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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Alone and abandoned - Corbyn isolated on Labour front bench

The picture above is a genuine moment in the debate on the UK Government's defence review and shows the Leader of the Opposition alone and isolated on the front bench. As a symbol of what is happening to the Labour Party it is unassailable.

Over at the Telegraph, Labour Party member and columnist, Dan Hodges thinks it is now only a matter of time before Corbyn is ousted as leader. However, he raises wider concerns about the future of the Labour Party itself, which he says is in danger of turning into a rabble. The tipping point, he says, will the vote on whether to take arms in Syria:

Over the past few days there has been much internal debate about allowing Labour MPs a “free vote” on any Syria motion. It is, some in Labour’s ranks believe, a clever way of getting their party out of a tight spot. Their leader can vote with his conscience, members of the shadow cabinet can vote with theirs, and everyone can then carry on as if nothing has happened.

Something will have happened, though, something serious. The Labour Party will have failed to take a stand on an issue of war and peace. There have been times in our nation’s history when our political parties have adopted the right stance on military intervention. There have been times when they have adopted the wrong stance. But I cannot recall an occasion in my lifetime when one of those parties failed to adopt any stance at all.

What those arguing for a free vote are actually proposing is that the Labour Party should formally say to the British people: “We have no policy on Syria. We know British service personnel are being asked to fight. It is conceivable some of them are being asked to die. But we have no view on that. And we have no view because it is politically inconvenient for us to have a view.”

At that point Labour ceases to be a serious party of opposition. Not Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, but the Labour Party collectively. Indeed, it ceases to be a political party. It becomes an incoherent, morally and intellectually bankrupt rabble.

Hodges argues that this goes to the heart of what Labour actually is.He says that the front bench have to make a stand:

Members of the shadow cabinet have to go to Mr Corbyn and tell him squarely to his face that unless he joins with them in backing military action against Isil they will resign. No fixes, no fudges, but a simple choice. You back the Government, you back our allies, your back the United Nations, you back the majority view of your senior colleagues, or you can have my portfolio.

We cannot continue with a situation where on vital issues of war, national defence and national security, senior members of the Labour Party appear on our screens night after night and say: “Yeah, I don’t agree with Jeremy Corbyn on that, but what can you do?”

For the last two months the shadow cabinet has effectively been telling the people of Britain: “We don’t trust our leader on the most important issues facing our country, but you should.” This is unsustainable. Either the shadow cabinet has confidence in Mr Corbyn to make the right choices in defence of our nation, in which case they should be out there endorsing those choices. Or they don’t have confidence in him to make those life and death choices. In which case they should no longer, in good conscience, serve under him.

This is all serious stuff. How Labour politicians deal with it now could determine the future of their party for some time to come.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Irony is dead as Corbyn hits out at critics

Is it the case that irony is no longer a thing? If it is then it has certainly by-passed the Labour leadership.  For according to the Independent, Jeremy Corbyn, a man who built his career on revolting against the whip and destabilising the Labour leadership, has authorised the publication of a critique of Labour MPs who insist on defying him.

The paper says that Corbyn has accused his internal critics of creating an “atmosphere of chaos” in the Labour Party through “constant sniping” and “bitter attacks”:

In the first public response to the criticisms of his leadership, Mr Corbyn’s team has used his official Facebook page to lambast MPs and “New Labour grandees” for attempting to destabilise his leadership.

And in what will be perceived as a threat it accuses them of “doing the membership of the party that voted for Jeremy a massive disservice”, calling on them to “do your job and represent us”.

The post, which The Independent understands was authorised by the Labour leader, comes after a week in which he has faced public and private criticism for his stance on Trident, Syria and how the British police should respond to a terrorist attack.

Describing Mr Corbyn’s critics as a “vocal” section of the Parliamentary Labour Party, the unnamed author claims their views are not acceptable as part of the debate about Labour’s future.

“What we have seen from a small section of the Parliamentary [Labour] Party and some New Labour ‘grandees’ recently isn’t opinion and it’s not about debate,” the post says.

“It is a constant sniping, undermining and, at times, bitter attack. It’s designed to create an atmosphere of chaos. We are here to tell you that we’re sick of it. Not only is it now boring, but it is entirely destructive.”

The post also accuses some Labour MPs of being in hock to the right-wing media, which is using them to undermine the party.

For those of us who lived through the 1980s this blaming of the media for the Labour Party's ills is on familiar ground. But now it is the left in charge and they are the ones defending their record. They really don't like it when opponents use their own tactics against them.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Claim that terrorist threat will increase if we leave the EU

The former chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Sir Hugh Orde has made a vital point today when he warns that the UK will find it harder to keep terrorists out of the country and to deport them after arrest if it leaves the European Union.

According to the Observer, Sir Hugh has argued that the country will be at greater risk if it “pulls up the drawbridge” and steps aside from EU intelligence sharing. He says that intelligence plays an increasingly crucial role in fighting international crime and thwarting terrorist plots:

Quitting the EU, he says, “would not quell jihadis’ murderous intent towards the British way of life, but it could make it harder for us to prevent them arriving and then deport suspects when here”.

Last week Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, said the Paris attacks strengthened the case for a UK exit. “What’s happened is ghastly but we’ve got to ask ourselves some big questions,” he said.

“We have a problem already and, to my mind, if we allow access to countless millions without any means or ability of checking who they are, we’re adding to a problem that already exists within our countries.”

But Orde, one of the most respected figures in policing, says the anti-EU campaigners have “misused the horrific events in Paris to try to support their failing cause. Their argument is that by standing alone from Europe and pulling up the drawbridge, Britain can secure its borders and better repel the threats we face.

“They are right that the Parisian tragedies must make us reassess and redouble our efforts to tackle terror – at home and abroad – but their prescription is fundamentally wrong. If followed, the Leave campaigns would endanger our country and communities, not protect them.”

Orde maintains that the kind of international cooperation that has developed in the EU, and measures such as the European arrest warrant (EAW), are a vital part of efforts to combat the global threat of terrorism.

“We have the best of both worlds, the security and stability gained from being part of Europe, but the flexibility to opt out of arrangements which aren’t in our national interest,” he says.

It is the most convincing reposte yet to the message of hate and division preached by UKIP and needs to be circulated widely.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Umunna launches strongest attack yet on Corbyn

Just when you thought that the infighting amongst Labour MPs could not get any worse, Chuka Umunna launches into his own coruscating criticism of Jeremy Corbyn.

According to the Telegraph, the former Labour leadership contender believes that Jeremy Corbyn's pacifist views should disqualify him from office because he cannot keep Britain safe:

In a thinly veiled attack at his leader, Mr Umunna said: "If you cannot keep the people safe, in their eyes that is a disqualification from office."

Mr Umunna told the BBC's Today programme this morning that he will vote with his "conscience" on airstrikes in Syria regardless of Jeremy Corbyn and his "nasty troll" supporters.

Mr Umunna adds: "The first duty of any elected representative, not just ministers, is to do all we can to ensure the security of our constituents, particularly in the face of the terrorist threat we are facing.

"This goes above and beyond party politics, and dare I say it internal party politics. Because if you cannot keep the people safe in their eyes that is a disqualification from office.

"The easy thing for many MPs would be to say I go along with every single comment, every single thing I have heard from the leadership."

Mr Umunna added that MPs should be free to express their views without being insulted trolled and threatened with deselection.

Meanwhile, Lord Reid, a former Cabinet minister under Tony Blair, said Labour's response to the terrorist threat did not look "competent or coherent":

"I don't think their best friend would argue that we have been coherent on these issues," he told the BBC's Today programme.

"It is sad not just from the point of the Labour Party, but the country. We need a competent, coherent opposition."

It is less than 100 days and the revolt against Corbyn within his own party is growing.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The not-so Presidential Mr. Cameron

So, the Prime Minister has got his way and acquired his own version of Airforce One. C ue, a spate of films starring Harrison Ford and other Hollywood stars based around the new Cabinet transport.

According to the Independent,the Prime Minister and senior members of the Cabinet are to get an aircraft of their own for official trips:

But the news that an Airbus A330 refuelling aircraft will be refitted for the purpose as a money-saving exercise was met with derision by the commercial airline business.

The aircraft itself is an RAF Voyager – an A330 that was expensively converted into a flying fuel tank only four years ago. The jet (list price £150m) is now to be refitted as a passenger aircraft at a cost of about £10m.

The Government claims that the move will save £750,000 a year compared with the existing practice of using Royal Squadron planes or chartering commercial jets. That assertion relies on some accounting that is spectacularly creative even by Downing Street standards, apportioning many of the fixed and direct costs to other budgets (and has gone down badly given that the spending review is looming next week). It also locks in the Government to a single wide-bodied aircraft, seating up to 285 people, with a correspondingly massive carbon footprint.

This is all very well of course, but how does it fit in with the tactics of the Welsh Conservative Group in the Assembly who have been obsessed in recent months with the Labour Government's fleet of chauffeur-driven cars.

It is funny how the Tories can be so selective in identifying government waste and environmentally-unfriendly behaviour.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Welsh Tories stumble over Mid and West Wales candidate selection

It tells us all we need to know that the Welsh Conservatives are able to overlook a conviction for animal offences in choosing their lead candidate for the Mid and West Wales regional Assembly list.

According to the BBC Powys opposition group leader Aled Davies was fined more than £2,500 in October after admitting six offences. Animal health officers found nine sheep carcasses on his farm said to have been dead for two weeks. He also admitted failing to register the death of a cow.

The BBC quote a a Conservative spokeswoman who said: "Aled has the backing of the membership of Mid and West Wales as shown by today's results. The offences were not related to animal health or animal welfare."

Whichever way you look at it this is not a good choice for the Tories, nor do their protestations that Councillor Davies' conviction should be overlooked so that he can represent the region have much credibility.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Corbyn scores double whammy over Livingstone appointment

As if provoking his defence spokesperson by appointing Ken Livingstone as co-chair of Labour's Trident review team was not bad enough, Jeremy Corbyn achieved a double whammy for his party today, through the way his chosen appointee subsequently conducted himself.

According to the Telegraph, Mr. Livingstone responded to criticism by Kevan Jones MP, who has won plaudits for the way he spoke out about his experience of depression, by saying that Mr. Jones “might need some psychiatric help”:

Mr Corbyn is under mounting pressure from leading Labour MPs to sack Mr Livingstone just hours after it emerged he had got the new role overseeing the defence review.

Mr Jones himself and Chris Leslie, the former shadow chancellor, called on Mr Livingstone to go while a string of other senior figures expressed outrage at the comments.

The row erupted amid anger that Mr Livingstone, who opposes renewing Trident, had been given an influential role in the review into Labour’s defence policy.

Friends close to Maria Eagle, the shadow defence secretary who was heading up the review, told The Telegraph that she heard about the news on Twitter and is considering resigning.

The civil war erupted after Mr Jones criticised the appointment.

Mr Livingstone told The Mirror: “I think he might need some psychiatric help. He's obviously very depressed and disturbed.

“He should pop off and see his GP before he makes these offensive comments.”

Mr Jones said in response: "I find these comments gravely offensive not just personally but also to the many thousands who suffer from mental illness.

"This is why Ken Livingstone can't be taken seriously in defence or any other policy issues.

"I and a lot of people will be very angry about such insensitive and stupid comments.

"Offensive statements like this just reinforce the stigma about mental illness."

Ken Livingstone has since apologised, having been told to do so by Jeremy Corbyn, but the former London Mayor's remarks do not bode well for a leader who broke the mould not so long ago by appointing a spokesperson specifically on mental health.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Labour MPs now in open revolt against Corbyn

The age of anonymous briefings after Labour Party meetings has apparently returned if this article in the Independent is any measure.

The paper reports that one of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow ministers has branded their leader a “f***ing disgrace” after an acrimonious meeting between his new Leader and Labour MPs. They say that some politicians at the private Monday evening meeting were reportedly angry that Mr Corbyn had questioned police having a “shoot to kill” policy for terror suspects on British soil.

They add that there was also said to be dissent over the Labour leader’s statement earlier in the day effectively ruling out support for military action in Syria:

“He doesn’t answer anything. He got roasted, he’s a f****** disgrace,” the MP said, according to both the Daily Mirror and The Sun newspapers.

The BBC reports another anonymous MP as saying the Labour leader was “aggressively heckled” during the meeting.

A spokesperson for Mr Corbyn said that those who express critical views “volubly” were in the minority and that the shadow cabinet was united on blocking military action in Syria.

Mr Corbyn said he was “not happy” with a police policy of shoot-to-kill of the kind that had killed Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005.

“I'm not happy with the shoot-to-kill policy in general. I think that is quite dangerous and I think can often be counter-productive,” he said.

“I think you have to have security that prevents people firing off weapons where you can,” he had said earlier in the day.”

Mr Corbyn also warned on Monday that bombing Syria might simply cause “yet more conflict, more mayhem and more loss”.

Some Labour MPs are pro bombing the country and want to be able to vote differently to their leader on the issue.

Whatever the merits of Mr. Corbyn's position it is clear that he has shown poor judgement in choosing to make these particular comments as his response to the terrible tragedy in Paris. Labour are now deeply divided on this issue and are further burdened by the naivety and lack of empathy shown by their leadership team.

I do not think that Corbyn will win any friends amongst those who voted him into the leadership by the way that he has responded either.

Contrast his position with that of Paddy Ashdown, a man who has seen action in three conflicts and helped to end the bloody civil war in the former Yugoslavia through the Dayton agreement.

Paddy has called for diplomacy, not as an alternative to conflict, but to shape our military response:

Instead of being provoked into ­mindless bombing in Syria we should, these past three years, have been putting together an international agreement – like Dayton – involving Iran, Turkey, moderate Arab states and Moscow.

Then we could have surrounded IS the better to strangle them. We would have had a diplomatic framework in which military force made sense.

The opportunity is there to pull together so as to fight the IS threat decisively. It is little wonder that Labour MPs are so frustrated when their leader is failing to show any understanding of what needs to be done.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Corbynistas make their move

Has the long awaited purge of anti-Corbyn MPs started? I only ask because of this article in yesterday's Observer, which suggests supporters of the new leader's grassroots movement Momentum are calling on Labour’s national executive committee to discipline two MPs for disloyalty in an attempt to tighten the left’s grip on the party.

They say thatMomentum members are urging Corbyn loyalists to sign up to demands for action against Frank Field and Simon Danczuk, as well as against a former parliamentary candidate, Emily Benn. The move is apparently part of a counterattack against efforts to expel Corbyn’s leftwing policy adviser Andrew Fisher:

The NEC is already scheduled to discuss further action against Fisher, who has been suspended by general secretary Iain McNicol.

Momentum supporters are circulating documents urging Corbyn loyalists to contact McNicol before the NEC meeting to demand action against the three. A document from Momentum supporters in Southampton, posted on Facebook, has similar wording to documents being circulated among constituency parties across the country.

Its says that Field, a highly respected former minister and now chair of the House of Commons work and pensions select committee, should be disciplined for saying that any Labour MP deselected as a result of leftwing purge should stand again as an independent. It argues that Danczuk is guilty of “serial disloyalty” against Corbyn and says Benn, granddaughter of Tony Benn, has previously showed support for the Women’s Equality party.

Senior Labour sources said it was clear Momentum supporters wanted to protect Fisher in his job by highlighting what they saw as comparable offences by others. Benn, the Labour candidate for Croydon south in May’s general election, made a formal complaint against Fisher last month, saying he had supported Class War rather than her campaign before the May election. Danczuk has said he might be prepared to stand as a stalking horse challenger next year. The NEC may also debate whether to change rules on potential leadership challenges, which would make it more difficult to remove Corbyn from the job.

Although this is an obvious tactic to protect one of their own, it is possible that it could quickly move into the constituencies with attempts to deselect those MPs who are considered disloyal to Corbyn. It is almost as if we are reliving the 1980s/

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Is Vince Cable right that another economic storm is brewing?

In the Independent, Vince Cable is promoting his new book and is arguing that we are still living with the consequences of the banking crisis of 2008. He says that the damage to banks, government budgets, production and living standards has been enormous and we are far from a return to normality. He warns that there are some ugly black clouds gathering which could portend worse to come:

My current sense of unease is sharpened by the big disparity between backward and forward-looking indicators. This week’s employment figures continued the remarkable run of positive data which has had economic ministers, including me when in government, scrambling to be the first in front of the TV cameras. The UK recovery is a really good story and surprisingly job-rich (even if productivity poor). But employment is a lagging indicator. Recent, forward- looking, surveys of business confidence suggest a deteriorating outlook, with the worst figures since the 2008 crisis.

Policy-makers in the UK clearly believe that the recovery story is set to last. The Autumn Statement due on the 25th of this month is very likely to be based on an optimistic view that the economy will continue to grow strongly and can absorb a period of fiscal contraction – of 5 per cent of GDP in four years – considerably more severe than actually achieved in the Coalition years. And monetary policy, we are told by the Bank of England, is to be tightened, if not immediately. Yet the context is a world in which growth is falling and worse is to come, creating weak export demand. Even if Britain were in great shape the global slowdown would be a serious matter. But, actually, the recovery is precarious and unbalanced.

Like other major developed economies, the UK has a large overhang of debt: overleveraged households, corporates and government. Total debt to GDP (excluding financial institutions like banks) rose in the pre-crisis boom from under 200 per cent in 2001 to 260 per cent at the time of the crisis, the increase coming almost entirely from mortgage borrowing on the back of the surge in house prices. Other developed economies had a similar rise but the UK’s was more extreme than most. Since the crisis, aggregate debt has risen further – to around 280 per cent – with a sharp rise in public debt (roughly from 40 per cent to 80 per cent of GDP) and a modest fall in household and corporate debt, though household debt is now rising back to the previous peak as mortgage borrowers chase a rising housing market. The current obsession with public debt, under a third of the total, obscures this bigger picture.

Cable argues that debt matters because it can have a depressive effect on the willingness to invest, by companies and governments, and on the willingness of consumers to spend. He talks about the idea of “debt deflation”, which he says is one of the ingredients contributing to weak demand in the post-crisis world and the current pessimism about growth.

He adds that many of our economies remain on the life-support system of ultra-cheap money. Official short-term rates are close to zero (or sub-zero as in Switzerland) and there is a reluctance to raise them and snuff out recovery (as happened in Sweden in 2012) and add to the problems of indebted households and companies:

One side-effect of keeping economies growing through cheap money and credit creation through quantitative easing has been the generation of asset bubbles, especially in property markets. Britain demonstrates the problem in an extreme way, magnifying underlying imbalances between housing demand and supply. Double-digit housing inflation is not merely creating appalling social problems and division between classes and generations but grossly distorting investment from productive activities to property holding. The Bank of England has tools of macro-prudential management to curb this inflation but the extreme timidity in using them reveals the high level of dependence on this precarious and dangerous form of growth.

There is another problem too. Governments and central banks have limited room for manoeuvre. Having pushed monetary policy to the limits of what currently passes for acceptable and public debt to what is regarded as sustainable levels, there is no obvious place to go if we hit another recession. Unfortunately the risks of that happening are rising.

Vince says that an over-reliance on China and a weak Eurozone is a recipe for economic grief. In addition, economic stress and the refugee crisis is fuelling the politics of identity, which is in turn leading to the risk of political disintegration and the weakening of the collective disciplines on which the Union depends.

He believes that these threats and worrying trends could lead to a reality check that counters the cheery self-confidence of the UK Treasury. He concludes that the UK economy is in for an uncomfortable period in which severe economic storms are all too plausible.

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