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.

A 20-20 vision for Labour’s NEC

The resignation of Christine Shawcroft as Chair of the NEC disputes panel after only two months throws a lurid light on the politics of Momentum and the new hard left majority on the National Executive Commitee. As has been noted by Andy Howell, removing Ann Black over a trumped up charge was disgraceful, and replacing her by Shawcroft – a Momentum supporter – has not been a roaring success.

Her first meeting as chair of Disputes led to her hitting the headlines for her comments about the union link which you can read on this site, and now she has resigned completely over trying to defend a  Holocaust denier – details on the BBC news website. It doesn’t make Momentum a neo-fascist organisation and Sajid Javid should withdraw that remark. But the episode shows that the old left that   Shawcroft and Jon Lansman come from is at best incompetent politically and dogmatic to a fault. The NEC does not need people who fire from the lip, and the prospect of having all 10 membership elected positions taken by Momentum is grim. And they can do it. They already have the youth rep and can take all 9 Constituency positions as the only opposition comes from Progress/Labour First, and I for one am not going to vote for that slate.

So what  can a poor boy do? I am looking for genuinely independent candidates who will focus on at least 3 priorities, to wit:

(a) Brexit. Labour to oppose, and immediately campaign for a third referendum – yes, third. First Leave vote was in 1975, second in 2016. But apart from the history, restore the 2016 conference motion as Party policy and as we seem to have embraced Keir Starmer’s six tests, make those the bare minimum. And when the meaningless vote comes up in the Commons, the Labour Line is to vote against the Tory Deal. If the government continues to threaten to go out on World Trade Organisation rules, that triggers a vote for a referendum on the deal. No repeat of voting for Article 50, which as Christian Wolmar said on this site at the time was a disaster.

(b) The union link. Labour must preserve it, but must reform it so it operates on an OMOV basis in internal elections. It is not acceptable for union leaders to cast votes on behalf of their members, registered supporters must have voting rights.

(c) A new membership drive aimed at rebalancing the membership so it is no longer dominated by London and the South East, where it is said 40% of the membership now live. Labour’s weak links with communities in Wales and the North and places like Staffordshire are one reason why the Party cannot take these areas for granted any more. I don’t disagree with Momentum’s million strong drive. But 900,000 inside the M25 and 100,000 in the rest of the UK is a worst case scenario we should all see as a nightmare.

As for Momentum itself, this minority group should not take all the elected seats. That it may should worry  all those who want a broad, diverse and inclusive party. Noting that it claims 36,000 members, how it can have such influence in a party of 560,000 is beyond me. Don’t mourn, organise said Joe Hill just before the Americans executed him. Its a message the old right get, but their slate is not for me. Its time the soft left organised effectively, and while we are waiting for that the candidates who will be on the NEC to 2020 need a vision We do not need hindsight to realise that this cannot be the vision of Momentum.

Trevor Fisher

March 2018

Two Slates And An Old Politics

The two old factional machines of the Hard Left and Hard Right are gearing up for the  2018 NEC ELECTIONS –  \Momentum striking  first – the  Huffington Post report of February 9th was correct, and the Momentum list  aims at  all nine places. This is the list – existing NEC members   – Claudia Webbe, Jon Lansman, Rachel Graham, Jon Lansman, Yasmine Dar, Rachel Graham, Darren Williams – New – Huda Elmi, Nav Mishra, Anne Henderson.

Lansman did not in the end run for the General Secretary and the LOTO (Leader’s Office)  candidate took the post. A Momentum sympathiser did stand, but was a male and did not make the final short list which was two women, the unsuccessful candidate being Christine  Blower, ex NUT General Secretary who only joined the party in 2016. NUT is not an affiliated Trade Union.

Momentum,  seem to have devised the list off their own bat, but it is now backed by  CLPD, Labour Briefing Coop, Labour CND, and Labour Assembly Against Austerity. Only surprise here is that CLPD backed it, effectively bowing to Momentum as the dominant organisation of the Old Left. Since it was formed in 1973 CLPD has been the main faction on the Hard Left, but it is not the force it used to be.

And they are possibly not over the moon about Momentum. In backing Jennie Formby of UNITE to be the new General Secretary, their  AGM report noted that “On 3rd March 2018 an Emergency Resolution fully backing Jennie Formby was overwhelmingly carried. The Emergency also called on all other supporters of Jeremy Corbyn to withdraw from the contest. At least three employees of Momentum attempted to delete the latter, but they were heavily defeated”. So perhaps this is why Lansman stood down.

Meanwhile the old Right has a full slate as well. Although neither organisation’s website has confirmed this, Progress-Labour First according to Labour List on 19 3 18 are running:

Akehurst Luke, Banes Lisa, Baxter Johanna, Beckett Jasmine, Cazimoglu Eda, Masters Marianna, Peto Heather, Gurinder Singh Josan, and Mary Wimbury. 

Progress was hit by Sainsbury removing funding, but last autumn announced this had been replace, and claimed on September 1st last year to have 3008 members or supporters. Chair is Alison McGovern MP. Labour First is less forthcoming, though it has a full time organiser (Mathey Pound) and is strong in the West Midlands.

Both tendencies play to the two stroke version of politics, and in an age where the public sees  choice as a big issue, Labour’s increased membership is being short changed. But the old soft left remains dormant, so what new forces could take the progressive cause onward – and specifically for the NEC elections in June?

Trevor Fisher

Mach 2018

 

Anti Brexit In The Bleak Late Winter

The anti-Brexit movement continues in 2018 with a Labour Party trying to move beyond the ‘Brexit for Jobs’ slogan of 2017, and the extra parliamentary movement fragmented and without a clear strategy,  Labour’s  ambiguous  policy  was very successful – but only in the short term. Labour ended 2017 united and having gained support from both Leavers and Remainers, as the 2017 election showed. 

The formula devised by Keir Starmer was so ambiguous that a YouGov/Best for Britain poll in December found that 32% of Labour Remain voters believe Labour is “completely against Brexit” while 31% of Labour Leave voters thought it was “completely in favour of Brexit “. This is unsustainable.  In mid March Corbyn made a keynote speech which was aimed at taking the party forward.

Whatever it was supposed to do, it did not convince the voters. The UK Polling report of 11th March noted that “For Labour, just 18% of people now think their Brexit Policy is clear (down from 22% immediately after Corbyn’s speech), 21% of people say they support the approach that Jeremy Corbyn is taking towards Brexit”. With the YouGov poll  showing that around one third each of Remain and Leave Labour voters think the party is in favour of their position,  Labour is in a trap of losing support when the so-called  ‘Meaningful Vote’ is held in the autumn or later while it has no real answer to the big issue – why should Brexit happen?  

The Extra Parliamentary Movement

The wider movement is by contrast openly split, and with a wide variety of diverging organisations, five having a national role – Best 4Britain, Open Britain, European movement, Britain4Europe and  Another Europe is Possible (AEIP),. The splits between the five major groups had become damaging by the end of 2017, and Best For Britain  (B4B) under its new chair Lord Malloch-Brown attempted to lead a unity initiative. The  Guardian on 17th December reported “an agreement that their messages needed to be better co-ordinated”. There were three groups listed as co-operating – Best4Britain, Open Britain and the European Movement

The co-ordination lasted only till after the parliamentary  recess, when Chuka Umuna was reported by Labour List on February 2nd to “make the case against a hard Brexit after agreeing to lead a new grassroots campaign group”. This apparently new campaign, known as the Grassroots Co-ordinating Group or GCG is linked to the  All party parliamentary group on EU relations but  immediately led to a split. On 3rd February B4B’s Malloch- Brown told their supporters “Chuka chairs an important forum for discussion which we will continue to attend. However, B4B believes that Britain should stay… in Europe and therefore cannot combine with others who support a soft Brexit. We (work)… to build a people’s movement against Bexit…” and on March 13 they announced they were taking David Davis to court over breaching an Act of 2011.

The Emergence of the Millbank Tendency

On the same day the GCG  announced they were sharing offices in Millbank, with six organisations to move in to what was called “Project GCHQ ” (ie Grassroots Co-Ordination HQ), The main groups are Open Britain, European Movement and Britain4Europe, with Scientists for Europe, Healthier in the EU, and IN Facts also linked and the youth group Our Future Our Choice as a collaborating organisation.

The launch announcement stated the GCHQ  was placed “On the first floor of Millbank tower …. almost exactly at the mid-point where Labour ran their winning campaigns of 1997 and 2001 and where the Conservatives were based for the campaign that returned them to office in 2010…. the office brings pro-Europeans right to the heart of the hour-by-hour and day-by-day battles over the Government’s Brexit legislation”.

The full document is on the Britain for EUrope website and is extraordinary not just for the belief in sympathetic magic – Millbank is where Blair and Cameron won their victories, therefore it is apparently a magic wand for success – but for having no sense at all that the battle is to win hearts and minds of  millions of euro sceptics. And that failure is precisely why the Referendum of 2016 was lost. The Millbank Tendency has emerged seeing the parliamentary debate as decisive. B4B is going to the courts. Both are neglecting the role of campaigning to win over ordinary people in the country.

In my last comment (February) I pointed out that “less arrogance is needed by those who lost in 2016 and immediately an attempt to work with voter’s perceptions…. There may well be value… in questioning how far (Theresa May) has concealed material evidence… For example, on Article 50, why does she not reveal the law officer’s advice on whether it can be reversed?”. Since then we learn that the civil service risk assessments are also being concealed. While there has to be a battle for the hearts and minds, and parliamentary action could help with this, why despite so much London based activity  are basic facts still concealed?

The Next Step – St George’s Day Debate

While initiatives round the country like Is It Worth It with its Big Red Bus 2 are keeping the campaigning flame going,  the parliamentary front is about to see a significant occasion on April 23rd – St George’s Day – when an epetition calling for an option to have overturning the Leave Decision available when the so called ‘Meaningful Vote’  is debated. The epetition gained over 100,000 votes so must have a parliamentary debate, though there will be no decisions. Of course the answer will be that there will be a Meaningful Vote – defined by the government as two choices – to accept the deal or leave without one. But the government has to give its reasons why.

This will be of wider interest than merely to the hard core campaigners squabbling at the top of the movement, and needs to be widely publicised and campaigned around.

Trevor Fisher

March 2018


United We Stand …

The period of calm after the left right battles in the Labour Party, which erupted after the 2015 election and then died down when Corbyn won the leadership for a second time in 2016, may be coming to an end. The immediate issue is the split in the Hard Corbynite Left which has emerged over the General Secretary post. However the start of March also saw a minor revival of the old Hard Right, dominant as New Labour from the middle nineties for two decades. From a soft left viewpoint, there are both possibilities and dangers. 

The decision of Jon Lansman to run for Labour General Secretary  may look like the People’s Front of Judea, as Owen Jones has pointed out (Guardian 2nd March) as Momentum has a different strategy  from the Corbynistas. This could  have negative consequences notably if the media pick up  disputes in the Labour Party. Voters do not  like split Parties, and while the Leader’s Office (or LOTO as it is called) has gained from being firmly in control, it could be damaging electorally if the office of General Secretary goes to Lansman. This is unlikely as Corbyn as leader will have the decisive influence. However Lansman is not going away and given the history of left factionalism Momentum has to be watched.

Lansman’s views  go back to the struggles of the 1980s around Tony Benn’s politics. Benn famously saw  radical movements as being bottom up and not top down, and based on shop stewards groups and mass participation . OMOV – one member one vote — was one of the key policies  both soft and hard left could agree on at the time,  reflecting lessons drawn from syndicalism, and still has resonance.

The possibility of a massive social movement  remains at the core of Momentum’s politics. While no one disagrees that this is desirable, the Corbynista emphasis  has always seen the trade union leaderships as the key focus, though membership democracy is a priority. Within the Corbynista camp the influence of UNITE has much greater weight than other unions, but the key issue is the view that Labour is predominantly a union party. 

The roots of the current Labour Representation Committee, which Corbyn helped to set up, lie in the original LRC which  was set up in 1900. That foundation body led to the Labour Party and  had  no individual membership, being composed of Unions and affiliated socialist societies, the Fabians, Independent Labour Party and the Social Democratic Federation. Individual membership did not happen till 1920. Constituency parties have never had the influence of the unions, and this is still not widely contested within the old Hard Left. 

It is odd that this might lead to a split, as both grassroots membership and the involvement of the trades union movement  are  essential.  However as with most theoretical disputes, there are times when theology becomes important. This is one of them. If Momentum backs one approach as dominant and LOTO backs another, and only one post of General Secretary available, what the candidates think is important. 

While the Hard Left squabbles, there are signs of a minor revival of the Hard Right. At the Labour student conference what Labour List calls “centrist” candidates took the major positions, including the full time positions of Chair, Campaigns and Membership officer — though only 175 votes were cast and the elections took place on a weekend of intense blizzard when affiliated clubs from Wales and the South West  could not get to the meeting. In a blast from the past as intense as the Beast from the East, the students used delegate votes not OMOV.

Meanwhile at the West Midlands Region 11 of the 13 elected places went to “centrists” again on a weekend where weather restricted attendance. The West Midlands is the home of Labour First, an old right group known for turning up with tight organisation. However it was RIchard Angell, Director of New Labour organisation Progress, who Labour List quoted as praising the result.

A period of left — right internal battles when the party is neck and neck with the Tories in the opinion polls is unwelcome. Both sectors are internally divided and focussed on their own agendas. The soft left, which is almost certainly the majority of members, has no part in these ancient quarrels. The priority for the Party is fighting the Tories. Could there be  a Unity Offensive?

Trevor Fisher. February 2018

Could Anti-Brexit Be The New Politics?

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

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

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

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

The Limits to Opposition 

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

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

Understanding Progressive Weakness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trevor Fisher

February 2018



Momentum And The NEC Victory

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

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

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

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

The NEC Elections 2016

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

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

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

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

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

The Constitutional Arrangements Committee Elections 2017 

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

The results were:

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

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

Parliamentary And Other Selections

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

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

 

Soft Left Strong But Disorganised

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

Trevor Fisher

January 2018

 

 

Situation Report on Brexit Xmas 2017

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

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

The Unification Proposal

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

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

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

The background  analysed

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Department for Exiting the European Union 

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

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

Possible Outcomes

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

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

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

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

Trevor Fisher

December 2017

History Must Not Be Repeated

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

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

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

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

The Grassroots Must Be The Focus

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

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

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

Shifting The Focus

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

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

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

The Soft Left

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

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

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

Trevor Fisher

December 2017