Category Archives: Politics
The full text may be read here. Some points made follow:
Twenty years ago, this week, the people of Northern Ireland and of the Republic of Ireland voted in a referendum to accept the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. That vote changed the course of history on this island and represented the clearing of the final hurdle of a long and difficult process that opened the door to two decades of sustained peace.
Many young people across Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain do not remember a time when the bloody hand of conflict held a grip on our respective lands. Communities from Derry to Omagh to Warrington were afflicted by the plague of violence for a generation, leaving deep and long-lasting scars for all those who lived through those troubled times.
All too often in that period, the willingness to use force and reach for weapons instead of dialogue and diplomacy inflicted unnecessary suffering on innocent people.
So as we rightly celebrate the anniversary of the end to those years of violence, it’s important we remember the effort and determination it took on all sides to get where we are today.
I stand here as leader of the British Labour Party, a party that is proud of the part it played in helping to bring peace and stability to this region. Something many believed could never be achieved.
The transformation we have seen in Belfast alone since 1998 is remarkable. I visited this city long before today’s peace became a reality and have witnessed the very visible and cultural transformation that has taken place here.
After paying tribute to Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, men who led the Republican movement from conflict to negotiation and diplomacy, arts they both mastered in the cause of peace, Corbyn added: “I can’t think of a greater sign of the progress made over the last two decades, when at Martin’s funeral last year, not only were there people in attendance from republican and nationalist communities, but also representatives of the loyalist and unionist side, including First Minister Arlene Foster. It is also right to recognise the work of the British and Irish government leaders of the time, whose determination made the impossible possible. For that, both Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair should both be given credit for their work.”
He also extolled the work of Mo Mowlam in negotiating the peace process, continuing: “I have always believed that to bring about real change, to end conflict, to bring communities together, you have to talk to people with whom you don’t agree. In 1998 we were fortunate to have leaders who were prepared to put that principle into practice . . .
“It was essential we recognised the traditions of each community and recognised and respected the identity of people on either side of the divide. This was and still is important for strong and healthy long-term relationships here, across communities and across borders. Perhaps where the agreement was at it boldest was in its radical reform of Northern Ireland’s political and institutional structures, as well as in creating a framework for North-South relations, and the relationship between Britain and the Republic of Ireland. That gave all parties a basis to find a route out of a generation of conflict together.
“For all the current problems and deadlock, there can be no doubt that devolution and power-sharing have given every community a voice and helped maintain the peace process.
He added that the move to establish the Northern Ireland Victims Commission helped both to promote reconciliation and preserve the memory of victims, bringing a new beginning and laying the ground for the vital work of decommissioning of arms and the removal of military infrastructure.
Looking at Stormont’s achievements, Corbyn noted that it had resisted many of the worst aspects of the government’s punitive social security policies using the powers provided by devolution.
His message to the people of this island: “Labour is as committed to the Good Friday Agreement as we have ever been. It has served us well for twenty years and, with commitment and determination, will provide us with the framework for the next 20. And with that in mind I want to make a plea to all parties and all sides. We must do all we can to make power sharing work again in Stormont. We need all sides to come together and make devolution work again. That means tough choices. It means compromise and give and take. But we owe it to the people of these islands not to allow political disagreements to open the way for any return to the grim days of the past”.
Stormont must be an example throughout the world of how dialogue, negotiation and diplomacy can defeat conflict. Now let’s show we can continue to build on that peace through democracy.
He called on the UK government to reconvene the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference if the current stalemate in Stormont cannot be sorted out in Belfast and to find a creative solution in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement that avoids a return to direct Westminster rule, and lays the ground for further progress for all communities.
Peace can and must be extended through real social and economic advances for all communities, with the state at regional and national level prepared to act to bring about a full-scale upgrade of the economy.
A Labour government in Westminster would make sure that Northern Ireland has more money to invest in its people and its public services, though many economic decisions for Northern Ireland would rightly be decided in Stormont,
He gave a commitment to supporting manufacturing in Northern Ireland and to reverse the decision to put the £1 billion contract to build the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships out to international tender, in order to keep jobs and prosperity in Britain’s shipyards and benefit Belfast. Northern Ireland can have a high tech, high skilled and exciting future.
Brexit, and the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland must be discussed, in particular the securing of future prosperity and peace on these islands:
“Labour will not support any Brexit deal that includes the return of a hard border to this island . . . By negotiating a new and comprehensive customs union with the EU, which includes a British say in future trade deals, we can ensure trade on this island stays frictionless and free flowing and prevent communities being divided . . . Opposition to the idea of bringing back a hard border to this land isn’t just about avoiding paperwork or tariffs, important though that is. It’s about deep rooted cultural and community ties. An open border is a symbol of peace, two communities living and working together after years of conflict, communities who no longer feel that their traditions are under threat”.
He emphasised that, as we leave the European Union, it is essential to ensure our manufacturers have access to markets and on-time supply chains and the communities of Northern Ireland continue to have access to vital funding for energy, research, agriculture and cultural projects.
Powers returned from Brussels to intervene, upgrade and reshape our economy for the 21st century may be used to deliver real social and economic advances for all our communities.
I’m proud to be here in Belfast as leader of the Labour party, a party with a strong record in helping to deliver peace and greater prosperity. I hope to use this visit to talk to people from different communities and listen to their concerns and hopes for the future. We are here to celebrate twenty years of peace, twenty years as an example to the rest of the world of how communities can turn conflict into co-operation.
Let’s work together in the spirit of friendship, co-operation and hope for another twenty and beyond.
Today’s Times poll results defang its five anti-Corbyn artlcles, prompted by fear of ‘corporate capture’
The findings: eight out of ten Labour members are impervious to propaganda
Longstanding Labour activists are snapping membership cards, cancelling direct debits, throwing up hands with a despairing “I’m done here” writes Janice Turner – under the headline ‘Labour lost to fools and crackpots’.
In Newcastle, one of the areas which have suffered intensely from corporate capture
True, as she says, there has been (simulated?) escalating anger among careerist Labour MPs over Mr Corbyn’s failure to tackle antisemitism. But as her Times colleague, Deputy Political Editor Sam Coates writes, the findings of the latest YouGov poll for The Times, “are likely to make bleak reading for Labour MPs who have tackled Mr Corbyn on antisemitism, including the 41 who signed a letter challenging him on his views”. He summarises:
Yesterday Mr Corbyn tweeted: “As Jews across our country start to prepare for #Passover, I would like to wish everyone in the Jewish community a Chag Sameach.”
Coates reports that the Labour poll says antisemitism row is exaggerated. Nearly eight out of ten Labour members believe that accusations of antisemitism are being exaggerated to damage Jeremy Corbyn and stifle legitimate criticism of Israel.
The leader was still overwhelmingly backed by members, with 80% saying that he was doing a good job and 61% saying he was handling the antisemitism crisis well. Some 69% supported his response to the Salisbury poisoning.
- 47% saying antisemitism was a problem “but its extent is being deliberately exaggerated to damage Labour and Jeremy Corbyn or to stifle criticism of Israel”.
- 30% said that antisemitism was “not a serious problem” and was being used to undermine Mr Corbyn and prevent legitimate criticism of Israel,
- and 19% said it was a genuine problem that needed addressing.
Tony Blair said that it had become an issue because the leadership and its supporters did not think it was a problem.
He told The Week in Westminster on BBC Radio 4: “They think it’s something got up by people who are opposed to him for all sorts of other reasons and are using antisemitism as the battering ram against his leadership.”
A reader commented: I think we can guess what you (Ms Turner pp The Times) fear and how you and your colleagues have pushed the boat out to encourage it.
The real fear of a Labour Victory under Mr Corbyn is not the anti-semitism that the media have done so much to exaggerate, but rather, the prospect that a Labour government is intent on ending the corporate capture of our democracy and that some very powerful interests, including those who dominate the media and formulate government policy from the comfortable chairs in the gentlemen’s clubs of St James’ and Pall Mall are likely to lose their influence over the way in which government conducts its business.
Another wrote: “I look forward to voting Labour. It is important to stand up to the rabid warmongering right wing press, who don’t bother with minor details such as evidence and international agreements before escalating situations with nuclear powers”.
Jeremy Corbyn – right on internationally related crises over 20 years – advises PM to seek evidence and proceed in accordance with international law
Mr Corbyn condemned the “appalling act of violence” on 4 March which left ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in a serious condition.
Mr Corbyn asked: “Has the Prime Minister taken necessary steps under the chemical weapon convention to make a formal request for evidence from Russian government under article 9.2? Has high-resolution trace analysis been run on a sample of the nerve agent that revealed any evidence as to the location of its production or identity of its perpetrators?” and then urged continued “robust dialogue” with Moscow. See video here.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said the UK is bound to provide a sample of the nerve agent used in the attack to Russian investigators under international treaties, something Ms May has withheld.
Russia’s destruction of its chemical weapons
The New York Times reported last year that President Putin of Russia presided over the destruction of his country’s last declared chemical weapons. The deputy director of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an intergovernmental organization based in the Hague that polices adherence to the 1993 convention, declared the event “a truly momentous occasion.” Putin said that it “signals the full elimination of all chemical weapon stockpiles declared by the Russian Federation.” The OPCW’s inspection teams verified the destruction at seven chemical weapons destruction facilities in the Russian Federation. On 27 September 2017, the last of these facilities, located in Kizner, officially concluded its operations.
An FT report records that Mr Corbyn told the House of Commons it would be a mistake to rush to judgment on the Salisbury attack. He asked Theresa May, prime minister, why the UK had not met Russia’s request for a sample of the chemical used, adding later on Facebook that the “Russian authorities must be held to account on the basis of the evidence”.
Mr Corbyn’s spokesman suggested that the nerve agent could have fallen into the hands of a country other than Russia after the break-up of the USSR: “The right approach is to seek the evidence, to follow international treaties, particularly in relation to chemical weapons attacks carried out on British soil”. He continued:
“However, also, there’s a history in relation to weapons of mass destruction and intelligence which is problematic to put it mildly. If you remember back to the WMD saga, there was both what was actually produced by the intelligence services, which in the end we had access to and then there was how that was used in the public domain in politics. So there is a history of problems in relation to interpreting that evidence (the FT adds: in a reference to the false assumption that Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction ahead of the Iraq war.)
Seumas Milne. “I think Jeremy’s record in relation to judgement on internationally related crises is probably better than anyone else in the House of Commons, he has proved to make the right call time and again over the last 15 to 20 years, in particular when many others made the wrong call, and those calls have disastrous consequences.”
In spite of Labour’s General Election surge and its continued polling strength – not to mention more than thirty u-turns Labour under Corbyn had already forced from the Conservatives before the election – the line persists in some quarters that Labour is not an effective opposition.
That line tends to be spouted either by those who think defeating Brexit is the only important task for the opposition – or by those who talk like it for factional purposes – ignoring the fact that Corbyn’s handling of the issue has been intelligent, nuanced and politically skilful.
So, as it’s the time of year for round-ups, here is a non-exhaustive list of sixteen u-turns that the Conservatives have been forced to make because there is an opposition party willing and able to stand for something different.
And for those who think Brexit is the only vital issue, the first three are Brexit-related:
- Brexit deal vote u-turn
- Brexit impact assessment u-turn
- European Court of Human Rights u-turn
- Dementia Tax u-turn (unprecedentedly dropped from the manifesto before the GE)
- Pensions triple lock u-turn
- Housing benefit cap for supported housing u-turn
- Self-employed National Insurance increase u-turn
- School meals cost u-turn
- NHS Professionals sell-off u-turn
- Police funding u-turn
- Fire safety in schools u-turn
- Grammar schools u-turn
- Abortion for Northern Irish women u-turn
- Winter fuel payments u-turn
- Universal Credit 7-day waiting period u-turn
- Universal Credit freephone u-turn
- Fox-hunting u-turn
- Diesel tax u-turn
- Manchester terror attack costs u-turn
- Prisoner vote u-turn
The government has been weakened by Corbyn’s Labour taking a clear, firm stand – and the Labour surge resulting from the party presenting a genuine alternative.
2017 has been a historic year for Labour and much of that can be attributed to Corbyn’s vision, leadership and his strength in standing firm against an unprecedented media onslaught – and it’s been a better year for millions of UK people as a result of Labour’s effective opposition.
Jeremy Corbyn has set up a “community campaign unit”, a small but growing department in his office that will focus on working with communities and groups of employees, helping them to organise and campaign on local and workplace issues.
Richard Power Sayeed, whose recently published book on the New Labour years (left) is being well-received, wonders if this will turn out to be one of the most transformative political decisions of the Labour leader’s career.
“In 2018,” Corbyn predicted in the Sunday Mirror, “we will win by organising with communities that have been held back.” Corbyn hopes this make it easier for ordinary people to engage in grassroots politics and this, he hopes, will further strengthen the left.
Sayeed adds, in the Independent, “Corbyn’s popularity gives him the authority to try again, and the plan seems at least feasible now because Labour has many more members: more than half a million, compared with the Tories’ rumoured 70,000”.
He points out that ‘the Corbynistas’ – we prefer ‘Corbynieres’ – are drawn both from trade unions and from social movements: environmentalists, students, feminists, anti-racists, disability campaigners and LGBT activists.
Though not traditional political campaigners, leafletting and knocking on doors pre-election, many have been organising in communities and work places for decades so might well work with the new unit.
Laura Pidcock, the Labour MP for North West Durham, told her Facebook followers that the unit will allow their party to have an impact on people’s lives even while it’s still in opposition:
“We need to get rid of this awful, destructive government, but we don’t have to wait for that to be effective locally”.
Participatory politics: what will the 1922 Committee decide at the Conservative Convention, March 2018?
As Gary Younge wrote:
“Corbyn emerged in the wake of a global financial crisis, in a country rocked by the phone hacking scandal, the MPs’ expenses scandal and Operation Yewtree. His ascendancy represents a desire for a more participatory, bottom-up kind of politics that takes on not only the Tories in parliament, but inequality in the economy, unfairness in society and power where it has not previously been held to account”.
Though title-trouncing Labour’s ‘hard left’ whom the Times’ Lucy Fisher alleges are forcing out so-called ‘moderates’ (aka New Labour Blairites) in a ‘purge’ she does at least present the truly democratic approach actually being taken:
“A Labour Party spokesman said: ‘Labour members select their candidates by democratic processes as laid out in the rule book. We do not comment on individual selections.’ A spokesman for Momentum told The Times: ‘We think it’s fantastic that hundreds of thousands of people new to politics have felt so inspired that they’ve joined the Labour Party. We should trust local members to be the best judge of who should represent their community”.
Times reader James comments: “We seem to be living in a parallel universe where the party that is open to all to join, all members have a vote to choose local candidates and party leader is being regularly criticised for being oppressive”.
David Hencke reports that on November 25 the Conservative Party held a convention in Birmingham attended by 100 invited people which rewrote sections of the party’s constitution.
The document was sent out by Rob Semple chairman of the Conservative Convention and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party Board (above, with Theresa May). The Draft Proposed Rule Changes for discussion at a meeting of the National Conservative Convention on 25 November 2017 included plans to:
- rewrite the party constitution to remove references to constituencies altogether;
- limit the right of local associations to choose their own candidates;
- scrap the annual meeting of the Conservative Convention where people could listen and vote for candidates for top posts and
- use on-line voting for all top posts in the party.
Will final approval be given for these changes in the Conservative Party constitution at a meeting of the 1922 Committee (the Commons parliamentary group of the Conservative Party) at the March 2018 meeting of the Conservative Convention in Westminster?
If so, as David Hencke comments, “the contrast could not be much starker. Labour will go into the next general election as a mass movement with a mass membership who can influence policy and decide on who stands for Parliament, the police and the local council”.
Earlier this month, the FT noted that – as the latest national opinion polls show Labour eight points ahead of the Conservatives (though Yougov shows a far closer score) – some investors and business leaders are increasingly worried about the prospect of a leftwing UK government overturning decades of economic orthodoxy.
One of these, Ajit Nedungadi, a managing partner at TA Associates, a Massachusetts-based private equity group said. “Corbyn will be bad news for the industry. It’s black and white. There is no question. How can it be good news?”
Not everyone in the financial community views a Corbyn government in such grave terms.
Dean Turner, an economist in the UK investment office at UBS Wealth Management, believes investors have exaggerated the threat posed by Mr Corbyn, saying a government led by the Labour leader would not turn Britain into “Venezuela overnight”.
“Taxation as a share of gross domestic product would be at 1985 levels, and spending as a share of GDP at 1984 levels,”
After agreeing that it would be a “dramatic shift from where we have been for the last 30 years”, Mr Turner pointed out that many of Mr Corbyn’s policy proposals, such as renationalisation of the railways, would be seen as mainstream in other EU countries.
He also said that Mr Corbyn’s pledge to reverse cuts in corporation tax — raising the headline corporation tax rate from 19 to 26 per cent — was also relatively conventional.
Even under Mr Corbyn’s plan, for example, the UK would still have the lowest corporate tax rate in the G7.
Mr Turner also dismissed speculation about a run on the pound and the imposition of capital controls, even after Mr McDonnell said that Labour would have to prepare for both possibilities. “If we do see a weaker pound, the change would be gradual,” Mr Turner said.
“I doubt we would see the kind of falls we saw post-Brexit vote.”
Comment Writer Jamie Aspden, a third year political science student at the University of Birmingham, argues that that the Conservative Party Conference was the conclusive sign that the government needs to change. A ‘wake-up call’ – read the article here: http://www.redbrick.me/comment/brexit/conservative-party-just-managing/. Some extracts follow.
“For the first time in decades Britain faces the possibility of a truly socialist government, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn”.
After referring to the lost majority and questionable DUP deal, a Cabinet at war with themselves, little good news along the way and detailing the conference mishaps Aspden comments, “Theresa May has just about managed to get through it, whilst being tripped up by countless political debacles”. He ends:
“If the Conservative Party wishes to keep its reputation as one of the oldest, greatest and most successful political parties in the free world, it needs to get its act together and fast. The cost of indecision is too high.
“The United Kingdom can no longer afford this brand of governance. As at this time, when it faces some of the greatest challenges since the Second World War: an ageing population, a changing climate and the departure from the EU, we need a, dare I say it, ’strong and stable’ government. One with innovative and inspired ideas, and with the unity and discipline needed to enact them. ‘Just about managing’ will no longer cut it.
“For the first time in decades Britain faces the possibility of a truly socialist government, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. A party which is ‘just about managing’ to hold itself together is of little use in the fight against such an opposition. Instead the party must unite and move forward as one. If not, the electorate will never forgive it for falling apart right at the moment it needed to come together.
“The country deserves and needs a government that succeeds, and it needs it now”.