Blair’s Legacy is Toxic

The revelations about rendition and complicity in human rights abuses confirms that the Blair legacy is toxic. Turning a blind eye to American moves in the War Against Terror is not confined to any one government., but the sense that the Blair Regime was not behaving as a Labour government should was clear at the time. Astonishingly, the Blair tendency still shows no sign that it should apologise, and fuels the opposition within the Labour Party which still misleadingly polarises into Blair and anti-Blair factions.

Blair won a massive majority in 1997 creating an opportunity for progressive politics which was largely thrown away in the first two terms. Brown also shares much responsibility for a New Labour Project which having overcome loss of voter support in four  elections to 1997 regained it then lost it again. Arrogance and cynicism were at the core of the Blair triangulation project allowing the hard left to still attack opponents for being “Blairite”. In reality the soft left was never Blairite, but suffered from supporting Blair in the 1990s, which the Hard Left never did. The Hard Left were not compromised by what happened after 1997, nor the palpable loss of electoral support which the Blairites still fail to accept.

Blairites assumed, and still assume, that they have a superior grasp of political strategy securing a winning postion. The evidence shows that in the first Blair government the party membership began to drop as members were alienated, so by 2001 the victory was gained by repeating 1997 without having the same levels of street activity. This reinforced the belief of the Projectiles that the Project did not need ground troops and they made no attempt to deal with the problems their own control freakery had created. The next government 2001- 2005 increased voter alienation and despite securing a working majority in parliament the regime failed to notice that it was increasingly unpopular.

It is possible to lose support and still win enough seat, and Blair did so in 2005 getting a working majority on only 37% of the vote – Corbyn got fewer seats in 2017 with over 40% of the votes. But the writing was on the electoral wall with over 50 marginal seats after 2005. Had Blair not resigned for Brown to take over this would have come to haunt him. Brown’s failures in office and the defeat in 2010, with barely 29% of the vote, destroyed his reputation, but the failure in 2010 was not just Brown’s but Blairism and its core policies of triangulation.

In the 2010 leadership election the soft left voted for Ed Miliband to keep out his Blairite  brother David. Miliband proclaimed that the New Labour era was over, but he remained commited to the Project. Of all his mistakes appointing Douglas Alexander as campaign chief was the most damaging. Alexander forfeited the 2015 election and his own Scottish seat in a wipe out of Labour north of the border which left the Party with only one MP. Recognising that the Blair Project was dead in the water should have followed but dogmatism rules. 

In the 2015 leadership contest, with the soft Left Andy Burnham leading, Blairites chose to nominate Jeremy Corbyn to let him onto the ballot paper. There was no chance Corbyn could get on the ballot paper with his own level of support. So non Corbynista MPs signed his nomination forms believing that hard left votes might be drawn from Burnham to allow one of their two candidates to come through and win. Instead the soft left membership voted overwelmingly for Corbyn and a decisive end to the New Labour era. This was entirely due to the Blairite stupidity of nominating Cornbyn. If they do not like the result, they know who to blame.

However they still take no responsibility for what has happened in the last twenty years, and continue to run a tight factional machine producing the Progress-Labour First slate for the NEC. They show no sign of  regret for their many mistakes or even willingness to accept they made them. This means that a vote for any of that crew is a mistake which could only lead to a return of the bad old days post 1997. Whoever I decide to vote for in the NEC elections, it will not be any on that slate.

The historical facts of New Labour failure have been obvious for many years, but still don’t impact in the world of Progress and Labour First, making it easy for the hard left to target anyone not of their persuasion as ‘Blairite’. Unless  there is a soft left revival, a polarised party will continue to favour the hard left bandwagon. The soft left given the choice prefers Corbynism to Blairism.

How long will it take for Blairites to realise their game is up? Phyicist Max Planck once noted that in science, “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it”. Its even more difficult in politics for practitioners to see the light. Perhaps we have to wait for the grim reaper to do his work. Certainly the Blairites are showing no sign of accepting that the accomodation with Thatcherism which won them their elections was the Midas touch,.

Trevor Fisher

August 2018. First published by Labour List.

People’s Vote Petition Makes Headway

The People’s Vote petition is close to meeting its current target of 250,00 names, making it the dominant force in anti-Brexit campaigning. It is likely to set a new target and with a half million names a real possibility – and a million by the target date of October 20th – the initiative has  to be taken seriously, 

Launched after the 100,000 strong march on 23rd  June, the petition demonstrates the organisational skills of Open Britain, which organised both the march and the petition. The initial target of 150,00 names was achieved within a fortnight with 171,058 signing by 7th July, and by the end of the third week 22,060 extra names had signed up. The fourth week added only 11,159, but this last week saw 22,851 names added, maintaining the impetus. 

However this success does not mean that there will be a vote on Brexit, or even a vote on the Deal, as government is able to choose what happens. More importantly, there are two petitions in circulation and only one calls for a fresh vote on Brexit itself. The Open Britain petition clearly leaves this as an open question – so would a People’s Vote actually stop Brexit?

 

The Peoples Vote (Open Britain)

The success of the People’s Vote petition, is partly due to its brevity. It reads

“We the undersigned demand a People’s Vote on the Brexit Deal”.

There is here no call for a vote on Brexit itself, and there is danger that the vote would be FOR the deal and thus FOR leaving the EU. The government has said that it will only allow a vote – currently only  vote in parliament – for or against the Deal, and if MPs vote against then a No Deal solution would be adopted. The People’s Vote seems to assume a vote would be against the Deal. Neither MPs nor the public can be taken for granted, and  arguing that polls show support for a Vote, while true, does not mean an automatic majority against the Deal.

Best For Britain

The People’s Vote certainly does not mean a vote on Brexit itself, but this has been proposed by Best for Britain. The BFB approach is two stage, parliament and then a popular vote. The key wording from its website says:

“We will campaign for parliament to reject any Brexit proposal that does not deliver the same benefits as we now enjoy as a  member of the EU. And we will support a People’s Vote on whether to make the final decision on whether to accept the terms of Brexit or keep our current deal with the EU. This vote is likely to be held towards the end of this year”.

BFB is therefore arguing for a two stage approach, a parliamentary debate and vote and only then a People’s Vote. This carries risks, for if parliament votes in favour of the terms of the Deal then whether a popular vote would be acceptable or indeed likely is questionable. Government has refused to accept any form of popular vote and can use a majority vote to avoid this. Whether it would still have a   autumn is open to doubt, but if there is a crisis, then the issue of having a third referendum will come onto the agenda. BFB would then be able to argue for a vote on the central issue of remaining in the EU. Open Britain is ambiguous on the central issue and as it is inevitable that the wording of a petition helps to channel the choices. If there is a People’s Vote should the government be allowed to define the choice to be made on its own negotiations?

Not A Clear Cut Choice

The People’s Vote if only confined to the terms of the Deal could play into the hands of the government. If May’s government manages to cobble together a deal and secure public support it could call a Vote on its own terms. May’s chances of doing this are slim and a No Deal scenario is a real possibility, but there can be no easy assumption that a deal would be rejected by the voters. Opinion polls do suggest  support for another vote is growing, though the increases do not suggest a major shift in opinion.

Rejecting the move to Brexit however is a bigger issue and much needs to be done to win support for that position.  Open Britain is not calling for this. Assuming a Vote means a Vote in the way Open Britain would want – against Brexit – is the Wish Being the Father to the Thought. Anti Brexit is an obstacle  race. There is no evidence Anti Brexit would win it unless the issue is put squarely on the ballot paper and then campaigned for. The Anti Brexit movement is not a majority and needs to review its options. As we head into the parliamentary recess, those options are limited by a lack of effective discussion. 

Trevor Fisher, August 2018.


A Party for the Many or the Few?

Andy Howell rightly points to the need for a strong centre to prevent Labour splitting between two fight to the death factions (Ann Black for the NEC — Fighting Against The Polarisation of the Party). This will be difficult even if independents do win places in the NEC ballot – Ann Black and Eddie Izzard must be top of the voting list. But with Johanna Baxter and Gurinder Singh Josan quitting as Independents to join the Labour First-Progess hard right slate, the list of independents has reduced since last year.

Polarisation is partly due to the mistaken grasp of history in both factions. Blairism has become a slogan either getting uncritical opposition or unconditional support. The Lost History of the 1990s shows that the centre left moved against Blairism to form the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA) in 1997-98 and there was space to do so. Blair was never able or willing to indulge a purge – as Jeremy  Corbyn’s record of rebellions shows – and the hard left belief there was a total clamp down is unhistorical. On the other hand, the New Labour Establishment was willing to roar off into neo- liberalism and cannot be defended. The Hard Right is defending the indefensible, and after Miliband remained in hock to New Labour, the soft left found itself in the middle, and in 2015 voted for Corbyn. 

This gets the soft left nowhere. Neither side in the faction fight accepts the independence of the soft or centre left,  or the need for Labour to be a broad church, and the removal of Ann Black from the CLGA slate shows that independence is not something the hard left is interested in. Like the hard Right, they embrace a black and white no compromise politics, and this risks wrecking the balance in the party. 

When it was set up in 1900, the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) represented the hard left. The Independent Lbour Party (ILP) the centre or centre left, and Fabians the right. The SDF quit – they were not expelled – to form the Communist Party, but other hard left groupings emerged. As long as there is balance, there is no problem. Labour has succeeded when it has been a broad church.

Momentum, the latest hard left grouping, builds on the support for Corbynism and rejection of New Labour by Party members, most of whom still seem to be soft or centre left. Momentum currently claims 40,000+ members, in a party of over half a million. Thus it has less than 10% of the membership, but against the Labour First/Progress alliance is likely to take 8 or 9 of the constituency positions. Such a result would mean that Labour’s constituency section had come under the control of a minority – not a good state for a party which needs to be broad and inclusive, the party of the many, to win power. 

If there is an imbalanced constituency section this will be harmful. For the majority of Party members  not to be represented on the NEC is unustainable – members will leave. For the current elections nothing can be done but to urge votes for independent members and avoid the slates. But in the aftermath there has to be a redoubled effort to build a well organised soft or centre left presence. Labour’s NEC must represent the Many, not the Few.

Trevor Fisher, July 2018

Is the Labour Party a Broad Church Any More?

On a day when John Woodcock resigns from the Labour Party with an attack on the leadership notably for tolerating anti semitism and Margaret Hodge is investigated for a similar attack on Corbyn and the anti semitic issue, while Another Europe is Possible (AEIP) announces more anti Brexit rallies after the end of July, the state of the party internally is worth investigating.

With Corbyn unassailable and his supporters in control of the NEC, the situation is similar to that  when Blair was in his prime after 1997. But he was Prime Minister, and not really concerned with party control. There was an effective coalition of soft left (Labour Reform) and reasonable hard left (CLPD) which formed the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance in 1998. Thus the 6 (then) CLP places were never purely under the thumb of a leadership faction and Labour First, backed by Progress, never had it their own way. Today the hard right are in dire straights and as the nominations for the 2018 NEC 9 places shows, they are unlikely to reverse the slide into the abyss which they suffered in 2016. Here are the nominations.

Hard Left Momentum (Momentum/CLDP) Hard Right (Labour First- Progress)
Ann Henderson 192 Eda Cazimoglu 38
Claudia Webbe 232 Gurinder Singh Josan 65
Darren Williams 210 Heather Peto 43
Huda Elmi 237 Jasmine Beckett 43
Jon Lansman 229 (237) Johanna Baxter 64
Nav Mishra 219 Lisa Barnes 38
Pete Willsman 238 (228) Luke Akehurst 49
Rachel Garnham 236 Marianne Masters 22
Yasmine Dar 248 Mary Wimbury 47
(Labour List Stat)
Ann Black 174
Eddie Izard 44

There are 6 other candidates with 5-15 nominations.

Nominations are controlled by meeting attenders and OMOV votes are not totally reflective of the activists. However it is very unlikely even Eddie Izzard can beat the Momentum machine and only Ann Black has a chance of winning. The top priority is to secure this victory. However to do so something more than defending an individual record is needed. There has to be a wider debate to open up the long term issue of a more balanced and representative NEC.

The Labour First idea of a regional element is really a non starter, making the NEC bigger is not attractive, though an intermediate level council which could meet quarterly to discuss more broad brush issues is worth pursuing to keep issues of breadth on the agenda. The issue of dominance by metropolitan areas is one such issue. The small towns will define the next election and are not showing the swing to Labour of the big towns making this is another key area to keep on top of. Youth is equally vital. Its rarely understood that two thirds of the students of 2017 have graduated. Who is in charge of college  recruitment which could be run as part of a voter registration drive?

Affiliates versus the individual member party.

While these are not factional issues, MOmentum’s desire for a member only party certainly is. Jon Lansman’s failed attempt to become General Secretary overshadowed the policy of making members the only players, its still playing out – in Wales the electoral college for leader is controversial. This raises the question of whether Labour should have affiliates – notably the unions, but anyone listening to the socialist societies knows that they are unhappy at being ignored and want direct representation on the NPF.

The issues here are not just about organisation. Does the Labour Party want to continue, as it has been since 1900, as an affiliate based political grouping – even conference remains based on affiliates – or abandon this and rely on membership, which would open the way to a US democrat style party? Which was the direction Ed Miliband was heading in? OMOV is fine for decisions which can be handled by single transferrable vote (if there are more than two options), and leadership is one such. But policy and strategy is not in that category, and Blair’s system of having yes no votes on documents at conference has rightly been abandoned. On this issue, Momentum are pointing the way to the dissolution of the Labour Party as it has been since its formation, and here clear water lies between a soft left and hard left position.

And there is more to come. Mandatory reselection  is back on the warpath, though Corbyn has been notably luke warm. And for good reasons. The drive for an internal regime of control freaks is not a vote winner, and Labour needs to focus on winning the electors, not internal battles. CLPS have the right to deselect, and this is constitutionally sound. Even Churchill faced deselection in the 1930s*. But for Labour, its political masturbation and the soft left needs to oppose.

With the NEC elections now imminent, these may not be the headline issues to focus on. But there is a wider contest coming over the horizon – is Labour still a broad church? Momentum is in pole position for the NEC elections. The task now is to lay foundations for a wider confrontation than just winning the NEC constituency elections this year.

*by his Epping constituency, for opposing appeasement

Trevor Fisher, July 2018.

Another Europe is Possible — Manchester: work in progress

On 5th July, the left wing anti Brexit group  Another Europe is Possible held the first of its summer road shows in Manchester. Under the slogan THE LEFT AGAINST BREXIT the project of taking meetings to major cities is intriguing, and certainly welcome. The two years since the Referendum have been marked by Westminster Bubble Politics, so the very fact that AEIP are going to provincial cities is valuable. If AEIP deliver on the promise that there will be a discussion, not just a series of rallies, then this could be a decisive moment.

However the project is not yet set up to promote discussion, firstly because the old format of the rally is well established, and secondly because the technology of mass discussion has yet to be worked out as part of the New Politics which is now needed. Social media is infected by trolls, and video conferencing is problematic with large numbers. AEIP know discussion is needed and there is little time. Hopefully the AEIP will use modern technology to communicate and discuss key themes to a conclusion, though please not a troll infested blog site. Focussed discussion which can come to a conclusion has to be the aim. But time is short and the tried and tested methods are easy to use. 

So it is not surprising that the first rally was just that, four speakers including Caroline Lucas, the asset of the Green Party, with Michael Chessum chairing. This was a fair way to open a discussion with 120 people and by the time I left half an hour early to catch my train the questioning showed insight and spirit. But the audience was dangerously limited. Only one black person, no other BAME, and largely over 40s. I would suspect professional workers as well.  The schedule of meetings in 5 cities in July – London (12th), Bristol (26th), Nottingham (30th) and Birmingham (31st)  should show evolution to become more inclusive.

 Three main issues emerged. These were the People’s Vote, Labour’s ambiguities, and the 2016 referendum, a gaping wound which could not be put into perspective. The latter was referred to several times, always as an unfortunate mistake which “had to be respected”, the mantra adopted by the Anti Brexit movement and embraced by AEIP itself. This rebounded on  AEIP of leading to its long silence in the aftermath of the vote. Hopefully now it has regained impetus it can start to reconsider that foolish position, which is as illogical as ‘respecting’ the Black Death, Relegation from the Premiership, or Theresa May hanging on to power in June 2017. History has to be recognised. It does not have to be respected.

The current establishment politics dominating anti-Brexit leads to the illogicality of the People’s Vote (PV). Why does a left wing group acarcept this? Reality is that Government’s declared policy is that  MPs will  accept the Deal or the government goes for  a No Deal WTO solution. The government intends to leave  EU on March 31st. There is nothing in the People’s Vote which contradicts the position of the two front benches that Britain will leave the EU under article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, despite Keir Starmer’s 6 tests.

But back to the PV. How many of the assembled realised the PV doesn’t actually stop Brexit? It is worth restating the eleven words People’s Voters accept, which are:

“We the undersigned demand a people’s vote on the Brexit deal”.

Nothing here on Leaving the EU, but on the night the questions were sharp enough to force Caroline Lucas to agree reluctantly that it would be possible for the vote to be in favour of the Tory deal. A vote which can both confirm Brexit and the nightmare of the policies of the hard right should have secured a sharp reaction. But while I cannot say what happened in the half hour after I left, the tendency was to focus on how to secure the vote of MPs – MPs are the only ones to make the decision on a vote, so need to be the focus of attention. There is no guaruntee that the MPs will vote for another vote and still less that it will include an option to remain in the EU. This unpleasant reality was not analysed while I was there.

Instead Labour took centre stage, and AEIP is committed to pressure Labour to vote to implement the Peoples Vote. However  there are not enough Labour MPs to overcome the government even if a stronger PV were available. This clearly means a Tory rebellion is needed, but how anti Brexiteers could secure a vote to have a vote is a circle yet to be squared.

While Labour’s position needs to be challenged, it should not be assumed that Labour alone can deliver

the People’s Vote, even if beefed up by committing to a vote on staying in Europe. And there are even bigger issues to discuss. A massive elephant trumpeting very loudly in the meeting was the 2016 vote,  a constant presence never properly  addressed. It was argued that the workers were reacting to the status quo aka austerity or other horrors, but in part a proxy rebellion against the establishment, but the ballot was explicitly about Leaving the EU. Ignoring this will reap a hurricane. May has a mandate to take Britain out of the EU How this would be tackled was not on the agenda at Manchester. 

Putting all the eggs in the basket of People’s Vote seemed satisfactory to those in the People’s History Museum. But if this is not challenged then this will become a dead end. To  a refusnik who will not sign a petition which has no commitment to counter Leaving the EU, the spirit of those at the meeting was inspirational but the key question was left unanswered: where is this movement going if it thinks the People’s Vote will deliver what they want?

Trevor Fisher, July 2018.

Brexit, Labour & the Future

Recent developments on Brexit are marching Labour towards Brexit uncritically. Despite the policy of the 2016 conference for a  third referendum – 2016 was the second referendum as the first was the 1975 referendum – third vote is  falling off the agenda. For Labour, it is unlikely it can win the next General Election without a third vote.

Currently the Tories have the ball of their feet with their Deal or No Deal so-called ‘meaningful’ vote which is due in the Autumn.  With 15 Labour MPs voting with the Tories over membership of the EEA rather than abstaining as Corbyn wanted it is clear that Leave has serious support within the PLP. This position is more or less the same as Tony Benn’s position in the 1975 referendum, which Leave lost, and uses the wording which has now been used by groups like Open Britain which are against Brexit that we must “respect the referendum result”, a phrase which is a no brainer. The real issue – especially for the young – is respecting democracy by  giving them what the People’s Vote is calling for – another vote. 

Labour Leave is rehashing the old Bennite argument that the UK can survive and prosper outside the  EU. I personally agree with  rejecting EEA and EFTA for the UK needs to be inside the institution, not as the ‘vassal state ‘ with no ability to shape the rules.. However the isolationist argument was spurious before Trump got into the White House with “America First”, and completely invalid now he has started a trade war. The UK has to be inside the EU and forming strong links with Canada and Mexico.

So what is the beef? The real issue is providing a future for the Young, who overwhelmingly favour the EU and are being betrayed by Brexit. The Leavers ignore this dominant fact of electoral politics, while correctly pointing to the fact that for the moment,  “the electors, and Labour’s traditional heartland voters” have rejected the EU. But this only affects some electors in some declining areas which will suffer most from Brexit. If  Labour MPs are now terrified of losing seats if they stick to their guns, they will face the bigger problem long term of losing the young. It pains me to say this as an old age pensioner, but my generation – the Baby Boomers – have failed young people. And the failure runs through all aspects of our politics. 

Caroline Flint raised the immigration issue over the EEA , and there is a real debate to be had, but immigration is overwhelmingly a concern of the Old. The Guardian of 22nd January 2017 reported that of 22 priorities, immigration was the lowest ranked among 18-34 year olds. It was ignored by  the young in the  2017 election when May flagged it up. We cannot ignore the fact that it did affect the vote in the old traditional working class areas, which have to be won back to get a majority Labour government. But Brexit is not the way to do it. It will hand young voters to the Remain parties.

The big issue is whether when the 6 tests are to be used in the ‘meaningful debate’ in the autumn Labour will call for a third referendum this time on the Deal.   This position is morally sound and constitutionally valid, for there is no reason not to allow a third vote. As David Davis said in 2013, “if a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy”. True even if he is now the Minister for Brexit. He told Seema Malhotra in Select Committee on 25th April that the Deal document may be no more than a ‘bare bones’ document and cannot be amended. So the six tests are almost certain to be failed. Given that the chances of Labour defeating the document are limited, the most viable way forward is to put the deal to a public vote.

If Labour abandons the position is fought the 2016 referndum on, it moves away from democratic practice,  at the price of risking the votes of young people and metropolitan voters. The Green and Lib Dem Parties are struggling. Nothing would hand them progressive voters more quickly than voting for Brexit. However the big issue is not just whether Labour is about to hand the next election to the Tories by losing votes.

The core issue is democracy. The 2016 referendum was not a priveleged ‘once in a generation’ vote which cannot be repeated. After the 1975 vote Harold Wilson made it clear it was the right of Leavers to campaign to reverse the result. The current Leave campaign  cannot deny voters the same right that they had to get a public vote on the choices before the UK before the UK drops out of the EU. Currently Remain has won one vote, Leave has won one. The next, critical vote will be a best of three – if MPs have enough democratic principle to bring it on. 

Trevor Fisher, June 2018.

Anti Brexit or a New Party?

On Monday 14th May, David Miliband, Nicky Morgan and Nick Clegg spoke in favour of a soft Brexit at a rally in Essex.  Cross party co-operation against Brexit is not controversial, but the press comment suggesting this was a move towards a new Centre Party – noting David Miliband’s return to British politics – sounded alarm bells. Linking the two issues of anti- Brexit and a centre party is a no-brainer.

The Social Democrat Party failed in the 1980s and there is less room in the centre now because  the politics of triangulation pursued by New Labour collapsed. That project, based on compromises with the Tory Right while abandoning any effective defence of centre left politics was New Labour’s answer to four election defeats,  but as Gordon Brown found in 2010 it only produced short  term gains. Politicians of the centre still do not understand their own failure and try to find compromises where there are none – there is no soft Brexit.

The politicians who spoke in Essex were living symbols of a failed politics of retreat. Nick Clegg, now reinventing himself as an anti-Brexit warrior to  large and uncritical audiences, is a warning from history about compromising with the right. There is no ambiguity about  the historical record – Clegg led the Lib Dems into coalition with an austerity producing Tory leadership under Cameron, and lost three quarters of his MPs and over 85% of his MPs (57-8)  in 2015. He himself lost his seat in the 2017 election and his party’s attempt to get a Brexit Referendum through parliament has been an abysmal failure. Nevertheless nothing stops Sir Nick – having had a knighthood conferred by a grateful Establishment – thinking his Orange Liberal politics are the way forward.

Nicky Morgan was the successor to Michael Gove as Education Secretary after a period of turmoil and dogmatism, and did nothing to remedy the problems caused by Gove’s reforms, notably  the GCSE edict which is now causing severe stress and trauma for both pupils and teachers alike. Increased demands and cuts in funding continued to be the Tory recipe for state education, and like Clegg, Morgan has never condemned the austerity policies followed by her Tory Party since 2010. 

David Miliband at least cannot be accused of embracing austerity, but as a fully fledged New Labourite he supported the politics of triangulation and was part of the damaging and electorally disasterous Brown Government which lost in 2010. There is no sign he has revised his political views and as he left the country has made no contribution to Labour’s partial recovery since 2010. 

What Miliband’s contribution to the Campaign With No Name will eventually be is not clear, but he is critical of Corbyn for not wanting the EEA option and accuses him of risking being ‘midwife of a hard brexit’.  But on this Corbyn has a point. We do not want to be like Norway a state with no voice. Saying it would make Britain a vassal state is overegging the pudding, but Brexiteers and anti Brexiteers can agree that the EEA provides  a limbo state neither want. Brexiteers want OUT, Remainers want In. Why be a fringe state with no power? 

The three musketeers seem to be running with the People’s vote campaign without endorsing it. The People’s Vote wants to challenge the terms of the Brexit Deal, but a vote on the terms can be no more than a delaying action, despite a commitment to stay in the EU while the haggling takes place. This avoids the elephant in the room, the 2016 Referendum. Brexiteers argue  that 2016 was a democratic decision to Leave the EU in toto and must be accepted,  a logical view which has convinced some 30% of Remainers, on the latest polls, giving Leave a 2-1 majority. To counter this needs a reasoned case for a third Referendum – there have been two already –  on the core issue of remaining or leaving. There is no point in just putting the terms of the Deal to a vote, and no half way house whether joining the EEA or remaining in the customs union or other evasions. Either we are In or Out the EU. 

For the Remainers who want IN and realise the argument cannot be about half way houses, how to secure a third vote and win the outcome is the only show in town. Parliamentarians have a role to play, and alliances are necessary when the vote on the Deal happens in the autumn. Labour has to be restrained from voting with the Tories and brought to commit to voting against the Tory deal. The objective has to be more than a soft Brexit. The choice has to be to offer  a third, binding referendum on staying in the EU. To have any chance of securing this objective, playing within the existing party structures is a given. As the crisis develops, a General Election is likely to happen as the Tory Party rips apart. We need an undivided Labour Party to face up to the challenge.

Trevor Fisher

May 2018

SPIKED & The People’s Votes Phoney War

The Millbank* campaign for a People’s Vote (PV) on the Brexit Deal was launched on April 14-15 to tepid interest on the Andrew Marr show and a swinging attack on the  pro-Brexit Blog Site SPIKED (Spiked is the old Living Marxism crew and a classic example of populist reaction). In a piece  entitled THE PEOPLES VOTE A PARODY OF DEMOCRACY, Fraser Myers picked up on some obvious flaw in the  project which it would be foolish to ignore. Notably that  the People’s Vote  is an attempt to re- run the 2016 referendum which cannot be honest about that fact for fear of being called undemocratic, so seeks a popular vote on the terms of the Deal. But not Brexit itself.

Haggling over the details is not likely to be popular, and David Davis after the blog went to press suggested that the deal put to the Commons is likely to be only a draft, making the ‘vote’ a phony war. Neither the details nor the big issue – Brexit and the future- are likely to go for debate.

Hence the importance of  Myers, who argued “The rearguard Remain campaign launched its latest initiative to derail the democratic vote for Brexit…. to call for what they insist is not a second referendum”. While a further vote is perfectly sound constitutionally and Spiked is on very dodgy ground discussing democracy, they have spotted the elephant in the room. Myers argued “Their own polling tells them the people don’t want one”. And that is the underlying problem Millbank is avoiding.

Recent  polls  show a small movement in favour of questioning the 2016 vote depend on wording when calling for people to ‘have their say” or “final vote” is popular, but when the more precise ” a public vote” is suggested, the figure in favour drops to 39% agreed and 49%  opposed. Consistently the polling since 2016 polls reject a further vote and some 30% of Remainers are opposed to a further vote. The PV campaign is agitating for a vote which has no substantial public support. Spiked and the Brexiteers are opposed to a further Referendum for their own reasons but the public do not currently want one – by a margin of 65% to 35% on the latest polls. This is a crucial weakness Millbank has failed to address

Democracy, Sovereignty & the Third Vote

While  Spiked  may criticise Millbank’s tactics accurately,  they are wrong on fundamentals. While the 2016 vote was democratic – though flawed – there is nothing undemocratic  in calling for a further vote.

Britain not having a written constitution, the rules are made up inconsistently, but no one has ever said the second vote could not take place (it is of course the third vote which makes the case stronger) but the unresolved issue is whether this can happen imminently. Parliament can do anything it wants to do under parliamentary sovereignty. The only issue is whether  circumstances have changed sufficiently to make a third vote legitimate.

On this, Millbank is correct. The 2016 vote was a blindfold vote. As the terms of the deal are to be revealed, Britain has the right to vote again on whether it wants to go ahead. And it would be just as legitimate as the one the Scottish Nationalists are calling for, blocked by May but only on a temporary basis.

But the issue of what the deal on offer would be if it is ever put to a “People’s Vote” (sic) has become as  slippery as an eel. David Davis indicates the full Deal will not be on offer, and this is  likely to catch those who like Best For Britain argue the full deal must be there to vote for.  This has never been on the cards, despite  the Six Tests that Starmer has set. As Thornberry and Barry Gardiner have suggested,  voting  against the Deal may be impossible if it is as vague as motherhood and apple pie, and this is the prospect.

David Davis confirmed  to a Select Committee at the end of April that the Deal will not be available – rightly, as it will take years to do – stating the position put to the Commons in the ‘meaningful vote’ will be “a political declaration rather than a treaty draft”, (BBC 25th April 2018). This would be a trap for Labour if the proposal rests on the 2016 Referendum. It is also likely to confirm the Leave date as March 29th 2019. Labour could not vote against that having voted for Article 50. If parliament voted against that to send negotiators back to Brussells it would do so having left the EU. What bargaining position they would then have is anyone’s guess. The pressure would be to accept the deal – or leave with no deal, which has been Tory policy since February 2017.

The Millbank tendency and it’s outriders are stating they do not want a vote on Brexit but only the terms of Brexit- which will be defined by the Tories. If this is the best offer for a People’s Vote, do not expect a wonderful outcome.

If the ‘terms’ so called are as Davis said, “a political declaration” it will be in terms that stress the referendum result, not the fine details which will not be there. Labour hopes the 6 tests will give  details they can reject to send the government back  to renegotiate on its terms- the government will go back to negotiate if ‘parliament is in control’. This is not likely if the terms are merely a political declaration.

Meanwhile People’s Vote supporter Gareth Thomas MP is seeking in May a vote on “A people’s vote … to take back control over Brexit from a small cabal of leave ideologues” (Observer 29th April). Not likely if the ‘terms’ to be voted on confirm the result of the Referendum of 2016. For both Labour and the People’s Vote, challenging that Referendum is going to be essential. And at the moment, the People do not support this as Spiked and others in the Brexit lobby are only too happy to point out. That is the challenge.

Trevor Fisher

April 2018

* Based in the Millbank Tower a 9 organisation coalition of pro Remain Organisations explicitly inspired by the Blair- Cameron campaigns which were based in the Dark Tower near parliament.

 

 

Millbank Rises Up Against Brexit

The Groundhog Day which is British politics took another turn on April 14th when a group of 9 anti Brexit groups launched a day of action in support of a People’s Vote on the Final Brexit Deal – a carefully chosen form of words. The 9 groups* are based in an office in the Millbank Tower, and in case any old stagers have missed the point, they proudly announced that this was where New Labour ran its 1997 and 2001 election campaigns and David Cameron took the Tories back into power in 2010. This  is sympathetic magic.

The actual strategy is more calculated. The People’s Vote (PV) is not a proposal for a new referendum, though the organisers are not happy with going ahead with Brexit. They just want the terms of the Brexit Deal to be approved by the electors. If this is not the case, then MPs should presumably send David Davis back for more discussion,. The parliamentary focus raises the question of where Labour would come in – Labour being an absent party thus far in the discussion. A broad front against the government would need votes from other parties and especially Tory rebels to win, so the two approaches could mesh. However  Labour and the PV people say the 2016 result must be ‘respected’ and unless there is a hidden agenda, stopping Brexit is off limits. 

PV  is a high risk strategy aimed at having the deal rejected. Their core case is  that new facts have emerged and the vote in 2016 was in the dark, which suggests the referndum should be re-run. But the Millbank strategist slide around a new referendum as they know there is no appetite for one. The most recent Yougov poll (March 29th) showed a clear majority against another referendum. Some 30% of Remain voters are against, presumably as they think a new referendum would be undemocratic, and People’s Vote know this, though one supporter, Tom Brake the Lib Dem MP argued on 12th December** that the polls show more people have turned against Brexit. But not in enough numbers to count so a referendum  is off the PV agenda.

Patrick Stewart, aka Captain Picard of Star Trek, speaking for the PV campaign on the Marr Show on April 15th was very clear that there is no intent to have another referendum. The briefing session I attended on the 22nd last was told that even suggesting an option to Remain annoys voters, and should be avoided on street stalls. So what the People’s Vote amounts to is a delaying tactic. Brexit will be delayed until the people have voted, but not opposed as such. 

Meanwhile  the government position is that there are only two the options in the ‘Meaningful Vote’. MPs will approve the deal, or the government will go for leaving with No Deal. If the vote goes against the government there would be a crisis, and some hope for a General Election. But the Millbankers only hope for a delay. If there is a People’s Vote and it was won, this would create a crisis with May claiming that the referendum gives her a mandate to walk out the EU. How the. fall out would be dealt with Millbank is keeping to itself.

 

An impasse with a few significant cracks

Is there a way out of the impasse? For a Kremlinologist like me there are some straws in the wind. In the old days of the Soviet Union you would notice a  purge of minor officials in somewhere east of the Urals and two weeks later the faction they backed exited the central committee in Moscow. Not that there is any danger of David Davis being purged, but there are some interesting developments on the margins which may be significant

Some months ago an epetition by one Anna Greaves calling for MPs to be allowed to vote with their consciences on the ‘meaningful vote’ on rhe Deal  reached 100,000 signatures. The epetition office titled this “the vote on the Brexit deal must include an option to Remain in the EU”.  The debate was scheduled for just after Easter – but then moved to April 30th. Last week it was postponed again to June 11th.

As government said in its response at the 10,000 signatures mark, the deal will be accepted or government  will ‘move ahead without a deal’. So what has caused the delay is hard to see. Possibly the problems with presenting a Deal mean government does not want to reveal its hand. And just possibly they might lose a vote calling for a referendum. We will not know till an MP puts down an amendment to do that. While both Labour and the People’s Vote fail to do this and there is no campaign for the unpopular option, then there will be no movement. But it stays as the Elephant in the Living Room, the option polite company does not discuss. 

*The main ones appear to be Open Britain and the European Movement – Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry for Open Britain, ex-Tory minister Stephen Dorrell from EM – plus seven others

** on the http://leftfootforward.org/2017/12/website  = they report what seems to have been a rogue poll.

Trevor Fisher

April 2018.

Up Labour’s Down Stairs

Two features define Labour Politics. One is the belief that the Party will win elections, though only 4 outright victories have happened in the 19 elections since 1945, and the other is the belief that the current leader is a winner on the way to Number 10.  A friend of mine reminds me that at the end of the 1983 campaign, Michael Foot went to a packed Town Hall in Birmingham for the final rally with the greetings from the chair “And a big welcome for Labour’s next Prime Minister”. Foot led Labour to a 27% share of the vote and Thatcher’s first landslide win.

Corbyn has obviously done well in 2017 with a 41% share of the vote and a campaign which well outranked Gordon Brown (29% of the vote ) and Ed Miliband (31.5%). It was the best performance by a leader since Gladstone’s Midlothian campaign, and outranked Blair’s performance in winning in 2005 with 37% if the vote. The stats however don’t make Corbyn a winner, though to the Labour membership this is not obvious. Corbyn is starting to look like Blair in 1997, the leader who cannot be questioned. Or so a recent You Gov Poll suggests. As reported by Labour list on 31st March, the membership have shifted over the last year to believe the Leader is marching on to victory.

Last year the membership was split 50-50 on the question whether Corbyn was doing well or badly, but the latest poll shows 80% believing he is ‘doing well’.  A year ago 62% said it was ‘unlikely’ he would become Prime Minister, but this now drops to 29%. Nearly two thirds – 64%- think it is ‘likely’ he  will become Prime Minister.

While anti-semitism in the Party is being recognised by more members, 52% thought it a problem in 2016 but 68% now do, but there is a growing tendency to blame other forces and believe that the problem is hyped up to damage Corbyn’s Labour. 77% believe that this is the case, and on the question whether it is a bigger problem for Labour than other parties, only 4% of Corbyn supporters do as compared to 30% of those who voted for Owen Smith. As with the old Communist Party, where jewish supporters were unwilling to believe there was anti-semitism in the old Soviet Union, there is a tendency  to underestimate the problem – only 19% said yes it was a genuine problem needing urgent action, 47% thought it genuine but was being “exaggerated to damage Labour and Jeremy Corbyn”, and 30% that it is not a serious problem at all. The 17000 members reported to have resigned over Easter on the issue presumably make the  % of current members in denial over anti-semitism even higher. 

On recent membership rises, the survey reports that supporters of Corbyn tend to be from social grade C2DE, (working class/non working), to be from outside London and are not particularly young or Leave voters over Brexit. The research was carried out just before Easter over March 27-29th and involved 1,156 members.

Labour Party members will not elect the next Government and for a real sense of where it is at, the regular polls on UK Polling are the place to start. However the members will elect  key party  positions, notably the NEC, and if Momentum in particular continues to get a clean sweep of all posts then the weaknesses in the party’s prospects cannot effectively be addressed. At this stage of a dreadful government should be well ahead in the polls. Given that the only opposition to Momentum is the Labour-First/Progress slate which is tainted with Blairism and the New Labour era, how the broad diverse  and inclusive Party needed to attract voting support is to be created is the key issue.

I hear dire predictions of collapse and good people leaving the party, but that it will all be tackled in due course after there has been a disaster. By whom? If the soft left, previously the majority of party members in most areas, are leaving and being replaced by hard left Corbynites, is it not time to take a stand? The hard left spent their wilderness years from Blair to Miliband digging in despite failure. They were not wrong.

Trevor Fisher

April 2018.