I'm a quitter not a fighter

Carol Thatcher, Mormons and other stories...

Week in, week out since we relaunched newstatesman.com a couple of guys from the brilliant journalism school at Cardiff (where I went) have been doing a round-up of political blogs and it’s more than time I mentioned them in despatches. Owen Walker and Adam Haigh write on alternate weeks and are doing a first class job.

Anyway have a read of their entertaining, pithy summaries. If nothing else it’ll save you having to browse some of the more irritating offers out there in the blogosphere.

I know I keep banging on about our Faith Column but it really is a great feature of the website. This past week the fascinating insights of druid Damh. Next week Kathy Van Buskirk, from the Cherokee Nation talks about her religion. Coming up we’ve got another atheist, a Catholic and a Navajo.

Interestingly we’ve tried quite hard to get Mormons to blog but they don’t do it. A spokeswoman from the Mormon Church said all the information you could possibly want is on the Latter Day Saints (LDS) official website (notice I didn’t link). They don’t like people commenting, which is why they don’t like blogging…

Inspite of that we did find a young American woman to write about her conversion to the LDS from being a Southern Baptist but she mentioned it to her Mormon flatmates, they told her church and she got instructed not to proceed! Scary stuff. Almost Mandelsonian in its creepiness! Personally I couldn’t belong to an organisation that controlling. I’m a quitter not a fighter.

I was watching some TV the other night and had the appalling misfortune to come across Carol Thatcher. Now there’s no secret that nepotism is alive and well in world of the media – but ‘Mummy’s War’? Notice the date stamp on this blog entry in case you think I’m making it up! Yes that’s the daughter of Margaret ‘two million unemployed’s a nice number’ Thatcher if there was any question in your mind…

Now I’ve no idea what you think about the sinking of the General Belgrano, but seeing Miss Thatcher in a room with some of the mothers of the men that died on that ship was not a TV highpoint. “It was a war, we shot at you, you shot at us,” she said with the tone of someone who can’t understand the dreadful fuss.

The mothers had apparently misinterpreted the point of the meeting, erroneously thinking they might get some message from Mrs Thatcher – whom they claimed was a war criminal. Why set up a conversation like that? Well I suppose it gives the former prime minister’s daughter something to do. I wonder what Channel 4 will follow it up with - Mark Thatcher goes on safari in Africa?

If you go to Argentina and you’re British, the Falklands War does come up from time to time in conversation. But people weren’t hostile, in my experience, they were just curious to find out your point of view. In fact quite a few people I met believed passionately in Argentina’s sovereignty over the islands but also conceded the point that if they hadn’t lost the war their rotten, murderous dictatorship might not have crumbled quite as fast.

Whatever you think about the war, commissioning Carol Thatcher to front that programme was in excreable taste.

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.