WATCH: Tristram Hunt lays into Corbyn at Progress rally

Well that didn’t last long. After Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected as Labour leader on Saturday, Corbyn sceptic MPs appeared to put their differences to one side as they took to the airwaves to claim that Corbyn could be Prime Minister.

At tonight’s Progress rally at conference, that facade was lifted. MPs including Liz Kendall and Ian Murray took to the stand to vow that they would not be pushed out of the party as they slammed the threat of deselection. However, it was Tristram Hunt’s speech that caught Mr S’s attention. The MP for Stoke-on-Trent, who wrote this week’s Spectator diary, clearly has no intention of taking Corbyn up on the offer of an ‘olive branch’ as he launched into a series of jokes at the expense of the left-wing leader’s regime:

‘We’re in Liverpool where Labour was once upon a time held hostage by a far left faction that sent it spiralling towards electoral defeat, but I’m glad that’s all in the past. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m glad we’ve got our party back.

I’m glad we’ve finally got a proper socialist leader, willing to confront fascism wherever he sees it — Assad, Syria or Putin’s Russia.

Who’s happy to have an open political discussion and not seek to silence internal debate by putting MPs on hit lists. An end to the kind of irrational leadership cult that so disfigured our party in the past.’

Momentum’s James Schneider also didn’t get off scot-free with Hunt describing him as ‘the only person to make Andy Burnham’s political journey look straightforward’.

Given that Corbyn was nowhere to be seen at the event, Mr S thought it best to record the speech so he wouldn’t miss out…

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How long will the brittle peace at Labour’s conference survive?

Labour conference is now firmly underway in Liverpool, as is the ‘World Transformed’ festival organised by Corbynite grassroots organisation Momentum. Labour MPs and long-time activists are wandering about in a state of bewilderment at the change forged in their party over the past year, perhaps best embodied by the joyful appearance of former Militant bigwig Derek Hatton in the conference hall. Hatton was wearing a press pass, which will leave Corbynistas bewildered: aren’t they supposed to hate journalists?

Everyone is trying to appear to be terribly nice to one another now that Corbyn has his even bigger mandate. Conversations between members of different factions rather resemble the afternoon tea scene in the ‘Importance of Being Earnest’, with both sides serving what has only the appearance of sweet tea. Chuka Umunna this morning complained on the Marr Show that people shouldn’t be talking about deselections in the Labour party and instead the focus should be on winning elections. What he really meant was that any attempts locally to deselect Labour MPs such as Peter Kyle and Stella Creasy would undermine the party’s aim to win general elections.

Corbyn himself argued in a reassuring voice that the ‘vast majority’ of Labour MPs had nothing to fear when it came to mandatory reselections. He ‘wished them well’ and said:

‘Let’s have a democratic discussion and I think the vast majority of MPs will have no problem whatsoever.’

It might have sounded as though he was trying to cheer the MPs up, but what they heard was that he felt that a small minority really did have something to worry about. The Labour leader also made it quite clear that he isn’t going to try to live up to the tests that the moderate MPs have set out for him in their qualified congratulatory statements about him winning for a second time: he was quite happy to plough the same furrow he always has on defence and national security. The real message is: you MPs who caused this leadership contest now need to be quiet, while I will ignore all the concerns you raised.

Another way of ignoring concerns from MPs and other traditional powerbases in the Labour party is to bypass the party’s ruling council, the NEC, when it comes to policy. Corbyn himself hinted at this in his interview, saying he wanted to give power to activists and put party conference at the ‘centre of concluding policy debates’. Which is another way of handing power to the people who agree with him.

Iain McNicol, the party’s general secretary, was greeted by a shout of ‘resign!’ from the conference audience as he started his speech. He too had some coded messages about the state of the party, lavishing praise on MPs and reminding those listening of Labour’s clause one, which is that the party was founded ‘to win elections and form governments’.

Now the evening fringes are underway and conference drinking is underway. Perhaps the rule of in vino veritas will apply and the different sides in the fractured Labour party will start to say what they really think of one another. Either way, the brittle peace is unlikely to last for very long.

This is from tonight’s Evening Blend, a free nightly round-up of all the day’s political developments. Sign up here.

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Reason for cheer at Momentum’s rival conference

While the mood at Labour Conference is notably low this year, across town at Momentum’s ‘The World Transformed’ festival the crowd can be described as buzzing.

Although Mr S’s taxi driver dropped him off while remarking that after the leadership result ‘the Monster Raving Loony party has as much chance of winning power as Labour’, the attendees at the Momentum event are in a jubilant mood now their leader has been returned. Well-to-do socialists are spending the day splashing out on ‘Tories are vermin’ mugs, reading the Morning Star and giving out leaflets explaining that the Jewish Labour Movement has ‘used the charge of anti-Semitism to attack the new movement’.

Here are a selection of pics from the rival event:


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Derek Hatton makes a return to Labour conference

Earlier this month, Derek Hatton told Mr S of his dismay after the former deputy leader of Liverpool Council’s application to attend this year’s Labour conference was denied. Although he had just wanted to attend in the capacity of a journalist, the former Militant member — who was expelled from Labour 29 years ago — was told this was not possible:

‘The Liverpool Echo asked me to write a conference diary but I was told two weeks ago the application had been declined. It wasn’t even for a political journal – it was for the Liverpool Echo. It’s not surprising though with the way the party are excluding people at the moment.’

Now with Corbyn’s mandate increased it seems times are a’changing. Labour HQ have performed a u-turn and issued Hatton with a press pass for the event:

While Mr S looks forward to reading Hatton’s conference diary, Steerpike hopes Hatton has a quieter conference than he did back in 1985. At the event, Neil Kinnock used his speech to condemn Hatton’s Labour council for wreaking ‘grotesque chaos’ in Liverpool by ‘hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers’.

Vive la Revolution!

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Jeremy Corbyn’s fresh start doesn’t sound convincing

If Jeremy Corbyn set out in his Marr interview to reassure his critics in the Labour Party that this is the beginning of a new era for the leadership and the wider party, he didn’t do a great job.

The Labour leader refused to rule out mandatory reselection of his MPs, saying that most of them would be fine. Perhaps to some, that sounded reassuring. But what it actually says to the handful of MPs facing battles in their seats, such as Peter Kyle and Stella Creasy, is that the leader won’t protect them and they somehow brought this on themselves.

The last section of the interview, on defence, also showed that Corbyn is going to stick to his guns on policy areas that the public seriously disagrees with him on. He said he didn’t think the defence budget should go up, and made unsupportive noises about expanding MI6.

Most moderate MPs yesterday chose to greet Corbyn’s return with a qualification that he needed to promise to protect them against intimidatory deselection campaigns and show voters that he was capable of leading the country and protecting its security. These were, of course, tests that those MPs expected Corbyn not to meet. And he hasn’t.

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Why there will be no new shadow Cabinet for weeks

Normally, a leadership election is followed by the leader appointing a new top team. But that won’t be happening in this case. Instead, a new shadow Cabinet will have to wait for the Labour party to agree a new set of rules on how it should be selected.

The problem is that many of those who resigned from the front bench over Corbyn’s leadership will only return if MPs are allowed to elect a section of the shadow Cabinet; the thinking—as Tristram Hunt writes in this week’s magazine — is that this would allow them ‘to return to work for Corbyn with honour’.

But Corbyn isn’t keen on agreeing to this reduction in his power. The NEC have discussed this for hour and hours in the past few days but to no end.

John McDonnell has now said on Peston on Sunday that there’ll have to be an NEC away day or special rules conference to agree this issue. This means that the issue won’t be resolved for weeks, or even months. So, there won’t be a full Labour front bench team until then. This means that Labour will continue to fail in its duty to hold the government to account.

Corbyn’s refusal to agree to shadow Cabinet elections also shows that the ‘olive branch’ he is prepared to extend to Labour MPs isn’t that big. He wants peace, but on his terms.

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Alan Duncan struggles to preserve his modesty

In the EU referendum campaign, Alan Duncan penned a piece for the Telegraph entitled ‘why this lifelong Eurosceptic is now voting to stay in’. In this, the Conservative MP explained the heartfelt reasons he backed Remain. Alas, these were later placed in doubt when Vote Leave’s Matthew Elliott claimed that Duncan had met with him prior to as for a position on their board and then plumped for the In camp after his request was refused.

Now it turns out that Duncan’s interactions with the Remain camp weren’t all plain-sailing either. In an extract in the Mail on Sunday from Craig Oliver’s new book on the EU referendum Unleashing Demons, David Cameron’s former director of communications reveals the statement Duncan drafted — and suggested No.10 use — to reveal the news that he was an In-er:

‘In a major blow to the campaign to leave the EU, senior Tory MP Sir Alan Duncan has today announced we should remain a member. As one of the few undeclared MPs, he is seen as an experienced and reasonable figure of influence.

Known as a longstanding but thoughtful Eurosceptic, his declaration will be seen to have a pivotal bearing on the many voters who are still undecided.

To have won over such a senior and experienced political figure will be seen as a significant coup both for the Prime Minister and the campaign to remain, all the more so as Alan Duncan is seen as independent-minded and someone who cannot be pushed around.’

No.10’s response? ‘Maybe it needs a little rewriting,’ came the reply. With Duncan recently savaging Boris Johnson by claiming that the Foreign Secretary only wanted to be Prime Minister — rather than achieve Brexit, Mr S suspects that Duncan may actually be the one with ideas above his station.

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Labour’s leadership battle is over. The fight to control its governing council is now on

Now that Jeremy Corbyn has won, the fight for the party’s soul moves to the jungle of Labour Party rules, regulations and procedures. Whoever controls these controls the party. Last Tuesday, for example, an eight-hour session of the party’s governing National Executive Committee (NEC) concluded that Scotland and Wales should each have their own member on the NEC. This seemed a bizarre, almost trivial outcome: why all this angst after so much argument? The answer is simple: if the Corbynistas want to proceed with a purge of the Labour Party they’ll need a majority on the 33-member NEC. At present, power is balanced. The party moderates worked out that, with a Scottish and Welsh representative, they’d be more likely to win elections. They won this argument, on the proviso that the creation of two new NEC positions would be put to a vote in Labour Party conference.

STV’s Aidrian Kerr reveals today that straight after his re-election, Corbyn tried to delay this vote. Again, it makes no sense – until you realise that this has nothing to do with Scotland and Wales and everything to do with his ability to take control of the NEC itself and get purging. But Corbyn’s proposal was foiled. Here’s Kerr…

‘A senior Labour source told STV there was ‘a lot of anger in the room’ when Corbyn suggested the deal should not be forwarded to a conference vote in the coming days and instead be delayed. The Labour leader was told by NEC members, including Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, that it would be wrong for the changes to be delayed and that if his proposals were put to a full vote he would lose. No vote was later taken and the proposals will be put to conference delegates as planned.’

Anyway, we can expect plenty more such battles as the Labour Party conference opens.

PS: It’s worth remembering that the Corbynistas and the Scottish Labour Party members see things very differently – and that Corbyn’s comrades rather admire the SNP, and would probably probably do a deal with them. A YouGov poll (data here) showed that the post-May ’15 Labour members are twice as likely as the pre-May ’15 Labour members to say that the SNP ‘is right about many things and plays a largely positive role in Britain today’. The pre-May ’15 members are five times more likely to say the SNP is ‘so misguided that it is dangerous: we would be better off without it’.

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What Jeremy Corbyn can learn from Clement Attlee

History teaches no lessons but we insist on trying to learn from it. There is no political party more sentimental than the Labour party. The stone monument of Labour history is Clement Attlee’s 1945–51 administration, so any biography of the great man is, inevitably, an intervention into the present state of the party, even if it comes supported with all the best scholarly apparatus.

The last major biography of Attlee was Kenneth Harris’s official work, more than 30 years ago, in 1982. There is a neat symmetry to the fact that Harris was writing during the last occasion that the Labour party decided to join hands and walk off a cliff. If the leading lights of today’s party are at all interested in stopping before the edge, John Bew’s excellent new life yields two indispensable lessons.

The first is that Attlee was a social patriot, a conservative man who loved his public school, Haileybury, and lived in suburban splendour in Stanmore. The second was that the circumstances of his triumph can never be repeated. Labour has been misled by its best years. The methods and achievements of Attlee’s postwar government owe everything to the conflict they were seeking to redeem. Attlee was a war leader and most Labour leaders are trying to win the peace.

The two lessons join up in Bew’s portrait. This is the biography of a national figure before it is the biography of a Labour man. We encounter young Clem at Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and working among the dispossessed in Limehouse. We see Major Attlee at Gallipoli, the verse-writer prevented from being another Wilfred Owen only by a lack of talent. In his prime, we find Attlee as Churchill’s deputy prime minister during the war-time coalition and then as Labour prime minister from 1945.

A book that was telling a Labour story would be a procession to 1945, but this book pivots around 1940, when the nation’s freedom was at issue. Taking Labour into the wartime coalition was, says Bew, Attlee’s ‘proudest moment’, an expression of his conservative patriotism. This rather Pooterish little man from a wealthy family from Putney has been underappreciated, historically. This book is an attempt to straighten the record.

It has to be said that there is a lot for Attlee to remain modest about. The accusation that he stood by while others acted was levelled against him constantly in his dealings with Churchill. Bevan called him an ‘arch-mediocrity’ and his leadership was always on the threshold of challenge from within. He was an undistinguished speaker prone to clichés. His autobiography, As It Happened, is so diffident that he is hardly in it. Attlee’s initial response to the Beveridge report was leaden and he may have owed his survival as leader to a turn in the fortunes of the war when Montgomery bested Rommel. ‘Sometimes,’ said Herbert Morrison, ‘he doodled when he ought to have led.’

Indeed, Attlee was lucky to be there at all. He became Labour leader only because, after the catastrophe of 1931, his party was reduced to 46 MPs and, with all the major players out of Parliament, Attlee became an unlikely deputy to his mentor from Poplar, George Lansbury. When naïve pacifism ended Lansbury’s leadership in 1935, Attlee’s hands were next on the poisoned chalice. To the astonishment of all his colleagues, and perhaps Attlee himself, he was still there 20 years later.

He was, by then, the man by which change should be measured. Ordinary men like Attlee embody the times more than extraordinary men like Churchill. The historical verdict on a government is how much of its work survives. The NHS, the welfare state, membership of Nato, the retreat from empire, the nuclear deterrent: we still live in a country made by the man with a shed in Stanmore.

Not just a country — in part the world, too. Britain’s relatively peaceful transition from empire into Commonwealth after the war is owed to Attlee, although his coverage of Indian independence is the only point in the book where Bew’s judgment lapses. The terrible loss of life over the partition of India in 1947 demands censure which Bew withholds. He is successful, however, in showing that Attlee — here the contrast with Jeremy Corbyn is painful — was a leader who took the defence of the realm seriously. With Ernest Bevin he was there at the birth of Nato and he committed Britain to an independent nuclear deterrent without even telling the cabinet.

Attlee was there when it counted. His quiet doggedness was an ideal counterpoint to Churchill’s necessary showmanship. Not everyone appreciated it at the time but the big man always did. When, years later, a Tory MP made a disobliging remark about his friend of 40 years, Churchill bristled: ‘Mr Attlee is a great patriot. Don’t you dare call him “silly old Attlee” at Chartwell or you won’t be invited again.’

Throughout, Bew is at pains to stress that Attlee had the ability to win over people who did not regard themselves as natural Labour supporters. His pragmatic patriotism travelled outside the tribe. He can be credited with keeping Labour as a parliamentary party when hotheads like Cripps and Bevan wanted outside resistance. To the end of his life, Attlee believed in the common wealth that was the subject of his maiden speech, as the new MP for Limehouse in 1922. The Labour party should reissue the speech, as a statement of the generous patriotism it has lost. It could be called the Limehouse Declaration.

This review of ‘Citizen Clem: A Biography of Attlee’, by John Bew, first appeared in this week’s edition of The Spectator

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Google’s boss makes a Brexit blunder

A curious intervention by Matt Brittin — the Google chief for Europe who was last seen refusing to reveal his salary to a select committee that was questioning him on Google’s tax affairs. Showing more of the same insensitivity to public opinion, he dismissed Brexit as a ‘local’ issue that’s distracting us from the national purpose of improving conditions ‘for big tech success here in the UK’, which sounded as though he meant conditions for giants like-Google to maximise profit at other taxpayers’ expense.

But a separate BBC interview with the fund manager Neil Woodford made the point Brittin might really have been trying to make: that we have failed to develop the venture–capital networks we need to support promising tech start-ups, which tend in consequence to be sold too early to foreign investors: ‘We have been appallingly bad at giving those minnows the long-term capital they need.’ It’s a point I’ve made here before: big tech can look after itself, little tech is what we must learn to nurture.

This is an extract from Martin Vander Weyer’s ‘Any Other Business’. The full article is available in this week’s issue of The Spectator.

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Can President Rouhani really be described as a ‘moderate’?

Mark Twain once said that if you give a man a reputation as an early-riser he can sleep in till noon. The same is true of calling someone ‘a moderate’. Call someone ‘a moderate’ and they can rant like a fascist any day of the week without reprimand.

President Rouhani of Iran has been called a moderate by most of the Western press and most of the Western governments. And so when he appeared at the UN this week and railed once again about the ‘Zionists’ controlling the U.S. Government including the U.S. Congress, it barely raises headlines. Surely a ‘moderate’ wouldn’t make such outlandish claims? And so the extremist statements of the ‘moderate’ are simply ignored. If anyone wants to see why things are going so badly on the international stage these days they should look to the people with the most benign monikers. They will find some of the explanations there.

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Labour’s conference, day one: The Spectator guide

Jeremy Corbyn promised to wipe the slate clean following Labour’s fractious leadership race. Now that he’s officially clinched victory, it’s time for the party to try and do just that at Labour’s annual conference, which kicks off at 11am today. Here, The Spectator has put together a guide of the main events to look out for. This is what’s on today:

11am: Labour’s conference starts
The NEC’s chair Paddy Lillis speaks shortly afterwards

Fringe events:

5.30pm: The Big Debate: Labour and the economy in Brexit Britain
Speakers include: Chuka Umunna; Ed Miliband; Lisa Nandy; Rachel Reeves

6pm: Stop Trident Fringe Meeting
Speakers include: Kate Hudson, General Secretary of the CND; John McDonnell; Diane Abbott

6pm: Progress Rally
Speakers include: Hilary Benn; Kezia Dugdale; Tristram Hunt; Liz Kendall

6pm: Does the Labour Party have a problem with Jews? Racism, anti-Semitism and the Left
Speakers include: Jackie Walker, vice-chair Momentum

Momentum conference: The World Transformed

3-5pm: Black Lives Matter! Building Black Power!
Speakers include: Zita Holbourne (chair) – co-founder & national co-chair BARAC UK; Colette Williams – Manchester Black Lives Matters

3-5pm: Where Now for the European Left?
Speakers include: Clive Lewis

5-7pm: Chakrabarti Inquiry: Does Labour have an Antisemitism Problem?
Speakers include: Jeremy Newmark – chair of Jewish Labour; Jackie Walker – Momentum; Richard Kuper – Jews for Justice for Palestine

8-10pm: Future Visions
Speakers include: Paul Mason; Malia Bouattia – President of NUS

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Trump fans should be proud to call themselves ‘the Deplorables’

Hillary Clinton hazarded that half of Donald Trump’s supporters are a ‘basket of deplorables’. The Kaiser called the BEF a ‘contemptible little army’, Aneurin Bevan called the Tories ‘lower than vermin’ — and in both cases, those so named took up the insult as a badge of pride: the Old Contemptibles, the Vermin Club. I hope the Deplorables will organise as such, and march on Washington in their millions.

This is an extract from Charles Moore’s Notes. The full article is available here

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David Cameron can’t blame Theresa May for his awful “deal” with the EU

Tim Shipman’s book about the EU referendum campaign, All Out War, is serialised today in the Sunday Times. The newspaper today leads on the remarkable disclosure that David Cameron blames Theresa May for the paucity of the deal he negotiated in those 30 sleepless hours with Brussels. Here’s the extract:-

Before the speech, conscious that immigration was likely to be an explosive issue in the referendum campaign, Cameron had floated with Merkel the idea of an annual cap on the number of national insurance numbers handed to EU migrants or an emergency brake on numbers. But the German leader said she would not agree to changes to free movement for EU citizens.

However, with one day to go before the speech, Cameron vowed to demand concrete controls on EU migrant numbers anyway, in the hope fellow EU leaders would give way rather than let Britain leave.

He invited May and Hammond to No 10 and asked for their views. One of Cameron’s aides said: “Hammond spoke first and argued we just couldn’t announce something that would receive an immediate raspberry in Europe. Theresa said very, very little, and simply said that we just couldn’t go against Merkel.”

A witness said: “The PM was visibly deflated as they left.” Cameron turned to one of his officials and said: “I can’t do it without their support. We’ll just have to go with the benefits plan. If it wasn’t for my lily-livered cabinet colleagues . . .” 

Cameron did not think it was tenable to promote an idea on immigration without the support of his home secretary. One of Cameron’s closest aides said: “Who were the two people who told him not to do that because it’s undeliverable? Your new prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer.”

Another member of Cameron’s team said: “Who knows: if we’d gone with our gut, the boss could still be in No 10 today.”

Those of us regard David Cameron as a good Prime Minister with an impressive legacy have to learn to airbrush the Brexit campaign out of our memories. He handled it very badly, fatefully asked his bungling friend Andrew Cooper to re-run the Project Fear campaign that almost lost Scotland, built up expectations about a renegotiation that were spectacularly unfulfilled. And decided to campaign on the economy when even George Osborne was admitting a few months earlier that there was no economic case to be made.

But it was his campaign, and his decisions. What was to stop him going with his gut? Theresa May has just pushed through grammar schools against the wishes of her Education Secretary, never mind the rest of her Cabinet. Is Cameron seriously saying that Philip Hammond and Theresa May stopped him securing the emergency break that Merkel had anyway said she’d veto? As PM, he could ask for whatever he wanted – he had to get this past 27 other veto-wielding EU nation states. A sceptical Home Secretary was the least of his worries.

And anyway, from Tim Shipman’s account, it seems that they were not really being lily-livered. Just pointing out that if Cameron had said “We want a cap on immigrants” and Merkel vetoed it, then he’d look like a fool. He’d end up strengthening the case for Brexit.

No10 has issued a non-denial denial today. Shipman’s source has responded to that denial.

The aide who witnessed the exchanges said last night: “It’s true she obviously wanted as good an immigration deal as she could get. It’s true that she wrote a letter. But when the crunch moment came — do we take a risk, do we go for something that is going to be tougher and that Merkel is not going to back and that will be tougher to negotiate post the election? — her instinct was that if the Germans don’t support it, we can’t do it. That was her view and she said it in the meeting.”

There is a consensus that, had Cameron walked out of the EU talks with a cap on immigration, he’d have a deal worth the name and might have won the referendum. You can argue that Merkel is most to blame: if she hadn’t vetod the emergency break, then Cameron’s deal might have amounted to a row of beans. But fundamentally, Cameron was at fault with the expectations he raised. As Shipman reminds us:-

At the Conservative Party conference in October 2014 Cameron vowed to get to grips with immigration. Looking directly into the television camera, he pledged: “Britain, I know you want this sorted, so I will go to Brussels, I will not take no for an answer and — when it comes to free movement — I will get what Britain needs.”

Except he did take no for an answer, then pretended that he hadn’t. As Matthew Parris recently pointed in The Spectator, Cameron’s cardinal error was to hold a referendum without being willing to be guided by the result. He repeatedly said that if it was a “no” then he’d discharge his duty as Prime Minister and lead Britain out – although his behaviour in the campaign made this impractical. He also said that he would not sign a deal with Brussels if it was awful. Had he kept his word on either of these points, then he would not unemployed now. And that’s on him – not Theresa May.

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Labour women attack Theresa May as ‘no sister’. How very un-feminist.

The Labour Party is in a sour mood at present, that much we already know. Usually, most of the sourness expressed by MPs is directed at their own party comrades. But this afternoon, at the Labour Women’s Conference, speaker after speaker decided to turn fire on Theresa May. Angela Rayner congratulated her on being the second female Prime Minister of this country, but said ‘I cannot celebrate her arrival’. Kezia Dugdale attacked both May and Nicola Sturgeon for not being real feminists, saying:

‘Look at Theresa May – she has the audacity to wear a ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ T-shirt. She could wear it at the dispatch box – but we’d still know the truth…’

And Harriet Harman also described the Prime Minister as ‘no sister’, arguing ‘we’ve got a new Tory prime minister – and she’s a woman. But like Margaret Thatcher before her, Theresa May is no supporter of women’.

Now, it’s probably quite irritating for Labour to have to hold a women’s conference while the Tories are still crowing that they’ve got another female Prime Minister. But is this sort of ‘you’re not a real feminist’ moaning very, well, feminist? Naturally, Theresa May has a different interpretation of what a feminist politician should do to some Labour MPs: though perhaps not as different as they might think. After all, she did set up Women2Win, which has increased the number of female Tory MPs in parliament by lobbying the Conservative party and mentoring candidates. And after all, she did do quite a lot of work on domestic violence when in the Home Office, including working with the now Labour MP Jess Phillips when she was working as a national adviser on domestic abuse, and introducing the offence of coercive and controlling behaviour. And she also introduced a number of measures on female genital mutilation and forced marriage. But still, she’s not a Labour MP, so that means that obviously she’s not really a feminist.

Sorry, ladies, but feminism is even more important than partisanship. If you start claiming that only women who meet with your politics are real feminists, then you break into the People’s Front of Judea when feminists haven’t run out of problems to solve. You also alienate those on the right who are feminists but who you tell aren’t welcome in your special exclusive left-wing ladies’ club. Feminism has to span the political spectrum, otherwise it gets stuck in one party. And given the Labour party isn’t going anywhere right now, that’s not much use to the women who still need a politician who’ll show them what a feminist in government looks like.

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Now Corbyn has triumphed, Labour’s real civil war begins

Jeremy Corbyn has never been in a stronger position as Labour leader than he is today. A leadership contest that was meant to topple—or at the least, weaken him—has ended up solidifying his position. His Labour critics came for him, and he defeated them. He garnered 61.8 percent of the vote in this leadership contest, even more than he received last year. He won a majority among full members, something he just failed to do in the first round last time. He can, justifiably, say that the Labour membership have seen the leadership he is offering, and voted for more of it.

Corbyn might have said, to his critics, ‘let’s wipe that slate clean’ in his victory speech. But this isn’t going to happen: there’s simply too much bitterness on both sides. The Corbynites will, soon enough, go after all those who stand in their way, from the general secretary and the deputy leader to party staff and regional organisers. They are tightening their grip over the party from top to bottom, something the Blairites never did.

Alarmingly for the moderates, the party could be beyond saving by 2020. Even the Parliamentary Labour Party, a bastion against Corbynism, could be pushed hard to the left at the next election. Candidate selection will enable Momentum and co. to oust some of their most determined foes. But if boundary changes go through ahead of the general, the purge could go far further than that.

Corbyn’s achievement is remarkable. His personal ratings are dire and Labour trail the Tories by a double-digit margin in the polls. And yet, somehow, he still commands the loyalty of the overwhelming majority Labour ‘selectorate’.

The worry for his Labour opponents is that Corbyn hasn’t remotely exhausted his well of potential support. In this election, he was handicapped by a series of rules designed to keep out many of his supporters. Members can vote only if they joined the party by 12 January, barring the tens of thousands who rushed to sign up when it became clear that Corbyn’s position was under threat. Among those who have joined the party since he was elected last year, he got 83 percent of the vote—and both sides in this leadership contest expect another membership surge now he has been re-elected.

Party HQ, which has yet to fall to the Corbynites, then set about disqualifying those who had indicated their support for other parties on social media or been abusive. (A popular joke among Labour MPs is that the Green party has only ever won one major election — the Labour leadership contest of 2015). Despite all this, Corbyn still received more than sixty percent of the vote.

‘Saving Labour’, the anti-Corbyn group, said it had signed up 120,000 people to vote in this election. But this result showed that the anti-Corbynites need another 120,000 just to be competitive in these contests.

Part of the problem is that their sell is a hard one. ‘Join our party because our leader is unelectable’ is not the most persuasive pitch. Another is that diehards of the old Labour right are fundamentally uncomfortable with mass participation. They’d rather shrink the selectorate to a more manage-able number than radically expand it, which makes them look anti-democratic.

But the biggest problem is the talent deficit in the Labour party; the lack of a truly outstanding politician for the internal opposition to rally around. If Owen Smith — whose campaign never really recovered after Diane Abbott denounced him as a drugs company ‘lobbyist’ in the opening days of the race — was Labour’s best alternative, then the party really does have a problem.

Smith’s campaign highlighted the bind that Labour moderates are in. For the purposes of this contest, he felt obliged to try to appeal to the left via a series of statements — about the need for talks with Islamic State, the possibility of Britain joining both the euro and the border-free Schengen zone, and his support for higher taxes — that would make him unelectable nationally.

Some Labour moderates are determined to have another go at taking down Corbyn. There is talk of a dedicated campaign to sign up hundreds of thousands of new members, then mount a new challenge before the next general election. But it isn’t clear why this membership drive would be any more likely to succeed. A more radical solution would be to change the law so that when people register to vote in a general election, they can declare their party affiliation. That would mean Labour voters could then be balloted far more effectively during the party’s leadership elections. Such a change would make party selectorates far more representative of parties’ nationwide support. Under these rules, a hard-left candidate could not win the Labour leadership. However, such a change seems highly unlikely. Parliament would have to vote for it, but there is no caucus of MPs advocating it — and changing Labour’s own rules would require the National Executive Committee’s support.

The last great hope of the moderates is that an electoral drubbing in 2020 will bring the party to its senses. But there is no guarantee of that. The hard left will simply blame the constant sniping against Corbyn for the defeat. Winning is also not that important to many of Corbyn’s supporters; Tony Blair’s great crime in their eyes was to compromise with the electorate in pursuit of power.

So if defeat in 2020 won’t sober the party up, what will? Well, perhaps nothing. It used to be said that the trade unions and Scottish Labour kept the party from veering too far left. But the most powerful union, Unite, shows no sign of wanting to help the forces of moderation. Len McCluskey, its general secretary, is siding with Corbyn in procedural fights rather than with his old flatmate, the deputy Labour leader Tom Watson. And once-mighty Scottish Labour now consists of one MP and fewer MSPs than the Scottish Tories.

Everyone at Westminster can recite the arguments against setting up a new party. The electoral system makes it very hard for any new force to break through. At the 2015 general election Ukip won 13 per cent of the vote but only one MP. Moreover, there is the Labour name — which is probably worth the support of somewhere between 15 and 20 per cent of the electorate. It is hard to see how a social democratic party could succeed without this tribal backing.

But it is becoming even more difficult to see how the social-democratic wing of Labour can ever take the party back. Vote Leave’s success in building a winning nationwide ground game in only ten weeks shows that technology is reducing the barriers to entry in politics. The Labour brand is already much diminished — and things could get worse: there is even talk of the Communist Andrew Murray becoming the next general secretary. To add to the mix of bad news for Labour, there is also the fact that the Tories are busy moving onto the turf that Labour is abandoning. If it takes Labour a decade to decide to return to the centre, they will find that the Tories have dug themselves firmly into that middle ground.

To date, most speculation about a new party has centred on the idea of some kind of pro-EU grouping. But Continuity Remain is a poor basis for a party that actually seeks power, as opposed to the Liberal Democrats. This new party would — from its inception — be fighting a battle of the past. Labour MPs in northern and Welsh working-class seats would be committing electoral suicide if they failed to accept the referendum’s clear message that their voters don’t want unlimited EU immigration any more.

Much of New Labour’s success was chalked up to offering voters a chance to combine economic efficiency with social justice, or at least appearing to. But as one Tory veteran of 1997 remembers, what actually made the Blair-led party so electorally potent was its cultural understanding of middle England. This was best summed up by the phrase ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’. Any new party would have to rediscover that knack of tapping into the mainstream of British opinion.

Corbyn’s victory is being met by a defiant chorus of ‘We’re not going anywhere’ from moderate Labour MPs. But the painful truth is that this result shows that Labour is not their party any more. Corbyn and his comrades on the far left are in charge. Those who think Britain needs a sensible centre-left party need to set one up. Labour no longer fits that description.

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Christian criticism of Israel is myopic

A Methodist church in Hinde Street, London, is exhibiting ‘You cannot pass today: Life through a dividing wall’, a reconstruction of a border control point between Israel and the occupied territories. The purpose, needless to say, is not to show how to deal with a terrorist threat, but to attack Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. A Jewish human rights group which has written to protest has been told, soapily, by the minister, ‘I respect your passionate concern for these issues…This exhibition… has been carefully curated… to promote reflection and prayers for peace.’ I have noticed these wall protests popping up on campuses etc., and they never seem either reflective or prayerful. They are propaganda. Serious, bitter issues certainly surround the whole question of Israel and its wall, but for churches to focus on this in the Middle East at this time is myopic. Not many miles away, their fellow Christians are being persecuted, expelled and murdered by Isis, their cries virtually unheard in our comfortable pews.

This is an extract from Charles Moore’s Notes. The full article is available here

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Corbyn has won – again. This could be the end of the Labour party

Those of us on the left should imagine how our political rivals felt when watching Jeremy Corbyn’s latest victory speech. English Conservatives and Scottish Nationalists do not wake at 3 a.m., drenched in sweat, worrying about how they can defeat Jeremy Corbyn. Like a drunk who punches his own face, Corbyn beats himself, leaving Labour’s rivals free to do what they will. For English leftists, however, trying to salvage what they can from the wreckage of their party, the apparently simple question of how to take on the far left appears impossible to answer.

Commentators throw around the ‘far left’ label without stopping to ask what it means. You begin to understand its echoing emptiness when you look around and notice Corbyn has no good writers on his side. In my world of liberal journalism, everyone is saying that when talented journalists decide to support Corbyn, their talent abandons them, and they produce gushing pieces that would embarrass a lovestruck teenager.

The last upsurge of left-wing militancy in the 1970s had Eric Hobsbawm, E.P. Thompson and other formidable socialist thinkers behind it. Joseph Stiglitz, Thomas Piketty and Danny Blanchflower looked like their successors. They too have produced formidable work on how to make society fairer. They agreed to help Corbyn, but walked away after discovering that Corbynism is just a sloganising personality cult: an attitude, rather than a programme to reform the country. That attitude is banal in content, conspiracist in essence, utopian in aspiration and vicious in practice.

Isabel Hardman and Marcus Roberts discuss the leadership result on Coffee House shots

Paradoxically, it is all the harder to defeat for that. Consider its components, and understand the difficulties facing Labour’s moderates. Conspiracy theory saturates the far left as thoroughly as it saturates the far right. It is its default mode of thought. Its answer to everything. Attention to date has concentrated on Corbyn supporters’ embrace of the Jewish — forgive me, ‘Zionist’ — conspiracy theory.

But anti-Semitic prejudice is only one of dozens of paranoid fantasies that fight for the right to fill tiny minds that want to wish the world away. In one poll, 90 per cent of Corbyn supporters believed that a PR agency organised ‘the coup’ against him. The story comes from a left-wing website called The Canary, which does not pretend to offer its readers evidence. Any disinterested observer can see the ‘coup’ was a vote of no confidence passed by panicked Labour MPs, who thought the Prime Minster might call an early election.

Yet the deceit of a clickbait site, which pays its reporters by how many hits their pieces receive rather than by how much truth they tell, is believed, while the public record is ignored.

Elsewhere, Corbyn’s supporters explain away the terrible opinion polls by saying that they are the bitter fruits of a Tory conspiracy. Not stopping there, they go on to see the invisible hand of MI5 raised against them everywhere from Twitter to the BBC.

You can look at how globalisation, the crash, the fall in real wages, mass immigration and the Iraq war have created a paranoid consciousness across the West. But to understand wilful and self-serving stupidity is not to pardon it. Nor is it to underestimate how hard wilful stupidity is to penetrate. Once hooked, the faithful can find reasons to dismiss any fact that contradicts their ecstatic certainties, and in Trump’s America as much as in Corbyn’s Labour party, there seems no way to get through to them.

Corbyn’s banality, which has driven serious leftists away, is not the unmitigated political disaster it seems either. As with so many who call themselves socialists, it has let him embrace Islamist movements, which are fascist in their political outlook, and Russia’s conservative and kleptomaniac autocracy. This has been my left-wing generation’s greatest betrayal, and its hypocrisy and cynicism is exacting a heavy political price. Yet the banality that allows disgraceful alliances also ensures that the far left does not have to commit to a specific domestic programme.

Utopias are always banal. Corbyn’s Utopia allows his supporters to wallow in the warmth of self-righteousness. They want to end austerity. Stop greed. Bring peace. How they do it is not their concern. Practicalities are dangerous. They take you away from utopia and back into the messy, Blairite realm of compromises and second-bests.

Nick Cohen and James Forsyth on Corbyn’s victory

Anyone who knows history knows that utopianism can justify viciousness. By his supporters’ reasoning, leftists who are against Corbyn must be in favour of poverty, greed and war. All tactics are justified in the struggle against such monsters.

Tomorrow’s press will probably be full of articles criticising Smith’s tactics. I hope at least a few have the grace to acknowledge that Smith, Angela Eagle and other Labour MPs have shown moral courage and some physical bravery. The viciousness works. Many in the Labour movement, including several I contacted for this article, are frightened of speaking out against Corbyn. At least Smith and those who stood alongside him would not be silenced.

Corbyn’s victory has proven, too, that the far left’s combination of conspiracy theory, banality, utopianism and viciousness has Labour under its thumb. You glimpse the scale of the disaster that will now follow by looking at how the arguments between Corbyn and his opponents did not even cover the great shifts in opinion that have crippled Labour and other European social democratic parties in the 2010s. Is Labour a patriotic party, for instance? Corbyn will go along with any regime or movement, however right-wing, as long as it is anti-western. But the sleaziness of his behaviour has allowed his opponents to avoid a question that the rise of the SNP should have made unavoidable: can they create a progressive English patriotism?

As the 2015 election and the EU referendum showed, Labour has to find a way of bridging the divide between its liberal middle-class and socially conservative working-class supporters on immigration and multiculturalism. Corbyn’s presence ensured it has not begun to look for a path, let alone find one.

I do not want to believe that the English liberal-left will sit back and allow the Conservatives to rule from 2010 until 2025, or beyond. But under Corbyn, I cannot see how the Labour party goes forward as a credible opposition, let alone a credible government. Perhaps Labour’s day is done, and it is time for something new. Whatever it is, it can hardly be worse.

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Jeremy Corbyn wins the Labour leadership again, with a stronger majority

As expected, Jeremy Corbyn has just beaten Owen Smith in the Labour leadership race with 62pc of the vote, higher last year’s 60pc. So this means he has redoubled his authority – and probably his reach within the structures of the party as moderate members shrug their shoulders and give up. ‘Let’s wipe the slate clean from today,’ he said in his victory speech – something intended to sound emollient, but could have just as easily sounded like a threat.

Overall Corbyn beat Smith in every category, receiving 313,209 votes while his rival amassed just 193,229. Among members, Owen Smith received his highest share of the vote at 41pc — managing 116,960 votes to Corbyn’s 168,216 votes. When it came to registered supporters, Corbyn stormed ahead with 70pc of the vote with 84,918 votes to Smith’s 36,599.


As James reported in the magazine this week, work is already underway for the next coup, but the question is whether this race has helped or hindered the moderate cause. While the turmoil has made it more difficult for Corbyn to command any sort of authority in Parliament, the way the race ended up being pitched by the Owen Smith team and the ill-preparedness of the moderates when it came to recruiting members to back their candidate. Two in five of Labour members backed him: it’s not an appalling result. But Smith’s strategy for the leadership contest undermined the moderate cause even more: they organised a coup against their leader and ended up serving up someone who embodied everything the membership had rejected last time around: inauthenticity, a certain media savviness, and a sense that everything was being said for tactical reasons, rather than out of conviction.

So the coup has failed – and the party now has even longer to recover.

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Who is to blame for Brexit?

With Italy facing a referendum that could unseat its president, the EU’s member states in furious conflict over immigration, and Hillary Clinton looking like an increasingly shaky last line of defence, our very own Brexit is being held up as the model of a new, disruptive politics.

But its meaning has been debated. For some, Brexit was democracy delivering justice: the West’s ‘first big fightback’, as Nigel Farage said on Sunday, against ‘a metropolitan elite, backed by big business, who’ve just been increasingly getting out of touch with the ordinary voters.’ The counter-narrative is that Brexit was a fake revolution: a coup by fellow-members of the elite who ‘lied to please the mob’.

These contending stories will fight it out in the forthcoming ‘inside stories’ of Brexit, five of which are about to hit the bookshops. But the first of these books, to be published on Monday, suggests that both narratives are defensible. Brexit Revolt, by Michael Mosbacher and Oliver Wiseman of Standpoint magazine (full disclosure: these generous people occasionally print my articles), is based on interviews with some of the Leave campaign’s protagonists, and access to some revealing emails.

Their account suggests, to me, that Farage’s ‘fightback’ story is debatable in its positive conclusions, but hard to deny in its negative ones. This was not simply a people’s revolution. But Brexit was a judgment on an out-of-touch elite, because only an elite that was out of touch could have made so many mistakes.

Yes, the Leave campaign was constructed with a cleverness bordering on, and at times lapsing into, cynicism. Take the ‘Australian points system’ mooted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, which decisively turned the polls towards Leave. Its rhetorical power, according to Mosbacher and Wiseman, was discovered in 2014 by a Ukip staffer. He realised that the words sounded to immigration hardliners like a tough policy; but it also appealed to those who wanted a fairer system – one that was, say, more generous towards Commonwealth immigration.

You could defend this ambiguity by pointing out that political movements are always broad coalitions, and so on. On the other hand, the authors of Brexit Revolt struggle to find a Leave campaigner who will defend the spectacularly successful ‘£350 million a week to the EU’ figure. ‘One Vote Leave insider,’ they report, ‘told us he found the use of £350 million, and its effectiveness, deeply unsettling. The message, he said, is that in politics it pays to lie.’ The Leave campaign’s cunning, then, means Brexit is hard to frame as a peasants’ revolt.

Nevertheless, you can’t get 17.4 million votes just with smart slogans. You have to win the argument; and if Remain failed to, it was partly because they consistently underestimated the strength of Euroscepticism, and overestimated how easily they could overcome it. In that sense, they were just as ‘out of touch’ as Farage suggests.

An early, but typical, misfire was Nick Clegg’s 2014 challenge to Nigel Farage to two televised debates. Clegg hoped he would repeat his success in the 2010 election debates; instead, Farage trounced him (in the second debate, according to one poll, by 68 to 27 per cent).

A similar lack of imagination was at fault in Remain’s choice of Project Fear as their chief referendum tactic. If Mosbacher and Wiseman are to be believed, this was adopted purely on the basis that it had won the Scottish referendum. But its effectiveness in Scotland was exaggerated: support for independence actually went up during Project Fear. And whereas Alex Salmond had produced an economic plan for independence, an easy target for scaremongering, Leave kept their plans vague.

Project Fear also rashly contradicted itself: not only was George Osborne’s ‘£4,300 per household’ easily shown to be ridiculous, but so exact a prediction undermined claims that Brexit would lead to ‘uncertainty’.

And as is now obvious, the public trust in Barack Obama and Christine Lagarde and other powerful leaders was low enough that, the more earnestly these figures lectured from their podiums, the higher the collective eyebrow was raised. (One June poll, quoted in the book, found the authorities most trusted by the public are academics. Maybe Professors For Remain could have kept Britain in the EU.)

The common theme in Remain’s failures was an exaggerated confidence in their ability to make a dubious case to a sceptical public. David Cameron’s renegotiation demonstrated this kind of hubris: by saying he wouldn’t endorse Remain until after the renegotiation, he encouraged MPs and many others to pin everything on what he could squeeze out of EU leaders. The answer turned out to be not very much, and Cameron couldn’t sell it.

So, if there is a lesson from Brexit for frightened elites in America and Germany and wherever else, it would be this. The anti-Establishment rebels may or may not be irresponsible and cynical. But they can’t win unless you make it easy for them.

Dan Hitchens is deputy editor of the Catholic Herald

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