Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The best of 2014

Time again for this year's most-viewed pieces in our, ahem, glittering Hall of Fame at the Centre Left. A year of interesting resurgence of the anti-politics brigade, whether nationalists, independents or on the far left, as reflected in the top posts:

5. Venezuela on the edge While the trials of the long-suffering citizens of Nicolás Maduro's dystopia have long been a feature of this blog, this year rather took the biscuit. As I write, inflation has risen to a dizzying 63% (although the regime stopped keeping records in August, as they have long stopped producing any statistic that might make them look bad) and the country stands on the verge of debt default as we start 2015.

Well done, all those on the British left (I'm looking at you, Diane Abbott and Owen Jones) who travelled out to Caracas to support the Chavistas in the 2012 elections. I'm sure you'll soon be admitting how wrong you called this one.

4. As the Tower Hamlets disaster enters a new phase, it remains an object lesson to Labour
Mayor Lutfur Rahman was re-elected in May, in probably the most controversial British election in years. While the outcome is still being investigated and the election may yet be re-run, reports of intimidation and sharp practice were rife. But Labour cannot escape the fact that it created this monster, and only a complete change in its approach will prevent recurrences of this kind of politics.

3. Jim Murphy hatchet jobs: a short series to cut out and keep

As Jim Murphy's campaign to be Scottish leader gathered pace, there came a flurry of negative pieces from the usual suspects on how his election would immediately cause an SNP surge, electoral meltdown next May, plagues of locusts, etc. Oddly enough, his subsequent win caused none of the above so far, and this blog's place similarly seems secure at no. 3 in the charts. Although I am hoping for an unexpected late entry from the lizards.

2. Why Lutfur Rahman must go – an alternative argument 

In April, I argued that the deeply flawed Mayor of Tower Hamlets must go. Whilst he might well have done, had the election been free of any hint that it was not executed freely and fairly, this was not the case. However, what flawed democracy was unable to achieve, the auditors PwC were thankfully later able to, in lambasting the mayor over his method of allocating grant funding, something that was undoubtedly something neither free nor fair.

And finally, the most-read piece this year was, fittingly, on arguably the most historic event of this parliament, the Scottish independence referendum:

1. SNP and Gaza: why Salmond is not a statesman 

In the run up to the referendum, this piece about Alex Salmond managed to attract the most bonkers group of trolls - the cyberNats - who I have ever had the misfortune to engage with on Twitter. For days, I was flamed by an indefatigable group who ranged from those who thought I merely had no right to opine on such a matter (being English, of course), to a number who questioned my parentage. Simultaneously both revealing about the nature of nationalism, and bonkers.

So that's it. We'll continue to be here for all your general election coverage in 2015 and a very happy New Year to all.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Murphy’s push on party rebuilding should not stop at the Tweed

Jim Murphy is the new leader of Labour in Scotland. It is hard to see this as other than good news; irrespective of political leanings, he is an experienced, Cabinet-level politician, with the kind of clout and vision that the Scottish party urgently needs. The SNP is sneering as best it can, but it is nervous laughter.

Murphy has, of course, a huge challenge on his hands: to turn around disastrous polling and an inward-looking party; left to its own devices through its hegemonic days under Blair and Brown and the early days of devolution; and later, seemingly taken by surprise by the rise of the SNP.

It was certainly high time that Scottish Labour took a long, hard look in the mirror, rather than give in to the temptation of huffily declaring that it was treated as a “branch office”, as its last leader, Johann Lamont, did. And it has: it has realised both that it needs a radical change and that it does not need to dance to the Nats’ own tune of “
only MSPs allowed”.

It has realised that, far from attracting support, trying to compete with the SNP to see who can be the most insular is a game Labour can only lose.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Murphy wins. Sky fails to fall in. Three cheers.

Jim Murphy is, thankfully, the new leader of Scottish Labour.

If you were to believe Tom Watson MP or Len McCluskey, leader of Britain's largest trade union, you would be convinced that this is a major disaster, the beginning of the end for Scottish Labour. But it is not. The sky is still up there, stubbornly refusing to fall in.

There was a straight left-right fight for the first time in quite a while within the party: and Scottish Labour chose, as the 2005 general election campaign called it, "the future, not the past".

It is more likely, as we observed here a few weeks ago, to mean the beginning of the end of Scottish Labour as we know it. To mean the end of Unite's stranglehold on parts of Scottish Labour (see Centre Lefts passim). And, just as importantly, a more outward-looking party, which actually reaches out to the Scottish electorate as the SNP has done, rather than treating them as an inconvenience to be endured. This is the first piece of good news.

The second cheer is that this is exactly the kind of party, in fact, which might do a good job in repelling the SNP's advances in May and avert the kind of meltdown in the Scottish section of the Parliamentary Labour Party which many have been predicting, based on its awful current polling. Murphy should be judged on how the polling improves over the next five months, not the number of seats Labour wins.

And the third is this: that there is finally a centrist politician back in a position of real power within the Labour Party. There is now a little hope for all of us that a bridgehead has been established, an influence which can help steer the party back towards common sense and to where the voters are.

Finally, and satisfyingly, we might note that Unite's ham-fisted attempt to fix things in favour of their preferred candidate, Neil Findlay, clearly backfired: Murphy ended up with nearly 40% of the affiliates section, which is dominated by the big unions, to Findlay's 52%. Not a bad result, given that all the major union leaders nominated Findlay over Murphy, bar two.

Murphy has not got an easy job on his hands; Scottish Labour has been slowly atrophying for decades and his victory can scarcely hope to achieve much before the election in May. 

But it may well after; not just in the 2016 Scottish general election, but in the health of the national party as well.

STOP PRESS: I was reminded, checking an old Guardian piece from the time of the Falkirk disaster, that the good members of Scottish Labour have not just rejected the preferred candidate of the Unite leadership

They have selected one who actively set himself against that leadership, who stood up to it. That, alone, is a hugely significant change.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Could this be the beginning of the end for London Labour's Stockholm Syndrome?

I am a little late to this and I also fear I may just have asked one of my friend John Rentoul's fabled "Questions To Which The Answer Is No" (that is, a headline question to which the writer wants to imply the answer is yes, but it is not). However, I have seen an encouraging sign for Labour, in times when such are few and far between.

The long-suffering local activists of Tower Hamlets Labour Party not only had to put up with Ken Livingstone campaigning for then independent mayoral candidate Lutfur Rahman in 2010. Having won, the latter has since made a disaster of his mayoralty and has had the borough's finances taken over by central government inspectors, not to mention a number of other ongoing investigations, including one questioning the 2014 election result (see Centre Lefts passim).

To add insult to injury, in light of these investigations Livingstone has continued to support the unedifying Rahman against his own party, accusing local councillors of "smears and innuendo" in a shining example of , er, smear and innuendo.

About ten days ago, according to the Evening Standard, the good members of Tower Hamlets Labour - hardly a hotbed of die-hard Blairism, I might add, should you think this might be purely factional in-fighting - finally got sick of Livingstone's antics and passed a motion suggesting that it would be better if he left the party altogether.

Their request went even further than the disciplining I was arguing for here, but not without good reason. And it is good news: it is the first time I can remember that London Labour members have broken from their habitual Stockholm Syndrome regarding the man, as I wrote here two years ago. Normally, no matter how awful the latest revelation, they have shrugged and said, "Ken is Ken", knowing that the party will never act.

But when merely campaigning for a non-Labour candidate is an expulsion offence in the party's rulebook, we do not need to accept this kind of behaviour from a member of the party's National Executive Committee Constituency Section. 

They work for us, not the other way round.

I don't know about you, but I'd be delighted if other constituency parties would follow Tower Hamlets and ask for his resignation. A precedent of untouchability is rarely good for any political party.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Unite has learned nothing from the Falkirk debacle

Last week, we started to see just how much some quarters of the Labour Party do not want Jim Murphy to become their leader in Scotland. It was not so much the carefully-crafted hatchet job from Tom Watson, which followed that of old flat-mate Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite union, from a few weeks earlier.

No, it was the landing on Scottish Unite members’ doormats of ballot packs from their union.

Of course, under the One Member, One Vote system which has been in place for two decades, union leaders no longer allocate millions of their members’ votes; the members decide freely for themselves, under a ballot organised by the union.

Or, at least, that’s the theory.

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