And so the finalised list of Stoke Central by-election candidates is out, and 10 folks fancy their chances. And it’s a circus, albeit one not likely to produce much merriment. Who then are the lions and acrobats? Which of them is the clown?
Naturally, Gareth Snell has roared into action. Labour were all over the constituency from the very moment Tristram Hunt declared Trexit and, as I’ve observed before, the party has a formidable machine and a real weight in the constituency that will be tough for its opponents to crack. That hasn’t stopped people from outside the constituency who can’t find Stoke without the aid of Google Earth have tried explaining to me that the local party couldn’t have selected a less suitable candidate. Au contraire. Gareth has lived locally for 13 years, worked in a series of part-time, insecure jobs while a student, worked in a local MP’s office where he dealt with the full gamut of constituent concerns, has sat and currently is a borough councillor, organised low paid workers as an employee of a local Unison branch and, most topically, defeated UKIP in a council by-election this summer in a ward that voted 80/20 to leave the European Union. His politics, while not Corbynist, are by any measure on the left. And during his too brief tenure as leader of Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, he pushed through a no redundancies, no cuts to front line services budget despite government cuts to the local government grant while introducing the living wage (not the fake Tory rebranding of the minimum wage) to its lowest paid workers. It’s worth noting that subsequent Labour administrations have carried on in this vein. No cuts, no diminution of service, no redundancies. In the context of Tory austerity, that sounds like a record any Labour member would be proud of.
It seems the objections all centre around Gareth’s remain-ism and that he said rude things about Jeremy Corbyn on Twitter. Last thing first, while we all say daft things on social media in the heat of the moment there won’t be too many Stokies bringing up Guido’s “exposé” on the doorstep. Rather these have been all over his muckraking site and, surprise surprise, the Daily Express to generate social media interest in an attempt to suppress Labour support. This isn’t meant to offend their readership, but to ensure the bulk of the new membership have an entirely passive relationship with their party. Why, some would reason, should anyone from Momentum turn out to help in Stoke when the candidate is evidently not a Jeremy supporter? Guido and the Express aren’t interested in the truth, but they are interested in using anything to destroy the Labour Party as a going concern. It’s sad that this has to be explained to folks who should, by now, know better.
The second point is on remain vs leave. The bookies are offering slightly more favourable odds to UKIP based on the assumption that Stoke Central heavily voted for leave and we have a remainer candidate. And that’s where the analysis ends. But as noted previously, the record of all of last year indicates that if Brexit is a new political cleavage, an issue around which electoral fortunes turn, then it is a lopsided one. Leave voters have got their way. We’re leaving the EU. Some might moan about the pace of the departure, but it’s very much a minority pursuit. For most of them when it comes to politics, it’s back to the same old same old. If Brexit was blocked it would then be a different matter. Remain voters, however, are more motivated by this issue. For a variety of reasons, they – rightly – believe Leave conned, lied, and stirred up hate on its way to victory. And so when elections come round they are moved to make a point about it at the ballot box. That explains how the LibDems have come surging back in local council by-elections, won in Richmond, and confounded expectations in Witney. It’s how you can have bizarre results where the LibDems take a safe Labour seat in Brexit-supporting Sunderland. Had remain won, I have no doubt the terms would now be reversed. It would be UKIP enjoying another wind as the gust of defeat drives at its sails. And because of the song and dance UKIP are making about remain-supporting Gareth, they might be unwittingly helping Labour’s chances.
Yes, I am aware there are other candidates in this election, so let’s take a look. Jack Brereton won the Tory nomination to fight Stoke Central in a contest as foregone as any organised by the Zanu-PF. CCHQ are apparently pleading poverty and sinking all their resources into Copeland, but that doesn’t mean the Tories won’t wage a proper campaign. The Conservative group on the council are an ambitious bunch who fancy taking berths up in the Commons. For all sorts of reasons, a win is impossible but if they can take back second place and are seen to put UKIP back in their box, 2020 could make for an interesting time for them. The LibDems in Stoke are in a difficult place. I will give their man, Dr Zulfiqar Ali some credit. Rain or shine, he’s stood and he’s stood and he’s stood, be it as a no hope parliamentary candidate, or a no hope council candidate. However, with local students not terribly well disposed toward his party for their tuition fee betrayal, and past LibDem support bound up with local “personalities” who’ve either retired from politics or now sit as City Independents, where can their vote come from? The same can be said for Adam Colclough of the Greens. Formerly of Labour, he absented himself from the party after the 2010 factional farrago left us with Tristram. But where is their support? Some students, yes. Scraps of votes around the slightly more better off parts of the constituency, yes, but enough to win back their deposit?
Moving from the parties to the living dead, this by-election sees the unwelcome return of the BNP. David Furness (who?) was their London mayoral election candidate in 2015, and describes himself as a “practising member of the Church of England”. Because nothing advertises Christian values like the membership of a fascist organisation. While another opportunist carpetbagger, Furness’s candidacy underlines the weakness of the local BNP. In fact, they have almost no discernible existence. Since we last took a look at Stoke BNP a few years ago, we found them a sad bunch sat in awkward silence over identical McDonald’s Happy Meals. I am pleased to report the necrosis has continued apace. Their remaining activists have either dropped out of politics, or followed their local “brains”, Mike Coleman, into the Albion First groupuscule/Facebook page. Yet for Stokies who did vote BNP up until 2010, the eclipse and tumultuous disintegration of the party since won’t have registered. There will be some who rock up at the polling booth, spot the BNP on the ballot, and place their cross there as opposed to UKIP.
In the independent corner, we have two to choose from. Neither of which are associated with our friends the City Independents, of course. Mohammed Akram is a solicitor who has a history in local Muslim welfare organisations. And Barbara Fielding hails from Blythe Bridge on the city’s outskirts. Quite why they’re standing and what they hope to achieve is a complete mystery – something I often wonder about when independents contest parliamentary by-elections.
I’ll pass over the Monster Raving Loonies (I await the inevitable “gags” in the comments box, below) and Christian People’s Alliance, and head straight to Paul Nuttall. We’ve talked about him before, and he’s given me more reasons to speak ill of him again. Consider this. If you are clever, if you claim “to have a PhD”, if you are the leader of a political party and the media spotlight is on you, would you commit a violation of electoral law by declaring a house you’ve never been to in the constituency as your home, and then admit to it on national telly afterwards? He’s been caught telling porkies, just like his time wearing the Tranmere Rovers’ jersey and “being there” at Hillsborough. Here we have an incredibly brittle man whose national profile is entirely thanks to Nigel Farage. He knows he has no discernible qualities, which is why he has to make them up. And, I have to say, lying so much about his own biography easily lends himself to telling lies about immigration, about the NHS, about Brexit. And there’s the small matter of being under investigation for office expenses fraud as well. Nuttall is a spiv, a fake, a lazy arsed mediocrity whose sole concern is to use politics to feather his bed. He doesn’t care about Stoke, its problems, its people. The prize is another £75,000/annum and a few more years as Someone Who Matters, and he’s quite prepared to wade in the sewer to get it.
And so the choice is pretty obvious. It’s between stopping UKIP and their poisonous politics here, in Stoke, and throwing them into a reverse from which they may never recover. Or having them emerge victorious with all the terrible consequences for our politics that entails. It’s between a union man who champions working people, and a lying wastrel who can’t wait to sponge off the taxes of those selfsame workers. Are you in to stop this shit in its tracks?
First off, let’s be fair to Jeremy: Brexit has split the Labour party’s voters 60/40 (the majority pro-Remain), and even a latter-day Harold Wilson would struggle to bridge the divide.
But Corbyn’s decision to back Theresa May’s Brexit Bill, regardless of whether any amendments were passed (none were) was simply craven, and ended up pleasing no-one. Imposing a three-line whip that was ignored even by Labour whips, made matters worse. His tweet that “the fight starts now” – after having supported May’s Brexit plan – was little more than risible.
Let us be clear, as Coatesy explains in a brilliant piece here: Brexit is, by its very nature reactionary, backward, isolationist, nativist and – ultimately – racist. Any leftist who thinks any good can possibly come of it (or that there is a “People’s Brexit”/”Lexit” or some such nonsense) is a delusional idiot.
Corbyn’s weakness, lack of passion and general incoherence during the referendum campaign and in parliament since, merely serves to confirm the suspicion that, as an unsophisticated non-Marxist Bennite surrounded by Stalinist anti-EU advisers like Milne, his heart was never really in the pro-Remain cause. Even the Economist picked up on this:
“Mr Corbyn did not make his first pro-EU intervention until mid-April, fully two months after Mr Cameron called the referendum. Since then he has been a bit player at best. When researchers at Loughborough University ranked the ten most reported-on politicians in the second half of May, he did not even make the list (partly by his own design: he had spent part of the period on holiday). By refusing to campaign alongside Tories—doing so would “discredit” the party, sniffs John McDonnell, his shadow chancellor—he has ruled himself out of every important Remain event and televised debate.
“When Mr Corbyn does bother to intervene, he is a study in reluctance. His ‘pro-EU’ speeches are litanies of complaints about the union. Voters should back Remain, he says, because the Conservatives would not negotiate the right sort of Brexit. On June 2nd he declared Treasury warnings about the consequences of leaving as ‘hysterical hype’ and ‘mythmaking’.”
The Corbyn leadership is evidently terrified of May’s and the Brexiteers’ charge that anyone who even questions a hard Brexit is defying the “will of the people” (if not an outright “enemy of the people”); in fact, of course, had the 52/48% referendum result been reflected in parliament last week, the government’s majority would have been 26, not the 372 that May achieved with Corbyn’s backing.
The idea that “the people have spoken” and the referendum result cannot, therefore, be opposed, needs to be nipped in the bud once and for all; by that logic Labour would simply give up whenever it lost an election.
The 23 June vote represents no fixed-forever “decision of the British public” which obliges Labour to give away the rights of migrant workers (and British workers and young people who want to work, study, or live in Europe) by abandoning freedom of movement. In fact, since some Leave voters wanted something like EEA status, even on 23 June there was probably a majority for keeping freedom of movement. Plebiscitary democracy — democracy via referendum snap votes, on questions shaped and timed by the established powers — is the thinnest form of democracy. Usually it just serves those already in office. This time a strong sub-section of those in office (Johnson, Gove, etc.) were able to surprise Cameron, in a public debate which was essentially Johnson-Tory plus UKIP versus Cameron-Tory, with Labour voices weak and incoherent (Corbyn) or ignored by the media (Alan Johnson, the Labour right-winger leading Labour’s Remain campaign).
That does not make it more democratic. The referendum excluded 16-17 year olds, excluded EU citizens living in the UK (though they can vote in local authority elections), was run on poor registers missing out seven million people; and such a narrow snap vote is no democratic authority to deprive millions of freedom of movement and probably impose new borders between England and Scotland and between Northern Ireland and the South.
All but the thinnest democracy includes a process of the formation, refinement, revision, and re-formation of a collective majority opinion. Without such a process, and without organised democratic political parties which collectively distill ideas and fight for them, democracy means only rule by whatever faction of the rich and well-placed can sustain itself through judiciously-chosen successive snap popular votes. It has almost no element of collective self-rule.
Labour should fight for freedom of movement, for substantive democracy and against Article 50.
The internationalist, anti-racist left may now have lost that argument, in part because of the weakness and political ignorance of Corbyn and his advisers. But there is a further battle worth having: instead of issuing a ludicrous and ineffectual “final warning” to those front-benchers who voted against May last week, Corbyn should do something about Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, Graham Stringer and Gisela Stuart, Labour MPs who voted against basic rights for EU citizens. And if Corbyn won’t act, Labour members should start organising to deselect these scumbags.
Leonie Hannan, Vice Chair of the Labour Party’s Belfast branch, spoke to the unofficial Momentum magazine, The Clarion.
For an open letter from Momentum supporters in Northern Ireland to the Momentum NC, arguing for their right to organise a group, see here. At present the Labour Party in Northern Ireland meets regularly, decides on policies, campaigns on issues and sends delegates to conference, but is not allowed (by the national Labour Party) to stand candidates in any election.
How has the Labour Party in Northern Ireland changed over the last eighteen months?
LPNI has changed in two main ways. First of all it has grown dramatically, from around 350 members back in May 2015 to over 3000 now. There was a first surge during and just after the leadership election in the summer of 2015 and then a second leap in membership prompted by the coup and the prospect of a challenge to the elected leadership.
This first change, in many ways, predicts the second – that the politics of the party here have shifted to the left and members have an appetite for active involvement in politics. It’s clear that people are joining because they are motivated by Corbyn’s leadership, his critique of society’s problems and the kinds of policies he is advancing. When the party was much smaller, it did not have the reach that we have now, it was in some ways quite de-politicised because the focus was trained almost exclusively on the right to stand in elections – which LPNI still does not have and which remains a very important issue for us.
However, despite this difficult context for Labour activism, now we are seeing new members who are primarily motivated by politics and the need to contribute to the Labour Party’s new direction – a direction which they see holds potential to address the serious problems facing society, problems that have been compounded by years of austerity and which have particularly acute ramifications in Northern Ireland.
What kind of people are involved and what motivates them?
Well this is the really interesting bit and points to how our increased membership can contribute significantly to our long-standing campaign for the right to stand candidates. LPNI attracts members from across communities, people who see the system isn’t working for them and who feel a profound disillusionment with sectarian politics. We have trade unionists joining us, we have BME members and many LGBT members too – who don’t always feel comfortable in some of the other political parties in this region.
We have members who might describe themselves as Republicans alongside those who hold Loyalist views and, of course, many in between and this is something quite unique in Northern Ireland. Something quite unusual and yet extremely powerful. For progressive politics to make an impact here, we have to draw people from across the sectarian divide around issues that affect all communities – the effects of poverty, loss of jobs, social, educational and health inequality, homophobia and racism and the continued repression of reproductive rights. The larger a party we are here in Northern Ireland, the more motivated activists we attract, then the greater pressure we can apply on the issue of our right to stand candidates. We are here, we are many, we are diverse and we need Labour representation.
Corbyn won 70pc of the vote in your nomination meeting – more than in his own CLP. Why such strong support?
He didn’t just win 70% of the vote at our meeting, he won 70% of the vote in the election itself. Moreover, he would have had an even higher share of the vote if the majority of our members had been able to use their vote. In the end, much less than a third of members could exercise a vote (because our membership is disproportionately new and therefore found itself subject to the NEC’s last minute rule changes). I just think this shows the way Corbyn’s political agenda resonates in Northern Ireland, which is a post-conflict society suffering deeply at the hands of its own power-sharing government and their implementation of Tory cuts.
In fact, at the nomination meeting, person after person stood up to say why they had been brought into politics (often for the first time and, for some, after decades of disillusionment with politics) by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. They saw this change as offering an opportunity to rehabilitate the Labour Party as a political party for ordinary people; a party that would not put the needs of corporations above those of struggling workers.
How does the LP fit into, or stand out from, the framework of sectarian politics and the constitutional conflict in NI?
As I mentioned, LPNI draws its membership from both communities and provides a much-needed space for non-sectarian politics. In fact, its growth in membership speaks not only to the interest in Corbyn, but also to the disillusionment with Stormont [the Northern Ireland Assembly]. Effectively we have a government made of false opposites – Sinn Fein and the DUP power share, they govern together and they implement the Tory agenda. Of course, engaging with the Labour Party doesn’t preclude having a view on the Union, but in the end the Good Friday Agreement ensures that any change would have to have the consent of the people.
What is your relationship with the trade unions?
We have a really strong relationship with Unite, who provide us with space for our meetings, who campaign with us on local issues and who resolutely support the project of standing Labour candidates in NI. There is really high trade union membership here in Northern Ireland, many as part of affiliated unions and so it is a real disservice to those affiliated members not to have the possibility of full political representation.
Please explain about this issue of standing Labour candidates.
Historically, the Labour Party has tried to remain neutral in relation to Northern Irish politics, preferring to sustain a relationship with the Social Democratic and Labour Party instead. The SDLP are sometimes referred to as a ‘sister party’ and attend Labour Conference.
However, there are a number of problems with the SDLP in terms of Labour representation. First, they do not (and cannot) attract support from both communities because of their status as a nationalist party. They have their origins in the Civil Rights movement and the Catholic community’s struggles in the 60s for equality. Today, their commitment to equality only goes so far, they describe themselves as a pro-life party and their spokespeople have continued a virulent attack on women’s rights by vocally supporting the current abortion law (women cannot even have an abortion in Northern Ireland in the circumstances of rape, incest, foetal abnormality or risk to a woman’s health – interesting considering the recent Polish women’s campaign).
Besides this key issue, the SDLP hold conservative views on a range of issues and just don’t offer a left-wing alternative to the ultra-conservatism of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP, founded by Ian Paisley). In these circumstances it is just not reasonable for the Labour Party to suggest that Northern Irish people should support the SDLP in the absence of Labour. I suppose the other simple point to make is that 3000 people didn’t just join the SDLP, they made themselves clear when they joined the Labour Party and I think they should be listened to.
What are the big issues the party, or its members, campaign/should be campaigning on over there?
Northern Ireland is an economically deprived region, a problem which fosters sectarian tension, and has suffered a series of devastating job losses. JTI Gallagher let workers go in May, Caterpillar announced job losses in September, cuts have been seen across the voluntary and community sectors, library service cuts and many more. There are also the same issues as elsewhere with un-unionised labour, which need to be tackled and LPNI is playing its part supporting worker organisation and strike action wherever possible.
The Momentum NC in February passed a document saying the organisation wouldn’t organise in NI. What’s your view on that?
We are writing a letter to the NC making our case for Momentum organisation in NI. The main point is that their decision not to organise is based on a a statement made by a Momentum national officer that Labour does not organise in NI. Well, as I have just explained – Labour absolutely does organise in this region and so there is no reason why Momentum should not also organise, especially so considering the motivation of the vast majority of our members. I regularly get forwarded emails received by Momentum from members in NI who are eager to be involved, the demand is there and it really should be met. Like the right to stand issue, it is a bit much to be told by people in England what we can and cannot hope to achieve over here in relation to Labour politics. Really, the people in England, both Momentum and Labour, ought to listen to the 3000 Northern Irish residents who are telling them very clearly what it is they need.
Northern Ireland Labour Party members protesting against cuts
Report from our person in Stoke Central, Phil Burton-Cartledge (first published on his blog, All That Is Solid):
And so the finalised list of Stoke Central by-election candidates is out, and 10 folks fancy their chances. And it’s a circus, albeit one not likely to produce much merriment. Who then are the lions and acrobats? Which of them is the clown?
Illustration: Steve Bell (Guardian)
By Prof Keith Ewing
(This article first appeared in – of all places – the pro-Brexit Morning Star, on January 31 2017)
It’s not possible for the Tories to both protect workers’ rights and satisfy their red line demand that the European Court of Justice should have no legal effect in Britain, writes KEITH EWING
NOW that Brexit is inching closer, a number of questions are becoming more urgent. Not least is the question of workers’ rights.
What is to happen to the great body of labour law that derives from the EU?
Social Europe may be dead but there is an inheritance to protect. The Tories have promised that workers’ rights will be guaranteed. But they also promised that Brexit would ensure extra funding for the NHS. How equally hollow is the promise on workers’ rights?
Hard Brexit will expose workers’ rights on three fronts. In the first place, it means that any new rights that are developed at EU level will obviously not apply in Britain (or to those parts that voted Remain).
There is not much in the pipeline at the moment. But there are, nevertheless, proposals in the admittedly weak European Social Pillar for the protection of workers in the new tech industries for better transparency in the employment relationship and for EU unfair dismissal laws. These will not apply here.
A second consequence is that even if Social Europe is dead, rather than dying, there is still the framework of existing rights and the opportunity to develop them through litigation and access to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
For those on the left, there is of course the haunting impact of the Viking and Laval cases, placing the rights of business above the rights of workers; the right to freedom of establishment trumping (in every sense of the word) the right to strike.
We are also traumatised by the recent Usdaw case in which the Collective Redundancies Directive was narrowly interpreted to defeat claims by workers who had been employed by Woolies, and before that the Alemo-Herron case in which the Acquired Rights Directive was narrowly applied in the interests of business where public services are outsourced. As a result, workers lost the right to the continuing protection of collective agreements that had previously applied.
But while all that may be true, there have also been important victories. On equal pay, it was the ECJ that established in Britain the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. And on discrimination, it was the same court that swept away the arbitrary and artificial limit on damages that had been imposed in domestic law. On working time, it was the ECJ that established the right of all workers to holiday pay, removing the Blair government’s denial of holiday pay to Bectu members employed on short-term contracts.
Also on holiday pay, it was the ECJ that addressed the problem of employers basing holiday pay entitlement on part rather than all of the worker’s normal wages, and the other problem of employers preventing workers in some cases (notably illness) from carrying over holiday pay from one year to the next.
It stamped out other working time abuses, such as employers not treating as working time the periods spent on call at the workplace, and employers not paying holiday pay because it is already rolled up in (inadequate) monthly or weekly wages.
True, it will not be a disaster if we are denied access to the ECJ, but it will be a significant loss all the same. If the existing EU rights are “novated” into British law as part of the process of the “Great Repeal Bill” promised by the Tories, the substance of these rights will be determined by the British courts whose decisions led to many of these successful challenges in the ECJ. It will lead inevitably to a two-tier system of employment law in which our EU origin rights will as a result of litigation fall behind those operating in the EU 27.
Brexit thus means more power for the British courts and more opportunities for British judges to protect workers’ rights.
There may be some on the left who are content as a result. If so, they have a poor grasp of history.
But this of course is not the end of it. A third consequence of a hard Brexit is that there is nothing to stop the Tories chipping away at EU origin employment rights, while retaining the basic structure. What is to stop the Tories restoring the restrictions on holiday pay that were ruled unlawful in the Bectu case?
And what is to stop them revisiting Beecroft and reinstating the limit on compensation in discrimination cases? The answer is nothing.
After the “Great Repeal Bill” this will all be British law, albeit EU origin British law, and it can be changed with impunity.
The Tories can keep the agency workers’ regulations, but respond to business demands that they should provide even less protection. They can keep redundancy consultation but follow Vince Cable down the path of limiting the obligations on employers.
Should these or other steps be taken, there will be no right of access to the ECJ to put a brake on the government. If, as seems likely, our economy is to be tied even more closely to that of the US — as the May government begins to look across the Atlantic rather than the Channel — the prospects of continuing deregulation on a serious scale are by no means unrealistic. But about all that is left to deregulate are the rag bag of EU employment rights whose future existence now relies on the slender thread of a promise by May and David Davis.
That promise is built on a contradiction: it is not possible for the Tories simultaneously to protect workers’ rights and satisfy their red line demand that the ECJ should have no legal effect in Britain. A choice has to be made. The right choice is clearly set out in the Workers’ Rights (Maintenance of EU Standards) Bill 2016, recently presented to Parliament by Labour and SNP MPs, which in a Schedule reveals the breathtaking scale of our dependence on EU law for protection in the workplace.
Not only does that Bill seek to preserve these rights post-Brexit as a platform on which a future progressive government could build, but it does so by requiring that in “all legal proceedings [before the UK courts], any question as to the meaning or effect of any EU Worker Right shall be determined in accordance with the principles laid down by and any relevant judgment of the ECJ.”
The latter is an essential feature of any future settlement. But it is unlikely to be the choice made by May and her hapless government.
- Keith Ewing is is professor of public law at King’s College London and president of the Institute of Employment Rights
By Phil Burton-Cartledge (first published at his blog All That Is Solid)
Equality House, the base for North Staffordshire’s Racial Equality Council is not an easy place to find. Tucked away down Raymond Street on the outskirts of Hanley, it’s a road unknown to Stoke taxi drivers and SatNav alike. And yet 129 voting members managed to track it down on a cold Wednesday night for Stoke Central Labour Party’s selection meeting, following in the footsteps of 71 people who made the same journey seven years before.
CLP chair Terry Crowe and Regional Director George Sinnott outlined the process for the meeting. Each of the three shortlisted candidates would give a strictly-timed 10 minute statement followed by 20 minutes of questions. To ensure parity and avoid planted questions that may favour one candidate over the others, the members who were called by the chair in the first round would be required to ask them in the second and third. Meanwhile, lots were drawn in the anteroom to determine the running order. It came up Allison Gardner, Trudie McGuinness, and Gareth Snell.
Beginning her pitch, Allison put paid to misunderstandings and rumours that had done the rounds (including one I genuinely got wrong). She voted and supported Jeremy Corbyn in 2015, and stood by him last summer by voting for him again. She also said that while she wasn’t from North Staffs, it has given her the time of her life. As a councillor for Chesterton, she knew about the concerns that drive people to support UKIP, and also has a record of uniting people from different backgrounds as she has campaigned to save Bradwell Hospital from closure. In fact, the reason why she wanted to be a MP was to eyeball Jeremy Hunt. As a scientist who teaches on Keele University’s foundation programme, Allison is committed to high tech development and a mixed economy that can deliver it. This also meant fighting to protect ceramics to preserve the local economy and identity and working for the best Brexit for the city.
And then came the questions. She was asked about her attitude to academies (generally unhappy and disliked the big academy chains), what she would have done had she been in the PLP last summer (was furious with their behaviour as it missed the moment the Tories were on their knees, and she thought Corbyn is doing okay), about whether she would not go to the Daily Mail to criticise the party and keep misgivings private (yes, she believes in discipline), how she would work with disengaged young people like the thousands of students in the constituency (draw on her experience as a teacher and go where they are via stalls, pint and politics events, and so on), what key economic policy would make Brexit work for Stoke (continued and uninterrupted single market access), how to accomplish the funding of integrating health and social care (more tax on the rich), how she would take on Nuttall (expose his fakery, NHS lies, opposition to workers’ rights), how she would work to stop the transfer of HMRC jobs from Stoke (oppose and and offer local services and local offices – technology means there is no need to centralise), views on bus nationalisation (bring into national or cooperative ownership), how she would contribute to party unity (being good and decent, honest and not manipulative), and on the increase in homelessness (this is a concern of mine, the homeless are our people).
Next came Trudie. She began by noting that Stoke is the centre of the universe, which is a claim I live my life by. She was born in the city, is proud of it and will fight for the education, housing and health of our city. She was also outraged that Paul Nuttall thought he could come here and exploit the concerns of locals. He is trying to make Stoke all about Brexit, when it is much more than that. She then switched to her time in Staffordshire Moorlands Labour’s parliamentary candidate. Often asked why she was bothering as Labour didn’t have a chance of winning, she said it mattered – she’s a fighter and campaigner who will always fight for the underdog and our people. Taking this experience, Trudie’s campaign would be full throttle against UKIP and she was determined to make Stoke not the capital of Brexit, but the capital of Labour uniting and crushing Nuttall’s party. As someone who works in and is passionate about education, she would relish the chance to take him on at a hustings – he isn’t someone who inspires intimidation and fear, but a determination to beat him.
Onto the questions, while she was initially open-minded about academies experience suggests they have reduced the quality of education, and no benefit whatsoever has accrued from removing local authority control. On last summer’s attempted coup, she believed it came at absolutely the wrong time, but could understand why Labour MPs backed it. Trudie voted Owen Smith because she was concerned there was no progress under Jeremy. But now, the issue is closed and there’s an opportunity for Labour to write a new story. On disagreements, she believed there is nothing more depressing and dispiriting than the idea of going to Westminster to pick fights with colleagues – the enemy are the Tories and UKIP. On the young, her experience in education means interacting and engaging with the young is something she’s used to doing. She had already spoken to local colleges about sorting out voter registration. On Brexit and economic policy, she believed in protecting the customs union as she was especially concerned about the impact tariffs could have on the city. The integration of health and social care depends on tax, and this is especially true in Stoke where health issues are (historically) work-related and now compounded by poverty. On facing Nuttall it would be taking him to task on his opportunism, on contrasting his desire to break up and privatise the NHS with someone who truly cares. On keeping HMRC jobs, Trudie noted about a third of all Stoke’s employment is in the public sector, so she would fight to keep them and draw on her own experience of fighting with union colleagues against cuts. On the buses, she favours nationalisation and reintegration. Disappearing services are causing blockages in our national economies. When she lived in Leek, there were regular routes to Sheffield and Derby but they have gone, and this is a recipe for isolating communities. On party unity, Trudie had built and led teams for years and believes that honesty, dialogue and listening builds trust and unity. And lastly, on rough sleepers she argued that we should never forget the most vulnerable. Without that compassion, Labour is nothing.
Lastly was Gareth. After two excellent pitches, he had a tough act to follow. But he did. He started off by noting that the by-election wasn’t something we wanted, but it is one we have to win. He said he’d lived in the Potteries for 13 years where he met his wife, and his daughter was born in UHNS – now Royal Stoke. And like any true North Staffs person, she loves oatcakes. Therefore their past, present and future were rooted here. He also can’t bear the idea of Nuttall representing Stoke in parliament. This is a battle of ideals and we can reassert ourselves as the party of working people. Stopping UKIP here will go a long way to stopping them nationally by demonstrating Labour is the vehicle for progressive social change. He noted how he’d fought UKIP on many occasions, the last time being his winning a local council by-election and taking a seat from them in an 80/20 Brexit-voting ward a few weeks after the referendum. That goes to show that Brexit doesn’t mean UKIP, therefore we can beat and crush Nuttall.
On the questions, Gareth said academies should come back under local education authority control. Their existence offers no accountability and does not allow for sensible planning of school places in a given locality – it’s in the gift of for-profit academy chains. On the coup, it is now incumbent for Labour to get behind Corbyn and unify. Labour is a family and should be united in facing outward with no public commentary of internal matters. Elaborating on the question about fostering party unity, he suggested disagreements are for rooms like the one the local party was meeting in but face outwards to the public. On engaging young people, he recounted his experience with Keele Labour Club which worked at remedying the disenfranchisement of students by talking about what students wanted to talk about. There is an opportunity to work with Staffs University students down the road, and use similar approaches to reach out to other young people. On Brexit and economic policy, safeguarding and protecting local heritage through the back stamping campaign and ensuring free access to the single market is the best way of protecting Stoke. On health and social care, these cuts were offloaded by government onto councils which set them up for government criticism for not coping as they forced cuts on local authority budgets. Funding has to be sustainable, and this can only come from general taxation – this means taxing the rich and cracking down on tax dodging. On facing Nuttall, we should not lump UKIP and the Tories together and make it easier for the latter to vote for the former if they’re perceived as a Tory home from home. It also means not talking up Nuttall as a leading politician but as a serial election loser and a carpetbagger. But this was going to be a door-to-door dogfight and we’re going to have to work at turning out traditional non-voters too. Lastly, due to time, on the HMRC jobs move we have to shout about the benefits of access to the same services wherever we live. But on dealing with the issue to hand, he would ask the PCS what service he could lend – battles are won by organised workers and not politicians.
And with that, the pitches came to an end. After an unavoidably long voting process, after which about half drifted home (it was late) and the nail biting finish of the final vote tally, Gareth Snell was announced as Stoke Central CLP’s choice to contend the by-election.
So just to squash a few claims doing the rounds. First off, Gareth is not a Blairite. Anyone can see from the summary above that opposition to academies, taxing the rich and arguing change is contingent to organised workers acting is hardly congruent with the vapidities of third way “thinking”. Nor was it a stitch up. Keith Vaz didn’t get on the blower to order constituency members to support a favoured candidate, nor did the union machinery churn out recommendations that especially favoured him. He was endorsed by a prominent local Unison activist, but the regional Unite recommendation was awarded to Trudie, for instance. It’s almost as if some people want to believe it was a fix, and are prepared to spin any old bullshit to support their claims. If you want stich-ups, I’ll give you stitch-ups.
I’ve known Gareth for a long time and he will be an excellent candidate and make a great MP. He understands the labour movement, has solid values and politics, and preternatural eye for detail that any obfuscating Tory minister will come to dread. If I was Nuttall, I’d be packing my bags already.
Long-standing Labour MP (43 years in the House until he retired in 2005) Tam Dalyell, who died yesterday, supported many good causes, was personally honest and courteous and (to judge by the tributes pouring in) was much-loved on all sides of the Commons. In many respects, he was an exemplary MP. So it may seem churlish — distasteful, even — at this time, to raise the matter of remarks he made in 2003 about the supposed influence of Jews on British and American politics (and especially, foreign policy), and the response this evoked from his friend Paul Foot. Nevertheless, it is important as an illustration of how prevalent casual anti-semitism and conspiracy-theorising about Jews was (and remains) commonplace even on “respectable” sections of the left and amongst otherwise decent individuals – and of how dishonest and slippery the stance of “anti-Zionists” like Foot and the SWP often is.
By Sean Matgamna
A small outcry greeted Tam Dalyell MP’s assertion that there are too many Jews in the entourages of Tony Blair and George W Bush, and that those Jews make Britain’s and the USA’s policy on the Middle East.
I found the responses to Dalyell encouraging, but also seriously off the point. The important and effective antisemites now are not those who talk like Hitlerites about Jewish influence and Jewish “cabals,’. Such people can usually expect the response Dalyell got.
Their talk is too close to what the Nazis said to justify genocide. It begs too-obvious questions and implies preposterous answers to them. Do all Jews have the same politics? How can the presence of “the Jews”, or of people of Jewish faith or Jewish background, add up to “Jewish influence” or “Jewish conspiracy”, when the individuals involved often have different opinions and advocate different policies?
How, where the neo-conservatives of Jewish origin who are close to George Bush are out of line with the thinking of most American Jews, the big majority of whom are liberal Democrats? Where, though there may be a number of Jews who share the same opinion on certain questions, they are not alone in such opinions, and Jews can be found defending the opposite view?
Where some Jews helped create the recent anti-war movement, while others fervently supported the war, or, in Bush’s camp, helped initiate it?
There is only one coherent version of the idea that where there are Jews around, irrespective of whether they agree or fight with each other, then that is a Jewish influence. And that is the Nazi doctrine that Bolshevik Jews and Jewish international financiers, irrespective of all that divides them, are all nonetheless part of one Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world. It is the only version that allows you to note the truth that there are bourgeois Jews and Bolshevik Jews, red Jews and Rothschilds.
That stuff doesn’t, I guess, have much of an open following now, though such bits of that old anti-semitism as Dalyell spewed out should of course be stamped on. A number of writers in the Guardian did stamp on it. It was left to Paul Foot to defend Dalyell and put the most important present day anti-semitism back in focus.
Foot wrote: “Obviously [Dalyel] is wrong to complain about Jewish pressure on Blair and Bush when he means Zionist pressure. But that is a mistake that is constantly encouraged by the Zionists” (Guardian 14 May 2003).
Foot advises Dalyell on how he should have expressed the same idea in widely acceptable words. Call them “Zionists”, not “Jews”, Tammy, and no-one can accuse you of being an anti-semite without also having to take on the bulk of the “revolutionary left”.
Learn how to do it in the modern fashion, comrade Dalyell’ Of course you didn’t mean “Jews”, you meant “Zionists”, didn’t you? Anti-Jewish feeling and ideas are usually now wrapped up in anti-Zionism. Not all “anti-Zionists” are anti-semites, but these days anti-semites are usually careful to present themselves as “anti-Zionists”.
For that reason, it is lightshedding to find a prominent pseudo-left “anti-Zionist” recognising as his political kin someone who denounces Jews – and, Foot thinks, was at fault only in lacking the finesse to say Zionist when he meant Jew.
“Anti-Zionism” is the anti-semitism of today. “Anti-Zionism”, that, is root-and-branch denunciation of Israel, involves comprehensively anti-Jewish attitudes – rampant or latent and implied – because it starts out from a stark refusal to recognise that the Jewish nation that had formed in Palestine by the mid 1930s had the right to exist, or the right to fight for its existence against those who would have destroyed it if they could.
In onslaughts the most important of which began in 1936, and in a series of wars, 1948, 1967, and 1973, Arab chauvinists tried to destroy the Jewish nation in Palestine. The “Zionists” had no right to defend themselves, still less to prevail! Arab pressure on the British overlords in pre-World-War-Two Palestine led to the closing of the doors to Palestine for Jews who otherwise faced death in Europe, and kept them closed all through the war and for three years after the war ended.
In his own way, Foot expresses the logic he himself sees in the “anti-Zionist” language he advises Dalyell to adopt. “There are lots of Jews in Britain who are bitterly opposed to the loathsome Israeli occupation of other people’s countries and the grotesque violence it involves” (emphasis added).
Countries, plural? Which countries does Israel occupy other than the West Bank and Gaza? Foot does not mean the ex-Syrian Golan Heights, Israeli-occupied since 1967. He means pre-1967 Israel.
The attitude to Israel which Foot expresses, that it does not have the right to exist at all, begins with denial of equality to the Jews of Palestine and with demonising the Jewish nation there.
From that denial comes grotesque anti-Jewish bias and misrepresentation in accounts of the history of the Jewish-Arab conflict and the origin of Israel. The Jewish nation had no right to exist; Jews who fled to Palestine from the Nazis had no right to do that; they never had the right to defend themselves, and they don’t have it now.
The overwhelming majority of Jews in the world, in whose post-Holocaust identity Israel is engrafted, are guilty of racism and betrayal of Jewish internationalism when, however critical they may be of Israeli governments, they defend Israel’s right to exist.
Beginning with denial of the Jewish state’s right to exist, this “anti-Zionism” spreads out to also demonise most Jews in the world. The “Zionists” who are demonised by the “anti-Zionists” of foot’s kind are always Jewish Zionists, not non-Jews who defend Israel’s right to exist and defend itself. (The exception is when they are those who can be denounced as renegades from pseudo-left orthodoxy on Israel and “Zionism” – like the non-Jewish supporters of Solidarity).
“Anti-Zionism” is the most potent anti-Semitism in the modern world. It is especially and most venomously a property of the pseudo-left, as Dalyell’s statement and Paul Foot’s gloss on it shows clearly.
In fact Dalyell didn’t even get his facts right. Of the three “Jews” he named in Blair’s circle, two, Jack Straw and Peter Mandelson, do not identify themselves as Jews, though both have some Jewish ancestry. The daft old duffer blundered into a racist, “tell-me-who-your-ancestors-were” definition of Jewishness. By the time Foot came to defend Tam Dalyell, his mistake had been pointed out. Foot didn’t notice. Just call them “Zionists” Tammy and you can’t go wrong.
This “anti-Zionism” is no help at all to the Palestinians. For over half a century the Arab chauvinist demand for the destruction of Israel has been the best helper the expansionist Jewish-chauvinist Israeli right has had. If the Arab states and the Palestinians had accepted the Israeli proposal of September 1967 to withdraw from the territories it had occupied in June that year in return for Arab recognition and normalisation of relations between Israel and the Arab states, then the colonialist horrors of the last 35 years on the West Bank could not have happened.
People like Foot, are not socialist internationalists but vicarious Arab chauvinists. They are no friends of the oppressed Palestinians, for whom the only just and possible settlement is an independent Palestinian state side by side with Israel.
The main thing “socialists” like Foot and his mentor Tony Cliff have achieved is to infuse old left-wing anti-colonialism with virulent anti-Semitism, dressed up in the way Foot advises Dalyell to dress it up, as “anti-Zionism”.
From Tendance Coatesy: As Nationalist Left backs ‘opportunities’ offered by Leave – there is no such thing as a “People’s Brexit”:
Morning Star Follows Callinicos: accepting Brexit is (supposedly) indispensable to offering an alternative to neoliberalism.
Announces as an ‘alternative fact’ the pro-Brexit Morning Star:
Corbyn vows post-Brexit Britain won’t benefit the corporate tax dodgers
LABOUR committed yesterday to ensure that people’s rights were protected in a post-Brexit Britain following the Supreme Court’s ruling that the government needs the vote of Parliament before triggering Article 50.
Leader Jeremy Corbyn said that Labour MPs would not frustrate kick-starting the two-year process to leave the EU, amid concerns expressed by members that doing so could lose Labour its safe seats and also a general election.
He added that the party wants to amend a final Bill so that PM Theresa May can be stopped from converting Britain into even more of a “bargain basement tax haven off the shores of Europe” in lowering corporation tax.
Corbyn makes no mention of a People’s Brexit.
He wants to limit the damage Brexit will cause.
The article continues, citing the hard right (and former IMG member) Kate Hoey, who appeared on platforms during the Referendum with Nigel Farage.
Labour Leave campaign’s Kate Hoey warned the opposition risked losing seats in next month’s parliamentary by-elections in Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central if it seeks to block Brexit.
She said: “It is time for Labour to support the government by voting for Article 50 and working together to ensure the United Kingdom enjoys the global opportunities Brexit provides.”
Labour Leave chairman John Mills said it was vital for Labour to support the referendum result if it wanted to win a general election.
He added: “If we continue to flap about on this issue instead of getting on with making a success of Brexit, the voters will not forgive us.”
Photo not in the Morning Star:
Hoey with friend.
Sabin then outlines the continued opposition to Brexit from the Liberals, the SNP and the Greens.
Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas confirmed she would vote against triggering Article 50 to kick-start the two-year process by March 31, which she described as an “artificial” timeframe that was set out by Ms May.
The Supreme Court ruling now means that the Tory government will be “exposed to the antiseptic of parliamentary scrutiny” — according to civil liberties group Liberty director Martha Spurrier.
She added: “This is not a political decision — it is our democracy in action.
In today’s Editorial the Morning Star declares that,
A Labour amendment pointing out the role of tax havens used by big business and many Tory supporters to dodge tax, and highlighting the need for investment in jobs, infrastructure, NHS, essential public services and so on can spark a major debate.
But we need a Labour Party — indeed a labour movement — united in ensuring that this is at the centre of discussions.
No individualist playing to the gallery, no preening in a TV studio during yet another “Corbyn must do better” backstabbing interview and no following SNP, Liberal Democrats, Greens, Kenneth Clarke et al as they flounce into a sterile oppositionist posture.
The decision to leave the EU has been taken.
The question of whether a post-Brexit Britain will benefit tax-dodgers and big business or working people’s needs — our NHS, education, social care, council housebuilding, extended public ownership — confronts us all starkly.
It is a sad state of affairs when all this section of the left can offer as examples of how to benefit “working people’s needs” are measures (which will not pass Parliament) to limit the UK’s tax haven role and a call for investment in public services.
This is not quite as feeble as Alex Callinicos writing in the latest Socialist Worker,
The rebellion over Article 50 will simply add to the confusion at a moment when the Tories are beginning to get their act together.
May had the confidence to threaten last week to walk away from the negotiations with the rest of the EU because she thinks she has a new ally in Washington.
She hopes Donald Trump’s enthusiasm for Brexit and disdain for the EU will give her “global Britain” a powerful alternative in a free-market “Anglosphere”. Never mind that it’s quite unclear how this vision fits with Trump’s declaration in his inaugural speech that “protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.”
The Sunday Telegraph newspaper reports that Trump “is planning a new deal for Britain”, involving closer financial and defence cooperation and fewer trade barriers.
Then will come a “full monty” state visit to Britain in the summer. According to one crony, “Trump has taken to calling Mrs May ‘my Maggie’ in private.”
No doubt there’s a lot of wishful thinking on both sides, if not pure fantasy. Nevertheless, May hopes to seize on Trump’s advent to office in the hope it can give Brexit a coherence that the pro-leave right has so far failed to provide.
In these circumstances it is completely irresponsible for EU supporters within Labour to start a fight over Article 50.
This isn’t just because it will allow the Tories and Ukip to portray Labour as anti-democratic and seek to tear away those of its supporters who voted to leave. Accepting Brexit is indispensable to offering an alternative to neoliberalism.
In other words, accepting the supposed return to British ‘sovereignty’, on the pro-business basis that the Tories (and UKIP) intend it to be, is a condition for …fighting the free-market.
We leave it to Callinicos and his mates to find a way to tally their ‘Marxist’ explanation of what lies behind May’s vision of a global Britain” a powerful alternative in a free-market “Anglosphere”. “and “Trump’s declaration in his inaugural speech that “protection will lead to great prosperity and strength” with all their previous rhetoric about neoliberalism. Which is by its essence opposed to ‘protectionism’.
In the meantime the ‘People’s Brexit’ leaves EU economic, employment and social rights hanging in the air, ready to be plucked down one by one by the Tories.
There is a different view from Another Europe is Possible.
The Supreme Court has ruled by 8-3 that Parliament will need to vote on Article 50 activation. Following the verdict, which also saw the Scottish government disappointed in its attempts to win a constitutional right to be consulted by the UK government, Another Europe is Possible, have called on MPs to be willing, if needs be, to vote against Article 50. We believe they must be willing to use this power to extract maximum concessions to protect key areas: the right to free movement with EU states, the future of science and innovation, ecological sustainability, workers’ protections, education, and human rights.
A spokesperson for Another Europe is Possible said:
“This ruling gives MPs the ability to determine what Brexit means. Politicians – and specifically Labour – must live up to their historic duty to protect the progressive elements of EU membership. That means proposing amendments to remain in the EEA – or to retain workers’ rights, freedom of movement, environmental protections, human rights, and science and education funding. Theresa May has no mandate for the harsh, chaotic form of Brexit she is pursuing, and MPs must ultimately be willing to vote against Article 50 if reasonable amendments do not pass.”
Sam Fowles, a law researcher at the University of London, said:
“This judgement gives ordinary people the chance, through our MPs, to hold the government accountable for Brexit negotiations. It’s now up to us and our MPs to take that chance. If the government can’t deliver the Brexit they promised in the referendum then we, the people, must have the chance to reject their deal. It’s up to our MPs to use the vote on Article 50 to make sure we get that chance.
“The referendum result doesn’t give anyone the right to ignore the UK’s unwritten constitution. The government can’t just do what it wants, when it wants.
On the defeat of the Scottish government’s case in relation to the Sewell convention, Fowles added:
“Although the court held that it could not enforce the Sewell Convention the government must respect it nevertheless. The Sewell Convention obliges the government to consult the devolved Parliaments on matters that concern them. If this government truly respects the people of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, then it will properly consult their elected Assembly’s on Article 50.”
Background: Another Europe is Possible declares,
It has now become crystal clear that the Brexit which Theresa May has planned would be a disaster for workers, farmers, businesses and public services like the NHS. The policies which the Prime Minister set out last week in her 12 point plan precisely conform to the vision which Another Europe is Possible warned would result from a Leave vote last year.
May has ripped up the numerous promises made by leading Leave campaign supporters – that Brexit would save the NHS, that we would not leave the single market, that Britons could continue to move and live wherever they want in Europe. This Government’s vision is rather of a deregulated, offshore financial haven, and a country closing its door to the world – with 3m EU citizens in the UK living in huge uncertainty. This represents a catastrophe for ordinary people.
In this context, we call on progressive parties to vote against Article 50, until we are offered an exit deal that meets the needs of the British people. The British electorate voted by 52% to 48% to leave the European Union. But this does not add up to a mandate for the type of jobs destroying hard Brexit that Theresa May wants. Numerous English and Welsh towns and cities backed Remain. So did Scotland and Northern Ireland. The hard Brexit the Tories are set on will not overcome these divisions. It will only further inflame them.
MPs only have one point of leverage over the terms of exit. And this comes when Article 50 is activated. Unless this leverage is used any democratic control over the terms of exit slips away. While Theresa May promised in her recent speech to bring the final deal back to Parliament, this amounts to setting a political trap. Parliament in that situation would be faced with a choice: either accept what will be – if Theresa May gets her way in Europe – a rotten deal, or crash out of the EU with no deal in place whatsoever. The government will put a revolver to the head of Parliament and force it to fall into line behind its disastrous deal.
We understand that the voice of those who voted Leave cannot be ignored. But it is clear that the Leave vote – which people made for many varied reasons – is now being used to justify the most regressive, far-reaching constitutional changes we have seen in generations. This does not represent the will of the majority. The Prime Minister’s refusal to involve the British people in her Exit strategy is a power grab. We demand a democratic constitutional process before any further power is taken from the people. Unless and until such a process is agreed, progressive politicians should refuse to cede further power to this government.
Local lad Phil Burton-Cartledge (who blogs at All That Is Solid) concludes his series of articles on Stoke-on Trent in the light of the forthcoming by-election:
Finally, here’s the third installment on the Stoke-on-Trent politics special. We’ve spoken about Tristram Hunt’s career in The Potteries, and we’ve turned our attention to the local scene. Now it’s time to go all Mystic Meg and break out the politics astrology charts. For which party do the stars align?
Labour have got to be the favourites. Stoke-on-Trent Central was born a Labour seat, and the party will be stretching every sinew to ensure it stays that way until the Boundary Commission kills it. Labour has some very strong cards to play. Firstly, the membership. All the Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire parties are active, campaigning organisations in-between elections. The bad old days of nothing happening unless we were asking for votes are long gone. Additionally, the combined membership of these parties are huge. Stoke Central itself is pushing 500, the other Stoke parties are more or less the same and nearby parties are, if anything, even larger. And we know people are going to travel from far and wide to help out. In short, a tsunami of Labour activists are poised to swamp the constituency, and none of the other parties will come close to matching it.
A personal reaction from Phil Burton-Cartledge (at his blog All That Is Solid), a member of Stoke Central CLP and once a staffer in Hunt’s constituency office:
It was nice for Stoke-on-Trent to make the news for something other than footy and the BNP. Less nice that it was my constituency party and my MP at the centre of it. Yes, as the world and its uncle now knows, Tristram Hunt is resigning the Stoke-on-Trent Central seat to take up the leadership of the Victoria & Albert in London. He can now spend more time with his young family, and it’s a role he’s temperamentally and culturally suited to. This then is going to be the first of two posts – the second will look at Stoke-on-Trent Central, the state of the local party, potential candidates and Labour’s chances of holding on to the seat. This one is all about Tristram.
First things first, Tristram’s announcement was greeted with the crows of his opponents, and the commiseration of his friends. For those identifying with the Corbynist left, this proves he was a careerist with no interest beyond self-advancement. For those arrayed against the leadership, Tristram’s resignation is a loss of talent that reflects badly on Corbyn’s prospects. There is no attempt to analyse or understand. Pigeonholing is the order of the day. The truth lies between these two poles, and I know. Because not only do I know him, have shared the local party with him for almost seven years, I used to work for him too. So if you came here hoping for a denunciation, you will be disappointed.
Readers with long memories might recall the circumstances in which Tristram became the Labour MP for Stoke Central. The fag end of Gordon Brown’s short tenure saw a scramble for seats as the 2010 general election loomed. Coincidentally, a long-running factional battle in this constituency centered around the local directly-elected mayor reached its climax. Early that year, the NEC intervened and put the CLP into special measures – in effect, the Labour Party’s version of direct rule. Letters were issued to members ruling the upcoming AGM out of order and attendees were threatened with suspension and sanction. Said meeting went ahead and the whole constituency party was placed on the naughty step. The ruling on this came very quickly on the heels of the incumbent MP – Mark Fisher – unexpectedly announcing his retirement. Two months from the election and Labour was without a candidate.
Because of the special measures and because of the proximity to D-Day, longlisting and shortlisting was the province of a NEC panel. It was at this point that Tristram’s name first surfaced, with the FT getting the scoop. Being foolish I didn’t believe he stood much of a chance – little did I appreciate the dark arts of Peter Mandelson and how brazen the party can be when sorting sinecure for the favoured. I then thought selections were a meritorious affair. Pah. The longlist was a varied field of local folks and people from outside Stoke. And then came the shortlist: it was basically Tristram and two also-rans cynically tacked on so the local party had no choice but to rubber stamp the NEC’s favoured choice. Seriously, I’ve interviewed dozens of candidates for the local government panel and I struggle to remember anyone worse than this pair. But as stitching goes, this isn’t the most egregious. I digress. Tristram was duly selected and the Potteries moved into the light of a new dawn.
Locally, Tristram made a bit of a splash. The sort of plaudits getting heaped on him now echo those greeting his arrival in Stoke. Tristram had glamour, had connections, had ambition. He was going places and that made him a good catch for Stoke-on-Trent. He was lauded by local notables as a future Prime Minister, or at the very least someone who could open doors for the city in The City. As I was unemployed and despairing of ever finding work, Tristram was kind enough to offer me a job as a caseworker in the constituency office. Given the political distance between us it did give me pause, but in the end making a living came first. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. In addition to the casework, each of us in the office had a number of projects that aimed to define the shiny new MP in some way. For example, I was charged with putting together the ‘Stoke Stories’ conference in conjunction with the RSA to strengthen relationships between local third sector organisations, and lend any assistance and support the office could give them. This was one initiative among many over the last seven years that tried to define him. These included the backstamping campaign, the annual get together of local business leaders, the Maths Excellence Partnership, a campaign to save nursery provision, and securing an exemption for beleagured potteries from the renewables obligation. There were more! In addition to this, Tristram and his office got through a heavy caseload and secured some notable victories at the local council, with the DWP and sometimes (sometimes!) the government. Small shifts in policy or getting back monies owed isn’t Bastille storming stuff, but it is important and makes a difference to those affected by them.
Meanwhile, Tristram was something of an object of fascination for the left. As one of the best known Blairites in the PLP, and being one of the few unafraid to (occasionally) avow himself a disciple, I always found it strange why he had a weird fan club. Was it the glamour? The proximity to Mandelson? His book on Engels? Far from getting a hostile reception, trade unionists in Stoke couldn’t wait to meet him. I had self-identified Trots from elsewhere always asking after him. And even after that picket line crossing episode to deliver a lecture on Victorian civic culture and not, as per received myth, to speak on Marxism, he remained the left’s favourite Blairite. Even if to hate and troll.
The mystery didn’t end there. In person, Tristram is pleasant and funny, isn’t overly posh and doesn’t come across as a snob. But he remained an enigma both to his staff and the local party. Hand on my heart, despite working closely with him I cannot say why he decided to become a Member of Parliament. Nor, unlike Liz Kendall and her liberalism can I honestly say what his politics are. There would be many times he got up in front of the CLP to defend the Blairite commonsense about winning elections, of securing the southern marginals so we can help best Stoke-on-Trent, but there was never a sense of vision. For someone heralded as an ideas man, there were no ideas. For someone who was and remains passionate about education, I never understood where that sprang from. There was no patrician concern for the poor, which some might have expected. Nor a desire to get into power and reform our way to the New Jerusalem. Absent too was the obsession with power for its own sake – he never struck me as someone who had a personal hunger for government. On a number of occasions when asked about Tristram, I often likened him to the gentlemanly Victorian who was passing through Parliament on his way to other things.
The absence of politics was also the root of his mistakes as a politician. In the days following the 2015 defeat, he was shocked to find his opponents had laid the groundwork for their leadership challenges among PLP colleagues well before election day. As a result, the MPs not already signed up for others and happy to back him were quite modest. This absence of nous touched on other areas of work. As I wrote previously, one of the benefits of having Tristram as a boss was that he’d leave you to use your own initiative. He was not the kind of Member who took the correspondence home to check the spellings and tone. This also meant he didn’t take as much of an interest in local politics as an MP should. Meetings with councillors were ad hoc and infrequent, local party strategy was something he fought shy of, and keeping the CLP happy wasn’t a high priority. The latter undoubtedly helped contribute to it near-unanimously voting to endorse Jeremy Corbyn last summer. Unfortunately, like many Labour MPs, Tristram doesn’t and didn’t understand much the party or movement of which he is part, and didn’t show interest in advice from staff and other local Labour people about how to navigate these choppy waters. He might have avoided the embarrassment of picket-linegate if he had, for instance.
Lastly, I was not surprised to learn of Tristram’s departure this morning. Even before the election, local comrades knew my belief that if we didn’t win in 2015, he wouldn’t contest 2020. That became increasingly obvious after the Boundary Commission slated Stoke-on-Trent Central for deletion in the great Tory gerrymander. And there was the summer’s grumblings that saw a local branch take a vote of no confidence against him. If Tristram wanted to hang on he would have had a torrid time, and not in a good way. The V&A position with its reported £300k salary has saved him from all that. Other Labour MPs in similar pickles are looking for similar gilded exits.
I don’t bear Tristram any ill will. I shall always be grateful for the two-and-a-half years I carried bags. It was a fantastic job and, bleeding heart that I am, I helped a lot of people out in shit situations. We all did. But like him or not, the politics of his departure leaves the party in a weakened position and a by-election that is going to be difficult. Legacies should be celebrated. It just saddens me that Tristram’s is something Stoke Labour is going to have to overcome.