Establishment won’t destabilise a Corbyn government says author of “A Very British Coup”

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Chris Mullin, author Pic credit: Twitter

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Chris Mullin, the former Labour minister and MP, last night told an audience of MPs and peers that he did not believe that the Establishment would seek to undermine a future Labour government  led by ” saintly” Jeremy Corbyn .

His  riposte came a month after Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, expressed worries that Corbyn had not ditched his left wing views, had met people who were not friends of Britain and said he was worried about him becoming PM. The charge has been made also by Sajid Javid, the home secretary who describes Jeremy Corbyn as ” a threat to our national security.”

Chris Mullin was giving a talk as part of John Bercow’s Speaker’s Lectures series  after the publication of his autobiography Hinterland, which describes his life as a war  journalist. Mp and minister and a chair of the influential home affairs committee.

He is most famous for his novel written in 1982 ” A Very British Coup” which became a BBC TV series describing how a left wing Labour MP with strong views on disarmament and an ally of the trade unions wins a general election with a landslide victory only to be undermined by the security services, the Establishment and the Murdoch Empire.

Although written some 33 years before the sudden rise of Jeremy Corbyn the novel is now seen as prescient of events that did change the direction of the Labour Party. At the time it was written Tony Benn not Jeremy Corbyn was seen as the great danger.

But despite the novel’s gloomy prognosis Mr Mullin does not see this happening should Jeremy Corbyn win the next election.

” I think MI5 has been cleaned up  in the last 30 years “, he said. He was not so certain about MI6 after the comments of Sir Richard Dearlove.

Mr Mullin himself was branded as part of the ” loony left ” by the right wing media particularly as he championed the cause of the  six Birmingham bombers who  were found guilty of blowing up two pubs killing 21 people and injuring 182 others but had their convictions quashed 16 years later. This was one of the greatest miscarriages of justice.

He disclosed that although he was on the left of the party he had not voted for him as party leader as he did not agree with all his policies. He described Jeremy as a ” saintly person” who  has always stood by his beliefs.

He also had a surprise for his audience. He is a writing a sequel  to A very British Coup which covers the current Brexit crisis. It is to be published on March 29 next year – the day Britain is due to leave the European Union.

 

 

Conservatives v Corbyn: How the Tory party’s policy vacuum has left them floundering among the under 45s

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George Freeman, MP – man behind revitalising Tory policies. Pic credit: Wikipedia

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Beyond the  media hype of the Brexit battle between Boris and Theresa May this year’s Conservative Party conference was a heart searching  and navel gazing spectacle.

Clearly still rattled by the result of 2017 election where Theresa May lost them their overall majority – by far the biggest topic on the fringe was how can they woo back droves of people under 45 who have deserted them for Labour.

Unusually for a party in power  there were strident calls to develop new policies to win back these lost voters. Usually parties in government can take the initiative as they have the reins of power  and can produce plenty of fresh ideas.

But the Tories at this conference were behaving like a party in opposition – a huge navel gazing exercise in a desperate search for new policies. Tory MP Chris Skidmore, policy vice chairman of the party, virtually gave the game away at a reception for the Conservative Policy Forum – when he alluded to the great revival of ideas by  Sir Keith Joseph, which propelled Margaret Thatcher into Downing Street.  But that was the 1970s when the party had lost power after Edward Heath’s disastrous performance.

David Cameron also tried to soften the image of the party – again the new ideas came when the party was in opposition in 2008.

So what are they trying to do? One of the more illuminating debates came at the  Centre for Policy Studies fringe with the intriguing title, Today’s Millenials, Tomorrow’s Conservatives?

Chaired by Times columnist, Rachel Sylvester,it was platform for two potential rising stars, Sam Gyimah, the universities minister and a late replacement, Guy Opperman, the pensions minister.

The two were remarkably honest about the dilemma.  Sam Gyimah admitted they were used to 18-21 year olds being left wing radicals but not the 25 to 45 year old age group. whom would be in work and bringing up families.

He blamed the continual war within the Tory party over Brexit as putting off young voters.

Guy Opperman admitted that they would not win by negative campaigning against Corbyn ”  We won’t win  by portraying Corbyn  as an insane  antisemitic Hamas supporting, Cuba loving, terrorist” he said.

That message did not seem to have reached the Tory party platform where Sajid Javid  , the home secretary, warned of the security risk of having Corbyn as Prime minister and May devoted part of her speech to denouncing Corbyn over antisemitism, supporting Russia, decrying Nato and appearing on Press TV.

What did they want. Well, without a real trace of irony, it was the need for momentum without the capital M.

Energy, drive, policies that were inclusive, equal pay for women, responsible capitalism, support for the NHS and more and more housing. In olden times, it would be called progressive conservatism. Guy Opperman as pensions minister, was asked by one member of the audience whether to remove parts of the triple lock on pensions to assuage the plight of the young. He was remarkably silent on this saying he did not want to make manifesto commitments at this time. Pressed afterwards he said he liked to get away from always talking about pensions.

But what was missing was any big idea on how to tackle the issues that Labour was pushing – the failure of private firms running the railways, over crowded classrooms, police and prison service  in crisis,giving workers a bigger stake in private companies. They will have to offer real alternatives to wean voters away from Labour. Their only big point was that Corbyn hadn’t the money to do anything about it without ruinous taxation and borrowing.

It is all predicated on Britain entering the sunny uplands once we have left the EU and can plan for a post Brexit society. If Brexit turns into chaos it will further alienate that target age group.

Labour should not be complacent about the dilemma the Tories face. At the Conservative Policy  Forum reception there was a strong rallying cry for people to set up constituency wide policy groups to try and draw up more attractive policies and to reach out to non Conservatives – I expect aimed at that 25-45 year age group – to participate.

Just before I left I had a word with  George Freeman, Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk, one of the most active MPs seeking new Tory policies to appeal to the younger voter. Surprised to find that a hack had sneaked into the reception to hear about their plans, he jested I was only there for the drink. More seriously he asked:

” Why don’t you join  the Conservative forum and help us devise new policies?”

I politely declined, made my excuses and left.

 

Does the demise of UKIP offer a lifeline to embattled Tories?

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Will the Tories replace UKIP? Pic credit: Matt Dent; A mad man with a blog

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The performance of UKIP  in the polls has  been pretty disastrous for some time now. But if the party dies this weekend which other party is going to benefit from its demise.

After losing their only MP at the general election the party performed very badly at local level and is continuing to do so. And ironically Britain’s departure from the European Union will destroy its biggest base which is in Brussels. So by 2019 when we leave it is possible that UKIP will have completely disappeared from the political scene. It is very much a case  of don’t get what you wish for.

But the destruction of UKIP  at the moment appears to be more of a problem for Labour than the Tories. It is a considerable dilemma for Jeremy Corbyn on how he handles Brexit and suggests he, as well as Theresa May, is caught between a rock and a hard place over this issue.

Younger Labour Party voters – particularly in London and the South – are very strongly pro Remain – welcoming the diverse nature of the UK and enjoying the reality of visa free travel across most of Europe.

But Labour voters outside this group – in the North, Midlands, East Anglia and parts of Kent- are pro Brexit. And furthermore the former UKIP voters are obviously keen for Britain to leave.

So for Labour to get back these working class voters it has to be seen to be  both supporting Brexit and sympathising with Remain  at the same time. It also means the party – which has had success particularly at the last election – has highlighted domestic issues like the NHS, education, transport, housing and student loans rather than Brexit.

Labour’s dilemma is shown up in a scattering of local council by-elections across the country this month. Of course one should not put too much score on local election results – because of low polls and because simply that they are local.

But one trend has emerged where UKIP had a previous strong showing.in local areas and either doesn’t stand or puts up a candidate who is trashed by the electorate.

What appears to be happening  is that both Labour and the Tories are gaining votes – but the Tories are getting the lion’s share. This means that either Labour cannot win the seat or as in Bolton last night – they lose a seat to the Tories.

The results in Thanet in Kent –  a former UKIP stronghold where they got control of the council – is a case in point. It has seen the Tory and Labour vote go up – but has allowed the Tories to retain their seats with a bigger majority. Roughly two in three former UKIP voters seem to have switched to the Tories compared with one in three supporting Labour.

In Bolton where on a  nearly 30 per cent poll – the Tories took a seat off Labour – the result again showed  both the Tories and Labour gaining votes – but the Tory share of the vote went up 16.7 per cent to take a seat in a safe Labour Parliamentary constituency. Again UKIP had polled very well in the ward in the past.

Similarly in Newport Pagnell, a council seat on Milton Keynes council  where UKIP had got a big share of the vote last time – the Tory share jumped over 15 per cent – while Labour jumped just under 12 per cent. UKIP got  nearly a quarter of the votes last time but didn’t stand.

These actual votes may explain the closeness in the polls between Labour and the Tories – the Tory vote is simply being buoyed up by former Kippers. It may also explain why William Hague, the former Tory leader, would like to see UKIP wound up as the best chance for the party to stay in power.

It is also quite clever  of Boris Johnson to raise the issue that the NHS would get even more money after we leave the EU – it is aimed at those people keeping faith with Brexit believing the country will enter a Shangri La once we are out.

I personally don’t believe a word of it – but to my mind it does suggest to me that Labour should not take the next election for granted. They have to continue to work on these voters by offering a much fairer society. But it also leaves them with a very delicate balancing act over Brexit.

 

 

 

Time for MPs to take back control of Parliament

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John Bercow, the Speaker Image credit: bbc

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There has been much debate about populist slogans from Brexiteers about Britain needing to take back control of the country from so called Brussels bureaucrats when we leave the European Union in 2019.

The very same MPs are remarkably silent about a decision taken seven years ago by the UK Parliament to set up an independent committee to  take  back control of how the government can present its legislation to Parliament.

Put it very simply we are supposed to live in a Parliamentary democracy but in fact MPs allow the government to monopolise and control Parliament  through the Whips system without so much as a whisper of discontent.

The fact that nothing has been done was highlighted ( though you won’t have read in mainstream media) by John Bercow, the Speaker, in an address given in Parliament to the Hansard Society this week. You can read the full speech here.

In 2010 a committee chaired by Tony Wright, a Labour Mp who did a very good job scrutinising Whitehall on the public administration committee, proposed a series of reforms to  allow MPs to take back control of the running of Parliament from the government. One reform giving backbenchers a greater role in debates got through. Another reform giving Mps much more control over government business was also approved – but guess what the government did nothing about it.

As John Bercow said in this extract from his speech:

” It is missing in action, confined to something akin to parliamentary purgatory. Nailed to its perch.”

He goes on in this longer extract:

” As a matter of basic democratic principle this will not do. The House decided to back the concept of a House Business Committee along the lines of the Wright Committee recommendations. One of three courses of action should follow. The House should have its decision implemented. Alternatively, it should be consulted on some other design for a House Business Committee. Or the House should determine in a vote that it has changed its mind on the issue. It should not be side lined in this fashion. It is quite wrong for there to be a vacuum. This is as inappropriate as, for example, legislating to hold a referendum on a major question of the day and then simply ignoring the outcome. The longer that this state of affairs persists the more profoundly unsatisfactory I believe it to be.

“The Wright formula, to remind enthusiasts in the room for such detail, was very balanced. It did not seek to defenestrate the Whips Offices. It recognised that the Government of the day had a right to have its business tabled. Elections would be rendered impotent affairs if this were not the case. Ministers are, therefore, in my view entitled to a majority but not a monopoly on a House Business Committee. The legitimate issue for the House as a whole is the balance of allocation of time across the various measures that constitute a legislative programme. The Wright Committee also underlined the importance of the Official Opposition – and other opposition parties – being given more say on scheduling their business, and envisaged, I am reliably informed, the House Business Committee as the forum for such discussions. I dare venture that some of the recent tensions over scheduling Opposition Days or more accurately not scheduling Opposition days, might have been avoided if there had been a House Business Committee to hand.

“Any such Committee should be chaired by an independent figure. Wright suggested the Senior Deputy Speaker. It should have a backbench component as well as representation from the smaller parties. It would also be desirable to link the chamber to the select committees perhaps via the presence of the Chair of the Liaison Committee. Finally, if not instantly but over time, it should include the direct election of the backbench members in the spirit of the various other reforms which Wright offered to the House more than eight years ago and which the House chose to adopt.”

Now you might say -particularly after this long extract –  why should I be bothered about this arcane Parliamentary stuff? You should for two reasons.

First though she won the most votes Theresa May did not win enough Parliamentary seats to have a majority in Parliament but is ruling – because of the deal with the Democratic Unionist Party – as though she does using every statutory wheeze to try and stay in power for five years.

This measure will put Parliament as a whole in control as it will give greater bargaining power to Jeremy Corbyn, Vince Cable, the Scots Nats and the solitary Green MP – to influence how the government timetables its legislation and how Opposition Mps and backbenchers can get issues debated.

Second whatever your views on Brexit the government is planning to try and by-pass Parliament by using the Brexit bill to take power to change all sorts of laws and regulations by   ministerial diktat – the ” so called Henry VIII clauses ” – named  after the monarch who dissolved Britain’s monasteries – with little chance of debate.

These could be used to  change rights for the disabled, curb worker’s rights to holidays , drop environment protections , cut benefit entitlement and amend health and safety protection, – like for example reducing safeguards on working with asbestos ( this has actually been suggested by one Tory).

This will affect you in your daily life and Parliament needs to defend itself by making sure that ministers can’t  avoid being challenged by manipulating the Parliamentary timetable.

So what we need are some bolshie backbenchers of all parties to put up a motion to set up this committee. From what was said  week they would get a fair wind from the Speaker.

 

 

 

 

 

Theresa May’s wasted £11.2 billion of taxpayers money on initiatives Tory youth doesn’t want

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The Tory conference was supposed to be the point when Theresa May announced a raft of policies to challenge Jeremy Corbyn’s wooing of the youth vote.

If she had  left the main platform of the conference and slipped into a packed Adam Smith Institute fringe meeting at the Manchester conference she would have been sorely disappointed.

The meeting chaired by a young Times journalist ,Grant Tucker, was meant to be a discussion on what  the millennial generation want and how they can get young voters away from Jeremy Corbyn.

Predictably it was hostile to any Corbyn programme of  rent control and nationalisation but what was extraordinary was the hostility to the May announcements earlier in the week.

The meeting was  heavily dominated by the housing crisis facing the young Tories – almost to a man and woman – all privately renting and paying up to 50 per cent of their monthly post tax income for small rooms in shared flats.

The £10 billion put aside to massively expand the Help to Buy programme was universally condemned from both the platform, by Madsen Pirie from the Adam Smith Institute, and by the audience as exactly the wrong thing to do.

Madsen Pirie

Madsen Pirie Pic credit: wikipedia

They saw it as putting up house prices even more beyond reach and doing nothing to aid the supply of affordable homes. Nor did they want a big council house building programme.

What they wanted was a liberalisation of the planning laws and a mass release of land to allow not a few thousands but a million, yes a million, homes built  in three years to totally change the affordability of housing and bringing back mass home ownership.

Nor were they impressed with a £1.2 billion spent freezing student loans at £9250 and raising the pay back level to £25,000. What they wanted was instead the abolition of the new 6.1 per cent interest rate on loans, pointing out that this could add £5000 to payments soon after students graduated.

So how has May got this so very,very wrong. The answer was plain to see. The Tory leadership is not listening to them. What came over to me was that thus young strand of the Tory’s future had no influence on what their leaders did and were very frustrated and even angry about it.

Unlike at Labour where it is clear that young people – as members of the party had an input – these young people seemed to be treated as election fodder to get the mainly elderly Tory vote out.

There was other thing I noticed at this gathering.There was not a black or brown face to be seen, they were universally white, again unlike Labour. Yet they were not all from the Tory shires, some were from multiracial Bristol, and another from Camberwell and Peckham. Given what diverse place this is, I was surprised there was no ethnic minority representation. I had seen a more diverse audience at an earlier fringe organised by Westminster council.

What this augurs for the future of the Tory Party is not good for them. Their membership is already elderly and falling. If they don’t take any notice of their young membership they are doomed to oblivion – just as Tory campaigner John Strafford said earlier this week.

 

 

Exclusive: Tories face “oblivion” says party campaigner as membership plummets to 100,000

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One of the Tory’s longest serving campaigners is predicting the party is facing ” oblivion” after losing nearly 40,000 members this summer following Theresa May’s failure to secure a majority government at the general election.

John Strafford, chairman of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy, in an  eve of conference exclusive interview  on the Tribune magazine website, says the real membership of the party has plummeted to around 100,000- way below the 149,500 figure and 134,000 figure used by the party in 2013.

Mr Strafford said: “The party is facing oblivion. If you take the fact only 10 per cent of the membership is likely to be very active they will not have enough people on the ground to fight an election – they won’t even have enough people to man polling stations on the day.

“They are keeping council seats because often the families of the councillors are campaigning with party members to get them re-elected. They simply don’t have the local resources to do this in a general election.”

According to Mr Strafford in 300 of the Parliamentary constituency parties  – nearly half the MPs in Parliament – membership has dropped to 100 people or fewer.

The contrast with Labour could not be stronger – with the party already having 569,500 members and launching a further on line membership drive after their conference.

Membership could also be lower than the Liberal Democrats who have also seen a jump in members from 61,000  to 102,000.

He said a series of recent events had led to this parlous state of affairs. The leadership contest after David Cameron announced his resignation initially led to the Tories recruiting an extra 40,000 members who wanted a say in voting for the next leader and Prime Minister.

But when Andrea Leadsom pulled out from challenging Theresa May – there was no vote for the leadership- and Theresa May became PM without an election.

The situation was compounded when Theresa May called a snap election and rather than allowing constituency parties to select their own candidate – imposed candidates in seats that did not have one selected.

John Strafford pic credit Conservative Home

John Strafford Pic credit: Conservative Home

The bad handling of the campaign irritated party members – as many activists assuming Jeremy Corbyn had no chance  were sent to Labour held seats with large majorities with the aim of toppling the  sitting MP – while leaving Tory marginals undefended. One example was Slough – where instead of the Tories taking the seat the new Labour MP was returned with a huge increase in his majority.

As a result nearly all the 40000 new members recruited by the Tory leadership battle last year have not renewed their membership because, according to Mr Strafford they have found out they have little say in party proceedings or policies. Again the contrast with Labour which is devolving more power to its members could not be stronger. ” They are just not renewing their membership with some constituency parties which recruited hundreds of members finding only a handful renewing.”

The plummeting membership is one reason why some MPs are becoming restive. One  with his ear to ground is Robert Halfon, Tory MP for Harlow, who this week in Conservative Home  backs John Strafford’s analysis that lack of democracy is driving away members.

” I began to realise that, far from being a lunatic, John was quite sane…and it was perhaps us who closed our ears to what he was saying who were the crazy ones. For many years, he rightly predicted that a lack of democracy would lead to a loss of membership. He was right.”

The issue will be raised at the Tory Party conference fringe in Manchester next week.

On Monday the  Campaign for Conservative Democracy will hold a fringe meeting to discuss how to tackle this by injecting some democracy to attract members.

The Adam Smith Institute will hold a meeting on Tuesday to address why 60 per cent of young people are supporting Jeremy Corbyn and how the party needs new policies to attract a younger membership.

How party politics have changed. A year ago it was Jeremy Corbyn whom the Tories regarded as unelectable and a joke. Now it is the Tories that are worried they are becoming unelectable  and are running a party few people would want to join.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hidden in plain sight: Labour trains a new generation of political activists

labour_conference Pic credit politicshome

Labour Conference 2017: the top of the iceberg Pic credit: politicshome

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The Labour  Party conference this year was like one huge political iceberg.

The ten per cent that was visible was dominated by the passionate, football chant style support for Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell – as the architects of a Labour revival that had seen membership soar to 569,500. It did unveil new and radical policies.It suppressed a public row over Brexit  which I notice Danny Finkelstein on The Times saw as shrewd politics, leaving divided Tories to take the flak. It contained a dispute about whether there was anti-Semitism among  Left wingers despite the best efforts of Guido Fawkes ,the Daily Mail and the Equality and Human Rights Commission to stir the pot.

But under the eyes of the media ( who were given very restricted access to the conference hall) the hidden 90 per cent of the Labour conference was carrying out another revolution which will ensure that the current revival of political activism among the young has a long term future.

Contrary to what most Conservatives would like to think the 369,000 new party members who joined after Corbyn became leader are not all former card carrying members of the Social Workers Party, the Communist Party and other Left wing groupings. And they even applies to those who joined Momentum

Just on a micro political point, members of the local Labour Party in Berkhamsted and Tring in  Hertfordshire have jumped from about 40 to 450 as a result of Corbyn.. If they were all committed former Communists, I think I would have noticed. Having lived in Berko since 1983, the town is not known for having Marxist banners festooned all over Berkhamsted station or the civic centre.

No the truth is – thanks to lack of any political  or civic education in our schools – they have ideals, strong views but little hard knowledge of how to participate in a political democracy. Many may be savvy with social media but need to know how to use it for the benefit of the Labour Party.

There were sessions on door knocking, electoral law, what becoming a councillor is like. making Labour Party branch meetings more fun, championing equality, building up women’s forums,  getting more disabled friendly meetings and how to use the traditional and social media to get your points across. There was also advice on how to tackle the problem of success, too many new members swamping local meetings.

Jeremy Corbyn has already transformed interest in politics by doubling the percentage of people involved in party membership in Britain. Now it looks as though Labour is going to get the new membership to engage in democracy. to help them win the next election. Even if only 10 per cent of the membership become fervent activists – that is still some 57,000 people – more than half the total Tory membership, I am told.

What is going to be interesting is when that hidden 90 per cent of the Labour iceberg hits  the opposition at the next election. Will it be the  sinking of the Tory Titanic or will the Tories try and steer well clear and come up with something new.