In the most important union election in decades, Coyne is the only choice to rehabilitate Unite and Labour

10/07/2021, 09:28:41 PM

by Rob Marchant

This is not an idle claim. In the 1980s, the unions were still largely regarded as centrist ballast against the worst excesses of a hard left spearheaded by figures such as Derek Hatton, Ted Knight, Eric Heffer, and Tony Benn. But they are so no longer: over the last decade, unions have been way to the left of the party, and that has had a major impact on its political direction.

And never, prior to Corbynism, has the party been so much under the thumb of a single union leader. Len McCluskey’s place-people sat for five years at the heart of power in the party.

Admittedly, it is less so now – scandal-hit McCluskey is now a busted flush and Unite in an interregnum until the new leader is chosen – but that could easily turn out to be a temporary state of affairs. Choose the wrong leader and, doubt it not, there will be a return to the bad old days.

At this point there is the clearest of choices: forward into a world where corruption, far-left politics and what can only be described as political blackmail become a thing of the past in the party; or backwards, Unite once again dragging Labour towards an electoral abyss and providing a rallying-point – and, most importantly, deep pockets – for the far left.

Its propaganda. Its vexatious prosecutions. Its expensive-yet-futile legal defences of its chosen sons and daughters and its vanity projects. All areas on which it openly squanders its members’ subs.

Gerard Coyne has not only shown himself an honourable candidate, looking to wipe out corruption in the face of terrible attacks on him personally and professionally (you may recall he was sacked by McCluskey in 2017, on apparently trumped-up charges). But he is self-evidently the only candidate interested in prioritising the labour rights of Unite’s members over far-left politicking.

Yes, it is a relief that McCluskey’s most obviously-annointed successor, the tainted Howard Beckett – currently suspended from Labour after a race-tinged tweet about Priti Patel and previously embroiled in a miners’ compensation fund scandal every bit as dodgy as that of another Corbynite, Ian Lavery MP – has withdrawn.

But the two remaining candidates, Steve Turner and Sharon Graham, despite seeming marginally less combative towards the Labour Party under Keir Starmer than Beckett, both have pretty much exactly the same far-left politics as him. Furthermore, after the deal Turner did with him to drop out, it seems a reasonable bet that Beckett will have a significant role in any Unite led by him.

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Are we really going to see the Second Coming of St Tony?

28/06/2021, 10:38:48 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Tony Blair always struck me as an unlikely convert to Catholicism. He is much too messianic. He would have made a great evangelical though, or even a cult leader. The Branch Tonyians, perhaps?

The idea of him returning to British domestic politics, descending from the skies as the clouds part to lead us once again in His Second Coming, is fantastically absurd.

Yet that is precisely what the Sunday Times reported yesterday.

‘Labour sources say Blairites have abandoned hope that Starmer can save the party and a small group is trying to convince Blair to return to the Commons.

‘The Labour peer, Andrew Adonis is at the heart of a network of Blairites who believe he is the only leader who could win a Labour majority…’

Seriously?

Its the kind of story the papers run on April 1 – a spoof with just enough in it to hoodwink readers that have overlooked the date.

Don’t get me wrong, Tony Blair had a good run, serving as prime minister for a decade, winning three thumping elections along the way, but he is now past tense. Seeking to disinter him from his political sarcophagus, like Dracula in a Hammer horror film, is proper death cultist stuff.

Granted, there is a very funny mood in Labourland this week ahead of the Batley and Spen by-election, where there is a strong prospect of the party losing the seat, and even some siren voices predicting it could crash to third place behind George Galloway.

People are jittery and there are clearly figures in the party like Adonis that do not believe Keir Starmer is on the path to winning ways, yet the suggestion that a better way forward is to bring back Blair – fourteen years after he quit as PM – is demented. A comical absurdity.

The serious point is that it is a silly distraction from the work of shaping a new political project that can succeed in radically different times to those that Blair – and Adonis – governed in.

And what of Mr. Blair, you ask?

The Sunday Times report added: ‘His spokeswoman said: “His view is that he is not considering doing this.”

So that’s not a no, then?

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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Bercow is yesterday’s man, why is Labour indulging him?

22/06/2021, 01:56:09 PM

by Kevin Meagher

I am not sure what voters will make of John Bercow’s defection to Labour at the weekend. I suspect the answer is “not much.”

It is hard not to interpret the former commons speaker’s move as a fit of pique over the prime minister denying him a peerage, rather than some damascene conversion to socialism.

Spurned by his erstwhile colleagues, he’s just trying his luck on the other side of the political aisle, isn’t he?

Bercow implies this is not the case.

Speaking to Trevor Philips on Sunday, he claimed there had been ‘absolutely no conversations whatsoever’ about a peerage, either with Keir Starmer or his team.

He added: ‘And if I may very politely say so, and I do, the people who make what they think is that potent and coruscating criticism of me are operating according to their own low standards.’

Of course, denying there have been recent talks about Labour putting him forward for a peerage is not the same thing as Bercow rejecting the very notion that he would accept one.

Indeed, this morning’s Times reports that he met with Jeremy Corbyn’s team in the days following the 2019 general election to discuss his nomination to the Lords:

‘He then wrote to Corbyn’s office with a reference in which he boasted of his four honorary degrees, “no fewer than five shadow ministerial roles,” a stint as deputy leader of the Tory group on Lambeth council, and experience as a tennis coach.’

In his defence, Bercow was undoubtedly a fine speaker, certainly when it came to checking the authority of the executive and championing the rights of backbenchers.

However, does this wipe clean his previous form as a grisly ultra-right-wing Tory, on the lunatic fringe of his party. A former member of the fascistic Monday Club in his younger days, no less. The group that supported ‘assisted’ repatriation of Commonwealth migrants and loyalist terror in Northern Ireland.

Granted, Bercow’s politics seem to have undergone a dramatic conversion; the mellowing of middle-age, perhaps? Alas, his insufferable pomposity remains.

When asked if Keir Starmer would become prime minister, he told Trevor Philips that ‘the jury is out,’ adding that the Labour leader was ‘decent, honourable and intelligent,’ although not in the same league as Bill Clinton or Barack Obama.

Man of the people, Bercow is not.

There is also the fact (how can I put this delicately) that he’s a has-been.

Joining Labour straight after he quit the speaker’s chair, or as soon as Keir Starmer was elected Labour leader might have created a bit more of a stir, but it is hard to see what Labour gets from this move at this stage.

Apart from a few die-hard Remaniacs, who credit Bercow with trying to stymie Brexit, and a few constitutional bores who think it is somehow a big deal that a former speaker has not automatically been elevated to the peerage, who cares what he does?

Having ‘generally voted’ for a wholly elected House of Lords, according to TheyWorkForYou.com, perhaps Bercow can avoid any charge of hypocrisy and check his future ambitions by waiting  until there is an elected second chamber?

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut 

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Starmer’s disastrous Pride

14/06/2021, 11:05:41 PM

by Rob Marchant

It was all going so well.

Keir Starmer, having made it intact through his first year of leadership, had managed – admittedly, not entirely by design – to remove the toxic presence of his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, from the party and win back a majority on the party’s ruling NEC. And even in the face of an unprecedented “vaccine bounce” for the current occupant of No. 10, he was nevertheless starting to be seen as Labour’s most serious leader in more than a decade, whether or not his electoral ship might come in in 2023-24.

His recent “soul-baring” interview with the ever-dreadful Piers Morgan, which could have turned out so badly, ended up showing him in a positive light, as a genuine and humble everyman, in a way neither of his two predecessors could have ever achieved.

All in all, a creditable first year: albeit with much left to do, not least on the unpleasant nitty-gritty of eliminating anti-Semitism.

Yes, it was all going so well – until last week. The week he decided to alienate a large swathe of women in his own party and many thousands outside it.

A little background: during the last two weeks, the following things happened.

One. The boss of Stonewall – which, despite being an overtly political organisation, still provides a system of diversity accreditation to hundreds of public and private bodies in the UK – compared the idea of being “gender-critical” – essentially, to insist on the immutability of biological sex – to anti-Semitism, not only a woefully wrong but an abhorrent comparison.

Almost immediately afterwards, Equalities minister Liz Truss followed the lead of the EHRC and recommended withdrawal for government departments, and a former list of 900-plus Stonewall Diversity Champions is now diminishing rapidly.

It is difficult to overestimate the significance of this move. Stonewall, during prior decades a hugely-respected organisation, which did much to bring about the liberalisation of laws on homosexuality during the last Labour government, seems now to be so broken that it is difficult seeing it survive through to the end of the decade – at least, not without a huge shake-up in its management and culture. A seeming obsession with trans campaigning above all other facets of lesbian, gay and bi politics has driven many to a new organisation, the LGB Alliance.

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What if Labour was level pegging with the Tories in the polls? Adjust for the vaccine bounce and its all a lot closer than today’s headlines

19/05/2021, 10:33:16 PM

by Atul Hatwal

It sounds absurd, how can Labour be level pegging with the Tories? The government has just smashed Labour at the May elections and regularly registers double digit leads in opinion polls. All true but we are also emerging from the long dark tunnel of the pandemic and if we look at the bounce in polling that governments have received in the past, as the country exits’ crises, there are reasonable grounds to believe Labour’s underlying position is a lot stronger than the current polls.

Rewind to the financial crash of 2008; in the year preceding the crisis the Labour government’s polling was abysmal – for the three months before the collapse of Lehman Brothers in mid-September 2008, the average Tory lead was 19.5%.

By December, as the various global bailouts and interventions appeared to be working with the prospect of normality, or at least stability, beckoning, the average deficit for the Labour government through the month was 4.6%, an improvement of almost 15% on their pre-crash performance. In terms of a parallel, the country is in a similar phase at the moment – optimism and relief that whatever the government has done is having an impact with Britain on a path out of the darkness.

As we know, Labour’s poll improvement at the end of 2008 was not sustained, in the first six months of 2009, the average Tory poll lead was 14.2%, a rise of 9.6% on the position in December.

When trying to quantify the vaccine bounce, this is the key figure. This increase in opposition polling, a rise in the Tory lead over the government of 9.6% quantifies the shift in public opinion from the optimism of seeing the back of the crisis, from focusing so heavily on what the government is doing, to returning to everyday life.

Applied to today, depending on your pollster of choice, a 9.6% boost for the opposition would see Labour either narrowly ahead or narrowly behind the government. This probably better represents the underlying state of play than a snapshot of polls in a phase when the crisis bounce is at its highest for the government.

Not convinced?

Let’s wind the clock further back, almost 40 years to the Falklands war. From a contemporary perspective, a faraway dispute with Argentina over some small rocks in the South Atlantic might not seem comparable to the financial crash or the pandemic, but in the context of the time, it was a huge, all-consuming crisis which cut to the core of Britain’s identity and Mrs.Thatcher’s leadership.

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The poisonous McCluskey era thankfully draws to a close

16/05/2021, 09:33:31 PM

by Rob Marchant

It’s not really been a good week for Len McCluskey, has it? A mere three months away from stepping down, it does seem the once-irresistible grip of him and his Unite faction on the Labour Party is fading fast.

First there was the Anna Turley libel case, whereby the union is now forced to pay its portion of an astonishing £1.3m to the former Redcar MP, for an article published on the Unite-backed Squawkbox blog (and one imagines that the piece’s writer, Steve Walker, will not be able to contribute very much to the sum, if anything).

And who should be in charge of legal affairs at Unite, responsible for keeping it out of such legal trouble?

Why, the person who looks like McCluskey’s clear preference to succeed him as General Secretary, Howard Beckett, of course.

Yes, that Howard Beckett, demonstrably the most militant of the candidates, who has just been suspended from the Labour Party for a deeply unpleasant tweet about Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Good. Neither should we shed any tears for Beckett – and for clear reasons of decency, rather than because we dislike the political views he is perfectly entitled to hold. Beckett was – not unlike his parliamentary counterpart, former Party Chair Ian Lavery – embroiled in a scandal over the misuse of compensation payments to sick miners.

For that reason alone, frankly, neither man should ever have been allowed to rise in the ranks of the labour movement. But, in the strange and twisted world that was 2010s Labour politics, they were.

And last but emphatically not least on the list of McCluskey’s woes is the ongoing political meltdown in Liverpool, slowly dragging McCluskey’s name further and further into the mire.

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Labour should be excited about President Biden demonstrating that another future is possible

19/04/2021, 10:28:47 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“I’ve been hired to solve problems, not create division,” President Biden told a press conference at the end of March. This contrasts with his antagonistic predecessor and imposes his interpretation on a mandate gained with 81 million presidential votes.

When Barack Obama won the presidency with a then record-breaking 69 million votes, no one imagined that his vice president would go nearly 12 million votes better 12 years hence. Even more absurd would have been the idea that the 2020 election would also see Donald Trump beat Obama’s 2008 tally by 5 million votes.

Trump’s appeal may have been strong enough to secure victory without Covid-19 – which raised the stakes of the election. If profiting from division was all that mattered, we would be in Trump’s second term.

As performative patriotism abounds and blame for Brexit’s shortcomings is heaped on the EU, we do not need to look across the Atlantic to know that manipulation of division can seem a route to political dividend.

Labour’s challenge – like Biden’s – is to make a politics of solutions more compelling than that of division. The former is about tangible optimism, the latter stoking grievance.

The historically unprecedented speed with which Covid-19 vaccines have been developed is testament to humanity’s enduring capacity to think our way to reasons for cheerfulness. But now is not the time to stop thinking.

We need to vaccinate the world more quickly than the virus can mutate to evade our vaccines. To not do so risks global economic and social calamity.

We need to tackle climate change with the same innovative intensity as produced the vaccines. The alternative is disaster to dwarf Covid-19.

We face tremendous challenges that evade borders. What happens in Brazil, for example, does not stay in Brazil. The more Covid-19 skyrockets in south America’s most populous country, the more likely we are to suffer a vaccine-resistant mutation. The more the Amazon is destroyed, the harder it will be for us to limit climate change.

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Keir Starmer’s task is to show how the Tories’ choices left Britain so exposed to the ravages of the crisis. Just like David Cameron did to Labour in 2008

06/04/2021, 10:35:20 PM

by David Talbot

When Gordon Brown took to the despatch box for Prime Minister Questions in late 2008, his slip of the tongue – that he had “saved the world” – was, of course, mercilessly mocked by his many detractors. Brown’s handling of the financial crisis, both actual and perceived, went on to form the nucleus of the Conservatives’ electoral strategy for the election two years later – and to dominate British politics for the next decade.

History has since judged the efforts of Gordon Brown to recapitalise the world economy in a rather more favourable light. Indeed, a rather noted economist may even agree with his assessment. But it provided a perfect wedge opportunity for the then opposition Conservative party who, as history has also rather forgotten, had hitherto pledged to match Labour’s spending plans.

The Conservatives’ ruthless exploitation of the global recession, and its central accusation that Labour’s profligacy had largely caused it, was the platform on which it fought the 2010 and 2015 elections. It was a conscious and potent choice to blame Gordon Brown and the Labour Party as being solely responsible for the recession and to continually fuel fears that the country was on the brink of bankruptcy. ‘Borrowing’ became the bogey word in British politics and the deficit the fulcrum in which all political decisions were taken. In a perfect illustration of how it is the victors that write history, the budget deficit today is exactly double what David Cameron and George Osborne were apparently so apoplectic about in 2010.

What, then, are the lessons to be applied to today’s, COVID-dominated, politics? Sir Keir Starmer marked his year in post with a missive in the organ of the left, the Observer, stating that the Prime Minister’s “slowness to act at crucial moments cost many lives and jobs”. It was possibly Starmer’s most damning assessment to date of the government’s handling of the pandemic, but it was mentioned only in fleeting, and not as a central thread of an event that, as the Prime Minister himself has admitted, the country will be dealing with for a lifetime.

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The latest government NHS reorganisation is an unprecedented admission of the failure of the Lansley reforms. Labour needs to be careful in its response

10/02/2021, 08:45:46 AM

by David Talbot

In a grey side-room at the Royal College of Nursing conference in early 2011, a grey-looking Andrew Lansley attempted to defend his controversial reforms of the NHS. In what was surely an unintended ‘Nicola Murray moment’, the then Health Secretary, in the moments after the Congress had unanimously passed a vote of no confidence in him, uttered: “I am sorry if what it is I am setting out to do has not communicated itself”.

It was a gift to Ed Miliband’s Labour Party. It repeatedly called on the reforms to be scrapped, with the now King of the North, Andy Burnham, burnishing his credentials as Labour’s saviour of the NHS. It wasn’t just politicking, though, with healthcare professionals labelling it as “the wrong reform, not just now but at any time in the future”. The bill’s passage didn’t get a smoother time in Parliament either. The House of Lords alone tabled 374 amendments and it was debated for over 14 months with with 50 days of parliamentary debate, in what was – and still is – the most scrutiny that any bill has had in the history of Parliament.

Lansley was sacked less than a year and a half after his nuanced apology in Liverpool. His ambition to reconfigure the NHS, nine years in the making, had derailed the coalition, stultified and appalled vast swathes of the NHS and, ultimately, cost him his job. He left a toxic legacy within the NHS profession towards the Conservative-led coalition, with the more affable Jeremy Hunt moved into place with the (sole) brief to dampen the NHS as an election issue.

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Starmer placed a bet on Labour wanting to win again. It is time to double down on it

01/02/2021, 11:20:03 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Tom McTague in The Atlantic paints a scenario that should worry Keir Starmer. While Britain’s Covid-19 death toll has risen above 100,000, it may be that a successful vaccine drive leaves a more lasting memory.

After this piece was published, the UK’s vaccine spat with the EU escalated. Poor handling by Brussels leaves the impression that the EU do not like the UK’s vaccine lead, making it easier to spin the UK’s rollout as a Brexit win.

Suddenly, Kate Bingham might seem as likely as anyone else to be the next prime minister. In the meantime, the incumbent has reason to be optimistic about the next 12 months.

While Brexit’s teething problems are painful for those directly impacted, the strong consensus among economic forecasters is that output lost to Brexit in 2021 will be more than offset by gains from lockdown ending and pent up demand being unlocked.

These forecasters have an average UK GDP 2021 projection of 4.4%. Not enough to recover all growth lost in 2020 but our fastest annual rate of growth for over 30 years. Sufficient to make many people feel better about themselves and possibly their government. The resumption of activities now prevented by social distancing – visiting family, drinking with friends, hugging strangers – will also trigger a pervasive positivity in wider senses than the narrowly economic.

Labour should not be complacent about the extent to which the prime minister might make more sense in this context. But – as Dan Pfeiffer often says on Pod Save America – we should worry about everything in politics but panic about none of it.

Now is the time for Starmer to reenergise his leadership’s founding purpose. This is to show that our party has changed from that decisively rejected in 2019 and deserves a mandate to lead our country in a new direction.

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