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

17 6 17

A Strategy for a Hung Parliament?

With the opinion polls all over the place nothing is clear in the last week of campaigning, but the possibility of a hung parliament has to be considered. One poll with a week to go put the Tories having a 3% lead, another a 12% lead, and the latter is more likely. But the prospect of a hung parliament and Labour having to fess up to challenging May is now worth thinking about. Paul Mason (in the Financial Times of 3rd June) called for Labour to ‘pledge his willingness to govern from the centre… should signal he would form a government with cross party support in parliament, at the very least from the Greens and the progressive nationalist parties’. That raises more questions than answers, but is not what the Front Bench is stating is political stance is going to be anyway.

The Guardian on 1st June reported that Corbyn and Thornberry at a rally in the odd venue of Basildon, considered the options if Labour were the largest party but had no majority. Corbyn echoed Tim Farron in rejecting coalitions, the two leaders clearly aware the coalitions are not popular, stating “We’re not doing deals, we are not doing coalitions, we are not doing any of these things. We are fighting to win this election”. Which is all well and good, but McCluskey of Unite said two weeks earlier that Labour would do well if it did not lose many seats, and to win the election would need Labour holding all its marginals and taking seats off its opponents, especially in Scotland.

However the comment by Emily Thornberry was more important.

She said “We are fighting to win and we are fighting to win a majority. If we end up in a position where we are in a minority, then we will go ahead and put forward a Queen’s speech and a budget, and if people want to vote for it, then good, but if people don’t want to vote for it, then they going to have to go back and speak to their constituents and explain it to them, why we have a Tory government instead. Those are the conversations we have had. No Deals”.

This needs teasing out. If Labour is the largest party, and Corbyn is called to the Palace and becomes PM with no majority, this comment means the front bench are planning to put their plans to the Commons and risking being defeated. If that happened, the Tories would then be the next in line and Corbyn could be the PM with the shortest time in office on record. Blaming the other parties would not be much consolation if the Tories stitched up a deal, as they unlike the Lib Dems and Labour, have said nothing about ruling out coalitions so far.

While it is  very unlikely that the Tories could produce a coalition, and the SNP and others are likely to put pressure on Labour to stay in office with some kind of arrangement, the idea of any ad hoc arrangement lasting 5 years is nonsense. The elephant in the room becomes the Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA) which though invoked to get the early election, is still on the statute book as the Tories expected to win and survive without challenge for 5 years. But as the Act can be by passed by a two thirds majority (unlikely) or a vote of no confidence (possible) then it becomes central to what happens next.

If Labour lost its Queens Speech and Budget – the Queens Speech alone would trigger a crisis if rejected – then the Tories and minority parties might well then want to trigger a vote of no confidence, and if won, Labour would be out in the cold and suffer irreparable damage. The thinking of leadership amounts to Labour putting its future in the hands of its opponents.

Is there a way out? Yes – the first thing to do is to propose that the FTPA be repealed. If repealed, then Labour has the whip hand and can call an election if the Queen’s Speech and-or Budget is rejected. If not repealed then the consequences fall on the opposition parties and Labour is off the hook. It has always been clear that a crisis which cannot be resolved by a General Election, as happened in 1974 and 1910 (two elections in both years) has been implicit in the FTPA.

I am no fan of the Fixed Term Parliament Act for precisely this reason. Now Labour should call time on the Act and give itself the wriggle room to call an election, which Jezza in Number 10 could do once the Act was gone, if the other parties then proved obstructive. With the chance that Labour could win a majority in the second election, it gains credibility and puts the ball in the court of the other parties – on its own terms. It is time to make the repeal of the Act the first item on the agenda if Labour is called on to form a government.

Tackling The Bias In The Election System

On Monday 22nd May my inbox was full of messages about the election – the big news being the Tory manifesto or rather the May manifesto, building on the lead May has in the opinion polls with her running ahead of her party – while Corbyn runs behind his. The latest polling before the manifesto row the previous week showed Tories 47%, Labour 32%, LD 8% and UKIP 5%, but on the leaders May was 24 points ahead, with just 23% believing Corbyn would make a good Prime Minister.

However the 22nd was an inbox of reminders that the deadline for registration, with some 7m people not registered. On the day in fact some 2m registered, leaving 5 million out of the system. This is bad news for Labur as 30% of under 24s and 28% of people who moved in the last year were unregistered. The old, pensioners without jobs but with no plans for moving are the stable basis of the Tory vote, with much more likelihood to cast a ballot. Indeed, the news prompted a brief flurry in the Independent which deserves to be more than an eve of deadline chatter fest. Corbyn will go at some point. But the problems of a Tory bias in voting will remain. And the individual voter registration system may be the most serious of all New Labour mistakes, and another you can’t blame Corbyn for. Not that he understands the problem.

The fact that 30% of under 24s don’t register led to speculation in the Indie on the 22nd whether getting them registered would stop May. An interesting article by James Tilley argued not, stating that while the young don’t vote – he said in 2015 47% voted against 73% of over 24s, broadly correctly – thus as in the 2011 census they made up less than 12% of the electorate, an increase of 30% of 12% being c3.6%, getting them to vote would make little difference – around 1% overall. Ben Bowman agreed, stating that the most marginalised school leavers – 25% – many BAME – have fallen away since the rules were changed again in 2014, by the Coalition, and that a reversal would need “a groundbreaking social movement, but it would bring along  older voters as well” and thus was not worth doing.

The focus is however too narrow. Important though school leavers and 18-24s are, the problem is actually 18- 40 year olds- a much bigger group. 40% of this group are certain to vote, 64% of the older cohort, and this was the pic in the EU referendum. There never was a majority of the UK voting for Leave, and the wafer thin majority of those voting has now been decimated by the grim reaper. Remainers are in the majority at this point in time, and we Remainers must start to take demography seriously. Unpleasant though it is to say it, the older age cohort are a wasting asset for the Tories. Not that we should rely on the grim reaper, silence from Labour on pensions is disasterous.

But the crucial issue is the young. There has been a big shift since Thatchers’ time, when in 1979 42% of 18-24s backed her, according to IPSOS MORI at the time. Then they saw what she produced. On the current picture, house ownership is the biggest factor in Tory voting. And the young cannot buy houses. The Yougov poll which produced these results, 2-20 April involved 12,746 adults deliberately to increase accuracy. It is of course only a snapshot, but it shows the importance of seeing voter registration and aiming at the 16-40 year olds as key. And they stay around longer. The future is young voters, and a relentless focus on them is now the key to the future.

Its not going to be easy. The young are social media oriented, personally I never do it. And they are ghettoised through their phones. Did I ever tell you I may have taught Jony Ive? If only I had known what he was going to do….. But we are where we are. When Jezza spoke to a rock concert earlier this week the kids cheered him so much they could not hear what he was saying. Whatever, its too late to affect this election and get the young voting, though we do what we can. But for the future, the bias in the system has to be tackled. For the future, its Voter Registration, Stupid.

Trevor Fisher,

23rd May 2017

The Stolen Election & the Accomplices

The June 8th election will set a new low for political manipulation in British politics. It is run only for the short term advantage of the Conservative Party being a classic cut and run while you are ahead move which the Fixed Term Parliament Act was designed to prevent from happening. Historically May scored her biggest victory over the Lib Dems and Labour when they failed to defend the Act. The Tory gamble came off, as neither party had the political courage to call Theresa May’s bluff and vote against the election. The failures of Tim Corbyn and Jeremy Farron will be lasting.

This is the stolen election and a historical turning point. Unless Theresa May had stitched up the vote on the Early Election bill, unlikely as Tim and Jeremy are not going to do a deal openly with the Tories, she was gambling when she called the election, calculating she could get away with it despite the Fixed Term Parliament bill requiring 5 years before a general election – and promising the date would be May 2020.

Theresa May lulled the other parties into planning long term, and they were  caught out by the loop hole in the Act which allowed an early election – if two thirds of M Ps voted for an early election Bill, which needed 434 M Ps voting for it to pass. As the Tories did not have a two thirds majority only if Labour voted for the bill could this happen. Labour voted for the Bill, thus triggering an election which could only help the Tories. All the problems which were gathering around the Tory party notably election fraud allegations, the economy and major policy areas including prisons, May’s former job as Home Secretary making her responsible, were removed at a stroke.

The debate on 19th April, provided a sharp insight into why politicians are unpopular and seen as shifty and unreliable. The government claimed they needed a Brexit mandate, baloney as parliament had given them the mandate voting for Article 50, and the Deal would be open to scrutiny by voters in 2019. Allowing an election this year means that a Tory victory on June 8th would allow them to ignore the voters after 2019 for three years. The Labour decision to let her off the hook and support her cut and run proposal puts May in charge of the agenda. Labour again failed to be an effective opposition.

It is worth noting that Corbyn and Abbott voted against repealing the Fixed Term Parliament Act on a Commons motion of 23rd October 2014, so would have been consistent in denying May her repeal and demanding she honour her promises of an election in 2020. This was not what  Labour did, and their votes on the Early Election Bill condemned them again to following a Tory Policy. As did the Lib Dems, the BBC report on May calling the election stating that ‘the main opposition parties have said they will support it’. Not apparently the SNP though, which abstained, but the Lib Dems did not and one important result of the April 19th deabte is to cast doubt on whether the Lib Dems are an opposition party.

The handful of Lib Dem M Ps could not stop the Bill, only Labour could do that, but a vote against would be symbolic and challenge May’s claim to have broad support for seeking a mandate to rule the country. She did not need a mandate on Brexit, and making this a single issue campaign was machiavellian. The argument that an election a year after the Brexit deal would be destabilising is laughable, May is simply avoiding being held to account and the Lib Dems could have embarrassed both Labour and the Conservatives, by voting to uphold the FTPA. But Tim Farron’s group of nonentities decided to to abandon their principles and one of the few things they achieved in the Con Dem Coalition. It is a sign of the times that the man who claimed credit for the FTPA, Nick Clegg, did not manage to vote at the end of the debate.

Moreover Farron steadfastly refused to make a commitment not to go into coalition with the Tories.* Compass and  others who want a progressive alliance should take note. The SNP hammered Farron in the House of Commons debate, as their strategy requires them to destroy Labour and the Lib Dems to produce a Tory – SNP fight north of the border. Had Farron committed not to line up with the Tories and abandoned the Orange Liberal line that took them into Coalition with the Tories in 2010 that would have enabled him to build a presence in Scotland. That he did not do so gave the Nationalists exactly what they wanted.

What happens to the Lib Dems is only a side show, but ensures that this election will be the worst for the progressive movement since 1931. Labour is hamstrung and failed to reject the poisoned chalice of an election which John McDonnell said the Party would take two years to prepare for. It has compromised as in the New Labour years but this time leaving the Blairites to its left over Europe, not a situation the party can benefit from. Meanwhile Farron’s ambiguity on a Tory coalition demonstrates he at least is not going to offer a challenge to Labour as a progressive force whatever his position on Europe.

Theresa May is clearly a limited Prime Minister, but as a party leader she is the Lewis Hamilton of political operators facing the dodgem car twins of Corbyn and Farron as they demonstrate that tacking to the right is the only option in town. For progressives, there is nothing to ally with however desirable the Compass strategy of holding back the Tory tide might be. As the Early Election debate on April 19th showed, there is now a dominant Tory Party as there was in the Thatcher years. Bringing it down will require more than a Progressive Alliance which has no basis in reality, and no parliamentary ability to stop Theresa May when marching into the Division Lobbies against her is what is required.

Since writing the original article, the Lib Dems have issued a call for raising a 1p rate of income tax so a future Liberal government can fund the NHS. This was the central claim in 2010, dropped in 2015 and pure electioneering as there is no chance the Lib Dems can win an election. But an indication that they are playing a parliamentary game of pretending to be interested in the NHS, which they failed to do when in government. The record of the Coalition is now being air brushed from history. More pertinently, they are aiming to take Labour votes by issuing a misleading but plausible attack on Corbyn’s record on Brexit. However there is no attempt to address why the Lib Dems voted for the election, when they could have shown themselves completely anti tory by doing so. In the debate Farron refused to say whether he would go into coalition with the Tories. The debate on 19th April avoided most of the big issues. But on this issue, Farron’s refusal to answer the question was a telling one. Especially as he used the unlikelihood that the Tories would need their help to avoid the question.

However the Guardian carried an interview on April 22nd in which Farron stated the Lib Dems would not go into coalition with either party, ie after the Party voted for the election. The reasons he refused to answer SNP M Ps on the 19th was because a hung parliament was not on the cards and so he did not have to speculate what he would do in that case. The Party has consistently refused to apologise for the Coalition and its deeply reactionary politics, and should  parliament become hung – and only if the Tory Party splits can Brexit be denied without a referendum – then a tactical alliance between the Lib Dems and Tory Remainers and others would be sensible. Indeed if a progressive alliance is ever going to happen then to work with the Tories over Remain would be acceptable. However if the Tory strategy of wooing UKIP voters and getting a massive majority for 5 years works, then all the bets are off. And we will have to return to the issue of why Labour voted with May saving her from a humiliating defeat – and triggering an election most experts think it will lose badly.

Trevor Fisher

14th May 2017

Labour on the Rocks

For any blog site commenting on current developments, the latest headlines define the agenda. The opening days of April provided many, but if the Livingstone saga is ignored as driven by one person’s private attempt to stay in the headlines, there are two underlying themes that make Labour’s future increasingly grim. The first is the Party leadership abandoning Party policy to appease right wing interests, and the second is the short sighted belief that the battle for Party dominance is what defines party politics. Both major factions, Old Left and Modernised New Labour are paddling these canoes with no sense that the public is moving elsewhere. The first of these two problems is now coming to a head.

The major political issue of our time is Brexit, and the dominant forces in the PLP have abandoned defence of the EU for acceptance of the hard right agenda on splitting from Europe. The party policy passed by the 2016 conference, still holds that while it “noted” the TUC decision to accept the majority vote, it would reserve its position including not triggering Article 50 and stated that “The final settlement should therefore be subject to approval, through parliament and potentially through a general election or referendum”, which remains feasible, most crucially through another referendum.

But the PLP leadership, from Corbyn to Mandleson, abandoned this with classic short term thinking. The principled reasons for defending Europe were abandoned once the vote came in, but it was not only Corbyn who demanded total obedience to Brexit. Miliband’s speech to the Open Labour conference was that a soft Brexit was acceptable and Labour would get this, with no reference to the actual results of this policy. As I have already argued, there is no soft Brexit and to accept the Tory agenda as Corbyn did by putting a three line whip on Article 50 was folly. However the electoral argument is currently top priority. The Corbynistas still claim that they can win the next election, arguing it will take two years to turn the party round.

This has to be measured against the reality of Labour’s actual election results. At both the February by- elections, in Leave constituencies, the vote for Brexit candidates outnumbered the pro-Brexit parties, but by accepting Brexit Labour is said to have held on to Stoke Central, despite losing Copeland. The result was clearly the result of UKIP splitting the Brexit vote. This was a poor outcome in a Leave seat, and there is no answer from the Party leadership on what would happen in pro-Remain constituencies: the threat to Labour’s north English seats was enough to ditch party policy. However the double thrust of losing Remain and Leave seats is now looming. SNP and Lib Dems are as much a threat, in Remain constituencies as UKIP and the resurgent Tories are in Leve seats.

To add a twist of pure stupidity, the Times reported on April 6th that Peter Mandelson is arguing the UK should pay £50billion to release the UK from the EU, at which point negotiations on a trade deal could begin. The idea that paying £50 billion wins votes is a non-starter. The Leave case rested largely on stopping monies being paid to Brussels. Paying large sums to them would trigger a backlash from the Right and is so far from reality that Mandleson has entered the realms of delusion.

The same day the paper reported that internal Tory polling showed the Lib Dems likely to win back seats in South London and the South West they lost in 2015, but due to the strength of their local organisation not the call for a second referendum. This will be put to the test in the vote Farron has called on May 12th, but at least means that a snap election is impossible for the Tories to call, so Labour has time to assess what is to be done about its Brexit favouring leadership.

The grim failure to grasp what accepting Brexit involves was most sharply pointed up by Ed Miliband – of the Speech of Retreat at the Open Labour conference on March 11th – and Hilary Benn, now risking becoming the member for voting with the Tories, jointly writing in the Guardian on 2nd April. What stood out was two experienced politicians arguing that Labour can build national unity but “we don’t do it by appearing to write off the 52%”, a statement not merely political nonsense but hypocritical since they belong to a party elite which ignored the growing alienation of the working class voter as Labour failed from 2001 to hold its core vote. It is dangerously patronising to second referendum supporters. These know they have to pay close attention to people who voted for the Tory hard right and win their support. This is very different from seeking to appease people who Labour now fears will vote against them in the future. The Labour leadership has lost any credibility by flip flopping over Europe and the strategies and tactics needed to hold on to and develop Party policy will not come from the compromised politicians on the front bench.

Trevor Fisher

Trevor Fisher was a member of the Labour Coordinating Committee executive 1987-90 and secretary of the Labour Reform Group 1995- 2007. He was a member of the Compass Executive 2007-2009

This article first appeared on Labour Uncut as ‘Labour’s pro-Brexit front bench is more of a problem than Corbyn

Brexit and the Archbishop

Any campaign for a 3rd EU referendum faces major problems, the first being that EU 1 has been forgotten. That Referendum, in 1975, was caused by divisions within Labour which still remain. EU2 in 2016 was caused by divisions with the Tory party, which still remain under the surface. EU1 was an overwhelming YES while EU 2 was a narrow NO, but the first lasted forty years as it was not particularly destructive. EU2 was so destructive it may end the UK and cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged.

However there is no simple way either can be re-run and something better has to be devised than a crude yes no with no checks and balances – as was said in the 2016 epetition…. which tellingly was devised by a UKIPPER, though not I think UKIP policy. But when they thought they had lost, the better brains in their ranks were looking for a third referendum. Now its a once in a generation decision.

However that is not where the big obstacles lie. The Lords debate (EU notification of withdrawal Bill March 7th) was noted for a sensible debate – the Commons debates have been contemptuous, as befits a chamber that voted to give away its rights of scrutiny – which threw light into three of the dark places of the referendum process – its role in democracy, the flaws in referendums but their unavoidability nowadays, and the reasons why there is no soft brexit, only In or Out The EU.

To start at the top, the comments of the Archbishop of Canterbury arguing against a 3rd Referendum spoke volumes. Knowing the that the 2016 bill had created deep divisions, his Grace argued “it will deepen the bitterness. It is not democratic; it is unwise. Even if circumstances change, as the noble baroness Lady Wheatcroft, rightly said they were likely to do – even if they change drastically – a dangerous and overcomplicated process is the result of a referendum”. We may say that only when it is as badly handled as the 2016 one was, but the really crucial aspect of this is that having a debate and a vote is regarded as divisive, and even if the circumstances are likely to change drastically – ie badly – the nation cannot be allowed another vote, it would be dangerous.

In fact a third vote is the only way to reconcile Remainers to the situation, win or lose. Hard Brexiteers will never be convinced, but it is their right to campaign for another vote if they lose EU3. The fundamental democratic principle is the right to challenge the status quo. Remainers backed the right of Leavers to do so after 1975 and still do so. But we now have an Orwellian world in which Remainers are undemocratic for wanting to scrutinise and debate Brexit.

Only in a dictatorship can the governing status quo not be challenged. Parliament has given up its right to scrutinise and challenge Brexit, which EU 2 certainly gave the government the right to initiate, so the only channel left is a third referendum. Referendums are as daft as using a chain saw to do brain surgery, but its all we have left due to our politicians. It is neither dangerous nor complicated to say STOP: we want the status quo.

Many now fear an endless sequence of referendums, but that is the result of a destructive process. Referendums are indeed destructive, and a deliberative process like a Constitutional Convention would be better. But parliament sanctioned referendums. And as for Soft Brexit, while Referendums are a bad thing, they do have one valid consequence. They are clearly IN or OUT. So lets keep that choice going while we can.

Trevor Fisher

The by-election of February 23rd 2017 — The Curtain Call

The failure of UKIP in the by election on February 23rd means Stoke Central’s curtain call will see it as a Labour seat as it has been since its creation in 1950. However none of the problems have been solved and as the Brexit referendum showed, the gap between the working class areas of the UK and conventional politics is massive and unsustainable.

Stoke Central is typical of old industrial areas only more so. The gap with the metropolitan elite is wider here than in any other area, and the former academic Tristram Hunt the MP from 2010 became the least popular MP in the Commons in 2015, with only 19% of voters voting for him. This was not just a personal problem. Stoke became the Brexit capital of the UK, despite all three MPs being Labour which officially backed Remain in the EU Referendum. It proved a golden opportunity for working class people to kick back at Westminster politics.

Rob Flello MP for Stoke South told the Financial Times (February 10th) that during the Referendum, voters told him “We know we may lose out if we leave the EU, but it feels as though there’s nothing to lose”. While this is contradictory, as a kick against the system it makes emotional sense, for the system has failed to deliver for the working classes. It is a game seemingly played only to benefit the metropolitan elite. Parachuting Tristram Hunt, politically inexperienced but with elite connections, into Stoke Central made the point. He was not unpopular, simply divorced from the electors. His closest link to the working classes was writing his book on Engels.

Hunt failed to address the alienation of working class people from politics. The turn out at the 2015 election was 49.5%, the lowest in the UK. At the 2017 by election it was 37.5%. For most people in Stoke Central, it makes more sense to buy a ticket in the National Lottery than vote.

It is not a new problem. When New Labour got its big parliamentary majority in 1997 it proved a massive turnoff for working class people. Previously more than 60% of the electors had voted in Stoke Central but turnout figures dropped like a stone. Turnout was 47.4% in 2001, after four years of New Labour, 48.4% in 2005 and only crept over 50% in 2010 to 53.3% before dropping again below 50% in 2015. The decline in turnout, masked by the fact that Labour always won the seat and there was little opposition to create interest, has been steady since the first election in 1950 – when 83.19% voted. Only in 1970, when it dropped to 50.02%, did it see half the electors sit on their hands until the New Labour era. Significantly, this was after a period of majority Labour government, as in 2001. What do working class people expect from a majority Labour government?

The drop in turnout was not a problem for the Labour establishment as the seat always returned an MP, as did the other two Stoke seats and so it was ignored. But at Stoke council level the rot set in. Two decades ago Labour won 60 out of 60 seats – but the lost control of the council under New Labour and despite regaining it lost control again at the last local election. The history of Stoke Politics, which needs to be recorded and analysed, is of ignoring what working class want from their politicians. But underneath the decline in Labour, as UKIP’s perhaps temporary failure showed at the by election, is a deeper problem. Even when the workers agree with a political line, in this case Brexit, they do not bother to vote for it. 

Politics is irrelevant to most working class people in Stoke Central, and fortunately the BNP and now UKIP have failed over the last two decades to exploit the disillusion of most working class voters. But as the EU referendum showed, neglect of and cynicism toward working class people by the elite works against elite politics. 

As the media circus moves away from Stoke to leave the city in the shadows once again, the question is now sharply posed. Can the metropolitan elite engage with the people of Stoke long term? Is a real alternative to austerity and enduring economic decline possible? Or will a flirtation with extremism, rejected so far by the sensible voters of Stoke, turn into something more sinister? If Labour and the political elite continue to patronise the Stoke people and see in their constituencies nothing more than a source of votes to be used, by elite politicians to gain access to the priveleges  of the capital city, how long can the working classes be relied upon to remain largely silent and politically invisible?

Trevor Fisher  
27th February 2017