Tony Blair's new faith film competition

The choice of judges confirms that our former prime minister is rather too fond of celebs.

Sometimes it's quite difficult to decide what to make of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. Its aim to increase understanding across religious and cultural divides is perfectly admirable. Whether our former prime minister is necessarily the man to do it is, however, debatable.

When not busy raking in enormous amounts of cash from speeches and now an autobiography, Blair has managed to make a lot of noise "doing God" (as he didn't when in office), but not all his fellow believers are convinced that this is helpful to the cause.

Anyway: now the TBFF is launching a film competition called Faith Shorts, open to those aged 25 or under. Entrants are asked to pitch a film about how their faith inspires them. Those shortlisted will be provided with video cameras to shoot their shorts, as it were, and the three winners will be given the opportunity to premiere their work at Bafta in July.

All very good. I'm a little perplexed by the judging panel, though. The members include Queen Rania of Jordan, Jonathan Caplan, Amr Khaled, Jet Li, Wendi Murdoch, Natalie Portman, June Sarpong, Nik Powell and Deepak Verma.

Many of these judges are extremely famous (I've even seen posters of Jet Li in longhouses on Borneo), which is doubtless flattering for all the participants. It is also true that several have a great deal of experience in the world of television and film. But the panel does sound a little short on members with strong religious credentials. It is not exactly in danger of being criticised for its highbrow slant, either.

Maybe I'm being uncharitable. But the choice of judges does not do anything to diminish the suspicion that Blair is rather too fond of hobnobbing with celebrities.

We like our ex-prime ministers to come across as dignified. A little less glitz in the life of the last occupant of No 10 would be welcome -- and especially in the context of a faith foundation, which surely should not be in the business of suggesting that worldly fame is something to be valued in itself.

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Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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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.