Friday, 25 December 2015

Twas the night before Christmas (with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)

Twas the night before Christmas, and in Labour’s house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Jeremy soon would be there.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Labour has reached peak groupthink

groupthink, n., [grüp-ˌthiŋk]: a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics
- Merriam-Webster online dictionary
The saddest thing about party conference this year, as commentator Iain Martin remarked, was “otherwise nice/sensible people trying to persuade themselves it will be ok”.

If there were a fortnight to convince the world otherwise, this must surely have been it.

Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of Labour’s position on bombing Isil, the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris and the rebellion on an actual vote for renewal of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, have all been an unmitigated shambles.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Paris, the Stoppers and straight talking, honest politics

It was no surprise, naturally, when the Stop the War Coalition (or rather, Stop The Wars That I Say But Not The Other Ones) decided to blame the horrific bombings and shootings in Paris last Friday night on "Western intervention".

But the first post which came out from this perennially dreadful crew was particularly crass, even by their own low standards. As people died on the streets of the French capital, the best they could come up with was: "Paris reaps whirlwind of western support for extremist violence in Middle East". 
"Without decades of intervention by the US and its allies there would have been no 'war on terror' and no terrorist attacks in Paris."
Yes, that's right, it was all the fault of the evil West that the bombing happened. Victim-blaming at its best. Even though jihadist violence long predates Afghanistan and Iraq.

And then, as if by magic, it disappeared from the website, as did the tweet that accompanied it did from Twitter. Jeremy Corbyn then made an unusually measured statement condemning the atrocities, which did not even contain the traditional "but" we have come to expect from the Stoppers in such situations (i.e. it's all terrible...but we deserved it):
“Today, all our thoughts and sympathy are with the people of Paris. 
“What took place in the French capital yesterday was horrific and immoral. 
“We stand in solidarity with the people of France – as with all victims of terror and violence.
“I have cancelled my engagements today to hold discussions on events in France with shadow cabinet colleagues and be briefed by Downing Street security officials. 
“It’s vital at a time of such tragedy and outrage not to be drawn into responses which feed a cycle of violence and hatred.
“We are proud to live in a multicultural and multi-faith society, and we stand for the unity of all communities.”
Almost sounds normal, doesn't it?

The Stoppers themselves then came up with a much toned-down piece, which did still blame the attacks on "Western intervention", but took five paragraphs to get there.

Why do the antics of the mad Stoppers matter to the Labour Party? I'll tell you.

First because, until a couple of months ago, the chair of that august organisation was one Jeremy Corbyn MP. He is still closely associated with it in the minds of the media and the public. In short, the foreign policy of the Labour Party is, or at least soon will be, as the Corbynites consolidate their hold on party structures, the foreign policy of the Stop the War Coalition. That depressing and highly-damaging place is where the once-proud internationalism of Ernie Bevin has fallen to.

Second, and worse, because the Corbyn statement was not even honest. It was inherently disingenuous. It was "this is not what I think, but rather what I think I can get away with in the media".

We know what Corbyn thinks: he has made it abundantly clear over his thirty-two years in Parliament. Because he was never a career politician and never remotely expected to lead his party, there are records of his words everywhere.

So, assuming he has not suddenly had a Damascene conversion to a moderate foreign policy in the last two months of those thirty-two years, it is pretty obvious that he has not said what he thinks, which is essentially what is written in the first post. It was the West's fault.

Welcome to the Corbyn foreign policy era. 

"Straight talking, honest politics."

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Labour moderates should stop worrying about the next high-falutin’ political strategy and get organising

It’s easy to read the politics pages of national newspapers and think that the real problem of Labour’s moderates is that they’ve got to get a shiny new strategy together that is neither New Labour nor Miliband Labour, but something which will get Labour back in power. That, in short, it doesn’t really know what it stands for and therefore this needs to be its first priority.

While it is a problem, it is certainly not the immediate problem.

The reason for this is simple: the media generally sees politics through the prism of Westminster, not just Parliament but the plethora of think-tanks and lobbying firms that hang around it. Policy and political strategy are the glue which holds that world together, without it we are nothing.

But Labour, we should take pains to remember is first and foremost a party (and a movement, although with the current radical state of the leadership of most major unions, that may not be of much immediate help to the moderates right now). It is a living, breathing thing, made up of hundreds of thousands of activists. Right now, it’s all over the shop.

Which is more important during opposition, particularly during a crucial battle for the soul of the party?

It’s the party, stupid. And that means organisation on the ground, in the CLPs and Labour group meetings across the country.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Milne: now the revisionists are running Labour's strategy

It is now commonplace, even among journalists who should know better, to conclude that the current criticisms of the Corbyn leadership come exclusively from a hard knot of diehard centrists who refuse to accept that the new regime could win an election.

While it is clear that it cannot and it is also true that many sensible activists would rather die in a ditch than attempt to fight the hopeless battle of a general election under the current leadership, the reality is that there is really a much wider concern about the party’s current trajectory, and not just among Labour MPs. Even Tories and Lib Dems worry about the absence of a viable opposition.

To recap: we now have a party led by a man who never expected to leave the back benches; a shadow chancellor best described as “maverick”, with a treasure trove of past quotes already carefully dug up and filed at Tory HQ, providing a handy media drip-feed for the next five years.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Why “wait and see” is a fool’s strategy

It is now taken as accepted everywhere in British politics, with the exception of some parts of the Labour Party’s rank and file, that Labour cannot win an election with Corbyn at the helm. You can attempt to argue with this premise, but you’ll find few allies outside of the echo chamber of party activists and three-pound associate members who voted for him.

This leaves sensible members with two options: engage and hope things get better, or reject and look for a new plan. Many MPs are, in good faith, choosing the former option.

But as Ben Bradshaw MP must have seen on Tuesday night, any decent attempt to play ball with the new leadership seems doomed to end in the frustrating realisation that it is hopeless. MPs in the Parliamentary Labour Party looked on in dismay, as the party’s flagship economic policy did an unceremonious U-turn.

Within two weeks of its announcement.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Labour, this is what you chose

The two important days of conference, the first two, have now passed. We have pinched ourselves. We have pinched ourselves again. But no, that really was John McDonnell outlining a fantasy financial plan on Monday, and Jeremy Corbyn giving the Leader’s Speech on Tuesday.

Let me just say that again. Jeremy Corbyn giving the leader’s Speech. Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour party.

No matter how many times we say those words, it still beggars belief. Only four months ago, it would have been inconceivable.

How long ago that now seems. What happy, carefree days were those.

For those of us who have sat and watched dozens of leader’s speeches, mostly at times when Labour was actually running the country, it seems a strange, parallel universe. You get to know when a party is at a low ebb, just as when William Hague suffered his disastrous four years at the helm of the Tories.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Labour's darkest hour

My seventeenth piece for the Independent, on Labour's political death wish, otherwise known as the election of Jeremy Corbyn as its leader, is here. For the record, I think this could well be my most-read piece ever, with over 6,000 Facebook shares, so quite pleased with it.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Corbyn’s pacifism won’t really affect Britain from opposition, right? Wrong

Another week, another revelation about what a Corbyn-led foreign policy would look like. It is enough that Labour would, as it did in the days of George Lansbury, be directed into a position of “peace at any price”, even if that were saving lives from genocide in Kosovo and Sierra Leone, as a previous Labour government did.

This is not an exaggeration: it is hardly a surprise that the chair of Stop the War Coalition, by definition, supports the idea that any military action by the West under any circumstances is a bad thing (although, strangely, that organisation has shown itself not so against war when it is conducted by a non-Western power, such as Russia).

And so we have been treated in recent days to a reminder that Corbyn regards the death of Osama Bin Laden as “a tragedy”. While, in times of peace, it is right to uphold the right of anyone to a fair trial, Bin Laden was killed in war zone. And it is difficult to imagine many British citizens agreeing with that particular stance, let alone those of New York, where he contrived the death of three thousand.

Leaving on one side the fact that this statement was made on PressTV, the propaganda channel of a deeply unpleasant regime, it is extraordinary that we even have to make these arguments.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Why backbenchers talking to terrorists is not the same as senior politicians talking to terrorists: a primer

In the wake of the general tripe important arguments recently promoted regarding backbench MPs' roles in apparently initiating the Northern Ireland peace process, bringing detente to Palestine and otherwise saving the world, it seemed to the Centre Left important to provide some guidance on talking to terrorists.

So, here is a handy guide to whether or not you should consider talking to terrorists, all you need to do is answer some simple questions.

Q1. Is it your job?

What is your primary job, is it:

(a) representing constituents and voting in Parliament, or 
(b) joining up a wide variety of minority interest groups and meeting people with unpleasant views in far-flung countries?

If your answer is (a), why are you trying to "engage" with terrorists, instead of doing what you're paid for?

Q2. Are you partisan?

Do you: 
(a) only talk to one side, or 
(b) talk to both sides?

If your answer is (a), how can you possibly be useful as a diplomatic channel?

Q3. Do you condemn all sides equally for atrocities? 

When you do condemn, do you 
(a) condemn one side universally but only condemn your favoured side when you have no other option, while simultaneously saying "but what about the other side doing XYZ"? or 
(b) condemn both sides equally and fairly for atrocities?

If your answer is (a), how can you possibly be a useful diplomatic channel?

Q4. Are you qualified?

Are you (a) a senior politician or (b) a very senior official?

If your answers to (a) and (b) are no, you are probably merely a fool, legitimising some dodgy person/regime. A "useful idiot".

So, you are now fully armed. Just in case you should be someone with pretensions to be an amateur diplomat, suddenly thrust into the limelight with an unexpected possibility of leading their party, you'll know what to do.

Look what Corbyn can do in twenty-four hours: now imagine twenty-four months

If current polls are to be believed, Jeremy Corbyn is about to become Labour leader, not just by a small margin but by a landslide.

That is, as our own Atul Hatwal pointed out on Monday, a pretty significant “if”. For a number of reasons; protest voting in polls but not in elections, “shy” voters, ease of manipulation by flashmobs of more informal polls, difficulty of accuracy polling such a select group, further change in the final few weeks and so on. Given this, it is still perfectly possible that Corbyn will fall at the ballot stage, despite Westminster’s prevailing wisdom.

But let us suppose for a moment that he is genuinely on course to win.

In this case, we are at a genuinely historical turning point – a convulsion – for the party; one of a kind it has not really experienced since Ramsay MacDonald’s “betrayal” in the 1930s.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

This is not "engagement". It is apologism

Yesterday I retweeted a Centre Left piece from four years ago, about the invitation of hate preacher and Hamas fundraiser, Raed Salah, to speak at the Houses of Parliament, a visit thankfully called off at the last minute, thanks to the timely intervention of the House authorities.

I retweeted it because, unlike political nerds like myself, I believe that there are Jeremy Corbyn supporters out there who genuinely think he is merely a doughty anti-austerity campaigner and genuinely have no idea of what his record is on foreign policy (there are others, of course, who know and do not care). 

But it is important that these things are known. When there is a non-zero chance that someone is to lead this great party, their utterances can and should come under close scrutiny.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

On emotional spasms

“You call that statesmanship? I call it an emotional spasm.”

Aneurin Bevan, shadow foreign secretary, 1959 Labour party conference
Bevan’s withering lines, warning the party against unilateral disarmament, illustrate the fact that we are not in a new place. In the face of a public, for whom two world wars were still a very recent memory, the party’s left had “gone off on one”, on defence and other matters – to be fair, a move largely nurtured by Bevan himself – with the result that Labour wandered in the wilderness for thirteen long years.

A similar effect took place in the 1980s under Michael Foot: seventeen more years. The party now teeters on the brink of a third, post-war wilderness period of comparable length.

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.

Monday, 8 June 2015

In the battle for post-Miliband Labour, Unite’s leadership fights from a position of weakness, not strength

When you are on the back foot, play the victim. The underdog. Under attack from the establishment. If they ask awkward questions, do not accept the premise of the question. Thus has the hard left defended itself against any kind of rational criticism based on mere facts, for decades.

In a remarkably disingenuous, more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger piece at LabourList entitled “Setting the record straight over Unite’s position in Scotland”, Pat Rafferty, Unite’s Scottish General Secretary, writes how Unite tried to save Scottish Labour…but they wouldn’t listen. If only they’d listened to us. Instead, an unnamed “some in the Labour Party” are trying to “attack” Unite. Poor things.

Honestly, what rubbish. Unite was part of the problem, not the solution. At the root of Labour’s wipeout was the parlous state of Scottish Labour. The end result of decades of hegemonic machine politics, of which Unite was an integral part. An overbearing, one-horse town politics on which the carpet was lifted in the debacle that was the Falkirk selection, where the union was accused of manipulating the vote. A debacle that, let us not forget, led directly to the biggest-ever shakeup in Labour’s relationship with unions.

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.


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?

Monday, 27 April 2015

Lutfur Rahman: now let’s see Labour’s ways of working change

It is surely hard for any Labour member – okay, Ken Livingstone excepted – to shed a tear for former Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman.

The man who was yesterday unceremoniously turfed out of office, after anunequivocal judgement against him in an electoral court, has become the subject of arguably the worst scandal in local government since Westminster council leader Dame Shirley Porter’s conviction for gerrymandering two decades ago. Criminal charges may yet be brought.

But as we look at it, we have to ask ourselves: what have we learned? It would be good to think that the party leadership is right now taking a few moments to reflect, thinking “how can we make sure this never happens again? How did we ever get here?”

It seems, sadly, that the reaction seems more likely to be “phew – good job he left the party before all this”.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Reaching out to centrist voters now is good tactics. Strategy it ain’t

Happily, Labour has had a very good fortnight. Since my last election piece two weeks ago, Miliband’s personal ratings have jumped up and the Tory campaign has blundered from unforced error to unforced error. Bookies and polls now put him as neck and neck with Cameron as next PM, not lagging way behind as before.

The final piece of this recovery in both results and performance, last weekend, was a quite unexpected outreach programme from Labour to the centre ground, of which more later.

After the last election, the new prime minister, formerly known for his husky-cuddling and his “greenest government ever” shtick suddenly remembered his back benchers and became, for the most part, a much more traditional kind of Tory.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Lutfur Rahman. Yessss.

For regular readers, you will probably understand why the guilty finding today of an election court on the Mayor of Tower Hamlets is such good news (his office did, after all, report me to the police, one presumes in the hope of having me charged and arrested - I can now leave readers to draw their own conclusions as to the good faith of Mr Rahman on this matter).

According to the BBC, he is found guilty of:
  • Voting fraud: ballots were double-cast or cast from false addresses  
  • False statements made against Mr Rahman's rival Mr Biggs 
  • Bribery: grants approved to organisations which Mr Rahman favoured, most of which were run by Bangladeshi groups
  • Treating: providing free food and drink to encourage people to vote for Mr Rahman
  • Spiritual influence: voters were told that it was their duty as Muslims to vote for Mr Rahman.
The judgement also mentions "being untruthful on occasion" i.e. judge-ese for "lying". Although an election court cannot (I don't think) send him to jail, the 2014 election will now be re-run and he is barred from standing. There are also reports that the Met is considering a criminal enquiry.

In fact, as of this moment he is no longer mayor; it is as if the election had never happened.

Not only is it an important and genuine victory for British democracy and against corruption and sectarianism, it is a real chance for the long-suffering burghers of Tower Hamlets (and especially its Labour Party) to make a fresh start in a healthier, multi-cultural environment which favours no community above others.

Oh, Lutfur, Lutfur. You have got your just desserts at last.


Two little snippets to make you smile:

1. The Guido Fawkes blog has kindly reminded us of the reliable imbecility of some of the Guardian's writers, who defended Rahman with the brilliant headline from last year"The smear campaign against Lutfur Rahman is an insult to democracy". Just fantastic.

2. And who could it be, taking to the airwaves on LBC yesterday to defend the indefensible yet again, in the shape of his old pal, Lutfur Rahman? Step forward fellow ex-mayor, Ken Livingstone, to say this:
"I don't think election courts should be there. If someone breaks the law then the police should arrest them."
You couldn't make it up. I mean, lucky he's not on the National Executive Committee of our beloved party. No, wait...

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Tory fumbles put Labour back in the race

As I wrote my last piece a week ago, things were looking pretty rocky for Labour. But, as if to give me a bit of come-uppance, we immediately proceeded to have a very good week.

First there was a poll which, in the wake of the TV debates, saw Miliband’s personal polling jump from -49% a couple of months before, to +3%, a quite extraordinary recovery and above Cameron’s for the first time. Given that leadership (of which I guess this is some kind of crude measure) was one of Labour’s two big weaknesses, the other being the economy, this is very encouraging news. Also Labour’s party polling has nudged a little higher, although probably not enough to be significant.

Second, the Tory campaign, aided and abetted by the Tory press, has been in disastrous form. After being forced to defend Britain’s anomalous “non-dom” tax status for rich people in a nifty bit of political footwork by Labour, they then proceeded to unleash a set of personal attacks on Miliband. However, so clumsy and inept were the attacks, that they seem to have had an entirely counterproductive effect. Most spectacularly useless was the Daily Mail, which splashed on Miliband’s ex-girlfriends, thereby converting Miliband from wonkish nerd into an unlikely "lad"; or, as my friend Anthony Painter put it, from "being Wallace to James Bond”.*

Finally, its Millbank HQ panicked, and started releasing all kinds of uncosted spending pledges, notably £8bn for the NHS, on which Labour politicians and indepdendent-minded journalists alike gleefully seized, thus painting the party of supposed fiscal rectitude briefly, at least, as the party of fiscal idiocy.

All in all, a terrible week for the party for whom the election was really theirs to lose. Good.

A few words of caution, however:

1. It’s by no means over, and this welcome burst of strength may well not be enough to tip the scales. Bear in mind a large part of it is down to Tory failure.

2. Cameron has come 
right back this week with a trap on “right to buy” council houses, which Labour looks extremely likely to fall into, thereby setting itself (yet again) against the aspirational classes.

3. 1992 should still be borne in mind. The then phenomenon of “shy Tories” – people who vote Tory but refuse to disclose this to pollsters – could yet confound Labour’s expectations that polls will carry through to parliamentary seats.

4. We should not forget that, as my friend John Rentoul is fond of pointing out, Cameron is the “essay crisis prime minister”. He gets too relaxed at times, but also has a habit of performing well when the pressure is truly on. It now is.

5. Scottish Labour is still facing a meltdown.

Labour is back in the race, but that race is still far too close too call.

*Wallace of "Wallace and Gromit" fame, of course.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Labour: on the verge of a historic victory, or partying like it’s 1992?

Carter USM's 1992 album - at least one
good thing that happened that year.
The short campaign has finally kicked off. Not that that usually makes much difference, and particularly not when we have all known the date of the election for the last four years. Perhaps fittingly, no party’s campaign has so far exactly knocked Britain off its feet.

In polling, Tories and Labour have been showing as neck and neck for some time, with each main party in turn delighted when a poll says it is a couple of points ahead. But within any measure of what statisticians call “standard error”, these polls tell us little.

In other words, any difference of this size – a few per cent – could just as easily be explained by the inaccuracy of polling as a predictor per se, as by a meaningful trend. In this strange, Alice-in-Wonderland world where the tossed coin seems to land on its side, we have to make our judgements using less obvious, but no less compelling, means.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Horse-trading in Halifax

Union money: “the cleanest in politics”, as some Labourites are fond of describing it, a little misty-eyed. To be fair, sometimes it is. There are decent unions who donate money because they actually want a Labour government. On the other hand, the cliché is that business donations always come with strings attached.

Let’s decide which of the two the following is.

Exhibit A: the Halifax selection, where Len McCluskey’s friend Karie Murphy was working hard, with the backing of the considerable weight of Britain’s largest union, to be its MP. The Sunday Times (£) wrote a couple of weeks ago that her place on the shortlist was being horse-traded for a previously-pledged donation of £1.5m 
(£) to Labour’s election fund. Surely not?

After her failure to be shortlisted by the party’s Special Selections Panel, there were two possible outcomes: that Unite’s donation would then be delivered, and that it would not be delivered. Naturally, the outcome couldn’t possibly related to the Halifax selection. We’re talking about the cleanest money in politics, after all.

Oddly, the Telegraph reported last week that “a senior Unite figure said the union could withhold any further funding for final two months of the campaign and demand Miss Murphy is allowed to run for another seat this election.”

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Falkirk, the sequel: Halifax

Last weekend, an interesting news item came up in the Sunday Times (£): the comeback as parliamentary candidate of one Karie Murphy, office manager for Tom Watson MP (and "friend", or possibly former friend) to Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, Britain's largest union (see Centre Lefts passim).

You may remember that Murphy was suspended from the party and later reinstated after serious allegations of fixing in the selection process in Falkirk.

Murphy, it seems, has now set her sights on becoming the next MP for Halifax and, to this end, has applied to be on the shortlist for Halifax. 

For those not familiar with Labour's selection process, this close to an election the process changes, for very good reasons. The party cannot afford a long drawn-out process prejudicing the outcome, therefore a Special Selections Panel (comprised of members of the party's NEC) decides the shortlist, the local party votes on the shortlist and, hey, presto: a candidate is chosen. This of course give the national party more say than usual in who gets on the shortlist.

The big question now, of course, is: will Murphy be on the shortlist or not? The Sunday Times reports that Unite is putting in question whether or not it will make good on its pledge to make a £1.5m donation to Labour, depending on whether Murphy makes it onto the shortlist; meanwhile Ed Miliband is, to his great credit, reportedly resisting such a grubby deal, despite the potential hit to Labour's finances.

It is pretty astonishing that, less than a year after Unite's actions triggered perhaps the greatest shake-up ever in Labour's relationship with its affiliated unions, that it should have apparently learned so little from the Falkirk fiasco, and been so brazen in trying to strong-arm Labour.

But let's apply a little logic to the situation - the Sunday Times could be wrong, after all. There are three realistic scenarios:

1. If Murphy is selected and the donation is made, it is difficult not to conclude (given his reported resistance and previous stance on Falkirk) that Miliband has buckled. The Unite-pledged donation, for reference, is estimated to make up just under one-fifth of Labour's entire general election war-chest.

2. If Murphy is not selected and the clearly-pledged donation is not made, it will then be obvious that a threat was not only made but carried out. Yuk.

3. The only scenario in which Unite comes out with its reputation intact would be if Murphy is not selected and the donation is still made.

Let's see which of those happens. At the moment there seems to be a standoff, but if I were a betting man, I'd wager it won't be 3.

UPDATE 16 MAR: According to the NS, Murphy has not made the shortlist. So it is option 2 or 3. Let's see which one it turns out to be.

Oh yes, and Channel 4's Michael Crick quotes a Unite source as saying of Harriet Harman, the panel's senior member: "She'll have to answer for her actions in due course."

Knowing Unite's well-documented propensity for turning up with flash-mobs at people's houses in order to intimidate them, one wonders what this might signal.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Six reasons why Labour should rule out an SNP deal

There is a rule in electoral pact-making, and pretty much any card game, which is fairly universal: don’t show your hand to the other players.

That is, don’t rule anything in and don’t rule it out. You have nothing to gain (you can fritter away your negotiation leverage when agreeing the pact) and everything to lose, in the event that you find yourself in a different situation from that expected and have to eat your words. Obvious, really. Wait until the moment comes and deal with things when you have all the information.

But it could also be argued that there one sensible exception to that rule: if the mere hint of a pact with another party could be damaging to yours even before the election. Especially when things are balanced on a knife-edge and almost anything could affect the result.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

The Muslim Manifesto and Labour's useful idiots

Recently, it had seemed that the spate of idiotic "engagement" between some Labour MPs and far-right Muslim figures had happily died down.

However, as if to prove me wrong, that there is no end to the imbecility of the pro-Palestine brigade, last week the Telegraph reported the launch of a "Muslim Manifesto" in Parliament by Yasmin Qureshi, Andy Slaughter and Gerald Kaufman. These three are well-known apologists for terrorists Hamas, but even the likeable Kate Green, who I met as an activist years ago and have always thought of as quite sensible, was there.

Now, you might argue that a "Muslim Manifesto" is quite a good idea, to reach out to communities. Aside from the jarring fact that it is naked identity polics, lumping Pakistanis, Indonesians and Somalis into one, homogeneous mass, it might at least be classified as anodyne.

But it is not. It is really not.

Because the person launching it is none other than Azad Ali of the awful Islamic Forum Europe (for regular readers, you remember those names on Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman's nomination papers for mayor? Yup, those guys).

Those who recently elected Ali Vice Chair of the increasingly inaccurately-named Unite Against Fascism (UAF), seem not to realise the irony that he is part of an organisation which is clearly of the political far right. The only difference is that it is the Islamist far right, not the National Front or the English Defence League. But the fascistic nature of their thinking is quite the same, as my good comrade Nick Cohen has observed many times.

We might also note that, when the Telegraph's Andrew Gilligan was the subject of a Press Complaints Commission complaint from Lutfur Rahman, the PCC upheld the words "extremist-linked", the extremists in question being, we presume, Rahman's friends at the IFE.

Ali is also a fan of Al-Qaeda recruiter Anwar Al-Awlaki, and much more, as my friends at Harry's Place helpfully summarise here. He is exactly the kind of person Labour politicians should have nothing whatsoever to do with.

So, a few short years after inviting renowned hate preacher Raed Salah to Parliament, this time a similar group invite this deeply unpleasant figure to a parliamentary meeting actually presented by him?

Your actions, Labour Members of Parliament, beggar belief. Trying to make yourselves popular with Muslims in your constituency, should it really need to be spelled out, does not include fraternising with extremists. In fact, it is most likely to alienate many of your constituents. Do you honestly think these clowns are popular with ordinary Pakistani mums and dads, terrified that their sons and daughters might end up fighting jihad in Syria?

What were you thinking? What idiot booked the room? What the hell were you all doing there? In the middle of an election campaign? 

Do you not realise how damaging these things are for the party?

Public sympathy for Islamist apologists is waning, if it was indeed ever there; as evidenced by the sharp public reaction to CAGE's Asim Qureshi last week after an interview by Andrew Neil where he finds it strangely impossible to denounce stoning for adultery.

As the Telegraph piece points out, a government crackdown on extremism is currently being launched, and not before time. 

What Labour absolutely cannot afford to do is find itself on the wrong side of that crackdown.

UPDATE: since this morning, I have discovered the answer to one of my own questions: the meeting was hosted, according to this news report, by disgraced peer Lord Nazir Ahmed (see Centre Lefts passim). Other speakers included Lib Dem MP David Ward, suspended then reinstated by his own party for questionable statements about "the Jews". 

Just in case there were any doubt about the quality of the attendance.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Goodbye, Boris Nemtsov

As if to highlight the worsening of Russia's already-disastrous political situation, last Friday night opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was found dead, after four shots in the back as he walked on a bridge in Moscow. Nemtsov was a decent man and, as a former deputy prime minister, one of Putin's most high-profile remaining critics.

Hilariously, the administration's investigating committee has attempted to blame it on (a) people wanting to destabilise Russia (no, because then they would hit someone in the administration, not the opposition) or (b) - wait for it - Islamist terrorists! Because they're really known for shooting people in the back, right? (You may remember that individual jihadist murders generally do not involve firearms at all.)

Despite the near-impossibility of proving it, a much more credible explanation has been offered by Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko: that he was about to reveal evidence of Russia's direct involvement in Ukraine.

There is also the small matter of an anti-Putin rally to be held today, to which Alexei Navalny, another opposition politician, will not be able to attend either, because he has been jailed for 15 days.

Despite clear evidence obtained by Western journalists, it has to be said that evidence regarding Russia's Ukraine invasion from a high-profile figure inside Russia, with access to Russian media, has thus far been noticeable by its absence. Following Nemtsov's murder, I suspect it is likely to continue to be.

Once, Nemtsov was a member of the political elite. Two years ago, he was writing about the death in custody of whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky and how his death should not be in vain, how it could be used to create a law to stop the gangsters. Now he, too, is dead.

It is clear that it is becoming increasingly unsafe for any Russian to criticise the Putin administration.

UPDATE: today's above-mentioned opposition demo - a fairly rare event nowadays - has now, as might be expected, turned into a funeral march for Nemtsov. Moscow's streets, where I spent so much time walking around this time last year, are filled with angry people. 

Perhaps, just perhaps, some good might come of this.

There are also reports that the Ukrainian woman who was walking with Nemtsov has been detained and that the Ukrainian consul is not being allowed to speak to her. Ukrainian, note.

Vladimir Putin has, according that same BBC report, condemned the murder as "vile and cynical". Irony's not one of his strong points, as you may have observed.

UPDATE II: the young woman's lawyer reports she is staying at the house of a Nemtsov supporter. Which is good news.
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