Whither Labour?

The apparent loss in November of what had previously been a small majority in the polls, as reported by Electoral Calculus in a recent survey, has to be matched against a recent poll (early Dec.) by Survation, ( yes, they accurately predicted Labour doing well in the election) which gave Labour an eight point lead, since when four polls, to late Dec., have given Labour a marginal lead ( 41/40) over the Tories..  Nevertheless, I do believe that there is an  unwarranted mood of triumphalism that has gripped much of the party and which does not have solid roots. Remarks recently by Corbyn that he would probably be PM next year, and by Abbott that Labour would draw well ahead in the polls in 2018 are symptomatic of this.. To be fair, this mood is understandable. The Tories are manifestly a laughable shambles, beside whom Labour appears competent, resolute, and prepared for office. But as many have pointed out , this should mean that Labour should be well ahead of the Tories, not neck and neck.

 Part of the reason for this is Brexit, with the Tories boosted by switches from the rapidly disappearing UKIP vote, and much of the Labour Leave vote, while Labour is supported by Tory remainers and some Lib-Dems. ( Their attempt to become the Remainer hub has clearly failed, as most potential supporters have concluded, post election , that there is no basis for it and have looked to Labour to carry the Remain flag. ) This of course poses problems for Labour in the shape of the substantial numbers of Labour Leavers who stuck with Labour at the election and whose support Labour must retain if it is to win an election. It is this that accounts for Keir Starmer’s ingenious fudge, which offers something to both Leavers ( We respect the result) and Remainers ( We want a long transition period while we remain in the Single Market). Many members, from MP downward, appear to not understand the importance of maintaining the support of this Labour Leave vote, although some MPs are continuing to use it as a means of undermining Corbyn.   

Let us look at what might happen next year to bring about an election or a change of government. The crucial fact is that according to Electoral Calculus Labour needs to be at 45% and eight points ahead of the Tories to win a bare majority. This is possible, but more likely is a hung parliament with Labour looking for support from the Scot Nats and possibly the Lib-Dems.

But how would an election be triggered? If the government fell after a vote of no confidence, which Tory rebels could bring about, then an election would take place if no government could be formed within 14 days. Tory rebels would probably prefer to support a Labour government if it was then committed to either a second referendum or a parliamentary vote to oppose what is likely to be a non deal, both aimed at reversing Brexit. ( If an election was held Tory rebels would be mainly deselected by pro Brexit local parties, and while their future would not look promising as they would have been the means by  which Labour formed a government, avoiding an election would give them some breathing space. They would be the ones to choose what happened, but tacit support for rejoining the EU would not be likely to be followed by support for even the mildest Labour measures, and an election would probably happen in 2019.)

An alternative scenario could be an election called by the government if polls indicated a possible win.This is unlikely, given the drift to Remain and growing evidence, orchestrated by big business, of economic decline following Brexit, but if things had not got too bad by then, and with Boris as PM doing his Churchill act it might work. ( It couldn’t with May, she doesn’t believe in Brexit and as we, and they, all know cannot win an election for the Tories ). But they are unlikely to win a majority and DUP support must be questionable this time round. The most likely result would be Labour as the largest party but without a majority, as outlined above.

It would of course be quite possible for Tory rebels ( apart, probably, from Ken Clarke ), to decide that their jobs were more important than their principles, and for a majority to vote for what had been agreed, which would probably fall well short of a trade agreement. This would probably be followed by mounting economic crisis as trade and revenue deficits ballooned, with the government probably collapsing well before 2022, and a Labour or Labour led coalition government elected under challenging circumstances, to put it mildly.

I will not speculate further, but the possible outcomes I describe are not being addressed by and large within the party, and should be.

As to winning an election next year, a number of things need to be done.

Firstly, winning back some of the working class (social groups C2, D and E) and over 55 voters who actually swung to the Tories in 2017. Labour is unlikely to win a majority without this.

Secondly, there should be a renewed promotion of Labour’s manifesto, which it is generally agreed was a vital factor in the election campaign but about which there has not been much publicity since.

Thirdly, a strong emphasis on unity, meaning no drive for mandatory reselection ( this does not mean there should be no deselections, which are quite possible under the existing rules ), or for nuclear disarmament, both of which are divisive issues which cannot be sorted out next year.

The Brexit issue also requires a degree of unity at MP level which we have not yet achieved.

It would also be helpful if Momentum could adopt a lower profile, while continuing with its useful campaigning work. 

Nothing is likely to come from the Compass promoted ‘Progressive Alliance’, not because it is wrong in principle but because there is not a sufficient basis of mutual agreement and respect for it to work, and Labour is right to not seek participation, although DIY tactical voting will no doubt continue.

Labour can win, but it must take these steps if it is to do so.    

Peter Rowlands

December 2017


  1. John Hurley says:

    I think this is a sober and accurate analysis. The biggest problem internally is that whilst the majority of members, left, centre and right want unity or at least an effective compromise that gives us a progressive programme we can all unite around, factions within momentum (not all momentum members by any means) in the country and adherents of Progress within parliament prefer to fight each other rather than the government. I believe we would have a more solid basis to challenge for power had the disastrous and ill-timed coup attempt not taken place (but then we might not have had the election borne out of Tory hubris). However Labour can no longer play a long game of watching the government disintegrate – it is time to take a lead.

    • Andy Howell says:

      That coup will go down in history as one of the biggest mistakes ever and it was the result of a Parliamentary bubble.

      But it is worthwhile remembering that many of the complaints against Corbyn were substantive. Yes, there were those like Margaret Hodge who just wanted to make a noise. But there were others — members of the Shadow Cabinet — who were truly dismayed about the way meetings were handled. I’ve heard the same stories from a number of direct sources and so I suspect they are true.

      Still we can only wait and see how this play out at the net election or, even, when we are in power!

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