Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The Last Word: Byelection battles

The final furlong in Copeland and Stoke, the McDonnell amendment and a cutting Brexit intervention by Tony Blair – Richard Angell has this week’s Last Word

Theresa May cannot even back her own policies in Copeland and Paul Nuttall has a problem with the truth in Stoke-on-Trent Central. Labour is set to win both next Thursday. Taking nothing for granted, I will be out in the latter on Sunday and hope you can join me. It is not over until it is over. 

Last week I wrote ‘it seems more important to [Copeland] voters that they save the hospital rather than the Labour party’. If this was wishful thinking by Labour, May has given the choice a huge boost. Considering the prime minister has centuries-long conventions on her side – broken only by Gordon Brown in Glenrothes – the only reason for her to appear in Copeland is to stop the closure of maternity services or defend her cuts to the National Health Service. To stonewall a ITV interviewer is the worst of all worlds, but you will find no complaints here! Paul Waugh at the Huffington Post suggested if Labour wins it will be ‘Theresa what won it’. When voters read the front page of the local paper – the lady’s not for talking – they will not be lost for words. 

Nigel Farage’s successor as leader of the United Kingdom Independence party has too much to say. Whether it is his fabricated semi-professional football career, the fabled PhD or the crass appropriation of the Hillsborough disaster, voters can be in little doubt that this man just cannot be trusted. If these are the falsehoods – and Dina Cottier put it better than I can – he is prepared to tell to get into parliament, imagine what he will say under parliamentary privilege. He must be stopped. 

The McDonnell amendment

In September 2016 Caroline Flint called out the hard-left attempt to gerrymander the Labour party rulebook and reduce the threshold to stand to leader from 15 per cent of Labour MPs and MEPs to just five per cent. ‘Conference [2017] should’ she suggests ‘reject the “McDonnell amendment”,’ so called because of the shadow chancellor’s two failed attempts to stand for leader and his unrequited demand to have a third go. I said that stopping the McDonnell amendment was my New Years resolution. Others are wading in with coverage for the campaign in Times Redbox, New Statesman, the Waugh Room and Telegraph

This week it has gone wild! Heather Stewart has covered the debate in the Guardian, Matthew d’Ancona came out against it and Maya Goodfellow in favour in the comment pages of the same paper. Myself and former MP and Corbynite Chris Williamson debated the amendment on LabourVision.

The hard-left are serious about making this disastrous change and are now coming out fighting for this. They know the Corbyn leadership is doomed so they need this to save the wider project. We cannot let this get through at Labour party conference 2017. As you know, we are working hard-in-glove with Labour First to defeat this threat. 

Critically, you can help:

First, stand, or get a fellow moderate, to stand as Labour party conference delegate. 

Second, have a debate about the issue in your constituency Labour party. Invite Luke Akehurst or myself – or we can help you find someone else – to make the case against this disastrous change. 

Third, help Gloria De Piero and Michael Cashman get nominations to the Conference Arrangements Committee. It will not affect this year’s conference or the McDonnell amendment but they need your help and the so-called Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and Momentum will be back with more destructive amendments, especially if they do not get their way this year! 

Finally, it is not over

Tony Blair made a rare reappearance to remind the world that he is not happy with the outcome of the recent referendum. But this is no ‘Remoaner’ monologue. Instead of simply giving the government a blank cheque, he sought to be a counter-weight to the ‘one-way’ pressure from the Tory right and Ukip. While stating the obvious – that Brexit was a direction of travel, not a destination – he argued that like a house-buyer purchasing a place they have never seen, the British public should be allowed a verdict on the Brexit deal when it materialises. Off plan it might be great but when erected it could be very different, we all retain the right to change our mind. 

May has committed Britain not to a hard Brexit, but a Brexit at any cost. The Tories know they could not get elected on a platform of creating a Singapore-style economy, but if they get their way on Brexit, Blair is right that they will tell the voters they are left with no alternative but to slash taxes and workers’ rights.

Blair’s new institute is set to take on some of the these arguments but also look at the wider issues of globalisation and populism. When taking on both, he had a poignant reminder to progressives: 

‘I always believe that if the centre ground does not deal with the problems, the extremes can exploit them. But our duty is to give answers, not ride the anger.’

I get the sense we are going to hear a lot more on this. It is time we all had better answers. 


Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets at @RichardAngell



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Richard Angell

is director of Progress

1 comment

  • Tony Blair? The poor, deluded old soul is just a tragic figure now. His occasional Norman Desmond interventions, such as this one, have nothing of the emotional power of the original. No, dear, you are not still big.

    In more serious news, an anonymous text message to such Muslims as there are in Stoke Central, which has mysteriously found its way into the hands of the Lib Dems. And a far from anonymous Conservative leaflet, signed by the Prime Minister, in which she falsely claims that all of the local Labour MPs voted against Article 50. Labour has won, and everyone knows it. Theresa May ought to be pleased, since as soon as that result is in, then she will no longer have to pay the slightest attention to the Right. That force will be spent for at least a generation, and possibly forever.

    Britain has already acquired a variation on the old French theme of sinistrisme, in which no one ever admitted to being right-wing as such. Sarkozy was the Fifth Republic’s first President ever to do so. But if you need to, then look up his predecessors. Left-wing politicians proudly owned the name, while everyone else claimed to be a centrist, or even to be a bit on the leftish side, or to reject the terminology. Does that sound familiar?

    The only avowedly right-wing candidate for President in 1974 was Jean-Marie Le Pen, even though that election was won by Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. In 1981, no candidate at all professed to be of the Right, even though the first and third places in the first round went respectively to Giscard and to Jacques Chirac.

    From next Friday morning, this country is going to be like that. If May now maintains that hers is the party of civil nuclear power, then that represents a very significant change. David Cameron, with his windmill fixation, called it “a last resort” when Gordon Brown and the then Energy Secretary, Ed Miliband, were expanding it. The unions have always been significant proponents of it.

    It is true that Jeremy Corbyn has a history of lukewarmness towards it. But he supports the current project in Copeland. His more general reservations are rooted in his continuing support, which I have heard him express to many thousands of people and the television cameras, for the renewed exploitation of this country’s vast reserves of coal. During the last Parliament, I heard Miliband say the same thing to the same enormous and televised annual event.

    If May can shift on nuclear power, then she can shift on coal, too. Or be replaced with someone who would indeed bring back that industry, with its vital role in securing this country’s independence from the world’s volatile centres of oil and gas production, and who had proved that he would by his pressing of her to do so. Step forward, Jeremy Corbyn.

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