Wednesday, 14 December 2016

We Are Arrested

My new piece for Progress is a review of Can Dündar's notes from a Turkish prison. Sadly, that's where you end up as a progressive journalist in Turkey. Not only a great book, but there's a message for all of us about standing up for independent thought. It's not a growth industry these days.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Different degrees of losing

It was always going to be important to wait until the dust settled around Labour’s second leadership election to see what was going to happen next. Now, settled it has and things are a little clearer, but only a little. What remains still looks like a panorama tremendously unhelpful to Labour moderates.

First, we might review the external changes that have happened since September. As the Independent observed yesterday, of Britain, the US, France, Italy and Germany there remains only one leader from just a few months ago, and neither is Merkel safe. Populist right-wingers have either won or are waiting at the gates everywhere. There are still all the signs of a tidal wave of political realignment across the Western world, and it would be reasonable to assume that Labour needs to either decide how to position itself or risk being swept away

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Two Central European vignettes: fascism and totalitarianism

In these topsy-turvy days of 2016, in the wake of Brexit and Trump, it is easy to believe that anything is possible. And not in a positive way.

One: it is quite possible that we will wake up tomorrow to find that a European state has a fascist for a head of state: Norbert Hofer could well be president of Austria. Although his role would be largely ceremonial - and one could easily argue that Hungary under Orbán might be a true dictatorship within the EU before long, beating Austria to the punch - it is a frightening prospect and one which could easily spread the cancer of fascism within Europe with alarming speed, given the current zeitgeist of anti-politics prevalent in the West and the general unease in most of Europe with regard to immigration and refugee movement.

For anyone feeling the term "fascist" might be hyperbolic rather than accurate, I offer them this: as tweeter Otto English observed today, Hofer wears a small blue cornflower in his lapel. It is a secret symbol used by Austrian fascists in the 1930s. In other words, he is not an anti-immigration, right-wing populist in the UKIP mould but a genuine, common-or-garden fascist, with all the deeply unpleasant views that that entails.

Two: the leader of my once-great party today gave a speech in Prague, in which he argued that the solution to the resurgence of the far right was to push further to the left: a strategy which, as party stalwart Luke Akehurst noted, was previously tried in the Weimar Republic, with dismal results. Indeed, it was the same approach that Labour tried as a reaction to Thatcherism in the early 1980s and had similar success then.

But that was not the worst thing of the day (and thanks to Queen Mary's Philip Cowley for pointing this out): it was this. Corbyn gave his speech in the Czech capital talking about the horrors of its citizens living under Nazism, never once mentioning the totalitarianism that the Czechs lived under for much longer, that of the Soviet empire. It was as if those forty-odd postwar years had never happened; airbrushed from Corbyn's version of history. The tanks rolling into the capital in '68 a liberation, not a takeover.

What the Czech media must have made of his failure to mention that particular elephant in the room, one can only guess. But I, like many other comrades I am sure, am deeply ashamed to have as my leader such an unrepentant apologist for the Soviet Union, and the pogroms and massacres it represented.

And we haven't even got onto the French presidential election yet, where a positive result for Hofer would surely give a boost to Marine's Le Pen's chances of securing the keys to the Élysée.

Dark times, dear readers, dark times.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Labour must fight the cancer of post-truth politics, not sign up to it

If there were to be a nadir of democratic politics, in the sense of public apathy towards truthfulness in their politicians, even in the strange world of 2016, we may not yet have reached it.

The unprecedented election of a seemingly pathological liar to the post of leader of the Free World is pretty bad. But 2016 may yet, appallingly, see a lying far-right politician elected as French president. It is not expected: but then, no-one really expected Trump, either. These are strange times. Worst of all, it seems that, the more mainstream politicians warn against a populist being elected, the more people vote for them.

But the real disaster that this populism brings in its wake is this: others believe that “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”. And so we see mainstream politicians lying: for example, about Brexit, with the now-notorious £350m to be saved and pledged to the NHS.

Now, there are two lazy clichés that commentators, or members of the public, will periodically trot out about politicians. One is that they are “all the same”, when that is patently not the case. There are decent British politicians in all parties, at least the major ones. Those of us who have worked in politics for any length of time will testify to the often quite pleasantly surprising levels of dedication to public service in the face of constant brickbats, lack of job security, aggressive whips, hostile colleagues and an often thankless public.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Article 50: we do not have to lay down and roll over

As we reel from the shock of a Trump victory, it would be easy now to lose sight of our own problems as a country. But they remain the same as they were last Tuesday.

Since June, we have rapidly become a country which most of its neighbours now look at with a mixture of sympathy and blank incomprehension; shaking their heads, like a dear friend whose life has suddenly and inexplicably hit the buffers, but has yet to truly recognise the fact. Bless them, those Brits. They know not what they do (and, as of today, it looks like we are not the only Anglo-Saxon country in that position).

No, apart from Brexit, we have a government which operates without the normal checks and balances, beholden to its lunatic rightward fringe; and a dysfunctional opposition which, thanks to Labour’s current leadership, struggles to effectively oppose anything at all, even on this, the most important issue of the day.

Last week, however, a glimmer of light shone into Britain’s troubled political landscape. Seemingly out of nowhere, the High Court ruled that Parliament must be consulted on Brexit and that the referendum itself was not sufficient. The government had constitutionally overreached itself, and Theresa May had to tacitly admit that her prime ministerial powers were not quite as strong as she thought they were.

Friday, 28 October 2016

We need to talk about Russia

When even the Guardian, which has sustained some fairly alternative views on world geopolitics in recent years – including running a propaganda op-ed by the Russian foreign minister – starts acknowledging that modern-day Russia has slid into a new Cold War with the West, well, it’s time to sit up and take notice.

Like a hostage with Stockholm Syndrome, the West – led by an American president who scornfully told his opponent in the 2012 election that “the Cold War has been over for twenty years” – has spent the last decade trying to convince itself that Russia was friendly and no longer a threat, in the face of stark evidence to the contrary. Obama is now choking on his unwise words, but it’s a bit late for that. Eight years of “engagement” with the US has only encouraged Vladimir Putin.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Time for the PLP to regroup: once more, with feeling

The question: can we, as Tom Watson put it, "get the band
back together"? Kind of depends on the band.
While the formation of a government remains a rank impossibility for a Corbyn leadership, there is now no question about his grip on the party. Indeed, with the removal of Jonathan Ashworth from the NEC, seemingly in exchange for remaining in the shadow cabinet, Corbyn supporters now also rule the NEC. The circle is complete and the rulebook is no longer safe.

Self-evidently, Corbyn’s opponents in the PLP – that is, nearly all of it – have not been able to really make any movement while the leadership election and the reshuffle have been going on, they now can. Their valiant attempt to involve themselves in the selection of the shadow cabinet has, predictably, been paid only lip-service by the leadership. Corbyn will choose, full stop.

And, with a few notable exceptions, what a shambles of a Shadow Cabinet it has become. Unambiguous unilateralists at Foreign Affairs and Defence, something virtually guaranteed to provide a general election defeat on its own. Another Shadow Cabinet minister who has apparently managed to fritter away a compensation fund for sick miners on his salary and expenses. And someone at Home Affairs, in charge of the delicate area of race relations, among other things, known for her quote “white people love playing divide and rule”.

Friday, 16 September 2016

In just one year, Jeremy Corbyn has alienated Britain’s Jews

This week has marked the first anniversary of Jeremy Corbyn’s arrival as Labour leader. The week has been full of the now-customary gaffes and blunders, yes. But a more disturbing revelation was that about the obsession with “Zionism” at the heart of the Corbyn “kitchen cabinet”.

If one were to try and characterise the notable achievements of the Corbyn leadership in its first year – as the often-hilarious results of the #1yearofJeremy hashtag on Twitter showed, these were not always positive – perhaps the most disturbing is the almost complete alienation of the British Jewish community.

From the comments of Ken Livingstone about Hitler, to the suspension of 18 party members over anti-Semitism and the fiasco which was the party’s own report into the matter, Corbyn has shown, at best, a terrible tin ear for the subject, the effects of which may now tarnish the image of his party for years.

And so it was that, this week, we found Corbyn’s communications chief Seumas Milne accused of removing the Hebrew from the leader’s Passover message, because it sounded “too Zionist”. This accusation was made both by Joshua Simons, a former advisor to the leader and also Dave Rich of the CST, an organisation created to help British Jews fight anti-Semitism. Although only Rich actually named Milne, he did so not on a specialist blog, but in the New York Times.

This is the level of obsession that the leader’s office has over matters which are anathema to ordinary people.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Corbyn and McDonnell: the men who wanted the IRA to win

I realise I have come rather late to this, but yesterday came across this fantastic, withering piece from last September by Steve Moore of Volte Face magazine. Having tweeted it and seen a lot of interest, I thought it would be good to link here as well.

It essentially gives the lie to Corbyn's and McDonnell's disingenuous claims that they were "engaging" with the IRA, to "help the peace process". They were not, and it is important that people understand this.

The ironic thing is that, had that peace process not been successful (despite their both voting against it in Parliament at every turn), Corbyn could never have become leader. A politician directly connected with a terrorist group still active in his own country could never lead a major party. And it is partly down to the success of Tony Blair - yes, the one Corbyn believes should be in gaol - in helping bring about that change that he has even been given that opportunity.

Activists yet to vote in the leadership election, and even those who have already voted, should read the whole thing, but I post here a short extract:
Corbyn took part in a BBC Five Live interview with Stephen Nolan. During the course of the interview Nolan offered Corbyn an opportunity to condemn IRA murders. Asked outright five times, five times he refused to do so. Finally having proffered the idea that they might discuss this some other time the line goes dead.
Listen to it here
Corbyn hung up. 
The inconvenient truth for Jeremy Corbyn is that we, of course, know why he hung up on Stephen Nolan and we know why it took John McDonnell 13 years to offer such a risible, caveated apology. 
It is because they wanted the IRA to win. 
Their pious homilies to the peace process will not wash with anyone. Their commitment to a united Ireland was total. The relationships they invested in for decades were with terrorists organisations not democratic nationalist parties. It has proved a hard habit to break for them as Nick Cohen and others have demonstrated.
Corbyn and McDonnell had nothing to do with the peace process. Not a single person involved in the negotiations that led to the Belfast agreement has come forward to support McDonnell’s assertion that he played an active role. No historic accounts of the process include them. Corbyn and McDonnell were partisans. They were irrelevant bystanders. McDonnell’s abject attempt to suggest that he was acting as a peacemaker remains almost as insulting as the remarks that prompted the forced apology.
"Straight talking. Honest politics." 

The irony.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

A Labour split is surely now on the cards

The original Labour splitters, 1981
The ballot papers have arrived. On past form for such elections, most voting tends to happen in the first week and the die is almost certainly already cast for one side or the other. And if yesterday’s YouGov poll is to be believed, there will be a second, convincing win for Jeremy Corbyn.

It is not the fact that polls cannot be wrong: we know that, especially in tight contests. But the very margin of the predicted win – 62% Corbyn to 38% Smith – must surely have brought a crushing dismay to the Smith team. Polls are not oftenthat wrong. 62% is also, coincidentally, the exact same prediction for Corbyn’s vote made in August last year after reallocation of preferences. So we are likely to be talking about the same order-of-magnitude win.

So let’s suppose it’s right and September will be a glorious vindication of Labour’s choice of leader, in the face of massive unpopularity in the country. What happens next? There are really two possibilities.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Corbyn’s “straight talking, honest politics” mask finally slipped in the Observer interview

So much has been made of Jeremy Corbyn’s honesty and freshness, that it is high time for us to probe it. After ten months of “straight talking, honest politics”, this weekend’s long and detailed Observer interview turned out to be rather insightful.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Free Ukraine. Last chance to see?

Just to note, after many earlier posts on the subject, that trouble is brewing again in the Ukraine. 

I have long predicted that Vladimir Putin would most likely want to finish the job of invading the country while Obama was still in office, knowing that the likely consequences would be zero, whereas under either the next Democrat or (God forbid, under present circumstances) Republican incumbents, they may well be non-zero.

Well, it seems to be happening. A surge is being reported in the already-invaded Donbass region, along with the deployment of some pretty hefty missile systems. In response, Ukraine is understandably building up troops on the Crimean border. The key cities of Odessa and Mariupol are being posited as possible targets for a further invasion. It strikes me that, if these two cities were to fall, Kiev might not be far behind. And with that, you could pretty much say goodbye to an independent Ukraine. 

If that happens - and even if it does not - future historians might reasonably conjecture how things might have turned out differently for Ukrainians with a marginally-less-useless-at-foreign-policy president of the United States.

Friday, 5 August 2016

A brutally honest letter to Labour members

I wrote this for Labour Uncut on Wednesday night, about the leadership election. It's, well, from the heart.

Dear Labour member,

You probably think this is like so many emails you get from the party nowadays. But it is not.

This is a letter to you from someone who loves the party and sees it in desperate trouble.

Apologies in advance: this is going to be tough. There is not really any way to be nice about it, so here goes.

To the party’s right: you need to up your game. Owen Smith – and Angela Eagle until a few weeks ago – have made a brave stand. But you cannot let yourselves be out-organised by the Corbynites. For example, if your rally is going to get only modest support, don’t do a rally at all, do something else. If you play who-pulls-a-bigger-crowd with Corbyn, you will lose. Lay out your candidate’s stall early and don’t let their opponent define them.

Please also do not let these clowns get away with subverting your local party structure. They are organising against you and you must organise back. You cannot be nice about this, too much is at stake.

Your opponents also have generous supplies of cash, thanks to the leaders of the larger trade unions having scant accountability to their members as to where they channel their subs. You will have to be truly inventive to counter that. But you can still win and there is still all to play for.

To the hard left: I do not care about you. With the notable exception of Dennis Skinner, you have no real love for this party and would see it burn. And frankly, you are not even that sure about democracy, either. Your ideas put into action will undoubtedly end in disaster and chaos; they always do. Our mission is now to ensure you do not take our party with you as collateral damage.

To remaining members of the soft left still supporting Corbyn: you are the key. This is in your hands and, with the best will in the world, you need to wake up. You probably supported Corbyn because you thought he was nice, decent and a breath of fresh air.

But you missed an important fact: he is, and always has been, hard left. Your views and his are really not the same (and, if you would take the time to check just a few facts easily available on the internet about his past associations, you might actually begin to wonder about his decency, too. But I digress).

So, you are supporting him now not because your views coincide, but because you feel he has been put upon by the media and the party’s right, and are leaping to his defence. In time-honoured Labour fashion, you are standing up for him as if he were a potentially disadvantaged minority, as you would rightly stand up for ethnic or LGBT minorities. And probably also because you never really liked those Blairite and Brownite types anyway, so supporting Corbyn against them feels like “sticking it to the man”.

But the truth is this: Corbyn is not disadvantaged, he is the front runner, and the opprobrium he has received in the mainstream press is really a hundred per cent his own fault. When even the neutral BBC and the left-leaning Guardian – employer of his current, hard-left press spokesman, remember – starts being labelled anti-Corbyn, it’s because you’re doing something wrong.

Your continuing support for him is not only sentimental in the face of strong evidence against doing so, but it is a self-indulgence which is now threatening the very future of your party. It is not the time for protesting and sticking it to the man. This leader cannot win an election and, worse, he is busy refashioning the party in such a way that no future leader will ever have the means to, either. And if you think mass deselections in the PLP is really going to help us win the next election, you are already lost to reason.

In short, the party is dividing into two factions: Labour and Corbyn-Labour. The latter of these is fast becoming not merely a cult of personality, but a political death cult and your cross on the ballot paper will decide whether it wins.

This is no longer a struggle for the soul of the Labour party we all care about. It is a struggle for its existence.

Please think about it.

Yours in candour,

A friend and comrade

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Labour at the crossroads

After the earthquake, it is surely time to stand back a little and take stock. After one of the most extraordinary months ever in British politics, the pieces have been thoroughly shaken and are now returned to earth.

The landscape is entirely different from the seeming certainties of just a month ago, the old guard largely cleaned out and most of the players new.

For Labour, it has shown one thing in particular: the spectacular house of cards on which the whole current leadership had been built.

It has now become a laughing stock, a leadership of zero credibility outside, and even for the vast majority of its own parliamentary party. The only place where the leadership is still respected, paradoxically, is within the party membership itself, where a level of denial exists which in years to come group psychologists will surely write books about.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Turkey: the bus reaches its destination

Now, the Centre Left has been a little preoccupied over recent months with the slow collapse of the Labour Party as we know it. But world events now still seem to be competing to reach the same level of insanity.

Aside from the horrific attacks in Nice, where families celebrating Bastille day were butchered by an Islamist madman in a truck, the disintegration of democracies on the fringes of Europe now seems to be proceeding at a clip.

Last night, those of us minding our own business on Friday night Twitter were treated to a presumed military "coup" in Turkey, which had apparently been put down by this morning. 

However, as regular readers will know, President Erdogan is no democrat - he was famously quoted as saying that democracy was a "bus ride - once I get to my stop, I'm getting off."

It now seems fairly clear that he had deliberately encouraged the coup in order to draw out his opponents. Now they are isolated, he can lock them up or kill them. And he will be the undisputed dictator, er, leader, of modern Turkey. No more need for any more of that pesky democracy stuff.

Particularly unedifying when you consider (a) that Turkey has fought since its creation to be a secular state, because Attaturk understood well the dangers of Islamist politics, and (b) what has happened in neighbouring Syria under a dictator.

Looks like someone just got off the bus.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Labour is in meltdown

“The Labour Party is facing its most serious crisis in its century-long history,” writes Eric Shaw, Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Stirling. He’s not wrong.

First of all, since my last Uncut column, it is no exaggeration to say that British politics has been turned upside down by the win of Leave in the Brexit referendum. Barring some kind of monumental U-turn, Britain is on its way out of the EU. In the resulting whirlwind, it is difficult to keep pace with the rapidly-changing landscape.

Aside from the immediate and dire economic fallout from the decision itself, to have a PM resign, mass Shadow Cabinet resignations and a Leader of the Opposition deserted by the vast majority of his MPs in a confidence vote – all in the same week – is surely unprecedented.

Most bizarrely of all, while millions of Leave voters are apparently now regretting their decision, barely any of the winning Leave campaign politicians are now placed for much of a role in carrying out Britain’s transition to its post-EU future. Neither does there appear to be even a sketchy plan. It is as if neither the campaign’s leaders, nor its followers, ever really expected to win.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Will Britain ever intervene again?

Wrote this yesterday for Progress Online, on the outcome of Chilcot: it seems, sadly, that Britain will be much less likely in future to intervene on humanitarian grounds. As we did in Kosovo, and saved thousands of lives. 

Syria (and, worse: Rwanda, where the international community stood by and the death toll was in millions) are now the models for the future.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

The geopolitical case against Brexit matters

Like most Labourites, I am struggling to make sense of the fact that Britain has apparently just made a far-reaching decision to leave the European Union. One that changes the course of our history in a way which does not look at all positive.

Unlike many, I am perhaps thinking of things deeper, and blacker, than the short-term economic impact or what it means for Britain's levels of immigration (very little, according to the leaders of the Leave campaign themselves). 

I wrote this piece for Labour Uncut last Wednesday - the day before the referendum - and, given the delight which has greeted Britain's exit in places such as Moscow, it seems somehow now all the more relevant.


The decision Britain will make tomorrow is clearly a big one. Perhaps truly the most significant of our lifetimes, in terms of its strategic direction of travel as a country and the way the 21st century will shape up for us.

A decision in favour of Brexit will inevitably have short-term impacts. Some of them, such as a potential drop in sterling for exporters, may even be positive. But some vital, long-term effects are likely to be about Britain’s place in the world; its geopolitical power, if you like.

These are difficult-to-gauge, but nevertheless important, effects which are largely drowned out in the current debate by the bread-and-butter arguments about trade or immigration. Or “sovereignty”, that largely meaningless word currently being flogged to death.

Which would be fine, if we lived in a world full of stability, free of threats. Or even such a Europe.

We do not.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Corbynite take on Venezuela tells you all you need to know about the leadership’s judgement

A country with a population half that of Britain is currently collapsing. Its president was defeated in the country’s parliamentary elections last December and, in the true style of demagogic leaders the world over, finally declared a state of emergency ten days ago in an attempt to cling onto power, backed by the country’s army.

It is all the more ironic to understand that the state enjoys a massive economic blessing: it contains the world’s largest oil reserves. But it has been so terribly managed since the turn of the century that there is scarcely any food in the shops, electricity in the wall sockets or medicine in the hospitals. A clearer example of Biblical famine in the land of plenty it would be difficult to find.

The country, of course, is Venezuela. A country which, under its recent leadership, has gone out of its way to pick fights with the West: US presidents, even the King of Spain. And wasted no time in cuddling up to the West’s enemies, notably Putin’s Russia.

But, as Nick Cohen has argued many times, in Britain the current regime has long been supported by “a herd of bovine leftists”. This has particular resonance for those of us who find ourselves in a Corbyn-led Labour Party which we seem to scarcely recognise any more.

In short: in spite of the absolute dog’s breakfast it has made of running a country bursting with natural wealth, the regime of Nicolás Maduro has still has a few close political allies in the West.

Who, we ask, might those be?

Sunday, 15 May 2016

The results are in on Corbyn’s first few months. No matter how you spin it, they’re terrible

The leader’s office spin operation began long before the elections, because everyone knew they would be bad. The objective was simple: essentially, anything, anything at all to try and make them look other than the disaster most expected.

For example as Dan Hodges, sometime of this parish, pointed out, the Corbyn team decided on a tactic (of comparing the outcome with 2015 results, instead of 2011 or 2012 when the seats were last contested) was leaked to the BBC. It was patently foolish. No sane psephologist would try and compare an election with the previous year.

And when even the Leader himself ended up describing the results as “not good enough”, we still had incoherence in the party’s appearances on the media. In only the latest in a series of car-crash interviews, Diane Abbott memorably described the results as “steady progress”. Oh, my aching sides.

But they were all attempting to spin the unspinnable.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

I’m a Labour supporter – but I am uncomfortable about Sadiq Khan's past

My umpteenth piece at the Independent - in this case the iPaper - is about the mayoral election in London, and it's here. A little of the nuance got lost in the titling, but hey. This was my original title.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Corbyn and Livingstone cannot now both survive within the Labour party

Political historians will one day chronicle last week. In their texts, Thursday will surely turn out to have been a watershed day for Labour. It was the day that the party could no longer ignore the fact that some of its senior people not only tolerate anti-Semites in their ranks, but can even slide into making similarly ignorant statements themselves. That it truly had a problem.

Jeremy Corbyn, though apparently unfazed by associating with Holocaust deniers such as Paul Eisen and extremist preachers such as Raed Salah (check out his “hilarious” swastika joke here), is not thought by most commentators to be remotely anti-Semitic. But his willingness to embrace all-comers in the name of “dialogue” between communities, especially on the question of Palestine, has made him used to mentally blocking out the offensive things that others may say about Jews, to the point where he appears not even to see the problem.

For example, when hosting a talk show on Iran’s notorious propaganda channel Press TV (whose UK broadcasting licence was revoked by the present government): witness here how he pulls up a caller over US involvement in Palestine, but responds merely with the answer “okay” when the caller calls Israel a “disease”. Nice.

But he – or his office, at least – took an enormous step yesterday in suspending one of his party’s most famous figures and one of his own strongest supporters, Ken Livingstone.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Of course we need to support those 3,000 Syrian children looking for a home. We helped put them there

There are some times when Labour and the Tories divide on party lines, not because merely they are whipped differently – or that they have dark and evil hearts, see Uncuts passim – but simply because they have fundamentally different ways of looking at the world.

What might seem a no-brainer to ordinary folk – the desperate plight of children alone in the world and bearing no responsibility whatsoever for their fate – becomes a point of immovable principle to a pig-headed Tory party caught in a moment of blind, anti-immigration frenzy. 

And it is sadly difficult to think this is unconnected to the current turbulence within the party over its perennial, navel-gazing obsession, the EU. Along with Labour MPs, a few noble souls defied the Tory whip, but mostly the vote was a shabby affair on the part of the governing party; the parliamentary equivalent of a mumbled excuse.

No, if you need an example of why this country needs a Labour government, it was given to you on Monday night without too much fuss.

The Parliamentary Labour Party, having suffered a rather difficult few months, largely paralysed over how to respond to its politically disastrous new leadership, finally showed what it was made of and supported Lord Alf Dubs’* amendment. An amendment requiring the government to accept the 3,000 homeless, stateless and unaccompanied Syrian children into the country.

Bravo, PLP. Bravo. It was a good thing you did on Monday night, even if it ended in honourable defeat. We should, however, just remember one, painfully ironic thing.

Friday, 15 April 2016

This kind of racism has not happened in any major party since the 1980s. Discuss.

Let us ask ourselves a simple question. When is the last time a major political party was seriously accused of endemic racism?

That is, racism with a link to a segment of the party’s politics; not of a couple of isolated individuals, but of a group of activists in the rank and file, including numerous elected representatives who clearly showed (written) evidence of racist attitudes?

And accused not by a hostile newspaper, or an opposing party, but by a moderate and respected political organisation representing that minority?

Or such that that same minority’s house newspaper would have actually introduced a logo linking all the stories on Labour and racism against that community, there having been so many recently?

All these are things which have come to light in the last few weeks. About Jews.

In Labour, the party of the anti-racists.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Operation Midland: time to examine our prejudices

Last week Operation Midland, a two-year investigation into an alleged homicide thirty years ago, concluded with no charges made. It was the latest of several inquiries into child abuse, some of which are still ongoing.

Back in 2012, the Metropolitan Police began Operation Yewtree, culminating in the arrests and convictions of a number of people, mostly media personalities. It was largely perceived as a success, rightly uncovering some terrible failings on the part of the media “establishment”, where stars had become “untouchable”.

The most shocking thing about the revelations was that it seemed that everybody knew. I still remember a conversation with a BBC producer perhaps a decade ago, who commented that “you didn’t leave children alone with Jimmy Savile”. How could it be, I asked myself, that a culture be allowed to grow which allowed people to commit horrific crimes against children with impunity?

And so, many finally got their just desserts. About time. A job well done.

There was, however, a downside. No wide-ranging investigation can dig up only guilty people. Inevitably, there would be those, like the thoroughly decent DJ Paul Gambaccini, who suddenly found themselves pushed into a media circus where their life and careers were trashed by mere virtue of suspicion. That they formed part of the same sick segment of society as Savile and Rolf Harris.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Vicki Kirby McCluskey: more allegations of anti-Semitism, as the party’s entry procedures descend into farce

Welcome to the modern Labour party, where it appears that, after less than 18 months of penitence, an anti-Semitic comment can be forgiven. Then, er, unforgiven shortly after, once the story’s been published by Guido Fawkes.

The story: Sepember 2014, Kirby is suspended from the party after offensive comments comparing Israelis to Hitler. Not to mention a tweet from her Twitter account regarding Jews and big noses, as Tom Harris, sometime of this parish, noted in the Telegraph.

March 2016: It is discovered that Kirby has been reinstated. When this appears in the media, she is suspended again.

While we might be glad that, in the end, the unpleasant Ms Kirby will be prevented from spreading hatred around her fellow activists, the whole episode shows that existing membership controls have become a shambles.

Right now, control sensibly exercised by the party machine is clearly being overridden by the NEC; but that may just be the opening salvo in a war over the party’s “border controls”.

Friday, 4 March 2016

The slow, inexorable takeover of the party machine

And so it was that, last Thursday, we learned that John McDonnell MP wanted to abolish Labour’s Compliance Unit (£), which deals with constitutional and disciplinary issues.
“The NEC of the Labour Party are looking at the whole exercise — how we can move away from this regime that expels people, prevents people joining.”
Not exactly front-page news, of course. Dull, internal workings of the party machine.

But it turns out it is rather important. And it is only the most recent in a number of such events.

The basic point is this: McDonnell wants to make it harder to expel people from the party and, by extension, easier for others – and clearly here he means previously expelled or suspended people –to re-enter.

Now why, one wonders, might anyone want to do that? Is it because the Compliance Unit is a group of over-zealous thought police, imposing a rigid discipline and barring entry to all but the most blind followers of the faith?

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Oxford Labour Students and anti-Semitism: a post script

A brief thought about this, having just read this piece by my good comrade Dan Fox:

At time of writing, six days on from the row described in my last post, what has Labour done about the rampant anti-Semitism happening in Oxford, which symbolises something terribly wrong amongst its membership?

Has it prompted a comment from the leadership on how such behaviour can never be tolerated in this party?

Has an investigation been announced by Labour's HQ staff, led by the party's General Secretary?

Even a statement on the party website, confirming how seriously this issue is taken?

No. To my knowledge, none of the above.

Labour Students - an organisation with a tiny full-time staff, usually people straight out of university themselves, is to launch its own investigation.

Nothing against Labour Students, of course, but this is hardly a way to show the world that you take the subject of anti-Semitism seriously.

And, I'm afraid, we all know why. Because Jeremy Corbyn's office almost certainly feels that this is probably a subject to make too much fuss about, because he will be forced into a public comment which will would end up being worse still than the row itself.

Or, worse: that he does not really consider that there really is anti-Semitism happening in Oxford. That it is merely anti-Zionism, which is completely different, right?

Friday, 19 February 2016

Anti-Semitism: head-in-the-sand Labour still does not see the danger

On Monday, the chair of Oxford University Labour Club, starting point for generations of Labour cabinet ministers, resigned, claiming a number of his fellow Labour Students were showing anti-Semitic behaviour.

Which begs a reasonable question: should the British left, and Labour in particular, be worried about the resurgence of anti-Semitism? Or is this all just an isolated incident, blown up by the nasty, right-wing press?

Let’s look at that for a minute.

First of all, this resurgence is a fact. Five years ago, I wrote in the New Statesman about its spread amongst the British far left, where it often masquerades under the name of legitimate political criticism of Israel: the left-wing BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement against Israel; most of the left-wing “free Palestine” organisations; and various Islamist extremist groups with links to the first two.

Since then, the phenomenon has since got visibly worse.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

The Tories are within 4 points of Scottish Labour. What a time to try to outflank the SNP from the left

The UK's national media, not to mention Labour Uncut and this bloghave not spoken much about Scotland recently but, as the gaze of Britain’s political machine turns briefly northwards, as it does every four years, that will change.

It is right that it will, and this time it should not be brief. This is not just because the Holyrood elections are almost upon us. It is because Labour’s short-to-medium-term success, and perhaps its very survival, depends on a Scottish turnaround.

Why? Let’s just look at the basic electoral arithmetic. As Lewis Baston pointed out in an outstanding analysis at LabourList, because of its wipeout in Scotland, Labour needs a bigger swing than it had in the 1997 general election to win in 2020.

That is, a bigger swing even than its best-ever post-war result.

It would be a tall order for a party even at the height of its popularity and which had not for the last five years neglected swing seats in the South East which it had won in 1997 and needed to win again.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Seven rubbish defences for Labour’s defence policy review

While the party membership has been convulsed by the burgeoning civil war over the Corbyn leadership phenomenon, policy has – understandably – taken something of a back seat.

However, in recent weeks it has been in the news over one area. Surely, you say, it must be how to rework Labour’s economic policy to make it more electable? After all, aside from the public’s lack of personal engagement with Ed Miliband, that’s the factor generally accepted (including in Labour’s own post-mortem, the Beckett report) to have essentially lost it the last election?

Oh, how naïve. It’s defence, of course. Not because it was an election-loser for Labour, you understand, or even figured highly in doorstep conversations, but because it is a personal hobby horse of Our Beloved Leader and his entourage (prominent kitchen Cabinet members Andrew Murray and Seumas Milne, for example, being long-time Stop the War Coalition stalwarts).

The original brief for the defence review thus considered everything the Stoppers hold dear, from dumping Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent to leaving NATO. That said, last week the leadership rowed back from the latter and sidelined Ken Livingstone from the defence review, realising that leaving NATO was really a step too far for most.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

The best of 2015

And so we come to the traditional year-end round-up of the Centre Left's most popular posts:

5. Five dangers for Labour as the finish line approaches - In those heady days when we had merely slightly-hopeless Ed Miliband rather than disastrous Jeremy Corbyn as party leader, there was actually a time when many felt that Miliband was on track to become Prime Minister. Yes, thanks to some fairly serious differences between pre-election polling and the final result, many languished under that comfortable delusion. The Centre Left did not, even though even this blog did not fully appreciate the scale of defeat which awaited us.

4. The Muslim Manifesto and Labour's useful idiots - In March, a few signs of the madness currently gripping the national party started to make themselves evident. Here we had a (thankfully small) group of MPs inviting a hate-preacher to speak in Parliament, a clear indication of The Madness. With well-known Hamas sympathisers Andy Slaughter and Yasmin Qureshi leading the charge - thanks, guys.

3. Why backbenchers talking to terrorists is not the same as senior politicians talking to terrorists: a primer Later, during the leadership election, many attempted to defend Corbyn's association with terrorists by comparing it to the UK government talking to the IRA. This piece looked to gently explain why that argument is rubbish.

2. Tory fumbles put Labour back in the race - A few weeks before the general election saw the Tories wobble with a few serious gaffes. It put Labour back in the race in everyone's minds, only to have our hopes cruelly dashed on election night itself.

And, at Number One:

1. "Unite is proud to associate itself with Lutfur Rahman" - Or thus spake Andrew Murray, right-hand man to Len McCluskey and the leader's Chief of Staff at the Unite union. Only he turned out to be wrong when McCluskey changed his mind. Rahman, of course, was stripped of his office as Mayor of Tower Hamlets in April, after an electoral court convicted him of electoral fraud. What a sweet, sweet day was that for some of us (well, he did once try to have me arrested).

That's it - a very happy New Year to all Centre Left readers, after a year when we actually broke into the top 40 of UK political blogs for the first time. Thanks for all your support, we'll be here as long as you keep reading.
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