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Snap British election gives Farron and Lib Dems a genuine chance to unite anti-Brexit voters

Tim Farron has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to forge a new broad-based liberal, moderate and pro-Europe party across the United Kingdom. (Daniel Hambury / Stella Pictures)

In calling a snap election for June 8, British prime minister Theresa May has done exactly what former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown didn’t do a decade ago — taking initiative to win a personal mandate and extend her party’s majority for up to five more years.

With Labour’s likely support tomorrow, May is set to win a two-thirds majority to hold an election, in spite of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act that would otherwise set the next general election for 2020 — long after the two-year negotiations triggered last month by Article 50 to leave the European Union are set to end. May and the Conservatives now hope that voters will give her an emphatic endorsement for her approach to Brexit — and a much wider majority than the 17-seat margin the Conservatives currently enjoy in the House of Commons. Though some commentators believe a wide Tory victory would make a ‘hard Brexit’ more likely, a lot of sharp commentators believe that it could give May the cushion she needs to implement a much less radical ‘soft Brexit.’

In any event, it’s not unreasonable for May to seek a snap election while EU officials pull together their negotiating positions for later this summer — since the last vote in 2015, the country’s experienced the Brexit earthquake and a change in leadership among all three national parties.

It will also come as the Tories are riding high in the polls by a margin of around 20% against Labour, now in its second year of Jeremy Corbyn’s hard-left leadership. If the election were held today, every indication points to a historic defeat for Labour. It’s not only the polls, which are dismal enough. Corbyn has made so many enemies among the parliamentary Labour Party that many MPs will not stand for reelection (including former home secretary Alan Johnson, one of the few genuinely popular figures around who represent ‘New Labour’).

Corbyn’s electoral record, too, is weak. When Jamie Reed, a Corbyn critic and an MP since 2005, resigned, Conservative Trudy Harrison captured his Copeland constituency by a 5% margin against the Labour candidate in a February 23 by-election. Not only was it the first gain for a governing party in a by-election since 1982, it was a seat in Labour’s once-reliable northern heartland, held without interruption since 1935.

Without a major change (and it’s hard to see anything that could swing voters on Corbyn at this point), Labour is doomed. The next 51 days will likely bring iteration after iteration of Corbyn’s political obituary, with a crescendo of the infighting within Labour that has characterized his leadership.

It will be ugly.

Labour, with 229 seats, is already near the disastrous levels of its post-war low of 1983 (just 27.6% and 209 seats), and there’s reason to believe Corbyn could still sink further. No one would laugh at the suggestion Labour might lose another 100 seats in June. For Corbyn’s opponents within Labour, the only silver lining to a snap election is that a decisive defeat could end Corbyn’s leadership now (not in 2020), giving Labour an opportunity to rebuild under a more talented and inclusive leader.

Moreover, in the wake of a call for a second referendum on independence for Scotland (which would presumably seek to rejoin the European Union), Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon could well improve the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) position — the party now holds 54 of 57 seats in Scotland with the unionist opposition divided among the three national parties.

So where does this leave anti-Brexit voters who are uncomfortable casting a vote for May’s Tories?

The Liberal Democrats. Continue reading Snap British election gives Farron and Lib Dems a genuine chance to unite anti-Brexit voters

Corbyn suffers massive parliamentary revolt as Labour unravels

Jeremy Corbyn faces an insurrection from his own MPs in Westminster, though it's not clear they can win a fresh leadership vote. (Getty)
Jeremy Corbyn faces an insurrection from his own MPs in Westminster, though it’s not clear they can win a fresh leadership vote. (Getty)

A few months ago, I argued that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had a tailor-made opportunity with the EU membership referendum. United Kingdom Flag Icon

Given that working-class Labour voters would be likely to determine the result, Corbyn could have shown that he has what it takes on the most crucial national referendum in decades. Most importantly, for a nervous set of Labour MPs warily eyeing a general election in 2020 or even sooner, it would show that Corbyn could actually win votes.

 Corbyn, who fought a lonely fight in the 1970s and 1980s against Margaret Thatcher, then increasingly against his own party’s moderate ‘third way’ leadership in the 1990s and 2000s, was uniquely placed to win back those voters in northern England, many of whom supported Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in the 2015 general election. Of course, they are the voters who also voted so overwhelmingly to leave the European Union. Sadly, Corbyn had the kind of credibility that could have brought more working-class voters in Labour’s traditional northern heartlands to the Remain camp.

As it turns out, Labour supporters backed Remain by the considerable margin of 69% to 31%. But that 31% that supported Leave could have made the difference between failure and victory.

Today, as over 80% of the Labour Party’s MPs have delivered a vote of no confidence in Corbyn, and as Corbyn now faces — at minimum — a humiliating new leadership challenge, it’s clear that his lackluster performance in the ‘Brexit’ referendum has energized his opponents and caused even longtime supporters to reassess his ability or willingness to make the case to voters.
Continue reading Corbyn suffers massive parliamentary revolt as Labour unravels

Four lessons Corbyn can learn from Labour’s living former leaders

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A candidacy that struggled to win enough parliamentary nominations to run, and a candidate personally ambivalent about running — unsure he was up to the campaign, let along up to the job.United Kingdom Flag Icon

A nomination supported by MPs who thought the far left should have a ‘voice’ in a campaign that, like in the past, would show just how anemic Labour’s far left is — and as weak as it would always be.

A surge that everyone, from former prime minister Tony Blair on down, believed would subside as the fevers of summer cooled and Labour’s electorate focused on a leader who might deliver the party to a victory.

A frontrunner who, despite a three-decade legacy of statements and positions that might otherwise doom another candidate, somehow swatted aside the taunts of Labour and Conservative enemies alike and, in his quiet, relentlessly focused and humorless manner, kept his attention on policy, not in responding to negative attacks or engendering gauzy feel-good connections via YouTube clips or on the rope line. What you see is what you get.

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Today, Jeremy Corbyn becomes the duly-elected leader of the Labour Party, and he easily won with first preferences, far outpacing his nearest competition in shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and shadow health secretary Andy Burnham.

Corbyn will also become a leader who now faces an outright mutiny from some of the party’s most important policy experts and rising stars. Despite his staggering win, which scrambles the very nature of postwar British politics, which created a revolution within Labour and which perhaps can begin a new epoch of British politics, the 66-year-old Corbyn must now wage a fight to consolidate his hold on the mechanisms of the party — from mollifying critics in the parliamentary caucus to reimaging the levers of policy review.

After a summer of Corbynmania, the late surge of shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, newly impassioned about economic policy and Syrian refugees, wasn’t enough to deny the leadership to an unlikely hero of the far left, a man who would make Tony Benn himself seem moderate and accommodating by contrast.

But as Corbyn takes the reins as the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, he should take to heart the hard-won lessons of those who held the office before him — stretching back to 1983, when Neil Kinnock first won the leadership.

Including Kinnock, there are four living former leaders of the Labour Party. Each of them, and their records, hold wise counsel for Corbyn as he attempts to consolidate power within Labour so that he’ll have a chance, in the 2020 election, to become prime minister in his own right. Continue reading Four lessons Corbyn can learn from Labour’s living former leaders

Yvette Cooper is the only Labour aspirant who seems like a prime minister

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Voting in the contest to select the Labour Party’s new leader ended yesterday, and the winner will be announced tomorrow morning.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Polls and oddsmakers agree that the victor will be Labour’s far-left summer darling, Jeremy Corbyn, whose unlikely rise spawned a movement of activism for a more full-throated opposition to Conservative austerity policies.

Cooper probably will not win, it’s true.

The Corbynmania phenomenon is deep and resilient, and it’s clear that Corbyn’s understated charms, ideological consistency and his willingness to contrast sharply against the governing Conservative Party have brought thousands of enthusiastic voters to his cause — none less than Harry Potter himself (or at least Daniel Radcliffe).

But for all the real excitement that Corbyn’s leadership campaign has generated, Cooper is the only candidate who emerges from the leadership race looking like a potential prime minister, and unlike her opponents Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall, she will end the race with her reputation enhanced, especially after taking a bold stand last week on admitting more refugees to the United Kingdom.

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RELATED:  Corbyn’s surprise rise in Labour leadership race highlights chasm

RELATED: The rational case for supporting Corbyn’s Labour leadership

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Cooper’s chances for the leadership, though slim, aren’t non-existent. If no candidate wins over 50% of the vote outright, Cooper will receive many of Kendall’s second-preference votes. If Cooper edges out Burnham for second place, which now seems likely, she could clip Corbyn to the leadership if Burnham’s supporters disproportionately give their second preferences to Cooper (and not to Corbyn).

Articulate and poised, Cooper was already a rising star as shadow home secretary, capably challenging Conservative home secretary Theresa May. An MP since the 1997 wave that brought Tony Blair and New Labour to power, she served as chief secretary to the treasury and as work and pensions secretary under former prime minister Gordon Brown. In particular, she won admiration across the political spectrum for her support of anti-stalking legislation and the creation of a new office for domestic violence. But Cooper spent much of the past five years overshadowed by her husband, the pugilistic shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who contested the leadership in 2010 and finished in third place (behind both Miliband brothers). When Balls unexpectedly lost his seat in the May 2015 general election, it was suddenly his wife whose leadership aspirations were on the fast track. Born in Scotland, 46-year-old Cooper has at least some claim to the case that she can win back supporters from the Scottish National Party (SNP), which now dominates Scottish politics.

When the leadership ballots were first mailed to Labour members, starting on August 10, there was a sense that Cooper still trailed Burnham. But in the final two weeks of the voting period, Cooper began to emerge as the chief alternative to Corbyn.  Continue reading Yvette Cooper is the only Labour aspirant who seems like a prime minister

Alan Johnson’s endorsement for Cooper may scramble Labour race

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Alan Johnson, a former union official, former home secretary and one of the most highly regarded figures of the New Labour high guard has endorsed Yvette Cooper (pictured above) for the Labour leadership contest.United Kingdom Flag Icon

It’s been a surprising election, and the most beguiling twist of all has been the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn, the 66-year-old socialist, as the frontrunner among Labour rank-and-file. Polls consistently show that Corbyn has a wide lead over Cooper, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall for first preference votes. Corbyn has won the support of many unions across Great Britain, including Unite, the largest labour union backing the party.

Johnson, writing in The Guardian, argues that Cooper presents the best chance to unite Labour in the post-Miliband era — and he makes much of the argument that Labour, founded in part on the principle of full suffrage for women, has the chance to elect its first female leader: Continue reading Alan Johnson’s endorsement for Cooper may scramble Labour race

Labour victory could bring Kinnock into heart of British government

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Twenty-three years ago, Neil Kinnock was expected to defeat a tired Conservative Party, reeling after three full terms in government that barely seemed capable of limping into its fourth.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Instead, Tory prime minister John Major won the 1992 election, against all expectations, thwarting Kinnock’s second chance at restoring Labour to government. Kinnock stepped aside as leader, and his role in Labour’s revitalization was quickly marginalized with the election of Tony Blair as Labour leader in 1994 and Blair’s landslide ‘New Labour’ victories in 1997, 2001 and 2005.

But when Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown, lost the 2010 election, the ‘New Labour’ label had become tired and somewhat toxic. Moderate voters blamed Brown for the excesses of the financial crisis and, more fundamentally, opposed Blair’s involvement in the US invasion of Iraq and the growth of what critics called a widening police state across Great Britain. Moreover, progressives and the labour union activists that had historically been at the heart of Labour wanted a new approach that recovered some of the social democratic populism with which Labour was once synonymous.

It was no shock, then, when Neil Kinnock emerged as a leading adviser to the lesser-known Ed Miliband in his attempt to win the Labour leadership crown in 2010.

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RELATED: Would David Miliband be doing better than Ed?

RELATED: Blair role virtually non-existent as UK campaign heats up

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Miliband, of course, famously succeeded, defeating his own brother, former foreign minister David Miliband, on the strength of his support from labour unions and activist groups, which represented one of three equal constituencies in the Labour leadership contest (Ed lost the other two among Westminster MPs and among regular Labour party members).

From the start of the Ed Miliband era, then, Kinnock has been a close informal adviser and mentor to the young Labour leader, marking something of a rehabilitation for a former Labour leader who himself came just shy of becoming prime minister. Kinnock’s daughter-in-law is Danish Social Democratic Party leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt, since October 2011 the prime minister of Denmark. Her husband, Stephen Kinnock, is widely favored to win election to the House of Commons this week as a Labour MP for the Welsh constituency of Aberavon.

As the election approaches this week, Kinnock has been as much of a hindrance as a help to Miliband — just as Kinnock did, Miliband struggles to project a convincing image that he will be an effective prime minister. The comparison has not been to Miliband’s advantage. Over the weekend, Miliband unveiled an eight-foot stone monolith carved with key Labour pledges. The stunt was met with wide derision from social media and elsewhere — one Telegraph columnist called it Miliband’s ‘Kinnock moment.’

Continue reading Labour victory could bring Kinnock into heart of British government

It’s too late for Labour to boot Ed Miliband as leader

Miliband beggarPhoto credit to Nigel Roddis/Getty Images.

Though it hasn’t been a great month for British prime minister David Cameron, November was quite possibly the worst month in the four-year tenure of Labour leader Ed Miliband, who was forced to endure a full-fledged crisis of confidence just six months before the next general election.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Miliband (pictured above) began the first half of the month batting away rumors that a backbencher uprising might topple him from the leadership just before the country prepares for the May 2015 general election. Miliband had already come under fire for a lackluster speech at Labour’s September party conference in which he didn’t mention the British budget deficit.

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RELATED: Miliband shifts Labour’s focus from austerity to health care

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Most reports urged Alan Johnson, the widely respected former home secretary, as a potential replacement, though Johnson declaimed all interest in leading the party, thereby depriving any plotters of the most necessary ingredient to a successful putsch — the quick installation of a universally well-regarded successor.

Labour struggling to retain working-class supporters

No sooner did the ‘dump Miliband’ story quell than Miliband was forced to sack Emily Thornberry, the shadow work and pensions secretary, for a photograph (see below) posted to Twitter that seemed to mock working-class English voters — it’s a peculiar quirk of the delicate nature of class that a photo of a white van parked in front of a house with two English flags waving would stir such controversy. But it’s arguably the most damaging moment for Labour vis-à-vis the British working class since April 2010, when then-prime minister Gordon Brown was overheard calling a Labour supporter a ‘bigoted woman.’

Emily Thornberry's Twitter image. 'Emily did not mean to cause offence,' another Labour MP said. 'Bu

Miliband was forced to reaffirm that Labour was founded as the party of ‘working people,’ even as Nigel Farage’s anti-Europe, populist United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) now threatens to steal as many traditional supporters from Labour as from the Conservative Party.

UKIP won a November 20 by-election in Rochester and Strood, triggered by Conservative MP Mark Reckless’s decision to defect to the party — Reckless, as the newly minted UKIP candidate, easily defeated Tory challenger Kelly Tolhurst, leaving Labour far behind in third place with 16.8%. Reckless is the second Tory to defect to UKIP, joining Douglas Carswell — and quite possibly others in the months ahead.

Though you might think that’s more of a headache for Cameron than for Miliband, UKIP’s rise is just one reason why the November scare won’t be the last time between now and May that Miliband faces a surge of doubt within Labour ranks.

Continue reading It’s too late for Labour to boot Ed Miliband as leader