Tag Archives: Ed Miliband

In Labour leadership contest, few believe Owen Smith has a chance

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Challenger Owen Smith greets Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn  (Getty)

With every big-name endorsement that Owen Smith wins in his quest to unseat Jeremy Corbyn as the Labour Party’s leader, his chances seem as remote as ever.United Kingdom Flag Icon

It’s not that Labour voters don’t respect Corbyn’s predecessor, Ed Miliband, or London mayor Sadiq Khan or even Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale or former shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn or any other of dozens of high-profile Labour officials.

But the Labour rank-and-file, which elected Corbyn as its leader with a first-ballot victory only last September, seem just as determined to deliver another mandate in three weeks when ballots close in this year’s Labour leadership contest. It’s entirely possible that Corbyn will even exceed the 59.5% of support he won in 2015.

So when Labour gathers for its annual conference on August 24, there’s little doubt — at least today — that Corbyn will emerge as the winner once again. It’s especially likely after his opponents failed to force him Corbyn to win renomination from sitting Labour MPs and after the same Corbyn opponents failed in court to prevent new (likely pro-Corbyn) party members from voting in the 2016 contest. That means that Labour’s parliamentary party will remain at contretemps with a twice-elected party leader. Smith, for all his qualities as a potentially unifying successor to Corbyn’s tumultuous leadership, is not yet breaking through as a genuine alternative, even as Labour voters begin to vote.

A strong Corbyn effort might embolden him and his increasingly isolated frontbench to force Labour MPs to stand for re-selection in their own constituencies, essentially forcing a primary-style fight for all of his critics. That may not matter to many MPs in marginal constituencies, who would lose reelection if a general election were held today, many polls show, whether they are automatically re-selected to stand for parliament or not.

The fear of both widespread de-selection from the left and a landslide defeat to the right, however, could force a formal splinter movement from Corbyn’s Labour, and that could conceivably, with enough support, become the ‘new’ official opposition in the House of Commons.

Given where Labour today stands — divided and electorally hopeless — it’s truly incredible that Smith’s chances seem so lopsided.

Continue reading In Labour leadership contest, few believe Owen Smith has a chance

Ten things that May’s elevation to No. 10 tells us about Britain’s future

Home secretary Theresa May has a clear path to succeed David Cameron at 10 Downing Street. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images)
Home secretary Theresa May has a clear path to succeed David Cameron at 10 Downing Street. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images)

It’s as if an entire season of Game of Thrones swept through British politics in the space of two-and-a-half weeks.United Kingdom Flag Icon

The list of political careers in ruins runs long and deep. Prime minister David Cameron himself. Chancellor George Osborne. Former London mayor Boris Johnson. Justice secretary Michael Gove. Nigel Farage, the retiring leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). Maybe even Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who may enjoy the support of grassroots Labour members, but not of his parliamentary party.

Monday brought another casualty of the post-Brexit era: energy secretary Andrea Leadsom, who withdrew from the September leadership contest for the Conservative Party leadership. The decision came just four days after Tory MPs pitted Leadsom (with 84 votes) in a runoff against home secretary Theresa May (with 199 votes), eliminating Gove (with just 46 MPs supporting him).

Leadsom, who supported the Leave campaign in the June 23 referendum, had garnered the support of the eurosceptic Tory right, including endorsements from former leader Iain Duncan Smith and other Leave campaign heavy-hitters like Johnson and even Farage. But Leadsom struggled to adapt to the public stage as a figure virtually unknown outside of Westminster a week or two ago (reminiscent in some ways of Chuka Umunna’s aborted Labour leadership campaign last year).

Though she promised to bring far more rupture to Conservative government than May, Leadsom also struggled to defend against charges that she embellished her record as an executive in the financial sector before turning to politics. Over the weekend, she suffered a backlash after suggesting she would be a better leader because she (unlike May) had children.

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It was always an uphill fight for Leadsom, despite the rebellious mood of a Tory electorate that voted overwhelmingly for Brexit and was clearly attracted to Leadsom’s more radical approach. May, a more cautious figure, supported the Remain campaign during the referendum, though she largely avoiding making strong statements either for or against EU membership. At one point, she argued that the United Kingdom should leave the European Court on Human Rights (a position that she has disavowed now as a leadership contender).

So what happens next? And what do the prior 18 days portend for the policies and politics of the May government?  Continue reading Ten things that May’s elevation to No. 10 tells us about Britain’s future

Meet the Muslim, 2nd generation Pakistani-British politician set to lead London

Sadiq Khan, a Labour MP and the son of Pakistani immigrants, leads polls to become London's next mayor. (Facebook)
Sadiq Khan, a Labour MP and the son of Pakistani immigrants, leads polls to become London’s next mayor. (Facebook)

When Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour Party’s leadership last September, party stalwarts in London also voted to choose a candidate to contest London’s mayoral election, one of many regional elections taking place on May 5.england_640United Kingdom Flag Icon

Corbyn’s elevation marked the moment when Labour’s rank-and-file members ripped down the curtain on New Labour, ending the party’s two-decade move to the center that kept it in power for three consecutive terms under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

But it was perhaps the internal contest to lead Labour into London’s mayoral contest that struck the most damning blow.

The initial frontrunner, Tessa Jowell, pushed London’s bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics as a minister in the Blair government. When London, in fact, won the Olympics, she became the government’s minister for the Olympics as well. Jowell, a ‘Blairite’ long associated with the centrist incrementalism of New Labour, seemed like the perfect fit for one of the world’s financial capitals.

Instead, Labour voters turned to Sadiq Khan, a 45-year-old rising star of Labour’s ‘soft left’ flank. The son of Pakistani immigrants (his mother was a seamstress, his father a bus driver), it’s hard to conceive of a sharper contrast against his opponent, Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith, the son of a billionaire.

Goldsmith’s father, James Goldsmith, won notoriety in the 1990s for his ‘Referendum Party,’ a eurosceptic forerunner of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). His son, just 41 years old, wasn’t an implausible candidate for London’s Tories. Like Cameron, Goldsmith is a moderate on social issues, and he is a former writer who spent nearly a decade as the editor of The Ecologist. But he has struggled to contest the image of a wealthy plutocrat out of touch with struggles of everyday Londoners. In April, he struggled to answer several ‘pop quiz’ questions in an interview about the city.

Moreover, Goldsmith’s campaign has been tainted by what even some Conservative critics have called Islamaphobic scare tactics. Those attacks have made Goldsmith seem not only demagogic but also desperate.

If polls are correct, Khan will easily defeat Goldsmith on Thursday. Continue reading Meet the Muslim, 2nd generation Pakistani-British politician set to lead London

Who is Hilary Benn?

Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn passionately supported UK airstrikes against Syria, putting him at odds with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn passionately supported UK airstrikes against Syria, putting him at odds with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Hilary Benn is not his father’s MP.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Standing before the House of Commons Wednesday night, eliciting applause from both the governing Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party, Benn made the clearest case for the United Kingdom to join US and French airstrikes in Syria.

Slack-jawed commentators lined up to call Benn’s speech one of the best in the Commons in recent memory and, given the rarity of applause (let alone bipartisan applause) in the House, there’s a great case that they are right. The Telegraph‘s Dan Hodges argued that Benn looked not just like a future opposition leader, but a future prime minister (and you don’t hear those words thrown around these days about anyone in Labour):

Tonight [Benn] articulately, and passionately and elegantly re-crafted his ploughshares into swords. The diplomatic case. The military case. The strategic case. Calmly and forensically he made the argument the Prime Minister could not make and the Leader of the Opposition could not destroy.

Ironically, Benn is the son of the late Tony Benn, the former secretary of state for energy under prime minister James Callaghan, and a one-time deputy leadership candidate in 1981. Long a member of Labour’s hard left, the adjective ‘Bennite’ for decades described the party’s supposedly unelectable left-wing fringe, mentoring socialists like Jeremy Corbyn, who recently upset Labour’s moderates to win the Labour leadership in September, and John McDonnell, who now serves as shadow chancellor. Even after standing down from Parliament in 2001, Tony Benn was an outspoken critic of the British participation in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, serving in the mid-2000s as the leader of the ‘Stop the War’ coalition that Corbyn would later head. Continue reading Who is Hilary Benn?

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

Corbyn’s surprise rise in Labour leadership race highlights chasm

corbynPhoto credit to Stefan Rousseau/PA.

Within hours of the Labour Party’s unexpectedly severe loss in the UK general election, its leader Ed Miliband had already resigned and within days, Miliband and his family were Ibiza-bound, the first step in an awkward transition back to the backbenches. United Kingdom Flag Icon

It’s been a gloomy downfall for Ed, and critics have good reason to criticize his performance between 2010 and the May elections. But what the Labour leadership contest aptly demonstrates is that Miliband nailed one thing in his five years — bridging the gap between Labour’s two factions, its union-heavy left and metropolitan, pro-business right. Miliband did such a good job maintaining Labour unity for the past five years, in fact, that no one realized just how divided Labour’s two tribes have become.

Those divisions are becoming all too clear in the emerging battle to succeed Miliband, and the surprise leader in the race is Jeremy Corbyn, a reluctant leadership contender first elected in 1983 to the British parliament, who’s now drawing the greatest support.

With the support of Unite, the most muscular of the labor unions that back the UK’s chief center-left party, Corbyn has managed to capture the imagination of a wide swath of the Labour electorate — disaffected nationalists, anti-austerity youths and old-school socialists like Corbyn (pictured above) himself, who’s bucked his party’s leadership 534 times in a 32-year parliamentary career. He bitterly opposed prime minister Tony Blair’s decision to join the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, he opposes the Trident nuclear deterrent and he’s an unabashedly ‘retro’ socialist. He’s not entirely committed to opposing a ‘Brexit’ from the European Union in the planned 2017 referendum. Corbyn wants to re-nationalize the UK’s train system and energy networks, and he wants to reaffirm public control over the health system.

By way of example, Corbyn makes no apologies for firmly opposing the government’s bill last week that trims social welfare benefits. Interim Labour leader Harriet Harman instructed the party’s MPs to abstain — Corbyn and 47 other Labour MPs joined the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) in voting against the legislation. It’s no exaggeration to say that a Corbyn-led Labour Party would embrace much of the 1970s and 1980s leftism that Blair worked so hard to expunge in the leadup to his 1997 landslide victory.

Corbyn’s rise is so stunning because he nearly missed the initial cut — he only barely achieved the 35 nominations from the party’s parliamentary caucus. He depended on support from legislators like Margaret Beckett, who believed that the far left deserved a voice in the campaign — if for no other reason than to show that the British far left is as weak in 2015 as in 2010 (when Diane Abbott placed last in the leadership contest) and 2007 (when John McDonnell failed to win enough nominations to advance against Gordon Brown, who won the leadership unopposed). Beckett, a former interim party leader and foreign secretary, now says she was a ‘moron’ to do so.

That’s because Corbyn, according to some polls, now holds a lead in the fight for Labour’s future. A July 17-21 YouGov/Times poll shows Corbyn leading with 43% of the vote — just 26% back shadow health secretary Andy Burnham (who held a series of ministerial profiles between 2007 and 2010), 20% back shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper (and the wife of former shadow chancellor Ed Balls and a former chief secretary to the treasury) and 11% back Liz Kendall, a shadow minister for care and older people first elected in 2010.

More alarming to the party establishment, when the choices are whittled down to the two leading candidates, Corbyn leads Burnham by a margin of 47% to 53%.

Ballots will not even be sent to Labour members until August 14, and the voting will continue through September 10 — there’s a lot of time left in the race, and it’s not clear Corbyn can sustain enthusiasm in the face of what will assuredly be a massive opposition to a Corbyn leadership.

But how, exactly, did a 66-year-old socialist become the pacesetter in Labour’s leadership contest?

Part of his rise is attributable to simple arithmetic.

Continue reading Corbyn’s surprise rise in Labour leadership race highlights chasm

What Umunna’s withdrawal from Labour race means

umunnaIt was literally just three days ago that rising star Chuka Umunna entered the race to become the Labour Party’s next leader.

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Citing concerns about the massive media intrusion into his life, Umunna abruptly withdrew from consideration earlier today:

However since the night of our defeat last week I have been subject to the added level of pressure that comes with being a leadership candidate. I have not found it to be a comfortable experience. One can imagine what running for leader can be like, understand its demands and the attention but nothing compares to actually doing it and the impact on the rest of one’s life.

It’s surprising that Umunna was so taken aback by the media’s role, especially after the punishing treatment to which Labour’s former leader, Ed Miliband, was subjected in over four years as British opposition leader.

No matter anyone says, Umunna will find it very difficult to make a leadership bid in the future after bottling the opportunity now — especially after oddsmakers made him the sudden frontrunner in the race to replace Miliband. Though Umunna started off his career as a Labour MP in 2010 with ties to the left wing of the party, he slowly moved to the center in his role as shadow business secretary, and he emerged as a favorite of New Labour figures, including former prime minister Tony Blair and former business secretary Peter Mandelson.

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RELATED: The race to succeed Ed Miliband begins tonight

RELATED: What ‘New Labour’  can and cannot teach Labour in 2015

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Though the chasm between centrist ‘modernizers’ and the more leftist wing of the party is narrower than the narrative of the past week of post-election post-mortems claim, Umunna was clearly capable of telescoping to Labour supporters and others that he would push, as leader, to bring the part back into the middle of British politics. As the son of a Nigerian father and a British-Irish mother, Umunna would have represented a growing class of British citizens with multi-racial backgrounds. He certainly has a compelling story and uniquely talented communications skills.

All of which means his withdrawal is bad news for Labour.

Even if you take Umunna at his word that the unexpected media glare forced him to step aside as putative frontrunner to lead Labour, it’s still incredibly odd. It’s natural to wonder whether there’s more to this story. A former DJ, Umunna received some negative publicity back in 2013 after he once posted on a website forum asking for recommendations for London nightclubs not ‘full of trash.’ It’s worth questioning if there are additional, more damning, revelations from Umunna’s past that could have made him less appealing. As a London native with a reputation as something of a slick operator, Umunna’s weakness was that he might have struggled to connect with working-class voters in the much poorer north. Similar revelations would have crippled Umunna’s ability to do so, potentially pushing traditional Labour voters to the eurosceptic, anti-immigrant United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which placed second in many constituencies in northern England in the May 7 general election.

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With decisions by veteran Dan Jarvis and former foreign secretary David Miliband not the pursue the leadership, two experienced candidates are now set to dominate the race — shadow health secretary Andy Burnham and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper. Both have ministerial experience, and both have increased their standing while in opposition, Burnham by challenging moves by the Conservative Party to privatize certain elements of the National Health Service and Cooper by championing women’s rights. Nevertheless, both have ties to former prime minister Gordon Brown that have left moderates somewhat uncomfortable. Cooper’s husband, who shockingly lost his constituency last week, is former shadow chancellor Ed Balls (pictured above, left, with Burnham, center, and Cooper, right), a longtime economic adviser to Brown.

Umunna, moreover, represented a swift turn to the future generation of Labour that would bypass figures like Burham and Cooper. There are others who would like to claim that mantle, though none shine quite as brightly as Umunna. Continue reading What Umunna’s withdrawal from Labour race means

What ‘New Labour’ can and cannot teach Labour in 2015

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I’m not running for the leadership of the Labour Party in 2015. But it seems like hugging Peter Mandelson — figuratively and nearly literally — on the eve of the leadership campaign is an odd step for Chuka Umunna (pictured above, left, with Mandelson), the shadow business secretary and the youngest of several members of the ‘next generation’ of Labour’s most impressive rising stars.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Though he hasn’t formally announced anything, Umunna is doing everything to signal that he will seek the Labour leadership, including an op-ed in The Guardian on Saturday that serves as a laundry list of Umunna’s priorities as Labour leader:

First, we spoke to our core voters but not to aspirational, middle-class ones. We talked about the bottom and top of society, about the minimum wage and zero-hour contracts, about mansions and non-doms. But we had too little to say to the majority of people in the middle… [and] we talked too little about those creating wealth and doing the right thing.

Ed Miliband’s resignation on Friday, in the wake of Labour’s most disappointing election result in a quarter-century, has opened the way not only for a robust leadership contest, but for a free-for-all of second-guessing about Miliband’s vision for Labour in the year leading up to last week’s election.

Liz Kendall, the 43-year-old shadow minister for care and older people, was the first to announce her candidacy for the leadership; shadow justice minister David Jarvis, a decorated veteran, said he would pass on the race. Others, including shadow health minister Andy Burnham, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, shadow education secretary Tristam Hunt are likely to join Kendall and Umunna in the race. Former foreign secretary David Miliband, whose brother narrowly defeated him for the Labour leadership in 2010, is set to make remarks Monday about his future in New York, where he serves as the president of the International Rescue Committee. Should he decide to return to London to vie for the Labour leadership, it could upend the race — many Britons believe Labour chose the wrong Miliband brother five years ago.

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RELATED: The race to succeed Ed Miliband begins tonight

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Unsurprisingly, the loudest critics have been the architects of the ‘New Labour’ movement that propelled former prime minister Tony Blair to power in 1997, including Blair himself. They’re right to note that Blair is still the only Labour leader to win a majority since 1974, and there’s a strong argument that they are also correct that Miliband could have made a more compelling case to the British middle class, especially outside of London.

Before he got bogged down with British support for the US invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, Blair was widely popular throughout the United Kingdom, positioning Labour squarely in the center of British politics and consigning the Conservative Party to hopeless minority status for the better part of a decade.

But even if Blair and Mandelson are right that turning back the clock to the 1970s or 1992 can’t provide Labour the way forward in 2015, it’s equally true that Umunna and the other Labour leadership contenders can’t simply argue that it’s enough to turn the clock back to 1997.

What’s more, in a world where senior Labour figures grumble that figures like Burnham and Cooper are too tied to the Ed Miliband era to lead Labour credibly into the 2020 election, there are also risks for Umunna or other leadership contenders to be too closely tied to the New Labour figures of the 1990s. The last thing Labour wants to do is return to the backbiting paralysis that came from the sniping between Blair and his chancellor and eventual prime minister Gordon Brown. If there’s one thing Miliband managed successfully since 2010, it was to unite the disparate wings of a horribly divided party. It will be no use for the next leader to attempt to move Labour forward if it reopens the nasty cosmetic fights of the past.  Continue reading What ‘New Labour’ can and cannot teach Labour in 2015

The race to succeed Ed Miliband begins tonight

sadedPhoto credit to Getty.

It’s been a massively disappointing night for the Labour Party.United Kingdom Flag Icon

English voters didn’t swing en masse to Ed Miliband. It certainly seems like southern voters stuck with the Conservatives and northern voters turned to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). Leftist voters turned to the Green Party, which seems set to triple its national support.

Scottish voters abandoned Labour outright, swinging massively to the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP).

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RELATED: Live blog — UK election results

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It’s the kind of wipeout that will demand Miliband’s resignation — even before he’s delivered an address and even before the British media has declared a winner. It may not happen tonight, it may not happen tomorrow, but it will happen soon.

Labour’s top officials will wake up on May 8 trying to figure out just how in the span of 18 months, the Tories whittled down a 10-point Labour lead in polls. Despite only tepid GDP growth and five years of budget cuts, voters failed to warm to Ed Miliband’s leadership. In the span of months, Labour saw ‘fortress Scotland’ obliterated by the SNP. In the span of days, Labour saw a plausible, if narrow, lead nationally evaporate.

Plenty of Labour officials will be saying that they chose the wrong Miliband brother — and that the one who could have won the 2015 general election was instead sitting in New York City running an NGO after Ed Miliband nipped past him in the 2010 leadership race on the strength of the votes of labour unions. Continue reading The race to succeed Ed Miliband begins tonight

No matter who wins in the UK, deficit reduction will be the top goal

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Photo credit to AFP / Carl Court.

The one thing that both the Conservatives and Labour agree on in the 2015 election is that deficit reduction will be a priority for the United Kingdom’s next government.United Kingdom Flag Icon

To that end, when you put aside the sideshow of the proposed European Union referendum, the red lines and pledges about the National Health Service, and the vagaries of coalition politics with Scottish nationalists or Northern Irish unionists, the central question of the British general election is how to bring the budget deficit down from around 5% of GDP today to 3% or less by the end of the next government’s scheduled term in 2020.

No matter who wins today’s election, though, the next British government will prioritize deficit reduction. Though Labour leader Ed Miliband and prime minister David Cameron have very different visions for how to accomplish that, that they both agree on this goal is notable for two reasons. First, it puts Miliband and Cameron in agreement in a way that former prime minister Gordon Brown and Cameron never were in the 2010 election. Second, it means that Miliband has largely agreed to wage the 2015 campaign on Cameron’s own territory. Miliband conceded, long before the general election campaign even began, the central premise of Cameron’s 2010 campaign and subsequent government.  Continue reading No matter who wins in the UK, deficit reduction will be the top goal

How an SNP sweep could backfire if it delivers power to Labour

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Imagine it is May 2016, and Scottish voters are going to the polls to select the members of its regional parliament at Holyrood.scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

You’re Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon, and you’re asking voters to deliver a third consecutive term to the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP), the pro-independence, social democratic party that’s controlled Scottish government since 2007.

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RELATED: Scotland could easily hold the balance of power in Britain

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Which scenario would you prefer? Continue reading How an SNP sweep could backfire if it delivers power to Labour

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

Farage’s future hinges on South Thanet win

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He’s one of the most charismatic characters in British politics, and it’s difficult to imagine much of a future for the eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) with him leading it.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Nevertheless, Nigel Farage, the investment-banker-turned-beer-swilling-bloke-next-door, has pledged to stand down as UKIP’s leader if he fails to win election to the House of Commons on May 7 from the constituency of South Thanet. At best, some polls give Farage a slight lead; many other polls, however, suggest Farage is locked in a three-way fight with his Conservative and Labour challengers. The race to win South Thanet, a constituency in the southeastern corner of England in Kent, has kept the UKIP leader focused on winning his own high-stakes contest instead of zipping throughout the country to bolster the party’s chances nationally.

Farage, who is also a member of the European Parliament, is unlikely to fade away, even if he loses. He presumably remain a colorful presence in British and European politics, especially if prime minister David Cameron wins a second term and holds a referendum on the country’s membership in the European Union in 2017.

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But Farage’s loss would highlight the shrinking fortunes of UKIP, just a year after it won more votes in the European parliamentary elections than any other party as British voters lodged protest votes over growing EU influence. Farage, in the afterglow of his unprecedented victory, hoped to ride a populist wave into 2015 on a platform that questions the value of the country’s membership in the European Union, restricts growing immigration to the United Kingdom, and rebalances a constitutional structure that’s left England, as a region, out of the devolution trend that’s given Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland more regional control.

It’s hard not to like Farage when he’s lined up in a room with Conservative prime minister David Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Liberal Democratic deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. He’s got swagger and charisma in droves. He’s never far from being photographed in a pub sipping on a pint of beer, and he’s one of the most talented politicians in the United Kingdom. For all the nastiness of UKIP’s fringes, a party that Cameron once dismissed as ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists,’ Farage and his merry band of ‘Kippers’ make a compelling case with respect to both the European Union and English nationalism. Continue reading Farage’s future hinges on South Thanet win

How Northern Ireland might become Westminster’s crucial swing vote

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On Monday, Northern Ireland’s health minister Jim Wells resigned after he made numerous comments that not only disparaged gay and lesbian parents but alleged that LGBT parents were more prone to child abuse.northernirelandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

His party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), is the strongest party in Northern Ireland today, and its leader, Peter Robinson, serves as Northern Ireland’s first minister. Though Northern Ireland is home to just 2.9% of the United Kingdom’s population, and it’s allocated just 18 seats in the 650-member House of Commons, those seats could make the crucial difference in the race to become prime minister.

Though the election has been more about Scotland’s role in any post-election coalitions, Northern Ireland could become even more important. If Robinson’s DUP holds the balance of power, it could thrust one of the most anti-gay, socially conservative parties in Europe into the spotlight with consequences that could shake the still-fragile power-sharing agreement that’s brought peace to Northern Ireland.

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RELATED: What about gay marriage in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

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Polls consistently show three things:

  • The Scottish National Party (SNP) is projected to win, for the first time, the vast majority of Scotland’s 59 seats, and its leader, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she’ll prop up a center-left government led by Labour’s Ed Miliband and will not support, under any circumstances, any vote of confidence for the incumbent, David Cameron (pictured above with Robinson).
  • Neither the Conservatives nor Labour are projected to win enough seats to form a majority, forcing Cameron and Miliband to seek allies from minor parties.
  • The Liberal Democrats, which have joined the Tories in a governing coalition since 2010, and whose leader, Nick Clegg, says he could support either the Tories or Labour after 2015, are not projected to win enough seats to propel either major party to a majority.

Conceivably, that’s where the DUP would become vital — a world where a Tory-Lib Dem coalition falls just short of the 326 seats Cameron would need for reelection. No other party, after the SNP, is projected to win more seats than the DUP, which currently holds eight of Northern Ireland’s seats.  After entering into an electoral alliance with the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) in a handful of constituencies, there’s reason to believe that the DUP/UUP could together emerge with as many as 10 seats. Continue reading How Northern Ireland might become Westminster’s crucial swing vote