UNCUT: Is Labour listening to voters enough? Not yet.

18/05/2022, 10:25:34 PM

by Paul Wheeler

As a party organiser in the 1980’s I was charged with organising ‘Labour Listens’ events. The idea was that Labour MPs and councillors would respectively listen to an audience of voters on what Labour needed to do to win their vote.

It worked up to a point although the average time before one of the politicians broke their silence  was about ten minutes. It was more successful in allowing the then Labour Leader Neil Kinnock a platform to move away from a series of policies that were popular with activists, such as unilateral nuclear disarmament, and rather less so with the average voter. Sadly, it didn’t work for Neil’s bid to be PM, but a willingness to listen to the voters paved the way for our electoral success in 1997

As the full results of this month’s local election become clearer it’s evident that Labour fortunes were distinctly weaker the further you travelled from Central London. It’s not a good result when the Tories lose over 300 council seats and we gain barely 30.

So maybe It’s time for an updated ‘Labour Listens’? If so here’s two issues we can put out there for a wider conversation

David Evans the robust General Secretary is reputed to be a fan of the Values Mode analysis of social groups and voting behaviour. One of the key groups are what might be called’ ‘Prospectors’ those driven by a desire to succeed but also a strong sense of community and family values. Liverpool has a lot of them as do many ethnic groups whose support for Labour has been vital. Many rely on their vehicles to earn an increasingly precarious living as self- employed drivers and tradespeople. The outright hostility of many Labour councils to these elements of the working class through the imposition of driving restrictions and low/no traffic neighbourhoods has alienated many and was certainly a factor in the surprise loss of Tower Hamlets council. Thankfully Andy Burnham as Mayor of Greater Manchester successfully gained a deferral of a low emission zone there until the Government committed to additional funding.

If Labour can be accused of zealotry in its approach to the millions of motorists, it is minor when compared to its current attitude to the vexed issue of women’s rights and representation.

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UNCUT: Starmer has inadvertently arrived at his Clause Four moment

10/05/2022, 08:07:01 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Fortune favours the bold and if that hoary old claim stands the test of time, Keir Starmer should emerge from ‘beergate’ strengthened.

His announcement yesterday that he will resign as Labour leader if Durham police find he breached lockdown regulations following his campaign visit to the county in April 2021 for the local elections, has convulsed British politics.

Surely, he’s not prepared to play Russian Roulette with his very career?

Well, yes, he is.

The particulars of the case are now drearily familiar.

Did the perfectly bog-standard campaign visit, which involved a beer and a curry for Starmer and campaign workers constitute a party, or were they merely grabbing a drink and a bite to eat after the working day.

Addressing the incessant questioning that has swirled around his account of events head on, his statement this afternoon confirming his intentions was simple and direct.

He had done nothing wrong and complied with the rules, he said.

His critics in the right-wing media ‘didn’t believe it themselves’ and were just trying to ‘feed cynicism’ and get the public to accept ‘all politicians are the same.’

‘I’m here to say they are not,’ he added. ‘I believe in honour, integrity and the principle that those who make the laws should follow them.’

A bit corny, but heartfelt, too.

The ever-sagacious John McTernan, Tony Blair’s former political secretary told Radio Four that parking the issue would create much-needed breathing space, allowing Starmer to get properly stuck into the Queen’s Speech, without enduring the catcalls of Tory MPs and incessant questioning of salivating reporters.

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UNCUT: Whatever happens, Keir Starmer has put Labour on track for government

09/05/2022, 09:43:34 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The local elections showed that Keir Starmer has put Labour on a trajectory to form the next government, irrespective of whether a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) prevents him making it to Downing Street.

I offered 5 reasons for Labour optimism at the end of last year. Each has strengthened.

  1. Boris Johnson will never again be the political force that he was in December 2019

The unique circumstances of the 2019 general election will never be repeated. They were unusually favourable to Johnson.

Now he is one of the least popular prime ministers ever and blamed by his party for larger than expected losses in the local elections.

There is little sunlight on Johnson’s horizon. Cost of living crisis. Record NHS waiting lists. Northern Irish unrest bound up with his Brexit deal.

Many leaders suffer midterm challenges and recover. Johnson may be another. But he confronts big problems, which will not create a context as hospitable as December 2019.

  1. The next general election will not be about Brexit

We – as I wrote last December – are tired of Brexit. We do not want to refight old battles. We just want things to work properly.

But things are not working properly. In Northern Ireland. At our borders. With our exports. These problems all follow from Johnson’s Brexit.

If only these were the only failures of 12 years of Tory government. The rot of austerity and endemic poverty goes deep.

We see this all around us: homelessness and food banks; whenever we try to access NHS services; when we work long hours to not meet ever rising bills. These Tory failures hobble our civic life and economic performance.

We cannot sustain the growth needed to pay for the public services that we need. The Tory response is to further weigh us down with taxes. They are, as Rachel Reeves has said, a party of high taxes because they are a party of low growth.

The right approach is to liberate our potential. We are so much better than they have allowed us to believe. We can thrive with proper backing.

The next election won’t be about ‘getting Brexit done’ but getting Britain started. It is a turn the page election. The next Tory page is ‘Brexit opportunities’ and ‘levelling up’.

Labour needs messages and messengers to own the future much more convincingly.

  1. Johnson’s kingdom of sand bequeaths little to the next Tory leader

In the morning of his 1997 defeat, John Major drew warm applause from Tory activists for saying that they could look back with pride on what they had achieved in government. Applause in equivalent circumstances in 2024 will be entirely hollow.

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UNCUT: Keir Starmer is attempting to do in 4 years what took Kinnock and Blair, fourteen. It’s time media narratives reflected this reality

08/05/2022, 08:30:11 AM

by David Talbot

New Labour is back in vogue. Judging by the sleek BBC documentaries and a buttonless Blair marking 25 years since his landslide victory, there has been much to savour for those who wish to bathe in nostalgia. None more so than the media, who in a bout of coalescing has decided that the only way elections are now won is if ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ is the theme tune.

As the 2022 local election results filtered through, much of the commentary fixated on Labour falling short of a 1997 Blair-era victory for Sir Keir Starmer. Few suggest that Labour is about to replicate the political meteorite that hit the British political landscape in the late 1990s. For one, Labour’s base is 70 seats lower than what Blair inherited in 1994. The party must win 124 seats – only twenty seats shy of its historic gains in 1997 – at the next election to have a majority of 1.

Labour has, though, fitted the angst of its internal struggles throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s into the spasm of four short years. Which other leader of a major political party would have to inform its membership, as Starmer did at party conference last September, that power “is the object of the exercise”.

Moreover, if general elections over the past decade or so have underlined one trend at all it is that – apart from the Conservative juggernaut of 2019 – the nation has struggled to come to a verdict at all. There is now a patchwork of peculiar local results; national swings broke down in the 1970s, and now even regional swings are a metric of the past.

This new electoral landscape has yet to filter through to the media’s framing of elections held in the twenty twenties. In the 1990s, it was ‘Essex Man’ and ‘Worcester Woman’ that were the mythical and much sought after floating voter. Today, it is of course the ubiquitous Red Wall, which extends as far down as Thurrock, according to some commentary, and 1990s re-trends such as ‘Workington Man’.

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UNCUT: Starmer is doing well, everywhere except defending women’s rights

15/02/2022, 07:40:44 AM

by Rob Marchant

The best part of two years ago at Uncut, we set out eight things that then-incoming leader Keir Starmer would need to fix, in order to get Labour’s rusty ship back in seaworthy condition, after the battering of the Corbyn years.

Three were a slam-dunk: the party quickly got a new General Secretary after the terrible Jennie Formby; Starmer has ignored Momentum, while they have split and withered on the vine; and the NEC has been wrested away from the Corbynites. So far, so good

Four more were more tricky areas and were never going to be resolved quickly, but Labour has still made progress.

On antisemitism, there is clearly still work to do. The antisemites are not all gone: there are eminently reasonable, moderate Jews on the liberal-left who do not yet see the party as detoxified, and not without reason. The party’s bungling of Corbyn’s suspension did not help. On the other hand, the relationship with the Jewish community has undoubtedly improved, for example, to the point of Dame Louise Ellman feeling that she could rejoin.

On the others: Unite’s stranglehold on party funding has not yet been broken, although the union’s own money problems and a less Labour-centric General Secretary at the helm means that it certainly has reduced its influence and may well reduce further. The Scottish party is not rebuilt but, in Anas Sarwar, it has its first credible and effective leader in years. It has allowed a number of people who left over antisemitism to rejoin, but of those who left to form Change UK and stood against Labour in the 2019 election, none have so far rejoined. This seems tragic, given the unique circumstances of their leaving: they were principled resignees not political opportunists.

All this is cautiously good news: even if all the damage of the Corbyn years has yet to be undone, solid, if sometimes frustratingly slow, progress is being made back towards sanity.

It is only on the eighth and final point, where we come to the ‘D’ in Labour’s report card: “Get the party into a sensible place on trans self-id”. And that is not just because there is a clear moral imperative to defend the hard-won rights of women, now under attack. It is because it has the same potential to corrode the party and its public image as antisemitism did during 2015-20.

It is, in short, the new antisemitism.

If you think that a stretch, first bear in mind that Starmer’s first-ever conference as leader last September was very nearly derailed by car-crash interviews with David Lammy and Starmer himself, when asked basic questions on womanhood and women’s rights.

But if there were a point in time which would underline to Keir Starmer precisely why he can no longer afford to sit on the fence in the debate between women’s rights and trans rights, it was surely this last weekend.

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UNCUT: The biggest danger for Labour is to believe “one more heave” will be good enough

01/02/2022, 10:40:13 PM

by David Talbot

A Conservative government mired in sleaze and hapless incompetence, a jostling, ambitious Cabinet plotting against a bloodied Prime Minister and a resurgent Labour with sustained poll leads. For the Labour Party, after 12 long years in opposition, some of it spent in sheer shame, and a lot of it wasted, it is tempting to view the disintegrating spectacle of the Johnsonian premiership as its best chance to win a general election in almost two decades. It is a moment of opportunity, and extreme hazard.

The danger for a party that has become so accustomed to losing, as Labour had done by the 1990s, is that each and every wound inflicted upon the Conservatives is met with a raucous grin and a slouching of the shoulders. Many within Labour three decades ago were so desperate to put the party in government by any means, but the dominant philosophy that emerged post 1992 was that of “one more heave”.

It was a disastrous signal not only to the electorate, but to the party itself. Attaining power is never a given. This incremental, cautious approach attracted increasing ire as Labour waited somewhat listlessly for the next general election. A forceful warning came from a traditional foe, the pages of the Spectator, in 1994:

“Labour are so used to enjoying the Tories troubles that they have stopped thinking about their own. If the current line is held to the election, the ducking and diving of Labour will be as big a turn off as the deceit and dissembling of Conservative ministers”.

Alastair Campbell, the article’s author, would of course go on to play a leading role in changing the course of Labour’s trajectory for the better part of a decade.

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UNCUT: The Uncuts: 2021 Political Awards (Part III)

01/01/2022, 09:46:19 AM

Political Bravery Award: The women who stood up for Gender Critical beliefs

2021 may well go down as the year that it became impossible to ignore the clash between the ongoing campaign for transgender people to be able to self-identify themselves as the opposite sex, and the women’s and children’s rights on which this campaign impinges.

It was also the year when the BBC finally realised Stonewall, at the centre of this campaign in the UK, was a political lobbyist rather than a neutral service provider. And so, it finally left its Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme only after a piece of brilliant radio journalisism by the BBC’s very own Stephen Nolan and David Thompson. It was the two Ulstermen’s ten-part series which methodically exposed the sharp practice that Stonewall had been pulling off for years, with hundreds of companies: assess them for “diversity”, and then sell their services to those same companies to fill the gaps identified. Conflict of interests? Us?

But perhaps most importantly, the “cancellation” of figures who challenge the Stonewall-driven conventional wisdom – that men should be able to get access to women’s spaces by dint of simply saying that they identify as one – continues apace. It continues even to the point of apparently being official Labour policy, much to the dismay of many of its members and voters. Partly for this reason – with a few noble exceptions – it has mostly fallen to non-politicians to take a political stand on this.

Now this year, as for the last several years, J K Rowling – in the face of a furious backlash from the entertainment and literary industries – has been in the news for periodic, uncompromising tweets and articles on women’s rights. To a large extent, she has acted as not just a British but a global figurehead for the many, many women who refuse to be told to pipe down on this issue.

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UNCUT: The Uncuts: 2021 Political Awards (Part II)

31/12/2021, 07:11:04 PM

Culture War Winners: The England football team

England might have been denied the European Championship, but by the time the final Italian penalty went in, they had won arguably a more significant prize: victors in the battle of bended knee, the England football team effectively ended the main phase of the UK’s culture wars.

Priti Patel, Boris Johnson, various Tory MPs and right-wing commentators had bloviated about “gesture politics” and the Marxist connotations of taking the knee in the run-up to the European Championships. It was the high season of the Johnson premiership and the prevailing narrative was of an extraordinary leader who had used Brexit and cultural values to remake politics in the UK. The attack, like over Brexit, was on the values of the left for being unpatriotic, un-British and in direct opposition to the mainstream view of the country.

At the start, few in politics expected a team of pampered millionaires prone to serial under-performance when it mattered most, to win the argument. But the England team stood, and knelt, together. And most importantly, they won football matches.

This might have turned out very differently had they been dumped out of the tournament in the group stage. But they weren’t, they made it all the way to the final, capturing the imagination of England en route.

Suddenly, a new cast of characters were the ones who were unpatriotic for attacking the national football team. Tory MPs like Lee Anderson, who boycotted England matches because they took the knee, were made to look like fools. Drowned in the hope and adulation of a nation that backed their football team. The polls moved conclusively with the majority for those supporting the knee rising from +13% to +24%.

Unsurprisingly, since then, there has been very little from the Government or its outriders attempting to open new fronts in the culture wars. Their defeat was conclusive and has marked a shift in the battleground of politics. To appropriate the Sun’s headline after the 1992 general election, “It was England wot won it”

Own Goal of the Year: Owen Paterson Read the rest of this entry »

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UNCUT: The Uncuts: 2021 Political Awards (Part I)

31/12/2021, 09:50:22 AM

Political Comeback Of The Year: Keir Starmer

On the morning of Sunday May 9th , Keir Starmer was on political life support. Labour had lost the Hartlepool by-election the previous Thursday and then his attempted reshuffle had been blown up by Angela Rayner refusing to go quietly. The headlines for Labour and its leader were dire. There seemed to be a real chance that Keir Starmer might not make it to the end of the year in post.

But here we are, at the back of 2021 and Labour has a solid lead in the polls with its leader ahead of Boris Johnson on just about every metric. Keir Starmer even delivered a reshuffle that has reinvigorated the shadow cabinet, marginalised the left and palpably diminished the power of his turbulent deputy.

What went right?

Boris Johnson obviously has played a large part in the shift. Few could have anticipated the missteps over Owen Paterson, the video and photos of lockdown breaking Christmas celebrations in 2020 and the loss of a 23,000 majority in North Shropshire.

But these mistakes have only accelerated a trend that was evident back in the dark days of May.

At Uncut, on May 19th, we wrote that the vaccine bounce was obscuring the underlying position in British politics – namely that the parties were likely level pegging, a reality that would become evident once the vaccine bounce subsided.

And so, it has come to pass.

Keir Starmer’s achievement has been in holding fast to his basic approach. Unlike the voices in May who called for an immediate new direction, for tomes of policy to be rushed through, for panic measures, he has demonstrated a rare skill in modern politics: to wait. He remained calm, at least outwardly, waiting to make his case to the public until the worst of the pandemic was in the rear-view mirror.

The news cycle for a major event moves from reporting of the facts to the first wave of comment within a couple of hours. There’s then a further wave of comment reacting to the initial comment within another few hours, generally crystallising around a set of demands for action in a third wave of comment, which is then pitched at politicians for a binary yes or no answer. Should X be sacked? Do you disavow your position on Y? Will you resign if Z happens?

A cycle which would have taken several days to unwind twenty years ago, now occurs within hours. It’s a rollercoaster where the imperative is on politicians to act ‘decisively’. And then do so again the next day on the next issue, and again later that week and on and on. Keir Starmer is a rather an old fashioned politician who doesn’t.

It’s a strategy that carries risk. Persistently rejecting demands for instant action, over weeks and months, builds a meta-narrative of inertia and weakness. It’s a story that the Labour left have done their best to tell to undermine and topple the leader.

But the polling over the past month doesn’t lie and ultimately Keir Starmer has called it right. He’s moved on his own terms when the timing and circumstances were propitious and put himself in the best position to capitalise when Boris Johnson’s manifest failings became electorally evident. More please in 2022.

International Politician of the Year: Olaf Scholz

Germany is under new management. Labour’s sister party now leads Europe’s economic powerhouse and political centre of gravity. Olaf Scholz is our international politician of the year for ending the Angela Merkel era with this sea change victory.

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UNCUT: It is time to start believing – Labour can win the next general election

28/12/2021, 10:32:27 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Labour doubters should become believers about our general election prospects. Here are five reasons for optimism:

  1. Boris Johnson will never again be the political force that he was in December 2019

Labour misfired in enabling the December 2019 election and in the campaign, proving that something (Get Brexit Done) beats nothing (Labour’s implausible Brexit policy).

Johnson was fortunate in his opponents but ruthless in seizing the opportunities that they afforded him. He will never be so lucky or commanding again.

“All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory.”

Patrick Radden Keefe opens his bestselling book about Northern Ireland with this quote from Viet Thanh Nguyen.

We have all fought on the battlefields of Covid. These painful memories now meet the troubling reality that our sacrifices were not matched in Downing Street.

Johnson secured this residence by telling a battle-weary country that he would end the Brexit wars. Now Lord Frost has resigned from his government because Brexit is not done.

  1. The next general election will not be about Brexit

Liz Truss has added Lord Frost’s Brexit responsibilities to her Foreign Policy portfolio. She might come to the same conclusion that Johnson came to when holding that office: the best way to promotion is to resign and attack the prime minister from the right on Brexit.

This manoeuvre might work for Truss with the Conservative Party. It won’t work with the rest of the country.

We are tired of Brexit. We do not want to refight old battles. We just want things to work properly.

Covid is now, of course, the biggest barrier to normal life and Johnson’s inability to meet this challenge is central to his diminishment. It remains to be seen whether Covid will be the core issue of the next general election. Hopefully, because we will have decisively moved beyond Covid’s pandemic phase, not.

But Brexit, the issue that galvanised the Conservatives 2019 voting coalition, won’t be.

  1. Johnson’s kingdom of sand bequeaths little to the next Tory leader

John Major could take the rough edges off Thatcherism and win in 1992. There are plenty of rough edges for a Tory successor to Johnson to polish. But little coherent mission.

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