Thursday, 18 June 2015

This is a competition between individuals who aspire to govern a country. It is not a charity event

We’re like that in the Labour Party, aren’t we? Oh, he’s a nice bloke, he deserves a shot at this. One of us. Can’t we swing it to get him on the list? Or, worse: we’d better put him on the list, or there’ll be hell to pay.

Never mind that the rules of the list are that you need to get 35 MP nominations. Nominations, note, not pity transfers. It is perfectly right that all sections of the party should be represented in this ballot. But those – and only those – which have earned them.

So when a bunch of MPs decide at the eleventh hour to switch nominations specifically to let Jeremy Corbyn MP limp onto the shortlist, it is against the spirit of the rules, even if it is not against the letter, plain common sense and the seriousness of a leadership election.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Hobsbawm on authoritarian ambitions

While we have all been a little preoccupied with the Labour leadership race, the Centre Left has not talked recently about foreign policy. But, a thought from that great historian, Eric Hobsbawm, on the run-up to the Second World War:
"However, another thing wove the threads of national politics into a single international web: the consistent and increasingly spectacular feebleness of liberal-democratic states (which also happened to be the victor states of WWI); their inability or unwillingness to act, individually or in conjunction, to resist the advance of their enemies. As we have seen, it was this crisis which strengthened both the arguments and the forces of fascism and authoritarian government."
Cf. Russia, Hungary, Turkey, Syria in 2015. 

As the Bard might have said: think on't.

Monday, 8 June 2015

In the battle for post-Miliband Labour, Unite’s leadership fights from a position of weakness, not strength

When you are on the back foot, play the victim. The underdog. Under attack from the establishment. If they ask awkward questions, do not accept the premise of the question. Thus has the hard left defended itself against any kind of rational criticism based on mere facts, for decades.

In a remarkably disingenuous, more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger piece at LabourList entitled “Setting the record straight over Unite’s position in Scotland”, Pat Rafferty, Unite’s Scottish General Secretary, writes how Unite tried to save Scottish Labour…but they wouldn’t listen. If only they’d listened to us. Instead, an unnamed “some in the Labour Party” are trying to “attack” Unite. Poor things.

Honestly, what rubbish. Unite was part of the problem, not the solution. At the root of Labour’s wipeout was the parlous state of Scottish Labour. The end result of decades of hegemonic machine politics, of which Unite was an integral part. An overbearing, one-horse town politics on which the carpet was lifted in the debacle that was the Falkirk selection, where the union was accused of manipulating the vote. A debacle that, let us not forget, led directly to the biggest-ever shakeup in Labour’s relationship with unions.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Labour Leadership - the story so far

To all of those readers who are not Labour obsessives, you may not already be aware of the state of the race, so here goes:

There are four declared candidates for leader and I think unlikely to be any more at this point: Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Mary Creagh.

Burnham is the front-runner at the bookies and has garnered a great deal of support among MPs. However, he and Cooper look unequivocally like "no change" candidates of the ancien regime to me, not to mention that I don't believe that Burnham would push back on Unite, a hugely important point for any incoming leader. I think it undeniable that Len McCluskey currently presents a serious threat to Labour and its electoral chances, perhaps even its very survival.

Furthermore, Burnham's recent Damascene conversion to oppose reforms to the NHS, with the presumed end of preserving it in aspic and contrary to the very reforms he put in place when he led it, seems opportunistic, inconsistent and wrong.

My old colleague from Islington Labour Party, Mary Creagh, would be a good choice but I wonder if she will get the MP nominations.

Liz Kendall is clearly the candidate with upward momentum. Although virtually unknown in the party at large, she has already secured the support of Tristram Hunt, the other centrist who was considering running. On Friday she wowed the correspondents of the parliamentary lobby at a "meet the press" lunch and there is a very good profile of her here.

I haven't yet made up my mind, but I am pretty clear I won't be supporting Burnham or Cooper.

In the deputy race, the declared candidates are Stella Creasy, Tom Watson, Caroline Flint, Angela Eagle and Ben Bradshaw. Creasy seems to be doing well, is competent and politically sound but, while I could live with her, I am not sure I care for her lecturing manner. More empathy required.

I think Flint is impressive, and all the others I could live with, with the exception of Watson. After his involvement in the Falkirk debacle, I'm afraid I don't believe he should be let anywhere near the party machine. Given that he continuously maintained that no-one had done anything wrong in Falkirk when it was patently obvious the opposite was true, there is zero chance that he would help to reform the party.

All this said, we should bear in mind that this is a marathon, not a sprint.

UPDATE 13:30 - I understand that Rushanara Ali (MP for Bethnal Green and Bow) has declared for Deputy Leader. Seems like having a sensible head on her shoulders, although she may come under strong pressure from constituents on any Middle East foreign policy issue (as happened when she had to resign over Iraq military action last year). Although this kind of thing doesn't happen very often, it could be a handicap for a Deputy Leader to have to opt out of big FP debates.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

This party has to change

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
- Albert Einstein

The Parliamentary Labour Party’s second-lowest postwar ebb (its 1983-1987 nadir was the only time it has been smaller) is not a time for us to adopt a “steady as she goes” philosophy. We’ve been there, after 2010.

The same economics, literally, because the team behind it was the same. The same poor – or absent – decision-making. The same sense of drift (usually leftwards, because that is the party’s comfort zone).

In many ways, Milibandism was simply Continuity Brownism and we should therefore scarcely be surprised that it achieved a similar result. Worse still, we may not have even reached the bottom yet: the political direction of travel is clearly still downwards and will continue to be, until/unless a big change can be made to happen.

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