.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Monday, November 30, 2015

It is a Labour civil war as Unite joins the fray

Anybody who thought that collateral damage from a stand-off between Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow cabinet could be minimised has been rapidly disabused of that notion this morning with the intervention of Unite's Len McCluskey in the row.

According to the Times, Labour’s biggest union paymaster has warned Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents in the party that they are “writing their political obituaries”. He added that Labour MPs are using Syria as “the thin edge to stage a coup against Corbyn, Labour’s elected leader”.

The paper says that Mr McCluskey has declared that his union is preparing to go on the offensive if relations between Mr Corbyn and his MPs get any worse.

This is the clearest sign yet that allies of Mr. Corbyn are planning a deselection battle against allegedly disloyal MPs. Unlike the 1980s it seems that this time they will have the backing of at least one of the big unions, and that spells big trouble for those MPs who do not like the direction of travel in which Labour is heading.

This morning's news could be an opening shot in a lengthy civil war within the Labour Party.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Will Cameron cull the House of Lords?

The Telegraph reports on proposals emerging from Lord Strathclyde's review of the House of Lords that once more fails to tackle the real problem, but instead seeks to put in place a quick fix to prevent further embarrassment to the Tory Government.

The best way of assessing the validity of these proposals is to consider whether Cameron would have supported them in opposition. I think the answer is almost certainly not.

Lord Strathclyde is apparently going to recommend to the Prime Minister that he should enact a new law stripping the Lords of their ability to veto changes to secondary legislation. He is also proposing a 20 per cent “hair cut” that would force all parties to reduce their number of peers and hold internal elections for the remaining places, as is currently done for hereditary peers.

The paper says that it is understood that Lord Strathclyde will say this radical idea should be considered further rather than being a formal recommendation.

Cameron's problem of course is to convince others that the curtailing of Lords' powers and a 20% cut in the number of peers is not just a gerrymandering exercise. That is because the principles behind it relate entirely (and sensibly) to cost and are motivated by Government defeats, but do not address the fundamental issue of democratising the second chamber.

Ultimately this is Cameron proposing to change the rules to get his own way. That is hardly a moral high ground. What the review does not answer is how Cameron will get these laws of convenience past the House of Lords?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Labour's local council reorganisation lacks consensus, will push up council tax bills and undermine local democracy

The Welsh Minister for Public Services has failed to build a consensus for the reform of local Councils in Wales. His draft Bill will take money away from local services at a time of austerity and fails to address the fundamental changes needed to democratise councils.

The significant cut in the number of Councillors combined with the omission of a reformed voting system means that the new councils will be less transparent, more unaccountable and remoter from voters.

The projected cost of between £97 million and £246 million at a time of austerity, is an underestimate and will mean greater pressure on services such as education and social services.

The Welsh Government has failed from the very start of this process to build any consensus for change. Even after spending £130,000 on the Williams Commission, they have effectively jettisoned the vast majority of their recommendations, including the make-up of new councils.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats believe that Wales has too many councils, many of which are too small and are underperforming. However, if councils are going to be larger, then it is essential that they reflect the people that voted for them.

Without introducing a fair voting system and the devolution of powers to local communities, this whole reorganisation process is pointless.

Not once does the Welsh Government’s consultation document make mention of a fairer voting system, which would ensure that the new larger councils better reflected the way people voted and bring about more responsive local government. This is humiliating for Plaid who supported the reorganisation plans, yet have achieved literally nothing in return.

While I recognise the need for local government reorganisation, the lines on the map shouldn’t be drawn by politicians. Rather than Leighton Andrews trying to stitch this process up to benefit Labour, he should instead give the independent Boundary Commission the task of coming up with a fresh map, which would be based on natural communities, take account of Wales three major Cities as administrative entities in their own right and which is less ambitious in taking a knife to the final number of councils. Like the Williams Commission I believe 10 to 12 is the right number of reformed councils for Wales.

I would also like to see a more realistic costing exercise, which takes account of the redundancies needed for the reorganisation of wider service delivery and which better understands the implications for ICT in particular. My view is that the £246 million price tag, the Welsh Government itself has attached to reorganisation is too low, whilst the proposed savings will not materialise in the amounts suggested.

I am also concerned about the proposed initial six year term for Community Councillors. By 2023 many will have given up their voluntary role out of exhaustion.

With more cuts due to be imposed on vital local services as a result of the Tory Chancellor’s Comprehensive Spending Review, the question has to be asked if the Minister has got his timing right on this reorganisation? The up-front costs of merger will have to be met somehow and my fear is that much of that burden will fall on council tax payers and poorer services.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Labour leadership chaos over Syria

Just when we thought that the Labour Party could not get any more chaotic following the Mao Zedong little red book episode, Jeremy Corbyn throws another spanner in the works.

As the Guardian reports, Jeremy Corbyn is at odds with his shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn after they adopted sharply opposing views on UK military action against Islamic State just hours after David Cameron argued it was time to extend bombing to Syria:

The Labour leader wrote to his MPs saying that the prime minister had failed earlier on Thursday to explain how an aerial campaign would protect UK security, setting up an intense debate in the party ahead of an expected Commons vote next week to broaden RAF airstrikes from Iraq to Syria. “I do not believe the prime minister’s current proposal for airstrikes in Syria will protect our security and therefore cannot support it,” Corbyn wrote.

That set Corbyn at odds with Benn, who had earlier told a meeting of the shadow cabinet that the arguments in favour of extending the airstrikes were “compelling”. The shadow foreign secretary, who believes that the prime minister has fulfilled the conditions laid down in a motion passed at the Labour conference on Syria, also contradicted Corbyn in public.

Benn told the BBC: “We have heard compelling arguments both because of the threat to the United Kingdom and also because we are right to have been taking the action that we have in Iraq to support the Iraqi government in trying to repel the invasion from Isil/Daesh.”

According to social media, it is not just Benn that the Labour leader has upset. Shadow Cabinet members have apparently been furiously briefing against Corbyn, many accusing him of telling them one thing and then going behind their back and doing another.

Sophy Ridge on Sky News reports on what she describes as an extraordinary shadow cabinet meeting:

The Labour leader started by reading out a pre-prepared statement setting out his opposition to David Cameron’s call to bomb Islamic State targets.

He read it quickly, and some MPs struggled to hear him.

They quickly got the point, though.

Mr Corbyn was unconvinced by Mr Cameron’s case, felt there were unanswered questions and would not support it if a vote was called.

I’m told only four members of the shadow cabinet explicitly backed Mr Corbyn’s stance.

A total of 15 members of the shadow cabinet spoke out against his position, expressing their support for airstrikes in Syria.

How long will it take before something gives and shadow cabinet members start to resign?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

How oil is funding the jihadi terrorists

There is a very interesting article in the Financial Times that demonstrates how ISIS is being funded by those opposed to them through their control of Syrian oilfields.

The paper says that oil is the black gold that funds Isis’ black flag. It fuels its war machine, provides electricity and gives the fanatical jihadis critical leverage against their neighbours:

But more than a year after US President Barack Obama launched an international coalition to fight Isis, the bustling trade at al-Omar and at least eight other fields has come to symbolise the dilemma the campaign faces: how to bring down the “caliphate” without destabilising the life of the estimated 10m civilians in areas under Isis control, and punishing the west’s allies?

The resilience of Isis, and the weakness of the US-led campaign, have given Russia a pretext to launch its own, bold intervention in Syria.

Despite all these efforts, dozens of interviews with Syrian traders and oil engineers as well as western intelligence officials and oil experts reveal a sprawling operation almost akin to a state oil company that has grown in size and expertise despite international attempts to destroy it.

They add that estimates by local traders and engineers put crude production in Isis-held territory at about 34,000-40,000 barrels per day. The oil is sold at the wellhead for between $20 and $45 a barrel, earning the militants an average of $1.5m a day:

Isis’ oil strategy has been long in the making. Since the group emerged on the scene in Syria in 2013, long before they reached Mosul in Iraq, the jihadis saw oil as a crutch for their vision for an Islamic state. The group’s shura council identified it as fundamental for the survival of the insurgency and, more importantly, to finance their ambition to create a caliphate.

Most of the oil Isis controls is in Syria’s oil-rich east, where it created a foothold in 2013, shortly after withdrawing from the north-west — an area of strategic importance but with no oil. These bridgeheads were then used to consolidate control over the whole of eastern Syria after the fall of Mosul in 2014.

When it pushed through northern Iraq and took over Mosul, Isis also seized the Ajil and Allas fields in north-eastern Iraq’s Kirkuk province. The very day of its takeover, locals say, militants secured the fields and engineers were sent in to begin operations and ship the oil to market.

“They were ready, they had people there in charge of the financial side, they had technicians that adjusted the filling and storage process,” said a local sheikh from the town of Hawija, near Kirkuk. “They brought hundreds of trucks in from Kirkuk and Mosul and they started to extract the oil and export it.” An average of 150 trucks, he added, were filled daily, with each containing about $10,000-worth of oil. Isis lost the fields to the Iraqi army in April but made an estimated $450m from them in the 10 months it controlled the area.

While al-Qaeda, the global terrorist network, depended on donations from wealthy foreign sponsors, Isis has derived its financial strength from its status as monopoly producer of an essential commodity consumed in vast quantities throughout the area it controls. Even without being able to export, it can thrive because it has a huge captive market in Syria and Iraq.

Indeed, diesel and petrol produced in Isis areas are not only consumed in territory the group controls but in areas that are technically at war with it, such as Syria’s rebel-held north: the region is dependent on the jihadis’ fuel for its survival. Hospitals, shops, tractors and machinery used to pull victims out of rubble run on generators that are powered by Isis oil.

What is clear is that if those allying against ISIS are serious about defeating them then they need to cut off their source of revenue. Once more, it is all about the oil.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

John McDonnell kills political satire

What future is there for political satire after John McDonnell's response to the Comprehensive Spending Review today?

As the Telegraph reports, the Shadow Chancellor stood up in the Commons chamber, pulled Mao Zedong's little red book out of his pocket and quoted it at George Osborne. Apparently, he was complaining about China investing its balance of payments surplus in British infrastructure projects.

Unfortunately, McDonnell just provided ammunition for the Chancellor of Exchequer to fire back at him:

Mr Osborne tore into Mr McDonnell after he pulled off the stunt, declaring: "It is his 'personally signed copy'."

The Chancellor held up the book for MPs to see as Mr McDonnell watched on.

He joked that the problem was Mr McDonnell had sent half of his shadow cabinet colleagues off for "re-education".

Meanwhile political satirists everywhere are busy applying for re-training. None of them are going to be able to beat this stunt. Anybody thinking of helping the Labour Party with their branding problems may also wish to rethink their career choices.

Note: The extract above is from The West Wing

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Alone and abandoned - Corbyn isolated on Labour front bench

The picture above is a genuine moment in the debate on the UK Government's defence review and shows the Leader of the Opposition alone and isolated on the front bench. As a symbol of what is happening to the Labour Party it is unassailable.

Over at the Telegraph, Labour Party member and columnist, Dan Hodges thinks it is now only a matter of time before Corbyn is ousted as leader. However, he raises wider concerns about the future of the Labour Party itself, which he says is in danger of turning into a rabble. The tipping point, he says, will the vote on whether to take arms in Syria:

Over the past few days there has been much internal debate about allowing Labour MPs a “free vote” on any Syria motion. It is, some in Labour’s ranks believe, a clever way of getting their party out of a tight spot. Their leader can vote with his conscience, members of the shadow cabinet can vote with theirs, and everyone can then carry on as if nothing has happened.

Something will have happened, though, something serious. The Labour Party will have failed to take a stand on an issue of war and peace. There have been times in our nation’s history when our political parties have adopted the right stance on military intervention. There have been times when they have adopted the wrong stance. But I cannot recall an occasion in my lifetime when one of those parties failed to adopt any stance at all.

What those arguing for a free vote are actually proposing is that the Labour Party should formally say to the British people: “We have no policy on Syria. We know British service personnel are being asked to fight. It is conceivable some of them are being asked to die. But we have no view on that. And we have no view because it is politically inconvenient for us to have a view.”

At that point Labour ceases to be a serious party of opposition. Not Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, but the Labour Party collectively. Indeed, it ceases to be a political party. It becomes an incoherent, morally and intellectually bankrupt rabble.

Hodges argues that this goes to the heart of what Labour actually is.He says that the front bench have to make a stand:

Members of the shadow cabinet have to go to Mr Corbyn and tell him squarely to his face that unless he joins with them in backing military action against Isil they will resign. No fixes, no fudges, but a simple choice. You back the Government, you back our allies, your back the United Nations, you back the majority view of your senior colleagues, or you can have my portfolio.

We cannot continue with a situation where on vital issues of war, national defence and national security, senior members of the Labour Party appear on our screens night after night and say: “Yeah, I don’t agree with Jeremy Corbyn on that, but what can you do?”

For the last two months the shadow cabinet has effectively been telling the people of Britain: “We don’t trust our leader on the most important issues facing our country, but you should.” This is unsustainable. Either the shadow cabinet has confidence in Mr Corbyn to make the right choices in defence of our nation, in which case they should be out there endorsing those choices. Or they don’t have confidence in him to make those life and death choices. In which case they should no longer, in good conscience, serve under him.

This is all serious stuff. How Labour politicians deal with it now could determine the future of their party for some time to come.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Irony is dead as Corbyn hits out at critics

Is it the case that irony is no longer a thing? If it is then it has certainly by-passed the Labour leadership.  For according to the Independent, Jeremy Corbyn, a man who built his career on revolting against the whip and destabilising the Labour leadership, has authorised the publication of a critique of Labour MPs who insist on defying him.

The paper says that Corbyn has accused his internal critics of creating an “atmosphere of chaos” in the Labour Party through “constant sniping” and “bitter attacks”:

In the first public response to the criticisms of his leadership, Mr Corbyn’s team has used his official Facebook page to lambast MPs and “New Labour grandees” for attempting to destabilise his leadership.

And in what will be perceived as a threat it accuses them of “doing the membership of the party that voted for Jeremy a massive disservice”, calling on them to “do your job and represent us”.

The post, which The Independent understands was authorised by the Labour leader, comes after a week in which he has faced public and private criticism for his stance on Trident, Syria and how the British police should respond to a terrorist attack.

Describing Mr Corbyn’s critics as a “vocal” section of the Parliamentary Labour Party, the unnamed author claims their views are not acceptable as part of the debate about Labour’s future.

“What we have seen from a small section of the Parliamentary [Labour] Party and some New Labour ‘grandees’ recently isn’t opinion and it’s not about debate,” the post says.

“It is a constant sniping, undermining and, at times, bitter attack. It’s designed to create an atmosphere of chaos. We are here to tell you that we’re sick of it. Not only is it now boring, but it is entirely destructive.”

The post also accuses some Labour MPs of being in hock to the right-wing media, which is using them to undermine the party.

For those of us who lived through the 1980s this blaming of the media for the Labour Party's ills is on familiar ground. But now it is the left in charge and they are the ones defending their record. They really don't like it when opponents use their own tactics against them.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Claim that terrorist threat will increase if we leave the EU

The former chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Sir Hugh Orde has made a vital point today when he warns that the UK will find it harder to keep terrorists out of the country and to deport them after arrest if it leaves the European Union.

According to the Observer, Sir Hugh has argued that the country will be at greater risk if it “pulls up the drawbridge” and steps aside from EU intelligence sharing. He says that intelligence plays an increasingly crucial role in fighting international crime and thwarting terrorist plots:

Quitting the EU, he says, “would not quell jihadis’ murderous intent towards the British way of life, but it could make it harder for us to prevent them arriving and then deport suspects when here”.

Last week Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, said the Paris attacks strengthened the case for a UK exit. “What’s happened is ghastly but we’ve got to ask ourselves some big questions,” he said.

“We have a problem already and, to my mind, if we allow access to countless millions without any means or ability of checking who they are, we’re adding to a problem that already exists within our countries.”

But Orde, one of the most respected figures in policing, says the anti-EU campaigners have “misused the horrific events in Paris to try to support their failing cause. Their argument is that by standing alone from Europe and pulling up the drawbridge, Britain can secure its borders and better repel the threats we face.

“They are right that the Parisian tragedies must make us reassess and redouble our efforts to tackle terror – at home and abroad – but their prescription is fundamentally wrong. If followed, the Leave campaigns would endanger our country and communities, not protect them.”

Orde maintains that the kind of international cooperation that has developed in the EU, and measures such as the European arrest warrant (EAW), are a vital part of efforts to combat the global threat of terrorism.

“We have the best of both worlds, the security and stability gained from being part of Europe, but the flexibility to opt out of arrangements which aren’t in our national interest,” he says.

It is the most convincing reposte yet to the message of hate and division preached by UKIP and needs to be circulated widely.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Umunna launches strongest attack yet on Corbyn

Just when you thought that the infighting amongst Labour MPs could not get any worse, Chuka Umunna launches into his own coruscating criticism of Jeremy Corbyn.

According to the Telegraph, the former Labour leadership contender believes that Jeremy Corbyn's pacifist views should disqualify him from office because he cannot keep Britain safe:

In a thinly veiled attack at his leader, Mr Umunna said: "If you cannot keep the people safe, in their eyes that is a disqualification from office."

Mr Umunna told the BBC's Today programme this morning that he will vote with his "conscience" on airstrikes in Syria regardless of Jeremy Corbyn and his "nasty troll" supporters.

Mr Umunna adds: "The first duty of any elected representative, not just ministers, is to do all we can to ensure the security of our constituents, particularly in the face of the terrorist threat we are facing.

"This goes above and beyond party politics, and dare I say it internal party politics. Because if you cannot keep the people safe in their eyes that is a disqualification from office.

"The easy thing for many MPs would be to say I go along with every single comment, every single thing I have heard from the leadership."

Mr Umunna added that MPs should be free to express their views without being insulted trolled and threatened with deselection.

Meanwhile, Lord Reid, a former Cabinet minister under Tony Blair, said Labour's response to the terrorist threat did not look "competent or coherent":

"I don't think their best friend would argue that we have been coherent on these issues," he told the BBC's Today programme.

"It is sad not just from the point of the Labour Party, but the country. We need a competent, coherent opposition."

It is less than 100 days and the revolt against Corbyn within his own party is growing.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?