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

Could Anti-Brexit Be The New Politics?

Political analysis has long been unpredictable, but as Tory Brexiteers are reaching new heights of lunacy with talk of unseating Theresa May, reading tea leaves might make more sense. Who will be PM by the time we get to All Fools Day? The Tory Brexxies want to oust her for carrying out Brexit, but the wrong kind of Brexit. On 29th January the Daily Express confirmed the lunatics have taken over the Tory asylum with the  classic headline BATTLE TO SAVE A FULL BREXIT which means walking over the edge into a No Deal Scenario. 

As an indication of the temperature of the Tory hot plate, the Daily Telegraph same date has a phone conversation between Ben Bradley MP, Tory Vice Chair, saying “Getting some s…t from the usual suspects about Sell Out and Traitors” with Claire Perry, Minister for Energy reviving the old Cameron description of their opponent as “the swivel eyed few” who apparently are “mostly elderly retired men who do not have mortgages, school aged children or caring responsibilities”. The Tory split is not about Brexit  but over attempting to  sugar the pill so the worst disasters happen after Hammond and May have quit.

Given that Brexit is now policy for whoever is in Number 10 from whichever main party can cobble together a majority in parliament, the Brexiteers have won but fear they will lose their fantasy of an instant cost free divorce. And they may launch a civil war in the Tory Party to get one of their own in charge. This makes for sensational headlines, but it diverts  media attention away from the big issue, which is why the Anti Brexiteers are doing badly and cannot get their act together. 

The most recent poll asking how people would vote in another referendum (always referred to as a second, the 1975 referendum is totally forgotten) UK Polling Report said (27th January) that ICM found 45% Remain, 43% Leave, pretty much the figures over the last year. Britain4Europe found that most people thought the decision had been made — by the referendum — and the issue was closed. ICM found only 47% favoured another Referendum. Given the attempts by the Remain campaign since June 2016 have been extensive, this confirms that the Remain campaign has not changed the landscape. Hugo Dixon of Common Good argued last November that 60% had to show against Brexit for it to go down, and this is not happening.

The Limits to Opposition 

The main strategy of Remain organisations is focussed on parliament and the so-called ‘Meaningful’ vote on negotiations due in the autumn (or later) which will challenge Labour’s ability to sit in the fence — but there is no opinion poll data yet on how this plays with the voters, though it is clear that Labour has gained in the short term from its ambiguity, and surely would have lost the Stoke Central by election had it not supported Brexit and Article 50.  Christian Wolmar argued exactly a year ago on this site, that MPs should have defied the whip and voted against Article 50. In retrospect this was correct in principle, but would have allowed UKIP to take Stoke Central, which saw a large UKIP effort to paint Labour as anti-Brexit fail. Labour’s front bench got the tactics right though in the autumn it will have to vote or against a Tory position — possibly devised by swivel eyed loons — and the risks of a Labour split are growing. 

Labour  will have to look again at its 2016 conference policy of a referendum on Brexit, though this is not a panacea as it is not popular, even with Remain voters, and the Lib Dems have gained nothing from being defeated in both Houses when calling for another Referendum.  Lord Ashcroft alone seems to have polled on the Referendum issue, and his results are not encouraging. Only on the one issue of voting for the government policy of accepting the deal or leaving without a deal vote is any modest support for a vote. This option got 39% supporting a vote, 31% opposing and 30% Don’t Know. The voters were against a vote on all other options, with even Remainers not wanting a further referendum. And a vote on the government position would accept that Britain will leave with only the terms up for grabs. The majority of the population is clearly against another referendum. So why has the situation been so unfavourable to anti-Brexiteers?

Understanding Progressive Weakness

An excellent way into this issue was the Guardian article by Nicky Hawkins on 23rd January WE NEED A REALITY CHECK. Progressives were “Struggling to make sense of a world that was unthinkable just a couple of years ago….Progressive campaigning efforts largely haven’t worked, and are still not working. Since the EU referendum, little has changed in the tone and tenor of the public conversation on Brexit….” This is obviously true. Apart from the little understood Corbyn surge, what has happened in Britain and America has been the triumph of the populist right, and on Brexit the failure to make any inroads has been marked. 

Further, some in the Remain camp have clung to the idea of Bregret – the wishful thinking that hordes of remorseful leave voters would quickly change their minds. In reality, there’s no evidence that leave voters regret their decision: in fact recent polls suggest they stand by their vote even as they become more pessimistic about Brexit’s impact on Britain”. The ICM poll actually suggested some movement between Remain and Leave – in both directions – but that “A very small lead for Remain….(is) down to people who did not vote in 2016 disproportionately claiming they would vote Remain…” but the figures are tiny and are not weighted or filtered by the likelihood to vote. 

More to the point, “To stand a chance at winning over voters, progressives need to be able to answer the question of why something really matters… You can’t argue against an emotion with numbers – you  have to weave the facts into  a different and more appealing story than your rivals”. This is the heart of the issues, and not just a problem for the number crunchers who tried to combat the big red bus with hard evidence. Slippage over the money for the NHS have been monumental – Brexiteers are now down to £100m per week not £350m, if not arguing the money can be found by cutting overseas aid. Its not the facts that mattered, it was the emotional link between Brexit and the crisis in the hospitals. Brexiteers  grasped that a solution to a crisis was needed, and the progressives lacked a costed answer.

The article suggests postive campaigning, suggesting “activists in the US, the UK and Ireland won the campaign for equal marriage by framing it in terms of love, commitment and family – values that speak to conservatives – rather than the language of human rights. They didn’t seek to shout people down or fact check their beliefs”. There is a lesson here for Corbyn’s victories over the critics in the PLP who delivered him two party majorities – and the basis for a successful election campaign. Democracy was his calling card, and he used it well. Compared to Gordon Brown, who never stood for a leadership election, Corbyn won fair and square and carried the mantel of democratic support. So does Brexit. There is no choice but to win a referendum. Democracy is popular, and the 2016 vote was seen as democratic.

The broad point made by the article is that “The first step is understanding where people are coming from: lots of analysis to work out what’s really going on when someone answers yes or no on a ballot paper”. Very much the task, and for the Labour Party’s internal politics clearly vital to understand that the  Corbynista victories are not clear victories for the Hard Left, but they certainly mean no support for the Hard Right. Blairites please take note. Your day is over. Members vote against your candidates in every internal election, so move on.

On the main political front of Brexit, the progressive failure is profound, with  no sign eighteen months since the 2016 vote that  the divided and ineffective anti-Brexit movement can get to 60% plus of voters wanting to challenge the 2016 result. Less arrogance is needed by those who lost in 2016, and immediately an attempt to work with voters’ perceptions. For example, with the Swivel Eyed Loons on the march, the option pursued by Theresa May in attempting a soft Brexit may go belly up. But there may well be value in exploiting her weakness in appeasing the Loons by questioning how far she has  concealed  material evidence to keep them happy. For example, on Article 50. Why does she not reveal the law officer’s advice on whether it can be reversed? Sow doubt, legitimately, and the seeds may germinate in the mind of soft leave voters that they have not been given all the information. Which is what progressives tried to do over the Big Red Bus, and failed. 

Nicky Hawkins is right that labouring over facts and figures does not persuade the unconverted. We might learn from the old Maoist opera and Take Tiger Mountain by Strategy. Why not?

Trevor Fisher

February 2018



Momentum And The NEC Victory

As I noted in early December, the decision to have three extra NEC places  up for grabs meant that  in the absence of a regional element there is no doubt Momentum would clean up. However while the result was forseeable and Momentum maintained its 2016 supremacy, a closer analysis shows that it may have peaked — and if the broad opposition can ever get its act together the future can reverse the flow. But first things first.

The December  nominations showed three patterns – 3 Momentum, 3 independent (but backed by Labour First) and 3 local candidates who had no chance as having no national organisation. In the table below I put the vote and  the constituency nominations against each candidate.

In December it was clear  that the three candidates supported by Momentum and the CLGA (Centre Left Grassroots Alliance) easily outnumbered the other 6 candidates in constituency nominations. The figures for vote are in the 2nd column. NB even if all the Donovan votes transferred, Izzard would have been c10,000 short.

Nominations Votes
Yasmine Dar 205 66,388 Elected
Rachel Garnham 187 62,982 Elected
Jon Lansman 181 65,163 Elected
Non Momentum
Johanna Baxter 87 27,234
Eddie Izzard 71 39,508
Gurdiner Singh Josan 55 25,224
Nick Donovan 8 11,944
Nicola Morrison 7 7,551
Sarah Taylor 11 7,011

The NEC Elections 2016

The comparison with 2016 is illuminating with italics for candidates standing again in 2017. In 2016 the full 6 places went to candidates backed by the CLGA, Momentum and CLPD with no success for Progress or Labour First.

Ann Black 100,999 Elected
Christine Shawcroft 97,510 Elected
Claudia Webbe 92,377 Elected
Darren Williams 87,003 Elected
Rhea Wolfson 85,687 Elected
Pete Willsman 81,863 Elected
Ellie Reeves 72,514
Eddie Izard 70,993
Bex Bailey 67,205
Joanne Baxter 60,367
. Parmjit Dhanda 53,838
Luke Akehurst 48,632
. Peter Wheeler 44,062
John Gallagher 22,678
Amanat Gul 14,693

The 2017 election mirrors the 2016 result and confirms Momentum’s success in the 2016 elections, but the turnout is down although we do not yet have the turnout figures for 2017*, but in 2016 boosted by the leadership elections the figures are:

Number of eligible voters 373,443
Total number of votes cast 182,020
Invalid 2,533
Valid Votes 179,504
Turnout 48.7%

* The official membership is unknown, but in his NEC report on December 10th last Pete Willsman said that “membership is set to end the year at 568,500 – up 25,000 on 2016 and the highest figure since the party kept accurate records”. Thus the 2017 turnout on a larger membership over half a million appears to have been 20% and lower in absolute terms as well. This election did not mobilise the members. Momentum’s impetus lessened after Conference.

The Constitutional Arrangements Committee Elections 2017 

This was not the case in the run up to the  2017 conference as the election to the Constitutional Arrangements Committee (CAC) results last September showed. There was support from the grassroots for Momentum candidates and continuing  lack of support for the party establishment. For this crucial committee, two Momentum candidates, Seema Chandwani (secretary of Tottenham Labour Party) and Billy Hayes (Ex Gen secretary of Communications Workers Union)  beat candidates linked to the party establishment, Gloria de Piero and Michael Cashman. De Piero is MP for Ashfield, Cashman a member of the House of Lords after being an MEP. The latter were backed by Progress and Labour First according to Labour List, while Momentum backed candidates were also backed by CLPD. There is now a pattern of CLPD/Momentum in tandem.

The results were:

Chandwani 109,763 Elected
Hayes 92,205 Elected
De Piero 55,417
Cashman 50,439

Thus in the autumn of 2017 Momentum backed candidates were scoring nearly twice the votes of the establishment candidates, and there was no soft left or centrist candidates to give a fuller picture. It is however vital to note that in this election the slate was backed by Momentum and CLPD, with no involvement of CLGA which has never in my recollection stood candidates for CAC elections. At first glance the NEC three just elected follow this pattern, but with a much lower turnout. Perhaps because this was an ad hoc election out of sequence. Or perhaps because soft left members saw little to vote for.

Parliamentary And Other Selections

The pattern of internal party elections is polarising between the strong Momentum vote and weak establishment votes with no successes for Labour First, still the only voice of the old Right,. and the Blairite Progress group. However  it is clear that not all the Momentum activities are successful as the current round of parliamentary selections indicates.

On January 17th Labour List reported that of selections to date, Momentum backed 5 of 24  candidates selected, while the Financial Times 6 of 22 selections..Notably Momentum had a high profile candidate in Watford after the NEC forced him onto the list, but members preferred the candidate from 2017. Owen Jones threw his weight behind Katie Jones who lost in an All Women’s Shortlist to Mhari Threlfall in Filton and Bradley Stoke,. The FT also reported that in Manchester only 8 of 96 candidates for the council are backed by Momentum. There are certainly hotbeds of Momentum activity like Haringey and some big cities, but on the whole at the moment there is a different picture to be taken on board.

 

Soft Left Strong But Disorganised

The big picture is a soft left party whose members consistently vote for hard left leadership as the old right is bankrupt and there is no soft left organisation. In the twenty years since the LCC closed down nothing apart from the false dawn of Open Labour has emerged to replace it. The internal elections reflect this pattern. However this is an unstable situation, since either the factionalism of the hard left will drive out members and they win by default, or a soft left organisation of young activists will be created. Those are the only alternatives.

Trevor Fisher

January 2018

 

 

Situation Report on Brexit Xmas 2017

Eighteen months after the 2016 Referendum the advance to a Hard Brexit continues with the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal Bill) 2017-19 through its second reading in the Commons. Some concessions were made including the date – which still remains 2019 but may now be adjusted slightly from March 29th, and Amendment 7 – whose significance needs scrutiny.

The major factor is the weakness and divisions within the Anti Brexit forces and whether these are to be addressed. Before the House went into Christmas recess it appeared likely that this would happen. The attempt to unify anti-Brexit was flagged up in the Guardian (report by Patrick Wintour 17 12 17) and is overdue. However a moment of unification may pass without action.  It is vital that this is not the case.  The analysis following focusses on the proposal and how it may develop.

The Unification Proposal

Wintour’s article headline was “former diplomat to lead remainer’s bid to shift public opinion on Brexit”, with a subhead – “Lord Malloch-Brown aims to unify campaigners and sees MPs vote on the final deal as ‘the moment to stop the trainwreck'”. Unity is desirable, but is far from achieved.  There is no proposal for a single organisation, but Malloch-Brown claimed “from New Year is likely to see a much more co-ordinated campaign”.

All anti-Brexiteers must welcome this. But firstly, will it happen? Three organisations were named as taking a lead role – Open Britain, the European Movement, and Best for Britain (BFB), and that Malloch-Brown “has recently become chairman of Best for Britain”. There was no mention of Britain4Europe, which has a real grassroots presence. The earlier document on key seats strategy in the 2017 election (26th April) had named Open Britain, the European Movement and Britain4Europe, not BFB. It is vital that a broad front group emerges with all major organisations involved.

Whether this will happen we will see in early 2018. Immediately attention should focus on the second proposition, that the MPs vote on the final deal is the key moment for stopping Brexit. 

The background  analysed

Malloch-Brown is quoted as saying “The aim will be to shift public opinion by the time MPs come next autumn to have the meaningful vote that was agreed last week. We cannot know precisely the Brexit deal that the meaningful vote will be on, but it will be the moment to stop the trainwreck”.

 The idea of a ‘meaningful vote’ in the autumn on an unknown deal scheduled for March 29th 2019 or thereafter  is contradictory, but more contradictory still are the problems of whether  MPs can vote to defeat Brexit by voting on the deal, or at least the (incomplete) deal available in autumn 2018. Government has made crystal clear that a veto vote by MPs will not happen. This is underlined by responses to epetititions drawing responses from Government that do not suggest the vote on Article 7 of the Exit Bill (European Union (Withdrawal) Bill 2017-19 – vote December 13th 2017), will be effective. There are at time of writing two relevant petitions.

a) An epetition submitted by Tom Holder (deadline 12 3 18- e-petitions are open for  six months therefore this would have been submitted around 12th September 2017) entitled ‘Petition Hold a referendum on the final Brexit deal’  with three options suggested for the ballot paper, the response from the government was as follows:

 

“On 23rd June 2016 the British people voted  to leave the European Union. The UK government is clear that it is now its duty to implement the will of the people and so there will be no second referendum. The decision to hold the referendum was supported by a clear majority in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and the referendum was the largest democratic mandate in UK political history. In the 2017 General Election more than 85% of people voted for parties committed to respecting that result.

 

“There must be no attempts to remain inside the European union, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door, and no second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union, and it is the duty of the government to make sure that we do just that. Rather than second guess the British people’s decision to leave the European Union, the challenge is to make a success of it, not just for those who voted to leave but for every citizen of the UK, bringing together everyone in a balance approach which respects the decision to leave the political structures of the EU, but builds a strong relationship between Britain and the EU as neighbours, allies and partners.

“Parliament passed an Act of Parliament with a clear majority giving the Prime Minister the  power to trigger Article 50, which she did on 29 March in a letter to the President of the European Council Donald Tusk. As a matter of firm policy, our notification will not be withdrawn – for the simple reason that people voted to leave, and the government is determined to see through that instruction.

“Both Houses of Parliament will have the opportunity to vote on the final agreement (i) reached with the EU before it is concluded. This will be a meaningful vote (ii) which will give MPs the choice to either accept the final agreement or leave the EU with no agreement.

“The people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe. We want a deep and special partnership with the EU (iii). We can get the right deal abroad and the right deal for people at home. We will deliver a country that is stronger, fairer, more united and more outward looking than ever before.”

(i) This statement made  in September 2017 raises the question why the government refused to back Dominic Grieve’s amendment 7 to put this commitment into law in December.

(ii) My emphasis – this is a phrase used in parliament which seems to have no meaning at all, as the vote will be a foregone conclusion. As the next part of the sentence indicates, the choice is to accept the government’s position or accept the government’s policy. The deal cannot be amended or rejected for further negotiation. Any vote under these circumstances is a farce.

(iii) But as Justin Bieber sang in a chart hit, “Can we still be friends?” – second verse and chorus – breaking up is easy, staying in a positive relationship something else.

 

(b) an epetition submitted by Anne Greaves deadline 17th May 2018. (thus submitted November 2017) taking up the point  (ii) above and which said of the choice offered

“A lesser of two evils choice between a bad deal and no deal is not acceptable. Our country deserves better than than Hobson’s choice, and our MPs should be allowed to vote with their conscience to deliver what they believe is best for the country”. Government response was shorter and less belligerent, but made no concession on substance, while leaving out the phrase ‘a meaningful vote’,  making the following statement. 

“The British people voted to leave  and the government will implement their decision. The vote on the final deal will give parliament the choice to accept the agreement or leave the EU with no agreement.

“The result of the Referendum held on 23rd June 2016 saw a clear majority of people vote to leave the EU (iv)  Parliament overwhelmingly confirmed the result of the referendum on 8th February, by voting with clear and convincing majorities in both its Houses for the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal)  Bill. The Government is clear that it its duty to deliver on the instruction of the British People and implement the result of the referendum.

“The government has committed to hold a vote on the final deal in Parliament as soon as  possible after the negotiations have concluded. The terms of this vote are clear: Parliament will have the choice to accept that deal or to move ahead without a deal (v).We are confident that we will get the best possible agreement and one which Parliament will want to support.”

 

Department for Exiting the European Union 

(iv)  The facts are that while a narrow majority of those who voted were for Leave, unlike the 1975 vote there was not a 2/3 majority. Nor did the whole UK vote for Leave – the phrase used in the first government response which has been removed – as Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to Remain. This will have consequences for the survival of the UK which Brexiteers do not discuss.

(v) If the vote is to take place after negotiations have completed, why expect it  in Autumn 2018? 

Possible Outcomes

The government’s position does not give much room to suggest  the ‘trainwre

ck can be stopped’. No vote will take place on Leaving, and the choice of a ‘bad deal or no deal’ which is all that is on the table, will not include a vote on staying in the EU. If “Brexit is Brexit”, it cannot be stopped by a vote on this basis. If the Commons votes against the deal, the government is committed to leave the EU. The Amendment 7 passed on December 13th merely adds “subject to the prior enactment of a statute by parliament approving the terms of withdrawal of the UK from the EU”. The policy of the government is to leave without such approval if parliament votes against the deal.

It is possible that a use of Crown Prerogative could spark a constitutional crisis. There will be intense pressure to accept even a bad deal, but if the Commons voted against, and the government persisted, a Commons majority could pass a vote of no confidence in the government, which if passed would mean a General Election, or if Labour took office a government committed to passing Brexit.  The only other option is for parliament to vote for a Referendum. A General Election would be impossible to call.

It would appear those like Lord Malloch-Brown who believe that MPs can reverse Brexit are mistaken. A ‘meaningful vote’ in Autumn 2018 is not what parliament agreed in December 2017.

Trevor Fisher

December 2017

History Must Not Be Repeated

The article by Roy Hattersley in the Observer (3rd December) viewed the rise of Momentum through the spectacles of the 1980s. It is likely that the three Momentum candidates for  the NEC extra places will gain the seats as I argued on December 5th. However the lack of balance on the NEC if this confirmed is not just the result of 3 extra people in decision making, and cannot be tackled by returning to the politics of the past. 

Firstly, Momentum is not the Militant tendency, and while it is currently  the voice of the grassroots, this is partly due to the weakness of other tendencies. When I was on the Rank and File Mobilising Committee in 1981 during my Bennite phase, I was a delegate from the Independent Labour Party (or publications as we called it, confusing the issue) which also contained the Labour Co-ordinating Committee which later became the key soft left organisation, plus CLPD, Briefing, Militant and other groups. The Right also was well organised, but nowadays the Right only has the Labour First organisation, on which Hattersley puts much emphasis. A battle between Momentum and Labour First would be left v right when the right is weak. Where is the soft left?

Secondly, if Momentum is  ‘a party within a party’  as Hattersley claims,  there is an issue of how much control Corbyn’s office has on the group. Momentum claims on its web site to have 31,000 members, 200,000 supporters and 170 local groups. This is impressive and far beyond what any other Labour tendency has, boosting their candidates for the NEC,  but  it’s not automatic that this means a shift in the balance of power to Momentum or that they act for the Leader.

While Momentum certainly supports Corbyn, it is not at all clear that the leader’s office has any firm links with them. It is true as Hattersley claims that there is support from Unite, which appears to share offices with the group,  but even here it would be foolish to equate Momentum with any union despite much sharing of activity. If critics see Momentum as a way of controlling Labour,  stronger evidence is needed.

The Grassroots Must Be The Focus

Hattersley’s article made  some valid points and it is true that Labour’s opinion poll ratings are disappointing.  But there is more going on here that Hattersley’s claim that “Fears about a victory for the far left helps hold down Labour’s opinion poll lead to 4-5%”. Most voters have never heard of Momentum, while attacks on Corbyn for being far left by the Tories failed totally in 2017. Fear is not the real reason for Labour’s poor performance. We need better analyses of why Labour is not streaking ahead, although the media focus on Momentum may produce dire results.

Two key points about the growth of Momentum need to be remembered. The first is that Momentum appeals to young people, notably for having campaigned for Corbyn in 2015.  Any viable future for a grassroots initiative to challenge Momentum has to have a similar appeal. The rejection of the politics of Austerity and genuflecting to neo-liberalism of  the Blair-Brown- Miliband years must go. There is an international dimension here in the failure of the Clintonised Democratic Party which allowed Trump to win in the USA.

Secondly, the shadow cabinet ministers who resigned have no credibility. If Hattersley thinks they can simply declare that they were wrong and express pleasure in ‘acknowledging their mistake’ and then become grassroots warriors this is an illusion. Are they going back into the Shadow Cabinet?  How do they explain their actions in denying that Corbyn had won fair and square in 2015 triggering a second leadership ballot in 2016? Parliamentarians have  no political credibility. Like Johnson and Gove in the Tory party any attempt at independent action would be seen as an attempt to unseat the leadership.  Labour has no future with a civil war.

Shifting The Focus

Hattersley harks back to the decade of conflict which followed the Bennism of the late seventies, notably  in his call for MPs to “spend their evenings in cold halls, speaking to small audiences about Real Labour’s true values”. This is a reference to Labour Listens under Neil Kinnock, a project which largely failed.  Meetings will take place. But they are no longer where the action is.

This is very largely nowadays on the internet, and Momentum have shown how effectively that can be done. Not that the internet is a panacea, but to reach the young in particular will mean working in  cyberspace. 

Hattersley is right to look back to the Bennite movement of the 80s which gave the Tories three election victories, and that piece of history most certainly must not be repeated. Nevertheless the balance of forces in the Party has switched to the hard left for good reasons. New Labour  produced a narrow centralised neo-liberal politics which has no appeal to the young or the voters Labour has to win.

The Soft Left

Focussing on Momentum ignores the weakness of the Soft Left, notably Open Labour. Floating twoyears ago, this offered the chance to rebuild a current between the Right and the Hard Left. However it has failed to put down significant markers or attempt to organise at grassroots level. Its failure to publically support Angela Rayner MP when she refused to sign Momentum’s tick list was unacceptable. It has no visible grassroots presence which may explain its failure to sponsor candidates for the NEC elections but this is to evade the issue. With decisive elections in Summer 2018, Open Labour has to join in. The organisation is weak and run by volunteers, but what is chicken and what is egg? A visible media presence wins the support needed to develop. 

In key areas where Momentum is troublesome such as Inner City London boroughs, Sheffield and Liverpool there is no visible attempt to build a broad front for democratic socialism. Open Labour was never a strong player. It has declined into a social media operation.

Labour only wins elections when it has broad appeal and a balanced approach to voter appeal. The Blair era promised this but failed to deliver, and the Corbyn achievement in reaching voters New Labour did not after 2001 is threatened by the return of sectarianism leftism. The challenge for 2018 is to revive that mythical sleeping beauty, Labour’s Soft Left.

Trevor Fisher

December 2017

 

 

NEC Goes With The Flow

Any doubt that New Labour shot itself in the foot by putting Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot paper in 2015 goes to the wall with the NEC nominations for January 2018. THree extra places are up for grabs and in the absence of a regional element there is no doubt Momentum will clean up. The three candidates supported by Momentum and the CLGA (Centre Left Grassroots Alliance) easily outnumber the other 6 candidates in constituency nominations. The figures are:

Yasmine Dar                205

Rachel Garnham          187

Jon Lansman                181

 

best of the rest are

Johanna Baxter              87

Eddie Izzard                  71

Gurdiner Singh Josan     55

 

With Nick Donovan (8), Nicola Morrison (7)  and Sarah Taylor (11)  making up the list. There is no sign of any substantial right wing presence and the collapse of a once formidable political formation is confirmed. With the non Momentum people all standing as independents, the question for 2018 has to be whether there is any route back for the non-Corbynistas in the Labour Party? And where is the Centre Left of the CLGA, which as those of us who set it up can testify, was once a balanced platform against a dominant New Labour Machine which chose, over more than a decade, to commit political suicide.

Trevor Fisher 

December 107

 

Article 50 & The Rules Of The Game

Brexit is the one issue where Surge Politics does not currently apply, partly because the constitutional rules are badly understood and it is widely believed that the deal is done and once parliament had approved Article 50 and the negotiations began, leaving is inevitable. This is not so, but underpins the lack of movement in public opinion, which is still split down the middle. But there are some indicators that though the Tories have the impetus to continue toward a Hard Brexit, challenge is possible.

There have been no polls recently on Brexit though a Prospect Magazine poll in early autumn suggested that opinion was now 48% Leave 52% Remain – too slight a shift to make a difference.  So what could produce a major shift in public opinion? Poll data is short term and starts to decay as soon as published, so the fact that no polling was done in November is a problem But some polls done earlier are still useful.

There is some evidence that the government is not trusted. Polling published at the start of October,  done for BestforBritain (the Gina Miller group), on the credibility of the key players in the negotiation – May, Johnson and Davis – showed around half of voters thought Boris is motivated by his own interests and only 23% think May is primarily motivated by concern for the national interest. None of   the three  scored highly on putting the national interest first.

There was a different story where the May statement NO DEAL IS BETTER THAN A BAD DEAL  is concerned. Polling shortly after the PM made the statement showed  48% agreeing, only 17% thought a Bad Deal better than No Deal. At Start of October Sky data asked same Q, and a massive 74% thought no deal better than bad deal – but Q is what no deal means. Published on October 30th, the headline data leaves open the question of whether both Remainers and Leavers voted for No Deal. For Remainers this can mean not leaving, for Leavers leaving with a cut and run over the edge and far away position. More polling is needed.

The most important data is that produced by BRITAIN 4 EUROPE in its briefing for a National meeting on 2nd December. This states the following key findings:

1)  Divisions remain entrenched

2)  Soft  LEAVERS are fragmenting with some questioning their vote to Leave

3)  * Brexit is seen as irreversible*

4) Widespread concern at the complexity of the negotiations

5) Some ask that further scrutiny is needed.

The key fact about this poll is the third finding, now widely believed. Indeed, the Tory Brexit spokesman in the Lords said just that on 13th November – and then had to retract. But the story was not widely reported and needs to be better known – the status of Article 50 is going to become crucial in the months to come.

Lord Kerr had said that Article 50 is revocable. This has been used by Remain campaigners, so the Tory Lord Ridley asked  Lord Callanan (Minister of State  in the Department for exiting the European Union) the following question which gained a straight response – but withdrawn a week later.

House of Lords 13 11 17 Col 1845

Lord Ridley (Con) “Further to what my noble friend said about fixing the date of withdrawal… can he confirm that the judgement of the Supreme Court in the case brought by Gina Miller confirms in precise terms that article 50 is irreversible, in contrast to what the noble lord, Lord Kerr, has said?”

Lord Callanan: “I can confirm that. It is also stated by the European Commission that Article 50, once invoked, is irrevocable unless there is political agreement on it”.

Lord Elystan Morgan (Cross Bench)

“My Lords, does the minister agree that the notice given in March this year in relation to Article 50 was not a notice of withdrawal but a notice of intention to withdraw? Does he appreciate that our distinguished colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and the vast mass of legal authority, are of the opinion, therefore, that such a notice can be withdrawn unilaterally….?

Lord Callanan, (Con)

 “My Lords, no, I will not confirm that, because it has been stated by  legal opinion on this side of the water and in the EU that Article 50 is not revocable. It all flies in the face of the results of the referendum…”

 

House of Lords 20 11 17

2.42 PM Announcement:

 Lord Callanan (Con)

“Last Monday …. I responded to a question from my noble friend Lord Ridley regarding the Supreme Court’s view on the revocability of Article 50. My response to my noble friend was incorrect… I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, who highlighted my mistake…..I undertook to check the record… ad make it clear that the Supreme Court did not opine on the revocability of Article 50…

“…to reiterate… the Supreme Court proceeded in the Miller case on the basis that Article 50 would not be revoked but did not rule on the legal position regarding its revocability. It was, and remains, the government’s responsibility that our notification of Article 50 will not be withdrawn…..”

Comment

That  Lord Callanan did not know the constitutional position  is remarkable. It is well established that parliamentary sovereignty means that any law can be repealed. The role of European Law does not change this, and Lord Callanan is right in his opinion. However while parliamentary sovereignty is absolute, and the Tories have promised Parliament will have a vote on the Deal, they have also said that a vote against will be ignored as they are bound by the 2016 Referendum. Thus we have a situation where referendums dictate and parliament cannot overule a referendum. This now appears the constitutional position, so only a Third Referendum (the first was in 1975) can repeal Article 50. The first challenge is to tackle the illusion that this cannot be done – which Lord Callan never quite got round to saying on 20th November – and then win the battle for Referendum 3. That Article 50 can be repealed is clear. But it is a phyrric victory unless a Referendum can trigger the process of repeal. 

 

Trevor Fisher                                                                          

November 2017