The Telegraph – Brexit Bulletin

Good afternoon.

The people of Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent have spoken, and the parties have a lot to mull over the weekend. Labour finds itself under immediate pressure following the loss of Copeland to the Conservatives’ Trudy Harrison. Jeremy Corbyn has had to dig in, insisting he won’t stand down after what his MPs called a “historic and catastrophic defeat”. Allies seem to be blaming the defeat in Copeland on Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson, with John McDonnell saying: “We can’t have a circumstance again where a week before the by-election a former leader of our party attacks the party itself.” Tom Harris is surprised by the refusal “to view reality without the red flag-tinted glasses”. “It’s bizarre and unprecedented – very 2016. And the Conservative Party is very grateful for that”.

Labour can console itself with the fact that it repelled Paul Nuttall in Stoke-on-Trent Central, even if it clung onto the seat half the majority it had at the last general election. The Ukip leader tried to put a brave face on defeat, insisting that the party was “not going anywhere”, but the recriminations are already flying. Nigel Farage told Sky that the party “ could have been clearer on immigration”, while his allies lay the blame on Mr Nuttall’s advisers. “At times, I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on,” one told me.

The Conservatives are the only ones to have the wind in their sails. Michael Fabricant has pondered online as to whether the Tories may end up doing to Labour in the north of England what the SNP did to them in Scotland. Election analyst Martin Baxter has explained why these results would set the Tories up for a three-figure majority if a general election was held tomorrow. The by-elections have confirmed the Tories are riding high, so Tim Stanley has looked at how they could make the most of that advantage. “When you say that the state is a manifestation of the will of the people, then the people will expect it to move mountains,” he writes. “For now, the Tories should emphasise that they are getting the boring necessities right.”

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The Telegraph – Brexit Bulletin

Good afternoon.

Voters in Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central are braving the might of Storm Doris to come out and vote today in two crunch by-elections. As polling day enters its final few hours, I’ve been looking online at how the parties will treat the possible results.

Labour is fighting to cling on two seats in what have been traditional heartlands. It shouldn’t be remarkable if that happens, but the party has lowered expectations about how it may do in the hope of making it seem so. Jeremy Corbyn’s critics will be keeping an eye out on how Labour’s majority holds up in such a scenario to see what damage his leadership may have had.

Losing both would inevitably precipitate a leadership challenge. The Tories may hope Labour clings onto Stoke then, so that Mr Corbyn can be embarrassed, but remain in place as leader. They have their hearts set on taking Copeland off Labour by trying to highlight Mr Corbyn’s anti-nuclear stance to voters there. It will be quite a coup if they manage it, as it will be a be the first time the Government had won a seat off the official opposition since the Tories took Mitcham and Morden in 1982.

Ukip’s fortunes rest on what happens in Stoke. If Paul Nuttall wins, the party will enjoy a new moment of glory as it celebrates its new MP and its first seizure of a Labour seat. If he doesn’t, his allies will be tempted to blame it on Labour’s “smear campaign” over Hillsborough. That  won’t persuade everyone, as Nigel Farage told Ukip’s spring conference that winning Stoke was “fundamental” to the party’s future. If Mr Nuttall can’t deliver, some Faragistas will be sharpening their knives.

The results will be not be known until much later, likely between 3 and 4am. We’ll have them, as well as all the analysis, on our website tomorrow. Every party will hope to have something to boast about. If not, their leaders can expect to have pretty gloomy weekends.

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Brexit Bulletin – The Telegraph

Good afternoon.

You may have heard Jeremy Corbyn calling today for a cap on maximum earnings, and suggesting that he would stand on the picket line with striking Southern Rail staff. But neither issue was the main point of the Labour leader’s day, as he was meant to declare – as briefed overnight – that his party “is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle”. That would have shown old Labour voters who had drifted to Ukip that he understood their concerns. But Mr Corbyn swiftly started to row back on what he was about to say by suggesting this morning that he would keep free movement to retain access to the single market. A rewrite had clearly been underway since then, as when Mr Corbyn gave his speech this afternoon, he added after the line everyone had been expecting: “ I don’t want that to be misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out.” So Labour isn’t wedded to free movement, but doesn’t rule it out. All clear?

Don’t worry if you’ve come away from that with little clue about what Corbyn’s view of a “Labour Brexit” involves. Some senior Labour figures, like Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer, suggest free movement “ has got to be changed”. But Mr Corbyn has been a longtime defender of immigration and sceptic of those who wanted limits, so may not rush to agree. This lack of clarity means that Labour has little to offer voters in the Brexit debate, leaving the Tories in control. Theresa May will have to make the big decisions, and no matter what Labour says in response, she can point out that she has – at least – a clear position. If she doesn’t mock Jeremy Corbyn over his Brexit muddle tomorrow at PMQs, helpful Tory backbenchers most surely will.

Labour’s inability to settle on a clear alternative view will leave them in a bind once the terms of exit become clear. If voters are unhappy with it happening at all, they’ll back the Liberal Democrats. If they don’t like how long it took, or feel Mrs May could have done more to get a handle on immigration, they’ll vote Ukip. What can Corbyn’s Labour offer that’s different? The longer Labour’s Brexit muddle continues, the happier Paul Nuttall and Tim Farron will be. Mrs May won’t mind one bit either.


Morning Briefing – The Telegraph

Good morning.

Britain’s trade unions are thinking of you this Christmas. Specifically, they think that if they can make your life difficult enough you will be angry at the government and not just them. Drivers and conductors on the Southern Rail network are staging full-day strikes today and tomorrow, with another on Friday, affecting something like 500,000 passengers. Then, next week, around 3,500 Post Office staff will walk out for the week in an attempt to stop planned branch closures. It is said that the elves at the North Pole are also balloting , while Rudolf is taking the other reindeers’ name-calling to an employment tribunal. 

The Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, is incensed. In a letter to MPs seen by the telegraph, he claims that Aslef, the train drivers’ union, rejected two offers to hold talks with the rail company, and that it is “hell-bent on fomenting this dispute”. Of course he would say that, but he also made a more interesting claim: that Southern’s persistent delays and breakdowns are partly the result of a long, unofficial campaign of working to rule in which unionised workers repeatedly call in sick or falsely report trains to be broken. “Intervene,” says the Telegraph.

The suspicion for many will be that these strikes are not directly about pay or conditions but about trade unions who see themselves as the only remaining guardians of public  services. Our writer Leo McKinstry thinks so, saying they “see themselves as part of a radical vanguard against the Tories”. Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, which represents Royal Mail staff, hinted as much on the Today Programme this morning when he told John Humphry’s strike was necessary to defend public services. “We’re in a situation where unless we fight now, unless we actually take action now, the future of the post office network, high street post offices in particular, will no longer exist,” he said. Of course, insofar as closures would mean fewer staff these unions are also protecting their members.

But all this cuts to the heart of an ongoing conflict within trade unionism between militancy and pragmatism, epitomised by the forthcoming Unite election. Unite’s current general secretary, Len McCluskey, was forced to call an vote early after failing to convince his executive committee to lift an age ban which would have stopped him from running again at the end of his term in 2018 (and thus from being in post during the next General Election). Although most people think of him as a hard leftist, but in the mirror-world of union politics he is under sustained threat from his own left flank. His vocal support of Jeremy Corbyn – what former Morning Briefer Stephen Bush has called “the most important relationship in Labour politics” –  has as much to do with neutralising this threat as it does with ideology.

But as a consequence he now faces a different challenge in the shape of Gerard Coyne, reportedly the favoured candidate of anti-Corbynites in the defence and auto industries who fear the long-term consequences of Unite’s alliance with the hard Left. Labour centrists believe that electing Mr Coyne could be the key to isolating and eventually removing Mr Corbyn. Remember that in the 1980s it was the trade unions’ moderating influence which fought with Militant to keep Labour in the centre. Of particular importance was the AEEU, which boasts among its former members one Tom Watson MP.

The unions are fighting for their future in a world of increasing fragmentation, automation, and casualisation. Their membership has declined from 13 million in 1979 to just 6.5 million today. The rise of the “gig economy” may soon subvert their role entirely (though it could theoretically enhance it by increasing public support, and the necessity, for collective bargaining). And the current government may still attempt to cut them off from their Parliamentary support. Gambling on Jeremy Corbyn seems more likely to hasten this process than to arrest it.


Morning Briefing – The Telegraph

Good morning.

“24 hours to save the NHS,” said Tony Blair in 1997. “72 hours to save the NHS,” said Andy Burnham in 2011. “100 days to save the NHS,” declared Labour in 2015. Now it seems it is finally putting its own oxygen mask on first as two key allies of Jeremy Corbyn give him 12 months to save the Labour Party.

This September Labour achieved the worst poll ratings it had ever experienced in opposition, trailing the Conservatives by 11 points. Today, according to an average of polls, it trails by 13. The party received 7,000 fewer votes in the Sleaford and Hykeham by-election as it did in 2015, while the Tories enjoyed one of their best ever by-election results while in government, and also lost its deposit in Richmond Park. And so, speaking to Andrew Marr on Sunday, Diane Abbott said she was confident his poll ratings would include “in the coming 12 months”. The same day, Ken Livingstone told Andrew Neil that “if in a year’s time it was still as bad as this, we’ll all be worried.”

Mr Corbyn himself seems to have gone to ground, causing our sketch writer Michael Deacon to ask “Whatever happened to Jeremy Corbyn?” He briefly resurfaced on Saturday, announcing he would ratify the Istanbul Convention on violence against women, only for veteran human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell to storm the stage and condemn his failure to criticise Russian war crimes in Syria. Such incidents should not be over-interpreted: Mr Tatchell is unlikely to be a household name among patriotic, culturally conservative Labour voters on whom so much commentary is commonly focused. But it is symptomatic of the way Mr Corbyn’s timidity has alienated not only Ukip-sympathising “left behind” voters but also his traditional allies on the internationalist Left.

The first problem with Mr Livingstone’s poll challenge is that it may simply be arithmatically impossible. An opposition leader’s job is usually to fight against entropy, keeping poll ratings as high as possible for as long as possible – and rarely if ever to actually boost them. “At no time since 1970 has Labour in opposition gone up in the polls from this point,” says Glen O’Hara.

But the second problem is that Labour is caught in a vice between two groups of voters who despise each other but are crucial to its chancers. One is the affluent, liberal Remain voters who propelled the Liberal Democrats to victory in Richmond Park, and who are not best pleased by Mr Corbyn’s clear sympathy for Brexit. The other is the third of Labour voters who chose to Leave. There is no simple fix in taking a Ukippy line on immigration because the first group will be furious and the second group, just as crucially, won’t believe it.

Is there a way out for Her Majesty’s Opposition? If I knew, I’d be charging consultancy fees. But you don’t need a expert strategist to predict that Mr Livingstone’s deadline will pass without serious improvement.

999999‘Sexism’ of the Tory leather war

The greater leather trouser debate continues with the revelation that former education secretary Nicky Morgan, barred from a No 10 meeting for raising concerns about their £995 price tag, herself owns a £950 handbag. “Everyday sexism,” says the head of the Equalities Commission.

UK Labour Leader Corbyn Attends London Launch of Anti-Israel Book Authored by ‘Students for Justice in Palestine’ Founder

The leader of the UK’s Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn — long dogged by accusations of personal and party-wide antisemitism — met Tuesday evening with the founder of an internationally renowned anti-Israel student group, The Algemeiner has learned.

According to information gathered by covert campus watchdog group Canary Mission, Corbyn attended the London book signing of Dr. Hatem Bazian, senior lecturer at UC Berkeley and father of Students for Justice in Palestine.

The son of actor Michael Imperioli, who played Christopher Moltisanti on HBO’s mega-hit series “The Sopranos,” was arrested on Wednesday…

“The fact that Britain’s opposition leader took the time to attend Bazian’s event and show solidarity with one of the most notorious fathers of anti-Israel agitation in academia indicates that Bazian’s influence is increasing,” Canary Mission said.

The meeting should “alarm” Britain’s Jewish community, Canary Mission said, as Corbyn is showing “open support for the demagogic founder of SJP, who once called for an intifada in the US and created the most influential student vehicle for the delegitimization of the Jewish people’s history and very identity.”

According to an IHRC summary of the event, Bazian spoke about his new book at length, which calls for the re-framing of “the Palestine situation through the lens of settler colonialism,” adding:

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UK: Labour Party Still Shooting Itself in Both Anti-Semitic, Far-Left Feet

A central feature of Labour’s anti-Semitism is a staggering failure to understand the difference between traditional hatred of Jews from some religious and far-right sources, and modern expressions of that hatred through the medium of Zionism. The Labour enquiry into anti-Semitism entirely ignored several important definitions of anti-Semitism that included the singling out of Israel for condemnation, the use of double standards for Israel, and delegitimisation of Israel by negation of Zionism as the movement for self-determination of the Jewish people. The U.S. Department of State issued just such a new definition in 2010. Several of its clauses mention anti-Israel charges, including this: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist”.[1]

The Palestinian “resistance” is not a struggle to create a Palestinian state next to the state of Israel. From the PLO to Hamas to the PFLP to Hezbollah, no group or leader within the “resistance” movement has ever considered that their goal. Their position is summed up in the slogan chanted by leftist students and pro-Palestinian groups across the world, “Palestine will be free, From the river to the sea”. The “river” is the Jordan and the “sea” is the Mediterranean, meaning that there is no room whatever for a Jewish state in the region. Self-determination, an ideal loudly proclaimed for practically every ethnic and cultural group in the world by people on the left, is denied for one community only: the Jews.

Failure to see this is the chief blind-spot that traps Britain’s Labour Party inside its bubble of anti-Semitism and, what is worse, the refusal of its leader even to admit that it is a major problem. That this is so is encapsulated in a recent revelation about Seamus Milne, a revelation that inspired this article.

Britain’s best-known contender in the “I am not an anti-Semite” stakes has shot himself in the foot yet again by burying his anti-Semitism and the anti-Semitism of so many in his party by making bland statements of presumed innocence.

Back in April, Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn planned to send greetings to Britain’s Jewish community for the celebration of Passover (Pesach). Sincere or not, this was a decent gesture appropriate to a party leader in a democracy. But in September, apparently, Joshua Simons, a Jewish activist who had worked in Corbyn’s office as a policy adviser, was instructed by a senior official, identified as Milne, to remove the standard Hebrew greeting that is used by Jews and their friends on cards, e-mails, and elsewhere for any Jewish festival:chag kasher vesameach” (have a happy and kosher holiday). This is a religious greeting, wholly non-geographic, but, according to the Times, Milne wanted the phrase deleted because it might look “Zionist” — thus confirming the suspicions of those who claim that anti-Zionism is actually just a transparent cover for the same old garden variety Jew-hatred, anti-Semitism.

Labour have denied the truth of this claim, saying that “any suggestion that Mr Milne had asked for the Hebrew to be removed was “categorically untrue”. But a different source gives further credence. Dave Rich, a senior official of Britain’s Community Security Trust, a Jewish charity for the defence of Jews in the country, wrote in The New York Times that “after some debate, Mr Milne was overruled”.

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