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The stench of decay and failure coming from the Labour Party is now overwhelming

Speak to any Conservative MP and they will say that there is no opposition. Period.

 

Who will speak for liberal Britain? Not the SNP, for a start, which understandably wishes only to speak for Scotland, even as it provides more coherent and determined opposition to the Tories than Jeremy Corbyn’s demoralised party.

Explaining in a speech at Bute House, Edinburgh, on 13 March why the SNP wanted to hold a second independence referendum, Nicola Sturgeon stated as a self-evident fact that the Labour Party had “collapsed” and that the Conservatives would be in power until at least 2030. Such sentiments have hardened into received wisdom and pass unchallenged by Labour MPs.

Delivering his first Budget as Chancellor, Philip Hammond taunted his opponents by referring to the last Labour government as being the last Labour government. Speak to any Conservative MP and he or she will say the same thing: they feel no pressure from the Labour opposition. More, they will say that there is no opposition. Period.

The Labour leader’s left-wing media cheerleaders have, one by one, given up on him. Charlotte Church, Caitlin ­Moran, Owen Jones, George Monbiot, Zoe Williams: all invested considerable hope in Corbyn, who has not turned out to be the inspirational leader for whom they yearned. Even Simon Fletcher, who masterminded Corbyn’s leadership campaign in the heady summer of 2015, has quietly walked away.

From the beginning we were opposed to the Corbyn leadership but, in the spirit of plural debate, happy to open our pages to him and his confidants. Our view was that Corbyn was ill-equipped to be leader of the opposition and, indeed, an aspirant prime minister. Irrespective of his ideological obsessions, there was nothing in his record as a parliamentarian to suggest that this serial rebel would have the organisational ­capacity to unite his party and evolve a far-reaching, transformational policy programme. There was nothing in his record to suggest that he could remake social democracy or under­stand, let alone take advantage of, the post-liberal turn in our politics. The decline of Labour pre-dated Corbyn’s leadership, of course, but he and his closest allies have accelerated its collapse into irrelevance.

We accept that, after the traumatic defeat of Ed Miliband and Labour in 2015, activists were despondent. Corbyn was an unapologetic socialist, unembarrassed by his long career of rebellion from the back benches. He was a passionate anti-capitalist. His determination and consistency appealed to those who value stubborn principle over pragmatism and who loathed Tony Blair, or at least what he became. Students who knew nothing of the Bennite wars had never before heard a front-line British politician speaking as Corbyn did at “anti-austerity” rallies during that late-summer reawakening of radical socialism in 2015. And as the rebel insurgent he was untainted by the inevitable compromises of power.

Corbyn evidently unlocked something long repressed on the left. David Cameron’s England was characterised by public penury and private ostentation. Labour activists were sickened. They wanted an alternative and believed Corbyn would provide it.

Why, even his dishevelled appearance and clipped beard gave him a certain boho, hipster chic. Unlike the tortured Ed Miliband, Corbyn knew his own mind. He knew what he wanted to say and how to say it – because he’d been saying it ever since he entered the Commons in 1983. Corbynism was meant to be a counter-hegemonic project. It was meant to herald a “new kind of politics”: gentler, kinder, dynamic, more progressive. But what is most striking about Corbynism – apart from the dysfunctionality and incompetence of the leader’s office – is its intellectual mediocrity, its absence of ideas.

In the 1970s, as those who would later be called Thatcherites set about dismantling the postwar consensus and creating a new economic settlement, the sense of intellectual ferment was thrilling. There is no comparable sense of intellectual excitement on the Corbynite left. It’s as if Corbyn has nothing of substance to say.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” said Abraham Lincoln. Labour is fatally divided inside parliament and outside it. On its present foundations this Labour house cannot stand. The MPs do not want the leadership. The leadership does not want the MPs; it wants to unhouse them. Corbyn, with his self-deprecating humour and Orwellian eccentricities, is a considerate man – as I discovered when I spent a day with him in Prague just before Christmas – but he is not a leader, even more pressingly so at a time of national emergency. Corbyn has failed even on his own terms, and his failure has created a crisis of the left but also, more optimistically, an opportunity for some kind of realignment.

In the film adaptation of James Ellroy’s LA Confidential, Officer White (Russell Crowe) makes a home visit to an elderly woman whose daughter is missing. There’s an unpleasant smell coming from the basement. “A rat died behind a wall,” the woman, who is called Mrs Lefferts, says. Crowe investigates and discovers a decomposed body hidden under some sacks. “Was it a rat?” Mrs Lefferts asks. “A big one,” Crowe says. It’s as if the woman had grown used to the smell and could tolerate it as one tolerates changes in the weather.

It is something like this now with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. The electorate can smell that something is seriously wrong and is recoiling, but those closest to the triumvirate of the leader, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott seem oblivious to or unconcerned by the stench of failure. Meanwhile, as a consequence of Brexit, the fractures in the Union widen and deepen, yet Labour abandons all pretence at competent and unified opposition. And so the question remains: who will speak for liberal Britain?

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

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

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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