Friday, 28 February 2020

Local Council By-Elections February 2020

This month saw 22,016 votes cast over 15 local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. Five council seat changed hands. For comparison with January's results, see here.

Party
Number of Candidates
Total Vote
%
+/- 
Jan
+/- Feb 19
Avge/
Contest
+/-
Seats
Conservative
           15
 8,467
    38.5%
 +0.0%
   +14.5%
    564
    -1
Labour
           12
 6,608
    30.0%
  -3.0%
     -0.1%
    551
    -1
LibDem
            9
 3,411
    15.5%
 +0.3%
    -10.7%
    379
   +1
Green
            7
  549
     2.5%
  -4.6%
     -0.1%
     78
     0
SNP
            0
 
    
    
   
     0
PC**
            1
  189
     0.9%
 +0.9%
     -2.3%
    189
   +1
Ind***
           14
 2,776
    12.6%
+10.6%
    +8.3%
    198
     0
Other****
            1
   16
     0.1%
 +0.1%
     -8.4%
     16
     0

* There were no by-elections in Scotland
** There was one by-election in Wales
*** There were four Independent clashes this month
**** Others this month consisted just of UKIP (16 votes)

A month of electoral high drama? No, not really. But at least one that has movement, with Labour and the Tories gaining and losing, and ditto for the Independents. One thing I think we can now say after three months on the trot of similar patterning is a post-Brexit politics-as-usual is setting in. No more wild surges for the Liberal Democrats, no downright rotten scores for Labour. We'll see if there's a big change when the new leader (who is almost certain to be Keir Starmer) comes in, though the stupid length of time this contest is going on for means we won't find out until the end of April. One thing I'd like to see is a renewed effort at getting Labour stand everywhere, just like the Tories do. Why should rural areas be left to the LibDems or Indies to provide the opposition?

6th February
Warrington UA, Burtonwood and Winwick, Lab hold

13th February
Derbyshire CC, Whaley Bridge, Lab gain from Con
East Staffordshire DC, Yoxall, Con hold
Hertsmere DC, Borehamwood Kenilworth, Con gain from Lab
Huntingdonshire DC, St Ives East, Con hold
Thanet DC, Cliffsend and Pegwell, Con hold
Waverley DC, Milford, Ind hold

20th February
Middlesbrough UA, Coulby Newham, Con hold

27th February
Blaby DC, Millfield, Lab hold
Cambridgeshire DC, Duxford, LDem gain from Con
Cheshire East UA, Crewe South, Lab hold
Hillingdon LBC, Hillingdon East, Con hold
Manchester MBC, Clayton and Openshaw, Ind gain from Lab
South Cambridgeshire DC, Whittlesford, Con hold
Wrexham UA, Gwersyllt North, PC gain from Ind

Image Credit

Thursday, 27 February 2020

The Return of Brexit Brinkmanship

Remember when Brexit dominated everything? It has vanished down the collective memory hole for some, obviously lubricated by the nothing-has-changed transition period, but it hasn't gone away. Far from getting Brexit done as per the tedious Tory mantra, we're now at the beginning of the process in which both sides set out their negotiating stance. Today was the turn of the British government, and what did we learn? Sound and fury signifying ... cynicism and political point scoring.

In his statement in the Commons, Michael Gove talked tough. The objective is a comprehensive free trade agreement, which happens to be the European Union's goal too. However, there can be no alignment with EU laws because that represents an unacceptable infringement of British freedoms. Indeed, the document guiding the talks lays sovereignty down as the reddest of red lines. That also means no jurisdiction for EU law nor the European Court of Justice, and fisheries are going to have to wait for a separate deal. And if by June it looks like little to no progress has been made, then the government are prepared to walk away and revert to WTO terms at the end of the year. In other words, our old friend the no deal Brexit is back with all the calamity it might bring. Prepare for an Autumn as almost as excitable as the last.

A closer look, however, suggests something else is afoot. If we scroll down the government's document to chapter 26, we find the UK does not want to "weaken or reduce the level of protection offered by labour laws and standards in order to encourage trade or investment." Chapter 27 says "The [Brexit free trade] Agreement should include reciprocal commitments not to weaken or reduce the level of protection afforded by environmental laws ...". If it sounds like and reads like regulatory convergence, then perhaps ...? And Chapter 21 on competition policy says both parties need "to maintain effective competition laws, covering merger control, anticompetitive agreements and abuse of dominance, while maintaining the right to provide public policy exemptions." "Effective" in these terms means the same. In other words, from the off Boris Johnson has made huge concessions to the EU while going hard on the prospects of no deal and walking away from negotiations. It's just like a trip down memory lane - you promise apocalyptic hellfire and scuttle back with a meek capitulation dressed up as anything but. It's almost as if their announcements for public consumption are driven by headline grabbing.

This isn't to say a deal is a foregone conclusion. Johnson throws about a Canada-style free trade agreement as if the retired gents down Wetherspoon's talk about nothing else. And the EU wants a closer relationship because, well, our economies are already integrated. Some way to go then, but the best indicator of future behaviour however is past behaviour. And this is why fisheries are compartmentalised away from the main talks. The Tories need some political theatre, and the EU's Council of Ministers understand this. In the grand scheme of the British economy the value of the fishing industry is, if you'd pardon the pun, a minnow. Yet it is emotive when you consider how the right have exploited the decline of port towns, and fed off lurid headlines about evil French and Spanish sailors despoiling coastal waters while plucky Brits are stranded in dock because they're over quota. It's a perfect set up for some Johnson breast beating, and if Spanish threats to Gibraltar are dragged in too, so much the better. Assuming Keir Starmer is the new Labour leader as per expectations, a bit of contrived jingoism is exactly the sort of stuff that could wrong foot him should he stick with the "forensic detail" of technical and process arguments. What is to be sure, the fate of a £980m sector isn't about to derail Johnson's efforts at preserving the City and its profits - the crucial lynchpin of bourgeois power in these islands.

You can never be too wary about making predictions, but having learned nothing from the last five years I'm going to venture one. There might be some contrived moments of brinkmanship, tough talking, and panics about the no deal abyss, but ultimately Johnson wants to walk away from this waving his bit of paper. And in all likelihood, that is what's going to happen.

Image Credit

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Keir Starmer's Unity Mongering

He's bringing sexy back. Well, maybe not but Keir Starmer wants to see the return of Alastair Campbell to the Labour Party. This brings back memories from early in the campaign in which Keir said he would not rest until everyone who left the party over anti-semitism were back in the fold. We know that's coded repartee for the right wing departee, such as Change UK and other miserable toerags, as per the Tory-supporting John Mann and Ian Austin. The question is with a commanding lead, as suggested by the latest YouGov why Keir wants to reach out to these dreadful relics, especially when the core of his support stood by Jeremy Corbyn and feel anything but a frisson of warmth when their names are uttered.

It's all about burnishing them unity creds. Having scooped up Labour First, Paul Mason, Sadiq Khan, Momentum's Laura Parker, and, whisper it, His Blairness, demonstrating this desire more isn't going to hurt his chances. Campbell stomped off like a stroppy three-year-old back in the summer, but reaching out shows Keir to be the better man, of someone putting aside past grievances and showing the party is once again welcoming to his sort. It's a conciliatory move that builds on similar from John McDonnell, who was keen to head off another bout of infighting just as the parliamentary shilly-shallying over Brexit and the general election ratcheted up. Of course, Keir is more credible when it comes to this because of his remainy remainism, and a practical demonstration of his centrism for wanting to bang up benefits cheats on 10-year stretches.

This seems to me to have two consequences, whether anticipated or fortuitous happenstances. The first is neutralising trouble from the Labour right. Known now for the scabs they always were, this self-same section of the right were the ones who provided the press briefings and stirred the pot during the Ed Miliband years and, before him, likewise undermined Gordon Brown. As most of these hitched their tiny wagon to the Jess Phillips farce and, defeated, meekly boarded the Lisa Nandy express, inviting back their lost kin draws a line under the previous regime and the clock starts ticking anew. Perhaps one or two of them will get jobs too, and I'm sure they'll repay their gratitude with a steady stream of leaks from the shadow cabinet to their favourite journalists. There are still others for whom Keir will never feature on their Christmas card list because he served in Corbyn's leadership team, and will prove as petulant tomorrow as they were yesterday. You can try mollifying them, but its going to be a complete waste of time - as Keir will find out when the EHRC report drops, they will use it (and anything) for scorched earth factional advantage. They are not going to stop until the left are put back in the box, and anything looking remotely Corbynist is purged from the policy platform.

While we're paddling in centrist waters, the second moment in play here is affecting an ambition old Tonty long nurtured: the unification of the Labour and Liberal traditions (in Blairspeak, two moments of the "radical tradition"). The new membership surge Labour has experienced contains not a few who, over the last few years, decamped from the party and shacked up in the Liberal Democrats before returning to the fold to get their man the top job. And if the members flow, perhaps so will those voters lost to the yellow party in December. It's also going to make the LibDems much more constructive in their approach to Labour - RIP Jo Swinson nonsense. This is handy because the way the Tories are looking to tilt their electoral system even more in their favour, like it or not Labour is going to have to come to some sort of arrangement with the LibDems and Greens ahead of the next election - assuming the Tories' position isn't totally destroyed by an as yet unanticipated cataclysm. Keir's unity pitch then is not just aimed at those in Labour sick of infighting, but those outside wanting to see some sort of unified opposition to Boris Johnson. And it could work.

Nevertheless, Keir is helped by neither of his opponents wishing to contest his unity pitch. Lisa Nandy is more interested in being this contest's "truth-teller". Ironic considering her habitual mischaracterisation of the positions of others. And Rebecca Long-Bailey's campaign, which has much to recommend it, has gone hard on policy and, consequently and despite her best efforts, allowed her challenge to be seen coming from one wing of the party as opposed to Keir's floaty ascendance above the fray. Indeed, if one was even more cynical, Keir's courting of Campbell and friends is about consolidating control and diluting the left by contriving a situation where the resignation letters pile up making his particular unity more unifying via (self) exclusion. A recipe for winning an election, perhaps, but not one that bodes well for the social and political change we need to see.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Why I'm Voting for Rebecca Long-Bailey

Despite the recent guest posts making the case for the three leadership candidates, it will come as no surprise to readers that I'm supporting Rebecca Long-Bailey. But let's start off with a conciliatory tone. The truth of the matter is whoever wins the contest, they could win a general election in 2024, which is why I find the overwrought concerns about electability based on what happened in December a bit puzzling. The power of the right wing press as a means of cohering older voters will have declined five years hence. Brexit as an issue will be dead and buried (well, we'll see), the polarisation we see around class cohort lines expressed as a generational war is not disappearing anywhere fast, and with the consequences of decades of climate inaction becoming increasingly obvious, all three Labour contenders are electable. Which is why this leadership contest is so important.

As far as I'm concerned, Lisa Nandy is a non-starter. There's the equivocation over backing workers against bullying bosses - you know, one of the reasons why the labour movement was set up in the first place. Her slippery approach to political commitments, like simultaneously arguing for and against the abolition of tuition fees. The "friends" who have gathered around her campaign, among whom number the very worst of Labour MPs, recent past and present. And then there is the small matter of habitual dishonesty. To face a liar with an inveterate fibber of our own is just stirring up trouble. This is a real shame, because Lisa is not without commendable qualities. During the campaign she has occasionally offered thoughtful positions, such as this on BBC reform and refloating the notion of the foundational economy. And she's undoubtedly an accomplished media performer. Her supporters are right to laud her interview with Andrew Neil - she breezed through it. Nevertheless, a Lisa Nandy-led Labour Party would be a huge step backward. On party democracy, on understanding the relationship between it and the wider labour movement (and movements beyond that), hers is a recipe for insulating Labour from the currents in society that nourish it, look to it, and expect it to act in their interests. The shiftiness of her campaign and her unease with politics outside of Westminster is a brew from which a new, grey managerialism can emerge. One that could be enough to win an election, but not face up to the challenges that cannot be ducked.

And as we're talking about elections, we have the frontrunner who is, apparently, uniquely electable. What exactly this "electable" is supposed to consist of I'm waiting for an answer except, of all Labour's recent leaders, Keir Starmer resembles Tony Blair the most in coiffure and style. When we examine some of the reasons, two others immediately crop up: an ability to be the unity candidate or, if you're feeling ungenerous, the all-things-to-all-people pick. Corbyn supporters love him, as do the soft left, as do the less unhinged members of the Labour right. With a membership weary of almost five years of non-stop internal warfare, you can understand why his appeal, well, appeals. The second strand is continuity remainism. As well as not pushing for mandatory reselection when he was at the peak of his powers, Jeremy Corbyn's second big mistake was not using his authority to push hard for an acceptance of a (soft) Brexit in Labour's ranks. Instead, remain ran riot - abetted by the likes of Keir, Tom Watson and, I'm afraid, other senior shadcab members on the left like John McDonnell and Diane Abbott. The cultivation of remainism means there's now a ready constituency for the ploughman-in-chief, and they can project whatever they want on to him, whether it's a (sensible) close post-Brexit relationship with the EU to the completely daft desire to campaign to rejoin. Unfortunately, both these impulses are inherently conservative - rather than forge something new, for many Keir promises to wind the clock back to pre-referendum times. Rather than consolidate the Corbyn revolution, for many Keir offers a respite from having to fight new and unpleasant battles, even if ultimately it means folding everything in on itself. The policy platform Keir offers appears superficially attractive, but one question his advocates have failed to answer is if he was so radical, why as Director of Public Prosecutions did he advocate for banging up those convicted of benefit fraud for 10 years? Or getting in the way into queries about the activities of undercover cops in protest movements? Or announcing MI5 and MI6 agents will have no case to answer if they were found to be involved in extraordinary rendition or torture during the Iraq War? The appalling errors made during the John Worboys case? The ludicrous attempt at prosecuting someone who joked about blowing up an airport on Twitter? There is no explanation for any of these unnecessary or baffling decisions, and given how lukewarm Keir has showed himself on matters democratic inside the party, there are not sufficient grounds to believe his position taking in this election is sincere or will resist pressures coming from the right. Perhaps this is where Keir's really stood politically all these years. But then why is he happy to talk about stuff from decades ago, including past Trottery, and not what's happened between the years of 2008 and 2013? Such reticence does not bode well for the coming years for Labour, in or out of office.

And there is Rebecca Long-Bailey. Variously criticised for not announcing until late in the day, punting controversial pitches, getting attacked for Stalinist/Vatican influences, and not, it seems, suddenly emerging from nowhere and repeating an inspiring insurgency as if it was the summer of 2015 all over again. All while simultaneously getting ruled out for being continuity Corbyn. There are fair and there are unfair criticisms, and it's clear to tell which from which. But there are three very good reasons to support her candidacy. The first, on the terrain of conventional politics, is charisma. She might not be a sharp as Lisa Nandy in an interview, or have the Blairish eminence conferred upon Keir Starmer, but RLB is more relatable than both. She comes across as warm, funny, but competent and on top of her brief. And as we have years before the election, she doesn't need to be over-polished from the off. There is room for her to grow into the role of leader, and having been tempered in the ridiculous failed coup of 2016 and the vicious infighting since she has the requisite ruthlessness Corbyn lacked. A RLB-led Labour Party won't have its energy sapped because the scorched earth tendency in the parliamentary party will find themselves squashed - if they don't recuse themselves first. And also, while the Tories and their friends will try pinning the continuity Corbyn tag on her it's much more difficult to do. Some comrades might not like her positioning on nuclear weapons, the royalty, and anti-semitism but she's moved quickly to stop these lines of attack from being amplified. It won't stop them of course, but this and a distinct lack of a Corbyn-style baggage caravan might prevent such stories running away and running amok.

The second, which we haven't seen enough of, is thinking about the leadership pitches in terms of class politics. Alone among the candidates, RLB understands not just the party's relationship to the labour movement, but the wider relationship it must have with the emergent new working class. Nowhere does she demonstrate this better than in her taking up mandatory reselection. If the party is to grow more and become embedded in the lives and communities of our class again, the barriers of entry and participation have to be lowered and its role as organiser, educator, articulator, and servant emphasised. This road begins with the thoroughgoing democratisation of the party, the subordination of the parliamentary party and council groups to the membership, the devolution of policy making. The effective de-institutionalisation of Labour as an instrument that stands over our people and condescends to its electorate every so often - the model favoured by the Blairite die-hards and implicit to the pitches of Lisa and Keir - has to be the aim, a party that is the movement of movements that understands politics to be much more than Westminster, and be a means of capturing all aspects of life in its rich molecularity so we can collectively swarm over and swarm out opponents. This isn't just a nice way of organising. To quote Keir Starmer's wonkish mantra, we have to model the behaviour we wish to see. The party then is a microcosm of the kind of society we're working towards, and RLB pre-empts this much better than either of her opponents.

And there is the programme. No ifs, no buts, the climate emergency has to be front and centre. RLB and her support have said enough times she was the one who literally wrote the Green New Deal - now sensibly restyled as the Green Industrial Revolution - and Lisa and Keir both have tried annexing it to their pitches. But the GIR is not some stand alone piece of work, it was embedded in Labour's 2019 programme for renationalising and democratising the utilities and public transport, increasing the economic footprint of the state, renovating public services, and tackling poverty, insecurity and low pay, building enough houses to meet demand, and so much more. Again, this propsectus is not good because ideological reasons but because it meets the requirements of Labour's base: the desire for a good, unhurried, and fulfilling life and a habitable planet to enjoy. RLB's vision builds on the currents of hope Corbynism stirred up, and provides a means of realising them.

As I said atop this post, this election isn't about picking an election winner. All three candidates are capable of winning in 2024 and having the pleasure of seeing off Boris Johnson. But it is about who is most likely to win, and what they do once they get there. I'm sure Lisa or Keir would prove to be perfectly competent leaders and Prime Ministers in their own terms, but their programmes fall short of what needs to be done and don't think about politics outside of vote-catching. This means the pair of them are unlikely to bed down the possibility not just of future Labour victories but throw away the possibility of the party's utter dominance of the 21st century. This does not apply to Rebecca Long-Bailey. She wins the Labour leadership, we all win. And when she takes Number 10, we all go through the door with her. Why should we and all those our party speaks for settle for anything less?

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Lisa Nandy for Labour Leader

In the final guest post in this mini-series on the Labour leadership contest, Andy Newman - a GMB activist and best known as chief contributor to the Socialist Unity blog - makes the case for backing Lisa Nandy.

The Labour Party last won a general election in 2005, and in December 2019 was comprehensively defeated by a Conservative Party that had proven itself unable to govern, and was lurching from crisis to crisis. The very credibility of our party to pose as a potential election winning force is now in question.

However, while there has clearly been a protracted secular decline of Labour’s vote since 1997, we must not allow a lazy narrative to ignore the anomaly of the 2017 election, where although we did not win, Labour’s vote pushed north of 40%, and where the party did electrify and enthuse a significant proportion of the voting public. I was a parliamentary candidate in 2015 and 2017, and the second of those elections was much more positive. So what changed between 2017 and 2019?

There is of course a factor that a soufflĂ© doesn’t rise twice, and the insurgent anti-establishment nature of Corbyn’s appeal to some voters had a limited shelf life, and the longer Corbyn was leader, the more apparent became the gap of language, aspiration and experience between his supporters and traditional labour voters. This is not a phenomenon unique to the UK, and last year the Australian Labor Party suffered a debilitating loss, as it proved unable to bridge the gap between its big city supporters, often graduates with fairly liberal and green views, and its working class voters in places like Queensland.

In 2017, our party supported Brexit on the basis of respecting the referendum result, which neutralised a highly divisive issue. The subsequent drift by the party towards remain had two components. Firstly immersing the party in parliamentary games and Westminster Bubble shenanigans, which angered Labour leave voters and made Labour seem utterly part of the establishment. Keir Starmer was largely responsible for this, though he was not alone. The second aspect was a complacency that Theresa May’s struggles in parliament were damaging the Conservative Party so much, that Labour just had to wait it out. This strategy is associated with Len McCluskey and colonised the party’s leadership, including Rebecca Long-Bailey. Both of these developments demobilised the party from the type of active campaigning in towns and communities we needed.

Alone of the current leadership candidates, Lisa Nandy correctly argued that Labour should have continued to respect the referendum result, and that we should have shown leadership in promoting our own type of Brexit, consistent with our Labour values, and forcing Theresa May to back us. This was good judgement, that would have put us in a much stronger position in the general election.

Another thing that changed between 2017 and 2019 was a further retreat by the Corbyn supporting left towards into a self-referential bubble. Ever since Corbyn was elected it was clear that his support was not connected with an increase of activism in social movements or trade unionism, that would have engaged with ordinary voters. But this weakness was partly concealed by the accident of the 2016 leadership challenge, which forced Corbyn himself, and Momentum, into an outward looking campaign, albeit an electoral one.

The constitutional endowment of the Labour Party is based upon two strong institutional components, the Parliamentary Labour Party and the affiliated trade unions. The membership in the constituencies holds a weaker hand, in terms of its institutional weight, though obviously democratic participation of the membership is vital for the health of the party. As a mass electoral party, the most effective way of moving opinion within the party is to shift opinion in the outside world, among the voters. Unfortunately, a large part of the energy by Corbyn’s supporters has been squandered on internal battles within the party, where, for example, constituency delegates have stood up at Conference to attack the trade unions, and huge effort has been spent in pushing to deselect MPs. The result has been a party seemingly more at ease with infighting than in seeking to become elected as a Labour government. Long-Bailey’s commitment to “Open Selections” is a mistake. There is already a perfectly adequate mechanism for local parties and trade unions to remove a sitting MP, through the trigger process, and the fact that it is rarely used is because most Labour MPs are doing a decent job. Parties that do have “open selections”, such as the SNP and LibDems, are no more likely to replace their sitting MPs than Labour, suggesting that the issue is being raised as a signal of support for constituency parties to exercise discipline over the PLP, which would be a recipe for protracted civil war in the party, and unelectability.

The issue of “electability” is a constant theme of Keir Starmer’s supporters, and there does seem to be an implicit suggestion that because of all the candidates he most looks like Hugh Grant in Love Actually, then he would be taken more seriously. However, Keir’s pitch is very much that he would be the best performer at the dispatch box. So what? Voters don’t care about PMQs, and given the size of the Conservative majority, as soon as this leadership contest finishes there will be almost no media coverage of what Labour does in parliament. What Keir Starmer offers is a return to the safe territory where Labour’s vote has been in long term slide and from where we don’t win. Once embarked in that direction, caution and conservatism will gradually dilute policy away from the transformative agenda that we need.

Rebecca Long-Bailey offers a more radical policy proposition, but there are three weaknesses. Firstly, paradoxically her base of support seems narrower rather than broader than Corbyn’s. Secondly, her emphasis on open selections suggests that she would have an uneasy relationship with the PLP. And thirdly, although she is a northern woman, her policy pitch seems divorced from the concerns of those traditional Labour voters that we lost to the Conservatives in 2019.

A strategic weakness of Corbynism was to overestimate the social and electoral weight of left liberal voters in big cities, and of younger voters who for conjunctural reasons feel insecure due to precarious jobs and accommodation. These factors are certainly relevant, but inequality of wealth and power in Britain is not just generational, but also predicated upon class and geography. Small towns, especially that have been deindustrialised or in coastal communities, feel forgotten and ignored, and many voters there feel that Labour no longer speaks for them or understands them.

Focus groups and voter feedback show that Lisa Nandy is liked by those voters we lost, she is promising a turn towards campaigning rather than focusing everything on Westminster, and she will deliver stability to the party. Furthermore, if you agree that the worst outcome would be a Keir Starmer victory, then it is more likely that Lisa could beat him on second preferences than Becky could.

Friday, 21 February 2020

Rebecca Long-Bailey for Labour Leader

In the latest guest post in this mini-series, Naomi Waltham-Smith (@auralflaneur on Twitter) makes the case for backing Rebecca Long-Bailey. Naomi is an Associate Professor at the University of Warwick and a member in Keir Starmer’s Holborn and St Pancras constituency.

The case for Rebecca Long-Bailey rests upon the three Es or what I want somewhat cheekily to describe as an up-to-date alternative to that traditional training ground for the ruling class, PPE, and one more fit for the global grand challenges we face today: Political Education, Environment, Economics. Together these add up to a clear, decisive response to the most urgent and intractable obstacle facing centre-left parties today: the crisis of democracy. Of the three candidates, only Rebecca has a cogent analysis of the backlash against the market-liberal consensus found across rich democracies today (see the excellent work by Jonathan Hopkin and Mark Blyth on this) and, crucially, a compelling narrative about how to forge a return to politics from a place of anti-political disaffection.

After 40 years of Thatcherite deference to the market and entrepreneurial subjectivation, we need an economic and political revolution on the same scale as 1979 to give back power to those who justifiably feel they have lost control over their own lives. This is how you knock down “Get Brexit Done,” and not, as Keir Starmer has suggested, by calling into question the credulity of Tory switchers and, by implication, their appetite for change and empowerment. This anger, difficult to assuage, will need to be channelled, as Rebecca acknowledges and as the more insurgent Corbyn of 2017 did, but it is Bernie who is giving the future Labour leader a masterclass in this.

When Rebecca spoke enthusiastically about wanting to see members debating economics, it was music to my ears and not only because, as a lecturer, I have skin in the game. After a bruising defeat in which Jeremy’s leadership was seen as a significant factor, much of the debate in this leadership campaign has centred on the issue of electability. We are witnessing the forceful re-emergence of the false choice between principle and power. In 2012 Stuart Hall bemoaned that “the left has no sense of politics being educative, of politics changing the way people see things.” Laura Pidcock was right to argue recently that the ambition of politics ought not be to adapt your principles to what is popular but “to make popular your principles.” If Labour doesn’t, it will cede the ground to the right—with disastrous consequences.

To galvanise the electorate around a socialist vision, popular political education — not simply for but organised by the grassroots — will be essential. Lisa Nandy’s positioning as the candidate who’s listening came spectacularly unstuck in her interview with Andrew Neil: “I’ll empower you but only to do what I judge to be empowering.” Rebecca, by contrast, recognises that there’s no point in listening without making room for debate and disagreement, and without ensuring that there is equality when it comes to the power of voices heard. This is why one should not fall into the trap of assuming (as figures on the left including Andrew Fisher and Laura Parker have done) that the apparent policy convergence around the 2017 manifesto means that there’s little to choose between the candidates. On democratisation, Rebecca is the only candidate unafraid to give members a say in selecting candidates and in policy-making. When Keir and Lisa argue against open selections and in favour of empowering councillors instead of members, the electorate will see this for what it is: holding onto the reins of power by meting it out to the lower rungs of middle management (who can be easily managed) out of fear that unleashing the power of grassroots might shake things up — and they’ll vote again for the Eton-educated racist who is promising to do just that in their name.

Keir makes the same mistake on political education by reducing it to a training “college” for the next generation of councillors, MSPs, AMs, and MPs. Of course, we need to foster more working class talent and break down the obstacles to holding office (as the Ashcroft report confirms, the perception is that too many Labour councils, mired in inertia, are not on the side of the people they were elected to serve), but a top-down approach flies in the face of this ambition. The rhetoric of accreditation also capitulates to the profoundly undemocratic marketisation that is eroding education in this country and its capacity to be a vehicle for social change. Trickle-down education doesn’t work any more effectively than its economic counterpart. Rebecca’s vision for democratised political self-education is about restoring a deliberative, agonistic dimension to public debate, responding directly to calls more direct forms of democracy as faith in institutions has crumbled. One cannot hope to beat a right populist with moral paternalism.

This belief in the mobilising power of political education underpins Rebecca’s strengths on environmental and economic issues. There is no doubt that, as one of the authors of Labour’s Green Industrial Revolution, Rebecca far outstrips the other candidates in her commitment to rapid decarbonisation, ecological restoration, and climate justice, as well as to the industrial strategy and extension of democratic public ownership required to achieve these goals. The climate emergency is the single most urgent issue facing the world today and, as Labour for a Green New Deal’s scorecard confirms, Rebecca is head and shoulders above the pack on this. Nothing more really needs to be said, except that communicating this urgency and the power of her proposals to make a real difference remains a challenge. It wasn’t just that the 2019 campaign failed to put the GIR front and centre, as Rebecca has rightly observed. As Alex Wood points out, if the GIR is to bridge the cleavages in the coalition Labour needs to build, its potential must grasped by all its elements for it to make good on its promise to promote a new socialist common sense and this will be most resilient if communities are able to cultivate for themselves an understanding of how the just transition will materially benefit them. Again, Rebecca understands that the GIR needs to be embedded in collective, democratic struggles for power and for a reinvigorated, socialist notion of the good life, rather than emanating from a moralistic injunction to do the right thing.

To defeat the Tories, education in economics is also solely needed to wean the electorate off old wives’ tales now engrained as common sense. The tide is already turning against austerity — which is why an anti-austerity platform isn’t going to cut it against Johnson’s gestures towards greater state interventionism and investment — but there are lingering misconceptions around affordability and credibility. In 2019, Labour undoubtedly got its messaging wrong, but it also failed to tackle the false, yet widespread, analogy between state and household finances and the zero-sum conception of the economy. Similarly, a recent survey showed that, while voters want fairer taxes, the myth of the deserving rich persists in the national psyche. Bernie is challenging this by teaching the American electorate about the labour theory of value! Only when Labour’s potential voters can articulate for themselves the measure of their exploitation will the movement from below needed to propel Labour to victory below take off. Rebecca gets this.

To take on Johnsonomics at a time when the hegemony of neoliberalism is wobbling and offer compelling alternatives to his economic nationalism will require rigour, agility, and a willingness to listening to the most forward-thinking economists. Rebecca hasn’t got the attack lines on this quite right yet, but she alone among the candidates has demonstrated the intellectual curiosity and aptitude for learning about economic policy needed for this task. She’s enquiring enough to revive the Economic Advisory Committee convened by John McDonnell, but not every member and certainly not every potential Labour voter is going to read Ann Pettifor or Marianna Mazzucato, so grassroots self-education will be key.

It may be that Keir should be taken at his word, but the case for Rebecca doesn’t depend on distrusting him. Without the big vision and analysis, defending the policy platform of 2017 or even 2019 won’t be enough. Nor will competence. Bland talk of unity effectively dilutes politics into the technocratic management against which electorates are rebelling. Rebecca’s imagination and capacity to grow can reignite collective politics when it’s most needed.

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Tiesto, Mabel - God is a Dancer

You either like the Tiesto of old with his slew of early trance classics, or the Tiesto of the last decade who went and did loads of mainstream EDM. Rare are those who pay his two periods equal mind. I certainly wasn't one of them, not because he was a sell out or some such nonsense but simply because I didn't think his newer stuff was up to much. But now I'm happy to take that back. If last year's top ten of 2019 wasn't cancelled by the best of the 2010s, Tiesto's collab with Mabel would have made it. In lieu of blogging tonight, crank this up instead.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Keir Starmer for Labour Leader

This is the first of three guest posts by comrades on the left putting the case for their choice for party leader. The author, Cllr Susan Press (@susanp80 on Twitter) has been on the left of the Labour Party for decades, and sets out why she's backing Keir Starmer.

Somewhere out there in a parallel universe Labour is getting set for its first General Election with Jeremy Corbyn as Leader. The past five years have been tough and it took time to win over the PLP and general public but after a narrow escape from leaving the EU with a close referendum in 2016 the polls suggest it’s finally “Time For Real Change’, to use the 2020 election slogan. What a relief it will be to see Prime Minister Cameron finally depart after 10 years of austerity.

Nice fantasy but it didn’t happen did it ?

If I am entirely honest with you I am not sure that I ever thought it would.

Long before the thrills of Glastonbury and Seven Nation Army, I would chair modestly attended Conference fringe meetings with what would now be regarded as a stellar line-up. Corbyn, McDonnell, McCluskey, Owen Jones, and the marvellous Tony Benn. How proud was I to be a bit player in this determined fight back against Blair and New Labour. I still am and always will be.

But in those days the idea of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader would have been met with looks of astonishment from all of us small band of Labour lefties. Here was someone who had devoted his life to the most unfashionable and difficult causes. We used to jokingly refer to him as the ‘ alternative Foreign Secretary” as he was always on the way to or back from Palestine or South America. You never met anyone with less ego or less interested in personal political aggrandisement. And then the world turned upside down.

Years before in 2006 my first encounter with Jeremy Corbyn was at a Labour Briefing pre-Conference curry in Manchester. At the time John McDonnell had just announced he would be standing for the leadership when Blair resigned. Despite our 100 per cent support for this brave attempt to overturn the status quo – which ultimately failed when the now Shadow Chancellor couldn’t get the nominations for the ballot against Brown - Jeremy agreed with me that sadly it was highly unlikely it would ever be the case in the foreseeable future that a left candidate could win. The rest is well-documented history. How it was basically Buggins turn in the Campaign Group and the debate needed broadening. How Jeremy got on the ballot with a minute to spare. And how in a heroic campaign he defied 100-1 odds to become Labour Leader.

But for Brexit I still believe things could have been very different. But amid the horrors of the early hours of December 13 I also thought at least on a human scale that I was glad Jeremy Corbyn would not have to endure much more personal abuse. Four years of media hatchet jobs had done their work big style.

Day after day voters would tell us in my marginal constituency that they had always been Labour but wouldn’t vote for Corbyn as PM. It was heartbreaking. Whatever had saved us from annihilation in 2017 it sure as hell wasn’t going to save us now.

It is hard to part company with comrades on the left but the truth is it was crystal clear we were heading for catastrophe and we didn’t have an oven-ready candidate experienced enough to replace Jeremy. Had the result not been such a disaster, there was a lingering if unlikely hope that John McDonnell (who had actually wanted to be Leader and would have commanded support still) might be persuaded to stand. But that ship sailed with Johnson’s 80-seat majority.

These days I am not just a Labour Left activist. As a councillor for the past six years I represent a ward in West Yorkshire with two food banks and a lot of deprivation. But there are also people who are doing OK, people who didn’t vote for us last time or even vote at all. We need all of them on board to stand any chance at all of clawing back ground – let alone forming a government.

Does the PLP bear any responsibility for this? Sure they do. However the turn the Party as a whole took after the so-called chicken coup by MPs didn’t just lose us support. It spawned a bunker mentality and understandable determination to protect the leadership from the top right down to the grassroots. It got toxic. Very. Any criticism of Corbyn and you were a Tory. Anti-semitism was an invention (trust me as a member of the NCC, it wasn’t). Any concerns about election prospects were dismissed on an increasingly hysterical social media amid the cries of ‘bring it on’ and JC4PM. To be frank a lot of it was delusional. And as much to blame as Brexit for what followed.

So here we are with another leadership campaign. But it is not 2015. What made that campaign so amazing was its message of hope and authenticity from someone who had spent his life in the labour movement. Someone who didn’t have to keep saying the s-word as everyone knew he was a socialist and always had been. We wanted a fundamental shift in the Labour Party after years of watering down our values and we were right even if it went wrong in the end. Hindsight is easy and luck wasn’t on our side as neither was the media but that has always been the case even if this time it was unprecedentedly vile. A lot of mistakes were also made by the LOTO office according to those closer to the coal face and all that will no doubt be revealed in due course. However there has been a game-changing shift. Which may help us in the difficult years ahead.

Not one of the leadership candidates could in all honesty be described as on the right of the Party. And whatever silliness is being said about ‘ true’ and ‘proper’ socialists, after 40 years on the left of the Party I am not buying the line there is only one candidate we can vote for. Truth is there is not a batsqueak policy-wise between them.

So like that well-known Blairite Paul Mason I am voting for Keir Starmer - the candidate who has best chance of inspiring trust and convincing the unconvinced to come home to Labour. Who can cope with the pressure and take Johnson apart at the dispatch box and hold him to account when Brexit unravels. And, with no disrespect to the others, someone with a much longer track-record of standing up for human rights and social justice.