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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