Saving the single market

Dear Labour MPs

The referendum result is a terrible tragedy, but I understand the people have spoken. I am not asking for a second vote unless voters actually want one, which they clearly don’t now. I accept we have to try and make the best of Brexit. But we shouldn’t just let its most hardline advocates define our future. I am horrified that so many Labour MPs who campaigned to remain are saying an end to free movement of EEA nationals must now be a red line.

Most of you campaigned for Remain – so you know the EU means what it says about the single market’s four freedoms being indivisible, because you travelled the country saying so. But to reiterate: Brussels is not bluffing. The European project relies on common rules for common benefits. Conceding that principle sets a dangerous precedent for the future – throw your toys out of the pram, walk away from your neighbours and reap the rewards. It would be a tragedy of the commons on a continental scale.

Some of you talk about an ‘ambitious negotiating strategy’ to try and square the circle. Yes, other EU countries face challenges too: the threat from Marine Le Pen, Angela Merkel’s difficulties with the refugee crisis, Matteo Renzi’s upcoming constitutional referendum. But offering Britain some sweetheart deal would make their electoral troubles worse, not better. Polling clearly shows their voters do not want us to get any such deal. Some mainstream politicians have talked about greater border controls on entering the passport-free Schengen Area or even longer-term ones within it, but curtailing or ending EEA free movement rights is a distinct issue. Renzi has said an end to free movement won’t happen. Whatever changes Sarkozy puts forward for Schengen, he’s not challenging EEA nationals’ rights (and no French mainstream candidate will go further than him).

Some might point to the fact that, technically, EU free movement is on a different legal basis from the models the EFTA countries apply. The EEA countries have slightly different rules on free movement – essentially, EU citizenship is not a relevant concept and the right is (technically) free movement of workers rather than people. If Switzerland’s compromise on ‘local preference’ in hiring gets consent from Brussels (far from guaranteed), perhaps we could secure something similar to effectively stay in the single market in goods (though not in services). The Swiss model would harm a country as dependent on service exports as Britain. Either approach keeps free movement – and selling tweaks as radical changes failed dismally in the referendum. In the end, you only put off the evil day when we have to choose: do we accept the single market’s rules or not?

If Britain insists on ending free movement, therefore, we will make our way out of the single market. That will damage working people’s incomes, jobs and communities far more than immigration ever could. The evidence simply does not support the idea that immigration depresses wages overall. At worst, it may have a small effect on some low wages – though even then, it mainly seems to affect other migrants rather than British workers. Of course, if you’re on the breadline, a small change has a big effect. But the lost jobs and tax revenue (and guess whose tax credits or public services will be cut to make up for that?) from hard Brexit will dwarf any notional gain in wages.

To be clear: this is not about metropolitan liberals refusing to listen to anyone outside the M25. I understand you want to meet voters halfway on immigration. And yes, we probably have relied on low-paid labour from elsewhere too much and for too long. You can talk more about training our own people. You can ask why we don’t pay enough for British people to do more of these jobs. You can say tackling both of these could reduce immigration and slow the pace of change. You can spell out that people feel that their society changed too fast without their being asked. You can use plainer English to talk about the issue – metropolitan liberals should stop insisting that you tie yourselves in linguistic knots whenever it comes up.

But there is a difference between doing all that and staying quiet while the Tory Right sells us snake oil. It won’t appease people in the end anyway. What do you think will happen if Britain marches to hard Brexit and the country ceases to be a gateway to the world’s largest single market? Do you think angry voters will be less angry once investors go? Once Nissan leaves Sunderland? When people find themselves without work? What will Labour say to them then?

You are the Official Opposition. I realise fulfilling that role is much harder with our current leadership. But you are still the second largest bloc of MPs, and you can put pressure on a Government with a small majority in perilous times. Theresa May could well be held hostage by those Conservative MPs for whom no level of anti-European zealotry would ever be enough. Labour MPs need to press her to minimise the damage Brexit does, not encourage her to maximise it.

Yes, the referendum result mandates some form of Brexit. But all of us, not just some of the 52%, should have a say as we decide what form we choose. Please reconsider, for all our sakes.

Best wishes
Douglas Dowell

Voting records, Labour leaderships and anti-politics

Owen Smith is standing for the Labour leadership on a platform well to the left of what anyone would have deemed possible in 2015. From standing firm against Tory spending plans, through pledging a series of specific tax rises, to investing in a British New Deal, to strengthening workers’ rights, it is very obvious which side of the fence he’s on. There’s no Blairite triangulation here – simply a clear, left-wing, domestically-focused programme.

As a result, attacks on Owen have had less to do with his policies and more to do with his background. The attacks on his career before Parliament are deeply unfair and have been rebutted elsewhere. However far to the left we move, we can’t just dismiss anyone who has worked in the private sector as inherently suspect. But many comments about his record in Parliament deserve an answer, too. They aren’t just unfair and misleading. They’re part of a toxic kind of politics, which any true idealist should shun.

Owen in Parliament (or being attacked for being an MP)

The (in)famous vote on the Welfare Bill in July has been covered over and over again, and plenty of people have explained what it meant in detail. Briefly: Labour tabled a ‘reasoned amendment’, which would have killed the Bill while giving specific reasons. It then abstained on the Second Reading because some parts of the Bill (like an increase in apprenticeships) were good. It tried to change the Bill in Committee, and then voted against it at Third Reading. The Tories have a majority, so it would have passed anyway. I completely agree we made the wrong call, and so does Owen Smith: we should have made our opposition clear. But Labour MPs weren’t just letting the welfare cuts through. It was simply trying to change it first before trying to vote it down, good bits and bad alike.

Owen has also come under fire for not voting on the Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill in October 2010. (For context: he entered Parliament for the first time in May 2010.) This was a Private Member’s Bill which aimed to ensure that minor procedural errors in strike ballot notices didn’t invalidate the ballot. Employers have been exploiting the law aggressively in recent years, so I have plenty of sympathy with the idea (though I might argue with bits of the detail). It’s good that a large number of MPs turned up to vote for it. But the Conservative/Liberal Democrat government had a majority of 73 and was never going to give it Government time. As a result, it was never going to actually become law. We don’t know if Owen had a constituency commitment; we don’t know what else he might have had to do at the time. We do know this wasn’t a do-or-die vote. Frankly, we know that if he had an important constituency meeting, he’d have been better employed there.

Owen’s been attacked for ‘going fishing with Tory MPs’. Yes, Owen went on a trip which involved fishing one summer. He’s Vice Chair of the All-party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Angling, raising awareness of issues relating to the sport. You might think that’s not very important, but millions of voters go fishing, and there are hundreds of APPGs covering almost everything. They all include both Labour and Tory MPs: Jeremy Corbyn used to chair the APPG on Mexico, with three Tory MPs and Ian Paisley’s son as officers. It’s hardly surprising if, as part of a group looking at angling, the Angling Trust might have been keen for these MPs to, well, experience angling. And having looked at Owen’s expense records, I can find no evidence he claimed any expenses for the trip.

And on expenses: one of the silliest attacks on Owen has been for claiming more expenses than Corbyn. Owen represents Pontypridd in the Welsh Valleys; Corbyn’s seat is a Tube journey from Parliament. Of course his expenses are higher. He has to travel further and he has to have two bases (if you don’t believe me, remember the Commons regularly finishes at 10.30pm or 7.30pm). If we compare a Welsh MP’s expenses unfavourably with those of the MP for Islington North, we may as well just say London MPs are preferred as leaders. In a country where metropolitan elites are forever mocked, I shouldn’t have to explain why that would be profoundly damaging.

Why it matters

This is dishonest, misleading stuff, easily explained for any who honestly want an answer. More importantly, it’s toxic. It takes the diary trade-offs, policy compromises and parliamentary tactics which being an MP will always involve and uses them to ‘prove’ an MP dishonest, on the take or lazy. Taken to its logical conclusion, it makes an effective legislature impossible. It’s a left-wing version of UKIP.

How do different sports’ concerns, or issues from a country far away, or information about British industries make their way to Parliament? Partly from MPs’ own backgrounds, but mainly from talking to people outside Parliament with an interest or expertise. Select Committees and APPGs are part of that process. You know how oppositions get some concessions from governments in Parliament? They work with their opposite numbers in the Lords. They put forward amendments and they may word them to get some government MPs or peers to back it. They may meet ministers to talk about what concessions they can get if the Lords lets a Bill through. And sometimes they work constructively and consensually on legislation on which no one disagrees much.

If any attempt to compromise, or negotiate, or secure concessions just proves perfidy, we have two choices. Parliament could just grind to a halt. Alternatively, the Government can ram all legislation through with no meaningful scrutiny, no chance to improve it and no opportunity for the Opposition to win concessions. Do you want either of those? Does any sensible person? Do you want a closed Parliament where MPs do nothing but casework or sitting in the chamber?

This sort of campaigning takes the basic work of MPs and actively undermines it. Worse, it depends and builds on ignorance of how Parliament works, when activists should be trying to do exactly the opposite. It’s not just attacks on Owen Smith, and it’s not just Corbynites. Those memes of an empty Commons talking about a debate on [popular/important issue] and a full one talking about [expenses/unpopular issue] – never mind that the first was a snapshot in the middle of a long debate and the second was actually Prime Minister’s Questions? They’re part of the same culture. So is the mindless counting up of how many parliamentary questions (PQs) an MP asked. Never mind their relevance or that a minister doesn’t ask PQs or an MP might chair a Select Committee and do far more for scrutiny that way. Just assume they’re lazy instead.

It’s hardly surprising democracy is held in low esteem if all the key participants and the activists mock it just as much, and with as broad a brush, as any cynical non-voter. Activists presumably believe in the power of politics, and campaigning, to effect change. If so, they should fight within Parliament, and battle for parliamentarians’ support, to their hearts’ content. But don’t feed into a culture which treats all MPs as lazy, all leaders as liars and all deals as betrayals. If you paint politics as a cesspit, don’t be surprised if the public agrees with you. And don’t be surprised if the new politics ends up nastier and narrower than the old.

A letter to the Labour Left

Dear Comrades

Labour’s more centrist wing talks a lot about winning elections. Given our dismal result last September, I admit we should show some humility on that score.

In summer 2015, members and supporters wanted an Opposition which opposed. They wanted someone to be unapologetically anti-austerity; to speak up for left-wing values without blushing; to refuse to triangulate or fudge in the face of a right-wing Conservative Government. Most concluded no-one would do that except for Jeremy Corbyn; they felt like they were being asked to choose to give up everything they believed in if they voted for anyone else.

People like me failed to grasp that, and we just ended up lecturing the membership. We told everyone else to meet the voters on their ground and take their concerns seriously, and we completely failed to take our own advice. We failed with the best of intentions, we failed because we wanted a Labour Government, but still we failed. We have to learn from that.

10 months on, I can understand the anger now that Jeremy is facing a leadership challenge. He won by a landslide: I accept that. He won a mandate to move the debate in Labour to the left. He has done that, but I can see why many feel cheated.

But please don’t think that Labour moderates are the main threat to the Labour Left. We were trounced in 2015: Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper won 21.5% between them. Corbyn supporters cite the old saw that Tony Blair was Margaret Thatcher’s greatest achievement to illustrate the problems with Blairism. On that logic, Owen Smith is Jeremy Corbyn’s greatest achievement.

Owen is standing as an unabashed socialist, backed by all of Labour’s most centrist MPs. Labour members are not being offered insipid triangulation or Andy Burnham Mark II: Owen is putting forward an unambiguous, democratic socialist programme. He’ll also put flesh on the programme’s bones, which Jeremy never managed to do.

As Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Owen has led Labour’s opposition to the Tories’ welfare cuts. In the early days of his campaign, he’s set out 20 key policies to end austerity and make the wealthy pay their share. Bringing back the 50p rate; higher capital gains tax; a new wealth tax; raising corporation tax; £200 billion invested in a British New Deal: it is crystal clear which side of the fence he’s on. These are specific and costed, and they make a sharp contrast with 10 months in which, after last summer’s promises, practically no party policy emerged at all.

When Owen made his 20 pledges, Jeremy had set out one policy from our 2015 manifesto, one policy based on Owen’s pledge on investment, and one unworkable pledge on pharmaceuticals. Owen has now released a major programme for workers’ rights, too. We have heard a little more since then, but even then the difference stands out: one candidate translates the ideals into concrete policies; the other, unless pushed, does not. Now Labour has been jolted to the left, it needs to fight to make a leftward shift credible: Owen is the better candidate to do so.

Crucially, Owen will turn his fire on domestic policy. If you want to challenge the political consensus head-on, you need a clear target and a steady aim – not a scatter-gun assault on all positions at once. If we’re going to campaign from the Labour Left, we need a clear, overwhelming theme: Conservative cuts are not compulsory; working people shouldn’t pay for the hubris of a lucky few; the interests of those lucky few have railroaded everyone else’s for far too long. Owen will do that. If you wanted a clear, full-throated left-wing party, focused on taking the fight to the Tories: now you can vote for one.

Yes, Owen will stay nearer to the centre than Jeremy in some areas. In particular, Owen will not refuse to sing the national anthem, he will avoid foreign policy controversies (though he voted against military action in Syria), he will be a multilateralist on Trident and he will want to speak to people’s sense of national identity. I understand that these last two are a major compromise for many.

But once these are out of the way, Labour MPs and activists on all sides will rally round a radical domestic programme for government. Arguing about Trident, the Falklands or the IRA is a distraction. These issues alienate people who could otherwise vote Labour. Labour moderates like me will refuse to pretend we can accept them. The Tories will make hay with them. And all the while, the hope of an unequivocally left-wing government drifts further away.

I won’t lie to you: I would normally argue for a more moderate programme to take to the country. But in 2016, the Labour Left has won that battle within the Party, hands down. The biggest threat to that victory is not bedraggled Blairites. It’s crushing, repeated electoral defeat, with all the demoralisation that entails. Defeat will, if you let it, drag the Labour Party away from what you want. Jeremy Corbyn has done what members wanted him to do: to build on that, a new leader will have to take the message to the country, not just the party.

If Owen Smith wins the leadership contest, please don’t think Labour moderates won’t want to make it work. We will throw ourselves into selling him, and Labour, to the country, as we always do. If Labour wins on a manifesto substantially to the left of Ed Miliband, we will be delighted. We also want to tackle inequality – as slowly as we must, yes, but as fast as we can too.

There are two candidates from the Labour Left in this election. One has shown he cannot speak to the country as a whole; the other is champing at the bit to try. The second stands the best chance of showing what a more radical Labour can do.

Yours fraternally
A Labour moderate

If you want to help Owen’s campaign, you can sign up to volunteer.

Why Jeremy Corbyn cannot lead

Jeremy Corbyn was elected in September 2015 with a decisive mandate. Nonetheless, I am convinced that Labour needs a new leader and that it faces disaster if it does not have one. Those of us who seek to overturn that mandate must make our case now.

In doing so, I want to address the electoral damage to Labour, but that is not my main focus here. Corbyn cannot win: but nor could he devise a workable platform for government, even if he did. Nor is such a platform his priority. As long as he leads, Labour cannot do its job as a serious opposition and an alternative government.

Campaigning efforts

To take electoral efforts first, however: it is evident that Corbyn’s Labour is far from forming a government. He is the first Opposition leader ever to lose seats in local elections in his first year in charge. The Opposition he leads is the first to lose seats in local elections since 1985. The average of polls has never once put Labour ahead of the Tories since Corbyn’s election. This all points to a defeat much worse than in 2015.

Policy and positions aside, Labour’s campaign under Corbyn was unfocused and poor. As a slogan, ‘Standing up, not standing by’ appealed only to the already-converted, who took Tory sins as articles of faith. It said nothing to anyone who wasn’t already convinced – indeed, it had no policy content at all. Our whole local election campaign focused on issues which councils couldn’t affect. Labour won in London – where Sadiq Khan spoke to the majority of Londoners, focused on their priorities and kept Corbyn off the leaflets.

But those problems pale in comparison to our EU referendum effort. We don’t know whether a sharper Labour effort would definitely have changed the outcome. But our leader skipped the launch of Labour In for Britain to attend a CND rally. Even in May, less than half of Labour voters knew their own party’s policy. Our leader constantly referred to the Party line when asked about his own views. He took a week’s holiday three weeks before polling day. I co-ordinated campaign efforts locally and knew I couldn’t go on holiday: clearly Corbyn took a different view. We now know the Leader’s Office consistently weakened pro-European speeches throughout the campaign. It is in genuine doubt how he actually voted himself.

On its own, Corbyn’s failure to campaign properly in the EU referendum is damning. His current position entails responsibility far beyond his own party. This was a crucial vote. It is hard to think of a Leader of the Opposition who has helped inflict more damage on his country.

Competence: credible policy

This isn’t just about whether people like Labour’s policies or how Corbyn campaigns. It is also about whether he can put any coherent platform together or show any kind of judgment on policy. I never thought he could, and events since September have given me no reason to change my mind.

Take the Tories’ Fiscal Charter, with its commitment to deliver an overall Budget surplus. Members and supporters voted for Corbyn to deliver a meaningful ‘anti-austerity’ policy. They got a Shadow Chancellor who first said he’d vote for the Tories’ fiscal charter as ‘little more than political game playing’, then decided he’d better vote against, and then produced a set of fiscal rules pretty similar to Ed Balls’. There’s a good case for a policy of balancing the current budget while borrowing to invest. But trashing that policy, seesawing from one extreme to another and then returning full circle – to general confusion – is no way to advocate it. Instead, McDonnell made Labour (defeated in 2015, to a large extent due to a lack of fiscal credibility) look like a party with no serious understanding of what it even wants, never mind how to achieve it.

Corbyn’s lack of judgment extends to foreign affairs. Reasonable people took different views on Syria, and there were plenty of good arguments against intervention in December. But reasonable disagreement differs from total failure to grasp the nature of the problem. Corbyn’s call for back channels to talk to Daesh fell into the latter category. Daesh is committed to an Islamic caliphate as a prelude to waging jihad on a global basis: striking a deal is literal anathema to its leaders. Syria and Iraq’s territory are not the West’s to negotiate over, and in any case we have nothing we could ever offer Daesh. Millenarian, theocratic totalitarianism cannot be appeased – as anyone with even a basic understanding should be able to grasp.

Corbyn’s positioning on Brexit since the EU referendum has been damningly inept. The morning after the referendum, he demanded the immediate triggering of Article 50, starting the two-year countdown to leaving. We had just fought a whole campaign, one where he had (notionally) been a key campaigner, in which Remain had emphasised the complexity of Brexit, the lack of any plan and the difficult trade-offs if Britain voted Leave. Anyone with even a passing interest in the debate should have known that to start the process immediately, with no permanent Prime Minister, no set of UK negotiating priorities and no discussion with devolved administrations, MPs and others would have been as disastrous as it was farcical.

Our new Brexit Secretary’s stated policy on negotiating with EU partners is either hubris or bluff; a stronger Labour Party could fight to ensure Remain voters’ interests are taken into account by a Government which currently risks sleepwalking into a hard Brexit. Having argued for a disastrous, precipitate negotiation, we have now spent a month supporting single market access while accepting an end to free movement, with no understanding of the contradiction. It is sadly typical that we only got any more clarity once Corbyn faced a leadership challenge and had to explain it to members rather than voters.

We are currently proposing to put Jeremy Corbyn to the country as our candidate for Prime Minister, making crucial decisions at short notice every day. Faced with such decisions as Leader of the Opposition, he has not shown the slightest ability to handle them. And for all his vaunted principles, he shows no interest in how to put them into practice – even if he won an election.

Competence: Parliament, party and country

MPs and peers have said a great deal about Corbyn’s performance as a leader in Parliament. He appointed, sacked and reappointed a Shadow Arts Minister without consulting or informing her while she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer; his Shadow Health Secretary had to make camp outside his office to get a decision on NHS policy; his Shadow Transport Secretary found herself undermined on key issues where she had reached an agreement with him in person. He may have claimed credit for Lords victories over tax credits, trade unions and housing, but Labour’s leader in the Lords points out she didn’t even have a conversation with him about those votes: peers were getting on with the job themselves. It is hardly surprising that his MPs have no confidence in his ability to lead.

This partly points to simple incompetence – a theme running throughout Corbyn’s leadership. It also points to a fundamental lack of interest in Parliament itself and the business of Parliament – in government or in opposition. When explaining his refusal to step aside, it was not the country or the voters to whom Corbyn said he felt responsibility; it was the members. Whenever challenged about electoral success, he would cite a growing membership. MPs with concerns are instructed to respect the membership. And so on.

Of course, Labour members and activists are vital. But they cannot be the sole – or even, if I am honest, the primary – focus of accountability for Labour MPs. It’s not just that you can’t be elected without appealing to voters at large: it is a point of principle. We live in a parliamentary democracy. The route from an individual citizen to Number 10 is stewarded by their local MP. It is fundamentally wrong to subordinate that link to a small, though dedicated, subset of activists. MPs should of course listen to their members: but citizens must come first.

The poor management of MPs, the lack of interest in parliamentary change and the refusal to prioritise winning elections point to a fundamental failure to understand that priority – and a rejection of the purpose of the Labour Party. As set out in Clause One of our Constitution, that purpose is to elect Labour representatives to Parliament. We don’t exist for our own benefit: we exist to build a better country.


Like Corbyn, I want a more equal Britain. I want poverty reduced; I want investment in public services; I want the rich to pay a larger share. But I would be lying if I pretended not to have fundamental differences with him, too.

Above all, I reject his anti-Western worldview. It is possible to do this while opposing some recent interventions in the Middle East. I marched against the 2003 Iraq war myself, more than once. But I believe interest and principle point to a UK anchored in Europe and in the Atlantic world. I do not see the European Union as a bosses’ club to be regarded with suspicion: I see it, for all its faults, as the greatest attempt to govern the relations between European states by law rather than power ever seen. To me, the United States is not a country to be held at arm’s length – though of course we can disagree with its leaders – but a liberal democracy and a friend, far more benign than any other plausible world hegemon and essential to our security. I do not share Corbyn’s hostility to Israel: it has done some terrible things, and it should change its policies for its own sake as well as the Palestinians’, but it remains a broadly free, open society in the Middle East and a guarantor to Jews everywhere that, after millennia of persecution, there will always be somewhere to offer refuge.

Corbyn’s worldview has led to some terrible associations and decisions. Rob Francis has said more or less everything that needs to be said about the first: I’ll focus on the second. It leads him, for instance, to want to leave NATO. In fairness, he hasn’t said anything much about NATO since becoming leader (though he did appoint Ken Livingstone to co-chair a defence review, who did), but we have no reason to believe his views have changed. Corbyn refers to a policy based on international law and peace: no one denies these are good things, but Britain has to have an ‘if all else fails’ policy in a supreme national crisis. At present, that policy is based on the NATO alliance. Corbyn wishes to get rid of our current policy, with no alternative in mind. Even if he does compromise on NATO, how are our allies meant to have any confidence in him? Britain already looks like it is considering withdrawing from the world: how would this help?

The assumption that we are always wrong, that the West is always to blame and that the answer must always be for Britain to give ground puts Corbyn at odds with the British people on some of the most fundamental issues of all. Arguing the UK should find an accommodation with Argentina over the Falklands – never mind the views of the people who live there – was a case in point. The public may not think much about the Falklands, but the idea that British people living on British territory should be defended from invasion and have their rights protected by Britain is a red line for them. And they are quite right. A man who seems to place his own country in the wrong in every circumstance is not a man who will ever enter 10 Downing Street.

Finally, I just can’t ignore the minimising, tolerating and denying of anti-Semitism under Corbyn. I’m sorry: I can’t stomach his record. Associating with people any decent politician should shun, failing to take a single step to address anti-Semitic incidents unless forced, refusing to condemn anti-Semitism without qualification: this is not how the leader of a mainstream party should be. If Labour cannot recognise one of history’s most vicious, most insidious prejudices, what are we for? There are few things more shaming than one of our Jewish MPs, attending the launch of a report into anti-Semitism in Labour, finding herself accused of ‘colluding with the media’ – a classic anti-Semitic trope. Worse, she saw her Party leader do nothing and then found he apologised to the man who abused her.


Corbyn’s record exposes the essential unseriousness of Corbynism. Our current leadership has no interest in working out how to sell ‘anti-austerity’ or even what it actually looks like. If we keep a leader the British people will never elect, who we know could never be Prime Minister even if he won, who is incapable of responding to the problems the country faces and who doesn’t even see any of this as his priority, we fail in our basic purpose. Worse, we leave everyone in this country who needs a Labour Government to the mercy of the Conservatives.

Electing Owen Smith as Labour leader won’t fix all the deep problems Labour faces. How to keep enough middle-class liberals and traditional working-class voters in the same tent, make Britain more equal in economic circumstances far more difficult than those of the late 1990s, repair our shattered place in the world, appeal to older voters and speak to all the nations of the UK: all of these problems will remain, and some or all of them will still have to be tackled. But without a new leadership, we can’t even begin to do that.

That is why we need to remove Corbyn. Not to solve our problems, but to start to try and solve them. Not as a quick route to victory, but as the first step towards working out how we can deliver our values in government and persuade our fellow citizens. Not for a quick fix, but for a long, hard slog – gruelling, but the only way to help build the more equal, better country we all want.

If you want to help Owen’s campaign, please do sign up to volunteer.

Antisemitism: on putting our house in order

In the past couple of days, we’ve heard about a Labour MP sharing posts which effectively called for transferring Israeli Jews out of Israel and talked about ‘the Jews rallying’ to vote in an online poll on Gaza. We have also had a former Labour Mayor of London say, among other things, that ‘Hitler was supporting Zionism’ and ‘real antisemites don’t just hate the Jews in Israel; they hate the ones in Golders Green too.’ Over a longer period, we have also had former Labour councillors who linked ISIS to Israeli intelligence, a former CLP chair who talked about Jewish people’s big noses and Israel behaving ‘like Hitler’, and more besides. We have seen the Co-Chair of Oxford University Labour Club resign over his experience of antisemitism within the group. We have also seen Jewish Labour MPs targeted, at least in part, as Jews by some activists.

It shouldn’t be controversial to say that these incidents point to a serious problem in parts of the Labour Party. A party committed to equality should want to crack down on this, take a long hard look at its own practices and put its house in order. However, the Labour Party has temporarily suspended, readmitted and then resuspended people like this in more than one case recently. In both the cases linked to, a Google or Twitter search could have uncovered plenty of relevant information. The Compliance Unit (which looks into these issues) may very well be under-resourced: if so, we need to consider its resourcing, not talk about abolishing it.

Labour’s response

In the past few days, our leadership has dragged its feet in responding to the revelations about Naz Shah’s posts and Ken Livingstone’s comments. Statements which should have immediately provoked suspension pending investigation weren’t dealt with until an outcry from MPs, the media and activists forced the pace. You might talk about time to consider, but you don’t need over four hours to clock that saying ‘Hitler was supporting Zionism’ crosses a line. It shouldn’t take more than 24 hours, and a direct attack at Prime Minister’s Questions, for an MP to be suspended for talking about ‘the Jews rallying’ to respond to an online poll.

The leader of the Labour Party, furthermore, seems incapable of speaking about the problem openly or with proper recognition of its gravity. In this, he apparently reflects far too many of his supporters, who often seem more interested in talking about media or ‘Blairite’ conspiracies against the leadership than weighing up the problem and tackling it. When an MP and the former Mayor of London are found to make serious antisemitic remarks, you act promptly; you condemn antisemitism without equivocation (and you don’t insist on bracketing it with all other forms of racism – you don’t need to qualify or justify a focus on prejudice against Jews); you certainly don’t speak as though you think the problem is a conspiracy against your leadership. And when someone (even if it’s your brother) thinks it’s appropriate to respond to worries about antisemitism by saying ‘Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for Palestine,’ you make sure to dissociate yourself from such sentiments. Difficult? Perhaps, but if you’re a candidate for Prime Minister, and you want to run the whole country, it comes with the territory.

Laying into the media or the ‘Blairites’ is beside the point, and it’s alarming that so many people have done so in preference to addressing the problem. (In any event, much of the media hue and cry is thanks to our own failure to get onto the front foot.) When you hear about any form of prejudice within your ranks, you don’t shoot the messenger: you read their message carefully and get to the bottom of it. It says a great deal that, even now, the new inquiry (very welcome in itself) will focus on general racism rather than antisemitism specifically. It says a great deal that, on the available evidence, the leadership had to be pushed into going so far – and two Shadow Cabinet members felt they might have to resign to get action to be taken.

Sorry, but this is basic stuff. It’s Anti-Discrimination 101 to take allegations seriously and investigate them fully and promptly when they’re made. Charities, private sector employers and trade unions throughout the UK have policies to deal with incidents of discrimination or prejudice: it simply is not good enough that the leadership of Britain’s main left-wing party has to be pushed by the media, its MPs and its activists into following these basic principles. The vast majority of Labour members and activists hate antisemitism – of course they do – but the number of incidents (with more being identified as I write) and the initially inept and then delayed response to them suggest an institutional problem with tackling it when it arises. We also have a leadership which has done little, if anything, to give confidence that such a problem will even be acknowledged, let alone addressed.

A hierarchy of prejudice

The whole debacle illustrates a broader problem. The left has generally recognised that specific accusations, slanders and types of language tap into prejudices against particular groups: as a gay man, I’m particularly sensitive to any hints of associating homosexuality with paedophilia, for instance. As with homophobia, so with antisemitism: antisemitic tropes are insidious and many-headed. But too often, too many on the left seem to have a blind spot in this area when it comes to Jews.

So we need to clarify: it is antisemitic to deploy particular tropes. For instance, the linking of the belief in the Jewish people’s right to a state with the man responsible for the Holocaust is intrinsically offensive, as well as historically spurious, and forms part of a broader antisemitic tendency to try and link Israel and Nazism. Attempting to make that link is a well-established delegitimising tactic. The left should be the champion of anti-discrimination and has a responsibility to educate itself. It would do so for other groups who experience oppression: Jews should be no different.

The problem lies disproportionately, but not exclusively, on the hard left: a long-standing ‘anti-imperialist’ worldview, rooted in hostility to US power and Western states in general, with Israel at the forefront, has intertwined with a whole series of unpleasant, insidious antisemitic tropes in far too many cases. To be clear: this isn’t to say activism opposing Israeli policy and presence in the Occupied Territories is in any way invalid. Of course it’s not, and most people manage to keep on the right side of the line. But too many people, too often, use language linking that activism with claims about the ‘Zionist media’, citing the Holocaust as a stick with which to beat Israel, calling universities ‘Zionist outposts’ on the basis of the size of their Jewish Societies and so on. And the minority who speak and think like this have been given a platform, accepted by people from the majority who don’t, for far too long.

This blind spot has had dangerous, deeply damaging consequences. It means we’ve got out of the habit on the left (not just the far left) of drawing the line, standing firmly on one side of it and calling the people on the other side out. It means people who mean well have too often for comfort tapped into some delegitimising tropes themselves (uniquely requiring Jewish cultural festivals not to receive state sponsorship from Israel, for example). And partly as a result, we’ve let attitudes which shouldn’t be given a moment’s house-room seep into the main left-wing party in Britain, and into other parts of the left.

Enough is enough. The Labour leadership, and the left more broadly, need to act. If Jeremy Corbyn is willing, he can do more than almost anyone else to draw a line: to distinguish between trenchant criticism of the Israeli government and prejudice in code; to use the word ‘Israel’ without immediate, axiomatic condemnation; to condemn antisemitism without bracketing or qualification. Labour members should demand that he does so.

If you want to show solidarity with Jewish members of the Labour Party, you can join the Jewish Labour Movement as an affiliate.

On double standards

As a democrat, I believe in people’s equal rights to live under a government of their choosing. I believe in self-determination, and I believe that a people who have lived on their own islands for nearly 200 years and who almost unanimously want to stay under their current government have every right to remain so. As such, I frankly cannot see what is so complicated about the case of the Falkland Islands.

If the argument is territorial integrity, then I fail to see why Argentina’s share of Tierra del Fuego (non-contiguous, on an island mainly in Chile) is legitimate while the Falklands (300 miles away) are not. Nor do I understand why the Canary Islands, Ceuta and Melilla, Alaska, French Guiana, Kaliningrad and many others besides somehow fit the bill. I don’t accept that 3,000 people living on a previously uninhabited set of islands are somehow a remnant of colonisation to be subjugated or deported. I simply do not concede that Argentina has any argument worthy of the name.

My party leader’s view that the UK should discuss sovereignty over the Falklands with Argentina, despite the clearly expressed wishes of their people, thus strikes me as unconscionable. Never mind whether British voters believe that British citizens in British territory who wish to remain British have every right to remain so, though they do. Never mind whether a leader who refuses to defend his fellow citizens from foreign aggression is unelectable, though he is. His stance is just plain wrong.

The correct position is: “The United Kingdom holds no selfish or strategic interest in the Falkland Islands and is more than happy to discuss matters of day-to-day concern with the Argentine Republic. Its only concern is to uphold the democratic rights of its people. On the day it can be shown that Falklanders’ wishes have changed, the UK Government will do all in its power to fulfil them. Until that day arrives, it will not abandon its fellow citizens. Sovereignty can only be placed on the table by the Falklanders themselves.”

So far, so simple. But many people who support Corbyn on this issue come back with accusations of hypocrisy. They ask: “But what about the Chagos Islands? What about the handover of Hong Kong? Why is realpolitik fine for them?” The argument extends over huge swathes of British foreign policy.

In many cases, the response is that it’s not “fine for them”. The UK’s treatment of the Chagossians was and remains unconscionable, too: we should never have been willing to remove 2,000 people from their islands just so our ally could be assured of not having anyone anywhere near its military base. We should put matters right now, and Corbyn has every right to point out the West’s hypocrisies in the Indian Ocean. But that makes no difference to the rights and wrongs of the Falklands.

In many others, though, the answer is murkier: unlovely pragmatism is often required in foreign policy. Hong Kong was, at least in part, a case in point. The UK had a permanent legal title to Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, but not the New Territories. It may well have been that Hong Kongers would have preferred a political arrangement which didn’t involve being part of the largest dictatorship on Earth, but the bottom line was that Hong Kong’s water supplies depended on the New Territories, China had no intention of re-leasing them, the UK would have had no military ability to defend Hong Kong anyway, and no one was going to help us do so.

The only option available was to make the best terms available. You might (validly) question whether the best terms were, in fact, made; you might decry the UK Government’s failure to press China on behalf of Hong Kong since 1997; you absolutely should lay into John Major’s Tories for refusing to offer the Hong Kong Chinese British citizenship. But no UK Government could seriously have been expected to try and defend Hong Kong against the People’s Liberation Army.

Realpolitik is usually ugly, but often necessary. However, there’s no conceivable need to trample on the Falkland Islanders. Argentina’s periodic fits of pique are an irritant, but no more than that. No lease is about to expire; no water supplies depend on Buenos Aires. The UK doesn’t have to put the sovereignty of the Falklands on the table: it would be an act of choice, not compulsion.

One of the most pernicious aspects of much of the hard left’s foreign policy is that it lays into the UK’s cynical or pragmatic compromises (sometimes necessary, sometimes not) not to call for a policy based on consistent defence of human rights or self-determination or the rule of law, but simply a policy based on the assumption that the West is always wrong. And it devalues the very notion of aiming for a genuinely better foreign policy as a result, because it refuses to set consistent yardsticks: we’re wrong whatever we do.

This isn’t just whataboutery to avoid the issue: it’s whataboutery in the name of dismissing virtually every other principle in favour of callow anti-Western, anti-American sloganeering. So Syria ceases to be a question of what can best be done to combat ISIS, or protect civilians, or negotiate a deal – but an opportunity to denounce the sins of Britain, France and America. Ukraine ceases to be about the rights of democracies on the border of an aggressive great power, or how best to allow Ukrainians to live in peace under a government they chose, but a chance to snipe at NATO enlargement. And yes, the Falklands cease to be the home of 3,000 people who have rights like the rest of us and become a chance to complain about British colonialism.

Foreign policy is often murky; double standards are often unavoidable. It is sad indeed that, in the name of a more ethical foreign policy, parts of the left wish to add so many more, with no real need or purpose.

Free votes: or how I stopped worrying and learned to love the Whip

Free votes are funny things, and much overrated. We always have them for changing parliamentary procedure. We normally have them on things like abortion, equal marriage and euthanasia: essentially, ‘God issues’. Sometimes, we have them for no very obvious reason: fox-hunting was a case in point. And occasionally, we have them to make a point: Ted Heath held one on the ‘in principle’ vote for entering the EEC in 1972, largely to encourage Labour to split as badly as possible on the same issue.

It’s easy to see why they appeal. We complain about spineless lobby fodder, MPs with no independence of thought, rigid party dogma and so on. Allowing a freewheeling debate, with MPs able to vote their conscience, sounds great (though actually, plenty of MPs rebel). You even hear people saying we shouldn’t have whips at all.

But there’s a reason why in practice, MPs usually get free votes when either the party doesn’t care too much, the outcome isn’t in doubt, religion comes into play or party management means leaders think they have no choice. Equal marriage is important to me personally, for instance, but the whole of government policy on tax, benefits and inheritance wouldn’t have fallen apart if it hadn’t gone through. Not everything can be separated out so neatly.

Take the free vote principle too far, and eventually governments can’t govern coherently at all. If the Budget is completely rewritten by a series of splits, you’re not going to get a massively improved document with better policy for all: you’ll probably get a complete mishmash with everyone running round to try and square all the contradictions after Parliament has voted.

If you run a foreign policy on a ‘voting at will’ basis, you’ll also get an incoherent mess. The Government’s decision to allow Cabinet ministers to campaign against each other in the EU referendum and Labour’s free vote on Syria both illustrate the point. EU membership and decisions on military action are fundamental to UK policy. You can’t just say ‘Well, we’re neutral on leaving the EU, but basically our foreign, security and economic policies are the same either way’ or ‘Well, we don’t have a line on military action in Syria, but basically our policy on the Middle East is the same either way’. These decisions are game-changers: if you don’t have a position on them, you don’t have much of a position full stop.

Too many free votes don’t just make governing harder: they blur government accountability. Most people don’t think they vote for their individual MP: they think they vote for their preferred government, or their preferred party, or to send a message of some kind. The link between how we vote in an election and what policies we get depends, ultimately, on ensuring that MPs from a given party usually vote the same way. I don’t want a completely unwhipped Parliament for the same reason I don’t want a House of Commons filled with independents: parties may be unpopular, but they’re also necessary.

This isn’t to say MPs should be partisan lobby-fodder: dissent is important. But you can’t dissent when there’s nothing to dissent from. Most of the time, governments have to set out their stall and make sure their MPs are happy enough with the collective line that they can get it through Parliament. Rebellions serve a purpose, but so do concerns expressed on the floor of the House or in Committee: they allow for an interplay between a government and its MPs.

And if enough of your MPs won’t toe your preferred line, then you usually need to change it. When Labour MPs made it clear to Jeremy Corbyn that they wouldn’t be led down anything other than a pro-European path, that was the principle of parliamentary democracy at work. To his credit, he gave way, and Labour will now campaign to stay in the EU. No leader can survive without the acquiescence of the MPs they’re meant to lead. Tony Blair shouldn’t have had a free vote on Iraq: he should have had a policy with which MPs were more comfortable.

So yes, we need MPs who don’t always toe the party line. Sometimes MPs have to rebel. But let’s not confuse valuing dissent with not taking a position at all.

To Jeremy, on Syria

Like most Labour members, I received a request for my views on Syria from Jeremy Corbyn. Below is my response.

Dear Jeremy

Thank you for your email asking for members’ views on military action in Syria.

I do not envy our MPs the choice they face. I think they have a duty to their voters and consciences, not just party members, and I neither expect nor want them to vote solely on the basis of their CLPs’ views. I am not an expert, and I know I may be wrong. I should also say that I strongly opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq: I do not take the prospect of military action lightly.

However, I personally believe that the UK should support the multilateral military effort in Syria as well as Iraq. I would prefer the Parliamentary Labour Party to be whipped to support this, though I recognise that some MPs would feel unable to follow such a whip.

ISIS controls large areas of territory, has committed and continues to commit unspeakable atrocities, has murdered 130 people in Paris, and promises to attempt to kill more people in Britain and elsewhere. When an organisation establishes a form of theocratic totalitarianism over large swathes of territory and the people who live there, wages war on all its neighbours and threatens our and our allies’ citizens, I see a very good moral case to act.

Further, no political settlement can defeat or contain ISIS on its own. ISIS has told us what it wants with glass-like clarity: it wants to create a caliphate on the model of the 600s. For ISIS, accepting a border to the caliphate is literal anathema; permanent peace treaties are literal anathema; failing to wage jihad at least once a year is literal anathema. The Vienna Process does not include them; it never could. At some point, someone will have to force ISIS back by force of arms.

Therefore, to treat diplomatic efforts and military action as incompatible is to present a false choice. An inclusive government in Syria would be better able to tackle ISIS; a weakened ISIS would have less scope to weaken more moderate opposition groups, as it currently does – to the tacit benefit of the Assad regime, reducing the chances of a meaningful political process in Syria.

Of course, air strikes are already being carried out against ISIS in both Syria and Iraq. The UK already carries out airstrikes in the latter, at the request of Iraq’s government. I recognise those strikes have produced mixed results so far. Clearly ISIS still exists. But it controls 30% less territory in Iraq than it did, and local forces exist who can advance with air support. The Kurds liberated Sinjar in Iraq; local Sunni forces have also liberated territory. It can be done. We should also ask: how much stronger might ISIS have become without the current air strikes? Presumably opponents believe the current western action in Syria (and Iraq?) should stop: what do they think would happen if it did?

Escalated air strikes will not destroy ISIS on their own, as the Prime Minister has made clear. But reducing ISIS’ capacity to attack others and relieving pressure on the more moderate elements of the Syrian opposition are worthwhile objectives. The Government’s estimate of 70,000 moderate forces can never be certain, and depends on the definition of ‘moderate’. But the figure fits much of the most thorough research, and most analysts accept the broader point: there are Sunni, locally-focused forces who might often be conservative Islamists, but oppose ISIS and Assad and are distinct from the al-Nusra Front.

Further, France – one of our nearest neighbours, greatest friends and closest allies – has been attacked and has asked us to join the coalition effort in Syria. The EU’s mutual assistance clause has been invoked, and the Security Council has called on states to take all necessary measures in accordance with international law. France has not invoked Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, no doubt to avoid alienating Moscow: but the wider principle of collective security is undoubtedly engaged. Collective security matters: in Labour, we might call it solidarity. Either way, our alliances form the bedrock of Britain’s security, and we spurn them at our peril.

Of course, I have reservations. This approach relies on a bolstering of moderate forces over time, protected in part by coalition air strikes. Russia takes a very different view of Assad to ours (and is bombing the Syrian opposition); Turkey is an ally, but its views of the Kurds are very different to the rest of NATO. We will need to try and press both to change tack, at least in part. We cannot know how local ground forces or the Vienna Process will fare. Ultimately, a ground force from other Middle Eastern countries might well be required to finish ISIS. But we face uncertainty whatever choice we make. My choice would be for the UK to play its full part in defeating ISIS by political, diplomatic and military means.

Finally, this consultation is no substitute for careful, substantive consideration by MPs of whether or not it is better to intervene in Syria. Given YouGov’s polling of Labour members (which contrasts sharply with its polling of Labour voters) and with Momentum, the successor to your leadership campaign, organising its members to lobby against air strikes at the same time, the majority of respondents will almost certainly oppose military action. But a two-day online consultation, with no way of knowing how representative respondents are and with only two days to comment on an immensely complex topic, is no basis for deciding whether to commit armed forces. I profoundly hope it will not be used in an attempt to intimidate Labour MPs who support the case for acting now.

Best wishes

Douglas Dowell
Leyton and Wanstead CLP

How I voted for the Labour leadership

My reaction to the disastrous result in May was unequivocal. ‘Dear Labour: please do whatever you have to do to win in 2020. I will swallow whatever compromises I must. Just win.’

That was, of course, simplistic. I don’t apologise for being desperate to see the back of the Tories, but I want to see the back of them for a purpose. I want Labour to reduce the inequality of income, wealth, health, housing, lifespan, education and enjoyment of life in Britain today – through redistribution, good public services and supporting people to act themselves. I also want a competitive, prosperous economy, with better jobs for people – well-paid, skilled and fulfilling. I want my government to face checks and balances, to respect the liberties of the citizen and to protect human rights – including (in fact, especially) refugee rights. And I want it to act on the environment, too.

Abroad, I believe in internationalism. I am a passionate pro-European; I support our membership of NATO; I believe in a world governed by rules. But I also suspect a multipolar world will probably be more insecure rather than less, and I want my government to have an answer to what we do if the US ever decides to walk away from our defence. I want a hard-headed approach to Russia and China, but I want to work with them on climate change.

I am a liberal-minded social democrat, in short. But we almost certainly can’t deliver everything I want at once. Resources are limited; a policy can deliver one aim and undermine another; the UK cannot make other governments do what it wants; and change almost always takes time (it’s hard enough to change an office tea-making rota, never mind the NHS). So if Labour disappoints me from time to time, it’s because you can no more govern a country than win an election without trade-offs. Those trade-offs are worth making.

Jeremy Corbyn

It follows that I would prefer any of Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper or Liz Kendall to Jeremy Corbyn. I’ve written about some disagreements I have with his pitch; there are many others. Quite aside from political realism, I have a fundamental problem with referring to members of Hamas as friends, tacitly equating the British Army with the IRA, arguing against allowing democracies to decide their future because Russia dislikes it and many other things besides.

Electorally, the evidence is overwhelming: a Jeremy-led Labour Party would have a headlong collision with the British public. We’re told that only 37% of voters voted Conservative, but 13% voted UKIP. An absolute majority of voters voted for the right. We gained an extra seven points from the Liberal Democrats this time, and still lost. Sections of the left have spent years adding Labour and Lib Dem votes together, pointing out that the total was over 50% and calling it a progressive majority. Well, the social democrats vote Labour now, and the theory has been tested to destruction. There is no automatic progressive majority: there never has been. We cannot win without persuading people who voted for the right.

The TUC’s survey data is clear: people who considered voting Labour, but didn’t in the end, were not generally looking for a more left-wing offering. Their biggest three factors were fears that Labour would spend too much and couldn’t be trusted on the economy, make it too easy for people to live on benefits and be bossed around by the SNP. (Non-voters are not a way around this: the evidence does not suggest they would turn out for radical socialism.) There is little evidence to suggest the public are likely to be swayed by the Corbynite big picture: when asked, respondents preferred ‘concrete plans for sensible changes’ to ‘a big vision for radical change’ by 74% to 15%. The research done for Jon Cruddas depicts an electorate which does want a fairer deal for most people, but wants to know the economy will be OK and the books balanced first.

Scotland is no better an argument for Corbynism. Social attitudes surveys are clear that there is either no skew to the left in actual Scottish attitudes, or only a very small one. The SNP knows this perfectly well and has governed accordingly. ‘Austerity’ was not the driving force behind the SNP surge: voters’ referendum decision was the defining divide, as shown by the British Election Study. If anything, the depth of Labour’s problems in Scotland means we have to reach even deeper into England to win next time. Anyway, even if Labour had held every Scottish seat in 2015, we would still have a Tory majority government.

The British are, mostly, a ‘safety first’ electorate. A very vocal minority would love Jeremy’s pitch – but as the Scottish referendum and the British general election have shown, loud minorities usually lose at the polls. A Corbyn pitch would scare off far more people than it would attract– and the people it would win over are disproportionately in safe Labour seats. With UKIP challenging in the north, the Liberal Democrats making a centre-left pitch under Tim Farron, the SNP dominant in Scotland and the Conservatives pitching to natural Labour voters, we would face disaster.

Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall are all moderate, pragmatic politicians; all of them have acknowledged some of the issues which Labour needs to face up to if it wants to win a general election. I prefer any of them to the self-destructive diversion of being led by Jeremy Corbyn, and gave all of them a preference.

Liz Kendall

Liz Kendall is the only candidate who has been telling the electoral hard truths, facing us with facts we’d rather not – but must – confront.

It is also clear what Labour would do under her leadership. It would make it clear from day one that it took sound finances seriously, identifying what it could and couldn’t pay for. It would prioritise: not lower tuition fees for the middle-classes, but support for the early years. It would be clearly pro-business and in favour of good jobs: and in return, it would support a living wage society and workers’ representation on boards. It would take devolution seriously, rather than simply advocating a larger central state. In short, it would aim to persuade people who could vote Labour, but (usually) voted Conservative or UKIP in 2015, that they can trust us on the economy and the public finances, while delivering social democratic values.

Liz is less experienced than the other two moderate candidates. Her media performances can be excellent, but they have varied. Her instincts are right: her implementation can be mixed. However, only she and Jeremy have been clear and consistent about where they would take the Labour Party.

Yvette Cooper

Yvette Cooper is tough, experienced and competent. When she took Jeremy on, she did a brilliant job – the most forensic exposition of why Jeremy’s policies would be wrong for the country, combined with passion and policies which inspired me. Her focus on families and on childcare could, I believe, appeal to the country in 2015. Her focus on new jobs and technological change could be important. I also believe she would correct many of Ed’s mistakes: his relationship with business, in particular. There is a very powerful case for her as leader.

However, I would have liked more clarity on her strategy for Labour in this parliament. I understand she wants to broaden Labour’s support – no one will argue with that. But her preferred hard choices have, until very recently, been almost invisible. They remain less defined than Liz’s. She mounted a brilliant challenge to Corbynism – but very late: possibly too late. Finally, she remains ambiguous about fiscal policy: and whatever line we take, we need a clear one.

Andy Burnham

Above all, I want to maximise Labour’s chances of victory in 2020. The polling generally points to Andy Burnham as the most appealing candidate when a straight question is asked. He is probably the most immediately personable of the candidates. He’s right that many former Labour voters have lost their emotional connection with the Party. Like Liz, he takes a clearer position on Labour’s fiscal record than Ed.

But I worry about how he’s already put forward a number of unfunded major spending commitments. We lack fiscal credibility: there is little point in saying so, only to commit to billions of pounds’ worth of spending on the back of a commission to work out how to pay for it all. His tone on the EU worried me, though it’s improved recently: point-scoring against the Tories more than making the case for Europe could endanger the referendum result (and make Labour look less credible). His tone on immigration risks sounding like we’re promising things we can’t deliver. I think the British people voted against our message, not just our messenger, in 2015: it is not clear enough to me how Andy would change that message in 2020.


I gave my first preference to Liz, because I think her electoral analysis is right. The British people didn’t trust us to manage the economy or balance the books, and we have to acknowledge that loud and clear. Further, any government would be fiscally constrained right now, so we have to decide what matters most. Actually, that’s always true: ‘the language of priorities is the religion of socialism’. For instance, Liz is right not to prioritise cutting tuition fees and to put money into early years services: you make the most difference at the beginning of childhood, not the end. She has done more than any other candidate to marry social democratic values to a genuine engagement with why we lost, and that deserves support.

I gave my second preference to Yvette, in the full knowledge that she is much more likely to make the final round than Liz. She has not been as clear on strategy, and it took her a long time to take Jeremy on. But when she did, it was passionate, forensic and convincing. I think that many of the areas where she is radical – childcare, in particular – are areas where we can gather widespread support. She would correct many of our 2015 failings and put us in a stronger position in 2020.

I seriously considered putting Andy second on tactical grounds. His speech two weeks ago decided me against it. I believe we have to draw a clear line between moderate Labour and Corbynism: Liz and Yvette are much more likely to do so. But whatever the result, the centre and right of the Labour Party need to engage with many who are considering Jeremy this time: and I understand why Andy is trying to win them over. I gave him my third preference.

I want a credible Labour Party to make Britain more equal, open and tolerant, playing a full and constructive role in Europe and the world. We can only do that in government: so we have to face up to why people rejected us and address their fears. I hope the Labour Party will remember that when we make our choice.

The case for gradualism (or why it’s worth taking Nuneaton with you)

One of the most infuriating memes of this leadership election is the claim that three out of four candidates are ‘Tory-lite’. The fact that the gap between Jeremy Corbyn and David Cameron is titanic doesn’t mean the gap between Liz Kendall and David Cameron doesn’t exist. It’s real and it’s large: and people’s lives are transformed or wrecked within that gap. Jeremy came into the contest saying he wanted a broad debate: his supporters do nothing to help that by claiming that anyone to the right of Jeremy is the same as David Cameron.

Like Jeremy, the other contenders for the Labour leadership want to steer the ship of state in the opposite direction to David Cameron and George Osborne. They are talking about universal childcare, more rights for employees to influence the direction of their workplace, supporting union rights, supporting further education and finding money to protect tax credits. They want to both use state power and support others to narrow the gap between rich and poor in every sense: income, wealth, health, horizons, quality of life. They did not, however, go into politics just to wave a placard, or protest against a right-wing government, or preach the gospel to their activists and leave the public cold.

They’re right in that – partly because you can’t do anything if the voters reject you, and partly because life isn’t that simple. Changing anything is long, slow, gruelling: you have to set a goal, get people to sign up, repeat the same message constantly, check up on the delivery. It’s hard enough to get people used to a new company logo, never mind build millions of new homes. The bigger the task, the more undreamed-of problems you’ll encounter.

But with time and effort and will, you can change things – and Blair and Brown did just that. There is a tendency, when confronted by people to their left, for social democrats to reach for bar charts and graphs and tables of figures. I’ll make some apology for that, but only some. If you want to reduce poverty and put a stop to avoidable human misery, you have to care about the data and you have to be interested in the actual impact of your policies. If you aren’t interested in what’s actually happened to low incomes, don’t call yourself a leftist. If you care about the poor, you can find the time to look at some bar charts.

So let’s look. The IFS produced a chart showing the effect of Labour’s tax and benefit policies:

IFS graph of tax/benefit changes, 1997-2010

Corbynites would have you believe this chart is so unimportant you might as well have voted Tory. What it actually shows is a series of decisions taking money from the top 40%, but especially the richest, to give to the bottom 60%, but especially the poorest, on a large scale. That looks like pretty classic left-wing politics to me.

Now let’s look at their chart of Tory and Lib Dem tax and benefit reforms:

IFS graph of tax/benefit changes, 2010-19

You can see a kink at the top, due largely to keeping pre-planned Labour measures, but this is essentially taking from the poor to give to the fairly well off. It’s exactly the opposite of Labour’s record.

If you actually consider what Labour did, that’s not surprising. Working tax credit and child tax credit, higher National Insurance to fund public services (including above the upper earnings limit for the first time), more generous child benefit, pension credit, a 50p rate of income tax: these are exactly the sort of things social democratic governments normally do. The graph doesn’t, of course, show all the investment in health and education, Sure Start, the national minimum wage, the beginnings of childcare policy or a whole range of other things. And then there are all the other progressive things which wouldn’t show up on any UK bar chart – the advancement of LGBT rights, the Human Rights Act, doubling aid as a share of GDP and much more besides.

How can people possibly compare the last five years to the 13 years before that and then say there’s no point in a moderate Labour government? How can they possibly consider the most redistributive government in decades and then say it was just Tory-lite? Half the Corbynites’ rage is (rightly) directed at Cameron and Osborne’s attacks on the very things New Labour created: tax credits, Sure Start, extra help for families with children. But Labour was only ever able to do any of that because it met the electorate on their ground and won them over. If we cannot do that, raging is all we’ll have left to us.

When you win an election, you win political capital. Then you can use it to move politics your way. If you’re clever, you try and co-opt some of the areas where your opponents struck a chord too. Did the Tories call George Osborne ‘Labour-lite’ because he pretended to bring in a living wage? Did they lay into him for changing the rules on non-doms? No: they know they’re winning broader consent for shrinking the state. They get the art of democratic politics: a constant push-and-pull between what you ideally want, what the electorate will let you do and what’s practically possible.

And in government, Labour changed the weather too. Why did the Tories pledge to protect the NHS and not law and order – not just in 2010, but 2015 too? Why did they feel the need to raise the minimum wage? Why do we have 0.7% of GDP in aid now? Why do we have equal marriage? By 2010, it wasn’t OK not to protect the NHS; it wasn’t OK to sound openly anti-gay rights; protecting aid was a badge of Tory respectability. Labour governments made that true. Labour oppositions did not.

Owen Jones explains that the hard left is ‘defending New Labour’s legacy’. Great. So why is it simultaneously telling us none of it matters?