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Peter Mandelson’s memo on how Labour’s modernisers lost their way – and where they go next

The full text of Peter Mandelson's leaked memo. 

Amongst party members, the leadership contest did not produce a landslide for Corbyn. Fewer voted for him than for the others.

The three mainstream candidates between them got 123,769 votes and Corbyn received 121,751 votes.

Only a third of Corbyn’s support came from people who had been Labour members before May; in other words, the rest of his supporters are people who got swept up by him rather than by any enthusiasm for Labour as such and in all probability became more emotionally than politically attached to his campaign and what he stood for. They were voting more for an emblem than a leader.

Far from being a tidal wave of new, young idealists, it has also emerged from research that, overall, only 12 per cent of his voters were under 24 years old. The bulk were retreaded Old Labourites who, together with people who voted Green at the election, gave Corbyn his victory.

This does not take away his success but it puts it into perspective and colours its legitimacy.

At the same time we need to acknowledge that those who supported him have invested a lot personally in Corbyn, we are not going to convince them overnight they were wrong  and before then they will provide an army to draw on as they become absorbed into constituency parties.

We are in for a long haul during which time the atmosphere in the party will become increasingly acrimonious at branch and constituency levels.

Let’s put our dramatic setback in context.

The original New Labour generation owe the younger generation an apology: what we passed on when we left government in 2010 was not fit for purpose.

With hindsight, we can see New Labour’s failure:  we provided good policies and a strong electoral machine but not organization in the party and not enough renewal of our ideas as circumstances changed.

Progress and Policy Network were originally created to provide a think tank and rallying point for our supporters but Blair did not invest enough in either and Brown shunned them because he always wanted to position himself to the left of New Labour, whatever the issue.  He used the unpopularity of Blair’s public service reforms, for example, on both left and right of the party, to garner support for himself.

This was the beginning of our “Tory lite” problem – accusing the Labour government of following a quasi-Conservative agenda - which has de-legitimized Labour’s moderates.

From 2005 onwards, malaise set in as Blair wrestled to keep himself in office and Brown did everything he could to get him out. We said at the time that if this conflict continued it would define New Labour’s legacy more than our achievements in government and this is what has happened.

Blair tried to spearhead fresh policy direction for New Labour in his final year, chiefly in respect of public services, but this was ignored by Brown.

We then drifted badly for a year after the non-election in 2007 until the banking and financial crisis kicked in and gave us, perversely, a new lease of life.

When the election came in 2010, we were seen under Brown as a broadly competent government but without adequate explanation of why people should vote Labour again and no forward agenda. Nevertheless we were strong enough to deny the Tories their overall victory.

By 2015, under Miliband, we had still not acquired any coherent forward agenda but nor did we have a leadership the public recognized as ‘big’ figures. They appeared to the public more like special advisers than real politicians.

Our whole profile as a party became desperately weak and narrower in its appeal as we saw at the election this year in the north as well as the south of England, not to mention Scotland. 

The door had been shut on New Labour without replacing it with anything strong or coherent.  Under Miliband, Labour was anti-austerity but then intermittently tough on the deficit. We were pro-growth but anti-business. We were against inequality but for caps on welfare.  We were for immigration but didn’t want people taking ‘our’ jobs. We were internationalist but against foreign intervention. And so the jumble went on.

In choosing Corbyn instead of Miliband, the general public now feel we are just putting two fingers up to them, exchanging one loser for an even worse one. We cannot be elected with Corbyn as leader.

Nobody will replace him, though, until he demonstrates to the party his unelectability at the polls. In this sense, the public will decide Labour’s future and it would be wrong to try and force this issue from within before the public have moved to a clear verdict.

We must be ready when this happens. We can put forward as compelling a critique of Corbynism as we like but unless we have built in the meantime a coherent, modern and inspirational alternative to him - one that manages to tap in to the passions and emotional commitment of the party as well as speak convincingly to the public - the party will not be ready for a replacement.

We also have to go back to basics in the party where many are arguing again that electability spells unacceptable compromise and that relentless oppositionism is preferable – the ‘new politics’ of the street rather than parliament.

We have to re-win the argument from the branches upwards that electability remains the party’s founding purpose from when the trade unions first created the Labour Representation Committee. If we cannot represent people in parliament and government what is the point of the party ? It is as fundamental as that.

Our organizational challenge is to make this argument, create excitement around new policy ideas, ensure it is articulated by a new generation of parliamentary leaders and generate new methods of grassroots activity and excitement across the party. We have to work with others, in a non-sectarian way, both to renew the party’s intellectual base and its reach into the public at a local level.

This activity will not be achieved by a single group or structure. It needs to reflect the broad ideological position of people spanning the party’s entire centre left mainstream.

Some initiatives will be taken by Labour MPs, others by think tanks, pressure groups, academics and grassroots associations in the party. In time, we need them to converge on a single platform within the party. They must have one defining purpose: to get Labour back into government not at the expense of our ideals and principles but with new thinking and a fresh programme that embodies them in a modern, relevant and credible way. 

Whatever the means, we must not meekly accept that Labour should change its job description from party of government to party of protest and give up on building a winning coalition of voters.

The old labels, totems and divisions have no use anymore, they are damaging and counter-productive.

“New Labour”, Blairites, Brownites – they are all redundant.  They prevent us reaching out in the party and building essential new bridges. If we want people to listen to us, we must no longer look as if we are continuing past fights.  

Instead we have to modernize the modernisers’ ideas in true revisionist fashion.

We can be very proud of our time in government and our record, and we should certainly keep reminding people of it but not be imprisoned by it. For many of us it is living history but it is history nonetheless.

People will choose to play their part in renewal in different ways, including on and off the frontbench. We must respect that. We must not have truck with a “no compromise with the party” mentality – look what happened the last time that was tried out on the public.

The last five years’ intellectual sterility has left Labour floundering before an electorate that wanted to vote against the Tories but did not feel they were being offered a  workable alternative.

They are open to new ideas and approaches to building a responsible and inclusive capitalism – in this sense Ed Miliband identified something important – but just because they question aspects of markets does not mean they are in love with the state.

In addition, politics as a whole in Britain and Europe is desperately unattractive. No wonder momentum has been gained by populists and those who advocate a ‘new politics’. If we do not catch up with this and present a viable, attractive and exciting alternative we will be buried by it. It may be scant consolation, but we are not alone in our difficulties.  In Spain, Podemos run against “the caste”.  In Greece Syriza swept aside a hollowed out Pasok. 

Recognising this and understanding the profound changes in identity and culture that have swept through our politics in recent years must be our starting point.  Labour, like most mainstream parties across Europe, looks like an analogue entity in a digital age.

Our principal activity now should not be what’s going on in the frontbench in parliament or internal opposition to Corbyn – that will take care of itself - but developing the policies and arguments needed to follow him, disseminating these through publications and events. We should contribute robustly to Corbyn’s policy review, a new generation with new ideas.

One last point. There will be many local party members, including parliamentary candidates and councillors, who backed the mainstream candidates in the leadership contest and are in despair about what’s happened.

They are in the mood to say “we’ll come back when the party gets its act together and is serious again”.  Those people need to be given the chance to come together. Without this, the party in the country will slowly disintegrate as mainstream people withdraw from elected party and local council office. We have to give them hope that there is a way out of our predicament and that Labour does have a future. 

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“Grooming rings are the biggest recruiter for the far right”: Rochdale and Telford prosecutor

Senior lawyer Nazir Afzal warns the government, and communities implicated in street grooming, to do more – or the situation will get worse.

Nazir Afzal, the former chief prosecutor who led prosecutions against a child sex abuse ring in Telford, and oversaw similar street grooming cases in Rochdale, tells Anoosh Chakelian why these crimes go under the radar, and how to tackle them.

How widespread are these street grooming cases?

My involvement started with Operation Span, which is the Rochdale prosecution, in 2011. And prior to that, when I was in London as chief prosecutor, I was aware it was an issue bubbling but wasn’t getting any attention.

Obviously we’ve now got Telford, Newcastle, Peterborough, Sheffield, Rotherham, Oxford, Bristol. If anybody watched the BBC’s film Three Girls, at the very end, they list I think 16 towns and cities where prosecution had taken place.

We know that it is extraordinarily widespread. Wherever you look, if you turn over the stone, you’ll find this kind of behaviour. 

What do each of these cases have in common?

What we discovered, ten years ago nearly, were groups of men working invariably in the night-time economy, either in taxi services or takeaways or that kind of business, hiding amongst whom were these predators. They’re not gangs in the way organised crime gangs are. They’re very loose networks.

There are vulnerable young girls in so many parts of this country, who nobody else seems to care about. And what these victims need is warmth, transport, mind-numbing substances, food. And where are they going to find that? You’re invariably going to find that in the night-time economy.

I used to describe them as easy prey for evil men. They’re easy to identify, and what tends to happen is that once they’ve identified one victim, through her networks very often they’ll find others.

These men are just taking advantage of the dysfunctional nature of children’s services and young people’s services that have existed now for some time. If anything, it’s got worse, because while there is tremendous learning, the resources have been reduced.

So really good practices – like one council would have a van that would go round fast food premises in the evening to identify young girls at risk and talk to them – are cancelled because they don’t have the money to do it anymore.

People work in silence. Information was available and wasn’t shared. That style of working is part of the problem. So time and again, people are just keeping things to themselves. It’s a lack of competence on their part. It’s competence, it’s not conspiracy. Easier to blame a conspiracy than say “you were rubbish at your job”. And that is constantly something that I have come across.

The victims don’t even see themselves as victims very often. Because of the poverty of relationship education and sex education in schools, these men make them believe that they love them. I remember in the Rochdale case, one of the girls kept calling one of the defendants throughout the trial her “boyfriend”. She doesn’t know any different; nobody has taught her what’s a good relationship, what’s a bad relationship.

Time and time again, survivors have the answers. What the authorities should be doing is listening to their local survivors, and building their response and their interventions on what the survivors tell them: “This is a journey I took, this is where you could’ve intervened. This is where you could’ve prevented my abuse or somebody else’s abuse.”

There are some very, very courageous, extraordinarily strong women now more than willing to share their experiences. And we do so little of that [talking to them].

How can the situation be improved for victims and potential victims?

A lot of these victims have criminal records as a result of behaviours they were made to do – we should be erasing those criminal records. That’s the way we can rehabilitate them. I think victims need compensation for what they’ve been through. And they also need lifelong support, and that’s not being produced.

Taxi drivers in Coventry are trained in local signs of abuse; it’s part of their licensing arrangement and I work with them actually on delivering that. Why is that not happening everywhere else in the country? Why are we not licensing and training takeaway establishments in the same way?

I discovered recently that in Newcastle, they’re delivering this kind of training. Sadly, it’s voluntary. The people you need to engage with are not coming. So unless you have mandatory training for people working in the night-time economy, it’s not going to happen.

Additionally in the hotel trade, one or two large chains are doing some good work in identifying young people at risk, and sharing intelligence. Why is that not everywhere? We know that predators use cheap hotels and places like that for the abuse they carry out.

The intelligence is there, it’s just not being used. And we’re not using community intelligence either. The vast majority of victims in this type of sex offending are white girls. There are Asian girl victims too.

When I prosecuted the Rochdale gang, immediately afterwards, I prosecuted the ringleader again for his abuse of a girl of the same ethnicity as him. That didn’t get any publicity and he got 21 years for that. So there are victims from the Asian community but because of issues such as honour, shame, and the fact that very often they’re told by their families that it’s “your fault”, they’re not coming forward.

So we need to understand that there are victims out there who are even less likely to report their concerns because of familial and community pressures.

We are scratching the surface, and it really irks me that each and every time it gets in the news, it’s two things.

Number one is that it’s the biggest recruiter for the far right in this country. If you go on any far right website, they use the grooming gangs more so than Isis or terror attacks as the means by which they recruit far right activists.

So we should be tackling this, and by “we” I mean everybody, including the communities most impacted, and most implicated.

Number two is we need to intervene much earlier, but we also need to do some perpetrator programmes. There are perpetrators involved who are still in denial about their activities. There are still people out there who think “well, it’s fair game”.

How can it be prevented from happening in future?

Much more work has to happen in terms of the perpetrators and perpetrators of the future – and that, of course, involves early education.

Too often, we wait until high school to start talking about gender equality and relationship education. We should be starting to talk to them about these types of behaviours and what they should be looking out for when they’re five, six and seven. We’re just building up a problem for the future by not doing any of this.

We should have mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse. If you see someone being abused, or you perceive to be being abused, then it should be your duty to report. What the government has said recently is that social workers have come out against it. And my response would be: “Well they would, wouldn’t they?”

NGOs are doing phenomenal work in its field, so there are lots of charities and groups up and down the country trying to identify victims and potential perpetrators. They don’t get enough funding. They’re working on a shoestring.

What do you say to those suggesting ethnicity plays a part?

The vast majority of children and young people are abused within the family. We must not lose sight of that. The second largest group of victims are online. Today, you can pay pennies to watch a child being abused in real-time, somewhere in the world. The third largest group is institutional; we know about places of worship – churches, mosques – we also know about the FA and football and judo and sporting clubs, and the BBC.

Street grooming is the smallest – significant nonetheless, we’re still talking about thousands of victims. It’s smallest comparatively to the other three areas.

More than 80 per cent of child sexual offenders are British white men.

When I’ve prosecuted Stuart Hall or Max Clifford, or whatever, people never said “oh, his religion, his ethnicity”, as if that was important. It wasn’t in their cases, and they remain the vast majority of offenders.

I’ve always said the ethnicity of street groomers is an issue. We can’t pretend that’s not what’s happening.

The night-time economy is one issue. But it’s not the issue.The issue is the availability and vulnerability of young girls. The issue is the fact that they are unwanted and unloved. They get no support: the NGOs that support them aren’t properly funded, neither are children’s services. That is the issue.

But ethnicity is an issue, and I don’t think the community is doing enough. I was really pleased to see, some months ago, I was invited to the launch of the Greater Manchester Muslim community organisation, and one of their four priorities is tackling grooming. And that is rare. Most communities would rather not talk about the subject, would beat me up [verbally] quite regularly for mentioning it, and unless we tackle it, bigots don’t need an excuse to hate you, so why do we give them an excuse? Why are we not tackling an issue that can be tackled?

You can’t just generalise about what it is that might be driving these men. We need to do a great deal more research into background, why perpetrators become perpetrators, in the same way we’re trying to identify why victims become victims.

Authorities are often accused of being scared to act because of political correctness. How do you feel about that?

I’ve not come across anybody who’s scared. I get bored of this going unchallenged. These are difficult cases to prosecute. Very often, the victim treats the prosecutor or the investigator as the bad guy for trying to destroy their “relationships”. Competence was the issue – people not understanding how to bring these cases. They had to leave their tick-boxes and their normal pro formas aside.

Some people, no doubt, may not want to offend a certain community, but I would imagine they’re in the minority. The large majority fail to engage because it’s really difficult.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.