Sunday, 25 September 2016

Jeremy Corbyn re elected. What next?

Source: BBC

So, Jeremy Corbyn has been re elected as leader of the Labour Party with 62% of the vote, up from 59% last year. His opponent, Owen Smith, congratulated him and said he hoped that he and Mr Corbyn could work together in the future. What happens next is the million dollar question.

The immediate aftermath of the leadership election is the start of the Labour Party conference, which has been taking place today. This is largely being seen as an attempt to put on a show of unity for outsiders, but in some of the fringe events, tensions are already beginning to re-emerge.

In today's Progress fringe, for instance, Tristam Hunt, the Labour MP for Stoke Central, compared Corbyn to Militant, the radical leftist group that controlled Liverpool council in the 80s, and said that he did not do enough to oppose fascists such as ISIS. At a Momentum fringe, Jackie Walker, the vice chairperson of the organisation, said that anti semitism in Labour was being exaggerated and was being used to undermine the leadership. Other radical leftist groups were allegedly distributing leaflets calling for the mass deselection of MPs perceived to be on the right of the Labour Party.

It seems impossible to predict what will happen next with certainty. Corbyn may be buoyed by his increased mandate and may be set to pursue divisive policy changes, such as the forced mandatory reselection of members of parliament, and shadow cabinet elections by the membership, rather than MPs. Equally he may also decide to be more cautious, and come to a compromise. A "Non aggression pact" being promoted by Tom Watson and others suggests that rebel MPs should stay quiet about their dislike of Mr Corbyn and that the shadow cabinet should be elected by MPs, in return for Corbyn agreeing not to pursue the afforementioned policy changes.

The one thing that Mr Corbyn does seem to be pursuing is the removal of party staff who disagree with his leadership. Squarely in the firing line is general secretary Iain Mcnicol. Mcnicol made his thoughts clear today when he declared on the conference floor that Clause I socialism would win the day-a direct reference to the main argument of MPs opposed to Mr Corbyn's leadership, due to his perceived interest in extraparliamentary politics rather than in parliamentary socialism. Jenny Formby, the political director of Unite, is reportedly being lined up for the general secretary position: She is close to both Len Mcluskey, Corbyn's main union ally, and the leadership office itself.

Due to the continued divisions that are already evidently present, just a day after Jeremy Corbyn's re-election, it also looks unlikely that the civil war in the party will stop: Many MPs may well return to the shadow cabinet, but some members of parliament such as Jess Phillips have declared that they will continue to actively oppose his leadership. Such MPs are likely to be targeted most heavily by the Momentum group for deselection.

Overall, it remains to be seen whether or not Labour can pull itself together again, though the early signs are not positive.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Why the 2016 Labour leadership election was totally pointless.

Source: The Mirror

This whole leadership election, in my view, was totally pointless.
Neither candidate looked like they could really grasp the scale of the electoral challenge now facing Labour. And here's why:

Whenever there is an internal schism within the Labour Party, it is not because of mere internal disagreements, but also because of external factors. In the early 1930s, when the social democratic and radical left factions of the party ripped each other apart, that was because of the legacy of the first Labour government and the fact that we had just been kicked out of office. In the 1980s, the arguments were caused by low poll ratings for the party, and a general swing to the right that was occurring across the developed world. The civil war again started once Labour had been kicked out of office in 1979. This time, in the 2010s, the argument has been triggered by a mixture of the same. Labour was kicked out of office in 2010. The election of Ed Miliband in the immediate aftermath, a compromise leader who was just about able to keep the party united, satisfied none of the factions. Therefore it was inevitable that when he lost the general election, the "soft left" collapsed and the blairite faction and radical left once again had the chance to rip each other apart. The threat that Labour faces this time, however, is far more serious than it has ever faced before. In the 1930s, Labour was growing as a party. It had no major rivals, with the old liberal party totally disappearing. It had a guaranteed future even if it was kicked out of power. In the 1980s, when Labour slumped to a terrible, terrible defeat, working class Wales, Scotland, and the North of England remained solid for Labour. Though it would take the party another 14 years to get back into power, there was a solid foundation of support to build upon.

Now, however, the situation is different. The "Core vote" of the Labour Party itself is slowly abandoning Labour. Labour slumped from 48% of the vote in the C2DE demographic to just 30% in 2015, and that number is now continuing to decrease all the time. In Wales, Welsh Labour managed only 32% of the vote in the Welsh Assembly elections, its worst ever result while in opposition in any Welsh election. In Scotland, the Labour Party has all but been vanquished, and in England, especially the North, a combination of right wing populism and increasing apathy of workers from established politics looks set to hand many of its heartlands to UKIP or (In larger numbers) the Conservative Party. Simply put, there is a divide that now exists between social democratic parties in Europe and the people who they used to represent. The reason social democracy is in crisis is not because of a simply left or right agenda, but primarily to do with issues of identity. Parties of the left have slowly become increasingly liberal, and have slowly become more concerned with identity issues and liberal politics than economics, thus alienating them from the traditional working classes, who have historically tended to be slightly more conservative than the norm.

There was some interesting research in the New York Times recently about the difference between the support which Donald Trump, the right wing populist candidate for American president, received from unionised and non unionised workers. The NY times found that unionised workers were far more likely to support the Democratic Party and far less likely to support Donald Trump than non unionised workers. This trend held up across all demographic, educational and income groups. What sustained parties of the centre left and left in the 20th century was the growth and maintenance of massive trade unions, and public services such as council housing. Today, everything that social democratic parties were built on has evaporated. The unions now represent a slowly decreasing proportion of public sector workers, and are basically non existent in the private sector. The miners of the past are the retail workers of today, most of whom have no cultural connection to the left as their parents may have had. It is this, combined with natural cultural resentment and economic fears, which is driving these voters who "Should" be Labour or of the left in the rest of Europe to the populist right.

 I have been longing to write this rant for the entire leadership election, but I have held my tongue. Reheated Milibandism that is preached by Owen Smith will not win us the next election. How is Owen Smith going to go to Nuneaton or to Sunderland, both places which backed Brexit by huge margins, and tell your average voter that he thinks that the vote they cast on June 23rd is invalid, and that they are stupid, and therefore a second referendum on the EU is needed?

Neither will reheated Blairism. The left has a point when it talks about the "Missing 4 million" mainly working class and lower middle class voters who abandoned Labour between the course of 1997 and 2010-this is not, however, due to a simple economic reason but due to the liberal positions of the Blair government on migration and the widening gulf between New Labour and ordinary people.

To rebuild from what is inevitably going to be a pretty big defeat on Saturday, the centre left needs to take a look at itself, ask itself what its purpose is, and then move forward to create a social democracy of the 21st century. One that is open and internationalist, but is also patriotic and open to different cultural tradition. A centre left that is not an apologist for globalisation, but a centre left that focuses on redistributing the benefits of it and mitigating the negative effects.

Monday, 4 January 2016

The art of Clegg Baiting

Clegg (Pictured above) is an unpopular figure

Recently, while scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, I came across an ad by the self styled "Vote leave" anti EU campaign. Seeing the ad in itself was not something that was unusual, but once I actually stopped to take a look at it, I found something very interesting.

The image above shows the ad from "Vote Leave" it pictures Clegg holding up the infamous pledge he made to vote against tuition fees, with a caption by the Vote Leave campaign implying that we should vote to leave the EU because Nick Clegg voted in favour of tuition fees,

This is not the only instance of the new phenomenon that I like to call "Clegg Baiting".  There are numerous instances of various organisations using Nick Clegg as the ultimate image of dishonesty. Nick Clegg is used by political organisations whenever they want to discourage members or supporters from doing something. It seems to have become an art form....

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Osborne: A slick snake oil salesman

Credit to the Telegraph
Sometimes, you just have to admire George Osborne. Not for his ruthlessly pursuing an ideological shrinking of the state. Or his push for welfare reform. What is to be admired about Osborne is his political nous.

Yesterday was yet another example. The Telegraph claimed that the autumn budget was the "End of austerity" and one of its online articles compared Osborne to Blair. The Daily Mail claimed Osborne was increasing spending. The Financial Times said that Osborne was moving towards "The center."
Yet, this is a chancellor that has just proposed to cut government spending by 50% over 5 years. He is slashing local government into irrelevance and winding up the department of business. His shrinking of the state is ideological and has been derided by various economists. Despite all of this, there is not one mention of this in the newspapers.

This isn't necessarily because the press is predominantly supportive of the Conservatives-They are, but they have highlighted cuts made by the chancellor in the past, such as during the omnishambles budget in 2012 when the press were incredibly hostile to the budget. The real reason is the genius of George Osborne.

Osborne is very good at media presentation. This is why he is such a massive asset to the Tory Party in the same way as Blair was for many years for Labour. Yesterday, Osborne announced some sweeteners alongside the cuts that got the press raving, for example cheaper deposits for people who want to buy their own homes, or an announcement that the government would now start to provide postgraduate loans. These announcements were accompanied by brutal cuts, but the press focused on the former rather than the latter, as naturally that is what their readers want to hear, and what will sell the papers.

Yet, looking at the policies themselves, they don't seem particularly noteworthy. The housing policy itself only builds on another policy that was introduced in 2014, and so far that does not seem to be leading to better results when it comes to home ownership and housing prices. The postgraduate announcement was first made in 2011 and then was not implemented. Yet again, Osborne shows his genius through the clever use of spin that seems to have brought a focus on policies that are actually not particularly radical.

The Labour Party, meanwhile, had a P.R disaster when shadow chancellor John Mcdonnell quoted Mao Zedong, a dictator who was responsible for the deaths of 40-70 million people. The joke that he made was sound in itself, but it was just the fact that he gave the newspapers and press ammunition to avoid the uncomfortable subject of cuts and focus on Mcdonnell and his supposed Mao apologism.

Chairman John?
Unless Labour vastly improve their media presentation skills, they risk being swept away. It now seems inevitable that George Osborne will be the next leader of the Conservative Party, and, as we saw during the last parliament with the so-called "Edstone" that was widely mocked, and Miliband failing to eat a bacon sandwhich, how you act and present yourself in public has a massive effect on how the electorate views you and deems your party to be suitable for elected office. Labour must learn the Osbornian way fast, otherwise it risks repeating the mistakes of the 2010-2015 parliament.

Monday, 12 October 2015

"We've got to move on!" Thoughts on the future.

By 2020, it will have been 23 years since the 1997 Labour landslide.
There are a few things from #Lab15 that struck me as being interesting, particularly in the light of the future direction of the Labour Party. I shall discuss them here as well as my broader thoughts on the future of moderates within the party.

On the penultimate night of Labour conference, which was the Labour List karaoke night, me and a few friends went to the karaoke. We all had some good fun. I then played a cruel prank on a friend which meant that he had to sing "Things can only get better" (The song is strongly associated with Tony Blair and New Labour within the Labour Party, and activists naturally chant "Tony, Tony"). When the chanting started there was a significant amount of booing and jeering, with half the room instead choosing to chant "Jez we can!". On the last night of conference we had the NOLS disco. The same thing happened, except this time even some of the senior blairite MPs who were at the disco refused to chant "Tony!". Steven Twigg MP, someone who I have known for a while and a key figure of the Blair-Brown era, turned around to me and said "We've got to move on!". 

Though Steven did later on turn around and join in with the singing and dancing, this peculiar moment had a profound impact on me.

 It is clear from the result of the leadership election that New Labour is dead. The election of Jeremy Corbyn with 60% of the vote is the most severe rout of moderates in the history of the party. It is also clear that a profound, and probably nearly permanent realignment is happening within the party. The "Left" now includes only people who subscribe to the full hard line left wing doctrines of comrade Corbyn, Mccdonnell, and the campaign group. This group form only a small minority of the PLP but have mass support among ordinary constituency activists. Then you have the "Right", which includes people who would generally have been considered to have been on the left wing of the party 10 years ago, such as the Brownites, lumped together with blairites, some of the less left wing elements of the soft left and the "Old right" of the party. It is also clear, that with this sharp realignment within the party, that no "New Labour continuity" candidate will be able to win a leadership election for the foreseeable future, because the most blairite of the candidates managed only 4.5% of the vote in this leadership election, and the new, young, idealistic and generally left wing members are still going to be there in 5 years time. 

Regardless, a revival of unreconstructed New Labour ideology is undesirable as well as impractical. By 2020, it will have been 23 years since "Things can only get better" played on that famous `97 election night. Calling yourself a blairite by then would be like calling yourself a Gaitskellite in the Foot era, or a Kinnockite in the Blair-Brown era, or a Bennite today. Ideologies evolve and societies evolve. If they do not, then they decay and fail. The same will go for the revisionist tradition of social democracy.

This is what we now have to look to build. Together. We must look forward, not backwards. There is room for a social democracy that is inclusive, supportive of business and the middle classes as well as the traditional Labour vote, and recognizes that to spread the wealth you must also create the wealth. Let us end this feud, between blairites, brownites, social democrats and otherwise, and work together to create a new revisionist tradition fit for the challenges we will face in 2020 and beyond. This is the challenge for the moderates of the Labour Party. And I look forward to playing my full part in this challenge.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Jeremy Corbyn for prime minister?

Jeremy Corbyn for prime minister?

The far left MP has confounded expectations so far
The far left MP has confounded expectations so far

This post was originally published on the Graduates of Democracy blog. You can read the original post here.

It feels like an exciting time to be involved in the British Labour Party. We are seeing something that none of the old parties of social democracy have experienced in recent times: A left wing revolt from the inside. In Britain, the radical left has taken over the party while other European countries saw the emergence of new radical leftwing parties, like SYRIZA in Greece and PODEMOS in Spain. Jeremy Corbyn, an MP from the hard left of the party who was not expected to win when he stood for the leadership, is now leader of the Labour Party.
I have been to many European countries over the summer on political endeavours. Everywhere where I went I was asked about Jeremy Corbyn. There seems to be a great deal of excitement over his election all across Europe. The leader of the PES, Sergei Stanishev, has already said that he supports the anti-austerity politics of Corbyn, and the PES, led by British Labour MEP’s, has distinctly taken a left turn with its recent proposals to ban zero hours contracts across Europe.
However, many pollsters and media experts in the UK believe that Corbyn is destined to fail. Opinion polls so far have not shown any real improvement in Labour’s fortunes, although this can take time. There are concerns over his ability to win over Tory voters and if he can win back Scotland. It is clear that the party is taking a massive gamble with Corbyn. So, why did he win in the first place if he was the least safe option?
The answer lies in Scotland. The Scottish National Party (SNP) and its anti-austerity rhetoric, as well as its pretences to be a far left party and the subsequent thrashing of Labour in Scotland at the general election where Labour were reduced from 41 to 1 seat, hurt party activists very deeply. It was in Scotland where Labour’s beloved first leader, Keir Hardie, first built the party up. Labour had dominated Scotland for over a century and the pain of losing it cannot be underestimated. Labour activists believed that a more firmly anti austerity message than what was promoted by Ed Miliband, the previous leader, would help to win back left wing voters who defected to Nicola Sturgeon and her nationalists. The other 3 candidates, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, and Liz Kendall, all promised a platform that was to the right of Miliband, talked about the need to cut as well as spend and said the party needed to win over “Aspirational” voters and cut the top rate of tax. After a bruising election defeat, this was not what the party wanted to hear, and many “Soft left” social democrats ended up going for Corbyn because they felt there was nowhere else for them to go.
For now, the Corbynomics experiment will go on. His first major test will be crucial midterm elections next year, on a local level in which I am standing as a candidate, the mayoral election in London and parliamentary elections in London, Wales, and Scotland. These elections will be the first tests as to whether or not Corbyn can win a UK wide general election. For now, I remain very sceptical. Even if Corbyn does somehow manage to win most votes, he will not be able to win the most seats due to how the British electoral system works.   In 2015, the Conservative Party of PM David Cameron would still have won a majority if Labour had all of our Scottish seats. Also winning over Green votes (The only other significant left party in England) is not going to be enough to beat the Tories in most seats.
It is clear, however, that politics in the UK and Europe will not be the same for some time. Anti austerity politics are now going to be mainstream. The only question is if it will win elections.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

A message to the anti-EU far-left: No one cares that the EU is a capitalist organisation

The big political news today is that Harriet Harman has said that the Labour Party will support a referendum on the EU, making an EU referendum in the next 2 years certain.

Over the next two years, we'll hear a lot on the news from the Out campaign, no doubt led by Nigel Farage and containing such charming supporters such as the BNP and National Front, about how the EU is an institution that promoted mass immigration, leading to evil Romanians "Taking our jobs".

However, there is another kind of Euroscepticism, primarily coming from the far-left. This Euroscepticism denounces the EU as a capitalist institution that somehow "Prevents" socialism from occurring and leads to-you guessed it- evil disgusting foreigners ruling over us.

How dare they? Why should a supranational organisation based on co-operation rather than competition allow evil, non-Brits to rule over this glorious former empire??!?!

I'm going to try and address some of the dubious arguments of the far-left when it comes to Europe. First of all, the belief that Europe is a capitalist institution that "Prevents" socialism. Well, duh. Of course it's capitalist. The UK is a capitalist state. Everything is capitalist. It's not hard to work out. Secondly, this whole idea that the EU "prevents" socialism. They're forgetting about Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, all EU members, and Norway and Iceland which are not part of the EU but have to comply with EU regulations. Definitely ultra-capitalist plutocracies, then.

Plus, I'm sure that nations outside Europe are such socialist paradises. Just look at America, where you have to pay for healthcare, or Australia, or New Zealand, currently ruled by an administration that is considering the privatisation of public buildings. Definitely socialism in our time.

But just look at Greece, I hear them cry. Surely that's proof that the EU is an evil right-wing institution???
In reality, the situation is much more complex. Basically, the European Central Bank (ECB) has been dolling out massive subsidies to the collapsing Greek economy, saving it from total economic collapse. It's the IMF, the international monetary fund, that is demanding problematic "Reforms" and repayments for its loans to Greece. Contrary to popular belief, Herr Merkel the dark lord isn't controlling the IMF, or its actions.

But what about TTIP? Here, the far-left may have a point. Until you consider that numerous trade deals with similar clauses to the infamous clause that supposedly allows corporations to sue public bodies have been included in free trade agreements that have long been in the statute books, signed with nations such as New Zealand and Canada. Once again, this argument falls down like a pack of cards.

Then comes perhaps the most convincing arguments from the loony left. It is that the EU is an undemocratic organisation. On this, they have a serious point. The European Council is unelected. The commission is unelected and has the power to initiate legislation (Though only the proportionally elected parliament can approve it). This is where the pro-EU reform argument can come in.

However, the belief that the EU campaign will be run primarily by people who want to leave the EU because it is undemocratic is absurd. A quick look at some of the parties touted to join the Out campaign gives you an idea of the kind of campaign Out will fight. UKIP. The DUP. The BNP and National Front. These are not parties who are concerned in the slightest about the EU being undemocratic. In fact, they oppose the EU because they see it as a communist institution that allows excessive immigration! I will bet any ultra leftist who challenges this assertion that the main arguments for leaving the EU won't be "Because it's undemocratic". To be frank, ordinary people couldn't give a rats arse about it being undemocratic. Therefore there's no votes in it. The main argument will be "Immigration is too high and Romanians and Bulgarians are coming to steal oue jobs, so let's leave the EU so we can somehow stop immigration and go back to a utopia that never existed in the first place".

In a democracy, during a referendum campaign, it is vital that all views are heard. However, this does not mean dubious views based on misinformation and hearsay should go unchallenged. It is the duty of the mainstream, sensible left to challenge and refute these views.