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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BIGGEST CHALLENGE YET FOR THE LIB DEMS.

 

THE DISCREDITED CENTRE.

Britain is being run by a Prime Minister constantly looking over her shoulder at hard line Brexiteer Tories who want to not only get us out of the European Union but use the withdrawal legislation to dismantle many elements of social justice.

The Opposition is led by a left wing populist who promises the earth to public sector workers and students and who has skilfully captured the anti-establishment mood. However, a Jeremy Corbyn government combined with Brexit would have a hugely damaging impact on business and the economy.

So where is the centre ground when we need them? I’ll find some of them in Bournemouth this weekend under their new leader Vince Cable. The others may be in Brighton the week after at the Labour conference. You won’t see them on the platform, even Andy Burnham, the newly elected leader of Greater Manchester, is struggling for a slot. The moderate Labour MPs are being made to pay for their treachery against Jeremy Corbyn.

It is difficult for moderates in the Labour Party. They are embarrassed by Corbyn’s “relative” success. And it is relative, it was Labour’s third successive defeat. They have not won a General Election for twelve years. They want the party to oppose Brexit but are worried about breaking promises to the electorate and have a leader who is probably a secret Leaver. Then there is the Blair problem. The most articulate spokesman for their point of view is discredited in too many people’s eyes to get a real hearing.

Both the Labour centre, and the Lib Dems, are also burdened by the legacy of the financial crash of ten years ago. A moderate Labour government was in charge under Gordon Brown when it happened and the Liberal Democrats were part of a Coalition that used austerity to clear up the mess afterwards. The Tories are always expected to be tough on economics but the crash and its aftermath left Labour and the Lib Dems vulnerable to the populist rhetoric of Nigel Farage. He used the European Union as a lightening conductor for people’s mistrust of bankers, the EU and centrist politicians whose wishy-washy politics had let them down.

And yet my gut feeling remains that a majority of the British people, and certainly business, want centre ground politics. Economic realism with a social conscience and if we can sort immigration out, continued membership of the EU.

The Lib Dems are too weak at the moment for the Labour centre to take them seriously as a partner for a new party. Vince Cable’s task this weekend in Bournemouth is to show that they have a strategy to win back seats and be open to the idea of a new centre party that can offer an alternative to Brexiteer Toryism of hard left socialism.

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WHERE IS THE BRITISH MACRON?

 

THE EU STRENGTHENED.

The French people have turned the tide on the 2016 populist surge which led to reckless Brexit and reckless Trump in the White House.

Opponents of the European Union were forecasting it would break up following populist success in Hungary, Holland and France. All three countries have rejected a return to a nationalist Europe with all the potential consequences that could bring. With the UKIP style implosion of the Alternative for Deutschland Party in Germany I predict a victory for Angela Merkel this autumn. Then we will see how strong and stable Mrs May will be when faced with France, Germany and the other 25 European countries insisting that if you are out of a club you must have a worse deal than if you are in.

I saw a report this week on a Shropshire company that makes engine blocks. They must cross 5 European borders in ten days and time is vital. They are desperately worried about how they are going to operate outside the EU. That’s the reality facing business. Let’s hope Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to rule out staying in the EU wasn’t just another blunder, although the Lib Dems offer the clearest policy on a second referendum.

 

 

BACK IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT.

Geoff Driver is the great survivor of Lancashire politics. After a controversial reign as Chief Executive of Preston Council, he made a successful change to politics leading the Conservatives to victory in the county in 2009. Thrown out of office in 2013, he survived a leadership challenge, police dropped an investigation into him over the One Connect Ltd issue and last Friday I was in County Hall for his return to office.

He faces big challenges to soften the cuts that Labour reluctantly made. Driver insists there will be no sweetheart deals with his government. A final word on this. Jeni Mein, the outgoing Labour leader was one of the most decent hard working politicians I had the pleasure to meet. Good luck to her successor, Nelson councillor Azhar Ali. He will prove a lively opponent for Geoff Driver.

MAYORS.

After snubbing Jeremy Corbin at a victory celebration, Andy Burnham was quickly down to work making two good deputy appointments. Sir Richard Leese is taking on the business portfolio. Does this show Leese is preparing to end his long tenure as leader of Manchester? Anyway, from Burnham’s point of view…..(fill in the tent and urination metaphor here). The other key appointment is Bev Hughes to look after crime and the police. The former Stretford and Urmston MP will be taking over from the ex-Police Commissioner Tony Lloyd who hopes to win the Rochdale seat.

That choice by a panel of Labour’s National Executive has been welcomed by the constituency whereas in Liverpool Walton the choice of a Unite placeman, Daniel Carden, at the expense of Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson has caused outrage. These panels should have the constituency chair as a member and certainly should not have a Unite member as was the case with Walton. But if a party is so dependent on one source of funding, this is what you get.

Joe heading for Westminster was a neat way of solving a

 potential conflict between him and newly elected City

 Region Mayor, Steve Rotheram. We’ll have to see if grown

 up behaviour prevails to the advantage of the city region.

 

GENERAL ELECTION POINTERS.

 

The local elections showed Labour’s fragility in the North

outside its urban heartland. A spectacular defeat to the

Tories in Derbyshire was followed by the loss of

Lancashire and largest party status in Cumbria. There are many marginal seats in these areas for the Conservatives to target.

 

The Lib Dems had a standstill election and will be hoping

for more support when the Brexit issue comes centre

stage in the General Election. UKIP had to rely on a

popular taxi driver in Padiham for their only council

success. They should have developed policies on non-EU

issues to offer a real alternative for blue collar Labour

voters in the North. Instead they squabbled over who

should be leader.

 

In Scotland, the Tories have become the rallying point for

opponents of a second independence referendum, and

even though the fall off in support for the SNP was slight,

that irresistible tide has peaked.

 

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SHOOT THE MESSENGERS AND THE EXPERTS!

 

Any hope that the New Year would bring signs that we are not heading over the Brexit cliff were quickly dashed with the resignation of Sir Ivan Rogers. The UK envoy to the European Union became exasperated that the May government had no plan, was guilty of muddled thinking and that the British team to conduct the exit talks was seriously underpowered for the ten year task.

So in this post truth age we neither want to hear from experts or the messengers that bring them. As much as I support a second referendum on the ultimate package, I think our European colleagues would be so fed up with us by 2019 that they would want us out anyway. This must be the year when we try to reverse the process but there is no sign of the centre left coalition that would be needed.

Meanwhile the European Union and the wider world with which we are negotiating could change dramatically in 2017. We are about to see the most unpredictable change of power in America that anyone can remember. Donald Trump is certainly making his mark already. Ford’s decision to cancel a major car plant in Mexico and build it in Michigan shows that American business takes him seriously.

In Europe the question will be whether populism has peaked. They could triumph in Italy and the Netherlands but right winger François Fillon should see off Marine Le Pen and Angela Merkel is likely to see off her opponents in Germany.

In the North we will see the first elected mayors for the city regions of Greater Manchester and Liverpool.

It seems certain that Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram will win but there will be interest in the size of the UKIP vote. The party’s new leader Paul Nuttall needs to show what policies, other than getting out of the EU, the party stands for. Will they develop credible policies on health, housing and crime to woo northern voters from the weak Labour Party. A parliamentary test will come in Copeland where another moderate Labour MP has concluded the cause is hopeless and walked away.

Good luck to Hull in its year as Capital of Culture. Let us hope it is a sign of tangible benefits coming to the Northern Powerhouse. Plans for trans Pennine rail improvements and single public transport ticketing need to move from the drawing boards to reality.

It will be Theresa May’s first full year in power. She is in danger of being completely overwhelmed by the Brexit process even though there are major challenges at home in the NHS, elderly care, housing and immigration. She may lose popularity but her political opponents are weak. Labour is seen as irrelevant by most people. The Lib Dems have only just begun the road to recovery and UKIP are untested on the domestic front.

On the world stage expect ISIS to be weakened but that could mean their battle hardened members returning to the West to inflict more atrocities in our cities. Meanwhile China will be keeping a wary eye on a possible unlikely warming of relations between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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