The exact same tactics used against Jeremy Corbyn are being used against Donald Trump

So today, the Republican Party wheeled out their defeated 2012 candidate Mitt Romney to denounce Donald Trump. This was the latest in a series of events that are eerily similar to events that took place last summer during the Labour leadership party contest. Romney appeared at an event organised by the Hinckley Institute which seems to me quite similar to the Progress event at which Tony Blair recommended supporters of Jeremy Corbyn should get a ‘heart transplant’.

There are other similarities too. People said Corbyn didn’t really want the job. They said the same about Trump. Those within and outside the Labour Party tried to damn Corbyn with guilt by association. They’ve just tried the exact same thing with Trump. In a desperate last ditch effort to derail Corbyn, third placed candidate Yvette Cooper tried to attack Corbyn. In a desperate last ditch effort to derail Trump, third placed candidate Marco Rubio tried to attack Trump.

Corbyn attracted hundreds of thousands of new supporters to the Labour Party. In America, turnouts in the Republican Primaries have been breaking records.

Obviously there are huge differences between the two men. Trump was already a celebrity in an even more celebrity-obsessed culture than ours and a billionaire to boot, while Corbyn was virtually unknown until last June. On policy, you could say Trump is the anti-Corbyn (or vice versa).

Tony Blair’s attack on Corbyn didn’t seem to have the desired effect. Some think it actually bolstered support for Corbyn. I wonder how effective Mitt Romney’s attack will have?

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What should Labour be talking about?

The Labour Party is a joke at the moment. The Corbyn side seems to be trying to steal the Green Party’s manifesto at the moment with it’s talk of basic income guarantees and “Democracy Days“. Meanwhile, the rest of the Parliamentary Labour Party seems focused on ensuring it performs terribly in the May elections, with a side project of campaigning to stay in the EU. Neither side seems interested in winning round voters to their way of thinking. Here’s what I would do if I were Labour.

Most people either actively despise politicians or have no interest in it whatsoever. Someone who seems different to the norm and has a fresh approach could re-capture some of those people turned off by politics. Labour politicians should have embraced this opportunity, but instead they squandered it with petty squabbling. At the same time though, you don’t want to scare people off. The media will try and do that, but helping them to do that is not smart. You have to go to where people are before you can take them to where you want to go.

With that in mind, here’s where I think most people ‘are’ on some issues:

  1. Immigration. People don’t really care about whether immigration is good or bad for the economy. They see the impact on their local area, or areas nearby and dislike the change this represents. Humans have evolved to be wary of outsiders and I don’t see this changing any time soon.
  2. It’s normal for humans to compare themselves to those around them and to feel envy and resentment to those they feel don’t deserve what they have or are getting something without working for it. This is why cuts to social security generally have the support of the majority, but why cuts to working tax credits specifically are not popular.
  3. Most people’s resentment about perceived unfairness can be quite easily channeled towards those at the bottom. Everyone can think of examples from their own communities where people seem to be getting ‘something for nothing’. People also resent those at the top seemingly taking the piss.

You may not agree with those descriptions of where people are, but assuming they are true, what policies would flow from them?

  1. No party can do anything on immigration while a member of the EU. Personally, I can’t see why a party seeking to represent working people can support our continuing membership of the EU. In an ideal world, Corbyn’s Labour Party would be campaigning to leave. They could then advocate for a points-based immigration system, while continuing to talk up the contribution skilled migrants make to our country. Realistically though, this was never going to happen. The modern Labour Party is as pro-EU as the top of the Tory Party. What can they do now they have decided to remain in the EU whatever the terms? Answers on a postcard please.
  2. Labour should adopt a position that anyone with the ability to work should work. They should scrap all welfare to work programmes and instead introduce guaranteed jobs paid at a living wage for all who find themselves unemployed and unable to find alternative work. Anyone unable to work should be give generous and unconditional support for as long as they need it, with the assurance that when they feel able to do any type of work, a job can be tailor made to suit them.
  3. Our economy is far too reliant on the finance sector and the very wealthy extracting money from the economy through unproductive investments like property. Labour should pledge to put a stop to this by increasing taxation significantly on those unproductive areas of the economy, while reducing tax on productive investments which have a positive impact on the economy.

Those are just three areas then, a fair immigration system, focus on employment guarantees rather than traditional social security, and – as Keynes might say – on euthanising the rentiers. I don’t see much prospect of any of these things becoming Labour policy, but all those 3 areas would have popular appeal in my view. What other areas could they focus on?

Compare and contrast

People say Jeremy Corbyn is a weak leader, but which shows stronger leadership?

This?

Or this?

I know which I prefer.

Some more thoughts on the Stephen Doughty resignation

I put a post up yesterday about the BBC’s role in the resignation of Labour front-bencher Stephen Doughty. It’s the first instance of something I’ve written ‘going viral’. The post was based on another blog post written by someone who works on the Daily Politics show, which was then quickly removed from the BBC website. When I read it, I thought it was an interesting story worth highlighting. I had my own initial thoughts about how I felt about it, but was interested in finding out what other people thought. Now I’ve had a bit more time to think about it and seen other people’s reactions, I thought I’d write this as a kind of update to the original post.

It’s not too much of an over-reaction to say that opinion was split into two groups, on one side journalists, and people who used to be more influential in the Labour Party who thought it was barely worth mentioning and just an example of good journalism, and everyone else on the other side quite angry about the tactics used. As social media leans heavily towards Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, this is perhaps not surprising.

I am a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn myself, so disliked the idea of a journalist apparently colluding with one of his front-benchers to inflict maximum damage upon Corbyn. But did the BBC actually do anything wrong here? It was certainly a good scoop, and isn’t that a journalist’s job?

To answer this I am going to take the words of the Daily Politics team member at face value. This may not be fair if his blog post was taken down because it was not an accurate description of what happened. So I’m just writing on the assumption that it is accurate.

In the original blog post, the author wrote:

Just before 9am we learned from Laura Kuenssberg, who comes on the programme every Wednesday ahead of PMQs, that she was speaking to one junior shadow minister who was considering resigning.

So at 9am that morning, it seems Stephen Doughty had not made up his mind about resigning. He is not someone who anyone has heard of so he may have thought his resignation would not achieve what he wanted. The blog then goes on to say:

Within the hour we heard that Laura had sealed the deal: the shadow foreign minister Stephen Doughty would resign live in the studio.

This suggests that there was some influencing going on to encourage Doughty not only to resign, but to do so on air. It did not take long though seemingly, which could suggest Doughty didn’t take much convincing. The next line is:

Although he himself would probably acknowledge he isn’t a household name, we knew his resignation just before PMQs would be a dramatic moment with big political impact.

They were under no illusions about what they were doing then. In the event, the resignation announcement went out 5 minutes before Prime Minister’s Questions, which probably meant Jeremy Corbyn was unaware of it until David Cameron brought it up in the Commons Chamber. Some people wondered how David Cameron knew, but the answer to that is that he has a very savvy team and he is very good at crow-barring in breaking news. Someone passed him a note basically.

So that’s what seems to have happened. Did the BBC do anything wrong? I think there is a distinction between print and other broadcast media and the BBC here. If the Guardian or the Telegraph had encouraged Doughty to resign and give the exclusive to them, I wouldn’t particularly like it, but would accept they had got a good story and were doing what a journalist does. Because this happened on BBC TV though, it becomes more problematic.

With its duty to be impartial, and the full knowledge of the impact their actions could have, is it appropriate for a BBC political editor to act in this way? I think it comes fairly close to making the news rather than just breaking the news. Without Laura Kuenssberg’s intervention, would Doughty have resigned? He is not a household name, so if he’d given an exclusive to print media, or simply issued a press release, it almost certainly would not have received the coverage it subsequently did. I really don’t think the BBC should be getting involved in internal party machinations.

Those who didn’t see a problem with the reporting said it would only be an issue of impartiality if they would not run the story if it was a Tory Minister thinking of resigning. There doesn’t seem to be any precedent for this though, so it’s impossible to say if they would or not. They certainly don’t seem to have made much of Cameron’s decision to allow his Cabinet members to campaign freely to leave the EU, which is arguably a much bigger story than a minor Labour reshuffle. If they did ever allow a Tory government minister to resign on air in this manner, the reaction would be similar to the Twitter reaction to this, but the people complaining would be much higher up in terms of influence than those complaining about this.

The BBC released a brief statement in response to this story, saying:

Good enough?

The BBC admits it co-ordinated in advance the on-air resignation of Stephen Doughty

Yesterday, three Labour front-benchers resigned in protest at Jeremy Corbyn’s minor reshuffle. One of them – the previously unheard of Stephen Doughty – did so live on the Daily Politics just 5 minutes before the start of Prime Minister’s Questions, giving David Cameron the opportunity to bring it up in the chamber.

Today, the ‘output editor’ for the Daily Politics, wrote a – now taken down – blog on the BBC website’s ‘Academy’ section*, explaining how it all came about. You can read a cached version of the blog here.

Apparently, the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg set it all up. From the blog post:

Just before 9am we learned from Laura Kuenssberg, who comes on the programme every Wednesday ahead of PMQs, that she was speaking to one junior shadow minister who was considering resigning. I wonder, mused our presenter Andrew Neil, if they would consider doing it live on the show?

The question was put to Laura, who thought it was a great idea. Considering it a long shot we carried on the usual work of building the show, and continued speaking to Labour MPs who were confirming reports of a string of shadow ministers considering their positions.

Within the hour we heard that Laura had sealed the deal: the shadow foreign minister Stephen Doughty would resign live in the studio.

Although he himself would probably acknowledge he isn’t a household name, we knew his resignation just before PMQs would be a dramatic moment with big political impact. We took the presenters aside to brief them on the interview while our colleagues on the news desk arranged for a camera crew to film him and Laura arriving in the studio for the TV news packages.

I think this this is quite interesting because, while it could be argued that a live on air resignation is a great coup, I’m not sure it’s the job of the BBC’s political editor to actively assist disgruntled shadow cabinet members attempt to inflict maximum damage upon their party leader. I imagine if she had assisted a junior government minister do the same, there’d be a fearful row about BBC impartiality. What do you think?

*I found this via a posting on Reddit.

For the hard of thinking

Labour lost another giant from its front bench today after shadow Europe minister Pat McFadden was sacked by Jeremy Corbyn. If you followed the news today, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was sacked for his views on terrorism and security. That’s certainly what his pal Chris Leslie pretended he thought anyway:

Can this possibly be true? Some background first. Following the terrorist attacks in Paris in November, Corbyn was interviewed by the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg and answered a question about shoot to kill policy in a way which was spun into him saying he wouldn’t want police to shoot-to-kill terrorists about to murder people on the streets of London. The very next day, David Cameron gave a statement in the House of Commons about the Paris attacks.

One after another, Labour MPs used this as an excuse to either distance themselves from Corbyn by praising Cameron, or to make thinly veiled attacks both directly on Corbyn (without naming him) and by proxy, on the Stop the War Coalition. The aforementioned Chris Leslie went first:

“The Prime Minister is right that the police and the security services need our full support at this time. Should it not be immediately obvious to everyone—to everyone—that the police need the full and necessary powers, including the proportionate use of lethal force if needs be, to keep our communities safe?”

Next up, Emma Reynolds:

“Does the Prime Minister agree that full responsibility for the attacks in Paris lies solely with the terrorists and that any attempt by any organisation to somehow blame the west or France’s military intervention in Syria is not only wrong and disgraceful, but should be condemned?”

Quickly followed up by now sacked Pat McFadden:

“May I ask the Prime Minister to reject the view that sees terrorist acts as always being a response or a reaction to what we in the west do? Does he agree that such an approach risks infantilising the terrorists and treating them like children, when the truth is that they are adults who are entirely responsible for what they do? No one forces them to kill innocent people in Paris or Beirut. Unless we are clear about that, we will fail even to understand the threat we face, let alone confront it and ultimately overcome it.”

Here’s Mike Gapes:

“The content and tone of the Prime Minister’s statement spoke not just for the Government, but for the country.”

Finally Ian Austin:

“I agree with everything the Prime Minister said about Syria and terrorism. Does he agree with me that those who say that Paris is reaping the whirlwind of western policy or that Britain’s foreign policy has increased, not diminished, the threats to our national security not only absolve the terrorists of responsibility, but risk fuelling the sense of grievance and resentment that can develop into extremism and terrorism?”

Most of these comments are rather uncontroversial taken at face value. They are phrased in the style of an obsequious back bencher’s softball opening question at PMQs – a nice easy lob for Cameron to smash back into the open court. Cameron actually answered with a straight bat to these questions, but he was obviously in his element. Why would opposition MPs want to ask softball questions to the opposition phrased in a way to cause embarrassment to the party leader? Obviously to undermine Corbyn who they never accepted as leader. These are questions that go without saying. Except perhaps Austin’s dumb question, everybody agrees with them, Corbyn included, but by asking them, they strongly imply otherwise.

All but one of the questioners above though were back benchers, free to speak as they wish. The one who wasn’t though, was Pat McFadden. Which other leader would have taken that and not sacked the person in question?

Pat McFadden took his seat on the back benches this morning. Who was he sitting with for support?

 

So farewell Michael Dugher, the People’s Shadow Culture Secretary

Michael Dugher was sacked by Jeremy Corbyn today.

Michael Dugher, they liked him, they loved him, they regarded him as one of the people. He was the People’s Shadow Culture Secretary and that is how he will stay, how he will remain in our hearts and our memories for ever.

That’s every bit as sincere as Tony Blair’s original version. Despite being an avid politics-watcher, I confess my knowledge of Dugher up until now went no further than recognising the name, but it turns out he was the driving force behind Andy Burnham’s leadership campaign in which he achieved an impressive second place result behind Jeremy Corbyn. He’s also apparently someone who understands “the North”. He is certainly well thought of by his former shadow cabinet colleagues who lined up – totally spontaneously – to eulogise this great man:

So there you have it, obviously a man of great stature. A shame then that he rather spoilt things with his rather petulant reaction to his sacking. If you read some of the (on-the-record) comments about Corbyn and people associated with Corbyn, it explains why Corbyn didn’t have much option but to sack him. No leader would tolerate that level of disloyalty.

At the time of writing, no other changes have been announced on what is normally a fairly routine process – the reshuffle. It’s being treated as anything but routine by the media and it’s driving them mad. No leaks and no news and yet for two days there have numerous live blogs, and scores of journalists filling empty space with rumour, speculation and outright bullshit. It’s actually quite sad.

The reality of Labour MP deselection campaigns

Labour MPs seem to be spending a lot of time talking about deselections at the moment. We are being told that Labour MPs who voted to bomb Syria will be ‘targeted’ for deselection by ‘entryists’ and the Corbyn leadership campaign spin-off group with a ‘The Apprentice’ team name – Momentum. Names that have been mentioned in connection with deselection include Chuka Umunna and Stella Creasy. But is there any substance behind these stories?

On Channel 4 News last night, Michael Crick thought he had uncovered a plot in Stella Creasy’s Walthamstow constituency. He had found a leaflet that had been distributed in the constituency inviting people to attend a meeting to discuss the deselection issue. Crick did what he is known for and turned up at the meeting, where he discovered a grand total of 12 people, 8 of the school kids. Here is the vid:

For all the noise around deselections, the truth is, the only evidence of people campaigning for them are a miniscule number of people outside the Labour Party who have no power to deselect anyone.

It would seem to me fairly clear that some Labour MPs dislike groups like Momentum because it will place more scrutiny on what they are doing. They particularly don’t like to be reminded that the decisions they make have real life consequences that they will bear some responsibility for.

Until the boundary review is concluded in 3 years time, no deselections can take place anyway. The noise around Momentum is simply a continuation of the strategy used during the Labour leadership campaign. Guilt by association and the smearing of – on the whole I would guess – young people newly enthused by politics for the first time who want to find a way to organise and help Labour win the next election. Labour MPs should be embracing these new members rather than viewing them with suspicion.

Britain doesn’t like nuance or shades of grey

The reaction to recent statements made in the media by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has sunk to a new low. If you ever doubt a consensus exists between the two main parties and most of our media (print and TV), just observe the aftermath of any great tragedy. All actors in the Westminster farce come together around a single idea or set of ideas, beyond which no one is permitted to stray. Should they dare to do so, they face being roundly denounced. The person to do that has rarely been the leader of the opposition (at least in my life time), and so the reaction to Jeremy Corbyn’s straying from the agreed lines is particularly vitriolic – not least from within his own party.

A little background first for those who may not have been following developments in Westminster this week. Following the terrible attacks in Paris on Friday, several in Westminster saw it as a chance to hasten through move to increase the powers of the security services and realise their long-held desire to bomb Syria. At times like these, the official opposition is expected to fall into line and pledge full support for whatever the government want to do. Earlier in the week, the so-called ‘Jihadi John’ had (probably) been killed by a US drone strike. This news was greeted with jubilation by the British Government, a sentiment that was supposed to be shared by the Labour Party.

Cameron’s government has faithfully played its part in events, but the fly in the ointment has been Jeremy Corbyn’s response. This is simply unforgivable in the eyes of many. So what crimes has Corbyn committed in the last 7 days?

First off he dared to question whether the drone strike that reportedly killed Mohammed Emwazi were an altogether good thing. His comments saying it would have been better if he could have been put on trial, rather than being treated as a perfectly reasonable – if rather obvious – statement were met with ridicule.

Next up, following the Paris attacks, Corbyn re-iterated his doubts that joining the French in bombing Syria was the right way for the UK to act. Many Labour MPs seem to really want the chance to vote to bomb Syria, and are hopping mad they may not immediately get the chance to do so.

The final straw seems to have been Corbyn responding in the negative when asked if he supported a policy of ‘shoot to kill’. Corbyn’s position on this is rather nuanced. He wants police and security services to try to stop those engaging in armed attacks with non-lethal force if at all possible, but to retain the option to use lethal force if there is no other option. This is pretty much what happens now, so his response was actually pretty reasonable. This really caused Labour MPs to lose the plot though, and the print media have had a field day. Ben Bradshaw Tweeted:

Happy to tell you Ben that it is not true (although you already knew that and just want everyone to think that’s what he said).

Corbyn also had the audacity to suggest that British (and the West’s more generally) foreign policy towards the Middle East might not on the whole have made us any safer and may in fact have made things worse. To most people this should be a statement of the bleeding obvious. Not to Labour MP Ian Austin though it seems. He used the occasion of David Cameron’s statement to Parliament today to ask this question:

I agree with everything the prime minister said about Syria and about terrorism. But does he agree with me that those that say that Paris is reaping the whirwind of Western policy  or who want to say that Britain’s foreign policy has increased not diminished the threats to our own nation security are not just absolving the terrorists of responsibility, but risk fuelling the sense of grievance and resentment which can develop into extremism and terrorism.

So apparently, in the post-Paris world, anyone who dares to suggest Britain’s foreign policy makes us less safe is “absolving the terrorists”. If this is not the madness of groupthink, I don’t know what is. Austin wasn’t the only one either, Labour MPs seemed to be queuing up to praise the Prime Minister and distance themselves for their own party leader.

Corbyn’s style does often work against him and makes him easy to misrepresent however. If you watch Cameron in interviews, it’s obvious he has prepped for hours, run through all the possible questions he could be asked, rehearsed his answers and had someone write him some soundbites to unveil at an opportune moment, knowing these are what journalists will pick up on. He is incredibly good at it. Many politicians are.

Corbyn though does not appear to do this. He doesn’t have a lot of time for the media and seems to give answers off the cuff and without having anticipated the questions in advance. This has the advantage of being authentic and at times interesting, but it also means if he says something out of the ordinary (judged by the turgid standards of Westminster) – which is frequently – he doesn’t explain his position comprehensively, so people unexposed to that opinion, or those with an interest in misrepresentation, can find their own meaning in Corbyn’s remarks. He needs to understand that this will happen and find his own way to set out his position in a way that leaves no room for doubt or misrepresentation.

Nuance and shades of grey are not welcome in Westminster. We are now at a stage where someone can write this with a straight face. This is the sort of reporting we used to laugh at if it came from Fox News in the States, thankful that that sort of bullshit wasn’t tolerated here. Not any more it seems.

Many people in the public at large fall into the “string em up, hang em high” way of thinking. Politicians know this and at times like this queue up to look tough, and simply appear to be doing something, anything. I find it hard to believe that they all believe in private the things they say in public. The opinions of the likes of Corbyn are always unwelcome in situations like this, but to seek to marginalise those views seems to me rather dangerous, and smacks of repeating the same mistakes we have made in the very recent past.

Jeremy Hunt’s revealing comments over tax credits

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was asked today about the forthcoming cuts to tax credits which are so unpopular they have united Jeremy Corbyn with The Sun. His answer was very candid are rather revealing about the conservative mindset. When asked if the tax credit cuts should be slowed, Hunt said:

“No. We have to proceed with these tax credit changes because they are a very important cultural signal. My wife is Chinese. We want this to be one of the most successful countries in the world in 20, 30, 40 years’ time.

“There’s a pretty difficult question that we have to answer, which is essentially: are we going to be a country which is prepared to work hard in the way that Asian economies are prepared to work hard, in the way that Americans are prepared to work hard? And that is about creating a culture where work is at the heart of our success.”

People like me would say that the economic system we have causes unemployment and it has a tendency to use this to push wages down. Conservatives like Hunt though don’t agree. They think the qualities of the individual determine someone’s experiences. Presumably, when he reads stories of over-worked Chinese workers committing suicide, he sees only hard-working strivers who desperately want to get on. Only through hard work does Britain succeed. It’s the conservative theory of individual success applied to the national level. Hunt went on to say:

“Dignity is not just about how much money you have got … officially children are growing up in poverty if there is an income in that family of less than £16,500. What the Conservatives say is how that £16,500 is earned matters.

“It matters if you are earning that yourself, because if you are earning it yourself you are independent and that is the first step towards self-respect. If that £16,500 is either a high proportion or entirely through the benefit system you are trapped. It is about pathways to work, pathways to independence … It is about creating a pathway to independence, self-respect and dignity.”

Again, people like me would say the system traps people in low paid, insecure work and means they have to rely on the social security system to live anything like a decent life. Hunt and his fellow Conservatives would bring those people cheer by pointing out the ‘dignity’ in their struggle to put food on the table. In other words, “Forget that you can barely pay the rent. Take heart in the dignity of your hard work and the fact you are no longer such a burden on the state.” As Jeremy Corbyn said in his speech last week “you don’t have to take what you’re given.”