Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers

1. Lessons from Chilcot on the Atlantic alliance (Financial Times)

Max Hastings says the Chilcot inquiry has confirmed that the Atlantic alliance was the central cause of Britain's involvement in the Iraq war. But the two main parties still prefer subservience to Washington to the uncertainties of a lonely freedom.

2. Jack Straw demonstrates the flaws of the principled political careerist (Guardian)

In putting the survival of the government above any single cause, Jack Straw has allowed many policy wrongs to take place, says Julian Glover.

3. A pact with France will keep us fighting fit (Times)

Malcolm Rifkind argues that in order to remain a global power, the UK must engage in serious defence co-operation with France. A new entente cordiale is required 100 years after the declaration of the last one.

4. Here lies New Labour -- the party that died in Iraq (Guardian)

Jackie Ashley says that Iraq destroyed progressive politics in Britain for a generation. In disgust at Blair's war, countless numbers of people lost heart and turned away from public life.

5. Which capitalism? (Times)

A leader in the Times says that the World Economic Forum in Davos proved that the critical divide is no longer between capitalism and socialism, but between the liberal capitalism promoted by the west and the authoritarian capitalism favoured by the east.

6. Into economy class, Mandy, and bring your spendthrift chums, too (Daily Telegraph)

Boris Johnson writes about a plane journey in which he sat in economy while Lord Mandelson reclined in first class. Such taxpayer-funded perks should be abolished, he says. The servants of the people should travel with the people.

7. How the British empire is striking back (Independent)

The Chilcot inquiry has shown itself to be imperialist by failing to invite a single Iraqi to testify, argues Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. It should have called in some of the exiled Kurds and Iraqis who backed Bush and Blair, and should have questioned them about the advice they gave.

8. What the eurozone must do if it is to survive (Financial Times)

The eurozone is entering the most dangerous phase in its 11-year history, warns Wolfgang Münchau. If it is to survive, EU leaders must find greater political will.

9. No relief for the Palestinians while Israel enjoys impunity (Independent)

The west should consider imposing cultural and economic sanctions on Israel, argues Andrew Phillips. Nothing else has worked and time may be short.

10. Beijing raises its voice (Guardian)

Martin Jacques says that China's fierce protest over US arms sales to Taiwan reflects the migration of power from west to east.

 

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David Blunkett compares Labour membership to failed revolution “from Ukraine to Egypt”

The Labour peer and former home secretary says new members need a “meaningful political education”, and accuses unions of neglecting their “historic balance”.

There are three sorts of opposition. There’s the civil society opposition, with people campaigning in their own specific areas, people who’ve got an interest group or are delivering social enterprise or a charity. I don’t think we should underestimate that because we're going to have to hang on to it as part of the renewal of civil society.

The second is the opposition formally, within the House of Commons: those who have agreed to serve as the formal shadow ministerial teams. Because of what I’d describe as the turmoil over the last two years, they’ve either not been able to be impressive – ie. they’re trying very hard but they don't have the coherent leadership or backing to do it – or they’ve got completely different interests to what it is they’re supposed to be doing, and therefore they’re not engaged with the main task.

Then there’s the third, which is the informal opposition – Labour linked sometimes to the Lib Dems and the SNP in Parliament on the opposition benches as a whole. They’re not doing a bad job with the informal opposition. People getting on with their work on select committees, the departmental committees beginning to shape policy that they can hopefully feed to the National Executive Committee, depending on the make-up of the National Executive Committee following this year’s conference. That embryo development of coherent policy thinking will be the seed-bed for the future.

I lived through, worked through, and was integrally involved with, what happened in the early Eighties, so I know it well. And people were in despair after the ‘83 election. Although it took us a long time to pull round, we did. It’s one reason why so many people, quite rightly in my view, don't want to repeat the split of 1931 or the split of 1981.

So they are endeavouring to stay in to argue to have some vision of a better tomorrow, and to persuade those of goodwill who have joined the party – who genuinely believe in a social movement and in extra-parliamentary non-violent activity, which I respect entirely – to persuade them that they’ll only be effective if they can link up with a functioning political process at national level, and at townhall and county level as well.

In other words, to learn the lessons of what’s happened across the world recently as well as in the past, from the Ukraine to Egypt, that if the groundswell doesn’t connect to a functioning party leadership, then, with the best will in the world, it’s not going to achieve its overall goals.

How do we engage with meaningful political education within the broader Labour party and trade union movement, with the substantially increased rank-and-file membership, without being patronising – and without setting up an alternative to Momentum, which would allow Momentum to justify its existence as a party within a party?

That's the challenge of the next two years. It's not just about someone with a vision, who’s charismatic, has leadership qualities, coming forward, that in itself won’t resolve the challenge because this isn't primarily, exclusively about Jeremy Corbyn. This is about the project being entirely on the wrong trajectory.

A lot depends on what the trade unions do. They command effectively the majority on the National Executive Committee. They command the key votes at party conference. And they command the message and resources that go out on the policy or programmes. It’s not just down to personality and who wins the General Secretary of Unite; it’s what the other unions are doing to actually provide their historic balance, because they always have – until now – provided a ballast, foundation, for the Labour party, through thick and thin. And over the last two years, that historic role has diminished considerably, and they seem to just be drifting.

I don’t think anybody should expect there to be a party leadership challenge any time soon. It may be that Jeremy Corbyn might be persuaded at some point to stand down. I was against the challenge against him last year anyway, purely because there wasn't a prepared candidate, there wasn't a policy platform, and there hadn’t been a recruitment drive to back it up.

People shouldn’t expect there to be some sort of white charger out there who will bring an immediate and quick end to the pain we’re going through. I think it’s going to be a readjustment, with people coming to conclusions in the next two years that might lead the party to be in a position to fight a credible general election in 2020. I’ve every intention of laying down some good red wine and still being alive to drink it when the Labour party is elected back to power.

David Blunkett is a Labour peer and former home secretary and education secretary.

As told to Anoosh Chakelian.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition