Top five political indiscretions...

The week in politics as viewed from the blogosphere...

One of the big political news stories of the week was yet again broken on the blogosphere. A Jonathan Isaby post at the telegraph.co.uk gave out the results of the Ealing by-election postal votes, with the help of a breach of electoral law on behalf of the Conservatives.

Before it was taken offline, Political Penguin flagged it up and was the first to note its importance. There’s still a screen grab (with appropriate smudging) there.

Cicero was so dismayed at the turn of events in Ealing he proclaimed: “I hope never to see such an unprincipled and unscrupulous campaign ever again.”

Mike Smithson at Political Betting assessed the result of the by-election in terms of how each leader fared. He wrote: “Goodish for Gordon but not good enough for him to risk a general election…

“The only reason Cameron has been able to steer his party in a different direction has been because he has been seen as an election winner. Once that perception goes he could be in for a testing time. By October/November the polls need to have got better…

“There have been repeated murmurings against Ming Campbell and some in the party were suggesting that his leadership could be on the line if the party did badly. That did not happen and Ming is probably safe.”

In a week where politicians were pushed into revealing if they had indulged in illegal substances, the blogging community felt the need to lend their opinions to the debate, with a few feeling the need to clarify their personal drug experiences.

Iain Dale (who hasn’t and never will) called for an end to the drug taking witchhunt. He asked: “Does having smoked a joint at university impair a politician's judgement 25 years later? Of course not. Tony McNulty's abilities as Police Minister can be judged on his performance today - not by what he may have done 25 years ago.”

Peter Risdon (who has, on and off, for 30 years) took the opportunity to expand on some of his own position towards drug criminalisation: “The drug prohibition laws are tyrannical, stupid and destructive, and I’m not going to dignify them by pretending I will take the slightest notice of them.”

Anyone shocked by this week’s revelations should check out Daniel Finkelstein's top five political youthful indiscretions, which include shooting a child dead and participating in orgies – though not necessarily at the same time.

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.
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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.