Six Months of Disaster but the Tories Hold Firm

Six months after the election, politics has stopped making sense.  I was discussing  with a friend why predictions are so off beam, and  he told me the following story. When his first wedding anniversary was due, he treated his missus to Christmas in New York.. Wanting to make it special, he covered every angle including the  accident statistics and the chances of snow on Christmas Day, shows on Broadway and taxis from and to the airports.

The start of trip went well, so as the plane rose into the sky he finally relaxed. Until,  at about 20,000 feet, his wife turned to him and smiling sweetly asked “Darling, did you turn all the water taps off when we left the house?”. No he had not. And it was turning frosty…*

People are good at remembering what to do after the event. In politics its usually only after losing an election that there is any debate on what they did wrong. And for Labour since 2015, the solution prevented the analysis. Once the leader was changed, the party assumed it had the winning formula. Indeed most political activists spend their time wondering what to do in power. Planning what to do in the Big Apple, painting the town Red. As far as I can see, most activists assume the opposition will play into their hands so victory is guaranteed.  What is happening on the ground is not an issue.

Most would not go as far as Anthony Barnett in his Compass blog, who as I noted on 14th November, said that after five years, Labour will be in power, indeed winning is the easy bit.  Labour does not intend to wait, to judge by the rush to select in marginal seats. Some commentators would agree victory could come soon as the Tories seem to be on the verge of collapse.

However, Labour has a major problem before it can take off and fly to the promised land.  The opinion polls since the disasterous Tory election campaign are only marginally in favour of Labour. Given the chaos in Number 10, how come Labour is not well ahead? And what can progressives do to prevent the Tories winning election #4?

The polls in November

On November 19th the Opinium poll in the Observer confirmed the pattern set after the June 8th election – Labour slightly ahead but the Tories holding on 40% or above  keeping them in touch with Corbyn and Co.

Previously the November 10th YouGov  poll for the Times had Labour ahead by 3  points – 43% to 40%, with Lib Dems on 6%. The fieldwork was right in the middle of the Priti Patel row, but there is no real sign that the electors know or care about the ministerial resignations and  that this is the most incompetent government in living memory.

The same pattern is shown with Theresa May. In the YouGov poll her approval ratings are negative but the UK Polling Report commentator said they “Show no signs of collapse”. 31% thought she did well, 55%  badly – 4 points down from the previous month – 29% thought she was a strong leader, (up 1%) while 49% think she is weak (down 3%), and while 43% think she is competent, only 38% think she is incompetent, (down 3%).

The context is the lack of interest most people have in politics. At the height of the Patel affair, 17% thought May should stay, 30% should go and 53% had no view. The writer said rightly “Tory incompetence won’t hurt Tory support among people who are unaware of it”.

Is there a Corbyn Effect?

Corbyn has an uphill struggle on his hands. Of Tory vorers, only 7% said Tory support  was because they agreed with the aims and thought they were being delivered, while 19% thought the Tories were incompetent and did not agree with their aims, but would still vote for them – to keep Corbyn out of #10. If Labour cannot win Tory voters, they have to take support from the minor parties.

I have yet to see data on the Labour Party, and it would seem that Corbyn has firm control of the Party as members were largely happy with his performance even in the dark days before the June election. At one point even his key union backer Len McLuskey was suggesting that the top two would have to go if “we get to 2019 and the opinion polls were still awful… these two are not egomaniacs, they are not desperate to hang on to power for power’s sake”. (Times 3rd January 2017, reported statement of 2nd January). At that time Labour were on 24% and the Fabian General Secretary was quoted as saying “Labour is on track  to win fewer than 200 seats,whether the next election comes this year or in 2020….” We all know what happened after that prediction, and the 2017 election  delivered the Party to the Corbynistas. Whether this will last is unknown, but in 2018 the Corbynistas will retain total control of Labour’s fortunes.

What happens then is an open Question, but Brexit will define the options. It is for May to fail to deliver, and there is nothing Labour can do but stick and twist. Either the Tories will split and deny May key votes – and the visciousness of the attacks on Tory dissidents tells its own tale, Anna Soubry MP. blamed death threats on the attack dogs of the Daily Telegraph citing named MPs on ,with the Mail and its own attack dogs demanding other Tory MPs be pushed out for being pro EU, and this may deter Tory splits. This raises the whole poisoned chalice of Brexit, where Labour’s  position will be harder and harder to sustain as the vote on the Deal comes nearer, but at this point the Brexit issue makes any analysis a journey on the Star Ship Enterprise.

But one thing is clear. In an age of surge politics, the Labour surge of 2016 which put on 16% points in the polls, largely at the expense of the minor parties, has plateaued. Whether it can make further gains, having made the most of its metropolitan base, is to be decided. Labour may think it has lifted off for the Big Apple. But what has it left behind on the ground?

Trevor Fisher

November 2017

* the point being that the pipes froze, burst, and the house was flooded when they got home

 

Futurology for beginners

This autumn has seen political commentators talking up prospects of a Corbyn government. Even before Labour conference, The Times proposed that A Flagging Economy Could Put Corbyn in # 10, (September 13th 2017), and Brexit would produce economic damage- thus leading to a Labour government. While some commentator don’t expect to have to wait for a Corbyn Premiership, because the Government will collapse, others think that the Tories can go a full 5 years to 2022, and if May can be removed a new – possibly Boris Johnson – goverment could remain in office. Whatever the time scale, attention is now focussed on a coming Labour victory.

The assumption Labour will win is paralysing discussion of actual election prospects. Labour is currently selecting for key seats with All  Women Shortlists the priority – to ensure that there are more female MPs. The leadership is assuming that there will be more MPs in the first place. 

The core assumption of the Labour Left is of undeniable success and they are not suprisingly gung ho. They have always argued that with control of  the  leadership they can win elections and legislate socialism. This is not good news for the Labour right, who have made every mistake possible since 2005, notably with the failures of the Front Bench to oppose Blair- Brown, and are in no position to argue. 

But the most interesting tendency  on display is the soft left, particularly Compass, some elements of which have embraced triumphalism. This was most clearly shown by a Think Piece on their website, (Thinkpiece #91 October  2017) With Victory in Sight, can the British left gain hegemony? which followed a discussion in a Conference fringe on Is what is needed one more heave or hegemony? Written by Anthony Barnett the emphasis was certainly not on one more heave and was less cautious than an earlier think piece from Matthew Sowemimo. 

This latest piece nailed its colours firmly to the mast with the title, forseeing Labour in office with no obstacles of any kind. The opening two paragraphs made this clear, with Barnett seeing “immense promise for the left”, because “If things stay as they are, all Labour needs to do is hold its breath, as the government disintegrates…. For the present government is un-electable and Downing Street is certain to become the address of current leaders of the Labour Party”. The bulk of the pamphlet is about the chances of securing ‘hegemony’ a Gramscian term for control through ideas.

Barnett never explains why the next five years are a prelude to a Labour government, or makes any attempt to explain how he thinks the voters will behave. The thrust is all about what Labour should do. Barnett’s belief that “If for the next five years the Conservatives retain to-day’s unhappy cabinet…the country will be Labour’s” reflects a wider belief there are no obstacles ahead. As Harold Wilson said, a week is a long time in politics. For Labour to sit back for 5 long years and expect to win says more about the current Labour triumphalism than any realistic political analysis. The Tory  Party is most dangerous with its back to the wall.

Barnett is influential in Compass and the post LCC soft left, and his advocacy of PR is a core principle of Compass. For example, the pamphlet Compass produced several months before the 2010 election had the telling title  The Last Labour Government – why only a referendum on electoral reform can save the party now and the stress on pluralism, ie permanent coalition, continues and is unlikely to be acceptable to the hard left.  Compass itself seems to think Labour cannot win an election on its own and favours the Progressive Alliance strategy which its leadership pushed in advance of its AGM on November 4th.

This is too rigid and problematic a scenario.  It is possible for Labour to win the next election, but the Tories have a viable strategy – and Labour does not display one. The Tories have a  playing card in Brexit. If the cabinet, now controlled by the Brexiteers, produces a negotiated settelement however bad, Labour will be challenged to vote on it if May’s statement on 25th October is the route map.  This is a trap. If Labour votes against and the vote is lost, May has said she will use crown prerogative and leave without a settlement using the Referendum mandate. This was re-emphaised by David Davis in the Commons on November 13th. Whatever the vote, Britexit will happen.  If the vote is won, however, the Tories have  triumphed and Labour is shown to be ineffective. If Lost, Labour is shown to be ineffective. How to get out of the trap is the key issue. 

A viable strategy for Labour has to be both acutely aware of how the voters behaved in 2017, and sharp enough to take the initiative from the Tories, notably on Brexit where the Tories claim a democratic mandate from the 2016 referendum.  Currently there is no debate on how these two crucial factors can be played. Barnett captures the current triumphalism, but mirroring the over confidence  of the hard left is folly. The soft left should be debating how to win, not what to do when in five years time – or sooner – there is a Labour government.

If this is not done, Labour is relying on the continuation of the surge on June 8th over five years when they do not control the agenda, which is high stakes politics. It would be foolish to bet on the winner of the next world  cup. It is even more foolish to make calculations based on Labour strolling into Number 10.

Trevor Fisher

November 2017

A Compass Think Piece Poses Key Questions

Progressive Politics regularly cross post from other Labour-orientated websites, but where are those — like Compass — who are more overtly committed to building a cross Party, progressive alliance?

Trevor Fisher highlights one recent contribution to the Compass debate which he feels all Labour supporters should be contemplating.

 

Review of Compass Think Piece #89 from Compass, Big But Brittle: Why One More Heave Is Likely To Fail Labour, by Matthew Sowemimo

“Whether the next general election is sooner or later, it will be hotly contested. Is Labour’s surprise showing in June 2017 a base to build from or a high watermark? Should the party go for a one more heave approach to get over the line or adopt a more hegemonic and alliance-based approach? This new thinkpiece by Matthew Sowemimo examines the evidence and suggests Labour may have reached a glass ceiling. This, he argues, combined with a new level of voter volatility, demands a fresh electoral strategy”.

The Think Piece can be Downloaded Here.

As the subtitle suggests, this timely think piece from Compass is not in the triumphalist camp currently dominating Labour thinking. While the result on June 8th was welcome and significant, it left Labour short of a majority and poses more questions than answers. It was unexpected, and as Matthew Sowemimo says, “many Labour MPs went to their counts expecting defeat, only to secure large majorities… the recent past shows how dramatically electoral sentiment can shift in this political environment”. (p16)

Very true, and this ThinkPiece is complementary to the pamphlet on Surge Politics published at the same time. From different directions the phenomenon of the Surges, and what they mean for progressive politics, are coming under scrutiny.

Matthew does not look at the wider development of Surges  which in 2015 meant  Labour collapsed in Scotland, the Lib Dems dropped from 23% vote share to 8%, and UKIP gained 4m votes,  partly in Labour heartlands – rightly so as  attention is currently focussed on the lessons of June 8th. What these lessons are is the most urgent priority.

Labour conference appeared to be dominated by one possibility, that it could win the next election by a 45% strategy, that vote share being enough to win if it can build on the 40% share gained on June 8th. The analysis in this ThinkPiece suggests that this is possible but that the obstacles are considerable.

The key lessons of the 2017 election were clear  within a week of the election. Labour gained in the metropolitan heartlands of England and Wales – but less in Scotland, which is now a different culture entirely – but had lower gains outside London. It lost working class support in the traditional ex industrial areas, and the 2016 EU referendum was a good guide to voting behaviour.

What was less clear was the age issue as a factor – the old increasingly voting Tory and headline gains with the young voting Labour.  Analysis is showing how  the younger middle aged were vital, the biggest gains being among the 30-44 age group (p12) thus  those who have families, debts and limited prospect deserted the Tories.

Overall the picture is that  that “Voter volatility is now high…. over 6.5 million people voted tactically on 8th June 2017 and party identification is now at an all time low” (p3). This is indeed the era of Surge Politics.

Four Key Areas Analysed

Matthew Sowemimo breaks the issues down  into four main headings. Firstly, he looks at Labour’s 2017 pe rformance in historical perspective – the longest and best section at five and a half pages. Secondly, he assesses the support for the two main parties  – three and a quarter pages of tight analysis very good on the Tory party, which has become the party of Leave, emphasising the key role of the 2016 EU referendum. Thirdly, he attempts to evaluate the Progressive Alliance which Compass advocated, and finally has two and a half pages of conclusion which are sketchy but logical and usefully thought provoking.

The first section is the most detailed and draws on the best academic research. He questions  the value of the Youth surge – youth has the lowest identification with political parties and cannot be relied upon for Labour.  The Tory strategy of going for the UKIP vote worked, but at the expense of losing the metropolitan cosmopolitan voter. It is a savage paradox, that this is the exact opposite of the New Labour strategy of going for the metro voter while ignoring the working class. Both parties neglected their core supporters and lost support. While the Scots Tory Revival attracts attention, there is little analysis of Labour in Scotland and none on Wales, progressives still taking the Celts for granted in my view.

The second section is less detailed but poses the key issue of  the cultural attitudes of Leave and generally right wing voting people rejecting cosmopolitanism. Britain is splitting into groups with little in common and many  poor  people actively vote against their interests. The former Labour MP for Stoke South, Rob Flello, stated early this year that people in his area felt they had nothingto lose if the country left the EU and later Labour lost Stoke South.

On future strategy the discussion of the Progressive Alliance is the shortest and weakest section. As Sowemimo says, “it is impossible to try to disentangle the work of the Progressive Alliance from other influences”. (P14) Tactical voting is inevitable, but  the role of formal alliances is debatable. Certainly it is foolish to blame Labour alone for there not being a formal Alliance, the Greens being alone in wanting to take this road. The Lib Dem behaviour in going into coalition – not merely alliance – with the Tories for five years is a factor Compass must start to address. Vince Cable and his activists deny this was wrong, but an anti Tory alliance with a party that kept the Tories in power for 5 years is a contradiction in terms.

The conclusion advises Labour that “the country is polarising …the party cannot expect to form a governing coalition in the way that it did in the Wilson and Blair eras”, correctly opening up the future debate.  The key  issues touched on include the EU issue, where Labour cannot fudge a decision as it did in 2017 because there will be at the very least a parliamentary  vote on the Tory proposals, on a take it or leave it basis. In my view the age issue will play an increasing role.  Youth is not firmly pro Labour while Age is firmly in the Tory camp. What progressives can do about this is central to the future. The analysis has to start looking at what can make a progressive electoral base when outside the big cities none of the alternative parties to the Tories and Labour have made any real headway – and in Scotland, the Tories had the biggest surge.

There is common ground that we now live in a Surge era and as the pamphlet says the main parties “face a highly volatile environment where class based voting has substantially retreated and partisan identification levels are low” (p16). How this landscape is traversed will decide the future of a great deal more than the next General Election, and this pamphlet is a valuable step towards mapping the terrain.

Trevor Fisher, October 2017

Surge Politics Download

 

Surge Politics: GE Analysis — Download Available Now

The first in occasional series of ‘Strategy in Focus’ publications, Trevor Fisher has compiled this analysis of the 2017 General Election result and  begun to look in depth at the ‘Labour Surge’.

‘Surge Politics’ begins to look at those new voters who came to us at the last General Election. The pamphlet looks at the real data of the electoral stats, brings together comments from political commentators and begins to discuss the implications for the campaigns of the future.

Contributors: Trevor Fisher (Editor), Ravi Subramanian, David Pavett and Andy Howell

Also included is the last similar analysis of a Labour election performance in 1983, produced by the Labour Coordinating Committee.

The Download is free but please order using our Shopping Cart (in the usual way).

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The Generation Gap at the June General Election

The 2017 UK election threw up data indicating  that Age is more important than Class in voting in Westminster elections. The big issue was that the older a voter was the more likely to vote Tory*. The youth surge was real, with 2/3 of first time voters voting Labour. Its  not clear if this is a long term shift – in 1979 42% of first time voters went Tory, youth is not always radical. Student debt was a big issue in university towns, but now Labour has clarified it will not automatically wipe it out may not be a motivator. This age  distribution of voters makes appeals on the basis of age the most important factor at elections in England and Wales. How do progressives deal with this?

  The Role of Age and Class in Voting in Britain 

The YouGov poll after the election (fieldwork 9-13th June, sample over 50,000) (TABLE 1) showed that both the turnout to vote and willingness to Vote Tory increased with age, two thirds of first time voters voting Labour in 2017, but only 19% of over seventies. First time voters were least likely to vote, over seventies the most likely to vote – a stable population able to use postal votes which have now become an alternative way to vote.  TABLE 2 emphasises that class is no longer the key determinant of voting. How this is broken down geographically has yet to be established.

Table 1

Age % age per party Turnout
Tory Other Lab
18-19 19 15 66 57
20-24 22 16 62 59
25-29 23 14 63 64
30-39 29 16 55 61
40-49 39 17 44 66
50-59 47 16 37 71
60-69 58 15 27 77
70+ 69 12 19 84

Table 2

Age % age per party Turnout
Tory Other Lab
18-19 19 15 66 57
20-24 22 16 62 59
25-29 23 14 63 64
30-39 29 16 55 61
40-49 39 17 44 66
50-59 47 16 37 71
60-69 58 15 27 77
70+ 69 12 19 84

The Old are voting for the Tories thus there is a bias to the Tories but this has slipped in Labour’s favour in 2017 – the tipping point was age 47 – it had previously been 34 according to YouGove.  A key issue is to maintain and improve the role of youth in future elections which cannot have much to do with the call by Ed Miliband and others for a voting age of 16. There is no reason to think youth will always vote centre left, and the policy agenda is key to this happening. Another key issue is why the over 60s vote Tory.

The Liberals failed to recover from the Coalition, and their future depends in part on whether the Remain position favoured by the young becomes a viable issue. The politics of Brexit was not an issue at the 2017 election but Labour’s de -facto pro Brexit position is likely to become relevant if it becomes better known to the Glastonbury generation.

Who votes – an age related issue – signing up

The voting figures are not the whole picture, as there is a big issue of people not being registered to vote – and this too is age related. With a very mobile young population, many do not register and as we are now being told, students can register twice, though they can only vote once. It is now clear that millions of people do not get to vote – and if some did vote twice, students being the culprit, it is unacceptable and illegal but only part of a bigger problem created by New Labour’s change to individual registration. The figures produced by the pollsters  only show those who were registered. Old people do not move and use postal votes, which can be organised and give a high participation figure. Younger people esp students and renters tend to move.

The Independent  of 22nd May, registration deadline day, said that 7m people had been unregistered, but 2m did so on registrations day leaving 5m unregistered. If there were five million unregistered people and this has to be checked, then the task tracking and registering students and renters, to ensure that they have the chance to vote is crucial to any progressive movement. Assuming that the older people are registered as they are a  more stable population, then there is a built in bias in the system to the Tories (and UKIP which  had an elderly core vote). This is a democratic and political issue. The old appear to be Brexiteers and it was the postal votes that lost the Plebiscite over the EU in 2016.

The issues are not merely students, who are always transient but can be tracked through student unions and university processes, but renters.  The Independent on 22nd May – Registration Day –  suggested 30% of students were not listed but this was almost equalled in the rented sector, 28% of renters  not being registered. Those who live in rented accomodation, often live in hot spots for non-registration. In one ward in Leeds where 80%  are renters, the participation rate almost cost Labour the seat – so few people were eligible to vote. So getting people’s details so if they move house they can come back to vote will be crucial to future results.

After the June election the ability of students to vote is likely to be increasingly controversial, with the ability to vote at home or in the university seat clearly becoming one of the unknown factors in outcomes. Long term, changes in the registration system are needed plus how we vote will be essential. If students have two places to vote at, they will have to make a choice and this has to be checkable. But also there has to be  reconsideration of postal voting. There is a strong suggestion one reason for the Tories getting more elderly voters is the use of postal voting. This is OK where this registers a real preference…. but who checks on the valdity of the voting papers? Multiple voting by students is unacceptable, but it is the tip of the iceberg of manipulation.

This will become increasingly important as the row over students voting more than once develops. It is illegal and cannot be defended. But there can be checks on students voting in two places on the same day, and right so. But how can the carers voting for the elderly – or community activists ‘helping’ fill in forms be checked?

Trevor Fisher

August 2017

Brexit Breaking Up

If June was the month of Surge Politics, July was the month when the fragile mantra that Brexit means Brexit (patented by Theresa the Incompetent) finally broke apart. The papering  over the cracks in Labour’s manifesto was torn when Chuka Umuna led a Commons revolt over the single market, and shrivelled when Corbybn said on the Marr Show on July 23rd he would, if PM, take the UK out of the single market. On 24th his Trade Sec Barry Gardiner wrote a bizarre article in the Guardian in which he argued that Brexit meant Brexit and we must not join the EEA as we could negotiate a better deal with the EU when totally outside.

Manuel Cortez of TESSA then wrote on Labour List that this was nonsense and the idea of ” post Brexit Trade Deal which is more advantageous, or the same, as that we enjoy through our current membership belongs in  never never land”.  John McDonnell and  Keir Starmer may agree as they seemed to want to rule Single Market into a Labour negotiation should Jezza become PM, while Diane Abbott seemed to sit on the fence as the Shadow Home Secretary said that ‘all options’ were on the table.

Outside the Shadow Cabinet, Sadiq Khan sensibly said that “For it (Remain) to have credibility with the British Public, there would have to be a manifesto offer… or referendum”.   In fact only a Third Referendum (the first was in 1975- Remain won comfortably – and 2016 – Leave won narrowly) would do. Unless Sadiq thinks the whole thing will run till 2022 as some Tories are now arguing.

Specifically Amber Rudd, Home Sec, and more importantly the Chancellor who looks to transitional arrangements which could last for three years taking us to 2022. Hammond does not want to have Brexit on his watch as the removal of immigrant labour and the single market would produce economic chaos. The Telegraph immediately pointed out that this would mean Brexit became an issue in the election due under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, which Jezza voted to keep in place in 2014.  Tory MEP David Campbell Bannerman accepted that there might have to be a transitional period but this must be strictly time limited by law to March 2021 maximum”. A new law then? But not if the Trade Secretary Liam Fox has his way, since he ended the week by making it clear that he had not been consulted on transitional arrangements and he was not in favour. So at least there is agreement – across the parties, though not inside the parties.

With the Tories and Labour split on Brexit, and the only national party committed to Remain opting for Labour’s fudge of a Soft Brexit in the election (aka a Brexit for Jobs, or Christmas for Turkeys) under their last leader and seeing their vote share  drop to 7 per cent, even the Lib Dems can’t offer a strong anti Brexit campaign. So as the parliam,,entary pantomime is offering nothing, there has to be a new turn.

Hammond is trying to avoid a ‘cliff edge’ exit as the effects would be disasterous for the Treasury, but has less and less room for manoeuvre. The exit date is March 29th 2019 and this is at the time of   writing – 31st July 2017 – less than 20 months away. As the problems increase, only a sharp NO to Brexit based on winning a Third Referendum will do. It’s not possible for the issue to drag on for 5 years as the cliff edge fundamentalists will hold out for a complete break in 2019. Only stopping this will do, by vetoing Brexit and Sadiq Khan is right to say that a clear option has to be given to the people. How can the Third Referendum be achieved and won?

The lack of an adequate organisation with proper funding is the key problem. There are 3 Westminster pressure groups, perhaps one for each party, and all useless. The Grassroots Another Europe is Possible is under  resourced and has little presence and no media profile. Volunteer initiatives become overstretched and are over-reliant on the parliamentary pantomime. It is time for a  new approach with a clear focus on a Third Referendum capable of taking on a Brexit Means Brexit campaign well resourced and – with Nigel Farage poised to re enter the fray- able to counter all that Brexit can devise. Machiavellian they may be, but invincible they are not. If A Capaign To Vote Again can be brought about. There are less than twenty months to go.

Trevor Fisher

July 2017

Farage and Brexit Rule

Analysis of the 2017 election will take years to complete, but while some issues are being discussed and conclusions drawn, there is a missing factor. May’s disaster is clear, though she gained the vote share of Thatcher, Corbyn’s success is recognised, though Labour lost and is miles away from even a one seat majority, and the Lib Dems did even worse than in the 2015 disasters, dropping from 8% to 7% of the vote.

However the decisive result of the election – the victory of Nigel Farage and his campaign for Brexit, now no longer opposed by any serious political force – is not on the agenda. When the victory of UKIP is pointed out, commentators refer to the drop in votes, down from 4million to next to nothing, and the fact that they do not have any seats at Westminster. Farage and the forces he leads do not need votes or seats – they have set the agenda and can watch the other parties do their work knowing the others exhaust themselves while all UKIP has to do is run a watching brief against backsliders.

Not that Theresa May will allow backsliding – she is well aware of what the Leave Tories did to John Major, sacrificing position in government and 18 years in the wilderness for the chance of a referendum and a no holds barred campaign for victory. UKIP’s success in winning Tory and Labour voters was key to the 2017 election, where no major English party opposed Brexit and as Tory MP Owen Patterson pointed out in response to Vince Cable arguing on Marr that Brexit might happen, his tendency won the General Election. 85% of Voters voting for Brexit. To be precise, 85% voted for Brexit supporting MPs via Tories, Labour and UKIP.

Cable stood for a party which alone in England stood against Brexit…. but then sold the pass by campaigning against Soft Brexit. There is no such thing. Its In or Out. The Lib Dem poor performance in 2017 rested firmly on failure to win Tory and Labour pro- Remain votes. This was mainly because Brexit dropped off the agenda, media and voters both believing the line that the Referendum is decisive even if disasterous – the line taken by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Lords –  even the local Another Europe is Possible collapsing into this position. There is no future for a political tendency which  is not prepared to challenge the Referendum result, and the Lib Dems have no future because they did not.

Labour survived for the moment by accepting Brexit – albeit a soft Brexit of sorts – and held on in Stoke Central in February with a formula which for the moment unites Leave and Remain voters though the official Party position is firmly Remain. Tories who were mainly Leave anyway held together as the Lib Dems could not make inroads as by elections had suggested they might. The Brexit issue simply dropped off  the agenda of June 8th, and Farron and Co found themselves chasing Shadows.

The same could not be said of UKIP though its performance was dire and its leader Paul Nuttall made so many errors in the Stoke Central by election that as with the Prime Minister they can run a master class in how not to fight an election. However this only enhances the position of the Man Who Matters, Nigel Farage.

Widely believed to have vanished and to be Yesterday’s Man, when he is not alongside the Brexit supporting Trump he is taking a well earned rest while Cable, May and Corbyn exhaust themselves in the day to day battle at Westminster. The Mail reports he has been botoxed and has a new sun tan and he looks good. Well up to the job of tackling backsliders and challenging the older generation of political leaders who operate at Westminster. As he will do when it suits him to do so, and the media need a new plaything to boost on every channel. The analyses of the election which neglect Brexit and UKIP are off  the scale. To understand how Labour and the Tories both abandoned the Remain positions they went for in 2016, and Labour party policy still supports, the result of the 2016 Europe vote is all that is needed. The Future is Bleak. If the Future continues to be Farage.

Trevor Fisher, July 2017.

Election 2017 – The Boy Done Good, The Girl Done Bad.

The 2017 election rewrote the rules, and though the opinion polls did well in tracking the Corbyn rise and the stagnant Tory vote, the experts largely missed the increasing popularity of Corbyn though by the time Paul Mason wrote in the FT on June 3rd that “the UK is not a left wing country, but it is a fair one that has had enough of austerity” – he captured something of the shifts taking place, and the shifts are not all to Labour. We have to understand that despite an appalling Tory campaign the Tories still gained more votes and since the election their council by elections have shown their vote holding though May is a leader in trouble. For Labour, two weeks after the election, two things stand out – the shift away from class politics, and Jezza’s personal popularity especially with the young, underlined by his appearance at Glastonbury on June 24th. The first is likely to be a constant, the second cannot be.

Working class areas were particularly vulnerable and there is a need to analyse almost on a seat by seat basis – especially with small majorities like the Labour gain in Crewe by 48, and holding on to  Newcastle Under  Lyme by 30 and Dudley North by 23. In Stoke Central, where Labour was in a minority, the UKIP vote collapsed but Labour increased, no doubt a result of the by Election where at the peak three months ago 500 Labour canvassers were out. Unlike Stoke South, which the Tories gained. Local campaigns played an important part, especially in Wales. 

Nevertheless though May had achieved her target of hoovering up the UKIP vote most of us – me included – once the campaign started failed to understand  the Corbyn phenomenon. By the last week of the campaign it was clear that a hung parliament was possible and I wrote this on 4th June, though Labour did not achieve largest party status. But it gained votes and support. The question we all have to answer is why. Starting with Corbyn’s remarkable personal success.

The ability of Jeremy Corbyn to appeal to a popular audience was clear from the start of his leadership campaign in 2015 and no one has begun to understand it, though the attraction has more to do with personality than policies, though the manifesto was supremely important. But Corbyn first. Though telephone canvassers reported that voters were turned off by Corbyn, the crowds at his rallies were and are impressive and as Jackie Lukes reported from Hull, this visibly gave Corbyn confidence and improved his credibility.

Not I think in reaction to what he was saying. At Stoke in September I could not hear his speech as the public address was abysmal – and when he spoke at a Libertine’s concert just before the Manchester bombings, reports say the crowd cheered to you could not hear him speak. It was not important – but the lack of impact of the tabloid smear campaign linking him with terrorists had something to do with his personal image, like Mandela after Robbins Island he was simply a grandfather figure.

He also played the immediate issues very well, so an apology is due for thinking he was wrong to accept the Brexit vote and to vote for Article 50. These moves defused Brexit and May should have realised this was not going to be a crucial issue in a General Election, which will  always be about many issues. While I still think Labour was wrong to vote for the election, that is what the Fixed Term Parliament Act forces the opposition parties to do as rejecting the challenge invites the charge of cowardice, but that was not a charge that could be levelled against Labour. The avoidance of Brexit was tactically sound, but strategically stores up a battle yet to be fought.

The manifesto was a model centre ground document, even on Trident, and placed Labour in a very good position to attack the disasterous Tory document. On the day before the election, the local paper had a front page Labour ad attacking police cuts, and inside were ads from Labour highlighting five popular pledges and four devastating attacks on the Tories – axing fuel winter payments, the dementia tax, cutting public services and…. ‘threatening tax rises’. The latter may be a problem in the long term, but the others hit the Tories where it hurt. The paper carried whole page Labour ads attacking the Tories on police cuts and Tory threats to pensioners. There is no doubt that Labour had the Tories on the run, winning over centre support if not eating into the Tory overall vote. Except in Wales, which needs separate analysis. The Tory upsurge in Wales never happened. 

The opposite is the case for the Tories, on nearly every front save Scotland. In Scotland, the local leadership of Ruth Davidson won back support for the Tories just as they were losing it south of the border. The Tory manifesto was a disaster, and May made this clear by not turning up on TV to defend it. I rarely feel sorry for Tories, but Amber Rudd on TV stonewalling for her leader against the other party leaders was a moment to savour.  From the continuance of Austerity with more cuts – in the context of not being able to balance the budget till 2025, for a supporter of the People’s Assembly like myself clear proof the cuts have no economic rationale – to hitting specific groups of people normally wooed by the Tories, notably pensioners, the Tory campaign was almost designed to drive undecided voters into Labour’s arms. The Tories did succeed in capturing many Brexit voters, and many of these are working class voters from Labour via UKIP. Contrarywise, many middle class voters plumped for Labour including students and swing voters in seats like Canterbury and remarkably Kensington and Chelsea, admittedly with the help of the Lib Dems taking votes off the Tories,. Indeed, analysis has everywhere to look at the results in particular seats, and the way local campaigns and factors made a difference. There is no national swingometer anymore. Paul Mason is wrong to argue the UK is “a divided country looking for a story it can unify around”. It is certainly a divided country. The divisions after the election look more than ever like a two party split, with trimmings.

But while the analysis will be complicated two things stand out without question. Corbyn did well and appealed to the centre ground and youth, with the Tory smear campaign failing to dent the man’s image of decency and willingness to help the disadvantaged. And the Tory campaign was stunningly inept once the contrast between the claimed appeal to the centre was matched against right wing policies. Was there ever an election like this? Perhaps 1945, where Churchill thought he would win by 80 seats after winning the war, and the Tory manifesto refused to back social reform, while Labour did. The comparison can be taken too far. Modest and uncharismatic Clem Attlee had been deputy PM during the war, while Corbyn has never occupied a cabinet position. And the opinion polls were consistently pro Labour from 1942 onward.

But if Theresa May is not Churchill, Corbyn has some elements of Attlee in his approach. Above all, Labour won in 1945 with solid working class support and that picture is different today. But Corbyn deserves the comparison, for this was his campaign, he led from the front, and like Attlee the gains were down to his leadership. Whatever happened in the election, this was his triumph and he deserves to be recognised as having come through with honours.

Trevor Fisher         

YouGov — Key Polling Data

The major polling companies are now beginning to produce their analysis of the 2017 General Election vote. He I shall be focussing on the data produced by YouGov (who have kindly agreed to let us reproduce it here). These seem to reflect some significant changes in voting patterns. What we see below is an analysis of voters; the issue of voter registration is not addressed in this analysis.


Age Factors

The tipping point for voting Tory now seems to be 47; it had previously been 34)

 

Age

Tory Other Lab Turnout
         
18-19 19 15 66 57
20-24 22 16 62 59
25-29 23 14 63 64
30-39 29 16 55 61
40-49 39 17 44 66
50-59 47 16 37 71
60-69 58 15 27 77
70+ 69 12 19 84
         
National       69

 

 Class

Prosperity and education are now very significant factors. What we see now is an almost equal split between the top and bottom halves of the income scale.

Class Tory Other Labour
       
AB 46 26 38
C1 41 16 43
C2 47 13 40
DE 44 14 42
       
ABC1 44 16 40
C2DE 44 14 42

It would be interesting to know what proportions on benefits and how many students are counted and in what socio economic group?

 

Education

  Tory Other Lab
       
GSCE & below 55 12 33
Intermediate 45 15 40
Degree & above 32 19 49


Newspaper Readership

This is an interesting and traditional analysis on news media. However, it begs the question about new media in lauding social media channels and alternative broadcast media such as YouTube.  This needs to be linked to circulation and readership to assess impact. The tabloids plus the DT have a bigger circulation than the progressive papers.

 

Paper Tory Other Lab
       
Telegraph 79 9 12
Express 77 8 15
Mail 74 9 17
Sun 59 11 30
Times 58 18 24
FT 40 11 39
Star 38 13 49
MIrror 19 13 68
Indie 15 19 66
Guardian 8 19 73

Triumphalism and the Politics of the Surge

The 2017 election result has led to an upsurge One More Heavism aka triumphalism, on the Labour Left, taking the unexpected but welcome surge in the last month of the election and its results as the basis for a Labour victory at some point soon. The Wish is however Father to the Thought and a different set of factors are likely to apply in the next six months. What is clear is that we are now living in a period of surge politics, as experienced across Europe and the USA, and the Scottish example even more than the rest of the UK shows that winners two years ago are losers today. The Tories gained against both the SNP and UKIP on June 8th but ten days later…. who would bet on them?

Labour is set to gain in the short term, as the opinion polls are showing, but Triumphalism is showing both an over confidence in the Labour Left’s electoral appeal, and a failure to read the signs of the surges – there were more than one – which happened to produce the result on June 8th.  As Christian Wolmar argued on Labour List and ProgPol, Corbyn won the election and it is his prerogative to make the decisions. But only internally for Labour. The Tories decide the election, so the Left Futures Editor James Elliott was premature with his blog of 13th August. After the election Labour had a poll lead – 6% when he wrote, and probably more following the Grenfell fire. This he argued “would give Labour a clear majority were there to be another election”.  Sadly this is in the gift of the Tories, who will have to be forced out by a vote of no confidence or similar. Which means Labour having to form a parliamentary alliance plus the DUP failing to support the Tories if it is to happen.

While it is very unlikely that the Prime Minister can survive five years the Tories don’t need to. The only  show in town is Brexit, and if they can do a deal within two years, then that is the optimum point for an election. Opinion polls at the moment are irrelevant.

This calculation has so far escaped both hard and  soft left. Figures close to Corbyn – Joshua Simon on the New Statesman website on 16th June, and Cat Smith MP on Labour List on 15th June, both thought the Party was on the brink of government. Simon thought “a host of seats across Britain have become marginals that Labour can target” especially with UKIP voters returning to Labour, which was helped by “Labour’s opaque stance on Brexit”. UKIP voters largely voted Tory, while Labour’s Brexit evasions are unlikely to be a basis for anything.

Cat Smith, however, endorsed a reliance on Tory Marginals.  “When the next General Election is called, a 1.6% swing will do. 34 seats are needed”. But this is only for a majority of one. And its not simply a matter of winning more seats, since in places like Newcastle Under Lyme (30 majority) and Crewe (48 majority) the election put Labour M Ps on a knife edge.

The message of winning marginals is the key was also put by Jade Azim of Open Labour on the Labour List site on 16th June, arguing like Cat Smith that “the spectacular election has opened up a lot of key marginals for us that were previously safe Tory seats.” She cites Chipping Barnet with a Tory majority of 353, Chingford at 2438, and – looking at the Progressive Alliance territory – seats like Caborne and Redruth with second place only 1577 behind, with 2979 Liberal and 1052 Green votes to woo. No doubt Compass will be telling us more about these seats.

However Jade then talks about having a huge opportunity to win back UKIP voters “and liberal Tories in the south….” However this is starting to enter the realms of how to win the National Lottery. Liberal Tories mostly favour Remain. UKIP voters want Leave. They are not in the same ball park.  It is welcome, and true, that voters in a seat like Stoke Central were prepared to vote UKIP but not Tory, but in the next constituency of Stoke South they did just that. While the Labour vote went up in Stoke South as the Lib Dems, Greens and TUSC votes moved to Labour, the vast majority of the 8298 UKIP votes – UKIP did not stand – went Tory to make 12,780 in 2015 into 20, 451 Tory votes in 2017. While the Labour vote went up, the Tories won. In Stoke Central, the by election momentum carried on and while UKIP, who did stand, dropped 3625 votes and the Tories rose 8032, Labour had an increase of 9230 partly with the Lib Dems dropping 1400 votes. The working class in this wholly working class seat came back to Labour in numbers to build on the majority secured in the by election.

I am encouraged by this, for a strategy of relying on Tory liberals is not good enough. In 1945 Labour had a working class and middle class vote with the workers being the key to the next three or four decades. This was basis for the Attlee Government and was replicated in 1997 and more dubiously in 2001, but not since. I don’t believe Labour can win unless this alliance is reconstructed. Today the workers are the ones Labour is losing unlike the 1950s when Labour lost the middle class voters of 1945. The big question is going to be – What About the Workers?

Trevor Fisher

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