Tony Blair’s next speech

By Dave Cohen

“I want to talk today about Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. I know I’ve been a divisive figure in the past, but I’m sure everyone across the political spectrum will agree on one thing, which is, the last thing anyone wants to hear right now is another speech by me about Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.

This time though, it’s different. I promise. I realise, in criticising Jeremy, I’ve been making a basic mistake. I’ve been reacting emotionally, taking it personally, because I thought the changes that have happened over the last three years were all about me.

Initially, they were. The 2015 leadership election was specifically about breaking with New Labour. But the 2017 General Election was about something else, and only now are we beginning to see what that was.

I’m not going to talk about our record during 13 years of power, what are seen as our achievements and failures. We knew mostly what we wanted to do, and did what we could to achieve it. But there were two crucial areas where we didn’t set the agenda. The first was economic policy. Rightly or wrongly, we felt we had to break the myth, and it’s always been a myth, that the Conservatives are better at running the economy than we are. To do that we felt we had to play by their rules. We spent money on services and investment, and redistributed income, but we should have been bolder.

One of the reasons we weren’t bolder was because of that second area, the Tory press. After what they did to Neil Kinnock we understood that the newspapers, run largely as they are by a small rump of ideologically right-wing prejudiced zealots, had to be neutralised. We couldn’t beat them, but we had to work out how to live with them.

Ed Miliband made the crucial break with our policy. When he took on the Murdoch press, then the Daily Mail, I thought he was playing a dangerous game. I never felt we could do what he did, but when I saw what happened when he stood up to the bullies, I realised he was right.

When it came to the economy, Ed stuck reluctantly to the Tory agenda. What lost him the election was that by 2015, it no longer mattered how accurately we costed our economic policy. We were playing catch-up to the coalition’s disastrous austerity, and swing voters were never going to vote for a slightly less painful version of that.

Which is where Jeremy came in. In the leadership election, while the other three candidates were still talking about how to manage the economy better than the Tories, Jeremy was saying to hell with that, how much worse can we possibly be than George Osborne? Corbyn made the second break from accepted Labour policy when he attacked the Osborne-Cameron economic disaster, and this resonated with millions of voters, far more than Ed Balls could have managed with his accurately detailed but dull-looking financial statements. Jeremy deserves credit for that.

When it came to the 2017 election, the Tories had given up completely on financial prudence. The press were too busy arguing among themselves, and there wasn’t a soul left in the country who believed Labour could be any worse at running the economy than George Osborne, with the possible exception of George Osborne.

The result of that election surprised everyone. The only argument had been whether the Tory majority would be in double or triple figures. Len McCluskey, who had already been talking about how many seats Labour would have to lose before deciding whether Jeremy should stay on, was one of many from across the spectrum who thought we would be thrashed.

What none of us had factored in – me, Len McCluskey, the press, even Corbyn himself, was that tribal affiliations to Labour run deep.

The party is always bigger than the leader.

I’ll be honest, those tribal affiliations helped me. In 2005, a lot of traditional Labour supporters were angry either with our involvement in the war against Iraq, or our embrace of multiculturalism and the European Union’s new rules on freedom of movement. A lot of people who normally vote Labour refused on that occasion, but not enough to stop me winning that third General Election.

That deep-seated loyalty to Labour helped Jeremy bring us closer to the Tories in 2017 than was thought possible, and it cemented his position as leader of the party.

I’m not happy with that. But finally, I accept it. That’s where Labour is now.

What happens next, with the Tory party almost utterly destroyed as far as the public can see, and the real possibility of Corbyn as Prime Minister of a minority Labour government?

For most who don’t follow politics closely, that looks on the surface to be a good alternative. And actually, if you look at Labour’s domestic wish-list, there’s not a lot Jeremy and I disagree on. Spending more on the NHS, bringing millions out of child poverty, tax breaks and help for the poor – even John McDonnell’s boldest policies will take more than one five-year term to restore the health of the nation’s economy to 2010 levels.

There’s also not a lot to distinguish between our approaches to foreign policy.

Seriously.

On the surface, they couldn’t be more different, but there are crucial similarities. We both approach foreign policy from what we believe to be a moral standpoint. And, however much you may want to see a negotiated compromise between two opposing countries, there are times when you feel you have to take sides.

In my case it was the side of the Eastern European Muslims, then joining with the US against Saddam. Jeremy has chosen to back Russia’s support of President Assad in Syria, and President Rouhani and the Ayatollahs in Iran. I don’t think either of us will ever persuade the other to agree to the opposite view on these issues – but we both acknowledge our beliefs are equally and firmly held.

I’ve noticed that when I disagree with Jeremy on foreign policy, and the issue of anti-Semitism, it has the opposite effect to what’s intended. The view of the majority of the membership, and I now accept a lot of Labour supporters across the country, is “if Tony says it, it must be wrong.” I understand that. For better or worse, in this country I am forever tied in with freedom of movement, and the Iraq war.

Even so, for the thousands of members and many MPs who are against me, but strongly disagree with Jeremy, this is an almost intractable problem. Many have left the party, but have nowhere to go. As the new Labour rulers say whenever a non-Corbynite member leaves, good riddance.

There is one issue, though, where I am certain I have the support not just of Labour voters and MPs but most members. Even those who voted Leave, are coming round to the idea that the Tory Brexit we are sleepwalking into will be a disaster for the country. Jeremy’s refusal to highlight this, or engage seriously with the subject, I think is mistaken.

I’m not asking Jeremy to change his views. No one can accuse him of being a softy Europe lover: if he starts to properly attack the Tory Brexit plans, and opens the debate about what our country should become, it would amount to a massive shift in the stalemate that has ground us down and made the country ungovernable for more than two years. If there’s one politician who could persuade people to think again about allowing Tory Brexit it’s him.

And yet he’s entrusting all the economic arguments to the very people who inflicted the chaos of austerity onto this country. Gove, Johnson, Davis, Duncan Smith, May – each played a crucial role in the most economically disastrous government in the history of all Conservative governments.

All the pointers are to a Brexit that would trash everything he believes in – but Jeremy’s response appears to be – “yes, it’s true I’m hitching myself to a dangerous campaign that could end in disaster, but don’t worry, I have truth and morality on my side, I’ll be able to persuade Boris and Nigel that once we’re out of Europe, we’ll be able to build a workers’ democracy with increased business regulation and massive government investment in our public services.”

Imagine a Labour leader, taking the nation into such an enormous risky endeavour with such naïve faith in his ability to change the views of people who fundamentally disagree with him.

Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well.

The question now, I understand, is no longer ‘how do we replace Jeremy with someone who could win?’ Instead ‘given that Labour will probably win under Jeremy, what can we do to make that victory work for the majority of Labour voters and the rest of the country?’

The answer is obvious to me. If you’re still a member of the party, bring up Brexit morning noon and night. Contact your local Momentum group and tell them to bring it up at Conference. Ask your MPs to ask Jeremy what plans he has for the day after Brexit?

If you’re no longer a member, but long for the day when Labour are back in power, start organising in your communities – at work, at home, in your schools and hospitals. You will all know someone who voted Leave and is worried about what will happen, or someone with an EU passport whose future here is still uncertain. Talk to them, take up their case, let them know we’re not ignoring them.

We may not be able to stop Brexit, but with the Tories no longer interested in the outcome, it’s up to us to take responsibility and talk about how we’re going to rebuild Britain – and by us I mean Labour.

Remember – the party is always bigger than the leader.”

 

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Labour’s brilliant summer

By Mark Newman

If you think that the Labour leadership must be feeling bruised and downhearted about the events of the last three months then you’ve missed the point of this summer.

Maybe you’re wondering why Labour are still unable to pull away in the polls despite facing the worst government in living memory, or you’ve watched bewildered as the only initiative to have surfaced all summer appears to have been a poorly thought out plan to curb press freedom, in which case you haven’t grasped why the leadership will be looking back on the last three or four months as the most successful yet in Corbyn’s bid to become Prime Minister.

Whether you’re angry at how the anti-Semitism issue has been weaponised by the right in order to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn, or despairing at the inability of the leadership to empathise with the unease felt by Jewish members of Labour – don’t worry, this summer hasn’t been about you and your feelings about voting for the party.

The only voters that matter, the really important ones, are the four million who chose Ukip in 2015. In 2017 most of them went to the Tories by default, but since Theresa May’s Chequers disaster they have been searching for a new home. And Labour, it seems, have been reaching out.

If you think that’s ludicrous, look at what the party have been doing since February, when Jeremy Corbyn announced he would back a customs union – which of course the EU will only accept if Labour also come round to keeping the single market and freedom of movement. Since that moment, the leadership have barely spoken about Brexit, leaving Keir Starmer a lone voice to hint that they might soften their stance, when the leadership are clearly planning no such thing.

For a long while this was clever positioning by Labour. Allowing the Tories to own Brexit means Labour will not be blamed when it all goes horribly wrong next year. But for many traditional Labour supporters the refusal to back freedom of movement or wholeheartedly endorse the campaign to protect the three million EU citizens living here is seen as going against everything they believe in.

Those people may have also felt unease about the continuing anti-Semitism row, but the truth is there aren’t enough of you who will stop voting Labour because of it. If there were, Corbyn and his team would have apologised and shut down the debate long ago.

Looking at the people Labour have been alienating over the summer, it’s almost entirely the big city left – left-leaning journalists, Labour-voting Jews, and remain voters, all of whom are accused of being Tory enablers whenever they say anything that might be seen as criticism, constructive or otherwise, of the leadership.

These are mainly people in inner-city constituencies like Corbyn’s own, with massive five-figure majorities. In terms of winning or losing seats, they don’t matter. Corbyn himself could lose 20,000 of these people in Islington North alone and still be returned as the MP. Labour may be squandering metropolitan votes by the thousand, but it won’t lose them a single Parliamentary seat and they’re picking up new fans along the way.

Labour’s pro-Corbyn membership are being urged to be gentle towards the fascists and far right who are calling for the same hard Brexit that Theresa May is instigating, and Labour are refusing to condemn. The activist Owen Jones, employed as a bellwether on every newly floated leadership idea on an almost daily basis, warns his followers and detractors of the dangers of upsetting the forces of the far right.

While Momentum have been expending huge amounts of energy criticising anyone on the left expressing even the smallest misgivings about Labour’s anti-Semitism stance, right wing bully boys like Steven Yaxley-Lennon and Jacob Rees Mogg have barely raised a sneer. Truly shocking Brexit papers have been released in recent days, but apart from Starmer there’s been hardly a word from the most senior figures in Corbyn’s team on these titanic No Deal scenarios.

Four years ago the far left were furious when Ed Miliband introduced the now infamous Caps On Immigration mugs. Now the people who shouted loudest against those mugs are refusing to engage in the one activity that used to be their usp – fighting fascists on the ground.

While some may have been horrified to see former BNP leader Nick Griffin backing Corbyn’s stance on anti-Semitism, this won’t have bothered the leadership. It will have given Ukip voters, already told by their own leaders that they have been betrayed by the Tories, one more reason to switch their allegiance to Labour.

Those Ukip votes matter because so many of them are in Tory-held marginals like Pudsey (majority 331) and Southampton Itchen (31). Labour only need a handful of these to rid the Tories of their majority. No wonder Momentum activists are spending so much time in Chingford, Ian Duncan Smith is in real danger of losing his seat.

It’s one thing to allow the Tories to implode over Brexit – it was Miliband’s tactic in 2014 but it’s more likely to work now – quite another to refuse to articulate a single idea of what kind of country we want to become after next March.

But if you’re a typical Labour activist from the pre-Corbyn era, what are you supposed to do?

Keeping anti-Semitism as the story of the summer has allowed the leadership to avoid discussing Brexit or climate change, another subject where Corbyn appears to be ambivalent. More important, it has made it harder for Corbyn’s critics within the party to stay loyal to him, while showing them they have nowhere else to go – especially the MPs.

All this talk of a new party has also helped, because it has spelled out the options to the electorate.

Forming a centre party will split the left vote and continue the life of the worst government in living memory. You may not like Corbyn, his followers and his leadership team, you may not have any idea what he intends to do about Brexit, or climate change, or how to save the NHS or our bankrupt councils or our crumbling education system or our cruel and broken welfare state. You know Brexit will kill off any financial plans John McDonnell may have for rebuilding our decimated country. But you also understand that the alternative – a hollowed-out, torn apart, angry right-wing Tory non-government with an even worse leader than they already have – cannot be countenanced.

In these volatile times there is only one danger Corbyn’s party faces, and that is the rising tide of anger on the left about Brexit. Some advocates of a second vote have learned from decades of Daily Mail hectoring that the only way to get what you want is to shout louder than the other side, and if they can persuade Labour conference to discuss the issue then the leadership will be forced to make a stand that will potentially lose them those marginal voters. Which is why I expect them to make sure the issue is side-lined.

For the vast majority who voted Remain, but were prepared to accept the result, or Leave, in the expectation that its political leaders had a plan, the only hope appears to be if the Lib Dems can reverse their fortunes and articulate the views of that silenced majority. A new leader would need to navigate an incredibly difficult path, managing the expectations of the noisy religious anti-Brexiters and offering a People’s Vote that would be acceptable to almost everyone – apart from Jacob Rees-Mogg and Jeremy Corbyn.

Good luck with that.