Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. How to defuse the bonus bomb in one move (Times) (£)

Simon Wolfson argues that the riskier a bank's business, the less it should be allowed to pay staff. That's fair to shareholders, taxpayers and savers.

2. Don't put venture capital at risk (Financial Times)

John Gapper warns that the industry is on the same threshold that both banking and private equity crossed before, with unintended consequences.

3. The rule of law in Britain is diminished by the furore over efforts to deport Abu Qatada to Jordan (Daily Telegraph)

The British parliament has lost sight of the noble principles that Strasbourg has upheld, says Peter Oborne.

4. Call Strasbourg's bluff: send Qatada home (Times) (£)

Camilla Cavendish argues that Britain must stand up for itself as the European Court of Human Rights interferes in affairs well beyond its remit.

5. Angela Merkel needs all the help she can get (Guardian)

Few had anticipated the leadership dilemmas of a European Germany in a German Europe, says Timothy Garton Ash.

6. Run the NHS better or scrap it -- but give up reforming it (Independent)

"Patient choice" is largely a myth, says Steve Richards -- unless we pay for half-empty hospital wards.

7. Ignore the soporific jargon. Privatisation is a race to the bottom (Guardian)

The outsourcing of state services always leads to workers being paid less, says Zoe Williams. Instead our leaders call it an "efficiency saving".

8. US Presidential campaign: Never has the good news sounded so bad (Daily Telegraph)

Anne Applebaum says that the sudden growth of the US economy spells trouble for Democrats as well as Republicans.

9. Where Wukan has led, Beijing won't follow (Financial Times)

Village protesters in China will not unnerve the state, says David Pilling.

10. Sweetheart tax deals aren't for the little people (Independent)

Andreas Whittam Smith suggests that Harry Redknapp's problem was that he was a private individual and not a large company.

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Leader: Labour is failing. A hard Brexit is looming. But there is no need for fatalism

There is nothing inevitable about the right’s supremacy or a catastrophic Brexit.

Democracy depends on competent opposition. Governments, however well intentioned, require permanent and effective scrutiny to meet the public interest. For this purpose, the role of Her Majesty’s Opposition was enshrined in law 80 years ago. However, at present, and in the week Article 50 is invoked, this constitutional duty is being fulfilled in name alone. (The Scottish National Party speaks only for the Scottish interest.)

Since re-electing Jeremy Corbyn as its leader, the Labour Party has become the weakest opposition in postwar history. It lost the recent Copeland by-election to the Conservatives (a seat the Tories had not held since 1931) and trails the governing party, by up to 19 points, in opinion polls. The Tories feel no pressure from Labour. They confidently predict they will retain power until 2030 or beyond. Yet as the poll tax debacle and the Iraq War demonstrate, prolonged periods of single-party rule run the danger of calamitous results – not least, this time, the break-up of Britain.

Under Mr Corbyn, who formally lost the confidence of 80 per cent of his MPs last summer (and has not regained it), Labour has the least impressive and least qualified front bench in its history. Its enfeeblement has left a void that no party is capable of filling. “The grass-roots social movement of the left that was supposed to arrive in Jeremy Corbyn’s wake has not shown up,” the academic Nick Pearce, a former head of Gordon Brown’s policy unit, writes on page 36.

In these new times, the defining struggle is no longer between parties but within the Conservative Party. As a consequence, many voters have never felt more unrepresented or disempowered. Aided by an increasingly belligerent right-wing press, the Tory Brexiteers are monopolising and poisoning debate: as the novelist Ian McEwan said, “The air in my country is very foul.” Those who do not share their libertarian version of Brexit Britain are impugned as the “enemies” of democracy. Theresa May has a distinctive vision but will the libertarian right allow her the time and space to enact it?

Let us not forget that the Conservatives have a majority of just 15 or that Labour’s problems did not begin with Mr Corbyn’s leadership. However, his divisiveness and unpopularity have accelerated the party’s decline. Although the Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, elected by a fraction of his union membership, loftily pronounced that the Labour leader had 15 months left to prove himself, the country cannot afford to wait that long.

Faced with the opposition’s weakness, some have advocated a “progressive alliance” to take on the Conservatives. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the nationalist parties are urged to set aside their tribalism. Yet it is fantasy to believe that such an alliance would provide stable majority government when nearly four million people voted for Ukip in 2015. There has also been chatter about the creation of a new centrist party – the Democrats, or, as Richard Dawkins writes on page 54, the European Party. Under our first-past-the-post electoral system, however, a new party would risk merely perpetuating the fragmentation of the opposition. If Labour is too weak to win, it is too strong to die.

The UK’s departure from the EU poses fundamental questions about the kind of country we wish to be. For some on the right, Brexit is a Trojan Horse to remake Britain as a low-tax, small-state utopia. Others aspire to a protectionist fortress of closed borders and closed minds. Mr Corbyn was re-elected by a landslide margin last summer. The Leave campaign’s victory was narrower yet similarly decisive. But these events are not an excuse for quietism. Labour must regain its historic role as the party of the labour interest. Labour’s purpose is not to serve the interests of a particular faction but to redress the power of capital for the common good. And it must have a leader capable of winning power.

If Labour’s best and brightest MPs are unwilling to serve in the shadow cabinet, they should use their freedom to challenge an under-scrutinised government and prove their worth. They should build cross-party alliances. They should evolve a transformative policy programme. They should think seriously about why there has been a post-liberal turn in our politics.

There is nothing inevitable about the right’s supremacy or a catastrophic Brexit. At present, the mood on the Labour benches is one of fatalism and passivity. This cannot go on.

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