Lords taking liberties?

The best of the politics blogs brought to you by Paul Evans. This week read about the Geert Wilders

Liberty and Lords

Thursday 12th was an unlucky day for Dutch politician Geert Wilders, whose absurd hairdo and appalling film-making skills were sent packing at Heathrow.

While few had any time for 'Fitna,' the crude and offensive film that Wilders was hoping to screen in the House of Lords, as a liberty-loving bunch, bloggers were almost universally dismayed by the decision to ban him from entering the UK. The role of Lord Ahmed (a man who merrily hosted the European racist Jöran Jermas) in persuading the Home Office to refused him entry came under particular scrutiny.

On Pickled Politics, Sid contrasted his response with that of the Quilliam Foundation, which: “believes that although many of Wilders’ public statements are bigoted, ill-informed and offensive to people of all faiths, this is not an adequate reason to prevent him from coming to the UK”. He noted:

“Lord Ahmed’s reaction is most certainly a robust denouncement of Wilders. But it resembles too closely for comfort, the ugly gesture of a rabble-rousing feudal oligarch, threatening mob violence against the House of Lords.”

And for Cranmer this was a serious matter indeed. “Lord Ahmed,” he contested, “must be prosescuted for treason”. He sets out the case that Ahmed's indication that he may he rouse a large group of Muslim protestors to prevent the screening of 'Fitna' amounted to the gravest crime in the land:

“There appears to be prima facie evidence of an attempt ‘to intimidate or overawe both Houses or either House of Parliament’ by an ‘overt act or deed’,” he explained.

The Wardman Wire's Carl Gardner also had law on his mind – arguing that the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006 have been incorrectly applied, since they refer to the conduct and not the presence of an individual. And on his own blog, Head of Legal, Gardner noted: “I've not heard any comment about this either from Liberty, or from David Davis. Why not? It's a major free speech issue.”

Of the blogs more sympathetic to the government position (and there are precious few), even The Osterley Times could not endorse Wilders' ban, though it accepted that: “...the government were probably concerned about the level of anger he might generate as he did so. So one can find many arguments for and against him being allowed entry”.

The film was screened, despite Wilders' absence.

What have we learned this week?

Much glee from Guido and Dizzy, at David Hencke's revelation that Derek Draper phrased details of his Berkeley education with what appeared to be calculated ambiguity. Draper has now set up his own personal blog to deal exclusively with the endless pisstaking. I wonder whether he was at Wellington with Lord Archer?

Around the World

Lester Ho is a Malaysian student studying in Japan. This week his blog carries photos of a protest in Shinjuku against the economic policies of prime minister Taro Aso. “Back in my country, Protesting is illegal and you need a special permit (which you hardly can obtain one from the government or police),” he writes.

Video of the Week

On Playpolitical you can watch Sky News' head to head between Lords Pearson and Ahmed.

Quote of the Week

“Without open debate, falsehood and bigotry can fester in dark nether-regions, safe from the severe scrutiny of mainstream society. Once subjected to free debate, most of the most odious ideas will wither and die.”

Stephen Farrington.

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 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.