Posts Tagged ‘Open Democracy’

The Wider Syria Debate: Challenging Britain’s ‘Empire of the Mind’

Gerry Hassan

Sunday Mail, December 6th 2015

Britain is off to war again. The parliamentary debate did not live up to the billing. Cameron and Corbyn underperformed. Hilary Benn stole the show and headlines.

Great rhetorical moment this was not. This wasn’t of the quality of 1939 and the outbreak of World War Two, 1940 and the resignation of Chamberlain as PM, Suez and Anthony Eden comparing the Egyptian leader Nasser to Hitler and Mussolini, or even more recently, the Falklands war, when at the outset Margaret Thatcher’s political fate hung in the balance.

This was a diminished debate reflecting Britain’s unsure, nervous position and status. The UK armed forces are at their smallest in decades. There was the shadow of Iraq – constantly referenced throughout the parliamentary debate. Cameron talked of ‘past mistakes’ and Corbyn of ‘the spectre of Iraq’. None of this was helped by the long drawn out process and non-publication of the Chilcot inquiry into the lessons from the Iraq debacle. Read the rest of this entry »

One Year on from the IndyRef: Making the Scotland of the Future

Gerry Hassan

Open Democracy, September 2nd 2015

Scottish public life has dramatically changed in recent times – the SNP 2011 first landslide, the independence referendum, and the 2015 tartan tsunami.

Yet Scotland, like everywhere, is about more than politics. In this and other areas there have been huge changes, but also continuity and conservatism, the balance of which we are still trying to make sense of, and with huge consequences for the future of Scotland and the UK.

Take the indyref. It didn’t come from nowhere. It came in the context of wider change in Scotland – of the decline of the traditional establishment and the old unionist order, and of the potent culture of deference, authority and of people knowing their place which for so long hung over large aspects of society.

The indyref changed many things. But it has become a well-worn cliché to say it has changed everything. What it has done is act simultaneously as a spike, watershed and a catalyst to further change in public life. It will take years to establish the balance between these different forces and, nearly a year after the vote, the pattern of these different dynamics and their impact is still evolving. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Us face the Future: Labour, Jeremy Corbyn and the Power of the Past

Gerry Hassan

Open Democracy, August 21st 2015

This is the most exciting and cataclysmic Labour leadership contest in a generation.

The nearest comparison must be the Benn insurgency for the Deputy Leadership of the party in 1981, where he narrowly lost to Denis Healey. This marked the peak of the left’s influence in Labour – until now.

What is occurring in the Labour contest, with the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and the diminishing of Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, is little more than the passing of a political generation, and the main reference points and ways in which the party has understood itself and done its politics.

The Blairite project is over, with the Blairites now reduced to a tiny rump and a few desperate, intemperate followers (Progress, John McTernan). Labour’s traditional right has been hollowed, out with the trade union leadership and activist base who once gave the party such ballast (and brought it back from the Bennite induced abyss in 1981-82) now firmly on the left.

To illustrate the scale of change in Labour, the previous centre of gravity of the party in the Kinnock years, and even in the early years of New Labour (‘the soft left’) has all but disappeared. Its leading proponents have been tarnished by office (John Prescott), died (Robin Cook), or gone to foreign shores (Bryan Gould) and have not been replaced by a younger group. Read the rest of this entry »

The Summer of the Living Undead: A Labour Party for What?

Gerry Hassan

Open Democracy, July 15th 2015

The Labour leadership contest is noteworthy for a number of factors, none positive or helpful for the party.

Labour have just suffered their second consecutive defeat. They finished 113 seats behind the Tories in England. It has now become a cliché to say they face an existential crisis; as Matthew Norman pointed out in ‘The Independent’ this week, it is in fact a ‘post-existential crisis’ (1). The party is in collective denial, retreating into its comfort zones, and almost numb at the position it finds itself in.

Previously when Labour lost (and it has lost many times), the party did attempt to wake up and regroup. Post-1979 the party in opposition had five leadership contests. Excluding the Benn kamikaze run in 1988, when he won a mere 11% of the vote, the other contests – 1980, 1983, 1992 and 1994 – all provided rich evidence of a party with debate, energy and ideas. No longer.

This is a defining moment about whether Labour has a future, what it is for, as well as for centre-left British (and in particular English) politics. Here are ten observations about the state of Labour and the current contest: Read the rest of this entry »

The disunited Kingdom and the confusion in Britain’s political elites

Gerry Hassan

Open Democracy, April 5th 2015

Scotland is still making the news. The tartan tsunami that is the SNP surge shows little to no sign of abating as election day approaches.

Beyond Scotland’s shores the UK and international media are making frequent references to the debate north of the border. Strangely some of this coverage – mostly in London based outlets – is even more ill-informed and inaccurate than was seen during the indyref. This is itself no mean feat.

Then most neutral and pro-union opinion thought No would win. They had two years to understand and come to terms with the indyref debate, knew its date from a distance and some of the contours of the environment.

After the indyref things were meant to return to the status quo. Normal service would be resumed. Scotland anchored into the union anew would do its usual thing and return a bloc of 40 or so mostly non-descript Labour representatives to Westminster. The SNP after its rebuttal in the referendum would slowly see the shine wear off their credentials in government as fiscal realities and the constraints of devolution took their toil. Read the rest of this entry »

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