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In this week's magazine | How Labour went mad for Jeremy Corbyn

A first look at this week's issue.

24-30 July 2015
How Labour went mad for Jeremy Corbyn


Mary Creagh: Labour is becoming Millwall FC: nobody likes us but we don’t care.

Brendan Simms on Europe, the new German empire.

Samira Shackle meets Naz Shah: “The victory is my mother’s, too.”

Leader: The Corbyn surge

George Eaton: Not even Jeremy Corbyn took his own chances seriously. Is he now on track to lead a party in panic?



Mary Creagh: Labour is becoming the equivalent of Millwall Football Club: nobody likes us but we don’t care

Wakefield MP Mary Creagh writes Labour is in “a horrible place” as parliament approaches recess:

A dozen weeks since our overwhelming election defeat, Labour MPs are full of gallows humour and quiet despair – because, in choosing our new leader, we are making four of the same mistakes we made in 2010. First, like Gordon Brown after his defeat, Ed Miliband stood down as leader immediately. He hoped that the party could have “an open and honest debate about the right way forward, without constraint”. That debate has not materialised and we are having a family row with the Labour selectorate instead of a discussion with the British electorate.

Secondly, she writes, the “drawn-out leadership race” will “exhaust” the party:

Whoever is elected as leader will be drained by the campaign but have to start work right away. The first big test will be a speech to the trade union congress, which starts the day after the winner is announced on 12 September. The leader must then appoint a shadow cabinet, prepare for Prime Minister’s Questions, rebuild morale and write a cracker of a conference speech.

Thirdly, Creagh argues that a “left-wing candidate on the ballot ‘for balance’” is a mistake:

During the 2010 leadership election, David Miliband “lent” nominations to other candidates to ensure that Diane Abbott and Andy Burnham could take part. This made the transfers of voting under the single transferable vote system less predictable and, arguably, deprived David of the three or four extra MPs’ votes he needed to win. David’s legacy to Labour, which made it normal – Blairite, even – to put a left-winger on the ballot “to have a broad debate”, has dragged the leadership campaign to the left. Unfortunately, the electorate has moved to the centre right.

She concludes:

Labour is not yet in the place where we can say with confidence: “The only way is up.” Early findings from the “lessons learned” report commissioned by Harriet suggest that voters think that Labour simply does not understand their lives. We are in danger of becoming the political equivalent of Millwall Football Club. Their chant? “No one likes us, we don’t care.”

 Read the article in full below.


Brendan Simms: The Iran deal won’t make the world much safer – it will be a differently dangerous place

European integration was designed to contain Berlin’s power – instead, it has increased it, writes Brendan Simms:

 In a blistering speech to the Greek parliament on 15 July, the former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis referred to the harsh “bailout” conditions impos­ed by eurozone leaders, and especially Berlin, as a “new Versailles”. This calculated allusion to the punitive peace inflicted on imperial Germany after the First World War, especially the “reparations” she was forced to pay, was picked up by media commentators and politicians across the world.

Berlin’s approach was widely condemned as “brutal”. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, claims that “the man with the gun is the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble”, and that “it is the Germans who are now running the show”. Indeed, one could be forgiven for wondering whether the “Fourth Reich” that the Irish historian, politician and journalist Conor Cruise O’Brien warned about in 1989, shortly before the Wall fell, had now come to pass. So has the euro crisis brought about peacefully something that the Kaiser and Hitler failed to achieve militarily, namely the German domination of Europe? Less hyperbolically, was Ulrich Beck, the eminent sociologist who died in January, right to say that Chancellor Angela Merkel is a calculating “Mer­kiavelli”, whose ambition to “Germanise” Europe has now been validated by events?

Simms writes that the “short answer” to this question is “No”:

Germany is not oppressing Greece, or any other eurozone country. Nobody forced these previously sovereign states into the common currency, at the barrel of a gun or in any other way. It was a dance they insisted on joining, in some cases rather like the ugly stepsisters, doing violence to their economic body shape in order to fit into the shoes of the required convergence criteria.

But Simms does see the current crisis as “very much a product” of “the German problem” and of the German imperial legacy. Tracing the history of Germany in Europe back to the Second World War, he argues:

European integration was designed both to contain and to mobilise Germany. Its centrepiece to date is the euro, but, given the unwillingness of the rest of Europe to enter into a matching full political union, the EU faced the resulting sovereign debt crisis and the Russian challenge without the governmental apparatus it required in order to end the crisis. Instead, the European project as now constructed, and especially the currency union, originally designed to contain German power, has increased it, just as the British Eurosceptics warned it would.

Simms concludes:

Whatever the solution, it will have to allow the Germans to continue to act as subjects of the European system, without turning most other peoples on the continent into objects. It will have to avoid a “Versailles” for both Germany and everyone else. It will also have to mobilise the collective energies of Europe, including those of Germany, to deal with the enormous challenges posed by the growth of Russian power, and to compensate for the relative decline of the United States. It will have to close the gap that opened up between politico-military and socio-economic integration in Europe in the 1950s. In short, it must once and for all settle the German and European questions at one stroke, for to settle the one is to settle the other.

 Read the column in full below.


Samira Shackle speaks to the woman who displaced George Galloway from his Bradford seat, Naz Shah.

Naz Shah’s defeat of George Galloway was the final step in a remarkable struggle for familial redemption, writes Samira Shackle:

Naz Shah wept the first time she spoke in front of an audience. It was 1995 and she was a teenager, giving a talk to a group of students at Bradford College about the campaign to free her mother, Zoora Shah, who was serving a life sentence for murder. “I cried all the way through,” she said.

That harrowing experience of trying to secure her mother’s release helped prepare Shah for her entry into politics. On 7 May this year she ousted George Galloway and became the new Labour MP for Bradford West, the constituency where she grew up. Now 41, she had no background in politics, and secured the nomination in early March only after the local party’s first choice, Amina Ali, abruptly withdrew, citing family reasons. Although Galloway was favoured to retain the seat for the Respect Party, Shah won with a majority of 11,420 votes.

On publishing an account of her life story during her campaign:

“It was very clear that either I own my own narrative, or let George Galloway do it, and I’ll be damned if I let a man own my narrative. It’s mine and it’s up to me what I do with it.”

On Galloway’s campaign tactics:

“I launched my campaign on policy. Even when [Galloway] attacked me, I attacked him only on his policy, his attendance, his record,” she said. “I knew it would get personal, but where he stooped to was a new low. It backfired because the people of Bradford are not stupid. Credit where credit’s due: there are pockets of patriarchy, but the men in this community have come a long way and I got a lot of support from them.”

On Biraderi politics [parties using bloc votes from community leaders in constituencies with significant numbers of Pakistani voters]:

“Biraderi politics is no different to the old boy network,” Shah told me. “We need to work with those patriarchal structures of elitism and power to reform them. It’s my job to convince people of the empowerment that real democracy and honest politics brings.”

On her mother:

“She made that daughter. I couldn’t have got here without her. My victory is not just mine, it’s my mother’s, too, so she can hold her head up high.”


Leader: the Corbyn surge

The NS Leader this week turns its attention to the man who would be Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn:

The first public poll of the Labour selectorate, by YouGov for the Times, has confirmed what we had already reported: that Jeremy Corbyn is currently first in the contest to be the next leader of the Labour Party. YouGov has placed him 17 points ahead of his nearest rival, Andy Burnham (43 per cent to 26), in the initial round of voting. Under the party’s transferable vote system, the 66-year-old MP for Islington North could ultimately triumph over the shadow health secretary by 53 per cent to 47. After May, all polls should be treated sceptically but this survey mirrors the high number of constituency parties nominating Mr Corbyn.

A serial rebel, Mr Corbyn originally struggled to gain the 35 MPs’ nominations necessary to enter the leadership contest. Long preferring the purity of ideological opposition to the compromises of power, he began as the 100-1 outsider but his odds have since been slashed to 2-1, after he won the support of powerful unions. That he is leading the contest reiterates just how traumatised and angry many Labour members are following their defeat in May. In many ways, Mr Corbyn is an unreformed Bennite. The next month could decide the future of Labour as a viable, election-winning party.


George Eaton: Not even Jeremy Corbyn took his own chances seriously. Is he now on track to lead a party in panic?

George Eaton writes that whether or not private polling showing Jeremy Corbyn on course to win the contest is accurate, it is “undeniable” that he has exceeded expectations:

The question being asked in Labour circles is why. One shadow cabinet minister attributes his surge to a party that is “in grief” and “shock” and  “going through a nervous breakdown”. To those members traumatised by Labour’s election defeat, Corbyn offers the greatest source of comfort. After the election, his rival candidates (Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall) all positioned themselves to Miliband’s right.

Only Corbyn advanced the soothing argument that Labour lost because it was insufficiently socialist. The success of parties to its left in Scotland, Greece and Spain has given his views a salience they previously lacked. A Labour source also blames Miliband’s accommodative leadership. “The left of the party has been indulged for five years and hasn’t been challenged,” he said.

As the only anti-austerity and anti-Trident candidate, Corbyn has benefited from his ideological distinctiveness. To his supporters, what unites Burnham, Cooper and Kendall is more important than what divides them. They all offer variations on the same uninspiring, centrist brew. None resembles a prime minister-in-waiting. The improbability of the next leader reaching Downing Street explains why some members have seized the chance of a “free hit”, as Chuka Umunna recently described it to me. But many, in any case, regard winning elections as a third-order issue. The YouGov poll found that only 27 per cent of party members believed it was important that the leader “understood what it takes to win”, compared to 53 per cent who wanted someone who could provide an effective opposition and 62 per cent who wanted a leader in touch with the concerns of ordinary people

He continues:

Should Corbyn win, he will have Unite to thank. It was the trade union’s activities in Falkirk that prompted Miliband to introduce Labour’s one-member-one-vote system in 2014. Under this model, MPs have lost their “golden share”, which gave them a third of the votes in the electoral college. The anti-Corbyn Parliamentary Labour ­Party is unable to counter the thousands of left-wing activists (and Machiavellian Tories) signing up to support him.

Corbyn’s rivals have been asked whether he could serve in their shadow cabinet. The question now is whether they would serve in his. Shadow cabinet ministers told me that almost all current members would resign rather than join Corbyn’s team. MPs privately predict that he will be ousted “before Christmas” if he wins.


Eaton concludes:

Senior figures hope the matter will not arise. The poll could be the moment when Labour members conclude that the dangers of voting Corbyn are too great. Yet it could equally galvanise even more into signing up to guarantee his victory.

Wherever Corbyn finishes, the left of the party will be stronger than at any point since his election in 1983. To many, it feels as if Labour has regressed several decades in the space of a few weeks. The journey back to reality, they fear, will take much longer.



Peter Wilby on Her Majesty’s Nazi salute, the left’s gut feelings and Corbyn’s Foot problem.

Helen Lewis: If you describe Corbyn as “principled”, then so is Liz Kendall.

Barbara Speed on why business needs misfits.

Tom Gatti: How to survive rock’n’roll excess, the BBC under fire, and Cameron’s festival guest slot.

Suzanne Moore: When I worked at Marxism Today, my desire to earn a living proved to be somewhat déclassé.

Andrew Harrison meets science fiction author Michael Moorcock.

Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.