Para Los Muchos, No Los Pocos – Why The Left Should Unite Behind Juan Guaidó

By Gray Sargeant

The decision by segments of the western Left to support Nicolás Maduro’s election rigging, human rights abusing government in Venezuela once again exposes their undemocratic and illiberal impulses. Over the past week they have spread the regime’s lies about; the causes of the country’s economic crisis, the political situation there, and about its left-leaning interim president Juan Guaidó. More worrying still, the indulgence of pro-Maduro propaganda is not confined to the old hard-Left here in Britain. Rather, it appears to be gaining traction amongst a new generation of American ‘progressives’ – a sea change which no doubt makes it politically savvy for Democratic presidential hopefuls to continue ignoring the cries from Caracas.

The decision by segments of the western Left to support Nicolás Maduro’s election rigging, human rights abusing government in Venezuela once again exposes their undemocratic and illiberal impulses. Over the past week they have spread the regime’s lies about; the causes of the country’s economic crisis, the political situation there, and about its left-leaning interim president Juan Guaidó. More worrying still, the indulgence of pro-Maduro propaganda is not confined to the old hard-Left here in Britain. Rather, it appears to be gaining traction amongst a new generation of American ‘progressives’ – a sea change which no doubt makes it politically savvy for Democratic presidential hopefuls to continue ignoring the cries from Caracas.

Under the leadership of Maduro, and his predecessor Hugo Chávez, political power in Venezuela has been increasingly concentrated in the hands of the president, while human rights have been continually eroded. The warning signs were there all along. For many years Freedom House consistently downgraded Venezuela in its freedom level rankings, and in 2017 changed its status from ‘Partly Free’ to ‘Not Free’. More recently, Maduro has stepped-up his suppression of the opposition – detaining and torturing those who protest against him. At the same time, the government’s mismanagement of the country’s economy has led to fatal shortages of food and basic medical equipment – and the country has experienced sharp rises in malnutrition and infant mortality. Last year, the United Nations reported that the situation had become so dire that the number of Venezuelans fleeing the country had surpassed three million. Yet due to the increasing restrictions on democratic institutions, crackdowns on opposition politicians and civil society, and a sham presidential election in 2018, the people of Venezuela have had little opportunity to resist Maduro’s tightening grip.

That is until 23 January 2019, only days after Maduro was illegitimately sworn in for another six-year term, when Guaidó as leader of the democratically elected, but marginalised, National Assembly took the presidential oath of office, as per the country’s constitution, establishing himself as Venezuela’s interim leader.

For all the complexities this contest of legitimacy raises, there is one choice which is very clear for both governments and individuals – that is to either maintain the status quo by backing the government or side with the opposition who are calling for the restoration of democracy.

In the region the opposition has been backed by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and Peru in a joint statement by the Lima Group – alongside the United States which also quickly recognised Guaidó as the interim leader of the country. Unsurprisingly, Mexico, Bolivia and Cuba all expressed support for Maduro’s regime, as too did the Kremlin which continues to regard the dictator as the ‘legitimate head of state’. While, the People’s Republic of China, which over the past decade has given the Venezuelan regime; loans, cash, and investments totalling sixty-five billion US dollars, has condemned American interference.

As the world divides so too does the Left here in Britain and America.

It is pointless dwelling on the Labour Party’s pathetic hand-wringing response to the Venezuelan crisis. Jeremy Corbyn and his hard-left followers, who now control the party, have long fetishized Latin American strongmen. For years they have been vocal apologists for the crimes and blunders carried out by these leaders in the name of socialism. They believe, as Corbyn has said himself, that Chavismo offers the world a ‘different and a better way of doing things’. Since becoming leader, Corbyn has dodged, and dodged again, the chance to call out Maduro for the human rights abuses committed by his regime. Given this, it is no surprise that Corbynistas, including prominent Labour parliamentarians, have rallied around the Maduro regime in the papers and in the parliament.

However, more worryingly is the similar pro-Maduro narrative being pushed by a number of newly elected House Democrats in the United States. These politicians came to power promising to push a progressive agenda – and while on domestic issues they most certainly are, on matters of foreign policy they appear tragically regressive. While their contributions to America’s debates on healthcare, wages, and taxation are commendable, their comments about the ongoing crisis in Venezuela are unwelcome. Here we have seen them regurgitate the same pro-Maduro lines pushed by Britain’s hard-Left.

When, Senate Minority Whip, Dick Durbin sent a powerful message of support for Guaidó, who he met last year, his fellow Democrat, and House Representative from California, Ro Khanna hit back and condemned America’s recognition of the interim president. These remarks gained traction, thanks in part to a retweet by, the rising star of the Democratic Socialists of America, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Khanna then went on to approvingly comment on a tweet, from a journalist at the Putin propaganda project In the Now, which denounced events in Venezuela as a right-wing coup. The newly elected Minnesotan Ilhan Omar went further by actually writing:

‘A US backed coup in Venezuela is not a solution to the dire issues they face. Trump’s efforts to install a far right opposition will only incite violence and further destabilize the region. We must support Mexico, Uruguay & the Vatican’s efforts to facilitate a peaceful dialogue.’

Initially, one might dismiss this as blind isolationism, or at best attribute it to an overly cautious approach to foreign policy, but everything about their comments: what they mention and what they ignore, the language they use, and how they frame the ongoing crisis echoes the lines put out by the dictatorship in Caracas. This narrative, which they do not appear to be pushing unwittingly, needs to be challenged.

These Democrats treat the Maduro regime as the legitimate ruler in Venezuela and fail to acknowledge the widespread criticism of the 2018 Presidential Election. International and regional bodies have raised serious concerns about the conduct of this vote, and numerous democratic countries have called for a fresh election. This was a vote which took place while opposition leaders were imprisoned or forced into exile, and was carried out in an uncompetitive and corrupt electoral environment. Yet, Representative Khanna, ironically on the news program Democracy Now, compares recognition of Guaidó to interference in America’s 2016 Presidential Election – as if both countries hold equally free and fair contests.

The likes of Khanna and Omar do not push for a new presidential vote. Instead they echo Maduro’s calls for dialogue and a negotiated settlement – as if the forces of tyranny and liberty in Venezuela can be reconciled. What makes these politicians think the dictatorship in Caracas is interested in genuine talks?

This is a regime which silences, not converses with, its opponents. It was Maduro who neutered the, democratic and opposition held, National Assembly back in 2017 by replacing it with a Constituent Assembly stacked with his allies. And it is under Maduro’s orders that security forces are, according to Human Rights Watch, routinely brutalising and arresting protestors, and torturing and even killing dissidents. The United Nations Human Rights office has reported that on 23 January this year alone, 696 people were detained across the country, and in the days surrounding this roundup numerous killings were reportedly carried out by pro-government and security forces. Yet these US representatives fear that it is their president, and his recognition of the opposition, which will destabilise the country.

Again this is more than simple naivety. These House representatives go out of their way to lay the blame for Venezuela’s economic woes at the feet of Washington, and its sanctions policy, instead of where it truly lies. When they do direct their fire at the Venezuelan government their criticism of Chavismo policies are more cushioned than they ought to be: ‘Of course there is suffering in Venezuela’ writes Omar, ‘everyone recognises there have been extrajudicial killings’ says Khanna. Equally banal was Khanna’s clarification that he thought Maduro’s policies were ‘bad’ and ‘not helping his people’. Which quite an understatement if there ever was one. Does he really think policies which have caused starvation and hyperinflation are just ‘bad’, or merely unhelpful? And while we are on Khanna’s disconcerting choice of language: who the hell are ‘his people’?

Again returning to the deliberate and systematic violations of human rights carried out by the Maduro regime. Is the representative from California aware of El Helicoide, the former shopping mall turned detention centre. A place where the Maduro regime has crammed, into makeshift cells, increasing numbers of anti-government protesters and subjected them to excruciating and degrading forms of torture. Does Mr Khanna know about the work of the country’s former chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Diaz, who in exile has submitted to the International Criminal Court claims of widespread corruption under Maduro and over 8,000 cases of extrajudicial killings by government security forces since 2015?

If he is, and if his colleagues Omar and Ocasio-Cortez are as well, how can they so easily dismiss the idea of supporting the Venezuelan opposition – with their flippant remarks about spending taxpayer’s money at home not abroad, and their use of cheap whataboutery. It is not like the opposition are asking for much – only that they be recognised.

Yet these Democrats do not just ignore this plea, they spit in the faces of those demanding democracy by promoting the Maduro regime’s foul smears against Guaidó, and his Popular Will party (Voluntad Popular).

Popular Will is not a ‘far right’ movement, as Representative Omar would have you believe. As has been pointed out by many observers, Guaidó’s party is a self-proclaimed social-democratic party which is, along with the governing socialist parties in Spain and Portugal, a member of the Socialist International. Not only is this a group unlikely to keep fascists within its ranks but it is an organisation, of Leftist parties, who have repeatedly criticised Maduro for undermining Venezuela’s democracy and has worked tirelessly for the release of Popular Will leader Leopoldo López, who was detained for ‘treason’ by the regime in 2014. This is also an extremely liberal party which can boast of having elected to the National Assembly Venezuela’s first openly-gay and transgender representatives. All the while Guaidó himself has a long track record of challenging Chavista corruption and championing freedoms in his country. This is a party which any progressive should be proud to stand in solidarity with.

The false branding of oppositionists as ‘rightists’ or ‘fascists’ has long been used by left-wing dictators in attempts to silence and discredit those who challenge them. As too has the charge of being a ‘puppet of the imperialists’. Here too, these self-proclaimed progressives in the House of Representatives perpetuate the narrative that the accession of Guaidó is a matter of imperialism.

These Democrats are guilty of pushing the line, put out by the Maduro dictatorship and the thuggish governments which back it, that what is taking place in Venezuela is a ‘coup’. In doing so they ignore the flawed 2018 election, the provisions within the constitution for establishing an interim president, and the fact the army remains in Maduro’s hands. This is not an elite or military coup of which Venezuelans are used to. This is a popular uprising, a revolt if you will, and, if successful, quite possibly a revolution.

Yet none of this will matter to these Democrats. For politicians like Representative Omar, this debate is not really about the Venezuelan people, throughout all of their commentary the focus is clear – this is about America and the man sitting in the White House.

In Venezuela, they believe the sinister and all-powerful hand of Washington is at play. Not only is this well-worn explanation, for all the badness in the world, so often overplayed this narrative is downright insulting. After all, who is Guaidó but a pawn of Wall Street? What is support for the opposition but a continuation of the Monroe Doctrine? And is not the attempt to restore democracy in Caracas just a repeat of all those times the US aided anti-democratic despots in Latin America? It is as if these representatives did not give a damn about the situation in Venezuela before Mike Pence’s broadcast.

This sidelining of Venezuela, in favour of the Yankee-imperialist narrative, denies the country’s people agency. It gives the false impression that the recent protests against Maduro are somehow manufactured, anti-Venezuelan or at the very least unrepresentative of people’s views in the country. This is deliberate.  It is a way for them to undermine the legitimacy of the opposition.

They also deploy this pseudo-anti-imperialist narrative to undermine those around the world showing solidarity with the pro-democracy protestors. Sadly, this is a job made easier given there is a Republican sitting in the White House, and a pretty despicable Republican at that. No doubt, for us leftists, democrats and liberals having demagogues and reactionaries like Donald Trump, and his equally repugnant counterpart in Brazil Jair Bolsonaro, on our side is uncomfortable – to say the least.

But it is our side – and Trump’s support does not alter the opposition’s case for using constitutional procedures to hold a free and fair presidential election. In fact, for those Venezuelans who want democracy restored, or simply want the supermarket shelves to be full again, the question of who is backing Guaidó around the world, and why, is probably at the very least a secondary concern.

Trump clearly does not care for liberal-democratic norms. However, for all the gross threats Trump makes against journalists and for all the bluster about locking up his political opponents it is Nicolás Maduro who actually carries out these acts. If this new generation of ‘progressive’ Democrats could go after human rights abusing despots in the same way which they, rightly, go after President Trump we would not be in such a sorry state of affairs.

Fortunately, amongst the party’s elected representatives the foreign policy views of Ocasio-Cortez, Khanna, and Omar remain on the side-lines, for now. There are senior ranking, and left-wing, Democrats who have strongly spoken out against the Maduro government.

This is not a question of hawks versus doves nor is it about what side of the centre-Left one sits on. The picture should not be confused by Corbyn who has both backed Maduro and positioned himself on the left of the Labour Party, strongly opposed western liberal and humanitarian interventions abroad, and has called for cuts to Britain’s defences.

After all, Senator Bernie Sanders has also called for cuts to America’s military expenditure and is still able to explicitly condemn the Maduro regime’s ‘violent crackdown on Venezuelan civil society’ and its violation of the country’s constitution. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also sent a strong signal when she tweeted: “America stands by the people of #Venezuela as they rise up against authoritarian rule and demand respect for human rights and democracy.” Neither she nor Sanders have especially hawkish voting records and both have, to varying degrees, positioned themselves on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

Hopefully it will be these Democrats, who genuinely stand up for human rights and democracy, which prevail in the years to come. For all the complexities involved in this crisis the question of which government to recognise is a simple one. Guaidó, and his many followers, are calling for democracy in opposition to the brutal Maduro dictatorship. What is happening right now in Venezuela is not a ‘far right’ ‘coup’ nor is it the product of American imperialism. It is a disgrace that self-proclaimed progressives would promote such insulting lies. There is nothing noble about being a mouthpiece for Maduro nor is it in anyway progressive to turn a blind eye to the regimes illegitimacy and increasing authoritarianism.

While such voices remain on the fringe, the moral decline of the British Labour Party in recent years should serve as a warning that one should never be complacent about these pseudo-anti-imperialist narratives, which at the end of the day are simply pro-dictatorship. In the long-term, if the Democratic Party goes the way of its UK counterpart then those fighting for human rights and democracy around the world really will be in trouble.

For now, an increasingly popular segment of the American Left have turned their back on fellow social democrat Juan Guaidó as he fights for democracy in his country. They have deliberately refused to aid the Venezuelan people’s efforts to determine their own future and build a country which is both peaceful and prosperous. For them, this should be a mark of shame.

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Alarmed by Populism? It’s time to put your money where your mouth is

By James Patterson

This is an unashamed plug for a new political project, and an appeal for donations. Many think we now live in an age of extremes. Populists, of the left and the right, seem to be in ascendancy across the world. The White House is occupied by a man willing to do business with white nationalists. Britain has been plunged into the chaotic uncertainty of Brexit. This followed a sulphurous referendum campaign in which social and economic liberalism was represented as an establishment ploy. The British Labour Party has been subjected to a hostile takeover by the ultra-left. Jeremy Corbyn has been its Trojan horse. Elsewhere, unsavoury characters have enjoyed electoral success by flaunting their illiberalism. This is illustrated by recent election outcomes in Brazil and Italy.

Those opposed to reactionary populism seem to have been bested by events. Commentators, such as Owen Jones of the Guardian, sneeringly refer to them as ‘centrists’. They are said to have lost the war. They are often told to pick a side. There is a single explanation often given for the defeat of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 US presidential election, the success of the Leave campaign in the UK and the Corbyn takeover of the British Labour Party. That is ‘centrists’ or ‘liberals’ failed to make a case that resonated with people. They hid behind bland, technocratic, managerialist language. Their positions lacked the visceral appeal of those espoused by Trump or Nigel Farage or Corbyn.

Social media is often cited as a factor in the ascendancy of populism. Twitter has not exactly proved conducive to reasoned debate. It is very easy for those with opinions to declare a trenchant position on any given topic. The format discourages discussion of nuances. Increasingly, those interested in politics or current affairs retreat into echo chambers. Interactions with those who have a different opinion are often rancorous and antagonistic.

Nora Mulready, a welfare rights worker and former Labour activist, has come up with a possible antidote, ‘the Unfinished Revolution Project’. This is a series of filmed conversations. Contributors will include politicians, academics and NGO professionals among others. They will discuss, at length, contentious topics such as estate regeneration, political Islamism and the #MeToo movement. Their opinions will often differ. However, the project is intended to explore these differences and also to find the common ground. Those opposed to populism need to decide what is they are for. The project may contribute to the intellectual renewal of the political centre. Please give generously.

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-unfinished-revolution-project

Back From The Brink

By Dave Cohen

I was dreading Labour Party Conference.

Convinced that the party had a summit lined up of ignoring Brexit and careering happily towards certain defeat, I was already fearing the narrative that this loss would be placed squarely at the tail of me and my fellow media-controlling lizards.

As the weekend approached, you could sense the excitement from delegates heading to Liverpool, ready to declare war on the only enemies they feel truly passionate about – their own MPs, and Binyamin Netanyahu.

Throughout the summer I was being reminded on a daily basis by friends and former comrades on Twitter that my feelings of discomfort about Labour’s problem with Jews were not only unfounded, but a direct result of me having been got to by Mossad.

Why then did I feel more optimistic at the end of conference about Labour than I had for the previous three years? The answer, which I had never imagined would be an answer to anything, was John McDonnell.

While a small but significant chunk of the Labour membership have been responding to every conversation on Twitter about Labour with “Yes, but Israel”, urged on by Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to kill the story and engage in any other issue, McDonnell has been asking serious questions about what a future Labour government would do if they won power.

Ideas had been peeping out all summer, interesting continuations of the work of Jon Cruddas and Ed Miliband from before 2015, that could have been setting the political agenda if it hadn’t been for you-know-what. One of the few rays of light in this dark summer of Semitism was knowing that McDonnell was as exasperated as I was at the months of pointless Jew-baiting.

Whatever he may have done in the past McDonnell, like Martin McGuinness 20 years ago, seems to have discovered a taste for engaging with people he doesn’t necessarily agree with. He’s been watching the PLP – not to carp, or threaten deselection, but to learn from them. MPs like Lisa Nandy, developing a raft of ideas for bridging the gap between towns and cities: Luciana Berger pioneering new ways of dealing with mental health, David Lammy scoring hit after hit against the Tories simply by standing up for immigrant communities. Labour’s talented MPs have been blocking out the angry din, articulating the hopes and ideas that brought them into politics in the first place.

Freed by the breath-taking incompetence of George Osborne from having to flesh out every policy and cost every penny, McDonnell can think aloud and honestly about our economic future in a way I haven’t seen from our party since Blair and Brown in the mid-1990s.

Meanwhile deselection, which threatened to be the main story of the conference, was barely mentioned after the weekend. (Deselection is a proven vote loser: I can vouch for this. A year ago, Momentum activists deselected our local councillors. Three inexperienced Momentum members were chosen to replace them, all three lost to the Lib Dems.)

Instead Brexit, which in Corbyn’s ideal world is never mentioned in his polite circles again until faithfully delivered hard and fast by May and Johnson, became the main issue at conference.

The split among Corbyn supporters that emerged this summer over anti-Semitism went public over Brexit, its surfacing at conference a big defeat for Corbyn and the hardliners. Their position of ordering us not to upset the far-right Brexiteers was shown up in its absurdity. Three years ago the people who correctly asked “who’s going to vote for a Labour party that promises to manage austerity slightly better than the Tories?” are now asking their members to stick with a party that promises to manage Brexit slightly better than Theresa May. That first argument persuades us this second is without foundation.

To the die-hard Remainers who have been waiting for Labour to get fully behind a second referendum, this was one more depressing confirmation of the party’s spineless dereliction of their moral duty. For those of us who’ve been trying to get Labour to even mention Brexit, it was a rare and welcome sighting in public of a debate that should have been happening across the party for more than two years.

It’s true there was much confusion, and what appeared to be a stand-off between Starmer and McDonnell about whether Labour would back a second referendum. This is totally understandable – after all that silence our Brexit policy is still bumping into obstacles as it adjusts to this unusual experience of illumination.

The fall-out between Starmer and McDonnell was serious but somehow you got a sense that they sorted it out like adults – something else we haven’t seen in the party for three years.

Another issue that emerged after months of indifference was the welcome attack on the far right in Europe. I’d been exasperated at my local branch trying to stress the importance of this. At first I thought maybe they struggled with a rise of fascism that was based on Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in equal measure. I realised that for the die-hard supporters, events in Europe are of no interest whatsoever.

Corbyn was a marginal figure at conference. Up until now for all his faults – ambivalence to discussing Brexit, supporting Putin, attacking the free press, rock bottom polling figures, and so on – he at least could take credit for moving the debate on the economy further left than Miliband managed. Now McDonnell has taken control of the economic agenda – apart from the green jobs announcement, which was all Corbyn had left for his own speech, having previously shown even less interest in tackling climate change than staying in the EU.

Corbyn was at his most animated when condemning Gordon Brown. Attacking the old left and centre may have been necessary to take hold of the party machinery, but three years on, his grip on power as tight as it will ever be, why does he still feel the need to attack the party he has represented for decades?

The answer is the same as it has always been. He’s proved throughout his career that he is simply not as comfortable taking on the Tories as he is trashing anyone or anything to do with pre-2015 Labour.

I got a sense that for many of his erstwhile supporters, this truth, known to those of us desperate for the Tories to be kicked out of office, is beginning to filter through.

Sure, the faithful got their Palestine debate. We already knew Momentum members considered that issue more important than Brexit, the NHS, the economy, welfare, education and climate change. Can you imagine McDonnell having that list of priorities? And can you imagine Corbyn not?

All of which makes it now completely legitimate to ask, if the non-Corbynite left can get behind McDonnell’s engaging with the whole of the party, which is the antithesis of the boss’s approach, what is the point of Corbyn staying as leader?

Obviously it’s not that simple. The outrage among some members at this very suggestion would keep Twitter in meltdown for days. I understand their feelings. Before the 2015 election, like them I refused to believe the evidence of my own eyes on the doorstep, convinced by the flow of horror stories on Twitter that revulsion for Tory policies causing appalling hardship would mean people could never vote for them again.

Then there’s the issue of who replaces him. McDonnell doesn’t want to be leader, and he won’t want to be seen as the one to get rid of his old friend. He’s angered the faithful enough by backing IHRA, he won’t want to upset the grassroots any more for now. But if McDonnell and Starmer can get their act together in the autumn, they should be able to land blow after blow on the hollowed-out corpse that is the Conservative Party. Labour could shoot ahead in the polls – but Corbyn’s popularity will not rise with it. People will piece together the facts and conclude the bleedin’ obvious for themselves.

And if McDonnell won’t do the deed, will McCluskey? After last week’s conference, that could be a genuine possibility.

 

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.”

 

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.

The Fear Of Falling Apart

By Jake Wilde

One of the reasons why Corbynites use hysterical language when talking about those who occupy the political space between themselves and the Tories is the fear that Stephen Bush eloquently describes in his piece for The Times. This terror of what is often described as a ‘new centrist party’ results in nonsensical articles from the usual suspects of the Labour Leader’s Office What’s App group, correlating the rise of everything bad, from fascism to global warming, to a mythical section of the population that is somehow simultaneously secretly in charge of everything yet that also doesn’t exist.

The Corbynites’ fear though is not that a new centrist party would result in Labour haemorrhaging support overnight. The current leadership of Labour might owe more in ideology and personnel to TUSC than the party of Attlee, Wilson and Blair, but they believe their days of being treated less seriously than the Monster Raving Loony Party are behind them. Rather the fear is that a new party would only have one immediate target – to deny the country the opportunity of being subjected to Corbynism.

This target is achievable for a new party even without a fully formed national organisation being in place. For example, though naturally preferable to do so, it wouldn’t be necessary to appear on the ballot paper in every constituency. Nor would there need to be a significant ground game if an effective and diverse advertising campaign was deployed.

The key though, will be to have an identity. This can be provided in one of two ways. Firstly by having a charismatic and credible leader, someone capable of answering those difficult questions about the party’s purpose. Secondly it will need to create an agenda that distinguishes it from alternatives. At the moment the most obvious point of difference is to take a contrary view on Brexit but this, in the longer term, is likely to be a mistake.

It’s stating the obvious to say that Brexit has created entrenched positions, but the debate will change completely once the UK formally leaves the European Union. This is why I think that the best time for a new party is some time after 29 March 2019, and probably only as we approach the next General Election. Granted, with a weak and unstable government, there’s no guarantee that the next election will be on or near the statutory date of 5 May 2022 but the closer we get to this date, the less a new party will feel like a breakaway and more like one formed organically from the politically homeless. For, as Stephen Bush also points out, “roughly every year, a third of the [Labour] party leaves and is replaced by members who are more closely aligned to the present leadership”. A continuation of this level of churn will help to draw a distinction between the new party and a Labour Party increasingly committed to a dogmatic agenda, soaked through with regressive views.

Furthermore, the more time that elapses between now and an election, the more likely that Labour MPs opposed to Corbynism will be forced out, again making the new party look and feel less like a breakaway. And the less connection the new party has to this toxic incarnation of the Labour Party the better.

It’s good to talk (about the burka)

By Nora Mulready

This is a cross-post, reproduced by kind permission of the author, from the original.

Every human being has the right to wear what they want. That includes people who choose to wear the burka or the niqab. However, to portray the debate about the burka and niqab as one solely or even predominantly about the individual choices of grown women is to miss the far more fundamental question at the heart of this debate. What are the values we are prepared to see morally normalised in British society? The burka and niqab are the physical manifestation of the belief that women should not be seen in public, and that we must cover every inch of our bodies & hair if we are to step outside. Regardless of the individual choices, (where they are choices), made by women, are we happy as a society to let such a regressive idea of how women should live go publicly unchallenged? I’m sorry, but I cannot believe that we should so casually throw away hard won gender equality at the altar of religious sensitivity.

Many people have suggested that ‘white men’, or even all non-burka/niqab-wearing Muslims, should stay out of this debate, that it is not their place to comment. This is a matter for the women and the women only. This is utterly wrong. Britain is a society where people from a huge range of backgrounds, cultures and personal beliefs live together, side by side, and, in most part, we do so in a cohesive and harmonious way. We have celebrated the idea that we are diverse yet united for a very long time. This has been rooted in the belief that we are fundamentally one society, where we all have equal rights and an equal stake in what happens. The question of whether, as a society, we are prepared to either tacitly or explicitly support the view that women should not be seen in public is a profound philosophical debate and everyone – male, female, Muslim and non-Muslim – is fully entitled to participate in this discussion. The values we choose to publicly uphold, as a collective, shared society, impact on us all.

There is an unfortunate tendency in Britain of mainstream politicians, particularly on the left, opting out of public discussions about regressive, and even abusive, cultural or religious practices on the basis that it is somehow not their place to comment. The mindset of cultural relativism, “it’s their culture”, continues to shut down important discussions about child veiling in state primary schools and the puritan curriculum taught in deeply conservative religious schools, just as it used to shut down important conversations about forced marriage and FGM, long after they began to percolate the consciousness of mainstream British society. Nimko Ali, FGM campaigner and survivor, recently wrote on twitter, “the act of FGM as painful as it was for me was never as painful as the dismissal of my experience as culture when I know it was abuse and a violation of my human rights.” By largely shying away from public discussions on these topics, hugely important conversations, which should have been happening in the mainstream of British politics were, and are, pushed to the fringes. Political capital is then made out of these issues by extremists, who use the silence of mainstream politicians to push the ideas that 1. people are no longer allowed to speak openly in British society, and 2. that entire communities can be demonised. In the long run, staying silent does not help create a better, kinder, more inclusive society. It only breeds resentment, tensions, anger and extremism.

This must be remembered now. Although triggered by the deliberately unpleasant “post box” and “bank-robber” comments by Boris Johnson, the debate currently happening about the burka and niqab is a good thing. There is clearly an appetite for the conversation in the country, so let’s have it. Bring the discussion out into the open, and into the mainstream, take the debate out of the hands of extremists on all sides. This discussion is not about challenging the clothing choices of individual women, it is about whether there is a moral imperative – or even, at least, a moral right – in a free, democratic and secular country to challenge the normalisation of the idea that women should not be seen in public, for whatever reason. In a shared society, it is only through genuine, sincere and open discussion, in which everyone – everyone – from burka/niqab-wearing Muslim women to “white men” – has a right to participate, that we have a hope of both upholding important principles and, somehow, finding a shared way through. It’s good to talk (about the burka).