Apparently, tales of fluffy squirrels are turning kids against badger shooting and fox hunting. Image: Dan Murrell/NS
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Commons Confidential: Cons against cuddly toys

Plus: the latest from the party conferences.

Glass of wine in hand and tieless, David Cameron moved across a room full of hacks at the Hyatt hotel in Birmingham with the smoothness of a ballroom dancer. His wingman was his chum-cum-Chief Whip, Michael Gove; the former Times scribbler was the sole minister invited to the conference soirée. Cameron let slip that his “utterly heartbroken” speech in Aberdeen in the nervy days before Scotland’s referendum had been vetted by Gordon Brown. That the Tory premier bowed to his Labour predecessor reinforces the impression that, for ten days in September, old Irn-Broon was running the country.

The ConDems are disintegrating as coalition rivals battle for votes. In Taunton Deane, Jeremy Browne, the Lib Dems’ answer to Leslie Phillips (see page 23), defends a majority of 4,000 against the PR Rebecca Pow, a Tory wannabe granted a podium speaking spot at the Con conference. My mole recalled Browne’s private assessment of Pow. “I don’t feel particularly threatened,” said the Limp Dem, “but I imagine she organises a very good garden party.” Talk about damning with faint praise.

The Beast of Bolsover, Dennis Skinner, skipped his last meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee to avoid being patronised by Ed Miliband. The veteran lost his committee seat as collateral damage in what looked like an inept plot by the leader’s office to oust the Scouse critic Steve Rotheram. Miliband praising his unintentional victim would have tested the patience of a beast with a hatred of hypocrisy.

The Tories want a cull of cuddly animal toys and tales of Mr Tod. Brian Williams, a Shropshire councillor, warned a Countryside Alliance gathering that fluffy squirrels and the like were turning kids against badger shooting and fox hunting. And there I was, thinking it was because sending hounds to tear animals apart for fun is repellent and scientific evidence doesn’t support blasting badgers.

Hope Not Hate’s Nick Lowles joins the honourable order of high achievers who’ve rejected a gong. The head of the anti-extremist group, I understand, declined a peerage offered by Miliband. Unsurprisingly, I found no mention of this refusal in Hope, the modest Lowles’s book about the campaign that defeated the BNP.

In the Manchester boozer Briton’s Protection, a pub serving fine ales and 300 whiskies, a young Labour researcher ordered a cup of Earl Grey. The landlady had to pop out to buy a box.

In Birmingham, the boxes of Sunday Telegraphs placed all over conference weren’t so clever when the headline screamed “Tory crisis” after Brooks Newmark quit and Mark Reckless defected.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 30 September 2014 issue of the New Statesman, ISIS vs The World

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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.