It’s the 1970s, stupid

For Labour the 1970s, not the 1990s, is the decade to search for comparisons.

Has the political class lost all memory? The comparisons between Ed Miliband and his two immediate predecessors as Labour leader are fatuous. The more exact comparison is Labour in its first 18 months after a heavy defeat. In 1952, 1971 or 1980 Labour was divided, depressed, demoralised, down and out. In 2011, Labour has none of the left-right, Bevan-Gaitskell, Benn-Healey, pro or anti Europe/CND divisions that ripped the guts out of the party in previous periods of opposition. Labour frontbenchers with greater or lesser degrees of effectiveness are focusing on the Government not on each other. Compared to Clement Attlee or Michael Foot, Ed Miliband seems young, fresh, open to ideas, and, as we saw in Monday's speech willing to tell hard truths to his party.

This is extremely frustrating for the commentariat, all of whom have been in the same job, writing the same columns for twenty years of more. They don't get Ed and Labour is not behaving according to tradition by refusing to become centrifugal, fissiparous and quarrelsome in opposition. Progress, the Fabians, Compass, and other think tanks and websites are post-factionalist. They plough their furrows and are not seeking to be organising centres for alternative leaders in the way that Bennite or Gaitskellite factionalism damaged Labour after 1979 or 1951.

Forget TB/GB. They are yesterday. More important, their rise to power came after fifteen years in opposition. When both took over in 1994, the Conservatives were unelectable. For Labour the 1970s are much more a decade to examine to search for comparisons. There were four governments in less than a decade. The Heath government arrived in power in 1970 with a sense of ideological purpose and a desire to shake up government. But events - domestic and international - forced change after change, U-turn after U-turn as the Heath government lost its bearings and momentum.

Heath's reforms, similar to Cameron's NHS policy, came to naught when tested against reality and widespread social opposition. What arrived as a confident, cocky Conservative government in June 1970 had become by late 1972 a confused cacophony of unhappy Tory MPs. Labour simply picked up the pieces in 1974. Then Margaret Thatcher arrived. Like Ed Miliband, she was widely derided for her voice, her cautious style at the Despatch Box, her lack of ideological certainty and her refusal to dump on the 70-74 Tory government. The Iron Lady and ideological Maggie we all remember is a product of power and was not evident in opposition. All she had to do was hold her party together and wait for Labour to collapse.

The 1970s like the second decade of the 21st century were a transition era between the welfare state mixed economy era that began in 1945 and run out of steam after the first oil shock of 1973. The United States had to withdraw from Vietnam just as America will withdraw from Afghanistan. By 1980, the world was ready to move into the long globalisation era defined by Reagan and Thatcher based on reducing by 10 per cent the share of national income going into wages and reinforcing rentier capitalism. This era came to an abrupt end in 2008. As in the 1970s we are in a transition period. Cameron and Osborne are still applying the recipes of the Thatcher-Reagan era and have not analysed the time-shift to a new economic model and the space-shift to a new geo-politics based on the rise of authoritarian nationalist expansionist powers like China, Russia, and India. President Obama in Westminster hall invited the EuroAtlantic community to reassert its values and confidence. But the petty Europhobic nationalism of today's Conservatives does not allow Cameron to see a bigger picture.

Labour and Ed Miliband thus find themselves with a trilemma. All Blair had to do was adapt Labour to the era of globalisation. In a transition era there is no such obvious road map to follow though Miliband's thoughtful speech gave some pointers. Second, there is a systemic failure of European social democracy to find solutions to current economic and social transitions. Thirdly, Labour is trapped in a fatuous row over its immediate past as the putschists of 2006 refuse to admit they made a tragic mistake by elevating normal personal rivalries into an assault on the most successful Labour prime minister(together with his Chancellor) in political history.

That said, Labour and Ed are in a much stronger position than any previous period when Labour went into opposition. The NHS fiasco, brilliantly handled by John Healey, is showing up the Heathite nature of a government that is led by a Duke of York Cameron marching his troops into the lobbies and then saying their votes were wasted and they have to come marching down again. There is even a U-turn on bin collections a reductio ad absurdum that not even Heath achieved. The next generation of political problems will focus on issues like Scottish separatism, Middle East turmoil, reducing the number of MPs and reforming the Lords, and Britain's role internationally and in Europe. A policy for Europe and a theory of low-tax co-responsibility, co-funding socialism is overdue. As in the 1970s expect febrile, changing politics. If Labour can understand and exploit this transition era there is no reason to be pessimistic.

Denis MacShane is MP for Rotherham and a former minister for Europe

Denis MacShane is MP for Rotherham and was a minister at Foreign and Commonwealth Office
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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear