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.

 

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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.

The Third Law of Politics

By Jake Wilde

I. A different kind of politics, apparently

After so many decades spent spewing speeches, motions, pamphlets, newspapers and online columns into the world, only to have them relentlessly ignored by everybody but themselves, it’s little wonder that those currently in charge of the Labour Party should be so full of vengeance. For the crime of not taking them seriously when they occupied the dark fringes of political landscape, our punishments are to be many and varied.

For now, without any real power, they are having to limit themselves to complaining about hats and conducting purges of the party. Their method is the usual one, laying down a complex set of rules that must not be broken but are only applicable to those outside the tent. In broad terms this amounts to “If you’re not one of us then what you think is wrong, irrelevant and intolerable.” Thus those who’ve campaigned and worked for the party for many years, under many different leaderships, can be and are discarded, as all eventually will fall foul of the unwritten rule of “not one of us”.

There’s no nuance behind the politics of vengeance being readied for the country should real power fall into their hands. Despite the rhetoric of collectivism, policies are decided by the small group at the centre under John McDonnell, and then distributed to the lower ranks not for discussion, but enthusiastic endorsement. There’s nothing particularly left wing about this, it’s just how authoritarian regimes operate. It’s on the first page of the manual.

On the second page is the most important rule after that: “Don’t tell everyone what you’re really going to do.” Jeremy Paxman was on to this in the 2017 election. His botched attempt to make Corbyn confess that the manifesto was a sham probably still haunts him, but if there’s one thing Corbyn is good at its lying about what he really thinks. Any man who can claim he’s not antisemitic while working for the planet’s most antisemitic regime has some front, and Corbyn is as adroit at deception as any con man.

It’s been the revelation of his leadership, far more so than the overstated impact upon the so-called youth vote. In truth the ranks of the Labour Party have been swelled not by hundreds of thousands of newly inspired teenagers, but by the middle aged, middle classes who previously spent their time on the fringes and, in all too many cases, under rocks. Labour is now a party creaking with conspiracy theorists, antisemites, Islamists and armchair revolutionaries, all of whom have found a home they never thought would exist for them – in one of Britain’s major parties.

Labour claims to have six tests on Brexit, but has only one rule: “Don’t get the blame”. This has applied from the start, hence the non-committal approach during the referendum, and the comical attempts to ride two horses with one arse since. You’d be hard pressed now to remember Labour’s official position during the referendum and, in the 2017 election, polls showed that Labour had managed to convince both ardent Leavers and Remainers that the party supported each of their viewpoints. Duplicity on such a scale is rare, and to be commended if you like that sort of thing.

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II. The Myth of the English Socialist Dream

For many years the UK civil service has resisted attempts, generally by the right, at politicisation. Margaret Thatcher so regularly complained about civil servants thwarting her efforts to radically change the UK’s economic and political structures that for most of the early 80s it seemed only a matter of time before a US-style system was introduced. This desire to remove the blockers in the civil service is currently being taken up by the Brexiteers and it will be shared by the Labour Party should their current leadership get into power.

Whether it’s the courts making the “wrong” decision, the police “taking sides” or civil servants being “obstructive”, the truth is that the institutions are there to ensure democracy means more than just absolute power for the temporary occupants of the executive. In simple terms western society has built structures to stop anyone from doing anything too nuts, or from pointing ominously at the crowds at their backs.

Thus politicians that promise radical change are, generally, hawking a fantasy. The Labour manifesto of 2017 was not about winning a general election. It was about retaining control of the party. It was a sentimental appeal to Labour members, supporters and voters, pushing emotional buttons so as to bolster support after defeat. I call this fantasy the English Socialist Dream, the fiction most commonly pushed by Corbyn at his rallies.

I’ve come to the view that the majority of so-called ordinary members of the Labour Party – the ones who aren’t entrists and have backed Corbyn twice now – have bought into a vision of socialism that predates even the Second World War, even before Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World.

Corbyn talks relentlessly in niceisms; that all our problems can be solved if everything is just nicer and that the state has a key role in being the nicest of all. The state will provide nice railways, nice energy, nice foreign policy, nice policing, nice immigration, nice housing, nice healthcare and so on. There’s no need to worry, the state will look after everything. Yes of course it’s all costed, now just stop asking questions, take your soma and support Jeremy.

Brave New World is about how a utopia is in fact dystopian because the people in it no longer ask questions. Rather than having Big Brother relentlessly controlling information, Huxley envisaged a world of “painless, amusement-sodden, and stress-free consensus”, said Christopher Hitchens when comparing Huxley’s vision with Orwell’s 1984:
“For true blissed-out and vacant servitude, though, you need an otherwise sophisticated society where no serious history is taught.”

And so we’re told now that there is nothing to be learnt from history about Labour’s planned economic programme, that no-one should have any sense of foreboding about the party’s treatment of Jewish members, activists and MPs, and that any past associations that the leadership had with terrorists are irrelevant (or even, preposterously, positive). Do not delve too deeply – there is nothing to be learnt by forensic examination.

In just the same way as Tony Benn never asked his famous Five Questions of Tariq Aziz over tea, you do not need to know the details behind Corbyn’s support of the mass murder of white South Africans during the apartheid years. Nor how his support for the violent expression of Irish nationalism has been transformed into an alternative history of a neutral, bilateral support for the peace process, to the bemusement even of former IRA commanders.

You knew, everybody knew, that those numbers in the manifesto didn’t add up. They didn’t even come close. We also all know that confidence, that most valuable of commodities, would evaporate with John McDonnell at the helm of the economy. And all of those spending plans would be just sand flowing through his helpless fingers as the wealth and income he needed to tax took flight. You knew, when Paxman pushed Corbyn on why all the things he believed in were not in the manifesto, that his genial smile was a clever trick, an in-joke between the Labour leader and his supporters. Corbyn was never going to admit it and he didn’t need to because his followers knew the game he was playing.

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III. Antisemitism in the blood

Corbynism, if such a term can be used, relies less on an intellectual analysis of the faults in society and proffering a rational set of proposals to remedy said faults, than on identifying the villains and telling everyone you’re going to punish them. That Corbyn should be the leader of dim-witted punishment politics will come as no surprise to those that have followed his career. But it’s simply no different to scapegoating. That scapegoating is traditionally the preserve of the far right doesn’t seem to matter to Labour Party members these days, they’ve found a leader who will tell them who is to blame, who needs to be punished and that once that’s done everything will be better. This is one of the reasons why Labour has an antisemitism problem, because Jews have a long-standing role as scapegoats, stretching back millennia. Perhaps this is also why Corbyn protests that he isn’t antisemitic – because he doesn’t limit his scapegoating to Jews.

Corbyn’s own views represent the strand of thought that led him and others to form the Stop The War coalition ten days after 9/11. This group of people, who decided they needed a specific vehicle to oppose whatever the United States’ response to the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, are united by a hatred of the West, of liberal democracy, of capitalism and of what they see as the forces that prevent the working class from rising up and creating a socialist utopia.

It should not be surprising that antisemitism is an important part of Stop The War’s DNA. Numerous different antisemitic conspiracy theories have been promulgated through Stop The War, some so abhorrent they were even cleansed from their website when Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party. Some of those deleted posts were just simple racism, others offered justification for the destruction of the world’s only Jewish state. However they all have one thing in common, they have Corbyn’s approval. He was a founder, a member of the steering committee from the start, and chair from 2011 until 2015.

This is the reason why antisemitism is innate to Corbynism. There’s not a single Corbynista who doesn’t believe, on some level, that the United States deserved to be attacked on that terrible September morning. Not one who doesn’t think it was the consequence of United States’ own foreign policy, and of its support for Israel. When this is inherent in a political belief structure, atrocities such as 9/11 become political exchanges, not acts of mass murder.

This is why I argue that the hardcore Corbynites are best described as the alt-left. Polytechnic revolutionaries with an NVQ in Political Theory and avatars of their favourite mass murderers, they know Corbyn and McDonnell support terrorism and they’re delighted by that. They know there’s an ongoing war against the wrong kind of Jews and uppity women, because it’s them waging it.

They’re often described as masters of social media, but this just means that they have taken the traditional bullying techniques of the unpleasant left and adapted them for use online. Melts, gammon, pile-ons; it’s not exactly sophisticated. One of the advantages for these social misfits was that they could hide their real identities, their awkwardness, and their losing personalities in the online world that they create, but they have started to believe their own propaganda.

They now demand a more prominent place on broadcast media, especially television, and I fully support that. The demise of the National Front can be directly traced back to the moment Nick Griffin, bulbous-eyed and sweating, babbled incoherently through Question Time. Revealed for who he truly was, the impartial BBC did more to fight fascism in that one night than thousands of nights of furious clicking by the alt-Left. Live TV will do for them just as it did for Griffin, but there is no escaping the fact that they are representative of the party, and popular with the membership.DgNnra7UYAAl0fH.jpg

IV. When did things go bad, exactly?

Over the last two years I’ve written about why I joined the Labour party, my sense of pride at being a member of a party that took record numbers of children out of poverty, introduced the minimum wage, and liberated the victims of tyranny and genocide. I’ve written about how the alt-left came to unite around a man who has achieved nothing in a thirty year career as a politician, precisely because he’s achieved nothing. Corbyn’s the closest thing there is to a blank canvas on the far left, upon which all manner of cranky versions of “socialism” can be projected, including the mythical version beloved by long-standing members. This blog is an archive of the torment that I and others have been through as we have tried to rationalise our choices, be they to leave, stay, come back, or leave again.

I have now reached the point where I cannot foresee being able to vote Labour, let alone rejoin the party that had achieved so much during my twenties and thirties. A party that is determined to renounce and denounce its own achievements with more fervour than anyone, and that espouses views that hitherto seemed to be forever confined to the darkest fringes. Labour has a membership that yearns for a Britain that never existed, and never must, and is a party that we now know has harboured a dark secret for years, a secret tolerance for antisemitism.

So I understand why people wish to stay in Labour and fight from within, but this is misplaced and mistaken. They are the human shields of politics, helping to prevent a fatal strike against a party that only retains them for their collateral usefulness.

Up until now the two parts of the centre left community has been viewed as merely differing on strategy. Those who’ve chosen to stay in Labour believe the party can eventually be restored once they wrestle back control from the far left. That the damage during the period that started in September 2015 and will end god-knows-when can be repaired. That, eventually, the majority of the membership will see the error of their ways. And then there’s the rest of us, who think that’s as deluded as hell. Even if the far left could be defeated from here would they wouldn’t be expelled, they’d be accommodated, while the membership would continue to yearn for the fantasy Corbyn offers.

The signs that Labour’s problems run deeper were there long before Corbyn was elected. From the incomprehensibly widespread belief that the likes of Tony Benn represented Labour’s conscience, to the day that Ed Miliband condemned thousands upon thousands of Syrian people to die. People like you and me, who just wanted freedom and democracy. I am ashamed I did not leave the Labour Party on that day.

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What the last two and half years have shown me is that the majority of Labour Party members have an unacceptable hierarchy of values. That they are prepared to sacrifice fundamental human rights for dogma, core values of liberal democracy for a mythical socialist dream. Labour is not a party that should be saved.

V. Nemesis

The worst thing about political homelessness is the lack of a sense of community. While it’s better, electorally, for your community to be as large as possible, it’s size is less important than its existence. Without it you can’t be sure if it’s just you that thinks such things.

I know that just being anti-the-far-left isn’t enough. Back in the early 2000s I formed a faction to oppose the far left leadership of my trade union. We were, in the main, left-of-centre Labour Party members, united by our opposition to the ruling faction that, unusually, consisted of both the Socialist Party and the SWP, as well as handful from the then tiny Bennite wing of Labour. The Socialist Party were very much in charge, but that didn’t stop John McDonnell, a regular visitor to NEC meetings and annual conference, fawning over them, more critical of his own party and his own colleagues than actual electoral opponents. While we found it easy to define what we weren’t (i.e. “them”) and what we were against, it was much harder to fashion a coherent policy platform to show what we were in favour of.

The same is undoubtedly true of us who oppose the current leadership and direction of the Labour Party and, lest there be any doubt, of the Conservative Party too. We know what we’re against, but unifying around an alternative proves elusive. I’ll illustrate what I mean by using Brexit as probably the best current example.

It’s reasonable to assume that the purpose of a second referendum is to overturn the result of the first, but what then? To attempt to answer that question would cause an unravelling of the curent, very broad, alliance of EU enthusiasts and Brexitsceptics. I voted Remain, but the issue of what it might mean to remain troubled me in 2016 as well. Briefly, my personal view of the EU is that it is at its best in three broad ways.

Firstly, when being a trading bloc for goods and services. Secondly, and as a group of nations rather than as an entity in itself, as a champion for liberal democracy and human rights. Thirdly, as a guarantor of security, both between individual EU countries and from those outside.

Where I think the EU goes wrong is in holding that labour should be treated as a commodity in the same way as goods and services. In much the same way as the single currency, the consequence is a democratic deficit that effectively transfers power to unelected bodies, whether they be employers or banks. I believe strongly in enlargement but equally strongly oppose a more federal Europe.

There are tremendous positive benefits in welcoming countries with young democracies into the EU, primarily for the people who live in them. In order to be admitted those countries have to prove their commitment to robust democratic structures, such as an independent judiciary, police and armed forces. The spread of democracy by peaceful means is the EU’s greatest achievement.

However I think that the internal democracy of the EU is a sham, that powers should be repatriated to national governments and parliaments, the EU Parliament abolished and scrutiny of the EU Commission performed directly by the governments of member states.

I am under no illusions that any of that will ever happen. Nor will my views particularly find favour with either Remainers or Leavers, but I use them to demonstrate that there are no purely binary options when thinking about our relationship with the EU. For some the EU, in any form, will always be unacceptable, for others nothing less than full integration will do. As John Rentoul observed last week, “all the noise is being made by those who want to be completely in or completely out”. What noise would a new centre ground party make?

One of the lessons of history is that Newton’s Third Law applies to politics as well. For every political philosophy there is an opposite force, for every type of leader there is a nemesis. Jeremy Corbyn becoming the leader of the Labour Party was undoubtedly a consequence of the reaction against previous leaders of the party, and there will be someone who emerges as a reaction to him. Equally there will be a reaction against Corbynism. But the opposite force to Corbynism is not another extremist view, such as a British form of Trumpism, but the liberal centre. 

A broader centre now exists in British politics, defined not by our attitudes to the EU, or Washington or Moscow, or who runs the railways, but by the more fundamental values of freedom of speech, equality, tolerance, liberal democracy and human rights. The very principles that are under threat from Corbynism. This is why the next leader need not be from within the Labour Party. More important is their ability to build consensus across the centre, to champion those values that we hold in common, to be able to convince us of what is possible and what is not, to, for example, answer the Brexit question satisfactorily. In the meantime those fundamental values are what sets us apart from the modern Labour Party and we should use them to start to define ourselves, to be Corbynism’s opposite force. We don’t need to wait for a leader to emerge to start to do that.

 

 

 

Featured image – Nemesis, by Gheorghe Tattarescu (1853)

Hangover cure

By Jake Wilde

Professional commentators and columnists are obliged to take a broad, holistic view of the political landscape, to consider their audience and to write in such a way that connects with the thousands, maybe millions, who read their views. They can’t afford to be too narrow in their focus because there’s only so many politics trainspotters like me (and, if you’re reading this, you) out there.

I, by contrast, can be as niche as I please. I’ve​ written about subjects other than the Labour Party, but I don’t write about the Tories, the Liberals or the nationalists because I am not particularly interested in them and I wouldn’t consider voting for them. On the one hand that frees me to focus on the space usually and generally occupied by the broad church Labour Party. On the other there’s the risk that I view everything through this prism and I’m conscious of this flaw.

So when I look at this snap election I see it as only being about one thing – the state of the Labour Party. I know that it’s billed as being about strengthening May’s hand in Brexit negotiations, and about giving her, and her government, a mandate they arguably don’t possess, but I simply don’t think that’s true. However, and hence my preamble, I am aware that I might just be blinded by my perspective. That my focus on my niche has made me think that the only reason we’re having this election now is that 21 point lead in the polls. That May looks at those polls and thinks, “this is when politicians call elections and I have these plausible (Brexit & mandate) ‘reasons’ for doing so.” As John Rentoul wrote today “everyone knows that the purpose of this election is not to decide who will win, but how much she [May] will win by”.

I’ll explain why I think I’m right, and you can decide if I’m just confirming my own bias. For this election to be predominantly about Brexit two things would need to be true. Firstly there would have to be two different options on offer from the two potential governments. Are there? At this stage I’m not even sure there’s one option on offer. If the argument is about strengthening the PM’s hand, and not about collectively agreeing our aims and objectives, then we are being asked to sign a blank cheque. The only reason for such a request is the absence of any coherent alternative being offered by an alternative government. Thus the election is actually about the competency of the Labour Party and not about Brexit.

Secondly it would need to be the case that Parliament is the best place to articulate opposition to ‘bad Brexit’. Oliver Kamm wrote that it is acceptable to vote for individual Labour candidates who oppose Brexit (or possibly Brexit at any cost). This is based upon the theory that we need, after the election, the House of Commons to contain enough MPs prepared to challenge May’s desired hegemony. (And to break party discipline if necessary.) However it’s surely not sufficient just to challenge, that challenge also has to be effective. Yet only 114 of the current crop of parliamentarians voted against triggering Article 50, to precisely zero effect. I would suggest that greater challenge, to greater effect, has come from outside Parliament and this will become more, not less, important after a general election purporting to give an individual a mandate to pursue as yet unspecified outcomes. The battle against a bad Brexit won’t be won in Parliament – Corbyn has seen to that already.

Alternatively, if I’m right and this election is a referendum on the Labour Party above all else, it’s the chance for the moderates to call in the cavalry. The contention from the moderates has always been that the selectorate (those voting in the Labour leadership election) is different from the electorate. That people who normally vote Labour will simply not vote for this incarnation of the party. That nobody in the middle, those crucial swing voters, will swing as far left as Corbyn wants or needs them to. That Britons will burst the Corbynista bubble, decisively and clearly.

So this is why I argue that the scale of the defeat is the most important thing. It needs to be so overwhelming that the Corbynistas can rescue nothing from the ashes.

John Rentoul’s article today was about the next Labour leadership election, who might be candidates from the Corbynista faction and the numbers they’d need to stand. If the rejection of Corbynism is sufficiently​ great then that whole debate will return to being the sideshow is used to be, when it really didn’t matter who the far left chose. And frankly if the hopes of the moderates are based on preventing the far left from taking part in the competition then we ought to be planning for a split instead.

You know when you get so drunk that you have a hangover so bad that it makes you cry with pain, and you swear that you’ll never get that drunk again? But then, as time goes by, you forget the pain until one day there you are again, drinking like there’s no tomorrow, having forgotten the agony of the inevitable outcome. Labour have forgotten 1983 and are drinking hard right now. The electorate are guaranteed to give them a hangover but it needs to be one that the party never forgets.

Theresa May is only interested in capitalising on Labour’s drunkenness for her, and her party’s, benefit. And in the short term she’s right and she will indeed benefit. But there’s a way, an opportunity, to find some measure of victory for the opposition to May as well, beyond the Kammite rescue of individuals. As surely as Foot led to Blair, without that defeat in 1983 there wouldn’t have been 13 years of a Labour government. This election is about a Labour defeat in 2017, but it can also be the first step to a Labour victory.

Are some votes for Labour OK, but others not?

By Jake Wilde

I normally agree with Oliver Kamm’s views on pretty much everything and I have every sympathy with the argument he outlines in his article for CapX: “Corbyn leaves Labour voters with no good options”. It goes something like this – Corbyn is doing, and will continue to do, a terrible job of holding the Conservatives to account over Brexit; It’s important that the House of Commons contains some MPs capable of doing this and we should support these individuals; It’s a shame that some of them are Labour MPs but Brexit is more important than anything else. This is, as Oliver points out, the argument put forward by Tony Blair, “that voters should pick candidates from whichever party is prepared to hold the government to account over Brexit.”

The problem I have with this approach insofar as it relates to the Labour Party of 2017 is the same problem that I have with selective industrial action in the trade union movement. Selective action is the theory that bringing certain key sectors of workers out on strike will have a sufficient impact upon the dispute to render unnecessary the need for all workers to take strike action. So instead of everyone losing pay only those taking selective action do, possibly supported by contributions from those not taking strike action. The thinking is that those who wouldn’t otherwise vote for strike action would support this, as they are not the ones going on strike.

This theory is a crock.

For one the entire purpose of being in a union is to demonstrate that you are resolved to act as one. As soon as you start to give individuals an opt-out then it’s over. Once you have one group of workers doing everyone else’s dirty work for them you’re no longer presenting a united front. You’ve also handily identified to the employer which group of workers to either victimise or buy off, depending on their whim.

I contend that the same is true for the relationship between those of us on the centre left and the Labour Party. However much we may wish it there are not two Labour Parties. There is one, and it is led and controlled by the Corbynista faction. A vote for any Labour Party candidate on June 8 is a vote for that particular and peculiar incarnation of the Labour Party.

If you try to argue that a vote for individuals such as Oliver Kamm’s MP Meg Hillier, or other equally worthy people, should not count in the same way as a vote for Corbyn himself then you are deluding yourself. Indeed, as Oliver himself concedes, it’s only acceptable to vote for Labour under these circumstances if you are certain that Corbyn will “suffer crushing humiliation”. Yet of course every vote for Labour, whatever the circumstances behind its casting, is one vote further away from that crushing humiliation.

There is no opt-out in a party system. If you do not support the party for which a candidate is standing – and Oliver outlines eloquently as always why Labour should not be supported at this election – then you should not vote for them. For all the admirable personal qualities of individual candidates the vote you cast will be counted as a vote in favour of Corbyn’s Labour Party.

Oliver Kamm’s article was an attempt to give advice to people on the “moderate Left”, regular Labour voters who find themselves in a dilemma, and he acknowledges that none of the options are good ones. But by endorsing the principle of the opt-out it will leave an unclear but certainly overstated picture of the true level of support for Corbyn. How will we know how big the “moderate Left”, and thus the opposition to Corbyn, is if some vote Labour, some vote for other parties and some don’t vote at all?

This election is an opportunity to seize back control of the momentum on the left. It is an unexpectedly early chance to demonstrate to the far left the paucity of their popular support. That people do not “like Jeremy Corbyn but…”. That people will not vote for TUSC just because it has changed its name to something more familiar. That support for terrorism, despotism and illiberalism cannot just be shouted down with a megaphone. That nobody else beyond their end of the horseshoe wants what they offer, this blend of hate, envy and empty rhetoric. That we can see they have more in common with the far right than with the vast majority of those of us committed to liberal democracy, free speech and regulated markets.

This is the time to push back, united. To bring to an end the last two years where the voice of the centre left has been drowned out by the banshee screams of the far left. This can’t be achieved by taking selective action. It can only be achieved by being united in defeating Corbyn’s Labour Party at the ballot box and then, on 9 June, to rebuild from the ground up.

It is difficult. I know that. There are a considerable number of Labour MPs who deserve support. But my argument is that the time when they need that support is not now, but when they, as leaders of the centre left, start the rebuilding process. They do not need to be MPs to do that. We are already in the post-Corbyn era. This election, just as 2020 would have been, is lost to the Conservatives. But there can be a victory from it, and it can now come sooner than we originally thought. The people we admire, those currently in Parliament and those not, they can help to create the genuine opposition, grounded in the true principles of the Labour movement that Oliver Kamm rightly identifies that this country needs.