Having a pint with Nigel Farage is no political crime. Photo: Getty
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Politicians ought to have a pint with their opponents more often

Politics without blind tribal dogma? I’ll drink to that.

Who would go for a pint with Nigel Farage? Ed Miliband told the Daily Mirror he’d have a drink with the Ukip leader and Guardian columnist Marina Hyde said Farage was the only party leader she’d sup with. But when I decided to join him for a “seasonal sherbet”, as he put it, all hell broke loose.

Never mind this is supposed to be the season of goodwill. Some people in my party decided I’d betrayed the Labour movement and committed an act of high treason. In the predictable abuse that popped up on my Twitter timeline, an employee of the PCS trade union even went as far as suggesting I should be deported.

This kind of hysterical reaction shows everything that’s wrong about modern politics. Warring tribalism, entrenched dogma, simplistic slogans and facile posturing is helping no one and the public knows it. Since I became Rochdale’s MP in 2010, I’ve become acutely aware of the huge challenges in my constituency – and I know some problems are so big they’ll require cross-party cooperation.

That’s why I’m happy to meet politicians from all parties to see if I can find any common ground. I often enjoy meeting those who I’m least likely to agree with. Because, as the saying goes, “A wise man can learn more from his enemies than a fool from his friends.”

In my book this is grown up politics. Tribalism only gets you so far. You have to understand what’s happening around you. Politics is slowly coming to terms with the fact that a silo mentality is dangerous. That’s why there are more and more opposing politicians going for a pints with one another these days. It’s just not reported.

I ditched partisan politics to work on a cross-party basis earlier this year to help get the Home Secretary to launch a national inquiry into child sexual abuse. It was the most edifying work I’ve been involved in this parliament.

There are plenty of other examples too. Just look at Bristol. It’s no surprise to me that this city is going places under its independent mayor. George Ferguson is pretty much the antithesis of tribalism and has Greens, Liberals, Conservatives and Labour councillors in his cabinet.

You don’t have to be a serious student of politics these days to see that the old model of doing politics is breaking down. We need to look at new ways of doing things. Uncertainty plagues our politics and there’s a growing sense that we’re heading towards unchartered territory. 

Farage thrives off this chaos. He laughed at the fact that commentators are continually proved wrong and no one really has a clue. The only thing we’re certain of is that politics in its current form isn’t working.

What surprised me most, though, was that he came across as a real student of Labour politics and spoke knowledgeably about Labour politicians of the past.

The irony here for me is that if current Labour politicians knew our history better then Ukip wouldn’t be making any headway in the north, particularly on issues like immigration, which worry many of our traditional supporters. We’d do well to remember that over 100 years ago the founder of the Labour party, Keir Hardie, for example, was critical of the owners of a local ironworks for driving down wages of Scottish workers by using foreign labour. And let’s not forget that Jim Callaghan, a Labour Home Secretary who would go on to become Prime Minister, warned that excessive immigration in a small number of concentrated areas could “aggravate” social problems.

These were early warnings of the downside of globalisation long before Ukip was even imagined. If we want to create confident and strong communities then this tradition needs to be rediscovered to show working people we’re on their side. Labour has to tackle touchstone issues like immigration head-on, not leave it to siren voices in Ukip who only want to sow division and fear.

But back to the pub, and, while it would be easy for me to denounce Farage, I’ll readily concede he’s good company. He’s happy making jokes at his own expense and is fun to be around. This is not necessarily the best measure for someone running the country, though. Otherwise we’d have Peter Kay in Downing Street.

But I genuinely think it’s helpful sometimes for politicians to try and find some common ground with political enemies. As Bill Clinton once said, “Our differences do matter, but our common humanity matters more.” Debating with someone over a pint or two helps concentrate minds on the real differences between parties and might go some way to replacing empty sloganeering and yah-boo politics with a more sophisticated approach. And that can only be a good thing for politics in the long run.

Simon Danczuk is Labour MP for Rochdale

Simon Danczuk is MP for Rochdale.

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Jeremy Corbyn supporters should stop excusing Labour’s anti-immigration drift

The Labour leader is a passionate defender of migrants’ rights – Brexit shouldn’t distract the new left movement from that.

Something strange is happening on the British left – a kind of deliberate collective amnesia. During the EU referendum, the overwhelming majority of the left backed Remain.

Contrary to a common myth, both Jeremy Corbyn and the movement behind him put their weight into a campaign that argued forcefully for internationalism, migrants’ rights and regulatory protections.

And yet now, as Labour’s policy on Brexit hardens, swathes of the left appear to be embracing Lexit, and a set of arguments which they would have laughed off stage barely a year ago.

The example of free movement is glaring and obvious, but worth rehashing. When Labour went into the 2017 general election promising to end free movement with the EU, it did so with a wider election campaign whose tone was more pro-migrant than any before it.

Nonetheless, the policy itself, along with restricting migrants’ access to public funds, stood in a long tradition of Labour triangulating to the right on immigration for electorally calculated reasons. When Ed Miliband promised “tough controls on immigration”, the left rightly attacked him.  

The result of this contradiction is that those on the left who want to agree unequivocally with the leadership must find left-wing reasons for doing so. And so, activists who have spent years declaring their solidarity with migrants and calling for a borderless world can now be found contemplating ways for the biggest expansion of border controls in recent British history – which is what the end of free movement would mean – to seem progressive, or like an opportunity.

The idea that giving ground to migrant-bashing narratives or being harsher on Poles might make life easier for non-EU migrants was rightly dismissed by most left-wing activists during the referendum.

Now, some are going quiet or altering course.

On the Single Market, too, neo-Lexit is making a comeback. Having argued passionately in favour of membership, both the Labour leadership and a wider layer of its supporters now argue – to some extent or another – that only by leaving the Single Market could Labour implement a manifesto.

This is simply wrong: there is very little in Labour’s manifesto that does not have an already-existing precedent in continental Europe. In fact, the levers of the EU are a key tool for clamping down on the power of big capital.

In recent speeches, Corbyn has spoken about the Posted Workers’ Directive – but this accounts for about 0.17 per cent of the workforce, and is about to be radically reformed by the European Parliament.

The dangers of this position are serious. If Labour’s leadership takes the path of least resistance on immigration policy and international integration, and its support base rationalises these compromises uncritically, then the logic of the Brexit vote – its borders, its affirmation of anti-migrant narratives, its rising nationalist sentiment – will be mainlined into Labour Party policy.

Socialism in One Country and a return to the nation state cannot work for the left, but they are being championed by the neo-Lexiteers. In one widely shared blogpost on Novara Media, one commentator even goes as far as alluding to Britain’s Road to Socialism – the official programme of the orthodox Communist Party.

The muted and supportive reaction of Labour’s left to the leadership’s compromises on migration and Brexit owes much to the inept positioning of the Labour right. Centrists may gain personal profile and factional capital when the weaponising the issue, but the consequences have been dire.

Around 80 per cent of Labour members still want a second referendum, and making himself the “stop Brexit” candidate could in a parallel universe have been Owen Smith’s path to victory in the second leadership election.

But it meant that in the summer of 2016, when the mass base of Corbynism hardened its factional resolve, it did so under siege not just from rebelling MPs, but from the “Remoaners” as well.

At every juncture, the strategy of the centrist Labour and media establishment has made Brexit more likely. Every time a veteran of the New Labour era – many of whom have appalling records on, for instance, migrants’ rights – tells Labour members to fight Brexit, party members run a mile.

If Tony Blair’s messiah complex was accurate, he would have saved us all a long time ago – by shutting up and going away. The atmosphere of subterfuge and siege from MPs and the liberal press has, by necessity, created a culture of loyalty and intellectual conformity on the left.

But with its position in the party unassailable, and a radical Labour government within touching distance of Downing Street, the last thing the Labour leadership now needs is a wave of Corbynite loyalty-hipsters hailing its every word.

As the history of every attempt to form a radical government shows, what we desperately need is a movement with its own internal democratic life, and an activist army that can push its leaders as well as deliver leaflets for them.

Lexit is no more possible now than it was during the EU referendum, and the support base of the Labour left and the wider party is overwhelmingly in favour of free movement and EU membership.

Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott are passionate, principled advocates for migrants’ rights and internationalism. By showing leadership, Labour can once again change what is electorally possible.