Sunday, 24 May 2015

Labour Leadership - the story so far

To all of those readers who are not Labour obsessives, you may not already be aware of the state of the race, so here goes:

There are four declared candidates for leader and I think unlikely to be any more at this point: Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Mary Creagh.

Burnham is the front-runner at the bookies and has garnered a great deal of support among MPs. However, he and Cooper look unequivocally like "no change" candidates of the ancien regime to me, not to mention that I don't believe that Burnham would push back on Unite, a hugely important point for any incoming leader. I think it undeniable that Len McCluskey currently presents a serious threat to Labour and its electoral chances, perhaps even its very survival.

Furthermore, Burnham's recent Damascene conversion to oppose reforms to the NHS, with the presumed end of preserving it in aspic and contrary to the very reforms he put in place when he led it, seems opportunistic, inconsistent and wrong.

My old colleague from Islington Labour Party, Mary Creagh, would be a good choice but I wonder if she will get the MP nominations.

Liz Kendall is clearly the candidate with upward momentum. Although virtually unknown in the party at large, she has already secured the support of Tristram Hunt, the other centrist who was considering running. On Friday she wowed the correspondents of the parliamentary lobby at a "meet the press" lunch and there is a very good profile of her here.

I haven't yet made up my mind, but I am pretty clear I won't be supporting Burnham or Cooper.

In the deputy race, the declared candidates are Stella Creasy, Tom Watson, Caroline Flint, Angela Eagle and Ben Bradshaw. Creasy seems to be doing well, is competent and politically sound but, while I could live with her, I am not sure I care for her lecturing manner. More empathy required.

I think Flint is impressive, and all the others I could live with, with the exception of Watson. After his involvement in the Falkirk debacle, I'm afraid I don't believe he should be let anywhere near the party machine. Given that he continuously maintained that no-one had done anything wrong in Falkirk when it was patently obvious the opposite was true, there is zero chance that he would help to reform the party.

All this said, we should bear in mind that this is a marathon, not a sprint.

UPDATE 13:30 - I understand that Rushanara Ali (MP for Bethnal Green and Bow) has declared for Deputy Leader. Seems like having a sensible head on her shoulders, although she may come under strong pressure from constituents on any Middle East foreign policy issue (as happened when she had to resign over Iraq military action last year). Although this kind of thing doesn't happen very often, it could be a handicap for a Deputy Leader to have to opt out of big FP debates.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

This party has to change

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
- Albert Einstein

The Parliamentary Labour Party’s second-lowest postwar ebb (its 1983-1987 nadir was the only time it has been smaller) is not a time for us to adopt a “steady as she goes” philosophy. We’ve been there, after 2010.

The same economics, literally, because the team behind it was the same. The same poor – or absent – decision-making. The same sense of drift (usually leftwards, because that is the party’s comfort zone).

In many ways, Milibandism was simply Continuity Brownism and we should therefore scarcely be surprised that it achieved a similar result. Worse still, we may not have even reached the bottom yet: the political direction of travel is clearly still downwards and will continue to be, until/unless a big change can be made to happen.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Yesterday may yet turn out to have been the day that everything changed

It's been a mad ten days. 

Labour has not even had time to take in the scale of its crushing defeat (I will write about that next week), and everything has moved at breakneck speed. Two frontrunners (Chuka Umunna and Dan Jarvis) pull out of the suddenly-convened leadership race, and we are left with two leftish (and what we assume will be Unite-backed) candidates, Andy Burnham and Tom Watson (see Centre Lefts passim on Falkirk), as favourites for Leader and Deputy Leader.

But that is nothing as to the significance of yesterday. While leadership candidates gathered in London to display their wares at the annual conference of Progress (what was once the Blairite wing of the party), events of potentially much greater import were happening in Glasgow.

After surviving a vote of no-confidence by the Scottish Executive, Scottish Leader Jim Murphy dumbfounded everyone by resigning anyway, and using his resignation press conference to deliver a powerful and personal broadside against Unite leader Len McCluskey.

Essentially, Unite and a couple of other unions have forced out a democratically elected party leader, against the wishes of his Executive.

It is becoming ever more clear that we are headed for some kind of showdown between Labour and Unite, unless the party is going to sit back and let Unite dictate terms to it, as Murphy implied it is already doing:
"The leader of the Scottish Labour Party doesn’t serve at the grace of Len McCluskey and the next leader of the UK Labour Party should not be picked by Len McCluskey.”
As the Times' ever-observant David Aaronovitch observed on Twitter:
I suspect that he is quite right and that things are about to get very ugly indeed.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Stopping the rush to war, pt 94

To take my mind off Labour's crushing defeat in the general election this week - I will be writing about that shortly - I was reminded perhaps one of the most lasting impacts of the Miliband leadership, and surely his only direct influence on foreign policy as party leader.

You will remember the Syria vote of 2013, when our former leader "stopped the rush to war" and scuppered a Tory move to assist with a no-fly zone, something which Barack Obama was apparently still sore about when they met briefly last year at the White House.

Instead, in a shabby and short-sighted move, Western leaders decided to opt for a chemical weapons inspection regime, a deal negotiated by - you've guessed it - Syria's ally, Vladimir Putin. A matter of months later, Putin was invading a neighbouring country, kicked out of the G8 and internationally vilified.

And, heavens, what have we here? Could it possibly that weapons still exist and Bashar Assad is giving the inspectors the run-around, just like Saddam Hussein before him? And that reportedly the non-compliance is with Russian connivance?

So, in short: 

Labour blocked a move to prevent genocide. 

In return for a weapons inspection deal which now turns out to be non-functional. 

Resulting, we presume, in the deaths of probably thousands of civilians as the weapons continue to be used?

I am sad that Labour lost on Thursday. But - and apologies if this sounds terribly disloyal - I am afraid that I am not sad that Ed Miliband will not now be in charge of British foreign policy.

Friday, 8 May 2015

No words.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Five dangers for Labour as the finish line approaches

And so the election goes down to the wire.

A shaky start for Labour; then two very good weeks; and now a late push by the Tories takes us to the photo finish. The Tories look better for winning the most seats; but Labour seems to have a better shot at forming a government.

It seems that the slightest gust of wind may decide who forms the next government. But for that very reason, both parties must tread very carefully. Here are a list of five dangers for Labour as the finish line approaches.



Friday, 1 May 2015

“Unite is proud to associate itself with Lutfur Rahman”

So last night, what looked like being a footnote to the Lutfur Rahman story - rally in defence of the troubled ex-mayor who now faces paying up to £1m in costs - took place in the long-suffering borough of Tower Hamlets. 

But it seems to have been something more than a footnote. Amazingly, it seems like defending the mayor is a cause which now has legs.

The most delicious part of it all, by the way, is that it was called "Defend Democracy in Tower Hamlets" (no, irony is not their strong point). Oh, my sides!

The speakers were the usual far-left suspects: Christine Shawcroft of Labour's NEC, I am ashamed to report, as well as Unite's chief of staff (also former Stop the War chair, Stalin apologist and surviving member of the Communist Party of Great Britain) Andrew Murray. 

And, inevitably, our dear friend Ken Livingstone, who obviously sees a kindred spirit in a London mayor who has only a passing acquaintance with the truth.

But Murray was explicit in that he bore a message from his beloved leader, Len:
“I am not speaking in a personal capacity, I am speaking on behalf of the union … and I am sending a message of support from our general secretary, Len McCluskey. Unite is proud to associate ourselves with Lutfur Rahman.”
That McCluskey would defend Rahman, after an electoral court upheld seven out of nine charges against him, including vote-rigging and wrongly calling his opponent a racist, tells us about all we need to know about him and the current state of his union.

But it also means that Rahman's desperate fight to save his worthless political hide is not over, certainly if he starts to receive financial backing from the wealthy union as well as words of support. It shows that it is prepared to ruthlessly court political support in Muslim areas by feeding false and divisive claims of Islamophobia. A caustic grievance narrative which, in these days of young men going off to Syria for jihad, is about the last thing that community needs. 

"Unite is proud to associate ourselves with Lutfur Rahman." Think about it. It's like saying "Unite is proud to associate ourselves with Derek Hatton". Frankly, a disgrace to the good name of trade unionists everywhere.

That said, it seems to indicate a new phase of self-delusion on the part of a union which - as Falkirk showed us - has rarely been a paragon of self-awareness anyway. That anyone could remotely believe, at this stage, Rahman's risible claims of Islamophobic victimisation is extraordinary. 

Unite is headed for Derek-Hatton-land, the Liverpool City Council of its generation. But unlike the Liverpool politicians, its leaders are elected by a tiny but well-organised proportion of the union's members. They will not easily be shifted.

Meanwhile, we on the hopefully more sensible shores of the Labour Party might be wise to prepare ourselves for a political move; one which the Unite-centred far left seems to be limbering up for, post-election.

Whether Miliband wins or loses.


UPDATE 15 MAY:

Oh, look. Len McCluskey takes the trouble to write to the Guardian and say, effectively, that he doesn't necessarily think that the incontrovertible case against Rahman was wrong after all. He writes:
"I do not seek to judge the totality of the case against Mr Rahman and cannot give him support on issues which are matters for the court and in which Unite has no involvement. In the election to choose his successor, Unite will, of course, be supporting the Labour candidate."

Strangely enough, this came after NEC member Christine Shawcroft (see above) was suspended from the party after attending the above rally, for the glaringly obvious reason it broke party rules (sadly the same treatment was not meted out to Ken Livingstone, thus reinforcing the perception that he is untouchable). 

Well done to whoever it was, either General Secretary Ian McNicol or Harriet Harman, who made that happen.

It's funny how the school bully often buckles when someone stands up to them, isn't it?
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