CARILLION BOOST FOR CORBYN.

 

IS EUROPE JEREMY’S ACHILLES HEAL ?

 

The political tide should be running strongly for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. In the week when he has tightened his grip on the party’s organisation, the collapse of construction giant Carillion gives powerful weight to his arguments against privatising public services. The NHS is always a strong Labour card and the continuing crisis in our hospitals also plays well for him. There’s nothing much left for Labour to win in the North this year but a bad result for the Tories in the London borough elections is widely forecast.

 

That may happen. But at the moment Labour has the slenderest of leads in the opinion polls despite this blundering government. So I went to the capital last weekend to try and find out why. The Fabian conference is the first big political gathering of the New Year. The Fabians are one of the oldest groupings within the Labour Party with a position on the left, but not Corbyn left.

The speech of the impressive Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was delayed by a bunch called the White Pendragons who wandered around filming their demonstration and brandishing anti EU slogans and an American flag. The previous day their hero Donald Trump had made disgraceful remarks about people from Haiti. But the President’s supporters regard that as evidence that he is one of them, something to think about as the “very stable genius” marks his first year in office.

But I digress, the underlying issue that rumbled through the day was Brexit. Wes Streeting, a rising star representing the centre of the party, declared that Labour was the biggest stumbling block to the UK remaining in the Single Market beyond the transition period. At the moment Corbyn and Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer say that beyond the two year transition, they want to be as close as possible to the Single Market. Streeting believes there is a majority in the Commons and the country for permanent Single Market membership. He claimed a “jobs first Brexit won’t get us through 2018.” Is Labour’s tightrope act on Europe the reason why they are not surging in the polls? I’m not sure, Nor, sadly, am I sure there is a Commons majority for demanding long term Single Market membership. Even with ex Cabinet member, Justine Greening, on board, the Tory Brexit rebels have gone quiet. Look at the comfortable votes for the Brexit bill in the Commons this week. And Labour Brexiteers like Frank Field, Graham Stringer and Kate Hoey can’t be relied on.

When Starmer spoke, you could hear a man tortured by the political dilemma of it all. Labour should support EU membership with its support for workers rights. But Starmer is worried about defying the decision of the voters. He had to remind the London audience that there were lots of Labour voters in the North that wanted a clean break from the EU.

The Shadow Brexit Secretary did remind us that Labour would submit the Brexit deal to a stiff series of tests, but could they get a Commons majority to vote it down and then win the consequent General Election?

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NORTHERN RAIL: ARE THE TORIES SERIOUS ?

 

AWKWARD TIMES AT MANCHESTER CONFERENCE.

The May government is rattled by the growing perception that they are not serious about the Northern Powerhouse. So, it perhaps would have been easier for the Conservatives to be meeting in their other conference city, Birmingham. The city has been confirmed as the UK candidate for the 2022 Commonwealth Games following the election of a Tory West Midlands mayor. In Greater Manchester we elected Andy Burnham who has expressed his outrage at the decision to downgrade the electrification of the Leeds-Manchester rail line whilst giving the go ahead to Crossrail 2 in London.

We know the government is rattled because last week I was present at a meeting in Manchester where the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, came out fighting over his government’s transport spending. He told a startled business audience that he was going to slay some myths and rattled off a whole series of road improvements from Cumbria to Cheshire before tackling rail. His argument seems to be that electrification could be an old hat solution and bi-modal trains with state of the art technology could be the answer.

The issue is sure to come up at a conference where the Tories are reeling on many fronts. Whereas I saw Jeremy Corbyn lauded at every turn in Brighton for losing the General Election, Theresa May comes to Manchester having “won” but with the worst Conservative campaign in living memory. The Tories are past masters at preventing unrest breaking out on the conference floor but there is sure to be some raking over of the General Election coals at the fringe meetings.

Europe will also be an issue to watch at the Manchester conference. The prospect of us effectively being in the European Union until 2021 has angered the hardline Brexiteers. There will be plenty of them in Manchester Central. The Tory activists who come to conference have always been very Eurosceptic.

Besides the Northern Powerhouse, the poor election campaign and Europe, the main challenge for the Tories this weekend will be to answer the growing opposition to austerity and cuts. Labour is shamelessly promising everything to everyone, even acknowledging that if they came to power there could well be a massive run on the pound. Nevertheless, they seem to have caught a tide of opinion against pay curbs, high rents and homelessness. The Tories’ austerity programme has been in place for over seven years now and people are fed up. There are some signs that ministers are recognising this but that can spell danger. Small concessions don’t necessarily assuage the anger. They can make matters worse as workers take industrial action to push for more and the uncertain tone from ministers gives the impression that the government is running out of ideas and is past its sell by date.

Jeremy Corbyn said in Brighton that he was a Prime Minister in waiting. It was a bold, some would say fanciful claim, but if the Cabinet infighting over Europe doesn’t stop, if the cracks are on display in Manchester, there can be no certainty over what might happen this winter.

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SINGLE MARKET CHALLENGE TO CORBYN

 

NO ENEMIES TO THE LEFT.

Jeremy Corbyn does not take easily to adulation. This weekend he would probably prefer to be tending his allotment than hearing “Oh! Jeremy Corbyn”, ringing out from the Brighton conference centre.

But Labour’s surprisingly good performance (they failed to win for the third time by the way) in June’s General Election has confirmed Corbyn in the leadership for years to come if he wants to stay. Except for Alison McGovern’s Labour Campaign for the Single Market, most moderate Labour MPs have become political zombies. They remain because of an admirable sense of loyalty, hoping the tide will turn. I fear they will be disappointed.

In Brighton at the weekend we will see the hard left not only buttress the current leadership in power but take steps to make the left revolution permanent. Corbynistas are set to take control of the Conference Arrangements Committee and National Constitutional Committee. Most people have never heard of these bodies but the former used to be used by New Labour to keep embarrassing subjects like unilateral nuclear disarmament off the agenda. The latter body came into existence after the expulsion of Militant in 1986, but would be unlikely to expel similar people today. “No enemies to the Left” is likely to be the guiding principle.

But Corbyn’s people are looking beyond the day when Jeremy returns to his marrows. The percentage of Labour MPs needed to nominate a leadership candidate is being reduced so that in future left wingers will not need misguided moderates like Frank Field and Margaret Beckett to put them on the ballot paper.

Don’t expect a huge row on the conference floor about all this. The outside chance that the Tories might implode under Brexit strains and Labour come to power in yet another General Election will probably ensure good behaviour.

 

BREXIT REVOLT?

If there is to be trouble for Corbyn, it is likely to come from the Wirral South MP Alison McGovern and her attempt to get the party to commit to staying in the Single Market for ever. The Shadow Brexit Secretary Kier Starmer won a surprising partial victory in getting the Eurosceptic people around Corbyn to commit Labour to the Single Market during the Brexit transition period. McGovern wants to go further with all the implications that has for continued freedom of movement. McGovern belongs to the Blairite Progress faction in the party which has recently suffered a huge financial blow from the total withdrawal of funding by Lord Sainsbury.

LIB DEMS STICK TO THEIR GUNS.

While Labour try to walk the tightrope between Remain and Leave supporters, Tory Cabinet infighting was patched up just ahead of the Prime Minister’s Florence speech. But that was after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson repeated the lie over a £350m Brexit windfall for the NHS. Let’s remember we do not send £350m to the EU each week. After the rebate and European aid is considered the figure is £161m.

Meanwhile I was in Bournemouth with the Lib Dems. They were celebrating the EU with flags and yellow starred berets. They also reaffirmed their commitment to letting the people vote on the Brexit deal.

It would have been easy for the new leader Vince Cable to have taken the party’s poor election showing as an excuse to abandon this policy which shows no sign at the moment of being popular.

However, talking to representatives, I detected a hope that public opinion will undergo a massive change when the consequences of the botched Brexit talks become apparent. Let us hope that change of view is lead by the North, the area that was sadly deceived by the Boris bombast and which has most to lose from leaving.

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CAN LABOUR STOP A LANDSLIDE?

 

CHANCE TO VOTE FOR SOCIALISM!

Since 1983, socialists have craved a red meat Labour manifesto that they could vote for. Now is the chance for them to come out in their millions and ensure that Mrs May doesn’t achieve a landslide.

Labour has improved its poll rating since the election was called, but the gap remains large. There are many attractive features in the manifesto around energy prices, housing, university fees, nationalising the railways and world peace. Labour is tapping into a feeling that business and the rich should contribute more. After all it is ordinary people who have been paying for the excesses that caused the crash in 2008.

But the party remains vulnerable on the cost of it all. Salford MP Rebecca Long-Bailey is the Shadow Business Secretary, and touted by some as a future leader of the party. She will need to do better than in a radio interview on the manifesto launch day. She was asked how the ending of the benefits freeze, not raising the retirement age beyond 66 and scrapping the housing benefits cap was going to be paid for. In each instance, she casually said they would be subject to review when Labour was in government. It isn’t good enough. The party knew the Tory hawks would be looking for unfunded promises, but Corbyn has gambled that his vision for a socialist Britain will pay off.

Meanwhile the transformation of the Tory Party from an organisation run by posh boys to one where strong and stable Theresa is in charge is well under way. Pledges on workers rights, council house building and intervention in the energy market may seem brazenly opportunistic, but the Prime Minister has forged a link with northern working class people that may pay off spectacularly.

This is because the Regressive Alliance bringing the Tories and UKIP together was demonstrated in the recent local elections, whilst the Progressive Alliance of all those parties representing the centre left isn’t working so far. The rallying point should be around the Lib Dems call for a second EU referendum. Leader Tim Farron should stick to that. Putting the legalisation of cannabis in the manifesto just plays to his enemies stereotyping of the party.

SNAP ELECTION HISTORY.

What does post war history tell us about surprise General Elections? The story is mixed for incumbent Prime Ministers. Clement Attlee came a cropper when, having won narrowly in 1950, he called another election the following year to increase his majority and lost to Winston Churchill. As soon as Anthony Eden succeeded Churchill, he successfully went to the country in 1955 to get his own mandate, a course not followed by Gordon Brown when he took over from Tony Blair in 2007.

Harold Wilson performed the double election trick twice. He increased a small majority in 1964 to a large one in 1966. Then in February 1974 Tory Prime Minister Ted Heath went to the country in a similar manner to Theresa May seeking a specific mandate. Heath’s was to defeat the miners. He lost and Wilson, after a summer of minority government, gained a slim overall majority in the autumn.

More recently the Lib Dems could have refused to serve in a coalition in 2010 but the fear always was that David Cameron would have formed a minority government and won an overall majority in a quick return to the polls.

Would he have done? Will Mrs May’s landslide gamble pay off? We shall soon know.

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