Tag Archives: Owen Smith

just imagine… a second Labour coup — on Chuka Umunna and so-called ‘Independent Group’

Act I: the first whiff of a second Labour coup

The following section written in September 2016 has remained unpublished until now.

Just imagine:

On September 24th 2016, Jeremy Corbyn wins reelection. Within hours he moves to consolidate his control of the party. One-by-one, MPs start declaring their independence from their reelected leader; eventually over 150 have done so. Local Labour Parties begin to split along leader-rebels lines. Staffers in Labour’s headquarters formally disregard Mr Corbyn. A True Labour declaration of independence and social democratic principles is promoted by leading MPs and Labour grandees like Mr Kinnock. A majority of Labour MPs rally around it and appoint a True Labour interim leader and shadow cabinet sporting the best of the party’s parliamentary talent (perhaps: Angela Eagle as leader, Rachel Reeves as shadow chancellor, Tom Watson as a continuity deputy leader).

The extract above is taken from an opinion piece published in The Economist by the columnist Bagehot on August 12th. It is an open call for a new splinter party calling itself “True Labour” to emerge from amongst the ranks of the 170+ PLP ‘rebels’ (obviously I apply the term ‘rebel’ loosely) after detaching themselves one by one and then almost surreptitiously reassembling into a new makeshift party. If we look past the unintended comedy – a list of “best of the party’s parliamentary talent” which begins “perhaps: Angela Eagle as leader”, because if that isn’t hilarious, then frankly what is? – this newest plot against Corbyn, and the vast majority of Labour members who support him, is certainly elaborate in its conception:

True Labour obtains recognition from John Bercow as the official opposition. Donors are sought and local branches established. These swallow the moderate segments of Constituency Labour Parties and welcome a flood of new centre-left and centrist members, including many previously unaligned voters politicised by the Brexit vote.

The conception being that:

True Labour’s role would then not be to compete amicably with Mr Corbyn’s “Labour” but to marginalise or, ideally, destroy it by appropriating the Labour mantle through sheer weight, dynamism and persuasiveness. 1

My attention was originally drawn to this piece thanks to former BBC Economics Editor, Paul Mason, who points out that Bagehot isn’t just any old neo-liberal mouthpiece, but the nom de plume of Jeremy Cliffe, “formerly intern at the Party of European Socialists in Brussels, aide to Chuka Umunna and activist in the Ed Miliband for Leader campaign.” A figure Mason flatteringly describes as “one of the best informed UK journalists in the sphere of Labour and European social democracy.”

In the same article, Mason also reminds of the run up to the initial coup against Corbyn, and what has followed since:

During their attempt to stop Corbyn getting on the ballot paper, the right launched Saving Labour  — there’s no information about where it gets its money, who its officers are, what it’s statues [sic] are. It organised a day of street stalls, issued three press releases and went quiet on 28 July.

It’s been superseded by “Labour Tomorrow” — a private company with a reported £250,000 war chest to fight Jeremy Corbyn once he wins. This money will be distributed only to “moderate centre left organisations”. No other other information provided on its website apart from a single blog post by David Blunkett and Cold War union rightwinger Brenda Dean. No explanation of what “centre left” means, again no indication of where the money’s coming from.

Continuing:

Every signal from the Labour right appears to point towards a second coup against Corbyn, once he wins the leadership election, which will make Owen Smith’s current effort look like a sideshow.

The plan was spelled out in the Bagehot column of the Economist two weeks ago: declare yourselves “True Labour” in parliament; claim the legal role of HM Opposition; attempt to take unions and CLPs with you — if necessary by bureaucratic declarations; fight for the party’s name and assets in the courts on the grounds that it is you — the breakaway group — which truly represents Labour’s social democratic heritage. 2

Mason finishes his article with an entreaty to Owen Smith, who he rightly judges a dire candidate but a “willing dupe[s]: like the Auguste clown at the circus, who stands there pretending he doesn’t know the Whiteface clown has a custard pie behind his back”, to curtail his lamentable campaign for leadership in order to save himself and the party. Or, failing that, for Smith to issue a public statement saying he refuses to join with any breakaway faction and will respect the result of the election.

His appeal is, of course, a futile one. You cannot expect a snake to change its spots. On the other hand, party members and all Labour supporters are now in a position to make a difference. To be forewarned is to be forearmed, but that is of little significance if we remain passive. I therefore strongly favour pre-emptive action.

Whether Mason is right or wrong, it does no harm to send a volley of letters to each of our constituency MPs politely asking what they intend to do in the event that “True Labour” is launched (and let’s call it a coup this time before it happens). Will our MPs remain loyal to the party and its members and their leader who has twice received a democratic mandate, or will they jump ship… but, to reiterate, let’s keep this polite.

We have the chance to hold the feet of our elected representatives to the fire and, as Corbyn supporters, to get on to the front foot. My own letter is already dispatched and I will let you know if and when I receive a reply. Meanwhile be encouraged to steal my words (reprinted below), rework them, or else write something far better. What is needed is #stopthecorbyncoupmark2… but snappier. The snappier the better.

Click here to read Paul Mason’s full article

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Act II: Chuka Umunna and the Blairite deserters

That Chuka Umunna and a faction of disaffected Blairite Labour MPs including Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker and Luciana Berger have been planning to jump ship is surely the worst kept secret in Westminster. As far back as October 2016, The Mail on Sunday was reporting on Umunna’s secret talks with Hillary Clinton’s campaign team “to advise her on how to beat a Democratic rival for the presidency [Bernie Sanders] dubbed the ‘American Jeremy Corbyn’”. A meeting took place in July 2015 and a few months prior to Corbyn’s election as Labour leader in September:

A leaked email from Mrs Clinton’s private server, released by the WikiLeaks website, reveals that a member of Mr Umunna’s team sent a message to John Podesta, chairman of the Clinton campaign, on July 19 last year saying: ‘Chuka Umunna… is in NYC [New York City] on Thursday… he’d love to come by and see you and share his insights on why Labour did so badly in May, and what HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton] campaign might take away from that.’

Sources close to Mr Umunna confirmed he met Mr Podesta and discussed the rise of Corbynism and the threat posed by Bernie Sanders – her Democratic rival dubbed ‘the US Jeremy Corbyn’ because of his pledge to redistribute the country’s wealth – who at the time was starting to surge in the polls. 3

Then, two years later in June 2017 and the wake of May’s cataclysmic election defeat, rather than getting solidly behind Corbyn, his leadership reinvigorated by Labour’s remarkable election gains, Umunna was instead slinking off to hold secret talks with Conservative MPs in a cross-party alliance to force a ‘soft Brexit’. This betrayal of the party was also in defiance of Labour’s manifesto pledges to honour the referendum decision on which Umunna had been re-elected just days earlier:

A source told the Daily Mail: “Chuka sees himself as the leader of the Remain fight back and is rallying troops on all sides of the House.

“He has got much more in common with open-minded Tory MPs than he does with Corbyn anyway.” 4

Firmer evidence of Umunna’s plot finally came to light last August, when it was disclosed in the Daily Express that a dozen Labour “moderates” (for some reason they have an aversion to being labelled ‘Blairites’) were gathering for weekends together at Fair Oak Farm in Sussex at a cost of £144 per night to hatch plans to “take back control and repair the damage that has been done”:

The group would catch the 7.18pm train from Waterloo East on a Thursday evening to Stonegate before taking a seven-minute taxi ride to the luxury bed and breakfast estate Fair Oak Farm in Sussex. […]

It was claimed attendees at the events included former leadership candidate Liz Kendall, former shadow cabinet members Chuka Umunna and Chris Leslie, and other senior MPs including Gavin Shuker.

Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock, one of the most outspoken critics of Mr Corbyn, also attended but has recently quit the party to become an independent. 5

The article is headlined in screaming capitals “CORBYN’S CURTAIN CALL: Furious MPs vow to ‘COLLAPSE’ leadership at SECRET MEETINGS”.

It continues:

A source at the meetings told the Daily Express: “We are getting together regularly to discuss how to take back control of the party.

“At some point the Corbyn leadership is going to fail and collapse, we only need to see what is happening with the anti-Semitism problem, and we need to be ready to step in, win the leadership rebuild the party as a credible force and repair the damage that has been done.”

Meetings have taken place with the group at other locations and there is a wider group of rebel MPs numbering more than 20.

The Daily Express has learnt that one proposal put forward was to wait for a Corbyn election victory and then to use the large group of moderate Labour MPs to prevent him from becoming prime minister.

Another attendee at the away days told the Express: “As things stand Labour could win the next election simply because the Tories have made such a mess over Brexit and look so incompetent.

“If that happens we will break away and either form a separate Labour Party within parliament or a new party.

“There are [Remainer] Conservative and Lib Dem MPs who are interested in joining us if we do form a new party because of Brexit.”

The MP added: “The issue would be then whether we would have time to create a proper identity before an election or if there would need to be an election soon after. In that sense it is complicated.”

All of which brings the story up to date. Efforts to topple Corbyn can be traced all the way back to his first leadership election and the weeks leading up to it. As the architect of New Labour, Peter Mandelson, admitted rather too candidly when speaking to editor of The Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard, shortly after Corbyn’s second leadership victory:

“The problem with Jeremy is not that he is a sort of maniac – it’s not as though he is a nasty person. It’s that he literally has no idea in the 21st century how to conduct himself as a leader of a party putting itself forward in a democratic election to become the government of our country.” […]

“Why do you want to just walk away and pass the title deeds of this great party over to someone like Jeremy Corbyn? I don’t want to, I resent it, and I work every single day in some small way to bring forward the end of his tenure in office.

“Something, however small it may be – an email, a phone call or a meeting I convene – every day I try to do something to save the Labour party from his leadership.” 6

Click here to read the full Guardian article entitled “Peter Mandelson: I try to undermine Jeremy Corbyn ‘every single day’”.

Likewise Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker and the rest of yesterday’s deserters have each dedicated countless days in seeking to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Not really over the trumped-up allegations of antisemitism – the media outcry over antisemitism inside the Labour Party was for the most part manufactured – and not because they fear that Corbyn is unfit to lead the party, as the lamentable Owen Smith parroted during his laughably inept leadership challenge, but – paraphrasing the source who spoke anonymously to the Daily Mail – because they have more in common with open-minded Tory MPs than with Corbyn anyway.

So while it is true that Corbyn’s conciliatory and democratic stance over Brexit certainly does infuriate them, this is the full limit to their honesty. And such last gasp defections at this critical moment as Britain prepares to leave the EU not only highlights the total contempt these Blairites have for the party and its membership, but for the country as a whole; their unwillingness to resign their seats and fight by-elections, a further indication of their overweening sense of entitlement.

As Novara Media senior editor Ash Sarkar told resigning Blairite, Angela Smith, on yesterday’s BBC2’s Politics Live show:

Not being Jeremy Corbyn, unfortunately, is not a manifesto in itself. People are going to be looking at things like your record on water privatisation. You are like one of the last people left in the country who still believes in it. They will look at the fact you are in the all-party water group, which is mostly paid for by the water industry. And they’ll go: ‘You know what? That stinks of corruption.’ 7

 

Click here to read an excellent piece also published by The Canary that reminds readers of the voting history of the seven defectors who are now calling themselves ‘The Independent Group’.

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Addendum: my open letter to the seven Labour Party defectors

Yesterday I individually emailed all seven of the Labour Party defectors (addressing each singly) under the subject heading “Two questions about The Independent Group” as follows:

Dear,

Firstly, after Douglas Carswell changed political allegiance in August 2014 moving from the Conservative Party to UKIP, he promptly announced his resignation as an MP, thereby necessitating a by-election. In September 2014, Mark Reckless did likewise. Given that you won your parliamentary seat on the back of Labour Party support and finance and on the pledge of honouring Labour’s election manifesto, do you intend follow the same course and observe these dignified precedents?

Secondly, according to your website: “The Independent Group of MPs is supported by Gemini A Ltd a company limited by guarantee.” This is a private company, registered with Companies House on January 16th, which Gavin Shuker controls “75% or more” of the shares. Can you make clear in what way your organisation is not a political party, or if as appears to be the case it is a new party, that it will be subject to Electoral Commission rules that ensure transparency as regards finance and donations?

Kind regards,

James Boswell

The email addresses of all MPs are publicly available but I have included a list of addesses for the seven members of The Independent Group below in the hope of encouraging others to express their opinions directly:

Chuka Umunna: chuka.umunna.mp@parliament.uk

Luciana Berger: luciana.berger.mp@parliament.uk

Ann Coffey: ann.coffey.mp@parliament.uk

Mike Gapes: mike.gapes.mp@parliament.uk

Chris Leslie: chris.leslie@parliament.uk

Angela Smith: officeofangelasmithmp@parliament.uk

Gavin Shuker: gavin.shuker.mp@parliament.uk

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An earlier letter to my constituency MP

Dear Paul Blomfield,

I have read that in the likely event that Jeremy Corbyn is again elected to serve as leader, there may be moves to encourage Labour MPs to disregard the democratic mandate of Labour members, declare independence in parliament, and seek recognition from John Bercow as the official opposition. In such circumstances, can you please assure me that you will actively repudiate any invitation of this, or any similar kind, that betrays the wishes of the members and seeks to create a further division of the party.

James Boswell

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Additional:

Back in 2016, Sharmini Peries of The Real News interviewed Leo Panitch, Professor of Political Economy at Yory University, Toronto and author of many books including The Making of Global Capitalism and The End of Parliamentary Socialism. Panitch provides very insightful analysis on the grassroots origins of “Momentum”, how its emergence helped Corbyn win the first leadership election, and how it has been traduced by both by opponents within the party and the media:

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Update: Craig Murray on the Corrupt Seven and the media response

On February 19th, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan and whistleblower, Craig Murray, published a lengthy article from which the following is an extended excerpt. Here he is discussing the Corrupt Seven’s (as he calls them) “deeply dishonourable” decision not to stand for re-election, and why Luciana Berger’s complaints of antisemitism cannot be blamed on Corbyn:

Democracy is a strange thing. This episode has revealed that it is apparently a democratic necessity that we have another referendum on Brexit, while being a democratic necessity not to have another referendum on Scottish Independence, while the notion that the MPs, who now have abandoned the party and manifesto on which they stood, might face their electorates again, is so disregarded that none of the fawning MSM journalists are asking about it. In rejecting this option, the Corrupt Seven are managing the incredible feat of being less honorable than Tory MPs defecting to UKIP, who did have the basic decency to resign and fight again on their new prospectus.

Dick Taverne is a more directly relevant precedent, particularly as he was deselected as sitting Labour MP precisely because of his support for the EU. Taverne resigned, and fought and won his seat in a by-election in 1973, before losing it in the second 1974 election. There are also precedents for crossing the floor and not resigning and fighting under your new banner, but then there are also precedents for mugging old ladies. It is deeply dishonorable.

Luciana Berger is a one trick pony and it is worth noting that her complaints about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party date back to at least 2005, while Tony Blair was still Prime Minister. Berger had already by April 2005 spotted anti-Semitism in the National Union of Students, in the Labour Party and in her student union newspaper, those being merely the examples cited in this single Daily Telegraph article. I am extremely sorry and somewhat shocked to hear of the swamp of anti-semitism in which we were all already mired in 2005, but I do find it rather difficult to understand why the fault is therefore that of Jeremy Corbyn. And given that Tony Blair was at that time Prime Minister for eight years, I cannot understand why it is all Corbyn’s fault and responsibility now, but it was not Blair’s fault then.

On the contrary, the Telegraph puff piece states that Berger had met Blair several times and was Euan Blair’s girlfriend. This was of course before the privately educated Londoner was foisted on the unfortunate people of Liverpool Wavetree, doubtless completely unfacilitated by her relationship with Euan Blair.

The kind of abuse Berger has evidently been attracting since at least 2005 is of course a crime. Two people have quite rightly been convicted of it. Joshua Bonehill-Paine and John Nimmo sent a series of truly disgusting tweets and both were jailed. Both are committed long term neo-nazis. Yet I have repeatedly heard media references to the convictions squarely in the context of Labour Party anti-semitism. I have never heard on broadcast media it explained that neither had anything to do with the Labour Party. Like the left wing anti-semitism Berger has been reporting since at least 2005, this Nazi abuse too is all somehow Jeremy Corbyn’s fault.

It is further worth noting that in that 2005 article Berger claims a 47% increase in attacks on Jews, which is highly reminiscent of recent claims from community groups, such as the 44% increase claimed 2015 to 2017 or the 78% increase in violent crimes against Jews in the UK in 2017 alone claimed by the government of Israel.

One antisemitic attack is too many and all anti-semitism is to be deplored and rooted out. But if all these claims repeated again and again over decades of 30, 40, 50, 60 or 70% increases in attacks per year were true, then we would be now talking of at least 12,000 violent attacks on Jews per year, if we take Ms Berger’s 2005 claim as the baseline.

Yet we are not seeing that. The average number of convictions per year for violent, racially motivated attacks on Jewish people in the UK is less than one.

If we add in non-violent crimes, the number of people convicted per year for anti-semitic hate crime still remains under 20. And I am not aware of a single such conviction related in any way to the Labour Party.

Let me be perfectly plain. I want everybody convicted and imprisoned who is involved in anti-semitic hate crime. But the facts given above would cause any honest journalist to treat with more scepticism than they do, the repeated old chestnut claims of huge year on year increases in anti-semitic incidents.

There really are in logic only two choices; either anti-semitism is, contrary to all the hype, thankfully rare, or the entire British police, prosecutorial and judicial system must be systematically protecting the anti-semites. And I hardly see how they could blame Jeremy Corbyn for that.

None of this will stop the relentless promotion of the “Corbyn anti-semitism” theme, as the idea of a leader not completely behind the slow extirpation of the Palestinian people is unthinkable to the mainstream media class. The Corbyn anti-semitism meme is possibly the most remarkable example of evidence free journalism I have ever encountered.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full post entitled “Democracy and the Corrupt Seven”.

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1 From an article entitled “Why a “True Labour” splinter party could succeed where the SDP failed” written by Bagehot, published in The Economist on August 12, 2016. http://www.economist.com/blogs/bagehot/2016/08/labour-pains

2 From an article entitled “The sound of Blairite silence: Owen Smith has become the willing dupe of the Labour right” written by Paul Mason, published by Medium.com on August 19, 2016.  https://medium.com/mosquito-ridge/the-sound-of-blairite-silence-aed2ef726c8a#.tktnlfuww

3 From an article entitled “Labour’s Chuka held secret talks with Hillary Clinton’s campaign team to advise on how to defeat ‘US Corbyn’ written by Glen Owen, published in The Mail on Sunday on October 23, 2016. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3863494/Labour-s-Chuka-held-secret-talks-Hillary-Clinton-s-campaign-team-advise-defeat-Corbyn.html

4 From an article entitled “Chuka Umunna ‘holds secret talks with Tory MPs plotting to force PM to accept soft Brexit’” written by Aletha Adu, published in the Sunday Express on June 25, 2017. https://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/821016/Chuka-Umunna-Tory-remainers-soft-Brexit-DUP-theresa-may-repeal-bill-Queens-speech

5 From an article entitled “CORBYN’S CURTAIN CALL: Furious MPs vow to ‘COLLAPSE’ leadership at SECRET MEETINGS” written by David Maddox, published in the Daily Express on August 7, 2018. https://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/999804/jeremy-corbyn-labour-leadership-coup-brexit-antisemitism

6 From an article entitled “Peter Mandelson: I try to undermine Jeremy Corbyn ‘every single day’” written by Rowena Mason and Jessica Elgot, published in the Guardian on February 21, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/21/peter-mandelson-i-try-to-undermine-jeremy-corbyn-every-day

7 Quote taken from an article entitled “Ash Sarkar takes down a resigning Blairite MP so brutally, a BBC host intervenes” written by James Wright, published in The Canary on February 18, 2019. https://www.thecanary.co/trending/2019/02/18/ash-sarkar-takes-down-a-resigning-blairite-mp-so-brutally-a-bbc-host-intervenes/

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, Craig Murray

Corbyn v. Smith is a bigger than Labour and bigger than Britain

There’s always a new way
A better way that’s not been tried before

Ben Okri 1

This leadership contest is a battle for the soul of the Labour Party, we hear – repeatedly. Often enough that it has become something of a cliché. But that doesn’t make it any less true. It simply means we tend to stop thinking about the deep and inherent truth of it.

Here’s another cliché: it’s about a movement, not a man (a slogan better associated with Bernie Sanders’ campaign although more fitting in Corbyn’s case). Corbyn, after all, is actively committed to the building of a movement, fully aware that without massive popular support, the core policies he advocates would be both too radical to institute and could not possibly endure.

But then Corbyn is an instinctive democrat. So he recognises something others on the left habitually forget. That socialism and democracy must travel hand in hand as equal partners (for without democracy, socialism is rapidly debased and sinks to be as oppressive as any system it challenges). Fortunately – and here is the crux – social justice and genuine equality are what the majority would unfailingly choose if clearly presented with such an option, and if only because social justice and greater equality serve the self-interest of the majority.

Orwell put this perfectly:

“Socialism is such elementary common sense that I am sometimes amazed that it has not established itself already.”

Since, as he goes on to point out:

“The world is a raft sailing through space with, potentially, plenty of provisions for everybody; the idea that we must all cooperate and see to it that everyone does his fair share of the work and gets his fair share of the provisions seems so blatantly obvious that one would say that no one could possibly fail to accept it unless he had some corrupt motive for clinging to the present system.” 2

So here’s a third and final thought – perhaps it can become a cliché too (certainly it is not original). That those who today stop at nothing to stop Corbyn are ultimately intent on stopping us all. Denying the vast majority of us basic rights, a modicum of social justice, a functioning NHS, pensions for all, and set solidly against any levelling up of what is now grotesque inequality. Okay, that’s too long to be a cliché – so reduce it; sloganise its kernel of blazingly obvious truth.

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Corbyn, like Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, is part of the new popular resistance that is rising up from the ruins of neoliberalism and globalization to fight the international banking system and American imperialism.

wrote American journalist and political commentator Chris Hedges in an article entitled “where is our Jeremy Corbyn?” published shortly after his leadership victory last Summer.

Hedge’s subtext is that Bernie Sanders is no Corbyn – and Hedges is correct, of course. Sanders capitulation to Clinton was the final proof, if proof was needed. However, Syriza and Podemos are no Corbyn either. Sadly, and in different ways, the wheels have now come off both these alternatives. Of the serious contenders then, Corbyn is the last man (currently) standing – and the only one who has a tested record.

Hedges also astutely foresaw today’s lamentable situation almost precisely a year ago – this is what he wrote then:

Corbyn’s ascent to the head of the Labour Party has already triggered a backlash against him by the forces of the neoliberal political order. These forces are determined to prevent him from becoming prime minister. The entrenched elites within his own party—a number of whom have already resigned from party leadership positions in protest of Corbyn’s election—will seek to do to him what the Democratic establishment did in 1972 to George McGovern after he won the party’s nomination. The rhetoric of fear has already begun. Prime Minister David Cameron on Sunday tweeted: “The Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family’s security.” This battle will be ugly. 3

Ugly is the word!

Here is Corbyn delivering a recent speech [August 21st] to a 4,000-strong crowd packed inside Ruach City Church, Kilburn in London – his central theme is real democracy: giving power back to the people…

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Style over substance

“Politics is showbusiness for ugly people” Jay Leno 4

Owen Smith isn’t Superman, but he’s borrowing his poses.

The Labour leadership contender almost certainly can’t fly, and can’t boast of X-ray vision.

But he’s been snapped adjusting his glasses in the same fashion as the Man Of Steel’s alter ego, Clark Kent.

And this being the age of the internet, the iconic pose has not been overlooked. 5

So oozes a puff piece written by Mikey Smith (presumably no relation) and published by the shamelessly sycophantic Mirror at the beginning of Smith’s already faltering campaign for Labour leadership back in mid July.

For the record, here is another superhero lookalike with the same iconic pose…

Groovy baby, yeah!!!

Which is the trouble with politics that obsesses over synthetic charisma and spin. Not only that these are extremely shallow attributes, but that the public has grown weary of them. We see through the sophistry and are turned off by the plastic presentation. Like Austin Powers, Smith’s act is dated and outmoded, but worse still, it lacks any modicum of charm.

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Normality v. Reality

“Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.” — Martin Luther King 6

Owen Smith’s ineffective charm offensive is one side of former Pfizer-mans latest rebranding exercise. The other side is more revealing: that Owen Smith is ‘normal’!

We know this because he said so, over and over again, during a Sky News interview. The offhanded inference being, of course, that Corbyn is not as ‘normal’ as he is. But what does Smith even mean with his claims to be ‘normal’ (besides presumably not being “a lunatic”)?

Here is a closer analysis of Smith’s Sky News performance: a study of the dormant ratiocination betrayed line by line in his overwrought protestation of normalcy:

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In this post-ideological age, Corbyn stands out as exceptional on many counts. Although the quality that singularly distinguishes him from political rivals is simply his sincerity. That he holds principles and values we do not need to test him on. In fact no-one ever seriously challenges his good faith – his voting record alone attests to honest dependability.

We know, for instance, that Corbyn opposes the wars. He opposed the war in Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, the war in Libya, opposes airstrikes in Syria and Yemen, and served as chair of the Stop the War Coalition (2011—15). He is against Trident too.

Likewise, we know that he actively supports refugees including the two million living in Palestinian camps on the West Bank and inside the Gaza Strip and three million other displaced Palestinians living in camps in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. 7 He is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Equally we know that Corbyn is fiercely anti-austerity. That he is pro-workers’ rights, union rights, women’s right, LGBT rights, and human rights in general. That he is a staunch advocate of a fairer and more caring society with well-funded public sector services, universal welfare (though he says he prefers the less loaded term “social security”) and free healthcare provision for all. And we know that Corbyn is a committed environmentalist. Indeed, it is a delightful revelation to hear any modern politician who speaks so freely and so frankly on all these issues. But then, sincerity comes easily when you have integrity, as does remaining truthful for those who live in accordance with their own stated beliefs.

Tony Benn once explained how he divided politicians into one of two camps: weathercocks and signposts:

 “The signposts say this is the way you should go. You don’t have to follow them but if you come back in ten years’ time the signpost is still there. The weathercock hasn’t got an opinion until they’ve looked at the polls, talked to the focus groups, and discussed it with the spin doctors. I have no time for weathercocks, I’m a signpost man”

Benn was certainly a signpost. Corbyn is too. So how about Owen Smith and the PLP ‘rebels’ who back him…?

Smith says he is as passionate as Corbyn when it comes to all the important matters: housing, education, welfare, NHS. He’s a progressive, and always was anti-austerity and the rest. The main difference, he says, is that Corbyn is ‘unelectable’. That’s right – as any PR man will tell you – if you just repeat something often enough, it becomes true.

Smith hopes we will overlook how under Corbyn’s leadership Labour now enjoys the largest membership of any political party in Europe. And that at Corbyn’s rallies thousands regularly turn out to cheer. Smith does well if he manages to corral a few dozen onlookers (even with an ice-cream van parked nearby). No-one is excited by Smith: not even his supporters.

But then Smith’s copycat routine lacks the very thing that actually counts: authenticity. He is not the real deal. Corbyn is. And Corbyn’s authenticity is the fundamental reason why the focus of political debate in Britain is steadily swinging back again. Why anti-austerity, pro-public services rhetoric is becoming de rigueur. After less than a year as leader, constantly hobbled by those inside the party (very much including shadow cabinet colleagues like Smith), Corbyn has dragged the debate around regardless, and Owen Smith’s campaign inadvertently serves as further proof that Corbyn is winning. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Meanwhile, the PLP’s Blairite inner circle knows that as the desire for real change grows and with it distrust in the established political class, their unstinting efforts to undermine Corbyn are failing, because he is indeed electable. This keeps them awake at night.

For as hopeless as Smith is, he was the best challenger they could muster. The rest of the 170+ ‘rebels’ have mostly preferred to keep their heads down for obvious reasons. Smith is more reckless and, even as politicians go, morbidly ambitious: a character flaw that totally clouds his judgment. He believes his own spin. Meanwhile, the only other challenger to step forward was sillier even than Smith. Angela Eagle was evidently advised to step aside again asap. Both have very likely ruined their political careers for good.

Here is an audio clip from BBC Radio Stoke covering Jeremy Corbyn’s 1000-strong rally in Stoke-on-Trent on Thursday [September 1st] which includes an interview comprised of typically inane questions:

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Ultimately, this fight – possibly to the death given how the embedded Blairite entryists are so willing to sacrifice the party they hijacked two decades ago – pits the prevailing politics of style and spin against the long abandoned politics of content and real change. Hence the relentless mudslinging. Having nothing alternative to say, but with the might of the media behind them, slurs and innuendo is all Corbyn’s opponents can offer. Negative campaigning is all they’ve got.

This works up to a point (and sadly always will) but their stocks of ammunition are gradually being exhausted. Which is one reason the attacks have suddenly intensified – this challenge from Smith, though utterly inept (more in a moment), is certainly a blitzkrieg operation. They want to win quickly, not necessarily in this ballot, but in the hope of spoiling Corbyn’s long-term chances, especially as, following the grand slam in the party’s recent NEC vote, his supporters now look set to dig in. So the stage is set for act 2, scene 1. As for how many acts will follow? This we can only guess.

Smith says that he will heal the party, but again literally nobody believes him. Likewise, when he parrots the refrain that Corbyn is ‘unelectable’, he trusts that few will be able to spot the irony. Yet even while the media keeps its hounds at bay, he still manages to make gaffe after gaffe. For a man with such a relatively low-level of public exposure (basically unknown to most people just two months ago), his track record is mind-bogglingly incompetent. His latest one so cringeworthy that it might have been gabbled forth as the lewd punch-line to the crassest of David Brent’s unguarded ejaculations:

Not that uncontrolled outbursts of casual sexism are anything new to Smith’s repertoire. In May 2010, literally days after first entering parliament after a narrow victory in the Labour safe seat of Pontypridd, he found himself apologising for publishing the following remark:

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

Feeling the heat after making such a thoughtless and insensitive comparison between the relations within the newly-formed coalition government and domestic abuse, Smith afterwards ‘apologised’ with a big wavering ‘if’, writing:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing.” 8

So does anyone seriously imagine Smith would survive long once the press have stopped comparing him to Clark Kent and marked him down rather more perceptively as just another “Welsh windbag” (with the majority of Labour party members nodding sorrowfully in accord)?

Surely, no matter how rigged – and this vote is enormously rigged, as we know – Smith will be defeated by the end of this bitter and ridiculous leadership challenge.

As Aaron Bastani of ‘Novara Media’ sums up in the video below “Smith’s candidacy is a farce…”:

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A new dream of politics

“Politics is the art of the possible” Otto von Bismarck 9

If politics is the art of the possible, as Bismarck once said, then what does this mean? Well, it all depends on where you decide to place the emphasis. Bismarck, who was famed for his realpolitik, would have placed the emphasis on ‘possible’. What is possible becomes, according to this idea, the prime constraint. And Bismarck’s conviction is today’s orthodoxy.

Others, however, may prefer to place the emphasis earlier, on the word ‘art’ instead. The constraint then falls not solely on practicability, but on the collective imagining of how a better future can be made possible. A politics grounded no longer in mere expediency – although there is a great deal to be said for pragmatism, of course – but held in check by values and moral principles, whilst elevated by human creativity.

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On the day Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, he shunned the journalists and ignored the cameras and headed off instead to speak about some of the people who had inspired him. He said “The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love.” These words were in fact stolen from Nigerian novelist and poet Ben Okri. Afterwards, Okri repaid the compliment with a poem dedicated to Corbyn, entitled “A New Dream of Politics”.

Then in July, Corbyn and Okri – who met sometime later – decided to stage a joint event at the Royal Festival Hall. United by a desire to make our world a kinder, fairer place, they spent a leisurely hour exploring a range of subjects encompassing history, world affairs and literature along with the personal journeys that made them who they are. A curious mix of readings, conversations and word games: they let politics take a backseat to the art of the possible – as it should:

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Additional: worst example of BBC bias yet?

On Friday night [Sept 2nd] BBC’s flagship political show Newsnight closed as follows:

Emily Maitlis: In the week that JK Rowling went to war with the Corbynistas on Twitter over who should lead the Labour Party. Getting into a scrap with one of the country’s most influential authors probably isn’t a good idea though, as we discovered when Warner Brothers gave us a sneak peak of the next Harry Potter movie.

Given that the party is in the midst of a leadership campaign, I raise two points.

Firstly, is “Corbynistas” acceptable language for a publicly funded organisation with a commitment to maintain impartiality? Has the BBC ever used the term “Blairite” in an equivalent manner during this leadership campaign or on any earlier occasion?

Secondly, although the BBC will defend itself on the grounds that this is a joke, it has already been harshly criticised by former chair of the BBC Trust, Sir Michael Lyons, who said there had been “some quite extraordinary attacks on the elected leader of the Labour party”.

Click here to read a Guardian article published on May 12th entitled “BBC may have shown bias against Corbyn, says former trust chair.”

More recently, the BBC was declared guilty of “marked and persistent imbalance” in a report released by the researchers from the Media Reform Coalition and Birkbeck, University of London, which found that “almost twice as much unchallenged airtime was given to people criticising Mr Corbyn than his allies on the BBC”.

Click here to read an Independent article published on July 30th entitled “Media ‘persistently’ biased against Jeremy Corbyn, academic study finds”

Given that the BBC is already under suspicion of bias, how does it now see fit to portray Corbyn as, in effect (and regardless of context), the Prince of Darkness?

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Update:

On September 1st, Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell spoke at Cardiff City Hall, and offered a candid and entertaining blow-by-blow account of the PLP coup against Corbyn. (Unfortunately the audio is quite poor throughout and so I advise turning the treble down and the bass up):

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1 

Final couplet from Ben Okri’s poem “A New Dream of Politics” which he dedicated to Jeremy Corbyn. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/12/ben-okri-politics-poem-jeremy-corbyn

2 Extract taken from The Road to Wigan Pier, Part 2, Chapter 11, written by George Orwell, published in 1937.

3 From an article entitled “Where Is Our Jeremy Corbyn?” written by Chris Hedges, published in Truthdig on September 13, 2015. http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/where_is_our_jeremy_corbyn_20150913

4 Quote often attributed to American comedian and TV host, Jay Leno, although perhaps first used by Clinton-Gore strategist Paul Begala. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/reliable-source/2010/12/who_says_washington_is_hollywo.html

5 From an article entitled “Owen Smith posed for this picture and now the internet is convinced he’s Superman” written by Mikey Smith published in The Mirror on July 27, 2016. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/owen-smith-posed-picture-now-8508455

6 From Strength to Love, Ch. 2 “Transformed nonconformist”, written by Martin Luther King, Jr., published in 1963. http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_strength_to_love_1963/

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Palestine refugees are defined as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”

UNRWA services are available to all those living in its area of operations who meet this definition, who are registered with the Agency and who need assistance. The descendants of Palestine refugee males, including adopted children, are also eligible for registration. When the Agency began operations in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, some 5 million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services.

Nearly one-third of the registered Palestine refugees, more than 1.5 million individuals, live in 58 recognized Palestine refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

From the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) official website. http://www.unrwa.org/palestine-refugees

8 From an article entitled “MP Owen Smith sorry for domestic violence comment” published by BBC news on May 25, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10156864

9 Die Politik ist die Lehre vom Möglichen. (Politics is the art of the possible) Otto von Bismarck

From an interview (August 11, 1867) with Friedrich Meyer von Waldeck of the St. Petersburgische Zeitung: Aus den Erinnerungen eines russischen Publicisten. 2. Ein Stündchen beim Kanzler des norddeutschen Bundes. In: Die Gartenlaube (1876). Reprinted in Fürst Bismarck: neue Tischgespräche und Interviews, Vol. 1, p. 248.

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ex-miner John Dunn is guilty of speaking truth to power – so the Labour Party have suspended him!

John Dunn, a Labour Party member for 45 years, has suddenly been suspended. His infraction?

Well, back in late July, Dunn was out and about tackling Owen Smith – politely but firmly:

The two men spoke for a few minutes, before Mr Smith was bundled into the back of a car and driven away, his encounter now over with the very personification of the challenge he faces this summer. 1

An ex-miner, Dunn confronted Smith and accused him of “shamelessly exploiting” what had happened at Orgreave for his own political ends.

As you can see from the photo above, Dunn is proudly sporting a “Orgreave truth and justice campaign” T-shirt. Further evidence of his contumacy.

Dunn afterwards described the moment on his Facebook page:

Just back from running Owen Smith out of S Yorks.

So sick of him trying to shamelessly exploit our struggle that I felt compelled to dash off to Orgreave to politely (yes I can do polite!),and, as a striking miner, ask him to stop such shameless opportunism. He tried to tell me about his background in S. Wales so I replied that whilst he was making pharmaceutical companies rich we were struggling for justice and told him that it was disgusting that he would have such shame as to tarnish the defining moment in our strike, and if he was so committed to the Orgreave issue why had he not signed Ian Lavery’s early day motion, to which I got no response whatsoever.

I added that his actions in the PLP coup were no different to the UDM [Union of Democratic Minerworkers] scabs who undermined our strike. He scuttled into his car, wound the window up and wouldn’t speak to me anymore.

I personally saw John Dunn deliver a terrific speech, both poignant and hilarious by turns, in support of Jeremy Corbyn at last week’s Sheffield rally.

Unfortunately there is only limited footage I can find to embed, although there are plenty of tweets including this one:

And this image published in The Mirror:

Staunch support for the party’s leader appears to have been Dunn’s most egregious infringement of party regulations to date. The last straw, presumably, for Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), although we will never know for sure because they have refused to comment on any decisions regarding individual members:

The Labour party say their validation process includes an electoral register check and a duplication check.

It also includes “verification all voters share the aims and values of the Labour Party”, but they have not revealed on what basis this is judged.

It’s been suggested that supporters’ social media accounts are being examined for words including “traitor”, “scab” and even “blairite”, though Labour would not confirm this.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “We don’t comment on NEC decisions regarding individual members.” 2 

[bold emphasis added]

Defiant as ever, John Dunn vows to fight on:

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John Dunn is one of many members and activists now being suspended ahead of the leadership vote. Others excluded include Ronnie Draper, the General Secretary of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union, who says he is “disgusted and in shock”.

Although reminiscent of a previous Labour Party witch-hunt carried out under Neil Kinnock’s leadership during the mid-80s when members were expelled on the grounds of allegiance to Militant Tendency, in the case of today’s purges, the vast majority of members targeted are among the ranks of supporters of the party’s leader, and not those in alliance with any breakaway faction.

The media has indeed repeatedly tried to recast pro-Corbyn group Momentum as if it were comprised of Militant-like entryists, but the slur is much too obvious and doesn’t wash. The better comparison to the 80s infiltration by Militant in fact belongs to another fringe ‘ginger group’ Progress – an influential Blairite faction that the media assiduously fails to discuss.

Progress put forward its own candidate, Liz Kendall, during the last leadership contest. She was so unpopular that she won just 4% of the vote.

Click here to read an earlier post with more about the recent history of the Labour Party and how Peter Mandelson steered it away from its traditional trade union roots and towards the ‘extreme centre’ of British politics.

Finally, here’s a brief and incisive overview on “how to rig an election” from youtube vlogger James Prowse:

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1 From an article entitled “Labour leadership: Owen Smith attempts to woo Jeremy Corbyn backers” written by Chris Mason, published in BBC news on July 27, 2016. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-36909320

2 From an article entitled “long serving trade union leader banned from Labour Leadership vote” written by Mikey Smith, published in The Mirror on August 25, 2016. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/long-serving-trade-union-leader-8704495

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Craig Murray deconstructs the phoney rebranding of Owen Smith

Having reposted an incisive investigative piece on Angela Eagle’s dubious background yesterday (see below), I feel compelled to balance the debate with a piece that is equally scathing of fellow Labour leadership challenger Owen Smith. So here it is:

The Entirely Fake Owen Smith

by Craig Murray

Even the mainstream media feel compelled to drop hints that Owen Smith is not what he is being promoted as. The Guardian’s words yesterday were unintentionally revealing;

the former shadow work and pensions secretary plans to pitch himself as the soft-left option

Note “to pitch himself”. For PR professional Smith, political stance is nothing to do with personal belief, it is to do with brand positioning. On Channel 4 News last night, an incredulous Michael Crick pointed out that the “soft left” Smith had previously given interviews supporting PFI and privatisation in the health service. He also strongly supported Blair’s city academies.

As chief lobbyist for Pfizer, Smith actively pushed for privatisation of NHS services. This is not something Pfizer did very openly, and you have to search the evidence carefully. Footnotes often tell you what is really happening, as in this press release in which Owen Smith says of a Pfizer funded “focus group” study:

We believe that choice is a good thing and that patients and healthcare professionals should be at the heart of developing the agenda.

You have to look at the footnotes to see what kind of choice Owen Smith is actually talking about. Note to Editors 3 includes

“The focus groups also explored areas of choice that do not yet exist in the UK – most specifically the use of direct payments and the ability to choose to go directly to a specialist without first having to see the GP.”

Well, at least it is clear – direct payments from the public to doctors replacing current NHS services. Smith was promoting straight privatisation. As Head of Policy and Government Relations for Pfizer, Owen Smith was also directly involved in Pfizer’s funding of Blairite right wing entryist group Progress. Pfizer gave Progress £53,000. Progress has actively pursued the agenda of PFI and privatisation of NHS services.

Owen Smith went to Pfizer from a Labour Party job, while Labour were in government, and there is no doubt that his hiring was an example of the corrupt relationship between New Labour and big business which is why the Blairites are so hated by the public. It is also beyond any argument that if Pfizer had any doubts about Owen Smith’s willingness to promote the Big Pharma and NHS Privatisation agenda, they would never have hired him.

Owen Smith is a strong supporter of Trident and assiduously courts the arms industry. He is a regular at defence industry events.

Perhaps most crucially of all, Owen Smith joined his fellow Red Tories in abstaining on the Tory welfare benefit cuts.

I do not doubt Owen Smith’s expertise in brand positioning. I expect that there are indeed a large number of Labour Party members who might vote for a left wing alternative to Corbyn. But I also suspect that Smith has adopted the PR man’s typical contempt for the public, who are not as stupid as he seems to think. There is no evidence whatsoever that Smith is a left winger. There is every evidence that he is another New Labour unprincipled and immoral careerist, adopting a left wing pose that he thinks will win him votes.

People will notice, Owen. They really are not that stupid.

Click here to read the same article on Craig Murray’s blog.

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