think the unthinkable, because we’re living at a time when the undoable is being done daily. Yet amazingly, the world does not stop spinning, because we adaptable humans, though reeling, continue to stumble onwards.

Just think about last week. Who predicted (answer: not the common man, not politicians and not academics), that there would be a global and British fuel and energy crisis? Or that government ministers would face the legitimate and unprovocative question “can you guarantee that the lights will stay on this winter?”.

Did any of us think there nearly wasn’t enough carbon dioxide for our entire meat processing industry, or enough gas to power manufacturing?

Did anybody predict that the Prime Minister would claim that unprecedented problems with the economy, such as a lack of abattoir workers, or lorry drivers, that are starting to render entire industries in danger of collapse, and national herds of animals at risk of fruitless slaughter, would be dismissed breezily as a necessary rebalancing of the economy after the great Brexit gamble?

My old favourite litmus test for modern political insanity, George Orwell, will surely be smiling or grimacing up there in heaven or its atheist equivalent, at a government whose leaders claimed that their chosen course in Brexit would lead to sunny uplands, dismissed those who warned in advance of economic problems as unpatriotic and fear-mongering, then manage, through a flick of the quill, to claim that the resulting economic calamities are actually a sign of improvement and a great benefit to the worst off.

What does this tell us about the nature of our lives in the year 2021, in the Restless Twenties? On the one level, governments make sure to guarantee the basics, hence we had furlough, and, thankfully, the welfare state protects us from the vicissitudes of the market.

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UNCUT: Labour has a historic opportunity to replace the Tories as the party backed by business

11/10/2021, 10:32:39 PM

by Jonathan Todd

This piece is part of a new book “Labour’s Reset: The Path Back to Power”. Click here to download it. The book looks at the barriers for voters in picking Labour, what the party can do in opposition to tackle these issues and the type of policy platform that would attract switchers to Labour at the election

Backing business should be a sine qua non of politics. Yet we now have a ‘fuck business’ prime minister,[1] who won an 80-seat majority against a Labour Party that the CBI characterised as, ‘proposing the biggest programme of renationalisation this country has ever seen at great cost with uncertain returns to the taxpayer’. As a result, Labour was then seen as being ‘at least as damaging’ as No Deal Brexit.[2]

Two political consequences follow:

  1. Such a prime minister offers Labour a chance to develop closer relations with business than the Conservatives.
  2. Labour’s 2019 manifesto is not the package with which to seize this opportunity.

‘I’m acutely aware that among my first tasks is rebuilding the relationship between the Labour party and business,’ Keir Starmer recently said, much to his credit.[3]

Around the same time as Starmer was saying this, the chief executive of the North East England Chamber of Commerce was writing to the prime minister asking him to give his ‘most urgent and personal attention’ to the ‘damage being done to our economy’ by the prime minister’s Brexit. Two weeks after receiving this letter, the prime minister had still not replied.[4]

Doing counterintuitive things often helps parties in opposition. A pro-business Labour confounds entrenched views of the party and confirms that we are under new management.

What Boris Johnson is getting wrong enlarges this opportunity for Labour. Equally, he is getting something right: optimism.

‘Remember that Barack Obama’s breakthrough owed a lot to the slogan, “yes we can.” The left needs to show that it can somehow improve things,’ writes Chris Dillow. ‘This requires not just policies, but the self-confidence to sell them. Johnson shows that politicians can succeed by not being scared of their own shadow. The left should learn from this.’[5]

Labour needs to articulate an optimism about the UK and a sense of purpose about what we can become.

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UNCUT: How not to lose culture wars

06/10/2021, 10:32:23 PM

This piece is part of a new book “Labour’s Reset: The Path Back to Power”. Click here to download it. The book looks at the barriers for voters in picking Labour, what the party can do in opposition to tackle these issues and the type of policy platform that would attract switchers to Labour at the election

by Rob Marchant

What is a culture war? From dictionary.com: it is ‘a conflict or struggle for dominance between groups within a society or between societies, arising from their differing beliefs, practices, etc.’

Culture wars are nothing new, but they are currently higher profile than ever, arguably because of (a) the political trend towards populism at home and abroad, and (b) the magnification of disagreement and polarised viewpoints via social media, providing the tools for instant public reaction. Whatever the explanation, it is clear that culture wars form a noticeable part of the current political Zeitgeist.

As a political party, you may not always get to win the culture war – sometimes, you may need to do the right thing in advance of public opinion, as Labour did in the 1980s on gay rights. However, it is useful not to lose them, and Labour seems to have been doing just that on some subjects.

Two major examples are antisemitism, where the new leadership has demonstrably taken the ‘right’ side but seems sluggish in following through to the end; and the vexed issue of trans rights, where the leadership has managed to stifle almost all debate and in doing so managed, seemingly oblivious, to alienate a large swathe of its female membership.

Not only have they surged with the proliferation of social media, but they have both used institutional capture as a way of determinedly promoting their agendas. Far-left entryists took over Labour for half of the last decade; and Stonewall’s worryingly driven zealots have spread themselves over large parts of Britain’s public and private sector, promoting equalities law not as it is, but as they would like it to be.

But there have been other examples over the last decade: ‘taking the knee’ may have been something that the public bought into around Euro 2020, but the linked association with the Black Lives Matter organisation ultimately turned out to be problematic. Being anti-austerity was justifiable, but the UK Cuts movement and the 2011 London demo were decidedly not; Ed Miliband was left with egg on his face. Labour’s association with such single-issue movements over the last decade has generally later turned out to look unwise.

So, here we set out a few thoughts for Labour on how not to lose the culture wars:

1.Think carefully before wading in and do not pick the stupid side. There are often issues around a ‘culture war’ position that need to be considered; for example, are we getting into one or more of the following?

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UNCUT: Another stab in the back myth: The hard left is trying to blame the 2019 defeat on Starmer and the party’s Brexit policy. One problem. I’ve got the receipts

03/10/2021, 10:24:02 PM

by Patrick Heneghan

The rewriting of history is underway. The charge is that Labour lost the last election because of our Brexit policy which was led by Keir Starmer. Len McCluskey was at it during interviews to promote his book and at the end of last week Andrew Fisher was writing about it.

While it’s obviously true that Keir Starmer was Shadow Brexit Secretary, the muddled Brexit policy Labour put before the electorate in 2019 was by no means Starmer’s policy – in fact the position Labour adopted was then hailed as a victory for Corbyn over the pro European wing of the Party. And you don’t need to take my word for it, I’ve been back over the comments and articles from the time, and they tell a very different story about how and why Labour ended up with the Brexit policy it did.

The real pressure to change the position on Brexit began after the 2019 Euro Elections. Labour had recorded less than 15% of the vote – it’s lowest ever vote share in a national election.

Following those elections, it was no secret that Corbyn’s most inner circle was split. Diane Abbott was clear “something is wrong with our strategy. We need to listen to our members and take a clearer line on a public vote” and John McDonnell responded to the results by stating “we must unite our party & country by taking the issue back to (the) people in a public vote.”

Momentum, had already balloted their members, the results of which showed clear support for a second referendum.

The Guardian reported that Len McCluskey was accusing some of those calling for a second referendum of trying to whip up a coup against Corbyn. Did he mean John, Diane, and Momentum?

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UNCUT: Revealed: New polling shows most swing voters believe their household finances will be better under a Labour government than the Tories

02/10/2021, 09:18:28 PM

by Atul Hatwal

The full analysis of these polling figures is in a new book “Labour’s Reset: The Path Back to Power” released this week. Click here to download it. The book looks at the barriers for voters in picking Labour, what the party can do in opposition to tackle these issues and the type of policy platform that would attract switchers to Labour at the election

Exclusive polling conducted for Labour Uncut by Yonder (the new name for Populus) has revealed that a majority of swing voters believe their household finances will be worse under a Conservative government compared to a Labour government.

Traditionally, the Conservatives have won the electoral war of the wallet with voters tending to believe their personal finances will be better off under the Tories than Labour, even when Labour is in the ascendant.

However, this latest polling shows that there’s an 11% majority, 46% to 35% among prospective Labour switchers that disagreed with the statement “I think my household will be better off under the Conservatives than Labour”

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UNCUT: Johnson and Frost’s attitude to the Northern Ireland Protocol repeats the Tories’ worst habits in relation to Ireland

01/10/2021, 09:02:41 PM

by Matthew O’Toole

This piece is part of a new book “Labour’s Reset: The Path Back to Power” released this week. Click here to download it. The book looks at the barriers for voters in picking Labour, what the party can do in opposition to tackle these issues and the type of policy platform that would attract switchers to Labour at the election

If Boris Johnson actually cared it wouldn’t be so bad. His and his government’s wilful disavowal of a treaty they signed (and trumpeted in an election campaign), their intermittent gaslighting of people and businesses in Northern Ireland – if any of it was based on sincere conviction it would be easier to stomach. The empowering of extremists representing glorified crime gangs, the naked refusal to acknowledge the plain facts of international trade.

Political actors in Northern Ireland of all shades don’t just distrust the Johnson Government and its approach to the Protocol, they – we – are disoriented by it. Since everyone has been lied to, there is now next to no reserve of trust from which UK ministers can draw as Brexit makes relationships sharper and more difficult. So, what should happen now? Part of the answer lies in remembering the lessons of the past: the importance of delivering on commitments made in good faith and avoiding the crude assertion of British sovereignty in Northern Ireland as if it were the same as Suffolk.

Conservative indifference to the consequences for the island of Ireland of English political choices is nothing new. Whatever Northern Ireland’s future constitutional arrangements, defending pluralist institutions and British-Irish relations from thuggish Tory nationalism will require an active and engaged Labour Party. That should start with delivery of the complex and imperfect commitments in the EU withdrawal agreement.

One hundred years ago, the Westminster political class was bored of Ireland. The subject had dominated Parliamentary debate on a recurring basis for at least four decades. From the perspectives of both those Liberals – and Labour – who had supported successive attempts at Home Rule, and the Tories who had opposed them, first in relation to all of Ireland and latterly for the province of Ulster, the complicated denouement of 1920 and 1921 signalled time to move on from the Irish question.

First, the Government of Ireland Act of 1920 provided for the exclusion of six northern counties from any form of self-governing proto-independent state. Then after months more of fighting between republicans and the British state, by the end of 1921 a treaty providing a ‘Free State’ with dominion status in the other 26 counties was agreed between Lloyd George’s Government and Sinn Fein, which subsequently split but with the treaty itself surviving.

As Charles Townshend’s new book on partition points out, by 1921 many MPs were exasperated at the oxygen consumed by the ‘Irish question’ – and the demands of unionism very much included in that category. Then, as now, there was a striking disinclination to view said Irish question as one in which English politics and English power were implicated, or to put it more directly: one for which English politicians were in large part responsible. For better or worse, Irish issues were to be marginal in British politics (notwithstanding the fact that part of Ireland remained in the UK) for the next half century. In that sense, one of the key aims of Lloyd George’s Government – to stop talking about Ireland – was overwhelmingly delivered.

What does any of this have to do with 2021, and the question of how the UK Government – and British politics in general – approaches the implementation of another treaty, the EU withdrawal agreement and specifically the Protocol on Northern Ireland? It is to demonstrate that nothing happens in the British-Irish relationship outside the historical burden of that relationship; and that relationship is marked by asymmetry of both power and knowledge. Where London possesses the greater power – and not only over the jurisdiction where it is the sovereign power – Ireland (by which I mean the island and both historic ‘traditions’) possesses the greater memory and knowledge, of both historical fact and grievance.

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UNCUT: Don’t expect buyer’s remorse – it is going to take hard slog to rebuild the Red Wall

29/09/2021, 08:54:35 AM

by Jo Platt

This piece is part of a new book “Labour’s Reset: The Path Back to Power” released yesterday. Click here to download it. The book looks at the barriers for voters in picking Labour, what the party can do in opposition to tackle these issues and the type of policy platform that would attract switchers to Labour at the election

People in Leigh call their neighbours in Wigan ‘pie eaters’. It is not a comment on their culinary habits; it refers to the 1926 general strike where Wigan miners were said to have gone back to work sooner than those in Leigh. It is hardly surprising, then, that the parliamentary seat was solidly Labour from 1922 onwards. (And Liberal before that, with the Manchester Guardian owner, CP Scott, once representing the town.)

That was, of course, until November 2019. I was the unfortunate losing candidate – after first being elected in 2017 – as Labour was mown down, not only in dozens of so-called ‘Red Wall’ seats, but in the traditional coal and steel seats that today have Conservative MPs.

Coal and steel seats

For Leigh, read Bassetlaw, Blyth Valley, Bolsover, Redcar, Rother Valley or Penistone and Stocksbridge. These are places where Labour is in the local DNA, but they all fell to the Tories, many for the first time in decades, if not the first time ever. In fact, if it was not for the Brexit party splitting the Conservative vote, things would have been much worse and we would have lost dozens more seats, with even places like Barnsley – the epicentre of the Miner’s Strike – in danger of turning blue. (The absence of the Brexit party helps to explain why we lost the Hartlepool by-election in May.) All of which is an around about way of saying that we should count our blessings. The hole we find ourselves in as a party could have been even deeper.

Horrific campaign

Let me return to the 2019 campaign. Our experience on the doorstep was just awful. In fact, horrific is the word I would use. It was a hot reception – and, also, an icy one. Hot in that everyone seemed angry. Read the rest of this entry »

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UNCUT: Labour leadership’s achievements overshadowed by its tin ear

28/09/2021, 10:46:10 PM

by Rob Marchant

Labour, despite what you might think after the last few days, is back on the road to recovery. The consolidation of the leadership’s upper hand over the rump Corbynites has been sure-footed. It has won key votes on an independent complaints process to finish the job on anti-Semitism, as well as rule changes to make it very hard for any repeat performance of the Corbyn years, where a tiny tail of hard-lefties flooded the party with entryists, in order to wag the Labour party dog. Yes, it didn’t manage to get to fully reverting leadership elections to the electoral college but that was, frankly, the icing on the cake.

There is, of course, a but.

Labour’s problem so far this week is that no-one has really noticed all that good stuff, because of its abysmal management of its media spotlight since Saturday, where a catalogue of unforced errors has left it reeling.

First came Angela Rayner’s “scum” diatribe against the Tories, in a fringe meeting on Saturday night. If our Deputy Leader genuinely thinks that kind of language will have helped woo floating voters, then we should be asking very serious questions about her judgement.

Then our normally-sensible leader, the lawyerly former barrister and DPP, managed to wobble and bluster like a rookie country lawyer when questioned by Andrew Marr on Sunday morning about whether it is ok to say, as Rosie Duffield MP did, that only women have a cervix.

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