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How to stop Boris? Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and what the left must now do

The only way parties of the left can stop Boris Johnson is by coming together and ending their internecine tribalism.

Is UKIP's star fading?

As UKIP seeks to instil discipline amongst its cadres, it finds itself walking a thin line between maintaining the populist rhetoric that harnessed its appeal to the “left-behind” and building a more polished, mainstream image.

New Labour gets vindictive

Henry Porter (London, writer): It is the triumphant vindictiveness of Jacqui Smith's speech today which leaves such a bad taste. That and the candid admission that new Labour has long given up being tough on the causes of crime and is instead prepared to let the Sun's editorial line dictate social and policing policy.

Who Runs Britain?

Peter Oborne reviews Who Runs Britain? by Robert Peston.

This book brilliantly shows how New Labour hand-in-hand with a rapacious capitalist class have created the conditions for our present crisis.

Gender and the web

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): There is an important, almost audacious article by Jackie Ashley in today's Guardian on the collapse of the presence of influential women in British politics today. I agree with her. There was an encouraging moment when women made a wide-ranging dent in British politics after 1979. It has gone. Ashley does not discuss what I think is a big contributor, at the heart of New Labour there was active hostility to women as equal leaders. Strong and able female support and judgement was encouraged - but not leadership. Gays yes, women no. That flash of hatred shown by Jonathan Powell to Helena Kennedy I blogged a while back had a gender aspect to it.

Dealing with John Humphries

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Successful government depends on direction more than policies. Policies only make sense to voters as part of a larger direction for the country and its citizens in the wider world. The Brown government has got its direction horribly wrong. Its defensive, centralising, ID approach to Britishness for a start and, well, I could go on and doubtless will. Just as big a problem is the opposition. That too is for other posts. This one is about why, when the government does act in a positive democratic way it still gets a bad press. Ed Balls is committed to keeping young people in education until they are at least 18, providing a framework for good education and ensuring as many of them as possible have qualifications that are respected. Finally! To achieve this he proposes a diploma that includes vocational aspects without dropping essential English language, maths and IT basics. A genuine qualification that breaks from a two-tier educational system that inscribes fatalism on those educated by the state. This ambition, it seems to me, is radical and serious in the best sense. But all the Minister could get from John Humphries on the Today program this morning was scorn that he couldn't describe what he was introducing in 30 seconds.

You could not make it up

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Here is Jack Straw's speech on our constitution in full. Its official title is

Modernising the Magna Carta

This defies satire. Tiring of modernising the 20th century and before even they have managed to 'modernise' the House of Lords, they are now modernising feudualism!

NHS plc by Allyson Pollock

Rupert Read reviews NHS plc by Allyson Pollock.

This book exposes the terrible damage being done to the NHS by New Labour's addiction to privatization.

Affluenza by Oliver James - the Blairite virus

Guy Aitchison reviews: Affluenza by Oliver James.

This book offers an authoritative diagnosis of the destruction wrought by Blairite values but a less than convincing political cure.

Peter Hain, what a shame

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Despite lots of things I have always had great admiration for Peter Hain. He proved himself to be a wonderful organiser and the young Hain helped make apartheid unacceptable. Few politicians have done anything like it, it was quite the opposite of the think-tank, special advisor, where are my cuff-links, career of today's younger MPs. Peter then fought notable court battles and was framed by the South African special branch and got himself acquitted - all before he started his Labour party career. And he has written a lot as well, Political Trials in Britain published by Penguins in 1984 was a serious contribution to civil rights literature.

Britain: The Renaissance State

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Britain may be about to produce "the greatest art yet created", ushering in a "new Renaissance" comparable with that in 15th century Italy, according to a policy review to be published by the government next Thursday. The Secretary of Culture James Purnell told the Guardian: "When Brian talks about the potential for a new Renaissance, I don't think that's an overstatement.

Derek Draper! Pass the sick bag

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): The Observer has a long and important interview with the Prime Minister that I'll write about tomorrow after I've read the full transcript. He may be wrong but he takes himself seriously, which continues to be a great relief. Standing in for Andrew Rawnsley the paper runs Derek Draper supposedly a 'reformed' character from his days as Mandelson's sidekick in the run up to 1997. Now, like a dog returning to its vomit, he defaults back to the the worst of the re-branding of Labour. He writes to Brown in the first person that he must let everyone know that he likes watching the X factor on TV (which he discussed "passionately" at Chequers) and should parade his children before the papers. He quotes Brown saying that the Labour party "must have soul" and says to him, "It is time..for you to bare yours". This, he argues, like a low grade Gould, "isn't about 'creating' an image. It is about revealing and communicating a reality". Sorry to write about this, but given that the Observer supports Brown and is the paper of choice for his interview on the year ahead, the thought occurs that this is a plant, that team Brown are softening us up for the Draperisation of the prime minister. If so, how far should he go?

Labour assets, you have permission to be significant

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Stephen Byers has set out the Blairite backing for Brown in today's Observer, while in an article about his article in the news section of the paper, Nicholas Watt reports that Byers coordinated with both Charles Clarke and Alan Milburn about it beforehand. It sets out a curates egg of issues that must be addressed, I was especially chilled by its conclusion:

Surveying the wreckage

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Two contrasting accounts of the Brown era. In today's Sunday Telegraph Matt d'Ancona lets forth a seasonal hymn and carol song of praise to the Premier only to foresee his doom. He lauds Brown's stamina, patience, intellect and reading. He endorses Alan Greenspan's description of Brown's "intellectual journey" to the belief that he can harness liberal capitalism to alleviate poverty and create social justice - despite, as Matt puts it, his use of the state and taxation for this purpose. And Matt says that Brown's theme of "Britishness"

The Perfect Storm

The New Statesman is carrying a striking piece on what the sleaze scandal tells us about New Labour by Jon Cruddas and Jon Tricket based on arguments developed by Compass. In effect they are saying that it is a terminal crisis for New Labour and that if the Labour is to recover it must re-establish itself as at the very least a social party with a democratic membership rather than an undemocratic machine putting the economy first. Here is a taste,

Further speculations on what they thought they were doing

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): I've been asked, "Why was Watt not spotted as a liability?"

Answer, because they saw him as an asset, an opportunity, a possible fall guy indeed. Did you see the picture of Blair patting him on the head?

Mendelsohn seems sophisticated from all accounts. He was told in September of the illegal payments. The party is broke, election is looming, he tells one of Brown's boys (which one?) of some 'close to wind stuff' etc, ie he covers his arse. Or there is something else which secures the same. Not so much illegal as wrong (see my first post on this.) Hence he can't be fired now. Also he loathed Abrahams and enjoyed the idea of taking his money. They agree it was on Watt's spot. (But Watt not such an idiot he didn't tell Mendelsohn, to try and give himself cover).

What to think of New Labour corruption V

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): I am trying to assess the implications of Labour's cash crisis. Yesterday I wrote about parts I - IV and that what matters most was the effort to hide David Abraham's huge donations at a time when everyone knew transparency matters. Jon Mendelsohn will have to go. Now I want to look to what it means in terms of the nature of New Labour and Gordon Brown. I asked before, is he like the Laocoon struggling to free himself of the deadly serpents of Blairism? Is this the picture of our Prime Minister for those of you who do not know the famous work?

What to think about New Labour corruption I - IV

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Four points on the scandal of Labour funding. A fifth on what the implications for the New Labour project will be a post on its own.

1. While it is tremendously revealing and could even bring Brown down if it continues, it is not as important as the threat of the database state. That is not just a passing story about missing discs. It is important that the corruption of party politics does not become a diversion from the more looming danger. More on this soon.

Clinging, backseat headline stealer

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Earlier this month I noted that Peter Mandelson had said "It is not for me to express a view on the UK’s domestic decision". That was about a referendum, on which he promptly proceeded to give his opinion though now working for the EU. Yesterday there was a shameless story by Patrick Wintour in the Guardian entirely on Mandelson, saying he had ended his feud with Brown, thank you very much, and was not going to brood. This announcement had already been much leaked. Now it was larded with Mandelson's boasting about Labour's unity and praise for Blair and his followers like himself for "No clinging on, no backseat driving, no trying to steal the headlines".

Labour families

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Wendy Alexander has launched her bid to become leader of the Scottish Labour Party. Everyone seems to think she will win it and become the leader of the opposition to Salmond. The BBC quotes her as saying, "The SNP didn't just win with slick presentational tricks. Nor did they win thanks to their manifesto. They won because they seized Labour's agenda of hope and aspiration. Well I'm here to tell you that we're going to seize it back."

A festival of disbelief

Dan Leighton (Hay-on-Wye, Power Inquiry): A fascinating debate occurred at the Power Inquiry sponsored debate at the book festival at Hay-on-Wye yesterday between Henry Porter, Billy Bragg and Phillippe Sands. Henry Porter summed up a general agreement that the government has sliced away our liberties: citizens are being forced to become more and more accountable to the state, while the state is less and less accountable to parliament and citizens. Billy Bragg said the best way for Gordon Brown to confront this, if he wishes to, is with a Bill of Rights. “Accountability”, Billy said, is going to be the watchword in the next round of constitutional reforms. Only this could ensure that liberty and security can go together, thus he'd be OK with carrying an ID card, provided it had our Bill of Rights printed on the back. But who writes the bill of rights and who will interpret it? Porter argued that guardianship of our basic rights could not rest with an utterly executive dominated parliament. He described how he had witnessed MPs voting away their anyway limited powers. Therefore we have to move beyond parliamentary sovereignty to a federal constitutional system. Phillippe Sands objected that parliamentary sovereignty must remain at the centre of the British system or an entrenched a bill of rights would just give power to the unelected judiciary. Even to disagree like this meant there was a guarded optimism among the speakers. This was true of other events I went to. I liked the way, for example, Simon Jenkins said it was possible for Brown to change his mind because he knew where he came from, whereas Blair was an aspirant seduced by his belief in the power of others. But the mood among the audiences everywhere was one of disbelief. Political parties manipulate their members. Attempts at activism are crushed with restrictions. Brown says that people should have more say while the planning white paper sets out to abolish the influence of local people. Once burnt, twice shy? Those whose hopes were raised by the advent of New Labour seem thoroughly alienated.

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