Monday, 27 July 2015

Ten hard truths for Labour

Following Tristram Hunt’s call for “a summer of hard truths”, here are mine, as part of a short series at Labour Uncut:

1. The Labour Party has not merely just lost an election after five years of drift; it has been getting worse since. It has now fallen deep into an existential crisis of purpose, with a large portion of its membership worryingly in denial about what the British public will actually vote for.

2. The current leadership election is symptomatic of that crisis. Like in the early 80s with Healey and Benn, many in the party are no longer expecting to get the best candidate, merely looking to avoid a disastrous one.

3. For those who believe Liz Kendall was over-egging the pudding in saying that Labour has “no God-given right to exist”, and that it has earned a permanent place in the British Top Two of political parties, some reading about the Liberal Party in the 1920s is required.

Friday, 24 July 2015

The Guardian reaches a new low (v)

An occasional series at the Centre Left, linking to particularly obnoxious pieces that the Guardian sees fit to post on its website, Comment is Free

In previous editions, we have covered anti-Semitic cartoonists, terrorist leaders and hate preachers. So it was with some abhorrence, but little surprise, that today I read a piece by the Guardian (and former Telegraph) columnist Peter Oborne, with Abdul Wahid, the British leader of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an awful proto-extremist organisation with typical apologia for the usual Islamist terrorists.

Oborne is so consistently wrong with almost everything that he writes, of course, he generally provides a useful service to readers of what not to think. But even for him, this was pretty dire.

It is not so much the fact that he interviewed him - journalists should, of course, interview all sorts of people, including unpleasant ones - it is more the tone of the narrative which tries to strikes a weaselly balance between saying "of course, I don't agree with him" and "but he's so misunderstood". In particular, Oborne tries to dress up the suggestion that Cameron or others might want to ban his organisation as a free speech issue.

But it is a straw man: no-one is saying that Wahid's personal speech should be curtailed as an individual. The debate is about whether he is allowed to run an organisation, raise money and so on, in a way which multiplies the power of his and other similar voices in a way that might influence others, ultimately, to violence. There is a huge difference.

Wahid, with his oh-so-plausible bedside manner (he is a respectable doctor in his day job), goes on smoothly to defend all the usual regressive tenets of Islamist oppression such as separating men and women; he refuses to denounce an anti-Semitic pamphlet; when confronted with challenges on attitudes to democracy and sexism, he resorts to whataboutery ("ah, yes, but what about this country?"); and so on. But the reality of his organisation is worse.

It may not be as directly murderous as ISIS, but he still talks calmly about his desire to build a theocratic caliphate. It is an entryist organisation, too, looking to get its people in influential places towards that end. You can find more about its general unpleasantness at a selection of Harry's Place links here, including its charming "purify the earth of Jewish filth" press release.

As former radical Ed Husain put it:
"Britain remains vital to the Hizb, for it gives the group access to the global media and provides a fertile recruiting ground at mosques and universities."
And then there is the clincher: the casual line that they sometimes he and Oborne had dinner together. As the excellent Tom Owolade put it:
Ah, but racist extremism can only exist on the far right, can't it?

UPDATE 25JUL: Thanks to Tom Holland for pointing out the draft constitution for the Caliphate, which includes such things as execution for apostasy (article 7c) and, er, legalised slavery (article 19).

Thursday, 2 July 2015

No, no, Yvette

Yes, leadership candidates need to appeal to party before they can become leader and do anything at all. But the lengths to which some will go to tickle the tummy of a party, which has just suffered two disastrous election defeats, continues to beggar belief.

Better – for the sake of kindness – to gloss over Andy Burnham’s statement that this was “the best manifesto that I have stood on in four general elections”. I mean, what can have possessed him?

Thursday, 18 June 2015

This is a competition between individuals who aspire to govern a country. It is not a charity event

We’re like that in the Labour Party, aren’t we? Oh, he’s a nice bloke, he deserves a shot at this. One of us. Can’t we swing it to get him on the list? Or, worse: we’d better put him on the list, or there’ll be hell to pay.

Never mind that the rules of the list are that you need to get 35 MP nominations. Nominations, note, not pity transfers. It is perfectly right that all sections of the party should be represented in this ballot. But those – and only those – which have earned them.

So when a bunch of MPs decide at the eleventh hour to switch nominations specifically to let Jeremy Corbyn MP limp onto the shortlist, it is against the spirit of the rules, even if it is not against the letter, plain common sense and the seriousness of a leadership election.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Hobsbawm on authoritarian ambitions

While we have all been a little preoccupied with the Labour leadership race, the Centre Left has not talked recently about foreign policy. But, a thought from that great historian, Eric Hobsbawm, on the run-up to the Second World War:
"However, another thing wove the threads of national politics into a single international web: the consistent and increasingly spectacular feebleness of liberal-democratic states (which also happened to be the victor states of WWI); their inability or unwillingness to act, individually or in conjunction, to resist the advance of their enemies. As we have seen, it was this crisis which strengthened both the arguments and the forces of fascism and authoritarian government."
Cf. Russia, Hungary, Turkey, Syria in 2015. 

As the Bard might have said: think on't.
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