Another Europe is Possible — Manchester: work in progress

On 5th July, the left wing anti Brexit group  Another Europe is Possible held the first of its summer road shows in Manchester. Under the slogan THE LEFT AGAINST BREXIT the project of taking meetings to major cities is intriguing, and certainly welcome. The two years since the Referendum have been marked by Westminster Bubble Politics, so the very fact that AEIP are going to provincial cities is valuable. If AEIP deliver on the promise that there will be a discussion, not just a series of rallies, then this could be a decisive moment.

However the project is not yet set up to promote discussion, firstly because the old format of the rally is well established, and secondly because the technology of mass discussion has yet to be worked out as part of the New Politics which is now needed. Social media is infected by trolls, and video conferencing is problematic with large numbers. AEIP know discussion is needed and there is little time. Hopefully the AEIP will use modern technology to communicate and discuss key themes to a conclusion, though please not a troll infested blog site. Focussed discussion which can come to a conclusion has to be the aim. But time is short and the tried and tested methods are easy to use. 

So it is not surprising that the first rally was just that, four speakers including Caroline Lucas, the asset of the Green Party, with Michael Chessum chairing. This was a fair way to open a discussion with 120 people and by the time I left half an hour early to catch my train the questioning showed insight and spirit. But the audience was dangerously limited. Only one black person, no other BAME, and largely over 40s. I would suspect professional workers as well.  The schedule of meetings in 5 cities in July – London (12th), Bristol (26th), Nottingham (30th) and Birmingham (31st)  should show evolution to become more inclusive.

 Three main issues emerged. These were the People’s Vote, Labour’s ambiguities, and the 2016 referendum, a gaping wound which could not be put into perspective. The latter was referred to several times, always as an unfortunate mistake which “had to be respected”, the mantra adopted by the Anti Brexit movement and embraced by AEIP itself. This rebounded on  AEIP of leading to its long silence in the aftermath of the vote. Hopefully now it has regained impetus it can start to reconsider that foolish position, which is as illogical as ‘respecting’ the Black Death, Relegation from the Premiership, or Theresa May hanging on to power in June 2017. History has to be recognised. It does not have to be respected.

The current establishment politics dominating anti-Brexit leads to the illogicality of the People’s Vote (PV). Why does a left wing group acarcept this? Reality is that Government’s declared policy is that  MPs will  accept the Deal or the government goes for  a No Deal WTO solution. The government intends to leave  EU on March 31st. There is nothing in the People’s Vote which contradicts the position of the two front benches that Britain will leave the EU under article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, despite Keir Starmer’s 6 tests.

But back to the PV. How many of the assembled realised the PV doesn’t actually stop Brexit? It is worth restating the eleven words People’s Voters accept, which are:

“We the undersigned demand a people’s vote on the Brexit deal”.

Nothing here on Leaving the EU, but on the night the questions were sharp enough to force Caroline Lucas to agree reluctantly that it would be possible for the vote to be in favour of the Tory deal. A vote which can both confirm Brexit and the nightmare of the policies of the hard right should have secured a sharp reaction. But while I cannot say what happened in the half hour after I left, the tendency was to focus on how to secure the vote of MPs – MPs are the only ones to make the decision on a vote, so need to be the focus of attention. There is no guaruntee that the MPs will vote for another vote and still less that it will include an option to remain in the EU. This unpleasant reality was not analysed while I was there.

Instead Labour took centre stage, and AEIP is committed to pressure Labour to vote to implement the Peoples Vote. However  there are not enough Labour MPs to overcome the government even if a stronger PV were available. This clearly means a Tory rebellion is needed, but how anti Brexiteers could secure a vote to have a vote is a circle yet to be squared.

While Labour’s position needs to be challenged, it should not be assumed that Labour alone can deliver

the People’s Vote, even if beefed up by committing to a vote on staying in Europe. And there are even bigger issues to discuss. A massive elephant trumpeting very loudly in the meeting was the 2016 vote,  a constant presence never properly  addressed. It was argued that the workers were reacting to the status quo aka austerity or other horrors, but in part a proxy rebellion against the establishment, but the ballot was explicitly about Leaving the EU. Ignoring this will reap a hurricane. May has a mandate to take Britain out of the EU How this would be tackled was not on the agenda at Manchester. 

Putting all the eggs in the basket of People’s Vote seemed satisfactory to those in the People’s History Museum. But if this is not challenged then this will become a dead end. To  a refusnik who will not sign a petition which has no commitment to counter Leaving the EU, the spirit of those at the meeting was inspirational but the key question was left unanswered: where is this movement going if it thinks the People’s Vote will deliver what they want?

Trevor Fisher, July 2018.

Brexit, Labour & the Future

Recent developments on Brexit are marching Labour towards Brexit uncritically. Despite the policy of the 2016 conference for a  third referendum – 2016 was the second referendum as the first was the 1975 referendum – third vote is  falling off the agenda. For Labour, it is unlikely it can win the next General Election without a third vote.

Currently the Tories have the ball of their feet with their Deal or No Deal so-called ‘meaningful’ vote which is due in the Autumn.  With 15 Labour MPs voting with the Tories over membership of the EEA rather than abstaining as Corbyn wanted it is clear that Leave has serious support within the PLP. This position is more or less the same as Tony Benn’s position in the 1975 referendum, which Leave lost, and uses the wording which has now been used by groups like Open Britain which are against Brexit that we must “respect the referendum result”, a phrase which is a no brainer. The real issue – especially for the young – is respecting democracy by  giving them what the People’s Vote is calling for – another vote. 

Labour Leave is rehashing the old Bennite argument that the UK can survive and prosper outside the  EU. I personally agree with  rejecting EEA and EFTA for the UK needs to be inside the institution, not as the ‘vassal state ‘ with no ability to shape the rules.. However the isolationist argument was spurious before Trump got into the White House with “America First”, and completely invalid now he has started a trade war. The UK has to be inside the EU and forming strong links with Canada and Mexico.

So what is the beef? The real issue is providing a future for the Young, who overwhelmingly favour the EU and are being betrayed by Brexit. The Leavers ignore this dominant fact of electoral politics, while correctly pointing to the fact that for the moment,  “the electors, and Labour’s traditional heartland voters” have rejected the EU. But this only affects some electors in some declining areas which will suffer most from Brexit. If  Labour MPs are now terrified of losing seats if they stick to their guns, they will face the bigger problem long term of losing the young. It pains me to say this as an old age pensioner, but my generation – the Baby Boomers – have failed young people. And the failure runs through all aspects of our politics. 

Caroline Flint raised the immigration issue over the EEA , and there is a real debate to be had, but immigration is overwhelmingly a concern of the Old. The Guardian of 22nd January 2017 reported that of 22 priorities, immigration was the lowest ranked among 18-34 year olds. It was ignored by  the young in the  2017 election when May flagged it up. We cannot ignore the fact that it did affect the vote in the old traditional working class areas, which have to be won back to get a majority Labour government. But Brexit is not the way to do it. It will hand young voters to the Remain parties.

The big issue is whether when the 6 tests are to be used in the ‘meaningful debate’ in the autumn Labour will call for a third referendum this time on the Deal.   This position is morally sound and constitutionally valid, for there is no reason not to allow a third vote. As David Davis said in 2013, “if a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy”. True even if he is now the Minister for Brexit. He told Seema Malhotra in Select Committee on 25th April that the Deal document may be no more than a ‘bare bones’ document and cannot be amended. So the six tests are almost certain to be failed. Given that the chances of Labour defeating the document are limited, the most viable way forward is to put the deal to a public vote.

If Labour abandons the position is fought the 2016 referndum on, it moves away from democratic practice,  at the price of risking the votes of young people and metropolitan voters. The Green and Lib Dem Parties are struggling. Nothing would hand them progressive voters more quickly than voting for Brexit. However the big issue is not just whether Labour is about to hand the next election to the Tories by losing votes.

The core issue is democracy. The 2016 referendum was not a priveleged ‘once in a generation’ vote which cannot be repeated. After the 1975 vote Harold Wilson made it clear it was the right of Leavers to campaign to reverse the result. The current Leave campaign  cannot deny voters the same right that they had to get a public vote on the choices before the UK before the UK drops out of the EU. Currently Remain has won one vote, Leave has won one. The next, critical vote will be a best of three – if MPs have enough democratic principle to bring it on. 

Trevor Fisher, June 2018.

Anti Brexit or a New Party?

On Monday 14th May, David Miliband, Nicky Morgan and Nick Clegg spoke in favour of a soft Brexit at a rally in Essex.  Cross party co-operation against Brexit is not controversial, but the press comment suggesting this was a move towards a new Centre Party – noting David Miliband’s return to British politics – sounded alarm bells. Linking the two issues of anti- Brexit and a centre party is a no-brainer.

The Social Democrat Party failed in the 1980s and there is less room in the centre now because  the politics of triangulation pursued by New Labour collapsed. That project, based on compromises with the Tory Right while abandoning any effective defence of centre left politics was New Labour’s answer to four election defeats,  but as Gordon Brown found in 2010 it only produced short  term gains. Politicians of the centre still do not understand their own failure and try to find compromises where there are none – there is no soft Brexit.

The politicians who spoke in Essex were living symbols of a failed politics of retreat. Nick Clegg, now reinventing himself as an anti-Brexit warrior to  large and uncritical audiences, is a warning from history about compromising with the right. There is no ambiguity about  the historical record – Clegg led the Lib Dems into coalition with an austerity producing Tory leadership under Cameron, and lost three quarters of his MPs and over 85% of his MPs (57-8)  in 2015. He himself lost his seat in the 2017 election and his party’s attempt to get a Brexit Referendum through parliament has been an abysmal failure. Nevertheless nothing stops Sir Nick – having had a knighthood conferred by a grateful Establishment – thinking his Orange Liberal politics are the way forward.

Nicky Morgan was the successor to Michael Gove as Education Secretary after a period of turmoil and dogmatism, and did nothing to remedy the problems caused by Gove’s reforms, notably  the GCSE edict which is now causing severe stress and trauma for both pupils and teachers alike. Increased demands and cuts in funding continued to be the Tory recipe for state education, and like Clegg, Morgan has never condemned the austerity policies followed by her Tory Party since 2010. 

David Miliband at least cannot be accused of embracing austerity, but as a fully fledged New Labourite he supported the politics of triangulation and was part of the damaging and electorally disasterous Brown Government which lost in 2010. There is no sign he has revised his political views and as he left the country has made no contribution to Labour’s partial recovery since 2010. 

What Miliband’s contribution to the Campaign With No Name will eventually be is not clear, but he is critical of Corbyn for not wanting the EEA option and accuses him of risking being ‘midwife of a hard brexit’.  But on this Corbyn has a point. We do not want to be like Norway a state with no voice. Saying it would make Britain a vassal state is overegging the pudding, but Brexiteers and anti Brexiteers can agree that the EEA provides  a limbo state neither want. Brexiteers want OUT, Remainers want In. Why be a fringe state with no power? 

The three musketeers seem to be running with the People’s vote campaign without endorsing it. The People’s Vote wants to challenge the terms of the Brexit Deal, but a vote on the terms can be no more than a delaying action, despite a commitment to stay in the EU while the haggling takes place. This avoids the elephant in the room, the 2016 Referendum. Brexiteers argue  that 2016 was a democratic decision to Leave the EU in toto and must be accepted,  a logical view which has convinced some 30% of Remainers, on the latest polls, giving Leave a 2-1 majority. To counter this needs a reasoned case for a third Referendum – there have been two already –  on the core issue of remaining or leaving. There is no point in just putting the terms of the Deal to a vote, and no half way house whether joining the EEA or remaining in the customs union or other evasions. Either we are In or Out the EU. 

For the Remainers who want IN and realise the argument cannot be about half way houses, how to secure a third vote and win the outcome is the only show in town. Parliamentarians have a role to play, and alliances are necessary when the vote on the Deal happens in the autumn. Labour has to be restrained from voting with the Tories and brought to commit to voting against the Tory deal. The objective has to be more than a soft Brexit. The choice has to be to offer  a third, binding referendum on staying in the EU. To have any chance of securing this objective, playing within the existing party structures is a given. As the crisis develops, a General Election is likely to happen as the Tory Party rips apart. We need an undivided Labour Party to face up to the challenge.

Trevor Fisher

May 2018

SPIKED & The People’s Votes Phoney War

The Millbank* campaign for a People’s Vote (PV) on the Brexit Deal was launched on April 14-15 to tepid interest on the Andrew Marr show and a swinging attack on the  pro-Brexit Blog Site SPIKED (Spiked is the old Living Marxism crew and a classic example of populist reaction). In a piece  entitled THE PEOPLES VOTE A PARODY OF DEMOCRACY, Fraser Myers picked up on some obvious flaw in the  project which it would be foolish to ignore. Notably that  the People’s Vote  is an attempt to re- run the 2016 referendum which cannot be honest about that fact for fear of being called undemocratic, so seeks a popular vote on the terms of the Deal. But not Brexit itself.

Haggling over the details is not likely to be popular, and David Davis after the blog went to press suggested that the deal put to the Commons is likely to be only a draft, making the ‘vote’ a phony war. Neither the details nor the big issue – Brexit and the future- are likely to go for debate.

Hence the importance of  Myers, who argued “The rearguard Remain campaign launched its latest initiative to derail the democratic vote for Brexit…. to call for what they insist is not a second referendum”. While a further vote is perfectly sound constitutionally and Spiked is on very dodgy ground discussing democracy, they have spotted the elephant in the room. Myers argued “Their own polling tells them the people don’t want one”. And that is the underlying problem Millbank is avoiding.

Recent  polls  show a small movement in favour of questioning the 2016 vote depend on wording when calling for people to ‘have their say” or “final vote” is popular, but when the more precise ” a public vote” is suggested, the figure in favour drops to 39% agreed and 49%  opposed. Consistently the polling since 2016 polls reject a further vote and some 30% of Remainers are opposed to a further vote. The PV campaign is agitating for a vote which has no substantial public support. Spiked and the Brexiteers are opposed to a further Referendum for their own reasons but the public do not currently want one – by a margin of 65% to 35% on the latest polls. This is a crucial weakness Millbank has failed to address

Democracy, Sovereignty & the Third Vote

While  Spiked  may criticise Millbank’s tactics accurately,  they are wrong on fundamentals. While the 2016 vote was democratic – though flawed – there is nothing undemocratic  in calling for a further vote.

Britain not having a written constitution, the rules are made up inconsistently, but no one has ever said the second vote could not take place (it is of course the third vote which makes the case stronger) but the unresolved issue is whether this can happen imminently. Parliament can do anything it wants to do under parliamentary sovereignty. The only issue is whether  circumstances have changed sufficiently to make a third vote legitimate.

On this, Millbank is correct. The 2016 vote was a blindfold vote. As the terms of the deal are to be revealed, Britain has the right to vote again on whether it wants to go ahead. And it would be just as legitimate as the one the Scottish Nationalists are calling for, blocked by May but only on a temporary basis.

But the issue of what the deal on offer would be if it is ever put to a “People’s Vote” (sic) has become as  slippery as an eel. David Davis indicates the full Deal will not be on offer, and this is  likely to catch those who like Best For Britain argue the full deal must be there to vote for.  This has never been on the cards, despite  the Six Tests that Starmer has set. As Thornberry and Barry Gardiner have suggested,  voting  against the Deal may be impossible if it is as vague as motherhood and apple pie, and this is the prospect.

David Davis confirmed  to a Select Committee at the end of April that the Deal will not be available – rightly, as it will take years to do – stating the position put to the Commons in the ‘meaningful vote’ will be “a political declaration rather than a treaty draft”, (BBC 25th April 2018). This would be a trap for Labour if the proposal rests on the 2016 Referendum. It is also likely to confirm the Leave date as March 29th 2019. Labour could not vote against that having voted for Article 50. If parliament voted against that to send negotiators back to Brussells it would do so having left the EU. What bargaining position they would then have is anyone’s guess. The pressure would be to accept the deal – or leave with no deal, which has been Tory policy since February 2017.

The Millbank tendency and it’s outriders are stating they do not want a vote on Brexit but only the terms of Brexit- which will be defined by the Tories. If this is the best offer for a People’s Vote, do not expect a wonderful outcome.

If the ‘terms’ so called are as Davis said, “a political declaration” it will be in terms that stress the referendum result, not the fine details which will not be there. Labour hopes the 6 tests will give  details they can reject to send the government back  to renegotiate on its terms- the government will go back to negotiate if ‘parliament is in control’. This is not likely if the terms are merely a political declaration.

Meanwhile People’s Vote supporter Gareth Thomas MP is seeking in May a vote on “A people’s vote … to take back control over Brexit from a small cabal of leave ideologues” (Observer 29th April). Not likely if the ‘terms’ to be voted on confirm the result of the Referendum of 2016. For both Labour and the People’s Vote, challenging that Referendum is going to be essential. And at the moment, the People do not support this as Spiked and others in the Brexit lobby are only too happy to point out. That is the challenge.

Trevor Fisher

April 2018

* Based in the Millbank Tower a 9 organisation coalition of pro Remain Organisations explicitly inspired by the Blair- Cameron campaigns which were based in the Dark Tower near parliament.

 

 

Millbank Rises Up Against Brexit

The Groundhog Day which is British politics took another turn on April 14th when a group of 9 anti Brexit groups launched a day of action in support of a People’s Vote on the Final Brexit Deal – a carefully chosen form of words. The 9 groups* are based in an office in the Millbank Tower, and in case any old stagers have missed the point, they proudly announced that this was where New Labour ran its 1997 and 2001 election campaigns and David Cameron took the Tories back into power in 2010. This  is sympathetic magic.

The actual strategy is more calculated. The People’s Vote (PV) is not a proposal for a new referendum, though the organisers are not happy with going ahead with Brexit. They just want the terms of the Brexit Deal to be approved by the electors. If this is not the case, then MPs should presumably send David Davis back for more discussion,. The parliamentary focus raises the question of where Labour would come in – Labour being an absent party thus far in the discussion. A broad front against the government would need votes from other parties and especially Tory rebels to win, so the two approaches could mesh. However  Labour and the PV people say the 2016 result must be ‘respected’ and unless there is a hidden agenda, stopping Brexit is off limits. 

PV  is a high risk strategy aimed at having the deal rejected. Their core case is  that new facts have emerged and the vote in 2016 was in the dark, which suggests the referndum should be re-run. But the Millbank strategist slide around a new referendum as they know there is no appetite for one. The most recent Yougov poll (March 29th) showed a clear majority against another referendum. Some 30% of Remain voters are against, presumably as they think a new referendum would be undemocratic, and People’s Vote know this, though one supporter, Tom Brake the Lib Dem MP argued on 12th December** that the polls show more people have turned against Brexit. But not in enough numbers to count so a referendum  is off the PV agenda.

Patrick Stewart, aka Captain Picard of Star Trek, speaking for the PV campaign on the Marr Show on April 15th was very clear that there is no intent to have another referendum. The briefing session I attended on the 22nd last was told that even suggesting an option to Remain annoys voters, and should be avoided on street stalls. So what the People’s Vote amounts to is a delaying tactic. Brexit will be delayed until the people have voted, but not opposed as such. 

Meanwhile  the government position is that there are only two the options in the ‘Meaningful Vote’. MPs will approve the deal, or the government will go for leaving with No Deal. If the vote goes against the government there would be a crisis, and some hope for a General Election. But the Millbankers only hope for a delay. If there is a People’s Vote and it was won, this would create a crisis with May claiming that the referendum gives her a mandate to walk out the EU. How the. fall out would be dealt with Millbank is keeping to itself.

 

An impasse with a few significant cracks

Is there a way out of the impasse? For a Kremlinologist like me there are some straws in the wind. In the old days of the Soviet Union you would notice a  purge of minor officials in somewhere east of the Urals and two weeks later the faction they backed exited the central committee in Moscow. Not that there is any danger of David Davis being purged, but there are some interesting developments on the margins which may be significant

Some months ago an epetition by one Anna Greaves calling for MPs to be allowed to vote with their consciences on the ‘meaningful vote’ on rhe Deal  reached 100,000 signatures. The epetition office titled this “the vote on the Brexit deal must include an option to Remain in the EU”.  The debate was scheduled for just after Easter – but then moved to April 30th. Last week it was postponed again to June 11th.

As government said in its response at the 10,000 signatures mark, the deal will be accepted or government  will ‘move ahead without a deal’. So what has caused the delay is hard to see. Possibly the problems with presenting a Deal mean government does not want to reveal its hand. And just possibly they might lose a vote calling for a referendum. We will not know till an MP puts down an amendment to do that. While both Labour and the People’s Vote fail to do this and there is no campaign for the unpopular option, then there will be no movement. But it stays as the Elephant in the Living Room, the option polite company does not discuss. 

*The main ones appear to be Open Britain and the European Movement – Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry for Open Britain, ex-Tory minister Stephen Dorrell from EM – plus seven others

** on the http://leftfootforward.org/2017/12/website  = they report what seems to have been a rogue poll.

Trevor Fisher

April 2018.

Up Labour’s Down Stairs

Two features define Labour Politics. One is the belief that the Party will win elections, though only 4 outright victories have happened in the 19 elections since 1945, and the other is the belief that the current leader is a winner on the way to Number 10.  A friend of mine reminds me that at the end of the 1983 campaign, Michael Foot went to a packed Town Hall in Birmingham for the final rally with the greetings from the chair “And a big welcome for Labour’s next Prime Minister”. Foot led Labour to a 27% share of the vote and Thatcher’s first landslide win.

Corbyn has obviously done well in 2017 with a 41% share of the vote and a campaign which well outranked Gordon Brown (29% of the vote ) and Ed Miliband (31.5%). It was the best performance by a leader since Gladstone’s Midlothian campaign, and outranked Blair’s performance in winning in 2005 with 37% if the vote. The stats however don’t make Corbyn a winner, though to the Labour membership this is not obvious. Corbyn is starting to look like Blair in 1997, the leader who cannot be questioned. Or so a recent You Gov Poll suggests. As reported by Labour list on 31st March, the membership have shifted over the last year to believe the Leader is marching on to victory.

Last year the membership was split 50-50 on the question whether Corbyn was doing well or badly, but the latest poll shows 80% believing he is ‘doing well’.  A year ago 62% said it was ‘unlikely’ he would become Prime Minister, but this now drops to 29%. Nearly two thirds – 64%- think it is ‘likely’ he  will become Prime Minister.

While anti-semitism in the Party is being recognised by more members, 52% thought it a problem in 2016 but 68% now do, but there is a growing tendency to blame other forces and believe that the problem is hyped up to damage Corbyn’s Labour. 77% believe that this is the case, and on the question whether it is a bigger problem for Labour than other parties, only 4% of Corbyn supporters do as compared to 30% of those who voted for Owen Smith. As with the old Communist Party, where jewish supporters were unwilling to believe there was anti-semitism in the old Soviet Union, there is a tendency  to underestimate the problem – only 19% said yes it was a genuine problem needing urgent action, 47% thought it genuine but was being “exaggerated to damage Labour and Jeremy Corbyn”, and 30% that it is not a serious problem at all. The 17000 members reported to have resigned over Easter on the issue presumably make the  % of current members in denial over anti-semitism even higher. 

On recent membership rises, the survey reports that supporters of Corbyn tend to be from social grade C2DE, (working class/non working), to be from outside London and are not particularly young or Leave voters over Brexit. The research was carried out just before Easter over March 27-29th and involved 1,156 members.

Labour Party members will not elect the next Government and for a real sense of where it is at, the regular polls on UK Polling are the place to start. However the members will elect  key party  positions, notably the NEC, and if Momentum in particular continues to get a clean sweep of all posts then the weaknesses in the party’s prospects cannot effectively be addressed. At this stage of a dreadful government should be well ahead in the polls. Given that the only opposition to Momentum is the Labour-First/Progress slate which is tainted with Blairism and the New Labour era, how the broad diverse  and inclusive Party needed to attract voting support is to be created is the key issue.

I hear dire predictions of collapse and good people leaving the party, but that it will all be tackled in due course after there has been a disaster. By whom? If the soft left, previously the majority of party members in most areas, are leaving and being replaced by hard left Corbynites, is it not time to take a stand? The hard left spent their wilderness years from Blair to Miliband digging in despite failure. They were not wrong.

Trevor Fisher

April 2018.

A 20-20 vision for Labour’s NEC

The resignation of Christine Shawcroft as Chair of the NEC disputes panel after only two months throws a lurid light on the politics of Momentum and the new hard left majority on the National Executive Commitee. As has been noted by Andy Howell, removing Ann Black over a trumped up charge was disgraceful, and replacing her by Shawcroft – a Momentum supporter – has not been a roaring success.

Her first meeting as chair of Disputes led to her hitting the headlines for her comments about the union link which you can read on this site, and now she has resigned completely over trying to defend a  Holocaust denier – details on the BBC news website. It doesn’t make Momentum a neo-fascist organisation and Sajid Javid should withdraw that remark. But the episode shows that the old left that   Shawcroft and Jon Lansman come from is at best incompetent politically and dogmatic to a fault. The NEC does not need people who fire from the lip, and the prospect of having all 10 membership elected positions taken by Momentum is grim. And they can do it. They already have the youth rep and can take all 9 Constituency positions as the only opposition comes from Progress/Labour First, and I for one am not going to vote for that slate.

So what  can a poor boy do? I am looking for genuinely independent candidates who will focus on at least 3 priorities, to wit:

(a) Brexit. Labour to oppose, and immediately campaign for a third referendum – yes, third. First Leave vote was in 1975, second in 2016. But apart from the history, restore the 2016 conference motion as Party policy and as we seem to have embraced Keir Starmer’s six tests, make those the bare minimum. And when the meaningless vote comes up in the Commons, the Labour Line is to vote against the Tory Deal. If the government continues to threaten to go out on World Trade Organisation rules, that triggers a vote for a referendum on the deal. No repeat of voting for Article 50, which as Christian Wolmar said on this site at the time was a disaster.

(b) The union link. Labour must preserve it, but must reform it so it operates on an OMOV basis in internal elections. It is not acceptable for union leaders to cast votes on behalf of their members, registered supporters must have voting rights.

(c) A new membership drive aimed at rebalancing the membership so it is no longer dominated by London and the South East, where it is said 40% of the membership now live. Labour’s weak links with communities in Wales and the North and places like Staffordshire are one reason why the Party cannot take these areas for granted any more. I don’t disagree with Momentum’s million strong drive. But 900,000 inside the M25 and 100,000 in the rest of the UK is a worst case scenario we should all see as a nightmare.

As for Momentum itself, this minority group should not take all the elected seats. That it may should worry  all those who want a broad, diverse and inclusive party. Noting that it claims 36,000 members, how it can have such influence in a party of 560,000 is beyond me. Don’t mourn, organise said Joe Hill just before the Americans executed him. Its a message the old right get, but their slate is not for me. Its time the soft left organised effectively, and while we are waiting for that the candidates who will be on the NEC to 2020 need a vision We do not need hindsight to realise that this cannot be the vision of Momentum.

Trevor Fisher

March 2018

Two Slates And An Old Politics

The two old factional machines of the Hard Left and Hard Right are gearing up for the  2018 NEC ELECTIONS –  \Momentum striking  first – the  Huffington Post report of February 9th was correct, and the Momentum list  aims at  all nine places. This is the list – existing NEC members   – Claudia Webbe, Jon Lansman, Rachel Graham, Jon Lansman, Yasmine Dar, Rachel Graham, Darren Williams – New – Huda Elmi, Nav Mishra, Anne Henderson.

Lansman did not in the end run for the General Secretary and the LOTO (Leader’s Office)  candidate took the post. A Momentum sympathiser did stand, but was a male and did not make the final short list which was two women, the unsuccessful candidate being Christine  Blower, ex NUT General Secretary who only joined the party in 2016. NUT is not an affiliated Trade Union.

Momentum,  seem to have devised the list off their own bat, but it is now backed by  CLPD, Labour Briefing Coop, Labour CND, and Labour Assembly Against Austerity. Only surprise here is that CLPD backed it, effectively bowing to Momentum as the dominant organisation of the Old Left. Since it was formed in 1973 CLPD has been the main faction on the Hard Left, but it is not the force it used to be.

And they are possibly not over the moon about Momentum. In backing Jennie Formby of UNITE to be the new General Secretary, their  AGM report noted that “On 3rd March 2018 an Emergency Resolution fully backing Jennie Formby was overwhelmingly carried. The Emergency also called on all other supporters of Jeremy Corbyn to withdraw from the contest. At least three employees of Momentum attempted to delete the latter, but they were heavily defeated”. So perhaps this is why Lansman stood down.

Meanwhile the old Right has a full slate as well. Although neither organisation’s website has confirmed this, Progress-Labour First according to Labour List on 19 3 18 are running:

Akehurst Luke, Banes Lisa, Baxter Johanna, Beckett Jasmine, Cazimoglu Eda, Masters Marianna, Peto Heather, Gurinder Singh Josan, and Mary Wimbury. 

Progress was hit by Sainsbury removing funding, but last autumn announced this had been replace, and claimed on September 1st last year to have 3008 members or supporters. Chair is Alison McGovern MP. Labour First is less forthcoming, though it has a full time organiser (Mathey Pound) and is strong in the West Midlands.

Both tendencies play to the two stroke version of politics, and in an age where the public sees  choice as a big issue, Labour’s increased membership is being short changed. But the old soft left remains dormant, so what new forces could take the progressive cause onward – and specifically for the NEC elections in June?

Trevor Fisher

Mach 2018

 

Anti Brexit In The Bleak Late Winter

The anti-Brexit movement continues in 2018 with a Labour Party trying to move beyond the ‘Brexit for Jobs’ slogan of 2017, and the extra parliamentary movement fragmented and without a clear strategy,  Labour’s  ambiguous  policy  was very successful – but only in the short term. Labour ended 2017 united and having gained support from both Leavers and Remainers, as the 2017 election showed. 

The formula devised by Keir Starmer was so ambiguous that a YouGov/Best for Britain poll in December found that 32% of Labour Remain voters believe Labour is “completely against Brexit” while 31% of Labour Leave voters thought it was “completely in favour of Brexit “. This is unsustainable.  In mid March Corbyn made a keynote speech which was aimed at taking the party forward.

Whatever it was supposed to do, it did not convince the voters. The UK Polling report of 11th March noted that “For Labour, just 18% of people now think their Brexit Policy is clear (down from 22% immediately after Corbyn’s speech), 21% of people say they support the approach that Jeremy Corbyn is taking towards Brexit”. With the YouGov poll  showing that around one third each of Remain and Leave Labour voters think the party is in favour of their position,  Labour is in a trap of losing support when the so-called  ‘Meaningful Vote’ is held in the autumn or later while it has no real answer to the big issue – why should Brexit happen?  

The Extra Parliamentary Movement

The wider movement is by contrast openly split, and with a wide variety of diverging organisations, five having a national role – Best 4Britain, Open Britain, European movement, Britain4Europe and  Another Europe is Possible (AEIP),. The splits between the five major groups had become damaging by the end of 2017, and Best For Britain  (B4B) under its new chair Lord Malloch-Brown attempted to lead a unity initiative. The  Guardian on 17th December reported “an agreement that their messages needed to be better co-ordinated”. There were three groups listed as co-operating – Best4Britain, Open Britain and the European Movement

The co-ordination lasted only till after the parliamentary  recess, when Chuka Umuna was reported by Labour List on February 2nd to “make the case against a hard Brexit after agreeing to lead a new grassroots campaign group”. This apparently new campaign, known as the Grassroots Co-ordinating Group or GCG is linked to the  All party parliamentary group on EU relations but  immediately led to a split. On 3rd February B4B’s Malloch- Brown told their supporters “Chuka chairs an important forum for discussion which we will continue to attend. However, B4B believes that Britain should stay… in Europe and therefore cannot combine with others who support a soft Brexit. We (work)… to build a people’s movement against Bexit…” and on March 13 they announced they were taking David Davis to court over breaching an Act of 2011.

The Emergence of the Millbank Tendency

On the same day the GCG  announced they were sharing offices in Millbank, with six organisations to move in to what was called “Project GCHQ ” (ie Grassroots Co-Ordination HQ), The main groups are Open Britain, European Movement and Britain4Europe, with Scientists for Europe, Healthier in the EU, and IN Facts also linked and the youth group Our Future Our Choice as a collaborating organisation.

The launch announcement stated the GCHQ  was placed “On the first floor of Millbank tower …. almost exactly at the mid-point where Labour ran their winning campaigns of 1997 and 2001 and where the Conservatives were based for the campaign that returned them to office in 2010…. the office brings pro-Europeans right to the heart of the hour-by-hour and day-by-day battles over the Government’s Brexit legislation”.

The full document is on the Britain for EUrope website and is extraordinary not just for the belief in sympathetic magic – Millbank is where Blair and Cameron won their victories, therefore it is apparently a magic wand for success – but for having no sense at all that the battle is to win hearts and minds of  millions of euro sceptics. And that failure is precisely why the Referendum of 2016 was lost. The Millbank Tendency has emerged seeing the parliamentary debate as decisive. B4B is going to the courts. Both are neglecting the role of campaigning to win over ordinary people in the country.

In my last comment (February) I pointed out that “less arrogance is needed by those who lost in 2016 and immediately an attempt to work with voter’s perceptions…. There may well be value… in questioning how far (Theresa May) has concealed material evidence… For example, on Article 50, why does she not reveal the law officer’s advice on whether it can be reversed?”. Since then we learn that the civil service risk assessments are also being concealed. While there has to be a battle for the hearts and minds, and parliamentary action could help with this, why despite so much London based activity  are basic facts still concealed?

The Next Step – St George’s Day Debate

While initiatives round the country like Is It Worth It with its Big Red Bus 2 are keeping the campaigning flame going,  the parliamentary front is about to see a significant occasion on April 23rd – St George’s Day – when an epetition calling for an option to have overturning the Leave Decision available when the so called ‘Meaningful Vote’  is debated. The epetition gained over 100,000 votes so must have a parliamentary debate, though there will be no decisions. Of course the answer will be that there will be a Meaningful Vote – defined by the government as two choices – to accept the deal or leave without one. But the government has to give its reasons why.

This will be of wider interest than merely to the hard core campaigners squabbling at the top of the movement, and needs to be widely publicised and campaigned around.

Trevor Fisher

March 2018


United We Stand …

The period of calm after the left right battles in the Labour Party, which erupted after the 2015 election and then died down when Corbyn won the leadership for a second time in 2016, may be coming to an end. The immediate issue is the split in the Hard Corbynite Left which has emerged over the General Secretary post. However the start of March also saw a minor revival of the old Hard Right, dominant as New Labour from the middle nineties for two decades. From a soft left viewpoint, there are both possibilities and dangers. 

The decision of Jon Lansman to run for Labour General Secretary  may look like the People’s Front of Judea, as Owen Jones has pointed out (Guardian 2nd March) as Momentum has a different strategy  from the Corbynistas. This could  have negative consequences notably if the media pick up  disputes in the Labour Party. Voters do not  like split Parties, and while the Leader’s Office (or LOTO as it is called) has gained from being firmly in control, it could be damaging electorally if the office of General Secretary goes to Lansman. This is unlikely as Corbyn as leader will have the decisive influence. However Lansman is not going away and given the history of left factionalism Momentum has to be watched.

Lansman’s views  go back to the struggles of the 1980s around Tony Benn’s politics. Benn famously saw  radical movements as being bottom up and not top down, and based on shop stewards groups and mass participation . OMOV – one member one vote — was one of the key policies  both soft and hard left could agree on at the time,  reflecting lessons drawn from syndicalism, and still has resonance.

The possibility of a massive social movement  remains at the core of Momentum’s politics. While no one disagrees that this is desirable, the Corbynista emphasis  has always seen the trade union leaderships as the key focus, though membership democracy is a priority. Within the Corbynista camp the influence of UNITE has much greater weight than other unions, but the key issue is the view that Labour is predominantly a union party. 

The roots of the current Labour Representation Committee, which Corbyn helped to set up, lie in the original LRC which  was set up in 1900. That foundation body led to the Labour Party and  had  no individual membership, being composed of Unions and affiliated socialist societies, the Fabians, Independent Labour Party and the Social Democratic Federation. Individual membership did not happen till 1920. Constituency parties have never had the influence of the unions, and this is still not widely contested within the old Hard Left. 

It is odd that this might lead to a split, as both grassroots membership and the involvement of the trades union movement  are  essential.  However as with most theoretical disputes, there are times when theology becomes important. This is one of them. If Momentum backs one approach as dominant and LOTO backs another, and only one post of General Secretary available, what the candidates think is important. 

While the Hard Left squabbles, there are signs of a minor revival of the Hard Right. At the Labour student conference what Labour List calls “centrist” candidates took the major positions, including the full time positions of Chair, Campaigns and Membership officer — though only 175 votes were cast and the elections took place on a weekend of intense blizzard when affiliated clubs from Wales and the South West  could not get to the meeting. In a blast from the past as intense as the Beast from the East, the students used delegate votes not OMOV.

Meanwhile at the West Midlands Region 11 of the 13 elected places went to “centrists” again on a weekend where weather restricted attendance. The West Midlands is the home of Labour First, an old right group known for turning up with tight organisation. However it was RIchard Angell, Director of New Labour organisation Progress, who Labour List quoted as praising the result.

A period of left — right internal battles when the party is neck and neck with the Tories in the opinion polls is unwelcome. Both sectors are internally divided and focussed on their own agendas. The soft left, which is almost certainly the majority of members, has no part in these ancient quarrels. The priority for the Party is fighting the Tories. Could there be  a Unity Offensive?

Trevor Fisher. February 2018