So is New Labour dead or not?

When is a party dead? Paul Evans brings us the best of the politics blogs from domestic politics thr

Nusferatu: A Party Undead

This week Lord Mandelson declared Cameron’s claims of New Labour’s demise to be premature.

Andy Newman on Socialist Unity considered what defined the New labour project, and concluded that it: “…was built on two foundations: one was a commitment to neo-liberalism; the other was the belief that electoral success could come through winning over swing voters in marginal seats by triangulating around the Daily Mail driven socially conservative agenda”.

In a detailed look at the failings of the party’s economic agenda, he argued that it was “corrosive because it de-legitimised the whole idea of state intervention in the economy”.

Over at Spiked, the ever confrontational online heir to Living Marxism, deputy editor Rob Lyons observed that “The suggestion that New Labour is dead is somewhat ironic since the party is itself merely the zombie left behind after the demise of ‘Old Labour’.” But Heresiarch argued that Old Labour has never truly left us, suggesting rather that we have been collectively duped:

“Tony Blair looked and sounded like a right-winger when he was actually a statist authoritarian. Gordon Brown looked - and so was accounted - cautious and trustworthy. As a spectacle of legerdemain, New Labour was unprecedented,” he wrote.

Elsewhere, Tory MP David Jones blogged that behaviour in the chamber gave the lie to Mandelson’s claim – while right-winger Shane Greer enjoyed an unseemly chuckle at the disappearance of the New Labour domain.

What have we learned this week?

That it’s not always funny when Tory MPs get arrested. Damien Green has been nicked for allegedly receiving leaked Home Office documents.
Within in minutes, Conservative Home was speculating and Labour Home was gloating. Perhaps if we had greater transparency and decent responses to difficult parliamentary questions, such leaks would be unnecessary?

Around the World

As India wrestled with terrorist outrages on an unprecedented scale, Seriously Sandeep was irked by what he perceived as the appeasement and concern for the perpetrators by fellow bloggers. Aditya Kumar confessed “I am terrified. Petrified,” while Anuradha Bakshi (perhaps the sort of commentator Sandeep was needling at) asked:

“…who are the real culprits: the predators lurking with their indoctrination spiel or a fractured society where dreams of some can never be fulfilled, where hate and animosity are easily ignited and stoked?”

It transpires that Tory MEPs were also among those caught up in the chaos.

Videos of the Week

It’s easy to forget that Robert Kilroy-Silk is still, in theory at least, representing our nation in the European Parliament - he hasn’t spoken in a debate for more than three years. But if you do want to see his powers of rhetoric at work, here he is having a row with TV ghost Timmy Mallett. Online supporter cottz2008 cheered him, writing:

“cum on kilroy u to win it i can rember wen u came to ilkeston to try n be a mp well cum on win it for us”.

But now he has been chucked out of this telly competition, and it’s hard for all of us.

Quote of the Week

“It depends, I suppose, what you imagine New Labour was. If you mean the media-manipulating, bullying, authoritarian bulldozer, then it is still very much alive, and probably worse than ever.

No punches pulled, on Heresy Corner.

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
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Labour’s best general election bet is Keir Starmer

The shadow secretary for Brexit has the heart of a Remainer - but head of a pragmatic politician in Brexit Britain. 

In a different election, the shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer might have been written off as too quiet a man. Instead - as he set out his plans to scrap the Brexit white paper and offer EU citizens reassurance on “Day One” in the grand hall of the Institute of Civil Engineers - the audience burst into spontaneous applause. 

For voters now torn between their loyalty to Labour and Remain, Starmer is a reassuring figure. Although he says he respects the Brexit vote, the former director of public prosecutions is instinctively in favour of collaborating with Europe. He even wedges phrases like “regulatory alignment” into his speeches. When a journalist asked about the practicality of giving EU citizens right to remain before UK citizens abroad have received similar promises, he retorted: “The way you just described it is to use people as bargaining chips… We would not do that.”

He is also clear about the need for Parliament to vote on a Brexit deal in the autumn of 2018, for a transitional agreement to replace the cliff edge, and for membership of the single market and customs union to be back on the table. When pressed on the option of a second referendum, he said: “The whole point of trying to involve Parliament in the process is that when we get to the final vote, Parliament has had its say.” His main argument against a second referendum idea is that it doesn’t compare like with like, if a transitional deal is already in place. For Remainers, that doesn't sound like a blanket veto of #EUref2. 

Could Leave voters in the provinces warm to the London MP for Holborn and St Pancras? The answer seems to be no – The Daily Express, voice of the blue passport brigade, branded his speech “a plot”. But Starmer is at least respectful of the Brexit vote, as it stands. His speech was introduced by Jenny Chapman, MP for Darlington, who berated Westminster for their attitude to Leave voters, and declared: “I would not be standing here if the Labour Party were in anyway attempting to block Brexit.” Yes, Labour supporters who voted Leave may prefer a Brexiteer like Kate Hoey to Starmer,  but he's in the shadow Cabinet and she's on a boat with Nigel Farage. 

Then there’s the fact Starmer has done his homework. His argument is coherent. His speech was peppered with references to “businesses I spoke to”. He has travelled around the country. He accepts that Brexit means changing freedom of movement rules. Unlike Clive Lewis, often talked about as another leadership contender, he did not resign but voted for the Article 50 Bill. He is one of the rare shadow cabinet members before June 2016 who rejoined the front bench. This also matters as far as Labour members are concerned – a March poll found they disapproved of the way Labour has handled Brexit, but remain loyal to Jeremy Corbyn. 

Finally, for those voters who, like Brenda, reacted to news of a general election by complaining "Not ANOTHER one", Starmer has some of the same appeal as Theresa May - he seems competent and grown-up. While EU regulation may be intensely fascinating to Brexiteers and Brussels correspondents, I suspect that by 2019 most of the British public's overwhelming reaction to Brexit will be boredom. Starmer's willingness to step up to the job matters. 

Starmer may not have the grassroots touch of the Labour leader, nor the charisma of backbench dissidents like Chuka Umunna, but the party should make him the de facto face of the campaign.  In the hysterics of a Brexit election, a quiet man may be just what Labour needs.

What did Keir Starmer say? The key points of his speech

  • An immediate guarantee that all EU nationals currently living in the UK will see no change in their legal status as a result of Brexit, while seeking reciprocal measures for UK citizens in the EU. 
  • Replacing the Tories’ Great Repeal Bill with an EU Rights and Protections Bill which fully protects consumer, worker and environmental rights.
  • A replacement White Paper with a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union. 
  • The devolution of any new powers that are transferred back from Brussels should go straight to the relevant devolved body, whether regional government in England or the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Parliament should be fully involved in the Brexit deal, and MPs should be able to vote on the deal in autumn 2018.
  • A commitment to seek to negotiate strong transitional arrangements when leaving the EU and to ensure there is no cliff-edge for the UK economy. 
  • An acceptance that freedom of movement will end with leaving the EU, but a commitment to prioritise jobs and economy in the negotiations.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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