First published on Progressonline for ‘the Last Word’
Article 50 has plunged Labour into the thick of the controversy of leaving the European Union this week. The very issue Labour could once use to divide the Tory party leaves Labour looking like they are all over the place. The vacuum in leadership allows a three line whip – aimed to indicate understanding of how 17 million people voted – to be characterised as a blank check for Theresa May’s hard Brexit.
The leadership of the party, has for once, recognised the important of being in touch with majority opinion in Britain. Yet it is Jeremy Corbyn’s close allies – both in parliament and outside – that seem to understand his position least. In fact, many of those who berated the ‘coupists’ last summer are now the ones walking off Corbyn’s frontbench or leaving the party all together. Labour members of parliament – from all wings – have got to do right my their conscience and their constituents. We should respect how they each vote, despite our deep felt feeling about how we wish the voted had gone last June.
Straight talking, honest politics
Just to keep politics interesting John McDonnell wrote for Labour Briefing this week about how ‘the character’ of hard-left politics is ‘straightforward and honest with people’. Whether it is the mess over Brexit or the mess <link to Insider>inside Momentum<>, Labour is governed by anything but. He told the readers of his column:
We are currently facing exactly what we predicted but many didn’t fully appreciate. The full forces of the establishment are being thrown against us. In no way will the elite establishment tolerate the popular election of a socialist leader without a bitter fight.
This could not be less true. The criticism from the parliamentary Labour party has fallen away. Corbyn is rarely seen on the media and three weeks running has had a poor outing at prime minister’s question time. He is unable to think on his feet and is out-foxed by a viable candidate for Britain’s weakest occupant of No 10. It is not hostile media reporting that makes Seamus Milne brief journalists on Russia just moments after one of Corbyn’s better PMQs where he focused on the NHS. If Rachael Maskell, Jo Stevens and Clive Lewis are one ‘throwing’ stuff it seems untenable to blame it on the establishment but requires McDonnell to look closer to home.
The reality is every day this failed projects continues to lead Labour, the Tories get away with a hard Brexit and much more besides.
However, it is not just for modernisers to bemoan the current leadership on Twitter. We need to get a real sense about what drives Corbyn and why his politics – not his average media performances – is leaving Labour slumped in the polls. To this end, this month’s edition of Progress magazine has a special essay looking to understand the hard-left politics running Labour. ‘The Corbynite ideology‘ by the Anglia Ruskin University academic Richard Carr tries to do just that. He reveals the Labour leader’s longstanding worldview as a paradox of open borders and a closed shop economy. Greg Rosen and Grace Skelton support the piece and, hopefully, start a comradely debate.
This week saw the Labour movement come together over hatred of Donald Trump’s appalling ban on seven majority-Muslim countries. Guardian columnist Owen Jones did an excellent job organising the whole thing. Leader of the Labour group in the National Union of Students, Robbie Young, did an equally brilliant job of bring a new generation of young people to the demo. I joined friends old and new, an various wings of Labour, as well as those in the Green party, Liberal Democrats and I even saw the odd Tories feeling let down by their own side.
Dan Jarvis was also the sources of unity this week. Today his private members bill on child poverty standards is considered in the House of Commons. His videos, parliamentary questions and the substantive of the bill itself provide a masterclass in embarrassing the Tories and exposing their brutality.
Finally, Tom Watson led the condemnation of the rise in antisemitic attacks that took place in 2016 – the worst year on record. It is published at week after Holocaust Memorial Day and fitting reminder that we must continue tube vigilant.
The Beckett report
It is a year, almost to the day, that the Beckett Report into the last election was published. The former foreign secretary regrettably missed key questions let alone identified important answers and lesson for Labour. I do not recommend people go back and read it – for it is time you will never get back. But I do urge the party to revisit why the 2015 election ended so badly. Without doing so we are destined to repeat it.
My piece for the New Statesman demonstrates the mountain Labour still has to climb to deal with its past before forging a different future. I hope it is of interest still.
This weekend my colleagues are out on the byelection #Labourdoorstep. They are all in Copeland today and tomorrow half lead campaign sessions in Stoke while the other half stay in Whitehaven to do the same. Everyone is welcome to join them at 11am and 2pm this Saturday (4 February). Bring a friend and training is provided.
An inspiration and a friend
This Wednesday Gordon Aikman – the former director of research for Better Together – lost his battle with motor neurone disease. His herculean fund raising effort and campaigns to give those with MND a voice means his work will go on. He leaves behind his husband Joe and his mum, sister and nephew.
Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets at @RichardAngell