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Labour wasted a year after the election defeat in 2010 failing to rebut the Tory claim that the 2008 financial crisis was “Labour’s mess”. Labour mustn’t make the same mistake again with the COVID-19 crisis.

The temptation will be there for Labour leaders to keep their heads down, especially as polling shows the Tories as leading by getting on for 30 points and Boris Johnson’s personal ratings transforming from negative to positive. People’s instinct to “rally round the flag” at a time of crisis is playing to their advantage.

Some of that is beginning to fray. “The country needs to know that Mr Johnson has a coherent strategy. Otherwise the prime minister who dreamt of being Churchill may find himself cast as Neville Chamberlain,” is the Times withering assessment of his bumbling approach – gleefully quoted by Guardian media commentator Roy Greenslade.  

So it was cheering to see Keir Starmer, days away from his expected election to the leadership, going onto the attack “Ministers have consistently failed to explain why we are miles behind where we need to be on testing for coronavirus. We need answers and we need solutions - and we need them now,” he recently said.

I think, however, that he needs to develop a longer term narrative about how we ended up where we are today and to be ready to name the villains.

Villain number one is undoubtedly former chancellor George Osborne – we haven’t heard much from him recently have we?

Jonathan Portes, Professor of Economics King's London, is on the money with his piece “George Osborne’s economic illiteracy left us exposed to this crisis.”

“Many of Osborne’s “savings” turned out not to be “savings” at all, just spending postponed, admittedly at a great social cost.

“Cutting NHS capacity to the bone to temporarily reduce the deficit, at the cost, at least in part, of greater readiness, was inexcusable.

Cutting central funding for local authority services in half—and by more in deprived areas— worked for the government, he says, “since much of the blame for the resulting cuts in social care, childrens’ services and the like could be redirected to local councils. Blaming immigrants for increased pressures on the NHS, and benefit scroungers for pressures on the welfare system, was also a successful political strategy on the right for a while.

Who will pay, and when? What are our priorities as a country, and what do we need to do to get ready for the next crisis (which, again, will be different from the last)? Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

The next obvious villain is Boris Johnson. No surprise that the man who gained power with the dodgy claim to get Brexit done should have failed to commit to joint procurement with the EU.

The charge sheet is set out by Oxford professor Simon Wren Lewis  

"It seems that so convinced were [Johnson and Cummings] that nothing needed to be done that they failed to do what any good politician should do, and plan for contingencies."

“The time that was lost in those days before the “herd immunity” strategy was changed is the key to why so many things have gone so horribly wrong since. These range from minor, like Johnson continuing to shake hands, to critical failings like not ramping up testing capacity (the UK was among the first to develop a test, but is testing far fewer than other countries), not ordering more ventilators until dangerously late, a failure to deliver protective equipment to all doctors and nurses well before they were needed and the complete failure to quickly unroll a public information campaign.”

Keir Starmer has made it his mission to unite the country. The many examples of people stepping forward to “do their bit” during the crisis shows that there is an appetite for an appeal to solidarity and community. But it needs to be accompanied by an unflinching narrative about how we were unprepared for this crisis.

By Don Brind - Labour Movement for Europe Press Officer & Former BBC political correspondent

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The Time To Start The Blame Game Is Now

Labour wasted a year after the election defeat in 2010 failing to rebut the Tory claim that the 2008 financial crisis was “Labour’s mess”. Labour mustn’t make the same mistake...

It is possible that the economic and social chaos inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic will overwhelm us and that questions about the ‘big issues of yesterday’ will then appear wholly irrelevant or painfully trivial. But all that aside, we face three Brexit scenarios.

The first is a fully-fledged UK/EU trade deal, agreed and implemented by the end of the year. It never looked likely and, faced with the overwhelming need to manage the economic and social fallout of the coronavirus emergency, that now looks impossible.

The second scenario is the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal at the end of the year. Really? Any such possibility may now seem beyond imagining. As a matter of practicality, there is no real possibility, given the pressures of the pandemic, that the government, much less business, has the capacity to design and put in place the arrangements needed to manage a crash out any more than they could implement a trade deal. What is more, with a recession now being treated as inevitable, but its depth and length unmeasurable, only a government with eschatological yearnings would add to the already unavoidable economic collapse, social havoc and uncertainty by tearing up its existing trade and other relations with its closest international partners and its biggest single market.

The third, and some would say only feasible or even possible scenario, is effectively to postpone Brexit by either extending the transition period or reproducing the substance of that extension in what could be relabelled a trade deal. That being so, the question is, when the pandemic has passed, and the economy and society have recovered, will the determination to isolate the UK be reinforced or weakened? Either is possible. Much will depend on how the current emergency develops, is managed and, when over, is perceived.

If, like Trump and John of Gaunt, the pandemic is perceived as being an “Infection… of less happier lands”, a hard Brexit may be just the beginning of an increasingly isolationist UK and world-order. If, however, it is understood that no country is “Entire of itself” and the pandemic is seen as demonstrating the harsh realities of global integration, Brexit may be much softened as part of a general recognition and realisation of the need to meet global challenges, such as pandemics and climate change, with global measures.

By Peter G Harris -  Barrister, now teaching at Exeter College, University of Oxford, and former senior civil servant

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For more of Peter's work, see here.

When It’s Over

It is possible that the economic and social chaos inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic will overwhelm us and that questions about the ‘big issues of yesterday’ will then appear wholly...

Did you know that between 1997 and 2010 Labour lost over 5 million votes - most of them under Tony Blair? When I included that fact in an online article a senior figure in Progress riposted “They were Blair’s to lose.” No so, I replied. 1997 was a team triumph. Blair was a brilliant communicator, but he inherited from John Smith a party in great nick. He was supported by a formidable team, including Becket, Brown, Blunkett, Cook, Mowlam, and Prescott. Most importantly, post-1983, the heavy lifting had been done by former Labour leader and now Honorary President of the LME, Neil Kinnock.

It’s a new Kinnock we are looking for now. It was Kinnock’s good fortune that most of the trade union movement was behind him, politically, organisationally and financially.

He lost in 1992 largely because the Tories pulled a trick they’ve just repeated. They changed leaders. John Major won but his government crashed and burned at Black Wednesday.

It’s worth noting that the British economy currently is far from the strong one claimed by the Tories. Prospect Editor Tom Clark argues that Johnson’s victory could turn out to contain the seeds of its own destruction - so much for looking forward optimistically. We are where we are and how we got here has many dimensions.

The awful general election result was a vindication of the case made by the LME and our sadly defeated chair, Anna Turley, that a General Election should have followed a referendum.

Johnson, in a minority in the Commons, was applying huge pressure for an election but Labour whip Nick Dakin says “We had the numbers to stop it. They were posturing but we knew in whips’ office from our conversations we would have them in our lobby. What did for us was the failure of judgement that meant we gave Johnson the Gift wrapped Christmas present he wanted. Whips office was furious.”

It was very much a personal decision of Jeremy Corbyn. He was obviously hoping to repeat what he had done against Theresa May. They were well matched in their stolidness. This Labour dull dog was out campaigned by the bumptious energetic charlatan. ‘Get Brexit Done’ was a beguiling slogan but when did team Corbyn ever try to rebut it or undermine it? The case for Labour’s policy of renegotiation was also poorly defended.

The writing had been on the wall for a long time. A polling analysis by James Bowley shows “a slow, steady decline in confidence in Corbyn, with a level of support for Johnson never enjoyed by Mrs May. As the election campaign began, Johnson had a lead of close to 70% with Leave voters, with Corbyn hitting just 5% in the last poll.

“Corbyn saw support slide with the younger voters after his peak in the summer of 2017. As the election approached, his lead over Johnson was close to zero. In the event, the election turned around the vote intention numbers, but 'enthusiasm' was down on 2017.” It might be possible to turn around this level of scepticism/disillusionment once (2017) but not twice.

One of the self-defeating traits of the aspects of the Corbyn project was the failure to own the achievements of the Blair/Brown government. If Labour governments don’t fix things why should anyone vote Labour? It bears on the evident feeling amongst voters that Labour’s manifesto was undeliverable.

One exception to the disavowal of the New Labour record is Angela Rayner. She is very explicit in paying tribute to Labour achievements especially Sure Start which transformed her own life.

Rayner describes leadership as a “tough gig”. She is right. The Leader of the Opposition has been described as “the worst job in politics”.  

She is rightly being talked of as a leadership contender along with her friend and flatmate Becky Long-Bailey.

By Don Brind - Labour Movement for Europe Press Officer & Former BBC political correspondent

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We Need A Kinnock, Not A Blair

Did you know that between 1997 and 2010 Labour lost over 5 million votes - most of them under Tony Blair? When I included that fact in an online article...

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