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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

Featuring

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.

 

Plus

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
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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