Corbyn-Smith British Labour leadership debate

Owen Smith

By Peter Lazenby in Britain:

Corbyn gets standing ovation at hustings

Saturday 20th August 2016

JEREMY CORBYN received a standing ovation as he and Owen Smith went head to head during their fourth hustings on the leadership campaign trail in Birmingham on Thursday night.

The packed meeting at Solihull, which remained seated for Mr Smith, heard the pair agree on many issues — chasing down tax-dodgers, taxing the rich, huge investment in health, housing, education, and developing industry (£200 billion pledged by Mr Smith, £500bn by Mr Corbyn) — as they had done at previous hustings in Gateshead, Cardiff and Nottingham.

But they were completely at odds on other issues, notably Trident renewal, going to war against Russia for other Nato countries and departure from the European Union.

On the latter, Mr Smith proposed to ignore the Brexit vote. Mr Corbyn accepted that the vote was a mandate from the people.

As predicted, Mr Smith’s earlier apparent suggestion that he would be willing to hold talks with the butchers of Isis came back to bite him on the bum when the meeting’s host ITN newsman Carl Dinnen picked him up on the issue.

He wriggled out of his gaffe by saying he had not finished his sentence when he was interrupted after making the suggestion.

Mr Smith said that he was going to say the offer would be based on Isis first renouncing violence. But the audience were unimpressed.

Both also recognised that the party would have to win over Tory voters if Labour has a chance of forming the next government.

Mr Smith’s leadership campaign received a boost yesterday after 1,000 Labour councillors signed a letter supporting him.

However Mr Corbyn has the overwhelming backing of constituency Labour parties, with 285 nominating him compared to Mr Smith’s 53.

The final two hustings are in Glasgow on August 25 and London on September 1.

The right-wing cabal seeking to remove Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn have now centred their attack on his refusal to support Britain going to war against Russia as part of the NATO alliance: here.

Britain’s Financial Times calls on anti-Corbyn plotters to prepare Labour split: here.

11 thoughts on “Corbyn-Smith British Labour leadership debate

  1. Saturday 20th August 2016

    posted by Morning Star in Editorial

    BLAIRITE backbencher Wes Streeting tells us that Jeremy Corbyn’s reluctance to pledge that he would declare war on Russia if it invaded a Nato country amounts to a “gross betrayal of Labour’s internationalist values.”

    It might seem that way to the humanitarian bomber wing of the Labour Party whose concept of internationalism stretches little further than ordering air strikes.

    But it must surely seem a little foolhardy, even in the midst of an election contest during which many anti-Corbyn MPs have lost their grip on what is acceptable comment, to suggest that conflict with Russia is advisable.

    But, of course, they will say, that’s not what we mean. We just want to see a united front of Nato members telling Russia to withdraw its forces.

    How, in that case, does this stance differ from Corbyn’s response that he “would obviously try to avoid that happening in the first place, you would build up a good dialogue with Russia to ask them and support them in respecting borders?”

    The Labour leader stressed the need for an inclusive approach involving the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which includes all European states.

    He spoke out against a military build-up leading to a “calamitous, incredibly dangerous situation,” which will not endear himself to arms-traffickers, but it makes sense.

    Even his challenger Owen Smith was forced, having postured over the need “to come to the aid of a fellow member of Nato,” to admit that this “would be calamitous and we must never see that happen.”

    Smith stressed the importance of improving diplomatic links with Russia, which is the only sensible way forward for Europe.

    Many British politicians remain beset by imperial nostalgia, believing that Westminster has a right and responsibility to read the Riot Act to the world — at least those bits outside Nato. This translates easily from “we must do something” hand-wringing to the least costly and least effective option of bombing, but this would not work with Moscow.

    Russia’s reduction to the status of an international joke in the 1990s, when bumbling drunk Boris Yeltsin allowed transnational corporations and domestic oligarchs to loot the country, engendered a great deal of national resentment.

    His successor Vladimir Putin presides over an authoritarian regime, with severe limitations in democracy and human rights.

    But he has restored the strength of Russia’s armed forces and his national standing owes much to people’s memory of their country’s humiliation under Yeltsin and their reluctance to return to such a state.

    Nato ought not to exist any more since the Warsaw Treaty dissolved itself in 1991.

    Corbyn was right to say last year that this “cold war organisation” ought to have been wound up at the same time as its rival, while accepting that there is little appetite in Britain for that to happen.

    Whether it continues to exist is possibly of less importance than what it does while it’s here.

    None of the European members of Nato has the capacity to challenge Russia militarily, so all tough talking by Britain or relatively new Nato members in eastern Europe previously linked to the Soviet bloc has resonance only because of the US connection.

    In contrast, Washington is currently examining an alternative scenario of working together with Russia to improve matters in hot spots such as Syria.

    That’s the position favoured openly by Corbyn and, even, when you scratch the surface, by Smith, so who, apart from arms traffickers, has any interest in promoting tension on Russia’s borders in Europe?


  2. Saturday 20th August 2016

    posted by Morning Star in Features

    Jeremy Cliffe, the Economist’s “Bagehot” political columnist and blogger, has been running a stentorian campaign for a split in the Labour Party. Here MICHAEL FORD dissects in detail the wishful thinking behind the arguments

    THE Economist has always mixed advocacy with analysis in its columns. The advocacy has, of course, been for a new world order of globalised capitalism resting on liberal values and the unfettered use of US military power.

    Recently, however, its advocacy role has gone into overdrive in relation to the Labour Party.

    Jeremy Cliffe, the magazine’s “Bagehot” political columnist and blogger, has been running a stentorian campaign for a split in the Labour Party — specifically, for the right wing of the party to break away and set up a new organisation, which he dubs “True Labour” in the assumed likelihood of Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election as party leader.

    He is always full of advice for the left, Mr Cliffe. A few months ago, he urged Labour neocons to re-establish the Euston Manifesto, a flopped project launched by liberal supporters of the Iraq war.

    Now his ambitions have grown — he wants a full-blown division in the labour movement. A post on the Bagehot blog on August 12 is the most comprehensive exposition of the case so far.

    The underlying principle of his analysis is the unquestioned supremacy of parliamentarians within the party. They, and effectively they alone, should determine its fate, notwithstanding that all of them owe their place to their selection by party members as the Labour candidate for their respective constituencies.

    Labour MPs, Cliffe writes, in the first but by no means last questionable assertion in the piece, “with their surgeries and door-knocking have a much better grip on political reality than the leader and his well-heeled team.”

    The assumption that Corbyn does not knock on doors or hold surgeries is the least odd aspect of this thesis.

    Stranger still is the notion that it is only Labour MPs (most of them better-heeled than Corbyn’s support), and not the ordinary Labour members, who knock on people’s doors and tune in to their concerns.

    Cliffe, like many journalists who work in the House of Commons, is almost entirely absorbed in the inflated sense of self-regard which besets many MPs.

    Of course MPs have a vested interest in their own re-election and are to that extent likely to attune to public opinion, but the membership are just as invested in the desirability of victory and are less prone to delusions about their own indispensability.

    Promoting the idea of a split, Cliffe, like other pundits, has to grapple with the failure of the last such venture — the Social Democratic Party breakaway led by Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Shirley Williams in 1981.

    He strives to discern then-and-now differences to avoid the parallel appearing fatal to his project.

    Some of his points simply display a superficial knowledge of the history. To say that unions were “moderate” in the early 1980s, and “are in the hands of the left” now, is a considerable over-simplification at both ends of the chronology.

    How would he characterise the party’s biggest affiliate in 1981 — the T&GWU — or the third and fourth largest today — the GMB and Usdaw?

    More curious is his view that the contemporary availability of social media is a development which can only favour the left and which is not also accessible by the cause he champions as well.

    To describe the left campaigning organisation Momentum as “Militant with a Facebook account” is a slur on Momentum, which has almost nothing in common either politically or operationally with the futile far left of yore.

    The right wing of the party, through the obscurely funded vehicle Saving Labour, has equally made use of social media to press the anti-Corbyn cause.

    Yet on the slender basis of access to Facebook and the existence of a couple of pro-Corbyn websites like the Canary, Cliffe announces that Corbyn’s supporters exist in a “sympathetic media eco-system.”

    True, if one ignores the influence of the Murdoch media, the Telegraph, the Mail newspapers, the shamefully biased BBC lobby team, most of the Guardian commentariat … and the Economist. To suggest that the media has given the Labour left an easy ride is almost beyond absurd.

    It is the message that counts more than the medium in any case. Momentum prospers because of the enthusiasm of its supporters, something the PLP majority singularly lacks.

    Curiously, Cliffe does not mention the one factor which determined above all the SDP’s failure in 1983 — perhaps because it is still a fully operational element in all calculations today. That is the first-past-the-post electoral system. Without it — and assuming that people still expressed the same preferences — the SDP-Liberal Alliance would have won nearly as many MPs in 1983 as Labour. As it was, they secured more than 180 fewer (the SDP itself won just six constituencies).

    The electoral system in place, and it will certainly still be there come the next general election, is the elephant in the room of any “breakaway” plan, an elephant Cliffe obstinately refuses to see. We can be sure that the Labour MPs he is urging his strategy on are not so blind.

    At any event, having disposed of 1983 to his own satisfaction, “Bagehot” turns his gaze to the near future, with no more persuasive results.

    A bold breakaway by Labour MPs would, he asserts, take with it the party’s “pragmatic, social democratic heritage,” its national voice, some of its branches and, judges willing, its brand. It would take “almost all of the party’s political talent” and would not lack “funding potential.”

    The last point is undoubtedly true — already the Labour Tomorrow group established by David Blunkett and Baroness Brenda Dean has secured £250,000 from a hedge fund boss and a property developer.

    The party’s right-wing deputy leader Tom Watson has been gifted £200,000 by Formula One supremo Max Mosley.

    And, as noted, Saving Labour is running a very visible anti-Corbyn campaign with money from who-knows-where but probably not collected in tins at trade union branch meetings.

    So, as ever, an endeavour to break the Labour Party, like any right-wing political initiative, will not falter for lack of readies.

    The rest of Cliffe’s judgements are at best disputable and at worst flat-out wrong. For example, he identifies the party’s “political talent” as being on the right.

    Did he miss last year’s leadership election in which the three candidates from what was then dubbed the “mainstream” all — how can one put this politely? — failed to catch fire? Some of the most storied “talent” — Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt — did not even pass “go,” announcing and then withdrawing their candidacies.

    The sadder truth, from the perspective of the Economist, is that the New Labour project is now almost denuded of talent, with most of the front-rank figures of the Blair-Brown years having fled to the private sector long since.
    Those who remain have very obviously not risen to the challenge of setting out a social democratic prospectus for the post-2008 era of a crashed neoliberal outlook.

    The Financial Times has its feet more on the ground than Cliffe here. In an editorial on August 15 headed: “Labour moderates must think before they split,” the newspaper drew attention to a fact which, like the nature of the voting system, Cliffe does not so much as allude to.

    A breakaway Labour Party, the FT writes, “requires much more intellectual preparation than anyone is doing … Labour moderates have lost themselves in the technical process of defeating Mr Corbyn before deciding on what is to replace Corbynism. They pay lip-service to the limitations of Blairism without pursuing the thought further.”

    Leaving aside the loaded use of the term “moderate” — there was nothing moderate about waging aggressive war, deregulating the financial sector and ignoring widening inequality — that seems about right.

    Cliffe does not so much neglect to pursue the meaning of a 2016 “pragmatic social democracy” further as neglect to even raise the need for such a hunt at all.

    There is no “True Labour” answer to the challenges of our times, and goodness knows its protagonists have had time and funding enough to work one up.

    Should “True Labour” favour privatisation of public services? Should it back wars without United Nations authority? Where would it stand on the regulation of the financial sector? What would it do to tackle inequality? Should it give greater support to trade unionism? Would it back TTIP-style trade deals?

    The answer is nobody knows, leaving us to assume the worst. Intellectually, the inheritors of New Labour are a busted flush and that is in large part why Corbyn is where he is to begin with.

    Cliffe is on no firmer ground when he addresses what might be called the political logistics of his proposal. He assumes the law will favour the splitters. It is unwise to make any assumptions about the behaviour of judges, but it is hard to see how the law would favour a majority of the party’s MPs, a group with no overriding standing in Labour’s rulebook, over its national executive, membership and properly elected leader.

    He urges Labour staff to “formally disregard” a re-elected Jeremy Corbyn. There would be a practical difficulty there, in that the staff are ultimately accountable to Labour’s national executive and work to the latter’s instructions, but the stronger argument is surely an ethical one. Labour staff are paid by the party’s members, and why they should be allowed to take the money but ignore the opinions of the membership is a moral conundrum that does not apparently occur to Mr Cliffe.

    And would, in the event, a split even account for most Labour MPs? One hundred and seventy-two, it is true, expressed no confidence in Corbyn. Many of those will, however, accept the democratic decision of the membership in the leadership vote — some already regret voting as they did. Many more will see the prospects for their own political demise in a split.

    For this is the scenario Cliffe does not confront. In the event of a breakaway, one can assume that at the next general election “True Labour” and Labour would confront each other in most constituencies.

    The consequence of splitting the Labour vote would be mutual annihilation, and would see other parties — Ukip? Tories? Plaid? Even the near-moribund Liberal Democrats? — winning historic Labour seats.

    Neither side of such a split would be in a position to deliver a knock-out electoral blow to the other in the short-term. So the result would actually be the likely destruction of Labour at the polls.

    Cliffe assumes that his right-wing dissenters would gain a premium from the voters, yet no polling evidence or electoral study sustains that position.

    In fact, a survey by Electoral Calculus reported in the Daily Telegraph came to a clear conclusion: “In almost all the scenarios, the combined Labour parties win fewer seats than they did at the last general election.”

    Even with a combined total vote 10 per cent up than on the May 2015 result, the two rival parties would barely reach 200 MPs. On other, arguably more realistic, projections they are left with just 120.

    While I do not wish to impugn the purity of Cliffe’s intentions, he is in fact urging the right-wing Labour turkeys to sign up for Christmas.

    Similarly, Cliffe assumes that local Labour parties are desperate to divide into hostile factions on the ground.

    In fact, most ordinary members are not looking for a punch-up with their colleagues and fellow campaigners.

    If they are desperate for anything, it is for the PLP to get its act together.

    The poison in the Labour Party is, like Jeremy Cliffe, overwhelmingly within the Westminster bubble.

    Naturally, in this Economist fairy-tale, new “True Labour” branches are flooded by new members inspired by the revived social democratic offer of the bursting-with-talent new front bench put together by the splitters.

    Of course, in a world where Leicester City can win the Premier League it would be rash to exclude any possibility absolutely, but this does seem at the further edges of political fantasy.

    None of this realism dampens the ardour of Cliffe — he sees a rump Labour Party sinking into irrelevance, “with few locally active door-knockers.”

    Again, this seems likely to be the reverse of the actual situation and anyway, given Corbynism’s apparent domination of social media, why would it be a concern?

    Nevertheless, the courage of Cliffe’s putative splitters is unlikely to be screwed to the required sticking point, as he reluctantly acknowledges. And who can wonder? His proposal offers the prospect of a party with no clear policies, few footsoldiers and little by way of roots, reliant on the funding of a few millionaires, all marching to certain electoral oblivion.

    The only winners from such a prospect would be the Tory Party. And who knows? Maybe that has been the Economist’s cunning plan all along.


  3. Friday 26th august 2016

    posted by Morning Star in Editorial

    THE suspension of bakers’ leader Ronnie Draper from membership marks the latest bizarre twist in the Labour Party leadership saga.
    The reason behind the suspension remains unclear. All Labour officials have said is that it is related to his Twitter account.
    However, coming in the wake of attempts to stop Jeremy Corbyn standing and legal battles to deny members the right to vote, the suspension of the Corbyn-supporting general secretary of an affiliated union doesn’t look good.
    Draper, a Labour Party member for most of his life, has been unequivocal in his support of Corbyn, as has the BFAWU, and the timing of the suspension, just as members are voting on Corbyn’s continuing leadership, seems deeply cynical.
    While there has been plenty of talk, fuelled by the right-wing media, of entryism and dirty tactics from the left, episodes like this make clear where the real bullying comes from in the Labour Party.
    For years, right-wing factions have used every trick in the book to exclude socialists from key positions in the party and from parliamentary seats.
    Rules were bent, twisted and where necessary rewritten, to ensure the ascendancy of the neoliberal Blairite tendency. Now that the dam has finally burst and the left can no longer be contained or silenced, their attacks have only escalated.
    It is in this context that we should see the attempts by millionaire donors to buy a split in the party, the various anti-Corbyn social media stunts organised by Blairite marketing consultants, the suspension of branches and CLPs, and the ban on party meetings in the run-up to Labour Party conference.
    For all the work that has been put into these dodgy tactics — from carefully staged resignations to the mass harvesting of private data by shadowy organisations like Saving Labour — they seem to have made little dent in Jeremy’s mass support.
    However, they have had some success in damaging the broader appeal of the Labour Party itself.
    When this ridiculous and unnecessary leadership campaign is over, and Jeremy’s mandate as leader is confirmed, the party will have a bridge to rebuild with its membership — those who have been disenfranchised, those who have been patronised and insulted by the likes of Owen Smith and Tom Watson, and those who have had their membership suspended by right-wing bureaucrats desperate to cling on to power.
    The Labour Party will also have a much bigger and much more important task too. It needs to rebuild the trust of the labour movement — not just the affiliated unions, in particular the BFAWU whose general secretary has been singled out for attack, but the unaffiliated unions and the wider economic, social and political organisations of the movement.
    The Labour Party is not just accountable to its membership, or even the wider membership of its affiliated unions. Nor should it seek to be accountable to a nebulous “general public,” too often conflated, by the media and by pollsters, with the affluent swing voters of Middle England.
    The Labour Party was formed as the political representative of a class and a movement — the working class and its labour movement. These are the people whose confidence it needs to win back.
    Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, huge strides have already been made in this direction but there is a long way to go. The Labour left must unite with its allies within and outside of the party to rebuild working-class political representation.


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