In Brief

Jeremy Corbyn is a 'disaster', says Stephen Hawking

World-renowned physicist calls for Labour Leader to step down 'for the sake of the party'

Labour leader: farce as 'Tory spy' is outed at Jeremy Corbyn

9 September

The Labour leadership election race ended on a note of high farce last night when a Conservative Party 'spy' was caught on television trying to infiltrate a Jeremy Corbyn rally in the Warwickshire town of Nuneaton.

Meanwhile, there is talk of eight shadow cabinet ministers refusing to serve under Corbyn if he wins on Saturday, while several backbenchers get ready to ignore their new leader's anti-war message and vote for military action inside Syria.

Tory 'spy' caught red-handed

Conservative press officer Mike Watkinson, wearing a hoodie over his white shirt, was sitting near the front of the audience when Channel 4 News reporter Michael Crick, microphone in hand, surprised him by calling out his name. Watkinson turned, saw the TV camera, and fled the room, closely pursued by Crick.

"Why are you walking out?" asked the reporter. "Were you sent here by the Conservative party? Have you come to gather intelligence?"

Crick, as the Daily Mirror points out, is "an infamous 'doorstepper' who was once hit on the head with a brochure by Ukip's Godfrey Bloom". He doesn't give up easily.

"Were you sent here by Conservative headquarters?" he asked the young press officer. "You do seem to be leaving this meeting rather rapidly." Watkinson said nothing as he hurried to his car and drove off.

Other political journalists attending Corbyn's final rally enjoyed the spectacle. Jim Pickard of the Financial Times reportedly said that what gave Watkinson away was his copy of the Daily Mail, not the Corbynistas' favourite read.

Ruaridh Arrow, a BBC Newsnight producer, tweeted: "It was a bit like The Thick of It meets The Hunger Games but set in a Nuneaton car park ..."

Conservative HQ, quizzed by C4 News, confirmed that their man had attended the Nuneaton rally, claiming he had every right to do so because it was a "public event". So why did he run?

The shadow cabinet 'refuseniks'

It's not just Tories running away, The Guardian's political editor, Patrick Wintour, reports today: as many as eight current shadow cabinet ministers look likely to refuse to join Jeremy Corbyn's front bench, assuming he is elected leader.

Definite 'refuseniks' are shadow chancellor Chris Leslie, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt. Said Leslie, "I don't believe he [Corbyn] shares my instincts about responsibility in the economy, social issues or foreign affairs."

The other five 'possibles' are Chuka Umunna, Ivan Lewis, Mary Creagh, Pat McFadden and Shabana Mahmood.

They are waiting see whether Corbyn actually wins, says Wintour, and they also want to know "the scale of his mandate and how confrontational his supporters become". They are sick of being denounced by Corbynistas as "careerists" or as "an ideological virus".

Corbyn will call for unity if he is elected. The problem for those who do not share the left-winger's ideology – especially his hardline positions on defence and membership of Nato – is the prospect of going in front of the media.

"Some say in private that they cannot contemplate wriggling in broadcast interviews as they repeatedly defend Corbyn's politics, past statements and fitness for public office," says Wintour.

One shadow cabinet member told The Guardian: "Mopping up or making excuses for Jeremy Corbyn's views is not sustainable."

Labour MPs to defy Corbyn on Syria

"Dozens" of Labour MPs look set to ignore Corbyn's anti-war stance and support leading Conservatives' call for military action inside Syria, The Sun reports today, if David Cameron risks another vote on the issue following his 2013 Commons defeat at the hands of Ed Miliband.

As we reported here on Monday (see below), this could be the Tories' first chance to create a divide between some Labour MPs and their new leader – or start a "civil war" as The Sun puts it.

Mike Gapes, the Labour MP for Ilford South, told the paper: "There is a determination not to make the same mistake again as we did in 2013, and many of my colleagues on the Labour benches feel the same way.

"I regret voting against the government then, I wish I had abstained. Jeremy will not encourage the same loyalty as Ed Miliband did, because he showed none to previous leaders. This time I will vote with what I believe."

Labour leader: papers turn on 'Corbynistas who loathe modern Britain'

8 September

The trouble with Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters is that they disapprove of the country they aspire to lead, says Rachel Sylvester of The Times in a blistering attack published 36 hours before the deadline for voting in the Labour leadership election.

Her column is one of a series of attacks in today's papers on the man likely to be Labour's next leader – and the people who seek to elect him.

"They behave as if they think consumerism is selfish, aiming to be wealthy is bad and having choice in education is a dangerous thing," writes Sylvester. "In short, they seem to loathe the attitudes of most 21st-century voters."

Sylvester doesn't hold back. "The Corbynistas are Roundheads in a Cavalier age, collectivists in an era dominated by individualism". Corbyn, she says, "is intent on waging class war rather than making peace with the conservatory-building classes"… And yet this is a nation "more interested in re-upholstery than revolution".

When it comes to winning over Conservatives, which Labour will have to do in order to win a majority at the 2020 general election, forget it.

"They won't acknowledge that good people can take different sides in political debates. In their view, Conservatives are evil so there is no point trying to win over Tory voters in marginal seats."

The Daily Mail's Ephraim Hardcastle column is also concerned with Corbyn's personal dislikes – in this case, the monarchy.

What is the self-proclaimed republican to do about all those Buckingham Palace bashes he'll be invited to if he wins the Labour leadership, starting with next month's Chinese state banquet?

Answer: send a substitute. A perfect candidate, says the Mail, would be the Labour MP Tristram Hunt. He's the son of a peer and an alumnus of Trinity College, Cambridge, "where he learnt how to pass the port".

Whether Hunt, who has campaigned for Liz Kendall and warned Labour party members against electing Corbyn, will be on speaking terms with his new boss by then, the Mail doesn't say.

Of more concern to Team Corbyn will be another example unearthed by the media of the Islington North MP apparently sharing a platform with enemies of the state.

BBC Panorama revealed last night that Corbyn attended a conference in Cairo in 2003 where Iraqis were called on to engage in "military struggle" against western allied forces.

Corbyn was there to represent the Stop the War Coalition, which later posted the conference communique on its website.

The Daily Telegraph quotes a spokeswoman for Corbyn declining to say whether he supported the right of Iraqis to attack British soldiers.

But he did talk to Panorama about a 2012 rally he spoke at which was attended by supporters of Hezbollah who waved banners carrying images of machine guns.

"What I spoke about at that rally was about the rights of Palestinian people, the need for recognition to bring about long-term peace," said Corbyn. "I don't want those banners and I wish they weren't there."

We know what Rachel Sylvester of The Times thinks of that. "Anyone who questions the left-winger's associations with terrorists and antisemites is attacked for cynicism because he is a man of principle whose motives are peaceful and must therefore be above reproach."

Labour leadership: will Tories embarass Jeremy Corbyn over Syria?

07 September

With Jeremy Corbyn's coronation as Labour leader less than a week away, attention is turning to how an earth he keeps the party together when, as the New Statesman puts it, "he faces a significant number of Labour MPs not merely against him but actively out to get him".

Given his own history of rebelling against his party leaders down the years, Corbyn's ability to demand loyalty is strictly limited.  

There are three immediate issues:

Military action in Syria:  

The Tories could force a divide among Labour MPs – and put Corbyn on the spot over the Syrian refugee crisis – by calling a new vote on military strikes inside Syria as early as next week.

Having been defeated in August 2013 when 30 Tory MPs joined Labour in opposing military action, David Cameron has always made it clear that he would not go back to the Commons on the issue unless he could be sure of "a genuine consensus" among MPs of all parties.

Given Corbyn's hardline anti-war message, it has been assumed that if the Islington North MP becomes Labour leader next Saturday then a Commons vote is non-starter.

But George Osborne, who, like Cameron, believes that only by ending the war in Syria can the refugee crisis ever be solved, said yesterday that the Tory government did not need "every member of every party" to back military action and claimed there were "plenty" of Labour MPs who supported military strikes. 

Osborne told the Andrew Marr Show that the 2013 defeat was "one of the worst decisions the House of Commons has ever made". The Chancellor said at the time: "I hope this doesn't become a moment when we turn our back on all of the world's problems."

As the Daily Mail reports, the question is whether there are now enough pro-intervention Labour MPs to balance the 30 Tory MPs opposed to military action.

With only a fraction of Labour backbenchers supporting Corbyn's election, and with the public far more involved in the refugee crisis since three-year-old Alan Kurdi's body washed up on a Turkish beach, the Conservatives could get more opposition support than they once bargained for. 

The Shadow Cabinet elections:  

Jeremy Corbyn plans to "appoint" his shadow cabinet if he is elected Labour leader on Saturday, rather than revert to the old election process that was scrapped in 2011. This has led to fears among backbenchers that he will populate his front bench with left-wingers.

Hence The Observer's report that the chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), John Cryer, has agreed to hold a debate tonight on whether there should be a return to shadow cabinet elections.  

However, the New Statesman reminds us that the scrapping of the old system was a complicated process that required a change to Standing Orders, sanctioning by the party's National Executive Committee and finally a party conference vote. "It will be harder to undo that constitutional knot than it was to tie it."

Nevertheless, The Observer believes the PLP could vote on the issue as early as next Monday – just two days after the new leader's election.

Whether Corbyn can find enough MPs to fill all his front-bench positions is another matter. Many have made it clear they won't serve under him, and those tempted will have to sign up "to some level of collective responsibility", says the New Statesman. "That means undergoing the daily grind of defending the party line in front of the 24-hour media spotlight, with all statements scrutinised and recorded by Conservative researchers for future use.  

"How many Labour MPs would be willing to support a Corbynite line on foreign affairs, defence and economic policy? The new Labour leader will soon find out."

Mandatory reselection row:  

Although Team Corbyn has denied any such thing, there are fears that his supporters will try to reintroduce the mandatory reselection of MPs introduced by the late Tony Benn in the 1980s as a way of getting rid of MPs deemed too right-wing, and scrapped 25 years ago by Neil Kinnock.

"Jeremy won't introduce mandatory reselection for sitting MPs and he has absolutely no intention of deposing sitting MPs," a spokesman for Corbyn said. "Jeremy is all about bridge building."

However, fears of a "purge" of Labour moderates have increased with the revelation that Jon Lansman, a member of the Corbyn team, is planning to table a motion at this month's party conference calling for the reintroduction of mandatory reselection.

As a result, Tom Watson, frontrunner in the deputy leader election, is due to make a speech today calling for party unity and urging Lansman to withdraw the motion, The Guardian reports. Mandatory reselection, says Watson, would amount to a "charter for internecine strife".

"What mandatory reselection comes down to," Watson is due to say in a speech in Dudley, "is not rooting out the occasional bad egg, but systematically getting rid of Labour MPs some of whose views you might not share. That's not where our energies are best spent while the Tories are waging war on disabled people and trade unionists."

Labour leader: could Yvette Cooper overtake Corbyn?

04 September

Yvette Cooper's bold response to the refugee crisis and her tough opposition to Corbynomics have seen her emerge this week as the main challenger to Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership race, leap-frogging Andy Burnham.

The question is, has Cooper left her late surge too late? Have enough voters already returned their ballot papers to make Corbyn a dead cert – or does the delay in getting ballot papers out, reported by The Guardian and The Times, play to her advantage?

In short, this could be a much tighter race between Corbyn and Cooper than anyone might have predicted a week ago.

The bookies now have Cooper as second favourite ahead of Burnham while, equally important, the odds on a Corbyn victory have lengthened during the course of the week.

Why Cooper is gaining momentum

Key factors are the refugee crisis and growing concern about Corbyn's economic and foreign policies.

Refugees:  Cooper has been clearer than any other leadership candidate in saying that Britain must be true to its values and history and help those fleeing Syria, Iraq and Libya. If every town took only ten people, she said, we could take up to 10,000 people.

"Britain has to respond to a humanitarian crisis on a scale we have not seen on our continent since the Second World War," she said.

Importantly, Cooper said this before the now iconic photograph of three-year-old Alan Kurdi lying dead on a Turkish beach was published on the front pages and before the tide of British public opinion began to turn towards helping rather than hindering refugees. As The Guardian reported at the time, she was "breaking the apparent political taboo on the UK's response to the European-wide migration crisis".

Corbyn has since issued a statement calling David Cameron's response to the refugee crisis "shameful" and saying it was Britain's "duty as a signatory to the UN refugee convention, but also as human beings, to offer a place of safety, to play a role internationally, to share our responsibilities, and to work to end the conflict".

But he was slow off the mark compared with Cooper and has put no figure on how many refugees could or should be helped.

In Corbyn's defence, the New Statesman says: "His desire not to be bound to an arbitrary number is perhaps wise. Would 10,000 be sufficient when Germany is prepared to accept 800,000?"

The Statesman also comments that Corbyn's authority on the refugee issue is enhanced by his pro-asylum voting record in the Commons while both Cooper and Burnham have voted for stricter controls on immigration.

Corbynomics: Cooper has been turning up the heat on this issue. At the final leadership hustings yesterday, held by Sky News in Gateshead, she launched what the Daily Mirror called "a fantastic, sustained assault on his economic policy".

Cooper now has the backing of 55 economists why signed yesterday's letter to the Financial Times (see below) arguing that Corbyn's 'People's QE' initiative was "a highly damaging threat to fiscal credibility".

But she didn't just attack Corbyn – she took on the Tories, too, with what the Mirror called "a nice attack on the Tory ideology of austerity".

As a result, the Gateshead hustings was "the Corbyn v Cooper show", said the Mirror's Kevin Maguire, with the other two candidates "making up the numbers". (As for Burnham, how he has got it "so badly wrong" is the biggest mystery of the leadership election race, says Maguire. "He may look a leader but he rarely sounds, alas, that leader.")

Foreign policy:  While Cooper tackled Corbyn at yesterday's hustings over his opposition to Nato's bombing of Serbia in 1999, it was Liz Kendall who extracted from him the more headline-grabbing admission that he "couldn't think" of a situation in which he would deploy British troops.

As is often the case with Corbyn quotes, however, it's important to re-examine the context. Asked by Kendall whether there were "any circumstances in which you would deploy Britain's military forces?" Corbyn actually replied: "I'm sure there are some but I can't think of them at the moment."

That said, Corbyn's foreign policy positions – his dislike of Nato and US foreign policy and his desire to scrap Trident –appear to raise the most questions for those who might be dithering over whether to back him. And they're not doing anything to win him friends among the 232 Labour MPs, only a fraction of whom are expected to vote for him.

It had been mooted that Team Corbyn hoped to "reassure" Labour backbenchers by inviting Ed Miliband to be shadow foreign secretary in the event of a Corbyn victory. Miliband's decision to withdraw from frontline politics puts paid to that idea. 

So, can Cooper overtake Corbyn?

There are conflicting reports about how many ballot papers have been delayed and how many of the 554,000 eligible voters have cast their vote – but any delay can only help Corbyn's challengers, says Political Betting.

Many Labour members and supporters are complaining that they have still not received ballot papers, The Guardian reports, despite an early promise from the party that 99.9 per cent of voters would get them by August 28. The Times says that up to 150,000 ballot papers "were only sent out late last week".

The issue is not that people won't get them in time – voters have until September 10 to complete the simple forms online – but that the delay gives Corbyn supporters time to have second thoughts.

"There's potential for a late swing against Corbyn given the negative stories for him that have appeared in the last few days," reports Political Betting. "Had the ballot papers gone out earlier/on time then it would have been in Corbyn's favour."

The Sun reports claims that "less than half" of the 540,000 eligible voters have returned their ballot forms so far, "and members are swinging away from the Corbyn bandwagon after a barrage of damaging revelations about the frontrunner".

The latest twist comes from the New Statesman's George Eaton who tweeted last night: "Non-voting and worse than expected Unite numbers for Corbyn are making Labour contest closer, source says."

Labour leadership: 55 economists attack 'damaging' Corbynomics

3 September

It is not true that Jeremy Corbyn's economic plans for Britain are widely shared by economists, according to 55 of them who have written to the Financial Times to argue that 'Corbynomics' are likely to be "highly damaging" and certainly do not represent mainstream economic thinking, as has been suggested.

The 55 academics from across the political spectrum take issue with four particular points:


 Corbyn's plan to bring the railways and energy providers back under state ownership are "highly unlikely" to improve performance, and "very likely, if history is anything to go by, to make things worse". Compensation paid to current providers – if it is paid – would be "a waste of fiscal space, even unaffordable"; if compensation were not paid, it would be "extremely damaging to the climate for enterprise in the UK" because other companies would fear a Corbyn government "would get a taste for it".

'People's QE':

 This is Corbyn's plan to use quantitative easing – or to "print money" – to boost the revenues of his proposed national investment bank, which he plans to set up to fund public infractructure projects. 'People's QE' would be "a highly damaging threat to fiscal credibility", say the 55 economists, and unnecessary because at a time of very low interest rates public investment can be financed conventionally.

Ending 'corporate welfare':

Corbyn believes he can find £93 billion a year by cutting various tax reliefs and subsidies offered as encouragement to corporations to invest in the UK. The FT signatories say this sum is "almost unbelievable" – reflecting the view of [HL] The Economist which says the £93bn figure is "fiction" and also warns that taking away these 'corporate welfare' breaks could reduce investment.

Ending tax avoidance:

Corbyn has put a figure of £120 billion on the revenues lost to the exchequer because the current government is not cracking down on tax avoidance and evasion. It's another "almost unbelievable" figure, say the FT signatories, and only adds to the sense that Corbyn's plans "have not been seriously thought through".

The letter to the FT comes in response to an earlier letter to The Observer signed by 41 economists, including the former Bank of England adviser David Blanchflower, which said that Corbyn's opposition to austerity measures was actually mainstream economic thinking. There was nothing "extreme" about Corbynomics – indeed, it was Chancellor George Osborne who was being extreme.

But the media were wrong to take the impression from the Observer letter that most economists saw Corbynomics as "mainstream" thinking, says Professor Tony Yates of Birmingham University, who co-wrote the FT letter with Professor Paul Levine of Surrey University.

"It is hard to think where mainstream economics and Corbynism sit together at all," he says.

It could be argued that the new letter has come a little late: Corbyn himself has already said – during this week's Channel 4 News debate – that quantitative easing would only be used to fund infrastructure projects if necessary, and, as the FT reports, he has "rowed back" from offering a precise estimate of what revenues would be collected from tackling tax evasion.

Whoever's right or wrong, the FT's economics editor, Chris Giles, points out that "the majority of British economists have signed neither this letter nor the earlier letter". Perhaps, Giles suggests, they are remembering the fate of 364 economists who signed a famous public statement opposing Lord (Geoffrey) Howe's 1981 Budget.

The statement, signed by "almost the entire academic establishment", predicted that Howe's tough Budget would "deepen the depression". It was published just when the economy was beginning to recover from the early 1980s recession.

Labour must unite behind new leader, says Umunna

02 September

Senior Labour figures appear to be accepting the inevitable: that, against the wishes of the majority of MPs, the left-winger Jeremy Corbyn is destined to be announced party leader on September 12.

Chuka Umunna, the 'moderniser' whom Tony Blair once hoped would take over from Ed Miliband, has urged Labour to unite around its new leader, whoever that may be, saying the party must not "simply dismiss out of hand those who hold critical views of New Labour".

While Corbyn's three rivals for the leadership – Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall – used a Channel 4 News debate last night to attack his foreign and economic policies, their body language said it all: they were arguing with their future party leader.

Cooper and Kendall will have to continue that argument from the backbenches having refused to work with the left-winger. Only Burnham said he would be happy to join a Corbyn shadow cabinet.

Meanwhile, Corbyn himself continues to release policy initiatives. He wants every child to learn a musical instrument, he says Labour must protect the BBC, and he wants manual workers and others with "physically demanding jobs" – such as police officers and firefighters – to be able to retire and claim their pensions earlier than others.

Chuka Umunna's call for unity

Labour must unite around its new leader – whoever that may be.  "Solidarity is key" and the party must "accept the result", Chuka Umunna said in an address to the centre-left think tank Policy Network (the New Statesman has the full text).

The shadow business secretary dropped out of the leadership race before it had barely begun, urging his backers to support Liz Kendall instead. Kendall, however, has not set the contest alight and all polling and anecdotal evidence suggests Corbyn will win the election, possibly even in the first round.

Umunna acknowledged that Corbyn had enthused many young people to join the party as members and supporters. "At a time when so many are walking away from centre-left parties across the Western world, and many young people do not vote let alone join a party, this is surely something to celebrate."

Umunna also stressed that the group he and Tristram Hunt launched last month – Labour for the Common Good – was not a "faction" intended to topple Corbyn, but would support the new leader "in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office".

The Channel 4 News debate 

Corbyn came under attack from all sides during last night's Channel 4 News leadership hustings, The Times reports. However, Corbyn's three rivals and C4 moderator Krishnan Guru-Murthy had to remind each other more than once that the votes had yet to be counted.

Andy Burnham accused Corbyn of "making excuses for Putin" with his comments about Nato provoking Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Yvette Cooper was scathing about his economic policies, claiming that his plan to "print money" to fund infrastructure projects would only make ordinary people poorer. It was, she said, "like PFI on steroids".

This is just the sort of pre-scripted 'soundbite' that Corbyn's supporters despise and it got a raised eyebrow from the man himself. He pointed out that numerous economists support his idea of using quantitative easing to fund infrastructure projects and promote economic growth.

Defending the BBC and the arts 

All children should have the chance to learn a musical instrument or take part in a play, said Corbyn at a rally at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston Junction, east London.

Labour under his leadership would promote art for all. There was, he said, "an actor, a singer, a painter, a poet, a dancer in all of us". In his own case, he writes poetry and produces paintings that are "abstract beyond belief".

He also promised a major cash boost to reverse the "suffocation" of the creative world under David Cameron. There would be new creative apprenticeships paying the living wage, and new minimum pay guidelines for artists and performers.

To pay for it, The Guardian reports, he would look at ideas like the Dutch scheme which insists on developers contributing to local arts funds. "There are lots of innovative things you can do. That in turn helps to bring an income stream to creative artists, painters and many others."

Corbyn also promised to protect the BBC and keep the licence fee. He did not want public broadcasting to go the way it has in America where a "once relatively well-funded" service had been "systematically underfunded and almost totally destroyed".

He added: "The news values in the US are now largely set by Fox News. That is where you end up if you encourage a total free market in commercially led broadcasting."

Early retirement deal for workers

Manual workers and people with "physically demanding jobs" such as police and prison officers and firefighters should be allowed to retire and claim their pensions earlier than those in office jobs, Corbyn writes in an article for the Daily Telegraph.

The government's current plan is that the state pension age will rise to 67 by 2026 and 68 by 2044.

"It's not just in the emergency services," said Corbyn. "Construction workers, care workers and prison officers cannot be expected to work into their late 60s.

"So we need a flexible pension age that allows people to work for as long as they want to, while also recognising that for many people the nature of their work, their health, or their disability may not allow that. 

The alternative, he writes, is a "two-tier system" under which "the fortunate few can retire into long contentment", while the poorest are left to "work until they drop".


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