Could Anti-Brexit Be The New Politics?

Political analysis has long been unpredictable, but as Tory Brexiteers are reaching new heights of lunacy with talk of unseating Theresa May, reading tea leaves might make more sense. Who will be PM by the time we get to All Fools Day? The Tory Brexxies want to oust her for carrying out Brexit, but the wrong kind of Brexit. On 29th January the Daily Express confirmed the lunatics have taken over the Tory asylum with the  classic headline BATTLE TO SAVE A FULL BREXIT which means walking over the edge into a No Deal Scenario. 

As an indication of the temperature of the Tory hot plate, the Daily Telegraph same date has a phone conversation between Ben Bradley MP, Tory Vice Chair, saying “Getting some s…t from the usual suspects about Sell Out and Traitors” with Claire Perry, Minister for Energy reviving the old Cameron description of their opponent as “the swivel eyed few” who apparently are “mostly elderly retired men who do not have mortgages, school aged children or caring responsibilities”. The Tory split is not about Brexit  but over attempting to  sugar the pill so the worst disasters happen after Hammond and May have quit.

Given that Brexit is now policy for whoever is in Number 10 from whichever main party can cobble together a majority in parliament, the Brexiteers have won but fear they will lose their fantasy of an instant cost free divorce. And they may launch a civil war in the Tory Party to get one of their own in charge. This makes for sensational headlines, but it diverts  media attention away from the big issue, which is why the Anti Brexiteers are doing badly and cannot get their act together. 

The most recent poll asking how people would vote in another referendum (always referred to as a second, the 1975 referendum is totally forgotten) UK Polling Report said (27th January) that ICM found 45% Remain, 43% Leave, pretty much the figures over the last year. Britain4Europe found that most people thought the decision had been made — by the referendum — and the issue was closed. ICM found only 47% favoured another Referendum. Given the attempts by the Remain campaign since June 2016 have been extensive, this confirms that the Remain campaign has not changed the landscape. Hugo Dixon of Common Good argued last November that 60% had to show against Brexit for it to go down, and this is not happening.

The Limits to Opposition 

The main strategy of Remain organisations is focussed on parliament and the so-called ‘Meaningful’ vote on negotiations due in the autumn (or later) which will challenge Labour’s ability to sit in the fence — but there is no opinion poll data yet on how this plays with the voters, though it is clear that Labour has gained in the short term from its ambiguity, and surely would have lost the Stoke Central by election had it not supported Brexit and Article 50.  Christian Wolmar argued exactly a year ago on this site, that MPs should have defied the whip and voted against Article 50. In retrospect this was correct in principle, but would have allowed UKIP to take Stoke Central, which saw a large UKIP effort to paint Labour as anti-Brexit fail. Labour’s front bench got the tactics right though in the autumn it will have to vote or against a Tory position — possibly devised by swivel eyed loons — and the risks of a Labour split are growing. 

Labour  will have to look again at its 2016 conference policy of a referendum on Brexit, though this is not a panacea as it is not popular, even with Remain voters, and the Lib Dems have gained nothing from being defeated in both Houses when calling for another Referendum.  Lord Ashcroft alone seems to have polled on the Referendum issue, and his results are not encouraging. Only on the one issue of voting for the government policy of accepting the deal or leaving without a deal vote is any modest support for a vote. This option got 39% supporting a vote, 31% opposing and 30% Don’t Know. The voters were against a vote on all other options, with even Remainers not wanting a further referendum. And a vote on the government position would accept that Britain will leave with only the terms up for grabs. The majority of the population is clearly against another referendum. So why has the situation been so unfavourable to anti-Brexiteers?

Understanding Progressive Weakness

An excellent way into this issue was the Guardian article by Nicky Hawkins on 23rd January WE NEED A REALITY CHECK. Progressives were “Struggling to make sense of a world that was unthinkable just a couple of years ago….Progressive campaigning efforts largely haven’t worked, and are still not working. Since the EU referendum, little has changed in the tone and tenor of the public conversation on Brexit….” This is obviously true. Apart from the little understood Corbyn surge, what has happened in Britain and America has been the triumph of the populist right, and on Brexit the failure to make any inroads has been marked. 

Further, some in the Remain camp have clung to the idea of Bregret – the wishful thinking that hordes of remorseful leave voters would quickly change their minds. In reality, there’s no evidence that leave voters regret their decision: in fact recent polls suggest they stand by their vote even as they become more pessimistic about Brexit’s impact on Britain”. The ICM poll actually suggested some movement between Remain and Leave – in both directions – but that “A very small lead for Remain….(is) down to people who did not vote in 2016 disproportionately claiming they would vote Remain…” but the figures are tiny and are not weighted or filtered by the likelihood to vote. 

More to the point, “To stand a chance at winning over voters, progressives need to be able to answer the question of why something really matters… You can’t argue against an emotion with numbers – you  have to weave the facts into  a different and more appealing story than your rivals”. This is the heart of the issues, and not just a problem for the number crunchers who tried to combat the big red bus with hard evidence. Slippage over the money for the NHS have been monumental – Brexiteers are now down to £100m per week not £350m, if not arguing the money can be found by cutting overseas aid. Its not the facts that mattered, it was the emotional link between Brexit and the crisis in the hospitals. Brexiteers  grasped that a solution to a crisis was needed, and the progressives lacked a costed answer.

The article suggests postive campaigning, suggesting “activists in the US, the UK and Ireland won the campaign for equal marriage by framing it in terms of love, commitment and family – values that speak to conservatives – rather than the language of human rights. They didn’t seek to shout people down or fact check their beliefs”. There is a lesson here for Corbyn’s victories over the critics in the PLP who delivered him two party majorities – and the basis for a successful election campaign. Democracy was his calling card, and he used it well. Compared to Gordon Brown, who never stood for a leadership election, Corbyn won fair and square and carried the mantel of democratic support. So does Brexit. There is no choice but to win a referendum. Democracy is popular, and the 2016 vote was seen as democratic.

The broad point made by the article is that “The first step is understanding where people are coming from: lots of analysis to work out what’s really going on when someone answers yes or no on a ballot paper”. Very much the task, and for the Labour Party’s internal politics clearly vital to understand that the  Corbynista victories are not clear victories for the Hard Left, but they certainly mean no support for the Hard Right. Blairites please take note. Your day is over. Members vote against your candidates in every internal election, so move on.

On the main political front of Brexit, the progressive failure is profound, with  no sign eighteen months since the 2016 vote that  the divided and ineffective anti-Brexit movement can get to 60% plus of voters wanting to challenge the 2016 result. Less arrogance is needed by those who lost in 2016, and immediately an attempt to work with voters’ perceptions. For example, with the Swivel Eyed Loons on the march, the option pursued by Theresa May in attempting a soft Brexit may go belly up. But there may well be value in exploiting her weakness in appeasing the Loons by questioning how far she has  concealed  material evidence to keep them happy. For example, on Article 50. Why does she not reveal the law officer’s advice on whether it can be reversed? Sow doubt, legitimately, and the seeds may germinate in the mind of soft leave voters that they have not been given all the information. Which is what progressives tried to do over the Big Red Bus, and failed. 

Nicky Hawkins is right that labouring over facts and figures does not persuade the unconverted. We might learn from the old Maoist opera and Take Tiger Mountain by Strategy. Why not?

Trevor Fisher

February 2018



Momentum And The NEC Victory

As I noted in early December, the decision to have three extra NEC places  up for grabs meant that  in the absence of a regional element there is no doubt Momentum would clean up. However while the result was forseeable and Momentum maintained its 2016 supremacy, a closer analysis shows that it may have peaked — and if the broad opposition can ever get its act together the future can reverse the flow. But first things first.

The December  nominations showed three patterns – 3 Momentum, 3 independent (but backed by Labour First) and 3 local candidates who had no chance as having no national organisation. In the table below I put the vote and  the constituency nominations against each candidate.

In December it was clear  that the three candidates supported by Momentum and the CLGA (Centre Left Grassroots Alliance) easily outnumbered the other 6 candidates in constituency nominations. The figures for vote are in the 2nd column. NB even if all the Donovan votes transferred, Izzard would have been c10,000 short.

Nominations Votes
Yasmine Dar 205 66,388 Elected
Rachel Garnham 187 62,982 Elected
Jon Lansman 181 65,163 Elected
Non Momentum
Johanna Baxter 87 27,234
Eddie Izzard 71 39,508
Gurdiner Singh Josan 55 25,224
Nick Donovan 8 11,944
Nicola Morrison 7 7,551
Sarah Taylor 11 7,011

The NEC Elections 2016

The comparison with 2016 is illuminating with italics for candidates standing again in 2017. In 2016 the full 6 places went to candidates backed by the CLGA, Momentum and CLPD with no success for Progress or Labour First.

Ann Black 100,999 Elected
Christine Shawcroft 97,510 Elected
Claudia Webbe 92,377 Elected
Darren Williams 87,003 Elected
Rhea Wolfson 85,687 Elected
Pete Willsman 81,863 Elected
Ellie Reeves 72,514
Eddie Izard 70,993
Bex Bailey 67,205
Joanne Baxter 60,367
. Parmjit Dhanda 53,838
Luke Akehurst 48,632
. Peter Wheeler 44,062
John Gallagher 22,678
Amanat Gul 14,693

The 2017 election mirrors the 2016 result and confirms Momentum’s success in the 2016 elections, but the turnout is down although we do not yet have the turnout figures for 2017*, but in 2016 boosted by the leadership elections the figures are:

Number of eligible voters 373,443
Total number of votes cast 182,020
Invalid 2,533
Valid Votes 179,504
Turnout 48.7%

* The official membership is unknown, but in his NEC report on December 10th last Pete Willsman said that “membership is set to end the year at 568,500 – up 25,000 on 2016 and the highest figure since the party kept accurate records”. Thus the 2017 turnout on a larger membership over half a million appears to have been 20% and lower in absolute terms as well. This election did not mobilise the members. Momentum’s impetus lessened after Conference.

The Constitutional Arrangements Committee Elections 2017 

This was not the case in the run up to the  2017 conference as the election to the Constitutional Arrangements Committee (CAC) results last September showed. There was support from the grassroots for Momentum candidates and continuing  lack of support for the party establishment. For this crucial committee, two Momentum candidates, Seema Chandwani (secretary of Tottenham Labour Party) and Billy Hayes (Ex Gen secretary of Communications Workers Union)  beat candidates linked to the party establishment, Gloria de Piero and Michael Cashman. De Piero is MP for Ashfield, Cashman a member of the House of Lords after being an MEP. The latter were backed by Progress and Labour First according to Labour List, while Momentum backed candidates were also backed by CLPD. There is now a pattern of CLPD/Momentum in tandem.

The results were:

Chandwani 109,763 Elected
Hayes 92,205 Elected
De Piero 55,417
Cashman 50,439

Thus in the autumn of 2017 Momentum backed candidates were scoring nearly twice the votes of the establishment candidates, and there was no soft left or centrist candidates to give a fuller picture. It is however vital to note that in this election the slate was backed by Momentum and CLPD, with no involvement of CLGA which has never in my recollection stood candidates for CAC elections. At first glance the NEC three just elected follow this pattern, but with a much lower turnout. Perhaps because this was an ad hoc election out of sequence. Or perhaps because soft left members saw little to vote for.

Parliamentary And Other Selections

The pattern of internal party elections is polarising between the strong Momentum vote and weak establishment votes with no successes for Labour First, still the only voice of the old Right,. and the Blairite Progress group. However  it is clear that not all the Momentum activities are successful as the current round of parliamentary selections indicates.

On January 17th Labour List reported that of selections to date, Momentum backed 5 of 24  candidates selected, while the Financial Times 6 of 22 selections..Notably Momentum had a high profile candidate in Watford after the NEC forced him onto the list, but members preferred the candidate from 2017. Owen Jones threw his weight behind Katie Jones who lost in an All Women’s Shortlist to Mhari Threlfall in Filton and Bradley Stoke,. The FT also reported that in Manchester only 8 of 96 candidates for the council are backed by Momentum. There are certainly hotbeds of Momentum activity like Haringey and some big cities, but on the whole at the moment there is a different picture to be taken on board.

 

Soft Left Strong But Disorganised

The big picture is a soft left party whose members consistently vote for hard left leadership as the old right is bankrupt and there is no soft left organisation. In the twenty years since the LCC closed down nothing apart from the false dawn of Open Labour has emerged to replace it. The internal elections reflect this pattern. However this is an unstable situation, since either the factionalism of the hard left will drive out members and they win by default, or a soft left organisation of young activists will be created. Those are the only alternatives.

Trevor Fisher

January 2018

 

 

Situation Report on Brexit Xmas 2017

Eighteen months after the 2016 Referendum the advance to a Hard Brexit continues with the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal Bill) 2017-19 through its second reading in the Commons. Some concessions were made including the date – which still remains 2019 but may now be adjusted slightly from March 29th, and Amendment 7 – whose significance needs scrutiny.

The major factor is the weakness and divisions within the Anti Brexit forces and whether these are to be addressed. Before the House went into Christmas recess it appeared likely that this would happen. The attempt to unify anti-Brexit was flagged up in the Guardian (report by Patrick Wintour 17 12 17) and is overdue. However a moment of unification may pass without action.  It is vital that this is not the case.  The analysis following focusses on the proposal and how it may develop.

The Unification Proposal

Wintour’s article headline was “former diplomat to lead remainer’s bid to shift public opinion on Brexit”, with a subhead – “Lord Malloch-Brown aims to unify campaigners and sees MPs vote on the final deal as ‘the moment to stop the trainwreck'”. Unity is desirable, but is far from achieved.  There is no proposal for a single organisation, but Malloch-Brown claimed “from New Year is likely to see a much more co-ordinated campaign”.

All anti-Brexiteers must welcome this. But firstly, will it happen? Three organisations were named as taking a lead role – Open Britain, the European Movement, and Best for Britain (BFB), and that Malloch-Brown “has recently become chairman of Best for Britain”. There was no mention of Britain4Europe, which has a real grassroots presence. The earlier document on key seats strategy in the 2017 election (26th April) had named Open Britain, the European Movement and Britain4Europe, not BFB. It is vital that a broad front group emerges with all major organisations involved.

Whether this will happen we will see in early 2018. Immediately attention should focus on the second proposition, that the MPs vote on the final deal is the key moment for stopping Brexit. 

The background  analysed

Malloch-Brown is quoted as saying “The aim will be to shift public opinion by the time MPs come next autumn to have the meaningful vote that was agreed last week. We cannot know precisely the Brexit deal that the meaningful vote will be on, but it will be the moment to stop the trainwreck”.

 The idea of a ‘meaningful vote’ in the autumn on an unknown deal scheduled for March 29th 2019 or thereafter  is contradictory, but more contradictory still are the problems of whether  MPs can vote to defeat Brexit by voting on the deal, or at least the (incomplete) deal available in autumn 2018. Government has made crystal clear that a veto vote by MPs will not happen. This is underlined by responses to epetititions drawing responses from Government that do not suggest the vote on Article 7 of the Exit Bill (European Union (Withdrawal) Bill 2017-19 – vote December 13th 2017), will be effective. There are at time of writing two relevant petitions.

a) An epetition submitted by Tom Holder (deadline 12 3 18- e-petitions are open for  six months therefore this would have been submitted around 12th September 2017) entitled ‘Petition Hold a referendum on the final Brexit deal’  with three options suggested for the ballot paper, the response from the government was as follows:

 

“On 23rd June 2016 the British people voted  to leave the European Union. The UK government is clear that it is now its duty to implement the will of the people and so there will be no second referendum. The decision to hold the referendum was supported by a clear majority in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and the referendum was the largest democratic mandate in UK political history. In the 2017 General Election more than 85% of people voted for parties committed to respecting that result.

 

“There must be no attempts to remain inside the European union, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door, and no second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union, and it is the duty of the government to make sure that we do just that. Rather than second guess the British people’s decision to leave the European Union, the challenge is to make a success of it, not just for those who voted to leave but for every citizen of the UK, bringing together everyone in a balance approach which respects the decision to leave the political structures of the EU, but builds a strong relationship between Britain and the EU as neighbours, allies and partners.

“Parliament passed an Act of Parliament with a clear majority giving the Prime Minister the  power to trigger Article 50, which she did on 29 March in a letter to the President of the European Council Donald Tusk. As a matter of firm policy, our notification will not be withdrawn – for the simple reason that people voted to leave, and the government is determined to see through that instruction.

“Both Houses of Parliament will have the opportunity to vote on the final agreement (i) reached with the EU before it is concluded. This will be a meaningful vote (ii) which will give MPs the choice to either accept the final agreement or leave the EU with no agreement.

“The people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe. We want a deep and special partnership with the EU (iii). We can get the right deal abroad and the right deal for people at home. We will deliver a country that is stronger, fairer, more united and more outward looking than ever before.”

(i) This statement made  in September 2017 raises the question why the government refused to back Dominic Grieve’s amendment 7 to put this commitment into law in December.

(ii) My emphasis – this is a phrase used in parliament which seems to have no meaning at all, as the vote will be a foregone conclusion. As the next part of the sentence indicates, the choice is to accept the government’s position or accept the government’s policy. The deal cannot be amended or rejected for further negotiation. Any vote under these circumstances is a farce.

(iii) But as Justin Bieber sang in a chart hit, “Can we still be friends?” – second verse and chorus – breaking up is easy, staying in a positive relationship something else.

 

(b) an epetition submitted by Anne Greaves deadline 17th May 2018. (thus submitted November 2017) taking up the point  (ii) above and which said of the choice offered

“A lesser of two evils choice between a bad deal and no deal is not acceptable. Our country deserves better than than Hobson’s choice, and our MPs should be allowed to vote with their conscience to deliver what they believe is best for the country”. Government response was shorter and less belligerent, but made no concession on substance, while leaving out the phrase ‘a meaningful vote’,  making the following statement. 

“The British people voted to leave  and the government will implement their decision. The vote on the final deal will give parliament the choice to accept the agreement or leave the EU with no agreement.

“The result of the Referendum held on 23rd June 2016 saw a clear majority of people vote to leave the EU (iv)  Parliament overwhelmingly confirmed the result of the referendum on 8th February, by voting with clear and convincing majorities in both its Houses for the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal)  Bill. The Government is clear that it its duty to deliver on the instruction of the British People and implement the result of the referendum.

“The government has committed to hold a vote on the final deal in Parliament as soon as  possible after the negotiations have concluded. The terms of this vote are clear: Parliament will have the choice to accept that deal or to move ahead without a deal (v).We are confident that we will get the best possible agreement and one which Parliament will want to support.”

 

Department for Exiting the European Union 

(iv)  The facts are that while a narrow majority of those who voted were for Leave, unlike the 1975 vote there was not a 2/3 majority. Nor did the whole UK vote for Leave – the phrase used in the first government response which has been removed – as Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to Remain. This will have consequences for the survival of the UK which Brexiteers do not discuss.

(v) If the vote is to take place after negotiations have completed, why expect it  in Autumn 2018? 

Possible Outcomes

The government’s position does not give much room to suggest  the ‘trainwre

ck can be stopped’. No vote will take place on Leaving, and the choice of a ‘bad deal or no deal’ which is all that is on the table, will not include a vote on staying in the EU. If “Brexit is Brexit”, it cannot be stopped by a vote on this basis. If the Commons votes against the deal, the government is committed to leave the EU. The Amendment 7 passed on December 13th merely adds “subject to the prior enactment of a statute by parliament approving the terms of withdrawal of the UK from the EU”. The policy of the government is to leave without such approval if parliament votes against the deal.

It is possible that a use of Crown Prerogative could spark a constitutional crisis. There will be intense pressure to accept even a bad deal, but if the Commons voted against, and the government persisted, a Commons majority could pass a vote of no confidence in the government, which if passed would mean a General Election, or if Labour took office a government committed to passing Brexit.  The only other option is for parliament to vote for a Referendum. A General Election would be impossible to call.

It would appear those like Lord Malloch-Brown who believe that MPs can reverse Brexit are mistaken. A ‘meaningful vote’ in Autumn 2018 is not what parliament agreed in December 2017.

Trevor Fisher

December 2017

History Must Not Be Repeated

The article by Roy Hattersley in the Observer (3rd December) viewed the rise of Momentum through the spectacles of the 1980s. It is likely that the three Momentum candidates for  the NEC extra places will gain the seats as I argued on December 5th. However the lack of balance on the NEC if this confirmed is not just the result of 3 extra people in decision making, and cannot be tackled by returning to the politics of the past. 

Firstly, Momentum is not the Militant tendency, and while it is currently  the voice of the grassroots, this is partly due to the weakness of other tendencies. When I was on the Rank and File Mobilising Committee in 1981 during my Bennite phase, I was a delegate from the Independent Labour Party (or publications as we called it, confusing the issue) which also contained the Labour Co-ordinating Committee which later became the key soft left organisation, plus CLPD, Briefing, Militant and other groups. The Right also was well organised, but nowadays the Right only has the Labour First organisation, on which Hattersley puts much emphasis. A battle between Momentum and Labour First would be left v right when the right is weak. Where is the soft left?

Secondly, if Momentum is  ‘a party within a party’  as Hattersley claims,  there is an issue of how much control Corbyn’s office has on the group. Momentum claims on its web site to have 31,000 members, 200,000 supporters and 170 local groups. This is impressive and far beyond what any other Labour tendency has, boosting their candidates for the NEC,  but  it’s not automatic that this means a shift in the balance of power to Momentum or that they act for the Leader.

While Momentum certainly supports Corbyn, it is not at all clear that the leader’s office has any firm links with them. It is true as Hattersley claims that there is support from Unite, which appears to share offices with the group,  but even here it would be foolish to equate Momentum with any union despite much sharing of activity. If critics see Momentum as a way of controlling Labour,  stronger evidence is needed.

The Grassroots Must Be The Focus

Hattersley’s article made  some valid points and it is true that Labour’s opinion poll ratings are disappointing.  But there is more going on here that Hattersley’s claim that “Fears about a victory for the far left helps hold down Labour’s opinion poll lead to 4-5%”. Most voters have never heard of Momentum, while attacks on Corbyn for being far left by the Tories failed totally in 2017. Fear is not the real reason for Labour’s poor performance. We need better analyses of why Labour is not streaking ahead, although the media focus on Momentum may produce dire results.

Two key points about the growth of Momentum need to be remembered. The first is that Momentum appeals to young people, notably for having campaigned for Corbyn in 2015.  Any viable future for a grassroots initiative to challenge Momentum has to have a similar appeal. The rejection of the politics of Austerity and genuflecting to neo-liberalism of  the Blair-Brown- Miliband years must go. There is an international dimension here in the failure of the Clintonised Democratic Party which allowed Trump to win in the USA.

Secondly, the shadow cabinet ministers who resigned have no credibility. If Hattersley thinks they can simply declare that they were wrong and express pleasure in ‘acknowledging their mistake’ and then become grassroots warriors this is an illusion. Are they going back into the Shadow Cabinet?  How do they explain their actions in denying that Corbyn had won fair and square in 2015 triggering a second leadership ballot in 2016? Parliamentarians have  no political credibility. Like Johnson and Gove in the Tory party any attempt at independent action would be seen as an attempt to unseat the leadership.  Labour has no future with a civil war.

Shifting The Focus

Hattersley harks back to the decade of conflict which followed the Bennism of the late seventies, notably  in his call for MPs to “spend their evenings in cold halls, speaking to small audiences about Real Labour’s true values”. This is a reference to Labour Listens under Neil Kinnock, a project which largely failed.  Meetings will take place. But they are no longer where the action is.

This is very largely nowadays on the internet, and Momentum have shown how effectively that can be done. Not that the internet is a panacea, but to reach the young in particular will mean working in  cyberspace. 

Hattersley is right to look back to the Bennite movement of the 80s which gave the Tories three election victories, and that piece of history most certainly must not be repeated. Nevertheless the balance of forces in the Party has switched to the hard left for good reasons. New Labour  produced a narrow centralised neo-liberal politics which has no appeal to the young or the voters Labour has to win.

The Soft Left

Focussing on Momentum ignores the weakness of the Soft Left, notably Open Labour. Floating twoyears ago, this offered the chance to rebuild a current between the Right and the Hard Left. However it has failed to put down significant markers or attempt to organise at grassroots level. Its failure to publically support Angela Rayner MP when she refused to sign Momentum’s tick list was unacceptable. It has no visible grassroots presence which may explain its failure to sponsor candidates for the NEC elections but this is to evade the issue. With decisive elections in Summer 2018, Open Labour has to join in. The organisation is weak and run by volunteers, but what is chicken and what is egg? A visible media presence wins the support needed to develop. 

In key areas where Momentum is troublesome such as Inner City London boroughs, Sheffield and Liverpool there is no visible attempt to build a broad front for democratic socialism. Open Labour was never a strong player. It has declined into a social media operation.

Labour only wins elections when it has broad appeal and a balanced approach to voter appeal. The Blair era promised this but failed to deliver, and the Corbyn achievement in reaching voters New Labour did not after 2001 is threatened by the return of sectarianism leftism. The challenge for 2018 is to revive that mythical sleeping beauty, Labour’s Soft Left.

Trevor Fisher

December 2017

 

 

NEC Goes With The Flow

Any doubt that New Labour shot itself in the foot by putting Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot paper in 2015 goes to the wall with the NEC nominations for January 2018. THree extra places are up for grabs and in the absence of a regional element there is no doubt Momentum will clean up. The three candidates supported by Momentum and the CLGA (Centre Left Grassroots Alliance) easily outnumber the other 6 candidates in constituency nominations. The figures are:

Yasmine Dar                205

Rachel Garnham          187

Jon Lansman                181

 

best of the rest are

Johanna Baxter              87

Eddie Izzard                  71

Gurdiner Singh Josan     55

 

With Nick Donovan (8), Nicola Morrison (7)  and Sarah Taylor (11)  making up the list. There is no sign of any substantial right wing presence and the collapse of a once formidable political formation is confirmed. With the non Momentum people all standing as independents, the question for 2018 has to be whether there is any route back for the non-Corbynistas in the Labour Party? And where is the Centre Left of the CLGA, which as those of us who set it up can testify, was once a balanced platform against a dominant New Labour Machine which chose, over more than a decade, to commit political suicide.

Trevor Fisher 

December 107

 

Article 50 & The Rules Of The Game

Brexit is the one issue where Surge Politics does not currently apply, partly because the constitutional rules are badly understood and it is widely believed that the deal is done and once parliament had approved Article 50 and the negotiations began, leaving is inevitable. This is not so, but underpins the lack of movement in public opinion, which is still split down the middle. But there are some indicators that though the Tories have the impetus to continue toward a Hard Brexit, challenge is possible.

There have been no polls recently on Brexit though a Prospect Magazine poll in early autumn suggested that opinion was now 48% Leave 52% Remain – too slight a shift to make a difference.  So what could produce a major shift in public opinion? Poll data is short term and starts to decay as soon as published, so the fact that no polling was done in November is a problem But some polls done earlier are still useful.

There is some evidence that the government is not trusted. Polling published at the start of October,  done for BestforBritain (the Gina Miller group), on the credibility of the key players in the negotiation – May, Johnson and Davis – showed around half of voters thought Boris is motivated by his own interests and only 23% think May is primarily motivated by concern for the national interest. None of   the three  scored highly on putting the national interest first.

There was a different story where the May statement NO DEAL IS BETTER THAN A BAD DEAL  is concerned. Polling shortly after the PM made the statement showed  48% agreeing, only 17% thought a Bad Deal better than No Deal. At Start of October Sky data asked same Q, and a massive 74% thought no deal better than bad deal – but Q is what no deal means. Published on October 30th, the headline data leaves open the question of whether both Remainers and Leavers voted for No Deal. For Remainers this can mean not leaving, for Leavers leaving with a cut and run over the edge and far away position. More polling is needed.

The most important data is that produced by BRITAIN 4 EUROPE in its briefing for a National meeting on 2nd December. This states the following key findings:

1)  Divisions remain entrenched

2)  Soft  LEAVERS are fragmenting with some questioning their vote to Leave

3)  * Brexit is seen as irreversible*

4) Widespread concern at the complexity of the negotiations

5) Some ask that further scrutiny is needed.

The key fact about this poll is the third finding, now widely believed. Indeed, the Tory Brexit spokesman in the Lords said just that on 13th November – and then had to retract. But the story was not widely reported and needs to be better known – the status of Article 50 is going to become crucial in the months to come.

Lord Kerr had said that Article 50 is revocable. This has been used by Remain campaigners, so the Tory Lord Ridley asked  Lord Callanan (Minister of State  in the Department for exiting the European Union) the following question which gained a straight response – but withdrawn a week later.

House of Lords 13 11 17 Col 1845

Lord Ridley (Con) “Further to what my noble friend said about fixing the date of withdrawal… can he confirm that the judgement of the Supreme Court in the case brought by Gina Miller confirms in precise terms that article 50 is irreversible, in contrast to what the noble lord, Lord Kerr, has said?”

Lord Callanan: “I can confirm that. It is also stated by the European Commission that Article 50, once invoked, is irrevocable unless there is political agreement on it”.

Lord Elystan Morgan (Cross Bench)

“My Lords, does the minister agree that the notice given in March this year in relation to Article 50 was not a notice of withdrawal but a notice of intention to withdraw? Does he appreciate that our distinguished colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and the vast mass of legal authority, are of the opinion, therefore, that such a notice can be withdrawn unilaterally….?

Lord Callanan, (Con)

 “My Lords, no, I will not confirm that, because it has been stated by  legal opinion on this side of the water and in the EU that Article 50 is not revocable. It all flies in the face of the results of the referendum…”

 

House of Lords 20 11 17

2.42 PM Announcement:

 Lord Callanan (Con)

“Last Monday …. I responded to a question from my noble friend Lord Ridley regarding the Supreme Court’s view on the revocability of Article 50. My response to my noble friend was incorrect… I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, who highlighted my mistake…..I undertook to check the record… ad make it clear that the Supreme Court did not opine on the revocability of Article 50…

“…to reiterate… the Supreme Court proceeded in the Miller case on the basis that Article 50 would not be revoked but did not rule on the legal position regarding its revocability. It was, and remains, the government’s responsibility that our notification of Article 50 will not be withdrawn…..”

Comment

That  Lord Callanan did not know the constitutional position  is remarkable. It is well established that parliamentary sovereignty means that any law can be repealed. The role of European Law does not change this, and Lord Callanan is right in his opinion. However while parliamentary sovereignty is absolute, and the Tories have promised Parliament will have a vote on the Deal, they have also said that a vote against will be ignored as they are bound by the 2016 Referendum. Thus we have a situation where referendums dictate and parliament cannot overule a referendum. This now appears the constitutional position, so only a Third Referendum (the first was in 1975) can repeal Article 50. The first challenge is to tackle the illusion that this cannot be done – which Lord Callan never quite got round to saying on 20th November – and then win the battle for Referendum 3. That Article 50 can be repealed is clear. But it is a phyrric victory unless a Referendum can trigger the process of repeal. 

 

Trevor Fisher                                                                          

November 2017

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).

Surge Politics Download Order Page

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