Left-Wing Groups Continue To Outpace The Conservative Party On Strategic Thinking

Young Fabians - Global Ready Britain - Taking Stock As We Go It Alone

While Theresa May’s rootless Conservative Party tears itself apart over Brexit and continues to fail to provide a clear, positive vision for Britain, one currently has to look primarily to left-wing groups for a systemic analysis of Britain’s challenges — and ideas to fix them

Depressing as it is to write, still it must be acknowledged that with the Conservative Party permanently stuck in neutral under the leadership of a failed prime minister, nearly all of the intellectual and political energy currently resides on the left and centre-left of British politics.

Not Jeremy Corbyn’s faction of the Labour Party, of course – Corbynism still doesn’t seem to amount to much more than reheating the planned economy policies of the 1960s and 1970s, which only failed last time because we didn’t throw ourselves behind them lustily enough when they gave us the three-day week and rolling blackouts. And an important caveat should be made that some forward-thinking Conservative MPs are doing their utmost to shock some intellectual and ideological life back into the party – George Freeman and Nick Boles being the two most prominent examples.

Yet it remains the case that when it comes to acknowledging that Britain has entered a period of discontinuity – a time when we face a new configuration of challenges which are unresponsive to the policy remedies of the past and causing people to lose faith in existing political parties, processes and institutions – the Left seems to “get it” far more than the Right. This might be forgivable if conservatives were actively using their time in government to enact an agenda of their own, however misguided. But there is no agenda, save what appears to be a concerted effort to move the Conservative Party to the left of Ed Miliband’s losing 2015 Labour Party manifesto.

By contrast, Ria Bernard, chair of the Young Fabians, has one eye fixed on the future. Writing for LabourList, Bernard urges:

As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, we need to be thinking about our position globally to ensure that we can compete and prosper economically and socially on the international stage.

While understandably most parliamentary activity is currently focused on the Brexit deal, we need to consider what happens next as Britain seeks a more independent role for itself in global trade.

The idea of auditing our strengths and vulnerabilities as a nation should not be something brought about by the decision to break ties with the EU – it should be something we are routinely doing to enable us to reach our potential and ensure prosperity for everyone in society. But it seems particularly important that at this time we consider where we stand in terms of a range of domestic policy areas and how we measure up to nations around the world.

If we look at our domestic policies, are we functioning at full capacity? Do we have the skills, expertise and structures in place to ensure that domestically we are supporting the population, and internationally we are able to compete? Which areas of domestic policy will put us in a strong position as we go it alone, and where will we need to be focusing our efforts to ensure that we can compete and participate in the global economy?

Apparently the Young Fabians have been working on this initiative for awhile, and have now published a report with the fruits of their labour. The report itself grew out of discussions around three specific questions:

  1. What are the strengths and vulnerabilities of Britain’s domestic policy in comparison with other countries?
  2. What are our core strengths as a nation that will enable us to effectively compete in the global community?
  3. What will undermine our place on the global stage?

These are absolutely the kind of questions that need to be asked in order to engage in strategic thinking. Serious political leaders ought regularly to conduct a dispassionate analysis of where we stand vis-a-vis our peer countries and competitors. They ought to fearlessly scrutinise our current strengths and weaknesses, confronting any serious liabilities rather than ignoring them. And perhaps most importantly, serious political leaders should be able to outline a clear vision for domestic political reform or management together with an unambiguous declaration of what Britain stands for in the world – and with whom we stand.

Does anybody honestly think that the incumbent Conservative government is engaging in any of these basic acts of strategic thinking? Does anybody honestly believe that they have done so since Theresa May came to power? Or even since 2010 and the coalition government led by David Cameron? In the former cases, the answer is surely no. Instead, ministers scurry around putting out fires or chasing positive headlines, picking up or dropping policies based on the next day’s news cycle rather than doing what is right, guided by conservative principle. And all of this under the “leadership” of a prime minister whose primary objective every morning is to survive the day.

Obviously it is easier to engage in strategic thinking from the luxury of opposition, when one has nothing but time to kick ideas around and undertake the kind of analysis that leads to good policy. But being in power is no excuse for a failure to plan – this government should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, otherwise what are we paying them for?

Meanwhile, as Conservative MPs and activists glumly try to discern whether Amber Rudd or Philip Hammond is the more inspirational, charismatic future leader to replace Theresa May, the Young Fabians correctly identify many of the major challenges facing the country:

It is widely acknowledged that we are performing poorly in terms of growth, productivity and underemployment. We have a generation of young people who are encouraged to go to university, then face a limited pool of graduate-level jobs, leading to a huge mismatch between skills and demand across the skills bands. The “gig economy” and the rise in automation is at risk of eroding hard-won rights and making job security a luxury. Our levels of productivity are some of the lowest in the world and yet we are working some of the longest hours in Europe.

If we look at health and education – are our systems the most effective way to ensure a healthy, prosperous and highly skilled population? The NHS is under phenomenal strain as it performs in a context of under-funding, staff shortages and the demands of an increasingly ageing population. A country with a healthcare service that is entirely free at the point of use, and provides services far beyond the scope of when it was initially founded in 1948, spends a significantly low proportion of its GDP on it. The NHS is likely to face challenges around funding for new research and negotiating with pharmaceutical companies, as well linking up with social care and the correcting the failure to invest in prevention.

The increasingly fractured education system, which comprises a wide range of schools from privately-funded institutions and state comprehensives to academies, free schools and faith schools, is leading to postcode lotteries and a disparity in access to specialist provision. Yet, in terms of skills and innovation, we need to be evaluating whether our national curriculum is fit for teaching the skills and knowledge that will be needed to compete in the international job market. Is the next generation prepared for the new world of automation and able to compete in the era of globalisation?

At one point in the report, the Young Fabians – the Young Fabians! – even question the continued viability of the National Health Service:

Turning to the NHS, there was much discussion on whether it is the most cost-effective way of delivering high quality, free at the point of use healthcare or if the system is no longer sustainable.

Meanwhile, Conservative MPs, terrified of showing anything less than fawning deference to our national religion, continue to tweet out bland banalities and paeans of praise to the NHS without engaging in any kind of strategic or comparative analysis to determine whether that dated organisation still best serves our needs:

What is impressive here is that rather than wasting time in a divisive effort to thwart Brexit or impose an ideologically pre-determined left-wing wishlist of policies on Britain, the Young Fabians chose instead to look forward, not back. They started with a blank sheet of paper and  sought to identify all of the various challenges (and presumably opportunities) facing Britain in order to inform joined-up policymaking.

The next step – for which we have not yet seen any evidence from the Young Fabians, though hardly their fault when nobody else has led the way – is an attempt to join up these various diagnoses and identify the connections, dependencies and shared root causes between the various issues. This is an important step if we are to ensure that future policies work in concert with one another to achieve positive outcomes rather than interfering with one another or leading to the kind of confused messaging which can erode political support for a course of action.

It should be a source of abiding shame to Theresa May and those with prominent positions in the Conservative Party that one has to turn to groups such as the Young Fabians for the kind of strategic analysis that most competent governments (and nearly all major corporations) undertake as a matter of course. It should not be necessary for blogs such as this one to plead with MPs and ministers to lift their gaze from the daily news cycle for long enough to articulate a positive vision for their respective departments or for the country as a whole, and yet here we are.

When Britain last went through a period of discontinuity in the late 1970s, Labour represented declinism, fear of the future and a slavish commitment to the failing policies of the post-war consensus. Their punishment for failing to show political courage at that time was eighteen years in the wilderness of opposition, and the destruction of much which they claim to hold dear. The Tories now find themselves in a nearly identical position, painted as grim custodians of a failing status quo, an obstinately un-visionary party of technocrats and chancers who want to cling onto power only for power’s sake. Some of the issues feeding into our current period of discontinuity are different, but the political threat is identical.

And unless the Tories can stop being bested at strategic thinking by a group of earnest twenty-somethings of the centre-left, Labour’s fate of 1979 awaits them.

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The Conservative Party Has Lost The Pulse Of The Nation

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Labour’s statist, redistributionist policies are as bad as ever, but unlike the Tories they increasingly have the pulse of the nation

Once again I find myself in the strange position of agreeing with a stridently left-wing MP in their criticism of this drifting Conservative government and the failing centrist consensus which it represents.

As Jon Trickett continues to curate LabourList for the week, North West Durham MP Laura Pidcock writes:

Those people who sit on the government benches, who speak very well and pronounce their excellence and their firm grasp of the system, probably do believe it was their hard work that got them there. I’m sure they believe that it was some unique brilliance that put them in a position of power, not their childhood classrooms with numbers in single figures; not their personal allowances whilst at university: not their ability to recover from failures, because of the large cushion they sit upon. Not everybody who is wealthy and privileged is like this, but it certainly – and evidently – it makes it harder for those that are to understand the reality of what is happening to ordinary people.

This is why you get a system like universal credit, like the bedroom tax, the rape clause, the sanction system, the work capability assessments and he hugely alienating disability benefits system. It is why there are fines and punishments associated with all aspect of working class life: parking, smoking, littering, debt payments, libraries, electricity meters. When I had a book that was overdue to return to the Commons Library, I did not receive a fine. Undoubtedly it was assumed that I was too busy, that I had better things to be doing. Do the same presumptions apply to 99 per cent of Britain? Of course, not. On the contrary, they seen are lazy, feckless and are perceived to be “cheating” the system for turning up minutes late to a benefits assessment. Then they are hit where they won’t recover: through their finances, and so the cycle continues.

Of course, Pidcock ultimately goes on to spoil it all with economically illiterate class envy and a programme based more on tearing down the privileged rather than giving greater opportunities to the underprivileged:

We must expose the absurdity of our current system, we should shine a light on the cosy, privileged networks which lock out our people, our communities and our class. We have to call out poverty pay for what it is: it is robbery from the real wealth creators.

This much at least is socialist piffle. Yes of course there are some exclusive, exclusionary networks that are unwelcoming to minorities and working class people, and this is reprehensible when it occurs. And yes, recruitment to the SpAdocracy and cadre of parliamentary researchers and advisers which acts as a recruitment pool of future MPs is often too narrowly targeted at people from the same homogeneous background. But as this blog discussed yesterday in the wake of the Oxford University diversity non-scandal, the real issue is a problem with the supply of qualified people from under-represented backgrounds, not a lack of demand for them.

Most institutions remotely connected with government are under huge pressure to improve their diversity ratios, and face constant political pressure and bad publicity when they fail to do so. The fact that insufficient progress has been made tells us that the pipeline of qualified (or interested) candidates remains restricted, not that willing and capable people are necessarily being turned away.

But strip away the leftist agenda and the rest of Pidcock’s criticism is spot-on. Of course there are honourable exceptions, but MPs sometimes manage to display a remarkable lack of empathy for the struggles of the squeezed middle. This manifests in a multitude of ways, and is by no means restricted to the Conservative Party.

The London-raised metro-left Labour MP parachuted into a safe Northern constituency but boasting a voting record more attuned to the priorities of Islington than Darlington is every bit as out of touch as the privately-educated Tory MP who cannot comprehend why a six-week gap between applying for Universal Credit and receiving a payment might be problematic. Or the Tory MP who is confused that a selfish housing policy which chronically restricts the supply of housing stock to benefit older homeowners simultaneously alienates younger voters. Or the rural Tory MP who devotes all their energy to supporting NIMBY causes and then wonders why each election leaves him with fewer and fewer colleagues from urban constituencies.

My concern is not that the Labour Party is suddenly coming up with compelling, inventive new solutions to the problems we face as a country. By and large, they are not. My concern is that Labour are at least correctly identifying some of those problems and speaking to them in a way which makes people think they care, while the Conservative Party steams on in the same dismal direction as before, bereft of vision or policy ideas and with an unfortunate tendency to loudly insist that everything is great when everybody can see otherwise.

My concern is that more than four months after a general election result which has seemingly prompted no change in strategy by Theresa May’s government, Labour MPs are starting to make more sense – and sound more like they live in the real world – than their Conservative counterparts.

And when that happens, it usually means that the out-of-touch party is heading for a spell on the Opposition benches.

 

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The Left’s New Cunning Plan: Pretend To Support Brexit, Then Sabotage It Later

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Someone needs to tell the pro-EU centrist establishment that plotting an establishment usurpation of democracy in public isn’t the smartest strategy

You have to admire the chutzpah of the establishment centre-left right now. Last week they publicly advanced their super clever idea for Remainers to pretend to make peace with Brexit in order to regain credibility with the public (but only in order to sneakily backstab the whole enterprise a few years down the line).

No, seriously:

An increasing number of Remainers are attracted to an alternative strategy. After a lengthy transition, they argue, voters should be offered a choice between a new EU trade deal and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be a distant memory. The proviso, they add, is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms (rather than ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area).

Rather than publicly proposing this plan, MPs are wisely keeping their counsel. As they know, those who hope to overturn the Brexit result must first be seen to respect it.

Interesting. So let me get this straight:

Step 1: Pretend to accept the EU referendum result.

Step 2: Work furiously behind the scenes to overturn it in a few years’ time.

Step 3: Keep the whole dastardly plot a secret, so that nobody finds — oh, too late.

And today we see another confession from the Left, this time that they plan on pretending to be on board with the outdated and embarrassing ideas of patriotism and pride in Britain – because their stupid, backward working class base insist on clinging on to those foolish notions. Again, this was done in public.

Alessio Colonnelli over at LabourList begins by stating exactly what he thinks of the backward and dangerous concept of patriotism:

Brexit is a bout of extreme patriotism; an angry Pamplona bull you can’t really grab by the horns. You run away from it, then hide and watch it thunder past. Overwhelmed by it all, gasping for air, the only question left is: how to make the best out of this situation?

This is a promising start – not merely suggesting that the patriotism felt by a majority of Brits is irrational or a hankering for lost empire (the familiar trope from Remainers), but that it resembles an angry charging bull.

Colonnelli continues:

Having lost millions of voters in northern England, Wales and Scotland in between 2010 and 2016, the red party has started doing “patriotism” a bit more. It would be very worrying if it were not so. It’s a card one has to play, given the circumstances. Make no mistake: Machiavelli would pat you on the back for doing that. Whatever it takes, so his lesson goes. Besides, it’s not as if a dash of mild jingoism was ever alien to Labour throughout its history – Hugh Gaitskell was never enamoured with Europe either, after all.

The thing about Machiavelli, though, is that he didn’t advocate that politicians announce their dastardly plans in public before executing them, or make it painfully obvious that they are only pretending to get along with the target of their deception. He assumed that geopolitical actors would have a sufficient baseline of intelligence that pointing this out wasn’t necessary.

Not so for Alessio Colonnelli though, who tells us exactly what he thinks about patriotism, declares that he sees it as a form of “mild jingoism” in which the metro-left should nonetheless pretend to partake for the sole purpose of tricking Brexiteers, and then titters to himself that he is somehow pulling one over on those of us who campaigned and voted for Brexit on the grounds of democracy, sovereignty and patriotism.

He continues:

Occasionally, as we all know, the centre of politics shifts, and momentarily weaker outfits are forced to follow the changes – the zeitgeist. It happens everywhere. In Britain, the centre has moved towards the right over the past seven years (with Ukip’s crucial help), and you would expect social democratic organisations to do something to counter this while playing along to the new tune for a bit and sneakily carving out a new space.

How brave. How principled, to pretend to agree with a current political trend that you find objectionable rather than standing up to it with courage and conviction. First I am astonished that Colonnelli believes that the political centre of gravity has shifted to the right lately, given the fact that Theresa May completely blew the general election, Jeremy Corbyn surpassed expectations and the public seem to be signalling that they are getting tired of this whole austerity thing. But presumably he is talking exclusively about Brexit, which in his two-dimensional mind he sees as being a right-wing phenomenon rather than a democratic one.

In all seriousness, though, there is an interesting contrast between the way that the Left is responding to populist setbacks on either side of the Atlantic. In Britain, we do see the stirrings of this attempt to reach out to Brexiteers and others for whom patriotism is not an embarrassment (the Somewheres, to use David Goodhart’s terminology) – even if it is only a transparent ruse designed to trick them.

This almost certainly would not be the choice of most of the Parliamentary Labour Party, who hold Brexiteers in barely disguised contempt and who wear their fawning, unconditional love for the EU like a badge of honour. But Labour’s centrist MPs are constrained in what they can do because Jeremy Corbyn, their leader, is a eurosceptic at heart and set the tone in the 2017 manifesto that Labour would support Brexit.

In the United States, however, the Democratic Party – despite having thrown away the White House, a minority in Congress and severely weakened in state government – shows no signs of being ready for a rapprochement with the voters that their standard bearer Hillary Clinton once called “deplorable” and “irredeemable”. If anything, the American Left seems increasingly determined to publicly double down on the divisive identity politics messaging which alienates middle America and saw the Democrats lose the Rust Belt (with the exception of a few brave voices in the wilderness, like Mark Lilla).

Two different approaches – on one hand an attempt to understand voters and meet them where they are (even if only as part of an elaborate and cynical deception), and on the other hand a perplexing decision to furiously lash out at the electorate and double down on the same old failed identity politics strategy.

Neither populist insurgency is going tremendously well right now – in Britain, the Conservative government seems determined to enact the most ruinous and disorderly version of Brexit possible, while in America Donald Trump is simply being Donald Trump. This might represent fertile territory for a left-wing party which actually knew what it was doing, a movement which wasn’t consumed by blind fury at being ignored by the electorate and cast unexpectedly from power.

The question is, when will the Left cease their temper tantrum, grow up, regain their senses and try being effective opposition again? Because surely it will happen eventually, and that will be a bad day for the populists.

 

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Corbynites And Moderates Share The Blame For Revenge Reshuffle Chaos

Miliband appoints Abbott as Health Minister

Nobody in the Labour Party comes away from the shadow cabinet reshuffle looking very good. But particular anger should be reserved for the supposedly mature moderates and centrists, whose claim to be more dignified and trustworthy than the Corbynites has been utterly destroyed

When it comes to the conduct of Labour MPs during the so-called “revenge reshuffle”, LabourList’s Emma Burnell is very much of a “plague on all their houses” mindset.

Of Jeremy Corbyn and his intemperate supporters, Burnell writes:

On what planet is it a good idea to start briefing about a reshuffle and it’s potential casualties over the period more commonly dedicated to peace, goodwill and a slow news cycle?

On what planet is it a good idea to then hold that reshuffle on the day your activists got up super-early, in the cold and the rain to leaflet stations across the country thus stepping all over your own fares campaign?

On what planet is it OK to brief the potential loss of your Shadow Foreign Secretary, then brief he’s staying, then brief he might be going after all, then keep him? I’m sure the public is completely convinced of your faith in him and the job he’s doing. Anyway, not like it’s an important role…

On what planet is it even slightly a good idea to take four days to reshuffle what turns out to be a derisory number of posts?

Valid questions, all. The way that Corbyn conducted this reshuffle can be most generously described as bumbling and naive, but the aggravating words of some of his supporters and loyalists – including John McDonnell and Diane Abbott – make it seem downright vindictive and vicious.

To take just one example, it helps nobody that Labour’s shadow foreign secretary now clings on to his job a diminished figure, drained of authority after days and weeks of speculation that he would be sacked. If Jeremy Corbyn wanted to get rid of Hillary Benn because of their opposing views on Syria, that is his prerogative as leader. But to leave Benn twisting in the wind for days on end was not just personally cruel, but also very poor party management.

Of the Corbyn-hating moderates, Burnell writes:

You are not entitled to a Shadow Cabinet position. When you get sacked, take it like a grown up and act with some dignity. Particularly if you know in your heart you’ve given the Leader every reason to do it. Yes, the crowing on the left is hideous. Don’t fight hideous with hideous.

If you want to coordinate a revolution, it will take more than three junior MPs with similar politics. If Corbyn is as unelectable as you think and should be got rid of, stop bloody serving in his Cabinet. Don’t idle up to saying so, resign and get it on a bloody t shirt. If you aren’t going to do that – en masse – then shut the hell up.

Stop blaming everyone else for your woes. “It’s the Soft Left’s fault” “It’s Ed Miliband’s fault” “It’s Andy Burnham’s fault” “It’s Tom Watson’s fault” “It’s Lord Collins’ fault”. It’s your fault. You lost an election and riled the selectorate so badly with reheated, rehashed out of date Blairism. I’m not talking about Liz Kendall’s campaign (though there was far too much Blair there) I’m talking about the last 20 years. Years of disengagement, disrespect and downright dishonesty towards a membership who chose to have their revenge after suffering fools with only seething resentment for too long.

Amen. This blog has been saying the same thing since Jeremy Corbyn was first elected as Labour leader – and even earlier. The self-entitled centrists of the Labour Party are currently willing to blame anyone and everything for the rise of Jeremy Corbyn other than the fact that there exists only a rotting abscess where their own sincerely held policies and positive vision for Britain should reside.

When Labour Party members, affiliates and supporters cast their votes in the Labour leadership contest, they were asked to pick between Jeremy Corbyn, two bland machine politicians (Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham) and one unapologetic Blairite (Liz Kendall) whose political bravery could not make up for the fact that she was seen as too similar to the present centrist Conservative government (not that David Cameron’s hysterical critics are willing to accept the fact that the government is centrist).

Given the soul-sapping choice faced by Labour supporters, it is entirely understandable that many of them embraced Jeremy Corbyn, a man who is no Tony Benn but at least maintained the courage of his socialist convictions through long years of unpopularity in the political wilderness. Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy awoke something in the hearts of thousands of people (and not only those on the Left) who had slowly come to realise that for all the calculated bluster there was actually vanishingly little to choose between Labour and the Conservatives, or the bland centrist consensus which captures both parties.

Corbyn’s restive critics within the Labour Party seem to think that Jeremy Corbyn is the problem when in reality he is only the symptom. They think that by continually undermining their leader and forcing him from office they can make everything well again, when in reality they will still be no closer to answering the existential question facing them: what does the Labour Party of 2016 actually stand for? At least Jeremy Corbyn is able to answer the damn question without resorting to focus group approved platitudes – and that’s why he is now leader.

So who is more to blame for the “revenge reshuffle” chaos? I agree with Emma Burnell that neither the Corbynites nor the centrists-in-exile covered themselves in glory this past week, or even these past three months. In fact, the petulant, childish public behaviour exhibited by both sides has been utterly depressing.

Ultimately, however, one has to reserve special criticism, scorn and disappointment for the supposedly calm and rational Labour moderates, including those unremarkable prima donnas who flounced out of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet this week.

Remember, the socialist Left of the Labour Party has not tasted power or influence for well over two decades, in which time their ideas have been marginalised and their ranks depleted. If we are to forgive anyone for acts of political naivety or excessive zealousness these past few months, it should probably be the people who have no living experience of official opposition, let alone government.

Jeremy Corbyn’s centrist critics, on the other hand, have no such excuse for their behaviour. They cannot blame their undignified public temper tantrums on a lack of experience – their wing of the party has been in the ascendency for years, and they know what it is to live and work under the sensationalist eye of the Westminster media. When they feed their foot-stomping anti-Corbyn screeds to the newspapers, they know exactly what they are doing.

Right now, the only claim to legitimacy held by Labour moderates is the rapidly fraying notion that they are the mature, sensible ones in this debate – that unlike the partisan extremists of the Corbyn wing, they are well versed in the art of government and compromise, and can be trusted to provide a rational, serious alternative to the Conservatives.

That claim is currently being shot to pieces, and all because a ragtag group of thoroughly unexceptional moderate Labour MPs are kicking up such a stink about their brief exile from the halls of influence that they would sooner bring the Labour Party crashing down around their heads than suck it up and accept that Jeremy Corbyn gets to call the shots until such time as he loses the support of his party membership.

If an older family member picks a fight with a younger sibling, one typically sides with the child on the basis that the adult should know better, being possessed of so much more maturity and life experience. We would rightly hold the adult to a higher standard.

At present, Labour’s moderates and centrists are holding themselves to the same desperately low standard of behaviour as the most partisan of Corbynites. And it is increasingly difficult to tell which side are the adults in the Labour family, if indeed there are any left at all.

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