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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On going viral and BBC bias

On Thursday I clicked on a link on Reddit which was supposedly a blog about how the BBC had arranged for Shadow Foreign Office minister Stephen Doughty to resign live on its Daily Politics programme just before Prime Minister’s Questions (or to be completely accurate, 4 minutes after he had resigned by email). I got a 404 error, so found a cached version via Google. I thought the contents of the blog were interesting enough to share on my blog, which I did here. Being honest, I did think a lot of people would be annoyed by the story as I was, but I never expected the reaction it got. Pretty quickly, people starting retweeting the blog and in 24 hours, this blog got more page views than it got in the whole of last year. The story was reported on the websites of most of the newspapers and it has now ultimately resulted in the Labour Party putting into a complaint to the BBC about the way it reported Doughty’s resignation.

Reaction to the story was quite mixed. Again, being honest, it was mostly divided along the lines of whether or not you support Jeremy Corbyn or not. If you don’t support Corbyn, you probably didn’t see what all the fuss was about.

One observation I would make is that political journalists in particular thought this was a total non-story. Their basic reation was “So what? That’s just good journalism”. I think the main reason for that is that they have inside knowledge about how journalism works, particularly in politics. Those of us who aren’t journalists, although we may suspect this is how things are done, don’t know for sure, and so this episode was a certain drawing back of the curtain, and what we saw, we didn’t like.

I think my settled view on this now is that if any other news organisation had reported Doughty’s resignation in this way, I would be annoyed, but accept that they had the right to report it in that way and concede it was a good scoop. In general, I think the closeness between political journalists and politicians is too close. They seem to feed off each other and it often seems to result in reporters collaborating with politicians to make the news rather than just reporting it. Perhaps this is the way it has to be, but I don’t like it. In this instance though, it was the BBC who engineered the ‘scoop’ and I – and it seems many others – believe the BBC should be held to a higher standard than other media who have no duty of impartiality. For this reason, I think it was a mistake for them to collude with Doughty over the timing of his resignation.

But does this episode demonstrate the BBC has a pro-Tory, or right wing bias? A lot of people point out that the BBC’s leading political staff are sympathetic to the Conservative Party, but I’m not sure that’s enough to demonstrate bias to one party. To me it seems to have a pro-establishment bias, backing a very narrow set of agreed ‘moderate’ ideas and policies, and being unable to cover anything outside of that very narrow range objectively. Ultimately, this seems to mean they cover whoever is in government more favourably – at least when New Labour was up against the Conservative Party.

The problem now though is that Jeremy Corbyn falls outside of the narrow range considered ‘moderate’ (as do UKIP, the SNP and Eurosceptic Tories), and so we see the BBC taking a clear line of giving so called ‘moderates’ within the Labour Party plenty of opportunity to say uncomplimentary things about their leader. In the same way, their coverage favoured the ‘No’ campaign during the Indy Referendum and when the EU referendum gets under way, the BBC will put its weight fully behind the ‘remain’ campaign. That’s just what the BBC is, and while Labour’s recent complaint may have an impact on the BBC’s output, it will never give Corbyn a fair hearing.

That’s the last I’m planning to say on this subject here. Normal service will resume shortly both in terms of content, and, I strongly suspect, in terms of page views!

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.

What do the public think of Jeremy Corbyn?

If you are on social media, then it’s clear, Jeremy Corbyn will win the Labour leadership in a landslide and then go on to win the keys to Downing Street in 2020. On social media though, it was also clear that in May, Ed Miliband would be entering Downing Street after Labour became the largest party in Parliament. It didn’t quite work out that way. So away from Twitter, what do people actually think of the man?

In the run-up to the last election, there were numerous polls each week on where the parties stood. They didn’t turn out to be very accurate, but millions of words were written about what the polls said. Given that, there have been surprisingly few polls done about how the Labour leadership contenders are viewed among the wider public. The ones that have been done have shown mixed results for Corbyn fans.

First there was a poll carried out by Survation which showed that Corbyn was most popular of the four leadership contenders amongst those polled and scored highest when asked which candidate would make them more likely to vote Labour. This poll was released just after a string of New Labour’s men of yesterday lined up to warn of Corbyn’s ‘unelectability’.

The Survation poll was follwed up a day later by a Comres poll that contradicted the first. In this one, respondents were asked if Corbyn would worsen or improve Labour’s chances. 31% said worsen vs 21% improve. Less positive then.

How much weight should we place on these polls however. My personal experience of people ‘offline’ is that the majority of people I interact with on a day to day basis have either never or only vaguely heard of any of the Labour leadership candidates, and those that do don’t really care enough to have a firm view. Amongst my friends and colleagues I am a bit of an oddity, the sort of person who would pick three pointless answers on politics in the final round of Pointless. My experience is that most people just aren’t paying attention. From this I conclude that the 2020 election is still very much up for grabs, but Corbyn (or another candidate if he doesn’t win) will need to grab people early and hang onto them with a consistent message.

What do people in your circles think of Corbyn. Is it the same as mine or have your detected a more widespread whiff of Corbyn-mania then me?

What’s the best electoral strategy for Labour?

I thought this might be a good topic for discussion. To me, there are three possible strategies Labour could adopt in an attempt to win the next election:

  1. Try and say as little as possible, but make noises about credibility and stability with a healthy dose of fiscal responsibility, to ‘win trust’, then if and when you win, implement your programme without much regard to what you said before.
  2. Lay out a long shopping list of policies you and your supporters want to see implemented and make you case for them to the electorate over the course of the Parliament.
  3. Offer new ideas, but try and sell them in the language of your opponents.

It seems to me 1 has been done rather successfully by George Osborne and the Tories at the last election. They made rather vague promises, then when they one, promptly nicked some of Labour’s manifesto and whacked a couple of million people with previously unmentioned tax credit cuts. The ABC (Anyone but Corbyn) candidates also seem to want to be as vague as possible, using words like aspiration and compassion without ever explaining what that means. They also drop in the word ‘radical’ every now and again as if to try and convince us they have big plans should they win.

Strategy 2 seems to be being adopted by the Corbyn campaign. It has been incredibly successful in firing up the left and looks likely to take him over the line to become Labour leader. Can this same strategy continue to work after the leadership election though.

Strategy 3 would involve taking concepts like ‘fiscal responsibility’, ‘personal responsibility’ and ‘something for nothing culture’ and reframing them to fit the vision you want to present. I think Corbyn has weakly tried this already on the deficit, but rather unsuccessfully.

What do you think? Which strategy is best, or is there another strategy that could work?

What’s in the Welfare Bill that Labour just failed to oppose?

The Welfare Reform and Work Bill is making its passage through Parliament at the moment. After much hand wringing, Labour instructed its MPs to abstain. Only 48 defied the whip to vote against. Media Commentators including those at the supposedly left-wing Guardian agreed this was smart politics. For others though – including me – it begs the question once again, what is the Labour Party for?

But what is in this Bill that Labour found so difficult to oppose? The explanatory notes to the Bill can be found here. Here are some of the measures Labour felt they could not vote against:

  • Reducing the benefit cap to £20,000, except for £23,000 in Greater London
  • Freezing certain social security benefits and certain tax credit amounts for four tax years
  • Limitation in the amount of support provided by the child tax credit for families who become responsible for a child born on or after 6 April 2017
  • Limiting the child element of universal credit to a maximum of two children and removing the distinction between the first and subsequent children in the rate of the child element
  • Removing the work-related activity component in employment and support allowance and the limited capability for work element in universal credit
  • Changes to conditionality for responsible carers in universal credit
  • Replacing current support for mortgage interest payments for benefit claimants with the offer of a recoverable interest-bearing loan secured as a second charge on claimants’ properties

The one on mortgage interest payments was new to me and appears particularly nasty. If you are unfortunate enough to lose your job, the government will loan you the money to pay the mortgage interest, but if you can’t repay it whilst in work, they will take your house. Not sure that really falls within the definition of social security.

If Labour can’t oppose real terms cuts (for 4 years!) to working-age benefits, replacing support for mortgage interest with interest-bearing loans secured against the property and a 30% cut in social security payments to many who are sick or disabled, then seriously, what is the point of them?

Osborne’s ‘clever’ games should come back to bite him in the end

In a sane world, the news today that George Osborne’s wishes to enshrine in law a new ‘fiscal framework’ to ensure future governments only borrow in ‘exceptional circumstances’ would be greeted by laughter followed by the Chancellor’s immediate resignation for economic illiteracy.

Unfortunately, we do not live in a sane world. We live in a world where the idea that a governments finances are comparable to a households finances is a zombie that just won’t die. Many people – including many who should know better – will nod sagely at this news and think it’s a great idea.

This latest wheeze from Osborne is clearly designed to expose Labour’s perceived weakness on the economy (as if they could get any weaker). Faced with this, what should Labour do?

Their immediate reaction appears to brand it a ‘political stunt’, which is exactly what they’ve said every other time Osborne has tried one of these tricks. Labour haven’t said whether they will support this measure or not, but I think they should congratulate the Chancellor on his excellent idea and support it wholeheartedly. Then, when the mythical surplus proves illusory, they can batter Osborne with his own words. And if they ever do get back into power, they can just pretend they are sticking to the rule while doing the opposite. That’s pretty much what the Coalition did for 5 years, but hey, that’s just politics right?

There are a lot of reasons why Osborne’s surplus is not attainable for more than a year or two as Ann Pettifor sets out pretty clearly here:

“…

no matter how determined he may be, the Chancellor cannot eliminate the deficit – the balance between government income and expenditure.

While you and I can cut our overdrafts by cutting our spending, or by increasing our income – the all-mighty Chancellor cannot do the same. The public sector deficit is not dependent on his actions, or the government’s policies. It is dependent on economic activity in the economy as a whole. If the economic ‘cake’ (that is employment) shrinks, the government deficit will rise. As the ‘cake’ expands, the government deficit will fall.”

And for a longer explanation of the damaging effects of austerity, I can recommend todays Billy Blog.