Friday, 16 December 2016

My op-ed for The Telegraph on the failure of international justice in Syria in comparison to Bosnia

The Telegraph


Hoping to prosecute the butchers of Aleppo is a sad fig leaf for the West's failure to intervene in Syria


15 DECEMBER 2016 • 4:33PM

The nightmare in Aleppo has coincided with the trial of former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic in The Hague reaching its concluding arguments. Given that the UK and other Western countries are collecting evidence for possible future prosecutions for war crimes in Syria, including through the use of drones and satellites as the BBC reported yesterday, we should consider what scope exists for international justice in that country.

A comparison with the 1992-1995 Bosnia conflict shows up the devastating extent of our non-intervention in Syria. Many reading this will remember watching in horror as Western powers appeared to hide behind the buck-passing "civil war" descriptor while ethnic cleansing and genocide raged. "Srebrenica" and "Sarajevo" became emblazoned in our minds as examples of humanity's failure to act, much as "Aleppo" has today. Yet relative to Syria, Bosnia saw a massive degree of military intervention by the West. European powers led UNPROFOR'sdeployment of 38,000 personnel, including ground troops, at the beginning of the conflict, with a UN mandate to protect “safe havens” and “no-fly zones”. Contrast this with our public declaration that we would never use ground troops in Syria and the desperate pleas from our MPs for even minimal airdrops in this week’s emergency debate.

Bosnia benefited from US leadership, albeit belated. As the Bosnian Serbs continued their brutal actions, the Americans, frustrated at Europe’s failure on their own "doorstep", intervened decisively by leading a huge NATO air campaign to end the war. The resulting 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement set in train a comprehensive international effort towards reconstruction and the minimisation of inter-ethnic conflict through structures such as the Office of the High Representative.

The Syrian war has seen the opposite approach from the Obama administration: resistance to arming the moderate rebels; a training programme cancelled after $500 million was reportedly spent training “four or five rebels”; refusal to use air power long before Russia deployed advanced air defences, prompting Senator John McCain to tell Radio 4 in 2012 that "If we can’t defeat the air defences of a third rate power, then I have a great apology to extend to the taxpayers of my state.” Most shamefully of all, it drew and then erased its own red line on the use of chemical weapons in 2013.

The prosecution of the likes of Mladic at the UN's International Criminal Tribunal (ICT) for the former Yugoslavia flowed from the concerted, if imperfect, Western-led, international efforts to rebuild the affected countries following a decisive military intervention and peace process. The suggestion now from Western leaders of bringing international criminal prosecutions over Syria is mere clutching at straws by those desperate to do at least something in an arena they’ve already withdrawn from. There is no guarantee that prosecutions would occur within a post-conflict Syria, given the likely influence of Assad’s allies. But even in the best-case scenario, the evidence from other ICTs is not heartening.

A quarter of a century after the horrendous crimes against humanity in Bosnia and Rwanda, only a tiny fraction of perpetrators have been prosecuted, let alone convicted. In Rwanda, only 93 people have been indicted, of whom only 62 have been convicted by the ICT, for a genocide which killed one million. In the case of the former Yugoslavia, the figures are similar, with 82 sentenced of the 154 accused to date. Noble principles stand behind these tribunals, whose staff are undoubtedly doing the best they can in difficult circumstances. However, foot soldiers or leaders engaged in war crimes are unlikely to be deterred by these conviction rates.

The most important lesson from Bosnia is that decisive intervention, backed up by long-term political and economic support for the countries concerned, can succeed in ending seemingly intractable conflicts. In Syria, the West's ability to influence events was never a matter of military or economic power, but of political will. Only after we showed that we had very little of this through our inaction did the Russians, Iranians and others assert themselves, to devastating effect.

Because of the reality on the ground and the Trump administration's likely desire to strike a deal with Russia over Syria, there is at present no realistic scope for military intervention by the West. We abdicated our responsibilities and other actors filled the vacuum. Throughout the West, politicians of all parties are examining their consciences: Ed Miliband and many Labour MPs for failing to give the Prime Minister sufficient support for military action in the crucial 2013 vote, and leading members of the Cabinet in the last Parliament for not arguing more forcefully for a robust response.

Opponents of intervention such as Jeremy Corbyn often cling to concepts like international justice and human rights as an alternative. It is patently clear that these concepts are not worth the paper they're written on if they're not enforced. Now, it seems that our politicians generally are reduced to issuing vague threats to prosecute today’s war criminals, instead of preventing their crimes from occurring. That's an absurd fig leaf that magnifies rather than masks our collective weakness.

John Slinger is a strategic communications consultant who has worked on Middle East politics

Online at The Telegraph here.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

A void at the centre caused populism so a popular centre can oppose it

Published on Medium

Hyperventilation can be a symptom of dying or of hysteria. The response of the mainstream  commentariat and much of the political class to the alleged rise of populism (read nationalism, anti-political establishment and economic and diplomatic isolationism) is of the latter variety. Collective panic has nonetheless been strangely comforting for many, justifying emotional rather than rational responses, licensing patronising insults as righteousness, obscuring the truth and enabling the deferment of uncomfortable conversations with voters and the necessary policy-making response. The jury is out on whether it’s chicken or egg, whether great populist currents are sweeping the West or alternatively, populist politicians are opportunistically filling a void at the centre. It is more the latter and centrists must look in the mirror, take responsibility for our role and draw the conclusion that as populism grew because of a vacuum we created, it is within our power to rectify the situation.

The first step must be to debunk the received wisdom of Trumpxit that globalisation’s reliance on migration, free trade and economic specialisation has caused an indignant rage against the political and business elites which created and defend this orthodoxy. Sprinkle in social media’s ability to circumvent the filters of traditional journalism, add avowedly non-establishment leaders and “it’s the end of the world as we know it”. (As a side note, I’m not alone in regarding that classic R.E.M. 1987 hit as an anthem for 2016, with its line “Team by team reporters baffled, trumped, tethered, cropped”). We’re told that politicians as diverse as Jeremy Corbyn and Podemos on the left and Trump, UKIP and Le Pen on the right are symptoms of the same trend. This is conventional unwisdom.

In actual elections, the populists have not swept the board. In the EU referendum, the results were 52% to 48%, which Nigel Farage himself said would have meant “unfinished business” had Remain won by that margin. UKIP only have one (former Tory) MP and even under full proportional representation would be nowhere near challenging for power. In the US, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote while Donald Trump won in the electoral college.

Electoral colleges share some of the blame in the UK too, where one enabled Ed Miliband to win the Labour leadership in 2010 despite his brother winning a majority among members and MPs. Were it not for the last-minute nominations of a handful of Labour MPs in 2015, Jeremy Corbyn, a man who lacked the support of the vast majority of his parliamentary party, would not have become leader. Does this capture by the hard left of the once great Labour Party indicate relentless momentum towards a Socialist utopia? Quite the reverse: the polls suggest that Corbyn’s Labour will be trounced in a General Election, resulting in a large majority for the popular but non-populist Theresa May.

We should therefore not see Trump, Corbyn or Brexit as inevitable staging posts towards some brave new world. Instead we can see knife-edge moments on which the hinge of history has turned a little. Yet for moderate progressives, there should be no comfort in the thought that ‘victory’ was fleetingly close. These moments are the hinge but they did not open the door. Here I will take a leaf out of the playbook of the post-truth politicians and will speak from the heart, trust my gut and tell it like it is. It has largely been our fault in the centre-ground. In recent years, particularly on the centre-left, we have made mistakes, taken wrong turns, misdiagnosed problems, failed to either listen to vast swathes of voters or provide solutions to some of their main concerns and have not carried out a sufficiently heart-felt mea culpa which would quench voters’ legitimate misgivings and give us space to speak.

Beyond policy, there is the important issue of popularity. The centre-left has failed to ensure that sufficiently strong, popular and charismatic leaders reached the top positions. In the US post-Obama and in the UK post-Blair, the centre-left appeared to take electoral success for granted. It shouldn’t require a politics degree to understand that victory only came when the leadership possesses both outstanding communication skills and the right policy platform. Had Labour not snubbed the voters’ verdict by moving leftwards in 2010 and 2015, had the Democratic Party chosen a candidate who wasn’t so closely associated with the establishment and had there been more ‘big beasts’ advocating our membership of the EU for the last decade and a better campaign, things could have turned out differently.

These disappointments must not lead to defeatism but instead realism and optimism. Realism, because they show that political outcomes are not inevitable and are not the result of amorphous ‘waves’ of populism, or any other ‘ism’. Weakness at the centre is not the result of populism, it is the primary cause of it, because it feeds voters’ doubts that centrist politicians can improve their lot and makes the populists’ silky-toned, simplistic promise of panacea more attractive. Optimism, because even with the man-made disaster of the vacuum at the centre, moderates have not been defeated.

We have conceded much territory through our own inaction. With the right kind of action, the centre can win again. Despite the manifest problems facing the Labour Party under the control of the hard left and the unrepresentatively small number of Lib Dem MPs, there is a growing sense on the centre-left and even in parts of the Conservative Party, that muscular moderates must work together to rebuild a centre which is credible in the eyes of voters. It is early days yet, but a space must be created and links established where like-minded people within and outside parties can coalesce and organise. I’m confident that in the months and years ahead, this will happen. Let’s not forget that the second half of the title of the R.E.M. song is “and I feel fine”.

Monday, 28 November 2016

My Times letter on Sir John Major's 1992 victory


Sir, Richard English says that Sir John Major “presided over the worst defeat of the Conservative government in the past half century” (letter, Nov 26). He is referring to 1997, of course, but omits to mention that in 1992 Sir John won the general election having secured more votes than any leader of a political party before or since.

John Slinger

Online here

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

My Times letter on Aaron Banks's proposal to "drain the swamp" in Parliamemt

Letter as edited by The Times:

Sir, While no one would disagree with Arron Banks that “lazy, ineffective or corrupt” MPs should have no place in our parliament, the danger of his aggressive rhetoric is that it fuels the public perception that many or most of our politicians share these attributes. They do not.

Full text of letter sent:


Aaron Banks says he wants to “drain the swamp” and "destroy the professional politician”. While no-one would disagree with him that “lazy, ineffective or corrupt” MPs should have no place in our Parliament, the danger of his aggressive rhetoric is that it fuels the public perception that many or most of our politicians share these attributes, when in fact they do not. 

There is nothing wrong with wealthy individuals such as Mr Banks bankrolling political parties such as UKIP and movements such as Leave.EU. Indeed I respect him for putting his money where his mouth is. However, our political parties are an important democratic mechanism through which hundreds of thousands of ordinary individuals, who do not have such financial clout, are able to influence politics and serve their communities and their country. 

Virtually all who join a political party, stand for election and serve as a representative of the people do so for honourable reasons. One such “professional politician” is Nigel Farage, who has been an MEP for 16 years. 

Yours faithfully,

John Slinger


Mr Banks's original statement, to which I was responding

Friday, 11 November 2016

A song I wrote and recorded in 2002 called Going Mad.


DIY reality
Taken from a TV screen
Soma for society
Selling you impossible dreams
Everything is going so cheap

All the stars are faking it
And everybody's buying it
See them with their weasel grin
Statues of a state we're in now
Everybody's giving in now

'Cos the whole world's going mad
Useless and forgettable
God damn my latest fad
Pointless and predictable

Can you hear the drums of war
Beating up outside your door
Fighting in the neighbourhood 
Fighting in the whole of this world
Hasn't anybody here learnt?

'Cos the whole world's going mad...
...maybe you can save he world

Pointless and predictable...

'Cos the whole world's going mad
Useless and forgettable
And you're my latest fad 
Pointless and predictable
The whole world's going mad 
You give me my sanity 
The whole world's going mad
Take away my vanity
But the whole world's going mad
You give my sanity
The whole world's going mad
Take away my vanity

Give me spontaneity 
Give me creativity
Give me spontaneity
Give me creativity

(C) John Slinger
All rights reserved

Sunday, 6 November 2016

My transcript of interesting interview on BBC Radio 5 Live re social media analytics predicting Trump win

Here's my transcript of a 4 November BBC Radio 5 interview with Jean Pierre Kloppers, CEO of BrandsEye about their analysis of Twitter responses to the US election. His company apparently correctly predicted the Brexit vote and are now saying that Trump will win based on similar trends. It’s an interesting alternative perspective that moves beyond traditional polling. 

However, the jury is out on whether social media analytics tells us much of any importance within the context of an election.

I've highlighted the best bits below


My transcript from 3h15m

Jean Pierre Kloppers, CEO of BrandsEye: “We’ve seen in the last week a remarkable shift in online sentiment towards Trump in all of the battle ground states. Two days ago, Hillary was still ahead in New Hampshire. Yesterday we saw even in New Hampshire on social media pushing past the 50% mark people talking positively and advocating Donald Trump.”

Interviewer: So just explain to us how these social media polls work?

JPK: OK so it’s not a poll per se. We look at all conversation from the US on social media. And the challenge with social media conversation as you’re well aware, is twofold. One is you get a view normally from the people you’re already connected with…you get the social media echo chamber effect and it’s hard to see through that. The challenges in seeing through it is accurately determining sentiment in social media is a nightmare, because people speak so sarcastically, with local nuance and use vernacular - it’s hard to understand that. That’s the challenge of it. 

So what we do is we take a representative sample of all of that conversation and can look state by state and week by week to accurately determine what are people actually saying. So if there are 60,000 people in Florida talking about the candidates, how do they feel about these candidates. And so it becomes, inadvertently, a poll when you look at it from that perspective. But it’s an unsolicited poll - people just sharing their own opinions of their own volition. So you get something that the polls often miss which is the energy and the volume and emotion that comes with the sentiment being expressed on social media.

And what happened last week with the whole [Clinton] email saga is it gave a lot of people licence to get back onto social media to support Trump. And we hadn’t seen that in weeks before that. Especially post the 2005 audio that was shared where he talked about touching women inappropriately. I think a lot of Trump supporters post-that were a bit ‘ok we can’t post our opinions’. And certainly on social media this last week, that has changed. 

In states like Pennsylvania over 90% of people speaking from Pennsylvania are supporting Trump on social media. 

Interviewer: So your poll shows that Trump’s ahead. You’ve been correct before on something else that was pretty big?!..

JPK: It was pretty big, you could say that. Yeah, we saw the same trend in Brexit the week before the referendum. What happened there was we didn’t know what to do with this data, because we saw. three days before. 58% of people from the UK on Twitter promoting the Leave camp. And we thought this was bizarre because it was not what all the other polls were saying. It was not what the media was saying. It seemed like the Remain camp had it in the bag. But that’s not how people in the UK, certainly in the outlying regions were feeling. And if that’s anything to go by this time, we’re seeing the same trend, just far more exaggerated in the US. 

Interviewer: So you were the only polling company to predict Brexit and now you’re saying that Trump’s ahead?

JPK: Yeah correct. media, it’s not a poll, because you can’t have 90% of Pennsylvania voting Trump, you know that’s never going to happen. What we have seen is that it gives an indication of which way the surprise is going to go. And I think what we’re seeing in the US is, you know, the Nate Silvers (of of the world are putting Hillary’s chances at 65% to 70% of winning the election. And what that can do is cause people to not come out and vote - certainly on the Democrat side. On the Republican side I think that what it’s doing is getting the people who wouldn’t ordinarily have voted, social media is now giving those people the sniff that ‘hey, maybe we can win if we get out and vote’. I think it’s certainly mobilising people who wouldn’t have entered the conversation before to get out there and both get involved in the conversation online and I also think it’s going to translate into more people than we expected getting out to vote for Trump. 

And the big question is, in that silent majority of people who aren’t speaking on social media, are they just going to stay home, or will the help of Obama, Bernie Sanders, the other kind of big names on the Democrat side who are out there campaigning for Hillary, will they be able to move those people to get out on Tuesday to go and vote? 

Rule of Five Tweets Edition 2: Salient points from Nigel Farage’s Andrew Marr Show interview & with Gina Miller

(1/5) Encouraging distrust of Supreme Crt “reach of EU into upper echelons of society..makes it quite diff for us to trust the judgments”

(2/5) Disparaging ‘movements’ despite UKIP being one: “What I see is a movt [to stay in Single Mkt] &..court case is just a part of it”

(3/5) On naming High Court judges “enemies of the people” (a tool for repression popularised under Stalin) – “I completely understand it”

(4/5) Implying referendums trump legal process: GMiller:“do u want country where we have no process”. NF:“we had it-it’s called a referendum”

(5/5) Harsh lang: urges Brexit ppl to “get even”&“peaceful protests” &to GMiller “what part of Leave don’t u understand”

Friday, 4 November 2016

Rule of Five (tweets) Edition One: Reasons why May may call an early general election (in May)

Periodically I'll try to summarise the five most salient points about an issue via five tweets.

My Twitter is here.

Yesterday I tweeted as follows below.

Note that points 1 and 5 have been verified by today's news that Conservative pro-Brexit MP Stephen Phillips has resigned, thereby forcing a by-election, in protest at his Government's Brexit strategy of trying to limit Parliament'a involvement.


5 reasons PM likely to call early election (1/5): to increase her majority which is perilously small at 12. All other reasons are connected

2/5 To give her clear democratic mandate (she's not been elected by party/the country) to govern as she wishes(ie different to Cam/Osborne)

3/5 To deal w/Article 50 High Court result by potentially getting HofCommons majority for Leave &maximising her strength in EU negotiations

4/5 To capitalise on Labour's unpopularity given the clear lead her party enjoys (which exists now but may not on 4 years' time)

5/5 to MINIMISE the risks: an early election is risky but the calculation must be that 2020 is even more risky as econ may be in trouble

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

My Guardian letter on leaving Labour, need for a new party and the trashing of Labour's record

Your coverage of Tom Watson’s excellent speech (, 27 September) noted that he called on Labour to stop “trashing the record” of the Blair and Brown governments but failed to mention his leading role in the “coup” against Mr Blair in 2006, which hastened his resignation a year later, prompting him to describe Watson’s actions as “disloyal, discourteous and wrong” and a “totally unnecessary attempt to unseat the party leader, less than 15 months after our historic third term victory”.

The Labour party’s “brand” (as Mr Watson puts it) has been in decline ever since Blair stood down as prime minister in 2007. From that moment onwards, the Labour party has chosen to move towards the left despite evidence that this takes them away from the interests of a majority of voters. It is ironic that the hopes of Labour moderates are embodied by someone who helped end the premiership of the most successful Labour leader in the party’s history.

I wish Mr Watson well in speaking up for moderate policies in the Labour party. However, increasing numbers of moderates such as me have concluded that if the PLP will not take action to defend moderation within then it is best to work towards a new centre-left party outside parliament.

John Slinger (Labour party member from 1991 to September 2016)
Chair of Pragmatic Radicalism

Online at The Guardian here

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

My LabourUncut blog on leaving the Labour Party & the need for a new centreleft party

With Corbyn as the Labour frontman it’s time for a new centre left band

by John Slinger

At Labour’s ruling body last week, deputy leader Tom Watson described his reforms as “putting the band back together”. As someone who’s played in rock bands for as long as I’ve been a Labour member, I know that there comes a time when most bands split, usually over ‘artistic differences’ or arguments how to get a record deal. For me that time has come.

Having worked with Jeremy Corbyn in parliament in 2003, I know he’s a principled and decent man. But he’s the wrong frontman for a band that at its best is capable appealing to the masses, Oasis or Blur-style (I’m showing my age). Like all bands with ropey songs but genuinely held delusions of grandeur, Jeremy and his managers have found a niche market of devoted fans who cheer him to the rafters as a rock god. Everyone knows the euphoric feeling of seeing ‘your’ band, singing songs for you amidst a crowd of like-minded people. After the gig you return to the real world and discover that not everyone shares your musical tastes. I suspect that Labour members will experience this when they knock on the doors of ordinary voters in the coming weeks.

This isn’t about bands or even principally the future of the once great Labour Party, but about British democracy. It’s vital that any government faces a strong opposition, capable of holding them to account and which is a credible alternative for the time when the people choose to kick out the incumbents. The public doesn’t regard Corbyn and his underperforming front bench as anywhere near up to the task. They hear about the Corbyn-supporting Momentum organisation and they remember how Militant infiltrated Labour in the 80s.
I don’t blame Jeremy Corbyn: he won fair and square. Labour moderates weren’t as well organised and didn’t put up good enough candidates against him. Moderate MPs took some action by resigning from the shadow cabinet and passing a no confidence motion. But ‘their’ Labour Party is now well and truly in the hands of Jeremy and his groupies. No matter how many times we shout out for the old classic winning songs or some new hits, Jeremy has the microphone and no-one can wrestle it from his grip.

Many moderates now say “Stay In Labour” wanting to square a circle by remaining loyal to the party, accepting Jeremy’s increased mandate, yet fighting from within for moderate policies. Since leadership challenges have failed twice, they now demand shadow cabinet elections, presumably to surround Jeremy with moderates who disagree with him on policy direction. This is surely futile given that he wants to “democratise” policy-making by boosting the power of a membership which overwhelmingly backs him. The unpalatable dilemma is to show unity by agreeing with a leader you disagree with, or disagree with him and perpetuate a battle that you cannot win. All the while, the lack of a credible leader or policies brings electoral decimation ever nearer.

Moderate members like me aren’t prepared to allow Corbyn the luxury of leading Labour into the electoral abyss in the vain hope that this dose of real democracy will banish the hard left forever. Increasing numbers of us are concluding that unless Labour MPs take a lead within Parliament, a new centre-left party should be formed outside Parliament that reflects the pragmatism and decency of the British public by rejecting the old divides of left and right. Hopefully it would attract some Labour MPs and peers, but also those from other parties. More importantly it could be an exciting new home for the millions of voters in the centre of politics on whose support electoral victory depends. They haven’t gone anywhere, but they have nowhere to go.

A new party must be strong in the places that ‘hard left Labour’ and the Conservatives are weak: for example out-manoeuvring the Tories on public sector reform by being more compassionate and attracting support away from hard-left Labour by showing strength on law and order and defence. Crucially, it must have true proportional representation as a central policy aim to help end fissures within the major parties and heal voters’ sense of alienation by better reflecting their views.

John Prescott once said “the tectonic appear to be moving”, yet sensible Labour members and MPs seem paralysed by their loyalty to a fading brand, belief that they can wear Corbyn and co down and that there is a way back for moderation. Labour has no right to electoral support: under Corbyn it can only lose the respect of the public. It’s time to get ahead of the curve and give voters a credible alternative to the Tories. If Labour cannot fulfil this role then Britain needs a new band in the centre that listens to what a majority of the public care about, sings better songs, plays gigs that are attended by more than just the die-hard fans of the hard left and starts winning again.

John Slinger was a member of the Labour Party from 1991 until September 2016, was previously a member of the party’s National Parliamentary Panel, Vice-Chair of a Constituency Labour Party, a local election candidate and researcher to Labour MPs in the House of Commons between 2003-2006. He chairs Pragmatic Radicalism (

Online at LabourUncut here

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Simon Pegg's excellent words on the enduring allure of Star Trek in our isolationist world

Brilliant and strangely prescient from Simon Pegg while interviewed about the latest Star Trek movie, which he co-wrote.

Regarding the enduring appeal of the Star Trek universe he said:

"I think it offers a huge amount of hope. I think it's an incredibly optimistic story. It's not like Star Wars, which is a fairy tale, that's set in a different galaxy, far, far away, it's not us, it has nothing to do with our lives. 

"Star Trek is our future. Star Trek is the possibility that we might all learn to put everything aside and work together and move out into the galaxy in this incredibly hopeful, fun, exciting, humorous, bright place. 

"And it offers a universe which is infinitely diverse, infinite combinations. And I think often people will dismiss Star Trek fans as being like oh they're the sort of nerdy fringes of society type of people. Some of them are and some of them find it a place where they can feel acceptance and can feel a place where they would be accepted, where they wouldn't feel awkward. 

And I think that's what Star Trek offers. It offers total acceptance. And that's a really attractive proposition, at a time when isolationism seems to be fashionable, it's a future where we're just all together, we're all doing one thing. Yeah we're still fighting aliens, sure, but at least we're doing it as a team".

Monday, 25 July 2016

My Times letter on how the most important electorate for Labour is the British people

Sir, “Democracy” is a much-contested concept, particularly within the Labour Party, with many claiming that Jeremy Corbyn has a democratic mandate to carry on as leader. However, if he were to win, Theresa May is very likely to call an early general election and the people will give their democratic verdict on a once-great party: our likely annihilation in parliament.

To avert this, Labour members must confidently assert that the most important electorate is not the PLP, the shadow cabinet, Labour members, supporters or trade union members; it is the people of this country who need a party capable of governing for the whole nation from a modern, progressive, centre-left platform.

It will be a tragedy for Labour and a dangerous turn for democracy if the internal “democracy” of a party heralds a period of virtual one-party rule during such dangerous times.

John Slinger

(Labour Party member since 1992)

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

My Progress blog: Labour’s muscular moderates must find their voice

Labour’s muscular moderates must find their voice

The Conservatives have risked our prosperity and place in the world by indulging their internecine war over Europe. In past decades, this would mean Labour challenging for power, yet our own neuroses now risk the creation of one-party Tory rule for a generation. The Tories ruthlessly selected a capable, credible leader while we are paralysed by a leader who does not command the support of most of his members of parliament. The Tories are parking their tanks on the pragmatic, radical middle ground of politics while we display to the public a party increasingly captured by those who value protest above power. Now more than ever, it is in Labour’s interests, but more importantly, the national interest, for moderates to win the argument about the future of centre-left politics.

Adopting ‘muscular moderation’ is essential, given the current trend where politicians on the extremes create a veneer of ‘authenticity’ by offering inauthentic, simplistic solutions to complex problems or gain admiration for ‘speaking the truth’ by distorting the truth, or at worst, appealing to base prejudices. Yet there is hope, for the vacuum being filled by those on the extremes was in large part created by the absence of muscular, moderate voices. Political nature may abhor a vacuum, but prefers one to be filled by a strong centre.

In 2007, 2010 and 2015, Labour turned away from an election-winning constituency of voters in the middle ground. I wrote last July that we would step ‘through the looking glass’ if we elected Jeremy Corbyn. We remain trapped in this Wonderland, as the NEC vote showed yesterday. Yet amid the surreality, people ranging from MPs to ordinary members are regaining the confidence to call out the distortions. Hard facts are beginning to shatter the illusions that bewitched so many. Labour frontbenchers were right to resign and express publicly a conclusion that many reached last summer: Jeremy Corbyn is not a leader capable of winning a general election. This should be asserted without malice. I worked with him in 2003 when I was coordinator of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group of which he was vice-chair. Now as then, I respect him for his personal decency.

Our criticism must not be based on personality but on principle, something which the hard left do not monopolise. First, we must challenge the hypocrisy of Corbyn supporters who condemn his critics as ‘traitors’ despite his record of voting against the Labour whip 500 times and himself backing Tony Benn’s challenge against Neil Kinnock in 1988. We must utterly condemn violence and intimidation in our politics, whether it comes from the left or right, not least following the appalling murder of Jo Cox and the continuing intimidation of moderates within the Labour party. We must dismiss the distortion that ‘moderates’ are an aberration or ‘Tory-lite’. Collectively, moderates worked to ensure that Labour won three elections, putting our principles into action, showing that exercising political power beats protest politics.

We must assert that moderation is not weakness; rather it is a strength because it goes with the grain of life. It accepts that solutions to complex problems do not fit into neat boxes, that progress can only come through compromise, that opponents are not always wrong and that collaboration trumps conflict.

Only muscular moderates are capable of holding the Tories’ feet to the fire for the mess they created on the European Union while working constructively to protect the national interest, as shown by Chuka Umunna’s new Vote Leave Watch grassroots campaign, designed to hold Leave to account for its ‘overblown, misleading claims’. We must acknowledge that the British people might wish to express their democratic opinion about the final deal negotiated with Brussels, particularly if this exposes Brexit Britain as a false-promise land.

An improved policy programme must be developed urgently, not least in light of Theresa May’s leadership campaign speech that mimicked many of Ed Miliband’s best ideas on making our economy work for all and was firmly in the One Nation tradition. She is seeking to fill the vacuum on the centre-ground and we must not let her. We must rebuild relations with the business community, rediscover our reforming zeal based on what works rather than ideologies long abandoned by most voters, and above all we must champion aspiration by building a society with genuine equality of opportunity.

When the Brutus-like attacks subsided, May became prime minister, showing that in times of crisis parties serious about government turn to muscular moderation rather than ideology-infused rhetoric of protest. The post-referendum dawn is shining a light on our politics, exposing unpleasant contradictions in both major parties that we knew could not persist. In the final analysis, the country needs muscular moderation. It is not too late for Labour, but if we fail to pick up this mantle now, others will.


John Slinger is a Labour party member and chair of Pragmatic Radicalism. He is a former member of the national parliamentary panel. He tweets @JohnSlinger and blogs here.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

My Times regarding the EU referendum

My Times letter arguing that campaigning in the EU referendum should cease entirely in light of the appalling murder of Jo Cox. They edited it down substantially.

My original letter: 


Jo Cox was murdered in a brutal and cowardly way while carrying out the most noble of roles - representing the people. Irrespective of the motives of her killer perhaps the appropriate response from our wider society would be to end campaigning in the EU referendum entirely. 

It would help everyone, irrespective of their views on Europe, to reflect on Jo's words in her Maiden Speech: "we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us". This applies to the UK, the EU and the wider world. Jo's life, before and during her political career, epitomised this message. 

Our society and our politics do not stay safe or improve by accident but only through the efforts of us all - MPs, the media and citizens alike - to conduct debate with respect for one another.

Yours faithfully,

John Slinger

Monday, 16 May 2016

My letter in The Observer: Sadiq Khan’s ‘big tent’ is way forward

In his article (“What Labour can learn from my victory”, News, last week), Sadiq Khan said that we “must be able to persuade people who previously voted Conservative that Labour can be trusted with the economy and security as well as improving public services and creating a fairer society”. He spoke of Labour needing to “be a big tent that appeals to everyone – not just its own activists”. It was refreshing that he referenced those who run their own business as well as nurses.

When I and other so-called “moderates” in the party have made such points we have been labelled “disloyal” and told to show “unity”. It is therefore an important step on the road back to credibility as a political force that a politician of such stature, who has just won a historic victory and who has the biggest electoral mandate in Europe, is pointing out what are the obvious truths of British politics. 

In the last parliament, Pragmatic Radicalism held events that brought together people from different parts of the party, and from outside it, to present short policy pitches in an inclusive, outward-looking format. Sadiq chaired one of our events, and Jeremy Corbyn pitched a policy that came second in another event.  We cannot win unless we reach out and listen to each other and to the country.

John Slinger

Chair, Pragmatic Radicalism