Sunday, 15 December 2019

Dear hard left: you broke it, you own it.

The Vase Fell on the Floor3.jpgAfter such a defeat, there has been extraordinarily little soul-searching by the Corbynite left, in case we should have expected any.

To go by some of the comments by frontbenchers and their media outriders, it is apparently the people who have erred, not the Labour party, rather recalling Brecht’s satirical poem about “dissolving the people and electing another”.

Even now, there still seems a question mark over exactly when Corbyn will go, even if it is abundantly clear he must. No Labour leader has ever survived two election defeats, let alone the worst defeat in the best part of a century and, for afters, likely censure by an anti-racism watchdog in a matter of weeks’ time.

But own it the Corbynite leadership must, because barely anyone else was even at the table (we might make an exception for Keir Starmer, but the point is probably somewhat moot).

Monday, 2 December 2019

Labour’s core demographics are dissolving before our eyes

Image result for demographic imagesWhile the election is still, like 2017, messy in terms of the multi-party split and further complicated by Brexit, the issues at stake are at least simple. For a start, no-one is remotely pretending that this election is about overall policy of the two parties.

No, it is about two things: a. Brexit and b. who is felt to be the least unsuitable leader, given the direness of both the main ones There is really nothing else. Hence, the ridiculous, magic-money-tree manifestos of the two main parties, which will be even more roundly ignored than usual.

So, what’s new about this election?

The first thing we might observe is the virtual collapse of Labour’s Leave vote.

Some Labour MPs may well be sincere believers that Brexit will be good for the country, or that they are morally obliged to implement it because of a (supposedly “non-binding”) referendum. There are surely other MPs who campaign for it, simply because they fear they will lose their jobs.

But, in Leave areas, they will mostly lose them anyway.

Friday, 15 November 2019

Ed Miliband, Lucy Powell…we see you

Image result for miliband corbyn imagesTom Watson’s resignation last Thursday as Deputy Leader is not a great blow to the hopes of Labour moderates in the sense that they have lost a great figurehead. The loss at this stage is, sadly, merely symbolic.

In the end, Watson’s Achilles heel – the perennially poor judgement displayed in his former close friendship with Len McCluskey, and his part in such disasters as the Falkirk debacle and the Blair letter – meant a truly wasted opportunity, of galvanising moderates during four years of Corbynite destruction. No, no Denis Healey he.

The moderates’ overall failure to shake off their worst leader ever, or even to stand up to his cabal, is a tragedy tinged with farce which will surely one day be the subject of much debate by historians.

Some, like Watson, have bailed, and who can blame them? Many noble exceptions are protesting every move by the leadership and rightly challenging the party’s continuing slide into a racist swamp, as exemplified by the disgraceful selection of a number of openly anti-Semitic candidates in the coming election.

Sunday, 22 September 2019

The last forty-eight hours just showed how Labour can save itself

Related imageIn one of the maddest developments in an already certifiable world of Labour politics, we have, within the last twenty-four hours, had the following: the party’s leadership threatened to immediately abolish the role of Deputy Leader (i.e. strip Tom Watson of his party office), only to pull back at the last minute from doing so.

And, during that time, we have learned some important things we didn’t know yesterday. More of that later.

The trigger to Corbyn’s reverse ferret? Simply that almost all commentators, party officials and politicans, past and present, had stated the bleedin’ obvious: that, with the country facing the meltdown of a hard Brexit and a possible general election in the next few weeks, a massive bun-fight in the party on the eve of its conference was probably not a great idea.

We will probably never know the extent to which this was Corbyn’s idea and how much his cronies, but Jon Lansman’s attempt to railroad his motion through the NEC has backfired: Watson will now be emboldened and knows that the PLP will back him.

Friday, 6 September 2019

Representative democracy: once more a thing

Image result for commons house images westminsterThe unprecedented madness of the past few days at Westminster – even against the fairly mad backdrop of post-2015 British politics in general – has made commentators run out of superlatives. They have rather stopped, agape, no longer able to predict the slightest thing.

But, in brief summary:

  • Johnson has effectively lost all control and authority as prime minister, having lost all of his first three votes in the Commons, along with his tiny majority.
  • A legal bar against no-deal Brexit is almost certain to be passed into law imminently.
  • Even his own brother will not serve as an MP in a party led by him.
  • Further, unforced errors, such as stills and clips from the parliamentary debates of an angry, braying Johnson and an openly contemptuous Rees-Mogg, have surely helped further damage the government’s standing in the country.
  • And there is almost certainly going to be a general election soon, but probably not before 31st October, meaning that Johnson will have failed utterly in his one overriding goal, to leave the EU by that date. 
Short of ignoring the no-deal bar and attempting to exit the EU anyway – an idea which could scarcely be accepted quietly by the EU itself, let alone Parliament, the public, the Civil Service and even the monarch – he has no way out except pushing for an election which he now looks unlikely to win, at least outright.

There is still a major remaining risk in the current crisis: and that is that the election, when it comes, might not result in a hung parliament. Either a further spell for Johnson or a Corbyn majority would clearly be disastrous for the country. Thankfully, a hung parliament looks more likely than not, although it is not a done deal.

In any event, any true democrat should be pleased with the events of the last week. Parliament has, at last, reasserted itself, remembering that it is not secondary to an advisory plebiscite, unwisely “bigged up” by the government of the day. It has done its job as a check on the executive, a job at which it had until recently showed itself somewhat workshy.

Hopefully, future prime ministers might remember this next time they feel tempted to lurch into another, populist referendum; especially one into which they are largely goaded by their own party and for which there is eminently resistible public pressure. Perhaps, in the style of Lyndon Johnson, they might keep a little sign on their No. 10 desk, saying “Do Not Feed The Monster”. Because populist monsters are always, always hungry.

There is a reason why we elect people to represent us, rather than directly voting on everything, and it is this: our oft-maligned MPs are actually paid to try and master the complexities of subjects which we, the public, lack either the time, the wit or the interest to.

After the last week, we might reflect that it is a system which has, over the centuries, served us pretty well.

Monday, 17 June 2019

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Labour: the damage done

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 25 March 2019

Hanging by a thread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Jeremy Corbyn: an Islington North activist writes

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

Saturday, 23 February 2019

The Independent Group will kill, or cure, Labour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which, frankly, it will deserve to.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 18 January 2019

The mother of all filibusters

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

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

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

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

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

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