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Angry left-wing activists accuse Labour of being “massive wimps” on free movement

Migrants’ rights campaigners condemn their party’s reticence.

Freedom of movement, one of the EU’s key pillars, is precarious as the UK heads for Brexit. Thousands of Labour activists are in favour of protecting the principle, and are calling on their party to defend migrants’ rights.

A group gathered at Labour party conference to call on the leadership to protect the rights of migrants. At an event entitled “What Should Labour’s Migration Policy Be?”, held by The World Transformed (Momentum’s alternative politics festival), activists from the left of the party working on the Labour Campaign for Free Movement criticised the party’s reticence on the subject.

They expressed disappointment that party members had voted not to debate the details of Labour’s Brexit policy, including free movement, at this conference (a move engineered by Momentum).

“My impression of this conference has reinforced in my head the awful process that’s going on inside the Labour movement in terms of free movement and migrants’ rights,” said Michael Chessum, a Labour Campaign for Free Movement organiser who represents the left-wing Another Europe is Possible group, and used to be on Momentum’s steering committee.

He told the event that there is a section of the left aspiring to “older, Stalinist politics whose arguments about immigration being wrong, borders being great, used to be on the absolute periphery on the left”, finding their “straight-up, right-wing nationalist arguments” have “all of a sudden become mainstream on the left” after Brexit.

Chessum also blasted a “large section of the left who do believe in free movement, who are instinctively in favour of it, becoming massive wimps. We’ve just ducked a debate on Brexit because we’re scared.”

This was a reference to party members voting to debate other issues than Brexit on the party’s conference floor this autumn – a decision that was announced this morning.

Chessum tells me he believes Jeremy Corbyn is in favour of migrants’ rights but, as they have been tied up with the question of whether Labour would advocate permanently staying in the single market, he is avoiding the subject. “We cannot wait for white smoke to appear from the Leader's Office,” Chessum adds.

The question of free movement represents two growing divides in a Labour party at its most united since the summer of 2015.

Firstly, the most vocal activists in favour of free movement are on the party’s left but they find themselves at odds with – or at least frustrated by – the Leader’s Office and Momentum, with the former being reticent on the issue, and the latter not having a line on it (as with other policy). For example, Chessum criticises what he sees as an “opaque” decision-making process that led Momentum to rally its members to request motions other than Brexit to vote on at conference.

“Jeremy is now safe,” he tells me. “We are no longer under constant siege and constant threat of another leadership election. We’ve won the internal debate about having a left-wing leadership, and we can afford to have a debate about these issues.”

Secondly, they don’t want to be associated with voices to their right arguing for single market membership, such as Alison McGovern MP, who chairs the Blairite Progress group. They believe free movement being conflated with the politically contentious issue of single market membership hinders their cause.

“I don’t want to go into a room lined up with people who are from the centre of the party,” says Chessum. “I want to have a debate about free movement specifically.”

This is where many of Labour’s Corbynite members stand. Michael Walker, from the alternative left news platform Novara Media, told me in August that he and his colleagues will be covering freedom of movement “because that’s one of the contentious issues on the Labour left and the Labour party’s new members – less about the single market.

“We don’t, our audience doesn’t really care – I mean, I don’t really care about the single market. We talk more about migrant rights than we do about trade.”

The free movement issue provides an opportunity for Corbyn, therefore, to please many of his members without having to support membership of a single market he’s never been keen on. But his recent comments on migration from the EU suggest it’s not one he’s yet prepared to take.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Michael Carrick is the “Geordie Pirlo” that England misunderstood

The Manchester United legend’s retirement announcement should leave Three Lions fans wondering what if?

That it came in the months leading up to a World Cup arguably added an exclamation point to the announcement of Michael Carrick’s impending retirement. The Manchester United midfielder, who is expected to take up a coaching role with the club afterwards, will hang up his boots at the end of the season. And United boss Jose Mourinho’s keenness to keep Carrick at Old Trafford in some capacity only serves to emphasise how highly he rates the 36-year-old.

But Carrick’s curtain call in May will be caveated by one striking anomaly on an otherwise imperious CV: his international career. Although at club level Carrick has excelled – winning every top tier honour a player based in England possibly can – he looks set to retire with just 34 caps for his country, and just one of those was earned at a major tournament.

This, in part, is down to the quality of competition he has faced. Indeed, much of the conversation around England’s midfield in the early to mid-noughties centred on finding a system that could accommodate both box-to-box dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As time went on, however, focus shifted towards trequartistas, advanced playmakers and those with more mobile, harrying playing styles. And the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli were brought into the frame more frequently than Carrick, whose deep-lying capabilities were not utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65 per cent of Carrick’s England caps have come in friendlies shows how undervalued he was. 

In fairness, Carrick does not embody similar characteristics to many of his England midfield contemporaries, including a laudable lack of ego. He is not blessed with lung-busting pace, nor is he enough of a ball-winner to shield a back four solo. Yet his passing and distribution satisfy world-class criteria, with a range only matched, as far as England internationals go, by his former United team-mate Paul Scholes, who was also misused when playing for his country.

Rather, the player Carrick resembles most isn’t English at all; it’s Andrea Pirlo, minus the free-kicks. When comparisons between the mild-mannered Geordie and Italian football’s coolest customer first emerged, they were dismissed in some quarters as hyperbole. Yet watching Carrick confirm his retirement plans this week, perfectly bearded and reflecting on a trophy-laden 12-year spell at one of world football’s grandest institutions, the parallels have become harder to deny.

Michael Carrick at a press event ahead of Manchester United's Champions League game this week. Photo: Getty.

Where other players would have been shown the door much sooner, both Pirlo and Carrick’s efficient style of play – built on patience, possession and precision – gifted them twilights as impressive as many others’ peaks. That at 36, Carrick is still playing for a team in the top two of the top division in English football, rather than in lower-league or moneyed foreign obscurity, speaks volumes. At the same age, Pirlo started for Juventus in the Champions League final of 2015.

It is ill health, not a decline in ability, which is finally bringing Carrick’s career to a close. After saying he “felt strange” during the second-half of United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion earlier this season, he had a cardiac ablation procedure to treat an irregular heart rhythm. He has since been limited to just three more appearances this term, of which United won two. 

And just how key to United’s success Carrick has been since his £18m signing from Tottenham in 2006 cannot be overstated. He was United’s sole signing that summer, yielding only modest excitement, and there were some Red Devils fans displeased with then manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to assign Carrick the number 16 jersey previously worn by departed captain Roy Keane. Less than a year later, though, United won their first league title in four years. The following season, United won the league and Champions League double, with Carrick playing 49 times across all competitions.

Failing to regularly deploy Carrick in his favoured role – one that is nominally defensive in its position at the base of midfield, but also creative in providing through-balls to the players ahead – must be considered one of the most criminal oversights of successive England managers’ tenures. Unfortunately, Carrick’s heart condition means that current boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be able to make amends this summer.

By pressing space, rather than players, Carrick compensates for his lack of speed by marking passing channels and intercepting. He is forever watching the game around him and his unwillingness to commit passes prematurely and lose possession is as valuable an asset as when he does spot an opening.

Ultimately, while Carrick can have few regrets about his illustrious career, England fans and management alike can have plenty. Via West Ham, Spurs and United, the Wallsend-born émigré has earned his billing as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, but he’d never let on.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.