Targeting Clegg's family home was plain wrong

Defenders of the UK uncut protest call it a "party". Would they be so relaxed if the far-right copie

As a Liberal, I actively encourage people to demonstrate when they see things they don’t like or approve of. And I love creative demonstrations that make their point in an imaginative way, that get people talking and debating the merits of an argument, whether I happen to agree with that view or not. So it takes quite a lot for me to write that a protest is just plain wrong.

But targeting someone’s children does cross that line. Which is why I think yesterday's UK Uncut demonstration outside Nick Clegg’s home was unjustifiable.

First, interest to declare (beyond the party politics). Someone attacked my home in a very minor way last year. I’m a bit sensitive therefore about this sort of thing.

So when I’m told that this wasn’t a protest, that it wasn’t intimidating, it was a party, I beg to differ. If 400 people turned up for a "party" outside my house, blocking off the roads to prevent anyone getting out, specifically targeting the road because I lived there, I wouldn’t feel especially safe.

And this time it was UK Uncut. Suppose the BNP or EDL decide to do the same? Only in Ed Miliband’s road. Would Sunny Hundal and Laurie Penny still be cheerleading them from the sidelines? Or is this sort of action only OK if you agree with their politics?

And supposing they hadn’t targeted a party leader? Where is the line to be drawn? Mark Serwotka said of the protestors in Clegg’s road yesterday that "we applaud their innovative and inspirational action that takes the campaign right to the doorsteps of those responsible”. Well Mr Serwotka, by your own logic, that makes you fair game for the same treatment does it not? Would you be happy if 400 people turn up at your doorstep for a bit of a fiesta, closing your road and stopping your family leaving the house, because they profoundly disagree with your political views?

Indeed what of the 400 party goers themselves? Each took part in a political act yesterday. Should they be held to the same standards? Are their homes and their kids' schools now fair game. I don’t think so. But by their own logic, they presumably do.

One Tory MP actively encouraged people to donate to the Lib Dems yesterday. But then Louise Mensch knows something about having your kids targeted. Those on the protest in Putney yesterday should think long and hard about the line they crossed. And whether they would really want the same treatment themselves.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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Five things we've learned from Labour conference

The party won't split, Corbynite divisions are growing and MPs have accepted Brexit. 

Labour won't split anytime soon

For months, in anticipation of Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election, the media had speculated about the possibility of a Labour split. But the party’s conference confirmed that MPs have no intention of pursuing this course (as I had long written). They are tribally loyal to Labour and fear that a split would prove electorally ruinous under first-past-the-post. Many still expect Theresa May to hold an early general election and are focused on retaining their seats.

Rather than splitting, Corbyn’s opponents will increase their level of internal organisation in a manner reminiscent of the left’s Socialist Campaign Group. The “shadow shadow cabinet” will assert itself through backbench policy committees and, potentially, a new body (such as the proposed “2020 group”). Their aim is to promote an alternative direction for Labour and to produce the ideas and organisation that future success would depend on.

MPs do not dismiss the possibility of a split if their “hand is forced” through a wave of deselections or if the left achieves permanent control of the party. But they expect Labour to fight the next election as a force at least united in name.

Neither the Corbynites nor the rebels have ultimate control 

Corbyn’s second landslide victory confirmed the left’s dominance among the membership. He increased his winning margin and triumphed in every section. But beyond this, the left’s position is far more tenuous.

The addition of Scottish and Welsh representatives to the National Executive Committee handed Corbyn’s opponents control of Labour’s ruling body. Any hope of radically reshaping the party’s rule book has ended.

For weeks, Corbyn’s allies have spoken of their desire to remove general secretary Iain McNicol and deputy leader Tom Watson. But the former is now safe in his position, while the latter has been strengthened by his rapturously received speech.

Were Corbyn to eventually resign or be defeated, another left candidate (such as John McDonnell) would struggle to make the ballot. Nominations from 15 per cent of MPs are required but just six per cent are committed Corbynites (though selection contests and seat losses could aid their cause). It’s for this reason that allies of the leader are pushing for the threshold to be reduced to five per cent. Unless they succeed, the hard-left’s dominance is from assured. Were an alternative candidate, such as Clive Lewis or Angela Rayner, to succeed it would only be by offering themselves as a softer alternative.

Corbynite divisions are intensifying 

The divide between Corbyn’s supporters and opponents has recently monopolised attention. But the conference showed why divisions among the former should be interrogated.

Shadow defence secretary Clive Lewis, an early Corbyn backer, was enraged when his speech was amended to exclude a line announcing that Labour’s pro-Trident stance would not be reversed. Though Lewis opposes renewal, he regards unilateralism as an obstacle to unifying the party around a left economic programme. The longer Corbyn remains leader, the greater the tension between pragmatism and radicalism will become. Lewis may have alienated CND but he has improved his standing among MPs, some of whom hail him as a bridge between the hard and soft left.

Elsewhere, the briefing against McDonnell by Corbyn allies, who suggested he was an obstacle to recruiting frontbenchers, showed how tensions between their respective teams will remain a story.

Labour has accepted Brexit

Ninety four per cent of Labour MPs backed the Remain campaign during the EU referendum. But by a similar margin, they have accepted the Leave vote. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, both long-standing eurosceptics, confirmed that they would not seek to prevent Brexit.

Owen Smith called for a referendum on the eventual deal during his leadership campaign. But with some exceptions, such as Angela Eagle, most of his backers have rejected the idea. Though 48 per cent of the electorate voted Remain, MPs emphasise that only 35 per cent of constituencies did. Some still fear an SNP-style surge for Ukip if Labour seeks to overturn the outcome.

The debate has moved to Britain’s future relationship with Europe, most notably the degree of free movement. For Labour, like Theresa May, Brexit means Brexit.

Corbyn will not condemn deselections 

The Labour leader could have won credit from MPs by unambiguously condemning deselection attempts. But repeatedly invited to do so, he refused. Corbyn instead defended local parties’ rights and stated that the “vast majority” of MPs had nothing to fear (a line hardly reassuring to those who do). Angela Eagle, Stella Creasy and Peter Kyle are among the rebels targeted by activists.

Corbyn can reasonably point out that the rules remain the same as under previous leaders. MPs who lose trigger ballots of their local branches face a full and open selection. But Labour’s intensified divisions mean deselection has become a far greater threat. MPs fear that Corbyn relishes the opportunity to remake the parliamentary party in his own images.  And some of the leader’s allies hope to ease the process by reviving mandatory reselection. Unless Corbyn changes his line, the issue will spark continual conflict. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.