CommentPlus: pick of the papers

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

1. Is it a party for middle-class rebels or lefties? (Times)

Daniel Finkelstein says that Nick Clegg has an historic dilemma to solve: whether to unite the left under its leadership, or stick resolutely to the centre, emphasising "newness".

2. A trauma in Britain's placid meadow of political concord (Guardian)

Simon Jenkins looks at the American reaction to Britain's election campaign. People are enjoying the sight of the UK discovering presidentialism, although nothing in the manifestos would turn a hair in an American election.

3. David Cameron's image-makers created the vacuum that Nick Clegg has filled (Daily Telegraph)

The Tories are suffering because they don't have enough solid policies, argues Simon Heffer. David Cameron has no convictions with which to challenge Clegg's novelty value.

4. Are we the next 'new' Europeans? (Independent)

Perhaps we have been too pessismistic about the extent of Euroscepticism among young Britons, Mary Dejevsky suggests. Having been stung by our country's 20-year flirtation with American ways, our social and economic attitudes may be turning towards Europe.

5. Knives out. It's the fatal flaw in Clegg's plan (Times)

Also looking at Britain's relationship with Europe, Anatole Kaletsky warns that the Liberal Democrats are committed to joining the euro. We need only look abroad to see that this would be catastrophic.

6. The challenge of halting the financial doomsday machine (Financial Times)

Tackling "too big to fail" is insufficient, says Martin Wolf. Halting the financial doomsday machine requires fundamental changes of policy towards, and structuring of, the financial system.

7. Cameron and the cities (Guardian)

An editorial explores the Conservative Party's drift into near-irrelevance in most of Britain's cities (excluding London). Nothing in Britain's electoral arithmetic is more striking.

8. Money spent on Trident can't go on troops (Times)

Four former senior military commanders -- Edwin Bramall, David Ramsbotham, Hugh Beach and Patrick Cordingley -- ask if our nuclear deterrent is value for money, in the face of worrying cuts to the defence budget.

9. How our leaders get to grips with a scare story (Financial Times)

John Kay looks at how governments respond to widely publicised dangers. The political incentives are either to downplay risks or exaggerate them, or to do each at different times.

10. Heaven: A fool's paradise (Independent)

Johann Hari wonders why the majority of Britons still believe in life after death. Heaven isn't a wonderful place filled with light -- it is a pernicious construct with a short and bloody history.

 

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Everyone's forgotten the one issue that united the Labour party

There was a time when Ed Miliband spoke at Momentum rallies.

To label the row over the EU at Thursday’s Labour leadership hustings "fireworks" would be to endow it with more beauty than it deserves. Owen Smith’s dogged condemnation of John McDonnell’s absence from a Remain rally – only for Corbyn to point out that his absence was for medical reasons – ought to go down as a cringing new low point in the campaign. 

Not so long ago, we were all friends. In the course of the EU referendum, almost all of the protagonists in the current debacle spoke alongside each other and praised one another’s efforts. At a local level, party activists of all stripes joined forces. Two days before polling day, Momentum activists helped organise an impromptu rally. Ed Miliband was the headline speaker, and was cheered on. 

If you take the simple version of the debate, Labour’s schism on the EU appears as an aberration of the usual dynamics of left and right in the party. Labour's left is supposedly cheering a position which avoids advocating what it believes in (Remain), because it would lose votes. Meanwhile, the right claims to be dying in a ditch for its principles - no matter what the consequences for Labour’s support in Leave-voting heartlands.

Smith wants to oppose Brexit, even after the vote, on the basis of using every available procedural mechanism. He would whip MPs against the invocation of Article 50, refuse to implement it in government, and run on a manifesto of staying in the EU. For the die-hard Europhiles on the left – and I count myself among these, having run the Another Europe is Possible campaign during the referendum – there ought to be no contest as to who to support. On a result that is so damaging to people’s lives and so rooted in prejudice, how could we ever accept that there is such a thing as a "final word"? 

And yet, on the basic principles that lie behind a progressive version of EU membership, such as freedom of movement, Smith seems to contradict himself. Right at the outset of the Labour leadership, Smith took to Newsnight to express his view – typical of many politicians moulded in the era of New Labour – that Labour needed to “listen” to the views Leave voters by simply adopting them, regardless of whether or not they were right. There were, he said, “too many” immigrants in some parts of the country. 

Unlike Smith, Corbyn has not made his post-Brexit policy a headline feature of the campaign, and it is less widely understood. But it is clear, via the five "red lines" outlined by John McDonnell at the end of June:

  1. full access to the single market
  2. membership of the European investment bank
  3. access to trading rights for financial services sector
  4. full residency rights for all EU nationals in the UK and all UK nationals in the EU, and
  5. the enshrinement of EU protections for workers. 

Without these five conditions being met, Labour would presumably not support the invocation of Article 50. So if, as seems likely, a Conservative government would never meet these five conditions, would there be any real difference in how a Corbyn leadership would handle the situation? 

The fight over the legacy of the referendum is theatrical at times. The mutual mistrust last week played out on the stage in front of a mass televised audience. Some Corbyn supporters jeered Smith as he made the case for another referendum. Smith accused Corbyn of not even voting for Remain, and wouldn’t let it go. But, deep down, the division is really about a difference of emphasis. 

It speaks to a deeper truth about the future of Britain in Europe. During the referendum, the establishment case for Remain floundered because it refused to make the case that unemployment and declining public services were the result of austerity, not immigrants. Being spearheaded by Conservatives, it couldn’t. It fell to the left to offer the ideological counter attack that was needed – and we failed to reach enough people. 

As a result, what we got was a popular mandate for petty racism and a potentially long-term shift to the right in British politics, endangering a whole raft of workplace and legal protections along the way. Now that it has happened, anyone who really hopes to overcome either Brexit, or the meaning of Brexit, has to address the core attitudes and debates at their root. Then as now, it is only clear left-wing ideas – free from any attempt to triangulate towards anti-migrant sentiment– that can have any hope of success. 

The real dividing lines in Labour are not about the EU. If they were, the Eurosceptic Frank Field would not be backing Smith. For all that it may be convenient to deny it, Europe was once, briefly, the issue that united the Labour Party. One day, the issues at stake in the referendum may do so again – but only if Labour consolidates itself around a strategy for convincing people of ideas, rather than simply reaching for procedural levers.