The Labour leadership election: my view

Hi all,

I’ve deliberately kept updates limited for a while, partly to give more space to others and partly as post-Brexit I’ve been busy myself with some non-political projects. But a number of Broxtowe Labour members have asked for input on the Labour leadership election, and some who aren’t currently members may be interested.

First, as usual, I’d like to discuss it amicably – with all that’s happened in the last few months, feelings have been getting heated. My views are simply my personal opinion, and naturally anyone is free to disagree.

There is a reasonably broad consensus on two things:

Jeremy Corbyn has a number of likeable personal qualities: he is entirely focused on improving Britain’s policies rather than personal glory or amassing wealth; he avoids personal abuse, even of people he strongly disagrees with; he maintains a steady, even temper despite sometimes considerable provocation. I’ve known him on and off for 40 years: he’s just the same equable, civil figure in private.

Labour is not at present successfully challenging Theresa May’s honeymoon, even though she has yet to actually do anything very much and the policies which worry many about the Conservatives have continued unchanged, while the post-Brexit economic outlook continues to look bleak.

The question is how far the problems relate to Corbyn personally and how far it’s due to the intensive barrage from many nominally on his own side that he’s endured since taking the leadership last year. The impression given is that the party is massively divided, and in my view the main responsibility for that are the disparate forces who have been briefing against him – first anonymously, then in public – since day 1. This isn’t to say that he doesn’t need to shoulder some of the responsibility, but he’s not actually been given a fair chance.

The reason he was elected is that his opponents last year seemed not to be offering a coherent policy programme. The sardonic comment of an adviser that our 2010 programme sounded like “Vote Labour and win a toaster” stung because it was partly true. After a range of genuinely good reforms introduced under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown which tend now to be forgotten (the Northern Ireland settlement, the minimum wage, the massive improvement in NHS and education funding, much greater attention to social reform and humans rights) and the twin disasters of Iraq and the world banking crisis, the party seemed to have lost its way. Corbyn offered a new focus on developing an alternative to austerity – which by 2016 even its architects like Georg Osborne were admitting had proved ineffective in dealing with the debt issue – and a new focus on industrial and services growth.

The challenge this year is curious, in that Owen Smith is arguing that he broadly supports the new direction; he simply feels he’d do it better. The problem with that is threefold:

  1. It’s not been evident up to now that he was particularly engaged with that: if we are following Corbyn’s policies, doesn’t it make more sense to have Corbyn putting them forward?
  2. The evidence that Labour would do significantly better under his leadership is scanty
  3. Many of his backers clearly see him as an interim solution to be replaced by someone else down the line, once Corbyn was defeated. In pursuing that, frankly undemocratic measures have been taken, first trying to prevent Corbyn from standing at all and then preventing over 20% of the membership from taking part because they’d mostly joined as they were attracted by the new approach.

If Owen is elected on that basis, I think he’ll struggle to be accepted by members as legitimate, and we’ll extend the internal feuding for a further year until another round 12 months from now. Meanwhile, the people whom we represent are looking on the perplexity at the internal battle, which is leaving Britain without an effective opposition.

Bottom line: I’ve always wanted in politics to argue for a progressive agenda with civility and reason rather than ranting and abuse. Jeremy Corbyn epitomises that spirit of “positive politics”, and I would like to stand by it.

I’m therefore voting to give Corbyn a decent chance, and I hope other members will do the same.

Best regards

 

Nick

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Britain leaves! What now?

Hi all,

First those of us who opposed Leave need to acknowledge the democratic verdict – in Broxtowe against the recommendations from both Anna Soubry and me, and in Britain against the recommendations from nearly the whole of the political leadership. I won’t pretend I suddenly think it’s a good idea, but it’s a democratic decision and we need to make the best of it. There is no point in insulting the voters! – that’s the kind of political arrogance that has got us to the present position.

I’m not going to get into Tory or other leadership questions here, but rather look at the policy consequences.

  1. EEA or total split?

The fundamental question is going to be which of the two Brexit models we decide to follow. If we join Norway in the EEA, everyday life will continue much as before – we will have free access to the common market, but free immigration will continue. We will have a little more freedom to develop distinctive policies, at the price of a little less influence on European policies which we’ll be nonetheless required by EEA rules to follow. But I don’t think it would lead to massive trade consequences, and it’s probably the policy that business and “continuity” candidates for PM like Theresa May will recommend.

If we decide that curbing immigration is the priority, then the EEA isn’t a solution, and a separate deal will be needed. That seems actually more likely – Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage have all said it’s what they want. In that case, we must be prepared for a long and difficult negotiation, with significant curb on British exports of services in particular. That’s the reason why banking shares have collapsed this morning – down 30% overnight in some cases – and it will have a significant impact on GDP, with knock-on effects on personal economics.

  1. How might we curb immigration?

While I’m not interested in responding to racist attitudes, we need to accept that the sense of lack of control of migration is a worry that plenty of people have without any racist considerations, and that it was the major driver of the result. So what can we do to listen to that?

My personal view is that the government will need to do something to head off concern about this. It was undeniably true that free movement was and is a condition of both EU and EEA membership, and I don’t think that we can simply shrug off voters’ clear concerns and say tough, you’re going to have to accept it anyway.

The obvious solution is the points system which we introduced under the last government and is already largely used for non-EU immigration: broadly speaking, immigrants will need to show there’s a job waiting and that an effort to find UK-based people to fill it has failed. This hasn’t noticeably curbed immigration in practice, because a lot of it does in fact pass this test.

The obvious example is NHS recruitment. The Government has (weirdly) been cutting back on British nursing training and worsening UK doctors’ contracts, so the supply of UK-based doctors and nurses is very limited. The NHS has been dealing with that by recruiting in Eastern Europe, India and Pakistan, and we’ll need to decide whether they can go on doing that (which means that such immigration flows will continue) or curb it (which will mean longer waiting times and declining service, at least for some years until the training cuts are reversed). Less highly-skilled examples are areas like construction and restaurants – the choice here may simply be to put up wages in order to attract more British staff, and the cost of that will simply be higher prices.

An arguable way forward is probably to insist that immigration is necessary where we simply don’t have the skills (as in the NHS) and to curb low-skilled migration: if it means higher prices, that’s a consequence of withdrawal and people accepted there would be costs.

  1. Labour’s position

I’m not a policy decision-maker so the following are suggestions for consideration.

If we do accept some migration curbs, the quid pro quo needs to be really vigorous action to prevent illegal cheap labour being smuggled in, to protect workers against exploitation and to crack down on the massive tax avoidance which blights our economy: it simply isn’t acceptable that we enter a period of serious economic difficulty while people with the right City connections cheerfully avoid sharing the burden by locating offshore.

Being outside the EU will give us some scope to be proactive in this, and I think that Labour needs to seize the opportunity to take the lead in this area. Nobody seriously supposes that the right-wing Conservative leadership that is on the way will have any interest in doing any such thing.

We also need to protect minorities and people already here from any spillover from understandable concerns about free movement into racism and xenophobia. Labour is an anti-racist party and it’s a fundamental principle that we will not compromise on. In particular, people who are already here under policies up to now have a right to be here, and talk of “sending people back” is a far-right fantasy which has little support and we should oppose outright.

It’s quite likely that we will see an election within a year, when the new Tory leader attempts to get a mandate. It’s important that Labour is in a position to offer a distinctive programme of what we will do with the new situation, maximising the opportunities and minimising the economic pain.

People have voted to withdraw in order to give the UK Government greater freedom of action, and we need to accept that – talk of forcing a fresh referendum to have another think is really for the birds. But the vote to leave does not mean that voters want a recklessly reactionary government, and we need to be in a position to say “Yes, we accept the result, and here is the progressive case for a Government that makes the very best of Britain separate from the EU.” We owe it to ourselves to offer that positive alternative, and we owe it to the people who we represent and to British democracy.

The work to develop that programme starts right now. We may have less time than we think.

Best wishes

Nick

Posted in Broxtowe | 9 Comments

Jo Cox

Just a few words on Jo Cox’s murder – others more eloquent than me have already said more. I didn’t know her, but she was clearly a quite outstanding woman, who defended refugees despite the unpopularity of the cause and repeated personal threats, and what has happened is utterly terrible.

Three additional comments.

First, we need to remember that it is both a political tragedy and a personal one. As Jeremy Corbyn commented, we in the Labour Party have lost a friend and colleague who worked with us for justice and fairness, but her children have lost a mother and the joy of growing up in a really happy environment. We need to celebrate all that she did to make politics a better place, while respecting the quiet, private grief. Politics is not all of life.

Second, it goes without saying that nobody is responsible for the murder except the murderer (and any accomplices) – we should avoid trying to draw parallels to anyone on the right, in the same way as we ask people not to blame other Muslims for the lunatic in Orlando. It is, however, fair to say that a political climate where terms like “scum” and “traitor” are bandied about create an atmosphere where someone who is unbalanced may feel it’s easier to justify violence. We should accept that the overwhelming majority of people mean well, however much we may disagree with them.

And finally I’m glad that one lesson that has been mentioned is that MPs and other politicians do in general make a real effort to represent their constituents, and we are all aware that there is an element of personal risk in it. Next time you hear someone saying that “all politicians are just out for themselves”, please speak up to disagree.

I do not think you should decide your vote on Thursday in reaction to the murder. Please consider the pros and cons carefully, include the spirit of European friendship and solidarity that Jo championed as one element of your decision, then do whatever you think is best for our society. I shall, as you know, be voting Remain. I respect anyone who reaches a different conclusion but please decide carefully, for all our sakes and for the next generation.

Best wishes,

Nick

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Debate tonight

Hi all,

I’ve been asked to mention two other events. One is a cross-party debate on the EU tonight (Thursday June 2) with John Hess in the chair at the Pearson centre: Douglas Carswell MP (UKIP) and Nigel Baxter for Leave, Robert Buckland MP (Con) and Kate Godfrey (Lab) for Remain, from 6 to 8. There is another local EU event to follow – I’ll send details when I have them.

Also, the Cossall open gardens event is on Sunday (June 5) from 1 to 5. The BBC gardening expert John Stirland is speaking and there are a range of displays and events, in aid of efforts to refurnish the Old School Hall.

Best regards

Nick

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Labour in Europe meeting / making sure you’re registered!

Hi all,

With arguably the most important decision of our generation coming up, I’m pleased to have been invited to speak at a meeting of Labour’s campaign to stay in the EU. This will be on Thursday June 9, at 7.15pm, at the West Bridgford Methodist Church, on the corner of Patrick Road and Musters Road. There are two other speakers, Lilian Greenwood, who is MP for Nottingham South and Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, and Alan Rhodes, Leader of Nottinghamshire County Council. I’m speaking as a former member of the House of Commons European Scrutiny Select Committee, which specialises in examining all European Union proposals.

This isn’t intended to be a boring meeting with lengthy harangues, but a friendly discussion meeting where we put the case for staying in and respond to questions from the audience. It doesn’t matter whether you agree, disagree or simply aren’t yet quite sure how to vote – we hope to have a constructive discussion (unlike some of the vitriol being thrown around at national level). If you need any more details, the organiser is stuubrady@gmail.com.

However you plan to vote, please note that there are only a few days left to make sure you’re registered – and that applies particularly to anyone (e.g. students) who may be away on the day. You are entitled to register wherever you have a residence (thus students can register both at home and at uni), though of course you can only vote in the same referendum in one place. If you’ve not yet had a polling card, you are probably NOT registered yet – this is because the rules have been massively tightened up and everyone has to register individually. It is REALLY easy to register online. Look up your National Insurance number, and go to this website:

gov.uk/register-to-vote

It will take you less than 5 minutes – and however you decide to vote, you ought to have a chance to take part in this seminal decision.

Best regards

Nick

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