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Westminster journalists failed to grasp what was happening to Labour Party

Media commentator Roy Greenslade’s blog post this morning is as predictable as its headline: “Jeremy Corbyn’s first day and press coverage, predictably, is hostile.”

Writing in the Guardian, it is not surprising that he did not analyse the paper’s coverage beyond the editorial. But it is the handing over of two important comment slots to writers who are not part of the Westminster village that seems to be to be significant.

Gary Younge, freshly back in the UK after 12 years in the USA, is given a front page spot and it is clear why none of his parliamentary new colleagues could have written it. He says:

Party grandees thought his [Corbyn’s] presence would offer a debate about austerity; few assumed he would win it. His candidacy was supposed to be decorative but never viable.

From the moment it was clear that assumption was flawed, the political and media class shifted from disbelief to derision to panic, apparently unaware that his growing support was as much a repudiation of them as an embrace of him. Former Labour leaders and mainstream commentators belittled his supporters as immature, deluded, self-indulgent and unrealistic, only to express surprise when they could not win them over. As such this reckoning was a long time coming. For the past couple of decades the Labour leadership has looked upon the various nascent social movements that have emerged – against war, austerity, tuition fees, racism and inequality – with at best indifference and at times contempt. They saw its participants, many of whom were or had been committed Labour voters, not as potential allies but constant irritants.

Yes, Guardian and Observer writers must be included those who were unaware that they were being “repudiated”.

The main comment space inside the paper is handed over to Zoe Williams who writes under the headline: “By ripping up the rulebook, Corbyn is redefining our politics. Whether or not he can win power Labour’s leader has a chance to give opposition a new meaning.” I mentioned this article in my previous post, suggesting it reflected the views of many who voted for Corbyn.

It looks as if there was a rapid recognition among Guardian editorial chiefs that given their record in the past few weeks, these prominent comment spaces could not credibly be given to the Westminster reporters whose lack of understanding of what was happening has been apparent in recent weeks.

It has long been held by many journalists that their specialist colleagues get too close to their subjects to be reliable reporters. That has certainly happened in this case. On the other hand specialist reporters are needed for their understanding of their subjects and the Westminster reporters will recover quickly.

Corbyn needs the freedom to oppose the Tories without being stabbed in the back

If you want to understand the depths of the problems Jeremy Corbyn faces, look not at the opposition he will face from the Conservative benches in parliament but at some of the people in his own party.

Roy Hattersley, party grandee, now Baron Hattersley, make an extraordinary statement in the Guardian today:

Corbyn said nothing that even acknowledged that half the Labour party is deeply opposed to his policies.

That is nonsense even if it is based on excluding the votes of supporters and affiliates (full voting figures). Among the quarter of a million full members, Corbyn was only about a thousand votes short of an absolute majority over the the three other candidates combined. To assume that everyone who voted for other candidates was “deeply opposed” is arrogant.

Hattersley seems to be thinking of the “parliamentary party” as the “party” which is the attitude which got Labour into the mess it is in. First in Scotland and then in England it failed to listen to its members and supporters.

When Hattersley says Corbyn, “is incapable of leading the Labour party to victory at the next general election” he could be right. But he forgets that a reason why many voted Corbyn is that they believed none of the other candidates were capable of winning the next election. There was a chance if the parliamentary party listened to supporters, found is soul again, it might be able to win.

Also in the Guardian, journalist Zoe Williams takes a more nuanced position (it is well worth reading as I think it reflects the views of a lot of people who want to feel it might possible to vote Labour in 2020) and writes

The question… is whether or not a Corbyn-led Labour party can lodge effective opposition to the Conservative government. This should be asked in the context of a pre-Corbyn Labour party that was lodging no opposition at all (the failure to vote against the welfare bill was one of the most cynical and alienating acts I can remember).

At the moment effective opposition, rather than ceding that job to the SNP, is what is needed from the parliamentary Labour party. Worrying about the next election can wait until the party has decided what it believes in.


Why I have signed-up as a Labour Party supporter

I last voted Labour in the election before Tony Blair became leader in 1994. Since then I have voted Green or Lib Dem. But this week I signed up as a Labour supporter to vote for Jeremy Corbyn as he promises a serious debate about progressive policies and offers hope of reform that might just make the party electable.

When Corbyn made it onto the ballot I did not think he was a potential prime minister. I still don’t. But then, none of the other contenders look like potential PMs and seem to be campaigning in a strange, policy-free way with their messages boiling down to “I want to lead the Labour Party.” Where they want to lead the party, I have no idea.

They seem to have learned nothing from annihilation in Scotland or failure in most of England. Under threat their campaigns have turned nastily negative. When Alastair Campbell talked about a car crash my reaction was to register as a Labour supporter. Blair’s outburst in the Guardian today – “The party is walking eyes shut, arms outstretched, over the cliff’s edge to the jagged rocks below.” – validated my decision.

If Corbyn wanted to bring back Clause 4 (ownership of the means of production), which I don’t think is what he said, he would not be able to. He would have to work with the parliamentary party to reach a policy consensus.

This goes for much of what he has been saying. What we have is a clear direction of travel with a lot of things that command wide support. Renationalising the railways and not renewing Trident (also SNP policy) would be popular.

When you look at a lot of what he is saying it is more nuanced than the headlines. For example, on coal mining he was talking about the possibility, if prices rose, of getting high quality coal from South Wales again. The Daily Mirror had a fair report on his energy ideas which centred on developing the green energy economy to create jobs.

Some of those who nominated Corbyn said they wanted to widen the debate. He has tried to do that by presenting a raft of policies but the other contenders have refused to join the debate. They could have said they disagreed, why they disagreed and the alternative policies they would espouse. They have not and so show they are  unfit to be leaders.

The Labour Party needs to debate all these issues and that would certainly happen under a Corbyn leadership. I still don’t think he is the man to take the party into the next election but I have a feeling that he would be happy to stand down well before that time.

He would also make his party look more like the opposition to Government, a role which has been largely conceded to the SNP since the election.

I will be voting in the hope that will again feel able to vote Labour as I have done for most of my life.


Tabloid picture of Merkel in Bismarck’s helmet bodes ill for Greek settlement

Bild, the German tabloid’s front page yesterday, reminds us of the sheer nastiness that surrounds the Greek crisis. The headlines read: “No new billions for Greece. Today we need an Iron Chancellor.

Bild front page

Germany needs Angela Merkel to be like Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor according to Bild, the biggest selling German newspaper.

Bismark is the man who in the 19th century built German as a power in Europe. One of the things he did was engineer the Franco-Prussian War of 1871-72.

This morning it looks as if disagreement between German and France is the barrier to finding a sensible way of avoiding Grexit.

While Merkel, with popular press and political colleagues at her back is in no mood to compromise, François Hollande believes a solution must be found. Today the Guardian suggests Hollande should become the mediator between Greece and Germany.

If Germans want to learn lessons from history they should not be looking at Bismarck. Instead they should remember it was the harsh treatment of Germany by the allies after the First World War that led to the rise of Hitler and the Second World War.  The lessons of that episode were the background when in 1952 German debt was forgiven.

Wikipedia points out:

An important term of the agreement was that repayments were only due while West Germany ran a trade surplus, and that repayments were limited to 3% of export earnings. This gave Germany’s creditors a powerful incentive to import German goods, assisting reconstruction.

It was only in 2010 that the last payment, 69.9bn Euros, was paid.

This week the European Union faces an existential threat. If Greece exits the consequences are unfathomable, smaller Eurozone countries will be unsettled, anti-EU sentiments across the continent will become stronger and the chances UK exit increased. The image of Merkel in a Prussian helmet is a powerful one: of a bully.

Someone has to break the impasse.




Greek crisis is fast becoming a domestic UK matter

If Greece is forced out of the Eurozone by the intransigence of the Germany and its allies the chances that the UK will vote to leave the UK will be greatly increased.

Who would have expected Nigel Farage and the liberal Guardian to be roughly aligned in criticising Eurozone leaders, in particular Angela Merkel. But that is what is happening

Guardian leader today:

The biggest share of the responsibility for what happens next unavoidably falls on the German chancellor, both because she is, in theory, the strongest of Europe’s leaders and because part of her electorate is resistant to such a plea [for a human response].

The picture is emerging of a German view that Greece is an expendable part of the Eurozone and probably the EU too.

If debt relief is eventually agreed and Greece stays in the Eurozone the picture of a bullying Germany, supported by European Commission President Jean Claude Junker, will remain. It is a picture that will play strongly when the UK votes in the referendum on EU membership.

Ladbrokes, the bookmakers yesterday said yesterday odds on Britain leaving were cut to 3/1 from 7/2. Odds can and will change but they are a warning to those who want to stay in that they are going to have to campaign much harder.

The complacent view that the majority of UK voters support continued membership is no longer enough. But the argument becomes more difficult.

Is Guardian print edition loosing sight of its readers?

Today’s Guardian illustrates the way in which its drive to make itself the world-leading online news source is impacting on its UK print edition.

Guardian front page June 2, 2015It leads on a great story, the result of very good investigative journalism by Guardian America web journalists about the killing of unarmed black people by police. The problem is that it is essentially a US domestic story which is worthy of a place in the UK print edition but not as the lead.

Not only is it the lead but it takes the whole of the front page which has no reference to any UK news. It then turns inside to take the whole of one of the “National” news pages.

Editorial decision-making appears for have forgotten the old adage that news value diminishes with distance. For some time the Guardian news pages seem to be governed by a an editorial conference somewhere in the mid-Atlantic. Decisions on comment pieces seem to still based in the UK.

I looked but could not find a story which emanated yesterday in the UK which is directly relevant to British readers – US defence secretary warns against UK armed forces cuts, which I heard on BBC Radio 4.

Nor could I find the story that plans to offer parents 30-hours free childcare have unravelled with David Cameron admitting the roll-out could take longer than planned. The link is to the Daily Mirror.

Another important story for UK readers, European Commission president Jean-Claude Junker saying Cameron’s UK referendum was designed to keep the UK in the EU, is in the print edition but buried in a story on human rights. The heading was: PM prepared to break with Europe over human rights.

Readers were much better served on this story by the Daily Telegraph under the heading: Britain will not vote to leave EU, says Junker.

I can understand why the Guardian want to make the most of what must have been a costly five-month investigation which led to today’s lead, but not why they gave it so much prominence.

The web editors seem to be more in tune with their readers. When I checked this morning the shoot to kill story was not mentioned on the UK or Australian home pages. It was prominent on the US home page and had a strong reference on the international site.

It is a confusing and difficult time for newspapers and their websites as Roy Grenslade, the Guardian media blogger, points  out today in a post headed, Global newspaper industry’s business model undergoes ‘seismic shift’.

A local food revolution in East Anglia

For lunch yesterday we ate some of the best brie I have tasted, made from unpasteurised milk at Fen Farm Dairy, with sourdough bread from a small bakery. In the evening there was wonderful turbot (Maximus sustainably caught fish), fresh from the North Sea.

Shopping was fun too, at the Kenton Hall Estate Food Fair which focussed on young producers. Kenton Hall, on the edge of Debenham, has what it calls “the food hub” with a cookery school and a butcher who cuts meat for small producers set amid fields where longhorn cattle are pastured.

In East Anglia artisan food production has been transformed from a small niche market into an important and growing part of the economy. Kenton Hall is a part of this revolution.

Some miles to the south, the Suffolk Food Hall with its large food shop and a glass-walled restaurant looking out over the Orwell estuary was named as the champion of champions it a in a national food awards event in the Houses of Parliament this year. It also has small units for production and a demonstration kitchen.

Debenham has played a crucial part in the development of local food businesses throughout East Anglia. At the turn of the century, the Henry Abbott business, founded in 1707, decided to sell its supermarkets in Debenham and Eye to the East of England Co-operative Society. It retained the hardware store and has since opened a kitchen shop.

The co-op agreed to continue to stock the local produce Abbott’s has been selling. Ian Whitehead, of Lane Farm in nearby Brandish, explained to the East Anglian Daily Times in a story about a new C0-op store:

I think we were probably one of the very first local suppliers. We began trading with the Co-op back in 1998. They took over local grocery stores called Henry Abbott’s in Eye [and] Debenham… and kept us on as a supplier. That’s where it all started from and we have grown with the Co-op over the years really – they have been good to work with. It’s a very exciting initiative. I think it also demonstrates the strength there is in local food in Suffolk.

Lane Farm produces very good sausages together with salami and chorizo which you buy because they are excellent as well as local.

From the Co-op’s decision to retain local suppliers has grown its Locally Sourced policy which this week is having a further promotional push. They now have 2,400 products on their shelves from 140 producers across Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex alongside national Co-op brands. This part of the business is growing as they explain on their website:

Our customers are also increasingly buying local, with a 31% increase in Sourced Locally sales and a £12m turnover in the last financial year. This means that since the scheme launched, we’ve ploughed more than £25 million back into the regional economy and supported the creation of around 400 new jobs in the region.

What we have seen in East Anglia, over the last ten years, is the development of the infrastructure needed to enable small specialist food producers grow their own businesses.  Small producers can rent kitchens, have their meat cut and packaged, and get the food they make distributed.



English voters against Brexit vote left voiceless

Labour’s decision to support an EU membership referendum leaves English voters who oppose holding an in-out vote virtually voiceless in parliament.

It is true that we are certain to have a referendum but to offer support at this stage is to acquiesce to the outcome whatever it may be. There is an argument that if it is to be done it is best done quickly.

There seems to be an almost arrogant assumption on the part of David Cameron and Harriet Harman that some sort of deal will be sorted out and the popular vote will be to stay in Europe. That is a very high-risk strategy.

Harman makes much of Labour’s intention to campaign for a vote to remain in the EU, saying:

The Labour Party doesn’t want to see the UK stumble inadvertently towards EU exit. We will make the case for our continued membership.

The notion that Britain’s future and prosperity and security lies shutting itself off from this market and a world that is increasingly interdependent makes no sense.

And in an age of powerful trade blocs, with the growing economies or Asia and Africa, we have more power by being in the EU than we could ever hope to have by acting alone.

That is the argument we will make in this referendum, as the British people make their decision.

Her party could do that at least as effectively if it had unsuccessfully campaigned against the referendum. We have yet to see the bill which will be put before parliament but there is silence from Labour on ways in which it might seek to amend legislation.

The SNP is clear on this. It does not want the referendum but if it takes place it wants votes for 17-year-olds and that all four constituent nations of the UK would have to support a decision to leave.

The Conservatives will win on these points but it will leave in the air the question of whether a vote for Brexit would also be a vote to dissolve the UK. The SNP is already into the tactics of opposition while Labour remains in its slough of despond


A bit late, the Guardian says choosing new labour leader now is ‘daft’

Blogging, as a form of journalism, can be lonely. Like all writers you look for the validation of others and when there is little you feel self-doubt: did I just get it wrong?

I was starting to get that feeling about my post of May 11, “Labour should get on with opposition rather than fighting over leadership“.

Today, May 21, the Guardian comes to much the same view in its first leader, saying:

In the Guardian’s view it is an outrage that Labour MPs are deciding the shape of this important contest so prematurely. No candidate has published a detailed argument about why Labour lost and how it can win. None has had more than a brief chance to take an argument to the public through the media or into the new Commons. No one actually knows what they really think about the big hard issues, yet the contest is being irrevocably moulded all the same. An essential process risks being sacrificed to the abuses of machine politics.

The paper suggests Alan Johnson as an interim leader. His name had come into my mind but I did not write it, thinking there might be someone else I had not considered.

Seumas Milne, in a column, takes the same topic and concludes:

One way or another, the wider Labour party needs to take back control of its own contest. If the politics currently paraded by the main candidates wins out, Labour’s prospects in a country where hostility to the Westminster elite has already redrawn the electoral map look bleak. Union disaffiliation could then become a reality and eventually trigger a party split. Where Labour goes now will affect us all.

To put it bluntly, the leader is right when it says:

Choosing the leader now is pretty daft.

Labour tears itself apart while SNP opposes

A traumatised Labour party today looks in a worse state than it did the morning after the poll. Instead of accepting its job — opposing the Tories — it is descending into an unedifying internal battle about what might win the next election in five years time.

There is plenty of time to find the vision that will convince voters when the time comes. Battling about that vision between Blairites and the leftists is deflecting the party from the immediate question of how to make life difficult for Cameron.

Andy Burnham tells us he would ditch on of Ed Miliband’s more sensible policies of having no Europe referendum unless there was a substantial shift of powers to Brussels. He wants an early referendum and tough negotiations on immigration.

The Observer interviewed Burnham and reported he would,

overturn Labour’s policy of only holding a referendum if there were a substantial transfer of power to Brussels. He said he would back a referendum wholeheartedly, hoping for a new deal and a yes vote. He said the date should be moved for the sake of British businesses who had complained of continued uncertainty.

If there is to be a referendum it is best that it is done as soon as possible, but that is no reason to pander to the little Englanders. Cameron who has been pushed into a referendum by his backbenchers hardly needs the opposition joining them in demanding tighter rules to restrict free movement.

The risk of the county voting to leave the EU is too great to start playing games.

If Burnham really wants to make life difficult for Cameron he should have joined the SNP and Plaid Cymru in demanding that a vote to leave would need a majority in all the countries of the union. For a government which is pledged to rule for the whole UK and not just its southern heartland that is an awkward question.

It might also help heal the rift between the Scottish and English labour parties.

In the meantime the SNP has set out the key issues on which it will oppose the government and its Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, telling ITN:

Effective SNP opposition to the Tories will certainly be good for Scotland – but leading this progressive alternative will also be to the benefit of people throughout the UK.

Their opposition plan includes fighting the repeal of the Human Rights Act which is shaping up to be one of the most dangerous policies for the Conservatives with some of its own MPs preparing to defy the whips.