Tag Archives: Jeremy Corbyn

the betrayal of Corbyn and the left by Labour HQ: newly leaked document confirms suspicions

As someone who devoted a great deal of time and effort during the 2017 General Election, delivering leaflets, canvassing on doorsteps, and generally working hard in the hope of a Corbyn-led Labour victory, it comes as no surprise whatsoever to learn that a faction within our party were actively working to stop Corbyn.

I have written many previous articles discussing the manufactured smear campaigns and how these were upheld and further amplified by the so-called liberal media which managed to portray a man who has spent his entire life fighting against racism as a racist.

And amongst so many rumours, we also knew with certainty about one of the plots being hatched behind the scenes: the secret weekend gatherings of twelve MPs at a luxury retreat in Sussex, whose number included Liz Kendall, John Woodcock, Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, and Gavin Shuker. It was always evident therefore that a sizeable faction within the PLP would have preferred to spilt the party (as three of the above attempted to do shortly afterwards) than accept the twice elected leader.

However, fresh evidence which is encyclopaedic in scope, comes to our attention thanks to a leaked release of a 860-page internal report innocuously entitled “The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014 – 2019” that was published back in March and intended for submission to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. It shows a level of treachery by Labour headquarters (HQ) including the governance and legal unit (GLU) when Iain McNicol served as general secretary that is frankly sickening.

To sift through all of the revelations will take considerable time, and we must anticipate new findings coming to light as the document is more carefully scrutinised. Reprinted below is just a single extract drawn from just one summary section that runs from pages 29– 32: be aware that LOTO refers to ‘the office of the Leader of the Opposition’ (i.e. Jeremy Corbyn and his advisors). But you could drop your finger anywhere randomly and find sections equally or still more inflammatory.

If the Labour Party is to move forward, then it must hold a full and transparent inquiry into the evidence presented in this suppressed report.

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Labour Party staff, who are employed by the Party rather than as political advisers to politicians, are expected to act impartially and serve the Party, regardless of the current Leader, much as the civil service is expected to serve the Government under whichever political party is in power. However, this section shows that much of the Labour Party machinery from 2015-18 was openly opposed to Jeremy Corbyn, and worked to directly undermine the elected leadership of the party. The priority of staff in this period appears to have been furthering the aims of a narrow faction aligned to Labour’s right rather than fulfilling the organisation’s objectives, from winning elections to building a functioning complaints and disciplinary process.

Labour Party staff based at Labour HQ were not obeying secret directives from LOTO. On the contrary, all of the available evidence points to the opposite conclusion – that Labour Party staff based at Labour HQ, including GLU, worked to achieve opposing political ends to the leadership of the Party. This included work to remove supporters of the incumbent leader during the 2016 leadership election, and work to hinder the leader’s campaign in the 2017 General Election. The attitude in HQ towards LOTO could be summed up in one comment from a senior staff member, who said “death by fire is too kind for LOTO”.

Labour officials, including senior staff, expressed hostility towards Jeremy Corbyn and his staff, towards Labour MPs including Andy Burnham, Ed Miliband, Sadiq Khan, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott and Dawn Butler. Staff described “most of the PLP” as “Trots” or called them “totally useless” in 2015 for not having yet launched a coup against Corbyn. As one staff member commented, “everyone here considers anyone left of [Gordon] Brown to be a trot.”

Staff repeatedly used abusive and inappropriate language about the leader, MPs, Labour members and about other staff. For example, staff discussed “hanging and burning” Jeremy Corbyn, calling Corbyn a “lying little toerag”; said that any Labour MP “who nominates Corbyn ‘to widen the debate’ deserves to be taken out and shot”; and stated that a staff member who “whooped” during Corbyn’s speech “should be shot”. Senior staff also said they hoped that one Labour member on the left of the party “dies in a fire”. Senior Labour staff used language that was considerably more abusive and inappropriate than that cited as justification for suspending many Labour members who supported Jeremy Corbyn in 2016.

In August 2015 senior staff explored delaying or cancelling the ongoing leadership election when it looked like Jeremy Corbyn was going to win. When Corbyn was elected staff discussed plans for a coup; one staffer said “we need a POLL – that says we’re like 20 points behind”; another suggested a silver lining for Remain losing the 2016 European referendum would be that Corbyn could be held responsible; and another hoped that poor performance in the May 2016 local elections would be the catalyst for a coup.

Staff described “working to rule” when Corbyn was elected and “coming into the office & doing nothing for a few months.” During the 2017 general election, staff joked about “hardly working”, and created a chat so they could pretend to work while actually speaking to each other – “tap tap tapping away will make us look v busy”. Senior staff coordinated refusing to share basic information to LOTO during the election, such as candidates’ contact details. Labour HQ operated “a secret key seats team” based in Labour’s London region office in Ergon House, from where a parallel general election campaign was run to support MPs associated with the right-wing of the party. The description of the workload and budget involved in this “secret” operation contrasts with the go slow approach described by other staff regarding work on the official general election campaign which the leadership was running to return a Labour government.

One senior staff member implied that he would support the Conservatives over Labour under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, saying “who votes for JC? If it’s a choice btwn him & TMay how do WE vote for him?”. Staff sent messages expressing their wish that Labour would perform badly in the 2017 general election, saying “with a bit of luck this speech will show a clear polling decline” and “I CANNOT WAIT to see Andrew Neil rip [Jeremy Corbyn] to pieces over it tonight”. Senior staff commented that the huge rallies for Corbyn late in the election made them “feel ill”, and they reacted to the polls narrowing with dismay, rather than optimism.

On election night on 8 June 2017, when the exit poll predicted a hung parliament, General Secretary Iain McNicol, Executive Director for Governance, Membership and Party Services Emilie Oldknow (who was responsible for overseeing GLU) and other senior staff discussed hiding their reactions, saying “everyone needs to smile” and “we have to be upbeat. And not show it”. Oldknow also described Yvette Cooper and other Labour MPs’ support for Corbyn after the election as “grovelling and embarrassing”.

In January 2017, Iain McNicol, Emilie Oldknow and other senior staff discussed preparing for a leadership election if Labour lost the Copeland and Stoke-on-trent by-elections, and setting up a “discrete [working group]” to determine the rules and timetable. Iain McNicol discussed this with Tom Watson and told him “to prepare for being interim leader”. During the 2017 general election the Director of GLU John Stolliday then drew up these plans, including a rule change to replace the one member one vote system with an Electoral College system to help ensure that a MP from the party’s left could not win.

GLU staff talked openly with each other about using the party’s resources to further the aims of their faction. The Director of the Unit John Stolliday described his work in GLU as “political fixing”, and described overhauling selections of parliamentary candidates and overturning CLP AGM results to help the right of the Party. Emilie Oldknow and GLU staff discussed keeping Angela Eagle MP’s CLP suspended, at Eagle’s request, in order to give her team more time to organise against left-wing members before the AGM. Staff also discussed organising NEC Youth Representative elections on a different election cycle to other NEC elections, to ensure a left-wing candidate would not win, and noted that this was signed off by GLU’s Director.

Staff applied the same factional approach to disciplinary processes. One staff member referred to Emilie Oldknow expecting staff to “fabricate a case” against people “she doesn’t like/her friends don’t like” because of their political views. During the 2015 leadership election GLU and other Labour staff described their work as “hunting out 1000s of trots” and a “Trot hunt”, which included excluding people for having “liked” the Greens on Facebook. One prominent GLU staffer, Head of Disputes Katherine Buckingham, admitted that “real work is piling up” while she and other staff were engaged in inappropriate factional work.

Factional loyalty also determined key recruitment decisions, including in GLU, where people were appointed to senior roles with few apparent relevant qualifications. This had a severe impact on the Party’s ability to build a functioning disciplinary process over the following years.

This section demonstrates that the party machine was controlled by one faction which worked against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and to advance the interests of their faction, and that LOTO did not have authority or influence over GLU or the party machinery more broadly. Factional work appears to have come at the expense of work the staff were being paid to do, including – as will become apparent in Sections 3–6 – building and maintaining a functioning complaints process.

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A helpful summary of some details contained in the report can be found at LabourList.org. Reprinted below are summaries of the actions taken with regard to some of the more prominent Labour activists who were wrongly suspended and dispelled during the witch hunt:

Jackie Walker

 

There is also a section on Walker, a party member who was first accused of antisemitism in 2016.

  • The report says it was decided in May 2016 that Walker had not breached party rules when expressing a belief that there was a “Jewish particularism” about antisemitism. It was recommended that her suspension should be lifted.
  • Walker then attended party conference as a member and made comments about Holocaust Memorial Day that attracted press attention.
  • The report asserts that Walker’s case was “deliberately delayed by GLU staff until Jennie Formby became general secretary, and then again by the NCC”.

Walker was ultimately expelled from the party in March 2019.

Moshe Machover

The report confirms that in the case of Moshe Machover, a Jewish academic who was auto-expelled rather than suspended by the party, LOTO actively raised concerns – as opposed to other cases where LOTO was approached by HQ.

It says that LOTO raised concerns with HQ about the auto-exclusion, which was later reversed. It concludes that the case was mishandled because, among other reasons, expertise was sought but not used.

The report says the Community Security Trust was consulted for the cases of both Walker and Machover, but this advice was not shared with LOTO, the NEC or the party staffer who made the decision to lift Walker’s suspension initially.

It says the “GLU could have subsequently brought disciplinary proceedings on the basis of antisemitism allegations [against Moche Machover] but chose not to.”

Chris Williamson

 

On the case of Chris Williamson, who had been a Labour MP, the report specifies that Corbyn-aligned general secretary Jennie Formby said in 2019 that he had brought the party into disrepute.

Formby told staffers that she had personally warned Williamson that it was “completely inappropriate for him as an elected MP to campaign with Labour Against the WitchHunt”.

Williamson was suspended and removed as a parliamentary candidate at the 2019 general election.

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Important update:

The original statement released by campaign group Labour Against the Witchhunt (which is maintained below) has since been replaced with a “Joint statement by Labour Against the Witchhunt and the Left Labour Alliance”.

The new statement reads:

We demand a full investigation into the witch-hunt and the election campaigns!

Now all disciplinary cases of the last five years must be reviewed!

As experienced activists in the Labour Party, we knew that the right in the party was plotting against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters from day one. We knew, because we were the victims of their wrongful suspensions, their expulsions and their public smears and lies, all based on the flimsiest of evidence.

The report ‘The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014 – 2019’,  produced in response to the investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, now gives us irrefutable proof of the plotting and outright sabotage committed against Corbyn and the hundreds of thousands who joined the party to fight for socialist and democratic change.

It is a crying shame that this report was produced only in the last days of Corbyn’s leadership. It is based upon primary evidence showing serious wrong-doing by senior party officials. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the left to radically transform the Labour Party and effect progressive change was ruined by the right in the party.

At the same time, supporters of Corbyn were vilified and slandered, their voices silenced and their votes nullified. Unfortunately, it appears that this was sometimes done with the knowledge and occasionally even with the participation of the Corbyn leadership, as in the expulsions of Jackie Walker and Chris Williamson.

Keir Starmer must ensure the immediate publication of the report and a full enquiry into the facts:

*** The report describes how “the pro-Corbyn left decisively won” at Brighton CLP’s annual general meeting (AGM) in July 2016. Afterwards, two high-ranking Labour officials discussed how to overturn the result: “I say act now and worry about [rules and legal issues] later, so long as we don’t do something that’ll end up f[***]ing everything else up.” Party officials then overturned the AGM’s decisions, the old executive was restored and the local party split into three separate CLPs. (p113)

*** Labour officials discussed how to continue the unlawful suspension of Wallasey CLP, where the left “are properly organised” – in order to save the local right-wing MP, Angela Eagle, from being challenged. (p114)

*** We read that, “in many cases party members at all levels request the suspension of another party member as a way of escalating or indeed resolving a dispute. There is a wrongly-held view that political opponents can be ‘taken out’ of a contest or stopped from attending meetings by making a complaint with the intention of achieving a suspension of that member.” (p533) Clearly, this is exactly what has been taking place, even as recently as during the March 2020 NEC by-election. Half a dozen of the candidates were suspended in the middle of the contest, before any investigation was launched.

*** Sam Matthews, then head of Disputes, was able to single-handedly suspend Glyn Secker (secretary of Jewish Voice for Labour) as recently as 2018 – the case was so weak that he had to be reinstated almost immediately: Following on from a report produced by the disgraced right-wing Corbyn critic David Collier into the Facebook group ‘Palestine Live’ (of which Corbyn was a member), “documentary evidence shows that it was only because James Schneider, Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesperson, urged [Sam] Matthews to take action, that the report was examined at all. Of all the examples of extreme antisemitism in the report, GLU picked Glyn Secker, even though the report did not contain allegations of antisemitic comments by Secker and the report stated ‘Glyn Secker has had minimal interaction on the site’.” (p428)

*** The ‘Disputes’ unit desperately looked for reasons to expel the prominent Israeli Jew Moshé  Machover. Because of his background, they found it difficult to charge him with racism: “The anti-Semitism stuff just clouds it in my view”. (p373) Instead, they decided to auto-expel him over his alleged membership of the “Communist Party of Great Britain Marxism-Leninism” (they got the wrong CPGB, incidentally) – but he was able to quickly disprove this claim. As party officials “found themselves inundated with emails about the case, including from Jewish socialist groups”, there was pressure to drop the case and rescind his expulsion. Many other, less prominent members, found it much more difficult to challenge their auto-expulsions.

*** We learn that despite some reforms under Jennie Formby, there are huge, ongoing problems with the way the party handles disciplinary cases. For example, the Governance and Legal unit uses a list of “investigatory search terms” to “vet” members, which includes words like ‘Atzmon’ and “a list of 57 (later 68) Labour MPs and their Twitter handles”. In other words, staff “initiate cases themselves by proactively investigating social media comments by Party members” (p17) to create a body of evidence where no basis for a case exists. The report also makes various positive references to Dave Rich from the Community Security Trust (CST), whose views are still being routinely sought as “expert opinion”. But the CST is not a neutral body – it is a pro-Israel charity, which the Tory government started funding in 2015 and has given at least 65 million pounds since.

*** Jackie Walker’s case was deliberately delayed by McNicol and his staff. They were determined to get rid of Tony Greenstein and Marc Wadsworth first in order to build a campaign to justify Jackie’s expulsion. However, the report also states that, “LOTO [Leader of the Opposition’s Office] wanted Walker to be suspended and had briefed the media to that effect”. (p366) In April 2018, “Jeremy Corbyn and Jennie Formby met with the Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council and the Community and Security Trust” and agreed to their demand that “the Party should expedite Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker’s cases. LOTO and Jennie Formby agreed”. The report quotes questionable evidence by Dave Rich, which implies that Jackie’s views are similar to those of Louis Farrakhan, but omits evidence given by black Jewish Professor Lewis Gordon, a world-leading academic on Jewish/black relations, which contradicts every claim by Dave Rich and supports Jackie’s case.

*** In the case of Chris Williamson, it appears that Jennie Formby was the one driving his expulsion. The report approvingly quotes her long chart sheet against him: “Several of these [complaints], if taken as an isolated incident, may have resulted in no action. However, taken together they add up to a pattern of behaviour that is not only reckless, it has brought the party into disrepute. I would also add that I personally spoke with Chris only two weeks ago and asked him to stop aligning himself with Labour Against the Witchhunt and speaking about antisemitism in the way that he is, because as an MP he does not have the privilege of behaving in the same way as an ordinary lay member does.” (p826)

These examples show just how futile it was of Corbyn and his allies to try and appease the right by going along with some of these injustices – when they should have taken them on in a decisive manner. There can be no compromise, no unity with those who would rather sabotage our party than see a radical Labour movement.

We demand that:

  • Keir Starmer must officially publish this report and condemn the campaign to undermine and sabotage Jeremy Corbyn and the left.
  • All disciplinary cases processed during the last five years have to be overturned, pending unbiased re-examination.
  • We urgently need a radical overhaul of the party’s disciplinary system. Disciplinary procedures should be carried out in accordance with the principles of natural justice, and be time-limited: charges not resolved within three months should be automatically dropped. An accused member should be given all the evidence submitted against them and be regarded as innocent until proven guilty. Those aspects of the Chakrabati report must finally be implemented.
  • All those mentioned in the document who took part in this sabotage and who are still in their post must be immediately investigated for gross misconduct. That must include Emilie Oldknow (Executive Director for Governance, Membership and Party Services), who is being touted as Keir Starmer’s preferred choice as new general secretary and who is shown to have actively taken part in the witch-hunt against Corbyn and his supporters.
  • All those involved who have jumped ship and now enjoy well-paid positions in different companies must be named and shamed. They include:
    • Iain McNicol, formerly General Secretary, now a member of the House of Lords
    • Sam Matthews, formerly head of Disputes
    • John Stolliday, formerly Director of the Governance and Legal Unit

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Here is the initial statement released by campaign group Labour Against the Witchhunt:

The 860-page report concluded factional hostility towards Jeremy Corbyn amongst former senior officials contributed to “a litany of mistakes” that hindered the effective handling of the issue.

The investigation, which was completed in the last month of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, claims to have found “no evidence” of antisemitism complaints being treated differently to other forms of complaint, or of current or former staff being “motivated by antisemitic intent”.

The examples from chat archives published in the document include:

– Conversations in 2017 which appear to show senior staff preparing for Tom Watson to become interim leader in anticipation of Jeremy Corbyn losing the election
– Conversations which it is claimed show senior staff hid information from the leader’s office about digital spending and contact details for MPs and candidates during the election
– Conversations on election night in which the members of the group talk about the need to hide their disappointment that Mr. Corbyn had done better than expected and would be unlikely to resign
– A discussion about whether the grassroots activist network Momentum could be ‘proscribed’ for being a ‘party within a party’
– A discussion about ‘unsuspending’ a former Labour MP who was critical of Jeremy Corbyn so they could stand as a candidate in the 2017 election
– A discussion about how to prevent corbyn-ally Rebecca Long-Bailey gaining a seat on the party’s governing body in 2017
– Regular references to corbyn-supporting party staff as “trots”
– Conversations between senior staff in Lord McNicol’s office in which they refer to former director of communications Seamus Milnes as “dracula”, and saying he was “spiteful and evil and we should make sure he is never allowed in our Party if it’s last thing we do”
– Conversations in which the same group refers to Mr. Corbyn’s former chief of staff Karie Murphy as “medusa”, a “crazy woman” and a “bitch face cow” that would “make a good dartboard”
– A discussion in which one of the group members expresses their “hope” that a young pro-Corbyn Labour activist, who they acknowledge had mental health problems, “dies in a fire”

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Update:

With the honourable exception of Sky News which reported on this story from the beginning, most other media outlets have shown incredible reluctance to even acknowledge the leak of this very serious document. When the BBC did quietly publish an article the following day [Monday 13th], it appeared on the ‘politics’ page of their website and tucked away as a secondary item.

But there is more to consider about the BBC piece, which I would say is even titled in deliberately confusing way as: “Opposition to Corbyn ‘hindered’ anti-Semitism action”. Reading this the first time, one wonders, who is ‘hindered’? And why the quotation marks?

It gets much worse, however, before we reach the unashamedly politicised ending. Having failed to reference a single iota of the main content regarding the machinations against Corbyn by Labour HQ, or to offer much insight into the kind of chicanery which ranged from the misallocation of funds to instances of actual bullying, the piece abruptly concludes as follows:

Ongoing row

Labour has been plagued with allegations since 2016.

Mr Corbyn held an internal investigation early on in his tenure, but it was widely criticised by Jewish members of the party, with a number – including MPs – leaving over his handling of the row.

The party’s new leader, Sir Keir Starmer, has apologised to the Jewish community for the ongoing issue.

He has been praised by leaders for “achieving more in four days” than Mr Corbyn did “in four years” on tackling anti-Semitism.

Any excuse, of course, to raise the spectre of Labour as an incurably anti-Semitic party, but in this context the same allegation is repurposed in order to sideline the report itself, presenting it merely as a ploy that in turn is intended to divert attention from the more fundamental issue of Labour’s deep-seated racism. In short, this article is actually a textbook example of the kind of devious meta-reporting which the BBC now unfortunately excels in.

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Novara Media seems to be providing the most detailed scrutiny of the report I have come across so far, and Monday’s Tyskie Sour show includes an interview with founder of Momentum Jon Lansman.

However, I have paused the video to begin at an earlier point where we learn that members of Labour HQ actively conspired with C4 News reporter Michael Crick in attempts to bully Diane Abbott. This incident apparently happened after Abbott had broken down in tears in the aftermath of receiving really disgusting racist abuse:

I would also recommend reading Aaron Bastini’s own initial response to the leak, which is entitled “‘It’s going to be a long night’ – How members of Labour’s senior Management Team Campaigned to Lose”. It includes the following revelation:

“It’s going to be a long night” was the reaction of the party’s general secretary [Iain McNicol], after Labour had deprived the Tories of a governing majority and seen their highest share of the popular vote in twenty years. While an outrageous comment, given McNicol’s elevated status within the party, it is perhaps outdone by Julie Lawrence – former director of the general secretary’s office – who appears to have actively feared Labour entering government. Meanwhile, Emily Oldknow, now assistant General Secretary at UNISON, apparently saw a silver lining, saying: “at least we have loads of money now”.

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solidarity with Julian Assange on the eve of his extradition hearing: journalism is not a crime

“The broad and vague nature of the allegations against Julian Assange, and of the offences listed in the indictment, are troubling, as many of them concern activities at the core of investigative journalism in Europe and beyond. Consequently, allowing Julian Assange’s extradition on this basis would have a chilling effect on media freedom, and could ultimately hamper the press in performing its task as purveyor of information and public watchdog in democratic societies.”

— Dunja Mijatović, Commissioner for Human Rights for the Council of Europe.

“Will the Prime Minister agree with the Parliamentary report that’s going to the Council of Europe that this extradition should be opposed and the rights of journalists and whistleblowers upheld for the good of all of us?”

— Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Opposition in response to Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the House of Commons.

“I think this is one of the most important and significant political trials of this generation, in fact, longer. I think it is the Dreyfus case of our age, the way in which a person is being persecuted for political reasons for simply exposing the truth of what went on in relation to recent wars.”

— John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor.

“When we speak about dictatorships, we call this brainwashing: the conquest of minds. It is a truth we rarely apply to our own societies, regardless of the trail of blood that leads back to us and which never dries.

WikiLeaks has exposed this. That is why Assange is in a maximum security prison in London facing concocted political charges in America, and why he has shamed so many of those paid to keep the record straight. Watch these journalists now look for cover as it dawns on them that the American fascists who have come for Assange may come for them, not least those on the Guardian who collaborated with WikiLeaks and won prizes and secured lucrative book and Hollywood deals based on his work, before turning on him.”

— John Pilger from a recent article entitled Julian Assange Must Be Freed, Not Betrayed.

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Australian citizen Julian Assange’s extradition hearing is set to start at Belmarsh Prison, London, on Monday 24th February.

The United States government wants to extradite the journalist and whistleblower to face charges under the Espionage Act for conspiracy to receive, obtain and disclose classified information. Much of the prosecution’s case relates to files released that exposed crimes committed by the US in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and which Australia was, and is, a willing participant.

Below is a list of the protests being organised in Australia, USA and Britain.

Friday 21st February
Darwin:
Parliament House, 11am
Melbourne: State Library, 6.30pm

Saturday 22nd February
London: Australia House, 71 Aldwych WC2B 4HN at11:30am, march 12:30pm to Parliament Square

Sunday 23rd February
Perth:
US Consulate, 3pm

1st Week of Assange’s Hearing: Monday 24th February

Australia

Adelaide: Parliament steps, 5pm
Brisbane: British Consulate, 100 Eagle Street, 12pm
Hobart: Parliament Lawns, 12.30pm
Nowra: 59 Junction St (Cnr Berry Street), 12pm
Melbourne: British Consulate, 10am-5pm
Sydney: Martin Place Amphitheatre, 12pm

USA

New York City: Global Protest at the UK Consulate in NYC to mark the beginning of Julian Assange’s full extradition hearing on February 24th.

Britain

HMP Belmarsh: Protest in front of Belmarsh Prison each day of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing, February 24-28th

Protests commence at 9:30am

HMP Belmarsh
4 Belmarsh Road
Thameshead,
London SE28 OHA

For a list of the global events visit FreeAssangeGlobalProtest on Facebook.

Click here to find upcoming events on the Defend Wikileaks website.

And here for further information and resources from DontExtraditeAssange.com

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‘Even with Corbyn gone, antisemitism threats will keep destroying the UK Labour Party’ | Jonathan Cook

Although I try to make it a rule not to reprint extended articles in full, when a journalist or political commentator covers an issue of vital importance I do occasionally make an exception. With the Labour leadership election already in full swing, Jonathan Cook’s latest essay needs to receive the widest audience. His three lessons (beneath the subheading) on how the antisemitism crisis was manufactured and why it succeeded are essential reading for left-wing activists within the Labour Party and beyond.

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If there is one issue that denotes the terminal decline of Labour as a force for change – desperately needed social, economic and environmental change – it is not Brexit. It is the constant furore over an “antisemitism crisis” supposedly plaguing the party for the past five years.

The imminent departure of Jeremy Corbyn as leader will not end the damage that has been done to Labour by such claims. Soon Brexit will become a messy fait accompli. But the shadow of Labour’s so-called “antisemitism problem” will loom over it darkly for the foreseeable future, making sure that Corbyn’s successor dare not incur the same steep price for pursuing a radical political programme. The fear of being smeared as an antisemite will lead, as it was meant to do, to political and economic timidity from whoever takes on the mantle of leader.

In fact, as we shall examine in detail in a moment, the candidates for the Labour leadership are demonstrating just how cowed they already are. But first let’s recap on how we got to the current situation.

Led into a trap

Personifying the political paranoia that now grips Labour is the party’s one-time wunderkind, Owen Jones – possibly the only early champion of Corbyn in the corporate media. He used his Guardian column to fight back against the first wave of slurs – that Corbyn was unpatriotic, unstatesmanlike, a former Soviet spy, and so on.

But then, as the smears failed to inflict significant damage on Corbyn, a second line of attack was pursued. It claimed that Corbyn’s lifelong and very prominent activism as an anti-racist was in fact a cover story. Depending on who was spinning the narrative, Corbyn was either a secret Jew hater or a man who endlessly indulged antisemitism within his inner circle and in the wider party. Jones’ colleagues at the Guardian joined the rest of the corporate media mob in baying for Corbyn’s blood. Long wedded to a rigid form of identity politics, Jones was soon publicly wavering in his support for Corbyn. Then, as an election neared in 2017, he abandoned him entirely.

Unfortunately for the corporate media, the election result did not follow their shared predictions. Far from presiding over an unprecedented electoral disaster, Corbyn came within a hair’s breadth of overturning the Tory parliamentary majority. He also increased the party’s share of the vote by the largest margin of any post-war Labour leader. Jones changed his tune once again, promising to be more wary of the group-think of his corporate media colleagues. Of course, his new-found resolution soon crumbled.

Like a mouse chasing the scent of cheese, Jones headed into the trap set for him. He refused to accuse Corbyn himself of antisemitism, unlike many of his colleagues. Instead he gave his blessing each time a Labour activist was targeted as an antisemite – oftentimes, over their support for Palestinian rights.

Forced onto the back foot

As the media attacks on Labour for supposedly welcoming antisemites into the party’s ranks intensified (flying in the face of all the evidence), Jones acquiesced – either actively or through his silence – in the resulting wave of suspensions and expulsions, even of Jewish members who were hounded out for being too critical of Israel. Jones’ hands may have looked personally clean but he acted as lookout for those, like Labour MP Jess Phillips, who were determined to carry out their promise to “knife Corbyn in the front”.

Undoubtedly, the polarised debate about Brexit – and the increasingly unhinged atmosphere it produced – was the main reason Corbyn crashed in December’s election. But the confected “antisemitism row” played a very significant supporting role. The disastrous consequences of that row are still very much being felt, as Labour prepares to find a new leader.

The issue of antisemitism was probably not much of a priority for most voters, especially when the examples cited so often seemed to be about a state, Israel, rather than Jews. Nonetheless, the smears against Corbyn gradually undermined him, even among supporters.

As has been noted here and elsewhere, the antisemitism furore served chiefly as a shadow war that obscured much deeper, internal ideological divisions. Polarisation over whether Labour was convulsed by antisemitism concealed the real struggle, which was over where the party should head next and who should lead it there.

The party’s Blairite faction – supporters of the former centrist leader Tony Blair – knew that they could not win a straight fight on ideological issues against Corbyn and the hundreds of thousands of members who supported him. The Blairites’ middle-of-the-road, status-quo-embracing triangulation now found little favour with voters. But the Blairites could discredit and weaken Corbyn by highlighting an “antisemitism crisis” he had supposedly provoked in Labour by promoting Palestinian rights and refusing to cheerlead Israel, as the Blairites had always done. Identity politics, the Blairites quickly concluded, was the ground that they could weaponise against him.

As a result, Corbyn was forced endlessly on to the back foot, unable to advance popular leftwing policies because the antisemitism smears sucked all oxygen out of the room. Think of Corbyn’s interview with Andrew Neil shortly before the December election. Not only did Corbyn not get a chance to explain the party’s progressive platform to floating voters, but much worse he was forced into abandoning the very personal traits – openness, honesty, modesty – that had made him unexpectedly popular in the 2017 election. Accusations of antisemitism – like those of being a wife-beater – are impossible to face down in TV soundbites. Corbyn was left looking evasive, shifty and out of touch.

Caught in a vicious spiral

These confrontations over an “antisemitism problem” in Labour – repeated every time Corbyn gave an interview – also helped to make him look feeble. It was a winning formula: his constant apologies for a supposed “plague of antisemitism” in Labour (for which there was no evidence) suggested to voters that Corbyn was incapable of exercising control over his party. If he failed in this simple task, they concluded, how could he be trusted to deal with the complexities of running a country?

The smears isolated him within Labour too. His few prominent allies on the left, such as Ken Livingstone and Chris Williamson, were improbably picked off as anti-semites, while others went to ground for fear of being attacked too. It was this isolation that forced Corbyn to make constant and damaging compromises with the Blairites, such as agreeing to a second referendum on Brexit. And in a vicious spiral, the more he compromised, the more he looked weak, the more his polling numbers fell, the more he compromised.

All of this was happening in plain view. If the rest of us could see it, so could Owen Jones. And so, of course, could those who are now standing for election to become the next leader of the Labour party. All of them learnt the lessons they were supposed to draw from the party’s “antisemitism crisis”.

Three lessons

Lesson one: Some crises can be engineered without the need for evidence. And smears can be much more damaging than facts – at least, when the corporate media builds a consensus around them – because the fightback cannot be won or lost on the battlefield of evidence. Indeed, facts become irrelevant. It is about who has the biggest and best battalion of propagandists. And the simple truth is that the billionaires who own the corporate media can buy the most skilled propagandists and can buy the largest platforms to spread their misinformation.

Lesson two: Even if antisemitism is of peripheral interest to most voters – especially when the allegations concern contested “tropes”, often about Israel rather than Jews – claims of antisemitism can still inflict serious damage on a party and its leader. Voters judge a party leader on how they respond to such accusations, especially if they are made to look weak or untrustworthy. And as there is no good way to face down wall-to-wall accusations of antisemitism from the media, however confected, it is wise not to get drawn into this particular, unwinnable fight.

Lesson three: The British ruling class does not especially care about antisemitism, or any other form of racism. The establishment uses its power to uphold class privilege, not to promote equality, after all. But that does not mean it has no interest in antisemitism. As with its support for a more general identity politics, the ruling class knows that antisemitism has instrumental uses – it can be exploited to manipulate public discourse and deflect ordinary people from a powerful class struggle into divisive identity and culture wars. Therefore, any Labour leader who wants to engage in the politics of class struggle – a struggle against the billionaire class – is going to face not a fair fight on the terrain of their choosing but a dirty war on the terrain chosen by the billionaires.

The Board’s 10 diktats

Labour’s leadership challengers learnt those lessons so well because they watched for five years as Corbyn sank ever further into the mire of the antisemitism smears. So when the deeply Conservative (with a capital C) Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) issued a diktat to the candidates last month veiled as “10 Pledges to End the Antisemitism Crisis” they all hurried to sign up, without bothering to read the small print.

The Board’s 10 points were effectively its red lines. Overstep the mark on any one of them, the Board warned the leadership contestants, and we will lend our considerable credibility to a corporate media campaign to smear you and the party as anti-semitic. You will become Corbyn Mark II, and face the same fate.

The 10 demands have one purpose only. Once accepted, and all the candidates have accepted them, the pledges ensure that the Board – and what it defines as the Jewish community’s “main representative groups” – will enjoy an exclusive and incontestable right to decide what is antisemitic, as well as who is allowed to remain in the Labour party and who must be removed.

The pledges create a division of labour between the Board and the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), a small faction in Labour of Jews and non-Jews who are vocal advocates for Israel. First, the Board stands surety, supposedly on behalf of Britain’s Jews, for the credibility of the highly controversial redefinition of antisemitism proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Seven of its 11 examples of antisemitism refer to Israel, not hatred of Jews. Then, the JLM’s task is to enforce the IHRA definition, identifying which party members are antisemites and determining their fate: either contrition and re-education or expulsion.

Judge and jury

The 10 Pledges are actually part of a campaign by Jewish leadership groups like the Board to pervert a well-established principle regulating investigations into racism. The Board and JLM have regularly cited the so-called Macpherson principle, derived from a judicial inquiry into the failings in the 1990s of an institutionally racist British police force as it investigated the murder of a black teenager, Stephen Lawrence.

The Guardian has been among those peddling the Board and the JLM’s mischievous reinterpretation of that principle to suggest that an incident is defined as racist if the victim perceives it to be racist. Therefore, Jews – or in this case, “representative” Jewish organisations like the Board – get to decide exclusively whether Labour has an antisemitism problem and how it manifests itself – for example, by criticising Israel.

Except that is not what Sir William Macpherson decided at all. His principle was simply that institutions like the police were under an obligation to investigate incidents as racist in nature if that is what the victim believed them to be. In other words, Macpherson called on institutions to listen to victims and to take account of the victims’ interpretation of an event.

Very obviously, he did not argue that anyone accused of racism was guilty of it, or that anyone making an accusation of racism must be believed. The accusation had to be investigated on the assumption of racism until the evidence proved whether the accusation was true or not, and whether or not it was motivated by racism.

Further, while the Macpherson principle called for the victim to be given a fair hearing about how they perceived an incident, the Board and the JLM do not want simply to be heard. The 10 Pledges demand that these organisations alone decide what is antisemitism and who is guilty – that they act as judge and jury.

And not only that.

The Board and the JLM also demand an exclusive prerogative to define antisemitism as a new kind of racism – almost unheard of a decade or more ago – that may have nothing to do with hatred or fear of Jews, as it was once defined. The Board and the JLM insist Labour adopt a patently ridiculous – and overtly antisemitic – position that treats many kinds of criticism of Israel as antisemitic because, they argue, Israel represents all Jews. An attack on Israel therefore amounts to an attack on Jews and their identity. (The Board’s argument is itself antisemitic because it requires us to hold all Jews, not just the Israeli government, responsible for Israel’s actions, including its documented war crimes against Palestinians.)

Circular proof

But the problem with the 10 Pledges runs deeper still. The intended effect of the pledges in their entirety is to create a circular, self-reinforcing proof of antisemitism against anyone who dares to disagree with the Board and the JLM. In other times, such circular proofs have been identified for what they are: as witch-hunts and McCarthyism.

The Board not only intends to silence any non-Jews who disagree with its views on antisemitism and Israel, but it also insists on denying a voice to any Jews or Jewish organisations that disagree with it. According to Pledge 8, all Jewish “fringe organisations and individuals” are denied any say on what constitutes antisemitism. Why are they “fringe”? Because they disagree with the Board of Deputies’ definition of antisemitism.

Several writers have noted that the Board’s claim to be “representative” of the “Jewish community” is entirely bogus. It can claim only to be representative of those parts of the 280,000-strong Jewish community it seeks to represent. That amounts to no more than the 56 per cent of Jewish households who belong to a synagogue. These are the most conservative elements of a wider Jewish community. Surveys show that for many years, and long before Corbyn became leader, the vast majority of this section of the Jewish community – those the Board represents – vote for the Conservative party in elections. They also identify very strongly with Israel – and seemingly whatever its does in terms of violating Palestinian rights.

The Board’s very function is to sideline the 44 per cent of Jews it does not represent – including secular, socialist and anti-Zionist Jews – as not really belonging to the “Jewish community”. It thereby silences their views. As Jo Sutton-Klein observes, “While the [Jewish organisational] establishment can’t un-Jewish any person or community, they can invalidate their Jewishness if they decide that their opinions are no longer kosher.” That is precisely what the Board has sought to achieve with its 10 Pledges.

But if the Board’s representative status is highly doubtful, the Jewish Labour Movement’s is even more so. In fact, there is plenty of evidence – including from a 2017 documentary filmed by an undercover reporter for Al Jazeera – that the JLM was a dormant organisation until 2015. As an investigation by journalist Asa Winstanley discovered, it was refounded specifically to bring down Corbyn shortly after he won the leadership election. The JLM was apparently afraid of what Corbyn’s support for the Palestinians might entail for Israel. While claiming to represent Jewish interests in the Labour party, it excludes from membership any Jews that are not Zionist – that is, enthusiastic supporters of Israel.

That should not be surprising. The JLM was originally an ideological offshoot of the Israeli Labour party, which oversaw the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland in 1948, launched the first settlements in the territories it occupied in 1967, and created a system of severe institutionalised racial discrimination against Israel’s large non-Jewish population, its Palestinian citizens. Despite proclaiming its leftwing credentials, the JLM’s ideological outlook closely mirrors the ethnic supremacist worldview of the Israeli Labour Party.

The JLM lacks transparency, but most estimates are that its membership numbers are in triple digits, even after it has allowed non-Jews and non-Labour members to join.

‘Wrong kind of Jew’

In fact, there is no reason to believe the JLM is any less fringe – and probably more so – than Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), a group of Jewish Labour party members who created the organisation to support Corbyn and counter the JLM’s claims that it spoke for Jews in the Labour party.

As I have pointed out many times before, the Board’s position that it alone gets to decide which Jews count is not only deeply ugly but also antisemitic. It dismisses a whole swath of the Jewish community as the “wrong kind of Jews”; it treats their views on the racism they face as of no value; and it strips them of any agency inside the Labour party, leaving the field clear to the JLM. Instead of a necessary dialogue within the Jewish community about what antisemitism means, the Board confers on itself the right to oppress and silence other groups of Jews who disagree with it.

There are two main reasons why the Board wishes to turn these so-called “fringe” groups into outcasts, into political pariahs. First, their very existence reminds us that this is a highly contested political debate, and one taking place inside the Jewish community, about what Jewish identity is and whether Israel has a place in that identity. But at the same time, the existence of socialist Jewish groups like Jewish Voice for Labour also disrupts a narrative jointly promoted by the Board, the JLM and Labour’s Blairite faction to discredit the radical social and economic programmes of the left by entwining them with allegations of antisemitism. Severe criticism of neoliberalism, it is implied, is of a piece with severe criticism of Israel. Both are evidence of antisemitism.

The weaponising by the Board and the JLM of the Macpherson principle is easily exposed. This month Labour suspended Jo Bird reportedly over allegations of antisemitism. Bird, who is openly anti-Zionist and on the left wing of the party, had been the only Jewish candidate contesting Labour’s National Executive Committee elections. She is the latest prominent left-wing Jewish party member to have been targeted as an antisemite both for strongly criticising Israel and for challenging the Board and the JLM’s right to speak for all British Jews.

How obscene this all is may be easier to grasp if we do a small thought experiment. Imagine for a moment that a small group of black Labour party activists insist on the expulsion of other black party members as racists for their opposition to an African state accused of war crimes. Would we be comfortable with a largely white Labour party bureaucracy adjudicating as a matter of racism on what is clearly an ideological and political dispute within the black community? Would we want to condone one black group stigmatising another group as racists to silence its political arguments? And would we be happy to expel as racists white Labour party members who sided with one black group against the other in a political debate about an oppressive state?

With the witchfinders

Which brings us back to Owen Jones. Last week Asa Winstanley – the investigative reporter who has done more than anyone to expose what really lies behind the antisemitism smear campaign against Corbyn – resigned from the Labour Party. Like Jo Bird, he has found himself in hot water for questioning the antisemitism narrative promoted by the Board and the JLM. He wrote that he had given up any hope of a fair hearing from party officials who say his journalism championing justice for Palestinians and challenging the Israel lobby’s role in the Labour party amounts to antisemitism.

Jones, as ever, stood squarely with the witchfinders against Winstanley. He argued, as he has done many times before, that is possible both to fight for Palestinian rights and to fight against antisemitism.

Except Jones is plainly wrong – so long as we accede, as he has done, to the Board and the JLM’s demand that anyone who goes further than the most softball criticism of Israel must be defined either as an antisemite, like Winstanley, or as the ‘wrong kind of Jew’, like Bird.

If we are only allowed to gently chide Israel in ways that cannot meaningfully advance Palestinian rights, if we are prevented from discussing the strategies of staunchly pro-Israel lobbyists to silence Israel’s critics, if we are denied the right to push for an international boycott of Israel of the kind that helped blacks in South Africa end their own oppression, then nothing is going to change for the Palestinians. If those are the unreasonable terms imposed on us by the Board, the JLM and Owen Jones, then no, we cannot do both. We must choose.

The truth is that the support Owen Jones offers Palestinians is worthless. It is no more than virtue signalling – because it is immediately negated by his support for bodies like the JLM that actively terrorise party members, including Jewish members, into silence on crucial debates about Palestinian rights and about how we might deter Israel in future.

The reality is that, if Jewish organisations like the Board and the JLM choose to put the Israeli state as it currently exists at the very heart of their Jewish identity and make proper scrutiny of it off-limits, then they have also chosen to make themselves complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people, made themselves opponents of peace in the Middle East, and have abetted in the erosion of international law. And if we side with them, then we become complicit too.

Click here to read the original article as it was posted on Jonathan Cook’s official blog.

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Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

Click here to read the same article published by Counterpunch.

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no war with Iran: protests taking place across the country

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The following statement from Stop the War Coalition was recieved today:

The assassination of Qasem Soleimani last week has made the world a more dangerous place. That is the only conclusion we can draw from the further threats by Donald Trump to attack Iranian sites, including cultural ones, and now the retaliation by Iran with missile strikes on US bases. We do not know what further escalation there may be but we do know that any war in the Middle East will have a deadly impact on the ordinary people there.

Trump’s behaviour has frightened even many of those close to him, but it is clear from the response of Boris Johnson that the British government is also terrified of offending Trump. We can therefore expect Johnson to follow the line, as when he justified keeping British troops in Iraq.

The demonstration in London on Saturday, which is co-organised by CND, and those taking place across the country are vital in rejecting our government’s policy and in asserting opposition to yet another disastrous intervention in the Middle East

We must do everything we can to oppose war with Iran and attacks on Iraq. This begins with a public meeting tonight (8th Jan) in London and a demonstration on Saturday.

On Saturday, we are marching from the BBC (Portland Place) to Trafalgar Square where the demonstration will be addressed by a wide range of speakers including Stop the War President Brian Eno and Joe Glenton from Veterans for Peace alongside Iranian and Iraqi speakers as well as notable Labour Party figures including Diane Abbott. Please do everything you can to get along to the demonstration and spread the word amongst family, friends and colleagues.

We also need volunteers to help out with stewarding and facilitating the demo. If you can help please email office@stopwar.org.uk as soon as possible.

Here is a list of protests and events taking place across the UK:
·  08 Jan | Cardiff | No War with Iran!
·  09 Jan | Birmingham | No War With Iran, US/UK Troops Out Of Iraq – Protest
·  09 Jan | Edinburgh | No to War on Iran Vigil
·  11 Jan | Chesterfield | No War on Iran
·  11 Jan | Manchester | No War with Iran
·  11 Jan | Newcastle | Don’t Attack Iran Rally
·  11 Jan | Liverpool | Don’t Attack Iran
·  11 Jan |Bristol | Don’t Attack Iran: Protest at Donald Trump’s Act of War
·  11 Jan | Sheffield | No War With Iran
·  12 Jan | Bradford | No War with Iran – Demonstration
·  18 Jan | Swansea | Don’t Attack Iran: Protest at Donald Trump’s Act of War
·  18 Jan | Canterbury | No War on Iran
·  19 Jan | Warrington | No War With Iran

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Update:

We are pleased to announce that our former Chair and leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, will be speaking at the ‘No War on Iran’ demonstration taking place this Saturday in Central London. He has been steadfast in his condemnation of Donald Trump’s assassination of Qasem Soleimani and US aggression towards Iran more widely, as he has been for the past decade and more.

The demonstration in London on Saturday, which is co-organised by CND, and those taking place across the country are vital in rejecting our government’s policy and in asserting opposition to yet another disastrous intervention in the Middle East. Please do everything you can to get along to the demonstration and spread the word amongst family, friends and colleagues.

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Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at London’s ‘No War on Iran’ rally:

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no war with Iran: call for action from Stop the War Coalition

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Stop the War is asking all its members and supporters to step up organising now against the threat of war on Iran.

As Lindsey German’s statement says, the drone attack that killed Qassem Soleimani is an act of war by Donald Trump which risks creating a cycle of violence.  Both Iran and Iraq are likely to retaliate and it will draw in other players across the region and beyond.

The anti-war movement needs to respond strongly and quickly. In London we have called a protest outside Downing Street at 2-3pm tomorrow (Saturday).

We are asking our groups, members and supporters to help in the following ways:

– Organise protest where you are.
– Use the statement signed by Jeremy Corbyn as the basis for a petition in your workplace, university and community.
– Pass resolutions against war with Iran in your union branch, Labour Party or student union.
– Organise a public meeting locally or invite a Stop the War speaker to your union, campaign group of Labour Party branch.

Don’t hesitate to e-mail us or phone if you need advice or help.
Phone 020 7561 4830 office hours or 07930 536 519 otherwise.
Email office@stopwar.org.uk

The statement is here:

The US assassination of Qasem Soleimani is an extremely serious and dangerous escalation of conflict with global significance. The UK government should urge restraint on the part of both Iran and the US, and stand up to the belligerent actions and rhetoric coming from the US.

Jeremy Corbyn MP

Update:

We must do everything we can to oppose war with Iran and attacks on Iraq.

This begins with a public meeting in London on Wednesday and a demonstration on Saturday.

Other protests and events will be taking place across the country and you can stay notified of them on our events page here.

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yesterday’s election was a (predictable) horror show for Labour, so what next?

If you really want to understand how Labour lost yesterday’s election so badly I strongly recommend watching this. It covers all of the deeper reasons without fear or prejudice:

Jeremy Corbyn was by no means fully responsible for yesterday’s disaster and John McDonnell is greatly more to blame. As Patrick Henningsen summed up on Friday’s UK Column News (embedded above – the remarks are about 14 mins in) after Corbyn had been softened up with relentless body blows in coordinated efforts to weaken him – the nonsensical smears that tarred him as antisemitic combined with establishment lies that made him out to be a Kremlin dupe and a security threat – then, having been backed into a corner, he was browbeaten to reverse the party’s stance on Brexit with the manifesto pledge of a second referendum. This would be the coup de grâce.

Had Corbyn instead been allowed to honour the referendum result (as Labour did in 2017), and had Labour’s manifesto offered the deal previously secured when they had talks with May (a plan that Stephen Kinnock proposed and backed), or even to renegotiate a deal with Brussels, then the election horror show would certainly have been avoided. Indeed, it is not at all inconceivable that fighting the election on his otherwise very popular anti-austerity, pro-nationalisation, “for the many” platform, Corbyn could have beaten Johnson and secured an overall majority. After all, what did Johnson bring to the table except for his vague, unreliable, but extremely jingoistic, populist pledge to “Get Brexit Done”.

Some commentators on the left continue to suggest that Corbyn might have done better to campaign for remain whereas the likelihood is that Labour would have tanked as badly or worse (just ask Jo Swinson). Such an alternative strategy would also have lost the Labour heartlands. In fact, drawing any equivalence between leave and remain positions in this regard is really just the last vestige of wishful thinking from diehard remainers to whom I make this modest proposal: please wake up and take the ideological blinkers off.

Moreover, everyone who pushed for Corbyn and Labour to frustrate Brexit in the months prior with the overarching aim of forcing a second referendum (a vote that would have settled nothing in any case) inadvertently (or not in the case of some Blairites) helped Boris Johnson sweep to victory. Sorry, but that’s the truth folks and I take no pleasure in saying it.

What now? We are about to enter an historically dangerous period. The forces of unrestrained neoliberalism are ready to be unleashed. They will deeply harm millions of the very people who voted to put Johnson into power. In response there will be growing numbers amongst the poorest strata of our society becoming radicalised to turn harder to the right. This lurch rightward is now much harder to stop because although Johnson will certainly betray them, they will feel still more embittered by Labour’s betrayal over Brexit. These are desperate and dark days.

What must Labour do? Stand firm. The media is already trying to rewrite the narrative. They will be determined as far as possible to shift the blame from Labour’s Brexit shambles and on to Corbyn and his very progressive reshaping of Labour’s policies. Hopefully Labour members will not be fooled. Neither must we be hoodwinked into believing a centrist like Jess Phillips or Kier Starmer (both immediately touted to be Corbyn’s successor) or, more feasibly, a compromise candidate such as Emily Thornberry or Barry Gardiner, might help to realign the party to make it electable. In the event Labour will continue to atrophy, shedding more and more of its working class base who more than ever will feel disenfranchised by mainstream politics. Tommy Robinson is still waiting in the wings.

I have written these words in haste and with a certain agitation constantly driving my thoughts. For the sake of timeliness I will forgo the usual attempts at editing it into better shape. It is not my intention to rile those who broadly share my own politics but to speak plainly about the situation we suddenly find ourselves in so that we can hold firm in pursuit of a kinder, fairer and more just future for all.

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Update:

On BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show [Sunday 15th] John McDonnell cited Labour’s muddled policy on Brexit as the foremost reason for Labour’s defeat. He also put the blame squarely on four-years of relentless mainstream media bias saying:

Let’s have the debate about the nature of our politics, the nature of the reportage of our politics, and I think the way they treat individuals. Because it wasn’t just Jeremy, they did the same to Ed Miliband, they did the same to Neil Kinnock.

Andrew Marr interrupts: So you don’t think it’s anything to do with the actual characters at the top of the Labour Party?

McDonnell replies: I think it’s anyone who challenges the establishment will be portrayed in this way. Why? The establishment own the media in this country. [from 5:40 mins]

Click here to watch the same interview on BBC iplayer.

On Monday evening [Dec 16th] Novara Media straightforwardly asked the question “What went wrong?” The discussion between host Michael Walker; NM co-founder, Aaron Bastani; and Huda Elmi, a Constituency Labour Party representative on Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) and a regional board member of West Midland’s Labour; was a little bit of a slow burner and so we have to wait about 15 mins for the other shoe to drop. I have embedded the video to start around the time when they more candidly speak about the real causes of Labour’s electoral failure:

Huda Elmi: This election essentially was a de facto second referendum in my view. [17:05 min]

Aaron Bastani: “My one regret is I caved on a second referendum basically after the European elections. I should have stuck to my guns and said ‘It’s a f–king daft idea.’

Why? Two-thirds of Labour seats were ‘leave’ voting. Two-thirds of Labour target seats voted ‘leave’. So of course, 65 percent of the Labour vote voted ‘remain’, but we know because of the way first-past-the-post works 400 seats voted ‘leave’. You don’t want to be in a situation like Hillary Clinton, where you win the popular vote but it’s all concentrated in certain areas. And so there’s where I think Brexit was the major issue.

Look that shouldn’t be controversial. There’s I think about 100 new Tory MPs. There’s an article on Conservative Home listing them. Go, read that article, get their names, put those names into Facebook, look at the Facebook pages for their campaigns: all of them – their final video before the General Election was ‘Vote for me. Let’s get Brexit done. Let’s turn to really important things like the NHS.’

No mention of Corbyn. It’s about Brexit and not in the formulation we saw previously, but actually as a way of attending to erosion of public services, austerity, etc. And Get Brexit Done!’ Action verb. What does that remind you of? Take back control!

And we were so stupid to fall into the precise trap that Dominic Cummings and the Tory’s high command wanted. The exact same trap to the extent where they used a three-part word – Get Brexit Done – Take back control – It was the mirror image. So anybody saying that it wasn’t the major factor I think is being silly.”  [from 18:20 min]

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What do those leaked documents actually say about our NHS?

The following article was produced and published on Tues 3rd by the campaign group We Own It, which is committed to the renationalisation of public services in the UK.

On 27th November 2019, Jeremy Corbyn revealed unredacted documents from secret talks about a US-UK trade deal following Brexit.

If you’re confused or uncertain about what the 451 pages of leaked US-UK trade documents mean, and whether it actually shows that our NHS is ‘on the table’, this summary from the Keep Our NHS Public sub-group on trade deals, with the help of a briefing from Global Justice Now* should help.

Whose papers have been leaked?

The papers report on a series of meetings held by the UK-US Trade and Investment Working Group (TIWG).  These talks, essentially scoping exercises, appear to represent the first stage of ‘conversations’ about a deal. They took place between July 2017 and November 2018.

Participants included staff from the UK’s Department for International Trade, the British Embassy in Washington, and the United States Trade Representative (USTR) (the body responsible for developing international trade and overseeing trade negotiations).

What progress has been made?

The talks are described as well advanced in some areas (such as services, intellectual property and agriculture). In some sectors, such as pharmaceuticals, they have reached a point that might usually be expected after one year of formal negations.

What do the leaked papers show?

  1. The United States expects a trade deal very much on its own terms.
  1. The US dominates the talks at every level, dictating what is discussed, what they want included and how the deal should be done.
  2. The US sees there is “all to play for in a No Deal situation” and is using the talks to push the UK government towards as hard a Brexit as possible.
  3. Preliminary economic modelling suggests the trade deal may offer little value to UK consumers, or to UK businesses in terms of market access. Gains are greater for the US.
  4. A UK-US deal of this nature would be good for Trump’s re-election.
  1. The US wants a ‘total market access’ approach, which puts the NHS and other public services at risk

There are two ways of defining what is included in a trade deal. In a positive list approach, the types of goods and services for inclusion must be specifically listed (or ‘put on the table’). In a negative list approach, everything is on the table, unless explicitly named and excluded.

The US wants a form of negative listing, making total access to UK markets the baseline for trade negotiations. The UK appears open to this approach.

As the NHS has already been turned into a market, NHS services are vulnerable to being included in the deal, unless they are clearly and comprehensively excluded. In previous EU trade negotiations using a negative list approach, the UK government chose not to adopt this option. In the US-UK discussions, there is no evidence so far that the UK wants to ring-fence the NHS and keep it out of trade discussions.

The US wants to lock in both existing market access plus any future opening up of markets, so that access cannot be reversed. This would prevent the re-nationalisation of the NHS.

Documents from meetings in March/April 2018 show that the US side has been asking about the NHS in talks specifically focusing on ‘state owned enterprises’. In comments for the eyes of the UK side only, there is reference to a query by the US team about health insurance. This query was seen by the UK side as ‘likely a fishing expedition to check the tone of our response”, but it was also noted that the UK team will in future need to go into more detail about the functioning of the NHS and, for example, whether it is engaged in commercial activities (p.53).

  1. Medicine prices for the NHS are already ‘on the table’  

The reports show that discussions on medicine prices are relatively advanced. There have also been meetings with lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry. Preliminary negotiations have reached a point at which the two sides are now ready to begin agreeing the text for the final deal.

Proposals include the strengthening of intellectual property over new drugs and extending monopoly protection for big pharmaceutical companies (particularly for new ‘biologic’ medicines used to treat cancers and autoimmune diseases). This could mean massive increases in the cost of medicines for the NHS, delays in patients’ access to cheaper alternatives, and bigger profits for drug companies.

  1. The papers point to the inclusion of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS)

ISDS is an investment protection measure that allows foreign corporations to sue governments in corporate courts, rather than through a state’s legal system. The US wants to include a form of ISDS in a US/UK trade deal that is particularly pro-business and has a high success rate for claimants.

ISDS would allow US corporations to sue the UK government on a wide range of issues if they consider government actions have reduced company profits (or the profits companies had anticipated receiving). The compensation awarded by these ad hoc tribunals can be massive and even the threat of such a case can cast a chill on policy making, including on policies aimed at improving the public’s health.

  1. Reduction in standards and regulations

The US wants the UK to adopt US standards and regulations to enable US corporations to move easily into the UK market: this requires the UK to break with the EU’s (higher) standards.

In addition, the US wants the UK to stop using the ‘precautionary approach’ (where products need to be proved safe before released on the market) and to adopt the US system (where products are assumed to be safe until proved otherwise).

The US has a preference for voluntary standards, created by corporations rather than government regulation.  In the US this has allowed practices such as industrial–scale farming where conditions are atrocious and animals are pumped with steroids, other hormones and antibiotics. The US is against warning labels on tobacco and alcohol and wants less nutritional labelling on food.

A shift to less rigorous assessments of safety, voluntary regulation, and a lack of public information are bound to have an impact on the public’s health.

  1. The US has banned any mention of climate change in a US-UK trade deal. 

The UK inquired about including reference to climate change in a future agreement but was told that Congress has banned the USTR from mentioning greenhouse gas emissions. This is despite the way trade deals can increase trade in dirty fossil fuels or block climate action.

What does this mean for the NHS?

  1. Because of the requirement for ‘negative listing’ (as in 2 above), NHS services are at risk of being included by default in a US-UK trade deal.
  2. If the NHS were unambiguously a publicly provided service it might be safe. However,  the legal complexity around how a public service is currently defined, and how it might be redefined in a deal with the US, makes it vulnerable to inclusion in a US-UK trade deal.
  3. If the US succeeds in its aim to ‘lock in’ existing market access and have guaranteed access to future services (as in 2 above), any attempt to return the NHS to real public ownership would appear to be impossible.
  4. Returning the NHS to public ownership would be challenged via the ISDS’s corporate courts (as in 4 above), because re-nationalising the NHS would interfere with health corporations’ profits.
  5. The price we pay for medicine is already on the table, and talks are at an advanced stage (as described in 3 above). The NHS can’t afford to pay US prices for drugs.
  6. If the US deal means lower UK standards and deregulation (as in 5 above), this will affect the NHS, its users and staff in a range of ways. It could mean, for example, poorer environmental, food and safety standards impacting on wider public health; reduced employment rights for staff; and loss of patient privacy due to a US right of access to personal medical information and research data.

* “Leaked papers from the US-UK trade talks: A guide to the revelations.” Global Justice Now, November 2019

https://www.globaljustice.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/news_article/gjn_leakedusuktradedocsbriefing_nov2019.pdf

Additional:

The notes below are taken from an email received today from We Own It.

Will your next MP be committed to defending our NHS?

With less than a week to go, and the polls tightening, it’s more important than ever to find out which election candidates are on the side of the NHS. We want the new Parliament to be full of MPs who are willing to stand up for our NHS against Trump’s trade deal.

Check here to see if the candidate you’re voting for has signed the pledge to protect the NHS from trade deals by ending privatisation.

If they haven’t:

Ask them to sign it now.

In this election, candidates can choose to stand up for our NHS, or bow down to Donald Trump. Which side are your candidates on? If they haven’t signed this pledge, they’re not on the side of the NHS.

Over 500 candidates have signed so far, from all over the country.

  • Labour candidates are currently in the lead, closely followed by Greens.
  • The SNP and Plaid are backing the pledge, and a fair few of their candidates have signed.
  • The Lib Dem leadership has not endorse our pledge, but despite this, a few Lib Dem candidates have signed up.
  • Conservatives have been instructed not to sign at all – but two have broken ranks!

Are you voting for someone who has signed the pledge?

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, campaigns & events

Brexasperation! or why I cannot campaign for Labour but I will cast my vote again for Jeremy Corbyn…

The recent European elections in Britain were never supposed to happen. The deadline had passed – twice. Understood in this context, it was inevitable, therefore, that the contest would be fought as a second EU referendum. The Lib Dems admitted as much in their election pamphlet; something they afterwards tried to downplay (along with the fact that they had branded both Labour and Tories as pro-Brexit choices):

The outcome of this second vote was another close tie and more or less along the lines of the first referendum. Overall the pro-Brexit parties narrowly defeated the anti-Brexit parties, something apparent to anyone with an impartial eye and hard to disguise although some media outlets did indeed contrive to gloss over this inconvenient fact:

Both sides claimed victory, of course, when what was largely overlooked was the exceedingly low turnout. The turnout was low in part simply because European elections have low turnouts – this applies to electorates across the continent and is rather indicative of a deep democratic failing of the EU.

Leaving these matters aside, the actual result across the various regions and nations of UK should not have surprised anyone very much but mostly proves how remarkably few have actually changed their minds at all about Brexit. Instead, opinions have become entrenched.

My own stance is unchanged and remains the same as I outlined in a sequence of articles posted in the weeks leading up the referendum (here is the first). Now as then, I advocate for Britain to leave the EU – and if Northern Ireland wishes to remain and rejoin a united Ireland then this too should be settled with a border poll.

Disconcertingly, my own standpoint is at odds with the position held by most of my friends, although allied broadly with my family. Indeed, as with the indyref in Scotland, a generational political decision has sadly cost friendships and divided families. Some of my own friends look upon the prospect of any form of Brexit with total dread and thus regard my own stance on the scale of deeply regrettable to unforgiveable. As emigrants to countries inside the EU, three of my closest friends are understandably upset by the potential long-term repercussions of Brexit. In this regard, of course, both the British government and the EU were at liberty to issue unilateral pledges to uphold the rights of migrant citizens from the start of the process, but chose instead to hold back assurances, using the fear of repatriation as a bargaining chip. Playing politics in this way is deplorable, but I suppose it was to be expected.

Other friends and colleagues who do not live so directly under the same shadow cast by Brexit are concerned for different although understandable and perfectly legitimate reasons too. None of us knows if or how badly the economy could be hit. Nor can we be certain of knock-on effects either in Britain or abroad. On the eve of the referendum, we all had the same concerns which the doom-mongers did their best to ramp up. Chancellor George Osbourne had promised an emergency budget the next day, but afterwards resigned instead. Those who voted leave mostly didn’t believe him, and tend not to believe the naysayers today. On the other hand, those who still desire to remain take the threat more seriously. This is actually just another measure of how entrenched positions have become.

Just a year prior to the referendum, as ‘the Troika’ of the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF ganged up to apply neoliberal ‘shock therapy’ to Greece and the rest of “the PIGS”, with the imposition of “austerity” cuts to public services and demands for the privatisation of state assets, progressives and even a few liberals had been tweeting (quite correctly) “This is a coup”. During that period, political columnist for the Guardian, Owen Jones, wrote the following in an article entitled “The left must put Britain’s EU withdrawal on the agenda”:

Other treaties and directives enforce free market policies based on privatisation and marketisation of our public services and utilities. David Cameron is now proposing a renegotiation that will strip away many of the remaining “good bits” of the EU, particularly opting out of employment protection rules. Yet he depends on the left to campaign for and support his new package, which will be to stay in an increasingly pro-corporate EU shorn of pro-worker trappings. Can we honestly endorse that?

Continuing:

Let’s just be honest about our fears. We fear that we will inadvertently line up with the xenophobes and the immigrant-bashing nationalists, and a “no” result will be seen as their vindication, unleashing a carnival of Ukippery. Hostility to the EU is seen as the preserve of the hard right, and not the sort of thing progressives should entertain. And that is why – if indeed much of the left decides on Lexit – it must run its own separate campaign and try and win ownership of the issue.

Such a campaign would focus on building a new Britain, one of workers’ rights, a genuine living wage, public ownership, industrial activism and tax justice. Such a populist campaign could help the left reconnect with working-class communities it lost touch with long ago. My fear otherwise is a repetition of the Scottish referendum: but this time, instead of the progressive SNP as the beneficiaries, with Ukip mopping up in working-class communities as big businesses issue chilling threats about the risks of voting the wrong way. Without a prominent Left Out campaign, Ukip could displace Labour right across northern England. That would be the real vindication of Ukippery.

And concluding:

Lexit may be seen as a betrayal of solidarity with the left in the EU: Syriza and Podemos in Spain are trying to change the institution, after all, not leave it. Syriza’s experience illustrates just how forlorn that cause is. But in any case, the threat of Brexit would help them. Germany has little incentive to change tack: it benefits enormously from the current arrangements. If its behaviour is seen to be causing the break-up of the EU, it will strengthen the hand of those opposing the status quo. The case for Lexit grows ever stronger, and – at the very least – more of us need to start dipping our toes in the water. 1

Click here to read Owen Jones’ full article published in July 2015.

But Owen Jones was never one for consistency, and soon he was backing the remain campaign:

And saying this instead – a forecast that has to some extent been vindicated:

Having ditched Lexit in order to jump aboard the ‘Remain and Reform’ bandwagon, Owen Jones then correctly foretells the coup against Corbyn (it wasn’t difficult) and also envisions Johnson as Prime Minister surrounded by a gaggle of maniacal right-wingers. However none of this had been the inevitable outcome of a referendum vote to leave. In fact, an awful lot of water passed under the bridge in the interim period before Johnson managed to regain any momentum. It was a period when the left needed to consolidate behind Corbyn, especially in the aftermath of the extraordinary reversal during the 2017 General Election, but instead, Jones and other prominent leftists actually drove a wedge between themselves and the traditional Labour base. By January 2018, Jones was writing:

If only Brexit would go away. It sucks the political oxygen away from the issues we should all be discussing: like low wages, insecure jobs and the housing crisis. It is a rallying cry for a noxious alliance of anti-immigrant demagogues and regulation-stripping free marketeers. The bigotry, xenophobia and racism stirred up by the official leave campaigns injected an ugliness into British politics which never dissipated, and left hate crimes surging. And, frankly, Brexit is just mind-numbingly, painfully, excruciatingly dull. So yes, if there was a big red button to make it all just go away, I’d enthusiastically push it. 2

Click here to read Owen Jones’ full article entitled “I don’t like Brexit – I just don’t see how it can be stopped”.

Owen Jones is all-too typical of today’s left. Such inconsistency on the EU would be understandable, but for his spinelessness and abject lack of coherence. One minute he is throwing up his hands and reminding us (correctly) “just how forlorn” the cause of trying to reform the EU is, whilst urging fellow progressives that “the threat of Brexit would help them” (meaning the disadvantaged countries of Europe) and in the next breath he’s saying that he has been persuaded “to stand together to reform and change the EU” because “another Europe is possible”.

So let us cast our minds back further. Back to the 70s and early 80s when we find that the most radical voices, with Tony Benn, Peter Shaw, Barbara Castle, and Michael Foot very much in the vanguard, were likewise the most serious and committed Eurosceptics in British politics*, whereas the Europhiles tended to look and sound more like this:

Jeremy Corbyn is another on the left of his party who has never been a friend of the EU. Until very recently the same was true of John McDonnell. Relentless attacks of every kind – most effectively the media-led weaponisation of claims of antisemitism – have weakened Labour’s leadership and Corbyn especially. He has also been forced into submission by the pro-EU allegiance of the PLP and leaders of the trade union movement, as well as by grassroots Labour Party membership.

Many of Corbyn’s staunchest supporters – those who have backed him to the hilt on every other major issue – take a diametrically opposed stance on the EU, and few in his base dwell upon the cause of Corbyn’s single-issue divergence, preferring to gloss over the underlying problems with the European project. Nor do many ask, as one of the guests did on BBC’s election night programme, regarding the bright, shiny Euro-mobile backdrop:

Screenshot of the BBC election  night motif

“It’s a little like your lovely picture. You see all the smaller baubles and you know what they represent – France, Germany, Ireland, Spain – but then there’s the much larger blue ball with its ring of stars, and you wonder what does that represent?” (I am paraphrasing but hopefully you get the point)

In fact the better question perhaps is not what does the central hub represent, but whom does it represent? For evidently it does not represent the people of Greece or the other PIGS, or most of the rest of the European population. Instead it works for corporate interests – and again I refer you to an excellent investigative documentary called The Brussels Business.

Moreover, would a purely internationalist collaboration have much need for its own flag and anthem, unless the agenda was for outright unification? Arguably, a fully federalised United States of Europe is a grand and worthwhile project, yet advocates with the power to actually bring it about are also in the habit of denial. They know that they dare not allow the people of Europe to choose, because each past occasion they did, the people said no. Rather than seeking popular consent, therefore, the consistent approach is to forge closer union by stealth and subterfuge.

In fact, the trouble with the ongoing European project stems from its beginnings as a political collaboration that was established primarily to protect business sections, rather than as a union of nations formed to promote human rights and ensure peace. The EU still puts profits first.

Q. During the EEC membership referendum in 1975, which of these images formed the background to the official campaign poster to remain and which was to leave? Answer at the end of the post…

How the left gradually softened its position toward the EU, and has latterly become enamoured with Brussels, is a subject I addressed in earlier posts (see here), so rather than repeating myself, I offer instead an answer given by former Syriza MP (elected as a member of the Greek Parliament in January 2015) and Professor of Economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (SOAS), Costas Lapavitsas, during an interview with judicious Europhile and host of Novara Media, Aaron Bastini, when asked in what ways he thought firm advocates for “remain and reform” like his former Syriza colleague Yanis Varoufakis are mistaken [from 27:15 mins]:

“The thing that is absent in what Varoufakis is saying is in understanding the class nature of this, because these are not class neutral institutions. In the end they are institutions serving the interests of big business and big capital against labour… And when you’re confronting these institutions class interest will manifest itself clearly and forcefully.

“You might give the best arguments in the world. You might be able to tell them “look austerity doesn’t work”. And you might be able to write a very good academic paper on that, which might get published in a very good academic journal, but in the realm of politics that’s not how it works, because class interests will tell in the end and your argument will be dismissed. […]

“The class interests… are ruthless and unbending and that’s obvious from how they’re behaving. Ten years into the [banking] crisis, nothing’s changed. Nothing.”

Costas Lapavitsas, who is also author of “The Left Case Against the EU” was also recently interviewed by ‘Labour Leave’:

*

Did you ever watch one of those shows in which stage magic is exposed? I confess that this is a guilty pleasure of mine perhaps due to my irresistible urge to find out how things work – the same urge that led me to study science. However, the big problem with such shows, besides the obdurate tackiness, is that the tricks presented are in any case third-rate imitations of the best grand illusions. The eponymous star of the most popular of this genre is the Masked Magician, and he is the most ham-fisted conjuror you have probably ever seen. His props are as rickety and his illusions as unconvincing, as his sleight of hand is amateurish and clumsy. But, if you’re like me, then you find yourself going back again and again, and cringing throughout. You want him to fool you, but he’s simply not good enough, and the illusion is usually broken long before the big reveal.

Well, enough about the Masked Magician – I wish him no ill will – he just serves as a fitting analogy for what I see as the contemporary state of politics in Britain. All of it is clunky, amateurish, and utterly unconvincing. Long gone is the conviction of Churchill, Atlee, Wilson, Foot, Benn or even Thatcher; gone too, the slicker gloss of Blair and Cameron. Today’s politics are unvarnished again, but not in a good way. It has become a very, very sorry spectacle indeed.

Take Boris Johnson’s recent visit to Wakefield when he delivered an electioneering speech in front of a phalanx of police cadets, who had been waiting for over an hour for his bumbling appearance. When one of his unwitting backdrop props fainted in the heat, Johnson was left to make a disingenuous apology, before blustering on regardless. His cheap stunt had backfired – but what a stunt… how blatant, shambling, and frankly Trump-like. It’s almost as though he and his advisors simply don’t care whether they manage to impress many viewers or even how unprofessional they appear. The association, in this case of Johnson with the police, is enough to appeal to the target audience.

Likewise, shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, on last night’s BBC Question Time, when asked what Labour’s position on Brexit will be in the near-certain event of a forthcoming general election. We will negotiate a new deal with Europe and then hold another referendum with choices to accept Labour’s new deal or else to remain, she told us. “Will you be campaigning against your own deal, a deal you have negotiated?” she was asked, at which point she lost her bearings entirely and after an excruciating pause, admitted that she would! This is not a credible position – this is not serious politics: it’s an embarrassment.

There isn’t time here to go through all the reasons we have reached this dire state of affairs. I mean where would we ever begin? With Cameron’s original decision to call a referendum; or the series of slips and the rise of Ukip that forced his hand; or the EU’s lack of flexibility when he tried to negotiate the original deal; or May’s electoral ineptitude that reduced a working Conservative majority to a hung parliament; or the chicken coup of Labour MPs who sought to destroy Corbyn and inadvertently (or not) led May to call that election (an election she had vowed never to call); or the subsequent years of Conservative shilly-shallying, and the steady drift of Labour towards an undemocratic second referendum; or the return of Farage and Conservative Party’s nuclear option election of Johnson as leader? Such a catalogue of backstabbing, procrastination, vacillation, and sheer betrayal! – even judged against their usual ghastly standards, the Brexit debacle has shown us the worst of the political establishment and the media.

In an interview with ITV news on September 16th, David Cameron talked about Johnson’s decision to front the leave campaign saying, “Boris thought Brexit would be lost”:

Unfortunately, we are where we are. The Conservatives are stuck with Johnson the remainer and his Old Etonian chums rallying the country to his sham anti-establishment cause and persuading the gullible that he is a staunch leaver, while Corbyn, the life-long Eurosceptic, who has been browbeaten into submission, enters a marriage of convenience with the equally sham pro-nationalist SNP and overtly anti-democratic Liberal Democrats, to carry the flickering torch of remain. All sides have given up on principle – in fact, and this is what is truly astonishing, they have largely given up on the pretence of principle. Both sides are simply hoping their opponents are more deeply fractured than they are. This is how they seek to regain power under our ludicrous and dysfunctional first-past-the-post system.

Counterfactually, had the Labour Party endorsed Corbyn in the days following the referendum and endorsed his call for the Conservative government to trigger Article 50, then Labour would very likely be leading the polls, if not already in government. But any promise of Lexit was dashed instead once the PLP ‘rebels’ launched their attacks on the party’s leadership. Then Labour missed the boat a second time in the chaotic aftermath of the 2017 general election, and once again the fault must be laid at the door of the majority of PLP and Corbyn’s own base who wasted the opportunity. Instead, little by little they have completely boxed him in over Europe, and in consequence we stand on the brink not only of a no deal Brexit under Johnson’s reactionary government, but prospect that the project Corbyn started, with its noble aim of steering the party back to the left, will also be ruined on the back of electoral defeat.

Which is why at length, and in spite of everything, I shall still vote for Corbyn at the next election and encourage others to do likewise, but it is also why I feel unable to canvass on the doorsteps for the Labour Party as I did during the last campaign. My hope is that by some miracle Corbyn can recover ground and win office, and for this I am prepared to sacrifice leaving the EU. Labour’s electoral success may very well rest on how many others will also put aside the desperate failings of the party, and stick to backing Corbyn.

*

Additional: My correspondence with Shadow Brexit Minister Paul Blomfield

Appended below is an exchange of letters with Paul Blomfield, who is MP for Sheffield Central (my constituency) and became Shadow Minister for Exiting the European Union in October 2016. Paul Blomfield has always replied at length to all of my correspondence which is greatly to his credit.

Jan 10th (contacted through 38 Degrees)

As your constituent I’m emailing you to let you know where I stand on Brexit ahead of the vote on Tuesday the 15th of January.

Theresa May’s deal is a terrible one and unless she can renegotiate a compromise agreement with Brussels I want a clean break from the EU. This respects the result of the referendum. I believe we should leave as soon as possible even though I accept this could mean people’s jobs and wages take a hit. Any reversal of the referendum vote to leave the EU will be regarded by many (far more than the 17 million who voted leave) as a denial of the will of the people and dictatorial.

Please let me know how you’ll represent my views in Parliament.

*

Jan 15th

Dear James,

Thank you for your e-mail setting out your views on the Government’s Brexit deal.  I value my correspondence with constituents and do appreciate you taking the time to write. I try to keep constituents in touch with my views and activities, including my work as a Shadow Brexit Minister, through a monthly e-newsletter. If you don’t already receive it, just reply ‘yes’ to this email and I’ll add you to the mailing list (see here for my data privacy policy).

As a Shadow Brexit Minister I was closely involved in drawing up the six tests against which Labour has consistently said that we would measure the deal. Our six tests were based on the Government’s own stated objectives and the Prime Minister said that she was determined to meet them. When the deal was published in November we were clear that it did not meet those tests and we will therefore vote against it today.

Labour has always been clear that we respect the result of the referendum, but believe that people voted to get out and not to lose out. I appreciate that you say you would be prepared to take a cut in your income or lose your job, but most leave voters I’ve spoken to wouldn’t agree; indeed they felt that leaving the EU would improve their position. We do not think that people’s living standards should be sacrificed for a hard Brexit.  Labour respects that we have financial commitments to the EU to meet before we leave. It is not a ‘fee to leave’, but settles outstanding financial obligations to which we committed ourselves as a member. If we do not meet our legal obligations, no country would trust us in any negotiations over future trade agreements.

So, we will vote against the Withdrawal Agreement today and seek to ensure that the chaos and civil war in the Tory Party does not result in us crashing out of the EU without a deal; and therefore, with no transition period. We will continue to press for the most beneficial deal with the EU, which means a close relationship, and we will seek to amend the Government’s proposals to that effect.

As you will know, we are not alone in voting against the deal. We will be joined by all opposition parties and a large number of Conservative MPs. In fact, it looks clear that it will not receive a Parliamentary majority. At that stage, all options will have to be available to avoid the consequences of no deal, as we set out at our Conference.

You can read more in my regular update on my website – see the latest one here.

With best wishes,

Paul

*

Jan 15th

Dear Paul,

Thank you for replying promptly and in full to email.

May’s deal is the worst of all worlds and I am pleased that Labour will be voting against it. I also agree of course that we must seek the best deal for Britain since this is a no-brainer. However, if we refuse to entertain the option of no deal then in effect the EU holds all the cards. As Digby Jones put it: “When you have a Parliament turn around and saying ‘we’re going to say there’ll be no deal’ – it’s like saying I’ll buy a house for less but if I won’t, I’ll buy it for more.”

Regarding the ‘divorce bill’, again I fully acknowledge that Britain should fully settle any financial obligation, but this is not the same as paying May’s agreed “financial settlement” of £39bn which is conditional. This conditionality was made clear on September 7, 2018, when Michel Barnier conceded that the EU would allow a future trade agreement to be linked to the payment of the divorce bill.

Like most leave voters I too feel that leaving the EU will ultimately improve my position, although I did not vote to leave purely for economic reasons. Instead I voted to leave because I do not wish to live in a federalised Europe under centralised bureaucratic governance. Neither do I wish to see the formation of an EU army, a goal that was until very recently denied outright. I also wish to leave Europe because of the way it treats its poorest members (the so-called PIIGS) with the cruel imposition of unremitting austerity. Others voted to leave for reasons I actually deplore, but I am a democrat and respect the fact that they have as much right to vote as I did. To reiterate my previous points, the danger facing Labour is that so many of its traditional voters, in the North especially, will feel betrayed if the referendum vote is not respected. Unknown numbers will be recruited by the far right. Indeed, I fear that Labour may lose so much of its traditional support that it could easily enter into the wilderness once again.

So although I respect your alternative opinion on this issue, I do not believe Labour should engage in fearmongering. “Crashing out of the EU without a deal” is emotive language, and I feel that I must remind you that we did not vote for a deal but only to leave. Indeed at the time of the referendum we were warned that voting to leave would involve exit from the single market and customs union, yet we voted to leave nonetheless. I believe that people did not in fact prioritise economics in the vote, but made their choice for other reasons. This is all the more reason to fear the consequences of a U-turn on the referendum decision, and all the more reason to doubt that people can be won over by economic arguments now.

Thank you again for replying. Best wishes,

James

*

Feb 13th

Dear James,

Thanks for your further note. I really appreciate hearing constituents’ views so I’m grateful for you taking the time to write and set out your thoughts on the issue. Another way I try to keep in touch about my views and activities, including my work as a Shadow Brexit Minister, is through a monthly e-newsletter. If you don’t already receive it, just reply ‘yes’ to this email and I’ll add you to the mailing list (see here for my data privacy policy).

On the financial settlement, you’ll know that Michel Barnier said such a link could be explored but that it would depend on the legal implications. Even the former Brexit Secretary and Brexit campaigner, Dominic Raab, conceded that we would still have financial obligations in the event of no deal.

In terms of the EU’s treatment of poorer countries and political integration, the UK was a leading member with significant influence and say in the EU, which we will lose on exiting.  It is always easier to influence and shape direction from within. You’ll also know that all the PIIGS countries supported the UK remaining within the EU.  The rise of ring-wing populism across Europe is extremely concerning and EU Parliament will have a very different configuration after the elections in May. I think it is extremely unfortunate the UK Labour MEPs will not be there to counter this. I have to say that I don’t recognise your description of the EU’s “bureaucratic governance”; decisions are made through co-decision making involving the Commission, the elected members of the Council of Ministers and the elected members of the Parliament. Indeed, in many ways, it’s a stronger democratic model than the UK’s governance. I know that the ‘European Army’ was a popular myth in the referendum campaign, but it doesn’t stand up to examination.

You mentioned the prospect of Labour losing voters who voted in favour of Brexit. I would challenge the idea that Labour voters are pro-Brexit; 2/3 of Labour voters backed remain, while 2/3 of Tory voters backed leave. It’s true that many in some Labour areas (although not primarily our voters) did vote leave, but it was the Tories that delivered Brexit. That shouldn’t be a surprise as it was a campaign led by the hard right neo-liberals opposed to the development of social Europe and what they see as regulatory constraints on free markets. Labour campaigned to remain in the EU, but we respect the result of the referendum. However, voters would not thank MPs who delivered Brexit on a false prospectus and politicians must be honest with the people who elect us, about the impact of different Brexit options on jobs and the economy and about the fact that we will have to reach agreement on common rules with countries with which we want to trade.

Therefore, warning about the effects of leaving without a deal is not fear mongering. The Treasury’s own analysis indicates that it would hit our economy by a massive 10%. No deal would be disastrous for jobs and the economy. I spoke to motor manufacturers in December and they made it clear that they rely on the seamless flow of goods across borders and that the Government’s advice to stockpile just isn’t a viable option for their ‘just-in-time’ supply chains. Our universities, a sector that is crucial to Sheffield and supports 944,000 jobs across the country, recently described ‘no deal’ as one of the biggest threats they have ever faced. I also spoke to motor manufacturers in December and they made it clear that they rely on the seamless flow of goods across borders and that the Government’s advice to stockpile just isn’t a viable option for their ‘just-in-time’ supply chains

Despite spending £4.2 billion of public money that could have been spent on our NHS, schools and other public services, the Government is totally unprepared for ‘no deal’, most memorably demonstrated by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s decision to award a £13.8m ferry to a company with no ships. On top of that, they have at least half a dozen Bills and swathes of secondary legislation to get through the House to fulfil the most basic requirements of leaving without a deal

‘No Deal’ was not on the ballot paper and several leading Brexiteers spoke about the favourable trade deal we would secure with the EU before the referendum. The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, also said that it would be the “easiest [trade deal] in human history”. Interpretations of what the Brexit vote would mean also vary. The Tory MEP, Daniel Hannan, a longstanding Eurosceptic, repeatedly said that it would not mean leaving the single market: “Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the single market”. So how the Brexit vote should be interpreted is debatable, but MPs have a responsibility to mitigate the damage as much as possible.

Thanks again for your email and you can keep up to date with all of my work on Brexit on my website.

Best wishes,

Paul

*

March 1st

Dear Paul,

Thanks again for your full and detailed reply to my previous email. I shall briefly respond to some of the points you raised before coming to the main issue of Labour’s decision to support a second referendum.

Firstly, and I quote, you describe the formation of a ‘European Army’ as “a popular myth in the referendum campaign, saying that it doesn’t stand up to examination.” (With the link provided.) I have followed this link to fullfact.org which states in its main summary under the heading ‘Conclusion’ that:

“EU member countries work together on military matters, but the EU doesn’t have its own military capabilities. At least a few European politicians do support the creation of an EU army, but that would need unanimous approval.”

I fail to see in what way this refutes claims that the EU is seeking to form its own army. Moreover, those “few European politicians” happen to include EC President Jean-Claude Juncker who has repeated called for widescale military unification. Prominent Belgium MEP Guy Verhofstadt is also outspoken in demanding “real EU defence and foreign policy”. There are countless other examples I might add here.

Secondly, you dismiss all the criticism of the EU’s ‘democracy deficit’ and argue, and again I quote, “it’s a stronger democratic model than the UK’s governance”. Leaving aside the constitutional arrangement that gives the unelected EC greater powers over the elected parliament (small wonder most voters in Britain are unable to name their own MEPs), the callous response of the EC and ECB (two branches of the so-called ‘Troika’) to the Eurozone financial crisis is fully indicative of the anti-democratic nature of the project. In a conversation with Noam Chomsky, former Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, who headed negotiations with the Eurogroup (and who has since advised Jeremy Corbyn), said this:

“The European Union doesn’t suffer, or the Eurogroup, from a democratic deficit. It’s like saying that we are on the moon and there is an oxygen deficit. There is no oxygen deficit on the moon. There is no oxygen, full stop.” You can find the quote here: https://www.yanisvaroufakis.eu/2016/06/28/full-transcript-of-the-yanis-varoufakis-noam-chomsky-nypl-discussion/

Lastly, and most urgently, I wish to address Labour’s unfortunate decision to support a second referendum. In your reply you said: “Labour campaigned to remain in the EU, but we respect the result of the referendum.” So if there is a second referendum what choices will be put to the electorate?

If this is simply a second referendum on the deal to leave then I will reluctantly support Labour’s position. However, if remaining in the EU is one of the choices on the ballot paper then a second referendum will be an affront to 17.4 million Brexit voters – the largest number of people who have ever voted for anything in all of our history. Furthermore, a second referendum with ‘remain’ on the ballot breaches Labour’s election manifesto pledge, which is less than two years old and which you reiterated, that you accept and will respect the result of the first referendum. This will cause untold damage to Jeremy Corbyn’s reputation for authenticity, believability and honesty. It will also reinvigorate Ukip, and provide ammunition to far right extremist Tommy Robinson. Like many people inside the party and outside, I believe that such a U-turn will very likely ruin Labour’s electoral chances for decades to come.

Thank you again for replying. Best wishes,

James

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April 15th

Dear James,

Thanks for your further note and apologies for the delay in getting back to you. As you can imagine, the past few weeks have been exceptionally busy for me as a Shadow Brexit Minister so although I read your email at the time, I am just now getting a chance to respond.

I’m a bit puzzled by your interpretation of the quotation from FullFact as I don’t see how it refutes the claim that the EU is seeking to form a European army. On the contrary, it confirms that only “a few European politicians” do support this but, as it also states, it would require unanimous approval of every member state, which does not exist.

I disagree with Yanis Varoufakis. Our Parliament has always been sovereign as the Government confirmed clearly in their White Paper on leaving the EU and even outside of the EU, the UK will have to work with other countries, including the EU27, to achieve common aims. According to the House of Commons library, 13% of our laws ‘come from Brussels’ (where we do of course have a say in how those laws are made). In many instances, where rules are agreed at the European level, the UK has flexibility in how to implement what is agreed.

In the modern world, nations’ interdependence and cooperation is inevitable and something to be celebrated rather than regretted. You are right that the European Commission is unelected, but so is our civil service and neither make laws, although both draft them. Laws need agreement of both the Council of (elected) Ministers and the European Parliament (more here). Moreover, votes in the Council are weighted according to population, although usually reached by consensus, and of course each country has a veto in key areas. You might also note that the European Parliament has the power to dismiss the Commission. On democratic credentials, the EU does far better than international organisations like the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, for example.

To come back to the question of a further referendum: as I’ve made clear in previous emails, I campaigned to remain but accept the result of the referendum. What I do not accept is the interpretation that it was to rupture all ties with the EU. It was clearly a vote to leave but it was a narrow win and, numerically, roughly in line with the numbers that voted ‘Yes’ in the 1975 referendum (17,378,581), which was proportionally a much more resounding victory to remain at 67.5%.  Labour accepted the result of the first referendum by voting to give the Prime Minister the authority to trigger Article 50 and have been pushing for a Brexit deal that both respects the result of the referendum and protects jobs, the economy and our national security. I recognise the risk that it would present an opportunity for the far right, but if we limit our political choices on that basis where does it end?

Labour has urged the Prime Minister to step away from her red lines and are currently engaging in talks with the Government to press them to bring back a deal that can command a majority in Parliament and in the country by forging a close relationship with the EU. We have called on the Government to introduce primary legislation for a mandate to negotiate changes to the Political Declaration to secure a permanent and comprehensive customs union with the EU; close alignment with the single market underpinned by shared institutions and obligations; dynamic alignment on rights and protections; commitments on participation in EU agencies and funding programmes, including in areas such as the environment, education, and industrial regulation; and unambiguous agreement on the detail of future security arrangements, including access to the European Arrest Warrant and vital shared databases. We must do all we can to protect jobs and the economy, which is why Labour has supported a confirmatory public vote – giving the British people a choice between a credible leave option and remaining in the EU – to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit. This is in line with our 2018 Party Conference motion, which was passed unanimously, and, as you’ll know, is overwhelmingly supported by the majority of Labour Party members.

Thanks again for getting in touch and you can find all of my blog posts and speeches on Brexit on my website.

Best wishes,

Paul

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April 15th

Dear Paul,

Thanks again for your detailed reply and I do appreciate your efforts in this regard. I shall try to keep my reply very short. You write that you now support “a confirmatory public vote – giving the British people a choice between a credible leave option and remaining in the EU –  to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit” and that this is in line with the Party Conference motion. What you have failed to address, however, is my point that such a “confirmation public vote” (second referendum – why can’t we call it what it is?), as I wrote, “breaches Labour’s election manifesto pledge, which is less than two years old and which you reiterated, that you accept and will respect the result of the first referendum”.

A second referendum between the proposed options will disenfranchise millions of voters who want neither to remain nor to accept May’s deal. In effect, although they voted to ‘leave’, they are instead being told that this is impossible and asked in what way they wish to ‘remain’. In the event of such a referendum I would expect a deluge of spoiled ballots (mine will be one). Indeed, the inclusion of ‘remain’ as an option in a second referendum will be seen as a betrayal of democracy because it is one. Lastly, as a Labour member myself, I fail to see how a conference motion can override a manifesto pledge. What precedent does this set? I campaigned on the manifesto and will feel ashamed of the party if it follows this course. Finally, if Labour does force a second referendum then it will anger millions of former voters, many of whom (as you do acknowledge) are likely to flock to the far-right. The point is that this abandonment of the left will be understandable in such circumstances. So this is not a matter of limiting our political choices, as for instance the calling for tighter immigration controls under former leader Ed Miliband was. This is not about pandering to extremists, but straightforwardly honouring a referendum result and Labour’s election promises. If we cannot even do this, then how in good faith can I campaign for Labour again?

Thanks again for taking such trouble to reply to me.

Best wishes,

James

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Follow up in response to a request to help with campaigning in European elections

May 8th

Dear Paul,

As I understand you, Labour is now seeking a “confirmatory vote” (i.e., second referendum) before the first referendum result has been enacted and contrary to the election manifesto pledge to honour the referendum result. This is certainly the case if, as you have given me to understand in previous correspondence, the proposed second referendum is to include ‘remain’ on the ballot. With due respect therefore I find myself unable to campaign for the Labour Party (of which I am a member) in the forthcoming European elections. Moreover, I shall not vote for Labour in those elections.

Best wishes,

James

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May 9th

Dear James,

Thanks for getting back to me.

I am sorry that you do not support the party policy endorsed unanimously at our Party Conference last September:

“Should Parliament vote down a Tory Brexit deal or the talks end in no-deal, Conference believes this would constitute a loss of confidence in the Government. In these circumstances, the best outcome for the country is an immediate General Election that can sweep the Tories from power. If we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote. If the Government is confident in negotiating a deal that working people, our economy and communities will benefit from they should not be afraid to put that deal to the public.”

As we have already discussed, Labour did accept the outcome of the referendum and we voted to trigger Article 50. We confirmed that in our 2017 manifesto, but also said that we rejected the Tories’ approach and wanted a close economic relationship with the EU seeking to retain the benefits of the customs union and single market, as well as alignment on rights and protections (see here). We have always been clear that we will not give the Prime Minister a blank cheque to harm our economy and people’s jobs and livelihoods.

Best wishes,

Paul

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May 9th

Dear Paul,

Thanks again for your prompt reply. I am sorry to write again and shall keep my own response as brief as possible. You say that Labour did (past tense) accept the outcome of the referendum adding that “we voted to trigger Article 50”. However, the country voted to leave (whereas triggering Article 50 is procedural) and in spite of this, and though the deadline has since passed, Britain remains inside the EU. Backing a second referendum with an option to ‘remain’ is a more or less open call to revoke Article 50. Thus, if triggering Article 50 means that Labour accepted the outcome, then, by the same reasoning, revoking Article 50, which overturns the referendum result, will represent a clear betrayal of our manifesto promise. In this regard the policy endorsed by the party conference is an irrelevance since it is incompatible with manifesto pledges on which all Labour MPs were elected and on which we all campaigned. I regard this change in policy as entirely dishonourable, but worse than that, it will be electorally disastrous.

Best wishes,

James

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May 28th

Hi James,

Thanks for your response. Please don’t apologise for writing again; I appreciate you sharing your views.

Clearly the situation has developed further since you wrote, with last week’s European elections. Indeed, here in Sheffield and in the country as a whole, the combined vote of those parties committed to a further public vote and remaining in the EU beat that of the those opposing a vote and leaving the EU at any cost. Labour was punished for an ambiguous message and lost votes to the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. So we have to look seriously at the issue of a further public vote, which I don’t think would be dishonourable or electorally disastrous.

Party policy has evolved and developed and the latest Conference policy surpasses the two-year-old manifesto. Your suggestion that revoking Article 50 would be overturning the referendum result does not take into account that we would seek a fresh mandate. We have made every effort to push the Government to get a deal that would work for the country but it is clear that there is an impasse in Parliament and support for a vote to give people a final say is surely not anti-democratic. Indeed, there have been MPs and others who have been campaigning to leave the EU since the 1975 referendum. Campaigning to persuade people is a fundamental characteristic of democracy.

Nor do I agree it would be electorally disastrous. 65% of Labour voters voted remain and recent polling indicates that 72.5% Labour voters would back remain in another referendum. Clearly there would be some votes lost and have been already, but these are far outweighed by those lost on the other side.

Above all though, we have to do what we think is right to resolve the crisis. There were big variations in different areas, but with the country and Parliament divided, there is no option but to give the people a final say to break the impasse.

Best wishes,

Paul

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 Answer:

 

1 From an article entitled “The left must put Britain’s EU withdrawal on the agenda” written by Owen Jones, published in the Guardian on July 14, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/14/left-reject-eu-greece-eurosceptic

2 From an article entitled “I don’t like Brexit – I just don’t see how it can be stopped” written by Owen Jones, published in the Guardian on January 3, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/03/stop-brexit-campaign-vote-leave-populist

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The following is taken from the Wikipedia entry on the 1975 EEC membership referendum (as it was captured on March 16th with footnotes retained)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1975_United_Kingdom_European_Communities_membership_referendum#Campaigning

The referendum was called in April 1975 after the renegotiation was formally concluded. Since Prime Minister Harold Wilson‘s cabinet was split between supporters and opponents of the Common Market, and since members of each side held their views strongly, he made the decision, unprecedented outside coalition government, to suspend the constitutional convention of Cabinet collective responsibility. Cabinet members would be allowed to publicly campaign against each other. In total, seven of the twenty-three members of the cabinet opposed EC membership.[10] Wilson’s solution was that ministers speaking in the House of Commons should reflect government policy (i.e. support for EC membership), but would be allowed to speak freely elsewhere, thus avoiding a mass dismissal of Cabinet ministers. In spite of this, one minister, Eric Heffer, was obliged to resign after speaking against EC membership in the House of Commons.

Yes campaign (Britain In Europe)

The “Yes” campaign was officially supported by Wilson[11] and the majority of his cabinet, including the holders of the three other Great Offices of State: Denis Healey, the Chancellor of the Exchequer; James Callaghan, the Foreign Secretary; and Roy Jenkins, the Home Secretary.[citation needed] It was also supported by the majority of the Conservative Party, including its newly elected leader Margaret Thatcher — 249 of 275 party members in Parliament supported staying in the EC in a free vote in April 1975[11] — the Liberal Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland and the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party.

No campaign (National Referendum Campaign)

Tony Benn, Secretary of State for Industry, was one of the senior figures in the No campaign.

The influential Conservative Edward du Cann said that “the Labour party is hopelessly and irrevocably split and muddled over this issue”.[11] The “No” campaign included the left wing of the Labour Party, including the cabinet ministers Michael Foot, Tony Benn, Peter Shore, Eric Varley, and Barbara Castle who during the campaign famously said “They lured us into the market with the mirage of the market miracle”. Some Labour “No” supporters, including Varley, were on the right wing of the party, but most were from the left. The No campaign also included a large number of Labour backbenchers; upon the division on a pro-EC White Paper about the renegotiation, 148 Labour MPs opposed their own government’s measure, whereas only 138 supported it and 32 abstained.[3]

“Many Conservatives feel the European Community is not good for Britain … The Conservative party is divided on it too”, du Cann — head of the Conservatives’ 1922 Committee — added,[11] although there were far fewer Eurosceptic figures in the Parliamentary Conservative Party in 1975 than there would be during later debates on Europe, such as the accession to the Maastricht Treaty. Most of the Ulster Unionist Party were for “No” in the referendum, most prominently the former Conservative minister Enoch Powell, who after Benn was the second-most prominent anti-Marketeer in the campaign.[12] Other parties supporting the “No” campaign included the Democratic Unionist Party, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, and parties outside Parliament including the National Front and the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Official party positions

Conservative and Liberal Party conferences consistently supported EC membership for several years up to 1975. At a Labour Party conference on 26 April 1975, the Labour membership rejected continuing EC membership by almost a 2:1 margin. Tony Benn said, “We have had a conference and the decision is clear … It is very clear that there now must be a move for the Labour Party to campaign.” The majority of the Labour Party leadership was strongly for continuing membership, and the margin of the party vote was not a surprise, since only seven of forty-six trade unions present at the conference supported EC membership. Prior to the conference, the party had decided that if the conference voted by a margin of 2:1 or more in favour of a particular option, it would then support that position in the referendum campaign. Otherwise, the ‘party machine’ would remain neutral. Therefore, the Labour Party itself did not campaign on either side.

The campaign, funding and media support

The government distributed pamphlets from the official Yes[13] and No[14] campaigns to every household in Britain, together with its own pamphlet which argued in support of EC membership[15].[16] According to this pamphlet, “the most important (issues in the renegotiation) were FOOD and MONEY and JOBS”.[citation needed]

During the campaign, almost the entire mainstream national British press supported the “Yes” campaign. The left-wing Morning Star was the only notable national daily to back the “No” campaign. Television broadcasts were used by both campaigns, like party political broadcasts during general elections. They were broadcast simultaneously on all three terrestrial channels: BBC 1, BBC 2 and ITV. They attracted audiences of up to 20 million viewers. The “Yes” campaign advertisements were thought to be much more effective, showing their speakers listening to and answering people’s concerns, while the “No” campaign’s broadcasts featured speakers reading from an autocue.

The “Yes” campaign enjoyed much more funding, thanks to the support of many British businesses and the Confederation of British Industry. According to the treasurer of the “Yes” campaign, Alistair McAlpine, “The banks and big industrial companies put in very large sums of money”. At the time, business was “overwhelmingly pro-European”,[17] and Harold Wilson met several prominent industrialists to elicit support. It was common for pro-Europeans to convene across party and ideological lines with businessmen.[17] John Mills, the national agent of the “No” campaign, recalled: “We were operating on a shoe-string compared to the Rolls Royce operation on the other side”.[18] However, it was also the case that many civil society groups supported the “Yes” campaign, including the National Farmers Union and some trade unions.

Much of the “Yes” campaign focused on the credentials of its opponents. According to Alistair McAlpine, “The whole thrust of our campaign was to depict the anti-Marketeers as unreliable people – dangerous people who would lead you down the wrong path … It wasn’t so much that it was sensible to stay in, but that anybody who proposed that we came out was off their rocker or virtually Marxist.”[18] Tony Benn said there had been “Half a million jobs lost in Britain and a huge increase in food prices as a direct result of our entry into the Common Market”,[17] using his position as Secretary of State for Industry as an authority. His claims were ridiculed by the “Yes” campaign and ministers; the Daily Mirror labelled Benn the “Minister of Fear”, and other newspapers were similarly derisive. Ultimately, the “No” campaign lacked a popular, moderate figure to play the public leadership role for their campaign that Jenkins and Wilson fulfilled in the “Yes” campaign.[citation needed]

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Campaign for Chris Williamson… to take legal action against the party he dedicated his life to!

In 2015, we breathed life into the Labour Party by electing Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. We turned the Labour Party into a mass movement with bold ideas to transform the fortunes of the most vulnerable in our society. For a brief moment, another Britain was possible – beyond capitalism, beyond imperialism, beyond business as usual. Chris Williamson, the Labour MP for Derby North, was at the forefront of the campaign to put Jeremy Corbyn into 10 Downing Street.

But those who were most threatened by this challenge to the status quo have united to fight us ever since. And when they smeared loyal socialists and committed anti-racists, Chris was sometimes the only MP to defend them. In his 43 years as a Labour Party member, Chris fought fascists and neo-Nazis on Britain’s streets; ran a 2017 election campaign described as ‘a test case for Corbynism’; and campaigned relentlessly for democratising the party to give grassroots members the opportunity to decide who represents them in Parliament.

Chris Williamson was suspended by the Labour Party on 27 February 2019, following a pressure campaign against the Labour Party by opponents of a Corbyn-led socialist government. The smears against him are a proxy for attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Left. For over four months, out of respect for the Labour Party’s disciplinary rules, he was unable to defend himself while he was defamed on an almost daily basis as an ‘antisemite’ in the media.

On 26 June 2019, Chris’s suspension was lifted by a Disputes Panel of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee. However, following a concerted two-day media campaign by the same forces who had engineered his suspension, Chris was ‘re-suspended’ by the party on 28 June – a move without precedent in Labour’s history. He was then referred to the Party’s National Constitutional Committee, where his expulsion would almost certainly be a foregone conclusion.

With a heavy heart and after months of personal distress, Chris has been forced to take legal action against the party that he has dedicated his life to. He is challenging his ‘re-suspension’ as unlawful. But to do so, he needs your support. This could be a long and costly legal battle. We need your help to cover the immediate costs of the legal case and campaign.

Raising £75,000 will help meet the costs of Chris’s case. Raising much more than that could allow us to begin building a legal fighting fund for the Labour Left, defending other comrades who have been maliciously accused and hounded out of the party.

Capitulation is complicity. Solidarity is sacred. Defend your comrades.

Donate today, and help keep Chris Williamson in the Labour Party!

Read the same statement at the official Campaign for Chris Williamson website.

 

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John Pilger on war with China, the West’s loss of perception, and how “many journalists have simply given up”

“When I first went to Hiroshima it was just over twenty years after the bomb was dropped and it had an extraordinary effect on me. I saw on the steps of a bank in the middle of Hiroshima, the shadow of a woman. She’d been sitting there, apparently preparing her lunch, sitting on the steps when the flash happened. The bomb dropped on August 6th 1945 and her image was burnt into the steps of the bank.

“I remember looking at this image of this woman – you could see her shape, her arms, almost her relaxed position – and the impact that had on me was quite profound actually. And it obviously had an impact on many people because they got rid of it. They got rid of the shadow. Japan under US pressure got rid of this extraordinary shadow and it’s not there anymore.

“Now I would suggest that that shadow represents something ahead of us unless we start understanding the true dangers of the recklessness of our own governments.” — John Pilger

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On today’s season finale special episode of Going Underground, Afshin Rattansi speaks to award-winning journalist and film-maker John Pilger in an extended interview about the current state of global affairs as it enters what Pilger describes as a state of world war: the ‘Coming War on China’ that he had warned about in an earlier documentary (embedded within the transcript below) has already arrived he says.

He also discusses his concern with John Bolton being at the ear of Donald Trump amidst the collapse of the global nuclear arms control framework that saw the end of the INF Treaty and the beginning of a new arms race with Russia; a situation where Washington’s goal is to break up the Russian Federation under Putin. He likewise sees a growing risk of war between other nuclear superpowers, most especially Pakistan and India.

Pilger also talks about western sanctions imposed on Venezuela and Iran and how they are deliberately bringing suffering to the citizens of those countries; how Brexit has provided a distraction from the most pressing issues at home (such as austerity and the NHS) and abroad; and finally, he provides an update on the condition of Wikileaks founder and publisher Julian Assange, after he visited him recently in Belmarsh prison:

The full transcript of the interview is my own [interview begins at 2:30 mins]:

Afshin Rattansi: John thanks for coming back on. Boris Johnson [is] in Germany today. All eyes on the G7 at the end of the week: Russia not invited, China not considered by the IMF to be an advanced economy, but they will be talking about China apparently – we are being led to believe that Hong Kong is the centre of this weekend’s negotiations or talks.

John Pilger: Yes – what are these talks about? Excluding two of the most interesting developed powers in the world, China and Russia. I mean you know the truth is – what nobody is talking about – is there is a world war. It’s not a shooting war. But it could easily become a world war. There is a war already on China.

There has been a war of attrition against Russia for some years now: breaking up the Russian Federation is an American objective. Maintaining the supremacy of the US in all areas of human affairs – economic affairs, cultural affairs – is what particularly this regime in Washington is committed to. All regimes have been committed to.

It’s now reaching a head because they see a challenge in China. A challenge, and undoubtedly it’s an economic challenge, but it’s not a military challenge. This Nineteenth Century view of the world that permeates Washington and has returned to this country, the United Kingdom, has now created a war situation with China.

Very few know that China has now changed its nuclear posture from low alert – that is separating the warheads from missiles – to high alert – putting them together, the same as the United States. That’s something China didn’t do for many, many years, but they are clearly worried there now.

AR: You’re documentary was “The Coming War on China”, but you’re saying it is a war: we’ve seen colour revolutions thwarted – some successful against Putin in Russia. Is Hong Kong – millions of pounds have gone in from the National Endowment for Democracy – does Beijing understand what Hong Kong is?

JP: Oh yes. Yes, I think Beijing understands perfectly. The reason there is a rebellion in China is complex, of course, the people in Hong Kong do have a grievance. There is an inequality. But really what has happened is that manufacturing has moved to the mainland. The interference in Hong Kong, the subversion in Hong Kong by the US through the National Endowment for Democracy, through its local agents… and by all the others who make regular pilgrimages to John Bolton. Of course they are part of the war on China.

That’s not to take away from the fact that there are grievances within China – within Hong Kong – but Hong Kong didn’t sign up for two countries, two systems. It signed up for one country and two systems. And I find it almost grotesque the whole idea [that] the Union Jack should be draped over the speaker’s chair in the assembly in Hong Kong, when it was the Union Jack over hundred that represented an oppressive system.

I went to Hong Kong several times to write about the oppression of the police under the British. A corrupt police force led by British officers. A brutal police force. There was never any democracy.

AR: Even up to the 1990s?

JP: Right up to the 1990s. What there was – Hong Kong has been a business island. Well one could say that perhaps China is a business nation. And the mainland has usurped this special role of Hong Kong.

AR: So why here are we treated to endless images – as you say, no doubt some of these protesters have justification for opposing what is going on in Hong Kong – but yet the Gilets Jaunes protests are probably not going to be discussed in Biarritz this weekend at the G7?

JP: Because never before have people been called upon to think within such a narrow spectrum. And we could sit here all day talking about the iniquities of the media and so on, but it’s even wider than the media. There is a spectrum in which we are, if you like, allowed to think.

The news is dominated by Hong Kong and yet 29 miles from England there’s France, and this extraordinary rebellion of the Yellow Jackets, which has produced the most equally extraordinary violence from the state, has been virtually ignored. The same is true of Kashmir. I mean Kashmir was a fleeting moment, if you like, allowed into our perception. And here is a country bigger than Belgium, bigger than Portugal – 30 million people – where people are denied everything by the Indian state: denied food, freedom of movement, freedom of expression. India’s been doing this for a very, very long time. But India is our friend – the world’s greatest democracy and so…

AR: Trump says he’s being even-handed on it. China, of course, which has an interest there – another nuclear power apart from the other two – has taken it up at the Security Council.

JP: It’s our perception, I suppose, that we’re thinking about here… the way people are concerned that we’re going to run out of medicines after October 31st. We have no perception of the way the people of Iran are suffering under the sanctions that deny cancer drugs almost entirely because of these sanctions.

We have no perception of the way the people of Venezuela are suffering under sanctions. We have absolutely zilch understanding of how the people of Gaza continue to suffer in their open prison, as that has been obliterated almost from the news agenda and by extension from our perception. So within this spectrum – this narrow spectrum – the manipulation of people is probably the most extraordinary I’ve know in my career as a journalist.

AR: But obviously it’s not a physiological problem amongst journalists in newsrooms around the world that they can’t understand say Brexit no deal – there’s going to be problems here with medicines and food – and not understanding Yemen.

JP: I think journalists have given up. Many journalists have simply given up. There is a so-called mainstream, which is a misnomer: it’s not a mainstream at all, it’s an agency of extreme economic policies, policies that produce 4.1 million children in poverty in Britain.

AR: Four million children, two million under the age of five in Britain.

JP: Yes. And the kind of suffering that has come out of these extreme policies – called neoliberalism or whatever you want to call it – is echoed through our media in the same way that the whole absence of a warning that these virulent campaigns against China and Russia (particularly against the nuclear armed countries) could actually lead to something.

The abandonment by the United States of the INF treaty – the most important anti-nuclear war treaty ever signed – and here we had yesterday, I think it was, the US now testing again these intermediate-range nuclear weapons. And Russia, Putin, saying well yes of course we’re in an arms race again. The dangers of this. The dangers of accidentally, mistakenly beginning a nuclear war are not known to most people. That’s left out of this spectrum.

AR: Some say the INF treaty had to be revised because China was always opposing and violating the terms… in which the INF treaty was originally negotiated between Gorbachev and…

JP: That would come out of Washngton. And even if that treaty did need revision, then revise it. I remember those discussions and I interviewed a number of the American negotiators, extraordinary men… who sat down and negotiated with the Russians these complex treaties. They were serious people. We are not dealing with serious people.

AR: Some school textbooks in this country still say that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the prices to pay for ending the Second World War. You went there.

JP: You only have to read the US Air Force bombing survey and it’s very clear that that wasn’t the case.

When I first went to Hiroshima it was just over twenty years after the bomb was dropped and it had an extraordinary effect on me. I saw on the steps of a bank in the middle of Hiroshima, the shadow of a woman. She’d been sitting there, apparently preparing her lunch, sitting on the steps when the flash happened. The bomb dropped on August 6th 1945 and her image was burnt into the steps of the bank.

I remember looking at this image of this woman – you could see her shape, her arms, almost her relaxed position – and the impact that had on me was quite profound actually. And it obviously had an impact on many people because they got rid of it. They got rid of the shadow. Japan under US pressure got rid of this extraordinary shadow and it’s not there anymore.

Now I would suggest that that shadow represents something ahead of us unless we start understanding the true dangers of the recklessness of our own governments.

AR: Well, John Bolton, the National Security Advisor, who advises Trump we are led to believe, says that all options should be on the table against dictators like Maduro, against people in Iran who lead their government – attacking all these different places.

JP: I’ve interviewed John Bolton. John Bolton comes as close to being a political lunatic as you can get.

AR: He had friendly conversations with Boris Johnson here just the other week.

JP: Often political lunatics can have a very friendly conversation with others if they recognise similarities. But Bolton particularly is a man absolutely salivating it appears – and I don’t think I’ve ever said this about any politician of this kind – for a war. Or for an attack. Or for an overthrow. Or for a coup. That he is in the position he is in is the most terrifying thing.

AR: In foreign policy terms you see the European Union, which completely backs John Bolton’s view on Venezuela – Britain and Brussels completely aligned with Washington saying Juan Guaidó is the real leader of Venezuela. The EU is an arm of Nato?

JP: Well, you see the problem with the whole Brexit nonsense – this utterly almost internecine struggle of wills following the referendum in 2016 – is how much it excludes. There is no public debate, certainly no parliamentary debate – probably there never would have been – no public debate on the fact that the European Union is an agency of Nato. And Nato is, almost by definition, certainly by example, a nuclear war fighting provocative organisation. All this is supported by the EU. It should be part of our debate about the EU. I have no doubt there are great virtues in some things about the EU.

AR: Of course it’s the kind of thing Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party here in Britain, used to talk about. Is there reason why he perhaps has been on the fence – or is regarded as being on the fence about Lexit versus Brexit, because he understands that?

JP: Jeremy Corbyn seems to have become so overwhelmed by Brexit, whereas the country – this country – in which so many people are suffering is as a result of this hideous ideology “austerity”. One only has to drive outside London as I’ve done in making the film I’ve made about the National Health Service. And drive into rather nice places like Wiltshire and see the boarded up towns. This needs a Labour leader.

Now Jeremy Corbyn has presented himself as that Labour leader, but Brexit seems to have overwhelmed every party, anyone who steps anywhere near Parliament or this subject – it’s a very important subject, of course. No deal or not no deal. But what is most important is whether the National Health Service will survive, not Brexit, but will survive the ideological attacks on it. Whether people will survive this hideous mutation of welfare called Universal Credit.

In Durham, a father of three killed himself because he had no money anymore, it hadn’t come through under Universal Credit. The suffering of people in this developed country, which is now the sixth or seventh richest country in the world, is obscene.

AR: This is a week when the Childhood Trust has said that in Britain children are eating toilet paper to stave off hunger. Is this in a sense, when you talk about the United States or Germany, is this the Achilles heel? Because, of course, Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, there are people heading to 2020 to overthrow, democratically, Donald Trump, who seem to have a different vision. And is the 2008 crisis the context: the foreign policy, the home policy, the starvation?

JP: I mean I think Sanders and the rest of them are social democrats rushing to catch up with a kind of social democracy which has been in Europe and is now being rapidly extinguished. But their foreign policy doesn’t change. We had two of the leading socialists – at least they are members of the Democratic Socialists of America – vote for Donald Trump’s 738 billion arms budget recently in Congress. That should concern us in the outside world, that Sanders and the others – which they interestingly call “the left” in the United States – okay, but they’re social democrats – whether they bring some form of civilised life to a country where now up to half the population are suffering some form of impoverishment (in the United States).

AR: You certainly won’t hear them defending Julian Assange of Wikileaks. If anything they might arguably be seen as part of those people who consider Wikileaks a Russian cut-out of an organisation. You met Julian Assange in Belmarsh prison not far from this studio. Chelsea Manning of course is refusing to testify against Julian Assange. She’s in solitary in the United States. Tell me first of all about Julian’s health.

JP: Can I just say very quickly, first you know we’ve been talking about censorship by omission on a huge scale. A federal court ruled that there was no Russian connection with Julian Assange. That he had constitutional rights to do as he did as a journalist and as a publisher, and that has been completely ignored.

Julian’s own condition is, how do I put it, very dangerous. When I last saw him about ten days ago I was shocked because he’d lost more weight. He was isolated. They seemed to be imposing a regime that must be punitive on him of isolation. He’s in the health wing – what they call the ‘healthcare wing’ or ‘hospital wing’ – of Belmarsh prison, but he’s in a single cell and he told me that I see people walking by and I’d like to talk to them but I can’t.

Category A prisoners, murderers and others who have committed serious crimes, are allowed to fraternise; Julian is not allowed to fraternise. He’s not even allowed to telephone his American lawyers and he’s facing extradition to the United States. He had to wait two and a half months to see an optician and then when he got his glasses one of the lens didn’t work.

He’s being denied the right – the right – to prepare his own defence. He’s denied access to documents. Access to the library. A laptop. His lawyer, his solicitor Gareth Peirce spoke to the governor on the fourth of June about this and received no reply. What’s going on?

We understand if there is no basic justice in the treatment of somebody like this, who is in prison because he infringed bail – that is just about the merest – it’s not a crime actually – it is about the merest thing that the law can nail you for (and that is infringing your bail). He is there also, of course, because he is facing US extradition. But primarily he is there for this minor offence and he has been treated in the way that political prisoners are treated all over the world. That’s a moniker that won’t be appreciated, but it applies.

AR: Have his previous partners, the Guardian newspaper in London, The New York Times, have they helped to seal his fate?

JP: Yes they have helped to seal his fate. Mind you they’re worried. They’re worried because in the federal court ruling it was made clear by the judge in this very considered judgement that newspapers like The New York TimesThe New York Times and the Guardian published the war logs in 2010 – the war logs from Iraq, the war logs of Afghanistan that Wikileaks had been the conduit for, had passed to them – they published them first, before Wikileaks.

In law, and that’s what he [the judge] was saying, they are as liable. But they are also, as Julian is – and this was the point he was making – are protected by the US Constitution. Now the US Constitution is being torn up by the Trump administration. That’s why Julian, basically, is in the trouble he is.

All these charges that he’s meant to be facing in the United States are concocted. They’re ridiculous. They don’t apply. They are charges against a journalist and a publisher, but they would apply equally against the editor-in-chief of the Guardian, the editor of The New York Times, and the editor of El País, the editor of Der Spiegel, the editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. They know this and they’re worried.

But they’re in such cahoots, they collude so deeply with the establishment of their country, and that now means the intelligence agencies – they have the power now in western societies – they collude so deeply with them that they dare not speak up. I suggest that as this whole grotesque charade against Julian Assange goes on, they should speak up pretty quickly.

Not all of the views expressed are necessarily views shared by ‘wall of controversy’.

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