Monday, 17 June 2019

Peterborough shone a light on the dire state of Labour. The Tories’ beauty contest is the same shade of awful

Image result for peterborough imagesThe week before last, numerous MPs went to campaign for a racist sympathiser. I am sure most thought they were doing the right thing, dutifully answering the campaign call, as politicians do. Quite possibly some didn’t even know the story, or did not dare pull out at the last minute. Either way, they supported Lisa Forbes, surely one of the worst candidates we could have ever chosen for a by-election.

Thanks to the scrutiny a by-election suffers, all parties generally try hard to get the right candidate, one who will not suddenly find themselves at the centre of a media storm.

This time Labour failed dismally, presumably because those leading the party and its machine – not, you understand, the regular staffers, decent folk who have to live with the constant shame and embarrassment about their superiors – couldn’t care less about a bit of anti-Semitic dabbling.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Labour: the damage done

Jeremy Corbyn leads the British Labour Party. (Photo/JTA-Getty Images-Thierry Monasse)This piece was written before the local elections, where there was certainly some kind of electoral verdict on Corbyn's leadership. Whether this will finally lead to action to remove him remains to be seen.

While it is usual for the political commentariat to be largely focused on the present – especially with Brexit dominating headlines in recent years – sometimes it is useful for us all to take a look at the past, and the future.

Fast-forward to 2022, the projected next general election: Jeremy Corbyn, safe in his position as leader, has been leader of the Labour Party for seven years.

With regard to tenure, that will put him as the seventh longest-serving leader in the party’s century-long history. MacDonald, Attlee, Gaitskell, Wilson, Kinnock, Blair and Corbyn. That is the peer group: all party leaders for more than one term.

While some might reasonably quibble about MacDonald, the first six are undoubtedly heavyweight, historical names. And party leaders with that kind of tenure are, clearly, the ones with the best chance of shaping their party in their image.

Let us turn now to the seventh, Jeremy Corbyn. He already has.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Hanging by a thread

Image result for hanging by a thread imagesRecent days have surely seen more political turmoil and uncertainty than has been seen in a generation; perhaps even in the whole postwar period. It is certainly extraordinary that, two weeks out from an enormous political event, no-one can really say with any certainty how things will turn out, or even what the plan of action is.

But what of Labour? Jeremy Corbyn, in present circumstances, is surely the luckiest leader of all: the strange return of a sovereign Parliament and the disarray of Theresa May’s Tories has helped camouflage Labour’s violent, internal convulsions, albeit temporarily.

For the past few months, Labour has been being riven by two potent forces at the same time.

First, the Leader’s disingenuous position on Brexit being finally laid bare for all to see: the Emperor never had any clothes. it was only ever a matter of time before his attempt to ride two horses at once ended in Labour doing the splits, and not far off literally so.

All Shadow Cabinet members can do is go on the media and mouth platitudes, while Corbyn refuses to answer a straight question. No-one believes them any more, except the Corbyn cult itself, within the party. Labour’s surviving frontbenchers have become a standing joke, as Emily Maitlis’ open exasperation with Barry Gardiner on Newsnight showed.

The second blow has been the gradual implosion of the party over anti-Semitism, for the simple reason that it refuses to pay anything more than lip-service to the problem.

Of the two, it seems clear that the second is the real killer: the most pernicious and long-lasting.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Jeremy Corbyn: an Islington North activist writes

Just to mention that I think this is the most retweeted tweet I have ever had, over a decade of using The Twitter. Reading the letter, from an activist in what was my own borough for many years, you can probably see why.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

The Independent Group will kill, or cure, Labour


Image result for the independent group logo imagesIt is a good idea, in politics, always to expect the unexpected. 
Conventional wisdom is problematic. Who would have predicted John Major? Or Corbyn? And it is particularly problematic when, as now, there are a large number of expected outcomes, each of them with a small enough probability for commentators to pooh-pooh some or all of them individually.


But one of them, like it or not, has to happen.

I have been telling anyone who will listen these last few days that we should stop obsessing about the SDP: it's lazy thinking and the political conditions are hugely different. For a start, the country had a competent leader, love or hate her, in Thatcher. And Labour had problems with Militant, but the lunatics had not, as now, taken over the asylum. 

Indeed, it is more instructive to look at the Liberals' split under Lloyd George and Asquith, or Labour's under MacDonald, when the pieces were really in flux. Political blogger Professor Steve Fielding seems to have come to the same conclusion, at least on the first comparison.

It was clear that, given the dearth of love for Labour's leadership within the vast majority of the parliamentary party, something would have to give at some point.

So, while it is not exactly unexpected, after three years of Corbynism and apparently no end in sight, that some decent and sensible-minded MPs decided to quit, perhaps the level of success they have enjoyed over the last few days since their creation, is.

We now have 20 independent MPs in the House of Commons, I would not be surprised if this were not the highest figure in postwar politics.

And it is almost as if the dam has now burst, and people have shaken off their fear. Those who have been cowed are starting not to be. They can see the smiles on the faces of those who can now look at themselves in the mirror for the first time in three years, and are thinking that perhaps risking their livelihoods might be a price worth paying for that feeling.

Whatever happens, this is clearly the biggest shake-up of two-party politics in the thirty-six years since the creation of the SDP (UKIP, we might remind ourselves, never came close to that level of defections).

There are now nine Labour MPs who resigned this week, eight within and one without The Independent Group, along with other previous resignees such as Frank Field, John Woodcock and Ivan Lewis. The group has also been joined by three Tories of some stature. In total, there are now twenty independent MPs in the Commons, the most to have been in that category voluntarily since the war, I'm told.

The real question, of course, is what happens next. 

Momentum - if you'll forgive the pun - is key: there now needs to be a steady-or-increasing flow of defections, to avoid the perception of a fizzling-out. But that flow looks more possible (apparently more defections on both sides may be announced this weekend). Watch this space. And yes, politics is suddenly exciting again.

Even if it does fizzle out, it seems likely that the resultant shock would be enough to knock Labour back on course eventually. And if it doesn't, most probably because Labour finds itself unable to change, well, Labour will go the same way as the Liberals in the 20s - to oblivion.

Which, frankly, it will deserve to.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Wavertree CLP’s rotten leadership shines a light on the party’s

Image result for wavertree imagesIt has been said during the last week, and not by Labour-watchers accustomed to hyperbole, that this might have been the week when a party’s split became irrevocable.

While that may or may not be true, it is difficult to remember a time when the parliamentary party was in such disarray, even in the mad 1980s, or the late 1950s’ nadir.

Perhaps this is partly because of Jeremy Corbyn’s true, Eurosceptic colours on Europe finally becoming clear, to all but the most avid Kool-Aid drinkers in the strange party that is now Labour.

The Labour leadership’s Janus-faced position on Brexit is both embarrassing and terrible for the country, particularly if it leads, as seems quite possible, to a hard Brexit, which will undoubtedly hurt the country for years, perhaps decades. But that is a situation which can, in some sense, be rectified. It is a function of the leadership, not local parties.

Friday, 18 January 2019

The mother of all filibusters

Image result for filibuster imagesWhat happens if normal party politics has broken down? One suspects this is the question most commentators have been asking themselves for the last several months, consciously or unwittingly, as British politics lurches from one unprecedented situation to another.

If we needed proof, it is surely in the bizarre events of the last couple of days.

First, Theresa May suffers the biggest parliamentary defeat since the repeal of the Corn Laws in the 1840s, on the deal that she has diligently shepherded through Parliament.

Then, miraculously, she survives a vote of No Confidence the following day, in a way that surely no other Prime Minister has ever done after even much lesser defeats.

Apart from the unlikeliness of these record-breaking feats being what any PM would like to be remembered for, this is clearly not parliamentary business as usual.

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