A Strategy for a Hung Parliament?

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

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

However the comment by Emily Thornberry was more important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tackling The Bias In The Election System

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trevor Fisher,

23rd May 2017

The Stolen Election & the Accomplices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trevor Fisher

14th May 2017

Labour on the Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trevor Fisher

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

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

Brexit and the Archbishop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trevor Fisher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trevor Fisher  
27th February 2017

How Not To Challenge Brexit

The vote on Article 50 saw Labour officially support a visciously reactionary Tory proposal, which it had failed to amend in any way. Corbyn’s official order to vote for an unamended Article 50 undercut any future influence Labour may have on the next steps. Given that voting for a Tory measure was the complaint against Harriet Harman and the front bench in the summer of 2015 when Corbyn gained the support needed to win the leadership, this is more than a mistake. It is to repeat the mistakes of the Blairite past.

The official Labour position was to move amendments to improve the bill which would allow it to support the trigger of Article 50. While a concession was made, and this needs examination, it was not to satisfy Labour. It was to keep Tory M Ps from rebelling and with the exception of Ken Clarke it succeeded. The overall effect, as the hard left Another Europe Is Possible put it, in an accurate observation

“The vote wasn’t close, because Labour voted for it despite losing all its amendments”.

The actual concession was described by AEIP, accurately but not entirely correctly, as “the government agreed that parliament will get a vote on a Brexit deal before it is concluded. This is meaningless, because when this vote happens M Ps will have a gun to their heads. Either they accept the government’s deal or the UK gets no deal and crashes out of the EU anyway”. It is true that the actual vote will be Hobson’s choice, but while May is intending to force a Take It Or Leave it vote, but the negotiations are fraught for dangers for her if Labour gets its act together. However as Labour has voted for a no- amendments Article 50, Corbyn has no basis for doing this. The campaign on the negotiation has no basis for a Labour intervention as the Party voted to abandon its safeguards. The rebels however have a solid basis for objecting to what May is doing.

This is not the case for Labour peers in the Lords who cannot now move safeguards the party lost in the Commons on a Bill that Labour voted for. Labour’s only logical position was to vote against the unadmended Bill as there were no safeguards for what it wanted to see in the negotiations. It was not rocket science what it had to do.

A Corbyn supporter Manuel Cortes, General Secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) put it clearly in the Guardian on 6th February. While Cortes had supported the 3 line whip to put the bill to the vote, it had to be amended. The unamended bill was unacceptable. So as he wrote “If Labour’s amendments fail, then the facts change and our Labour Party must fact that circumstance, do the right thing, and whip our M Ps into voting against an unamended Tory Brexit. If they don’t, M Ps must themselves do the right thing: they must vote against it anyway”. Clive Lewis and 51 other Labour MPs did just that.

Corbyn has put another mark against his suitability as Labour Leader, and Labour’s vote for an unamended right wing bill puts the unions in a double bind. The Tories have shown they can keep their M Ps in line during the attack on union rights which is to come – but while they have effectively eliminated Labour as a force for intervening in the negotiations, the rebels have the potential to become an active force against Theresa May. A Take it Or Leave it vote is something the Tories themselves will have to vote for with a General Election in the offing in 2019. But Labour does not. However Jeremy Corbyn has shown no ability to position himself to oppose the Tories in campaigning against negotiations that can go badly wrong, and this is now the dominant fact of Labour politics. Jeremy Corbyn may yet regret the week in which he marched his troops officially into the Lobbies to support Theresa May.

Trevor Fisher. February 2017

After Article 50

What Christian Wolmar argued for in his article (Corbyn of all people must realise this – Labour MPs must forget the whip and vote against article 50) was valid before Article 50 was passed. Now there is a a new situation where both a referendum and parliament have voted for Brexit, the options must change. The argument for ‘losing in the short term’ to ‘win in the long term’ is weak, since losing in the short term can set off a cycle of defeats that can destroy Labour. The short term and the long term have to be part of the same strategy.

A strategy for the long term cannot be about putting obstacles in the way of Brexit, which would not stop it, but would appear negative and anti democratic. The weak point of the anti-Brexit position is that it lost in 2016, and the opposition can and do tag us as anti – democrats for not accepting the result. To reverse this we need to be the ultra democrats who want more democracy in the terms of a second referendum on whatever deal is being done. The Russian Roulette aspect of the decision of June 23rd was not acceptable. If the deal is bad, it must be opposed. And this is not about Hard or Soft Brexit, as some on the left (including Open Labour) are arguing. There is an issue of principle that separation will be harmful. But this has to be sold to the majority of the people of the UK.

The weak point of the Brexit position is their argument that |June 23rd was the “Will of the People”. Christian is right there was no majority in the UK, and certainly not in Scotland or Northern Ireland, but there was a majority of those who voted. The referendum of June 23rd was deeply flawed, as Christian says, but to say too much about it is looking like being bad losers. It is vital to avoid the trap of repeating the Metropolitan elite view that the beliefs of the people of the English and Welsh suburbs and the decaying old industrial areas can be ignored. That charge, which is true, is UKIPs best calling card. This was the mistake the New Labour- Cameron elite made.

It is also true that the vote may have been advisory to start with, but the government booklet did say it would ‘implement what you decide’. Labour was not committed to that position, but Corbyn Labour has sold that pass. A viable anti Brexit position has to argue that Russian Roulette was not what the Referendum committed the UK to. If there is a bad deal, it must be opposed. The final decision to implement has to be by a second referendum.

To set out this position has to involve more than economic arguments. The last referendum centred on this, and lost. Leavers did not believe them, and the depression did not arrive on time. As the Bank of England Economist Andrew Haldane has accepted, the experts got it wrong. We can and should argue the evil day has only been postponed, but we have to have other arguments. Peace in Europe and living co-operatively with your neighbours are good lines to take.

Above all, we have to address the need for immigration to be controlled. Cameron lost control of immigration, and this is unacceptable. Immigration provides tangible benefits, but immigration is not necessarily to the benefit of the workers, especially unskilled or semi skilled workers, and to gain support means accepting this is the case. The arguments of Marx on the ‘reserve army of labour’ are true, and immigration must not mean a cheap labour policy. We need to learn from the Wilson government of 1968 on how to address immigration. And stop not talking about the topic.

The case for a second referendum has to be built on Labour’s 2016 position, stay in to reform the EU, and the reforms which are now overdue should be spelt out in a developing anti-Brexit campaign. But the Corbyn Labour Party is likely to be a major problem for developing an anti-Brexit Movement. In Stoke this weekend the line being put out in the Central seat by -election under Gareth Snell’s name was”Gareth will deliver a Brexit that works for the Potteries” and in note for canvassers “Gareth and the other Stoke Labour M Ps will vote through Brexit in parliament”.If this is the actual line then any anti-brexit campaign will find itself having to fight Corbyn Labour and will be lining up with the Article 50 rebels across the political spectrum. Not a prospect to embrace lightly.

Trevor Fisher, 6th February 2017

The by-elections in this Parliament are four or five party contests

Late last year I argued on this site that the progressive alliance strategy favoured by Compass might work in by elections, but not in general elections. Afterwards I suggested that Brexit dominates British politics. Poll data is starting to indicate people vote for their Referendum position – and a recent poll suggested only 15% of Leavers were prepared to vote Labour. Put these two factors together with recent by-elections and the run up to the Copeland by election becomes a tale of five parties.

Tim Farron argued after the Witney by election on October 20th  that the Liberals were back, restoring three party politics.

The Richmond by-election seemed to back this but as UKIP stood down and backed the Tory Candidate, Goldsmith only nominally being independent, as the Greens stood down and backed the Lib Dems, this was three party politics by proxy. In the event the progressives backed the Lib Dems, Labour voters also went with the Lib Dems, and the reactionaries showed they could form their own tactical alliances

Witney offered more pointers to the new world of five party politics in England though as turnout dropped from 73.3% to 46.8% there has to be caution. But with the Greens and UKIP doing badly on October 20th – factors which may have helped the Richmond decisions – and losing their deposits, Labour losing half its vote and the Lib Dems having a 23.4% swing, Farron looked to be correct, and to be reinforced by Richmond.

However both Richmond and Witney were Remain seats in the referendum, though Witney only by 53.5% to 45.4% and a pro Brexit Tory held the seat, while the same did not happen in the much stronger Remain seat of Richmond.

The role of Brexit has yet to be tried in a strong Leave seat. But Copeland and now Stoke are just such a seats.

In Copeland 62% of those who voted going for Leave, and this poses obvious problems for Labour. Particularly if it tries to trim towards Brexit.

However the big issues are for UKIP or the Lib Dems. For the Lib Dems, Copeland looks like a lost deposit. Their vote dropped from 4,365 in 2010 to 1,368 in 2015. No surge in a Leave constituency is likely for a Remain party, and a bad result could destabilise Farron in his own neighbouring seat. The Greens I regard as electorally irrelevant, a party that only exists to pay over lost deposits. They rose from 389 to 1,179 at the general elections, but there is nothing in Copeland for them but paying more money to HM Treasury.

UKIP faces the most interesting problems. While the Lib Dems are pretty much dead in Copeland, UKIP with 3rd place and 6,148 votes is on the horns of a dilemma. If they don’t stand and back the Tories – and the Tories might well have a Leave candidate – this raises the issue of what the point is of UKIP?  While we mull over that question, the issue for Labour is how to combat its appeal to some Labour voters.

Paul Nuttall has made a good start as leader, and his stance of taking Labour votes and challenging for their seats is a sound one, with Copeland and Stoke offering a couple of tantalising chances of doing just that, and perhaps overtaking the Tories to take the seat. Long odds but not impossible if the Tories stay split over Europe.

Certainly it would be difficult for UKIP to keep standing aside in by elections. They did badly in Witney, and stood down in Batley and Richmond as these were unusual elections. But can they afford to stand down in Copeland? This a seat they will find challenging. But can they afford to duck the challenge?

What is clear is that the by-election scene is not a 3 party race. Four and even five parties are in the frame, if we give the Greens a place. For Copeland, the scene is particularly confusing, but this is a Britexit seat and the progressive parties are on the back foot. If the Greens decide not to stand – which could threaten their future, making three elections in a row they have not fought – then we have a four party race. How that plays out will be tortuous, and imponderable. All that can be said is that Farron is wrong. We are not back to three party politics.

Trevor Fisher

This article was first published in Labour Uncut

The Progressive Alliance – first challenge

The Richmond By election before Christmas was a welcome victory but was largely a one off event. It appeared to show support for the Progressive Alliance strategy backed by Compass, but polls show less that this was an anti Tory vote than an anti-Brexit vote. Brexit is the defining issue of 2017. In Richmond, an pro Leave Tory was on a loser in a pro Remain constituency. Brexit dominates and this affects the Progressive Alliance strategy. The defining issue is not Tory V Anti Tory, but Leave V Remain. The country remains split and this is the factor that determines the political agenda.

In Richmond I would have voted Lib Dem, to defeat a Tory-UKIP backed candidate. Tim Fallon claimed the Lib Dems are back, but there are a string of Liberal by election victories back to Orpington (1962) which proved false. What it did show was that in strong Remain areas, the Lib Dem Remain stance is popular. But the other side of the coin is that in strong Leave areas both Labour and the Lib Dems – not to mention the Greens – are vulnerable to the UKIP Leave campaign, now joined by the Tories.

UKIP being second in 41 Labour seats, could pose a real challenge in Labour heartlands. And indeed the Tory Party can take Labour voters if they are successful in negotiation and Brexit remains the dominant fact of British political lie. . With a recent poll showing only 15% of Leave voters intending to voter Labour, the issue is stark. For Labour there is a real danger if the Lib Dems soak up pro Remain Labour Voters and UKIP/Tories soak up pro Leave Labour voters, lessening Labour’s core vote.

Labour failed to have by-election strategy in Richmond, linked to its lack of clarity over Brexit. However for the moment its the by election factor that needs attention. Labour can hold the line on its current position for the moment, but only if it manages to hold the Copeland by election in Cumbria. And that puts the Progressive Alliance strategy in the spotlight.

Copeland is Richmond in reverse. In Richmond a strong Remain electorate with the Greens backing the Lib Dems faced a Tory Leave Candidate backed by UKIP, and the Tories lost the seat. In Copeland a narrow Labour majority is threatened by a Leave supporting electorate. Some commentators think the Government could take the seat off the opposition for the first time since 1960. But the reality is less favourable for May, as the Leave vote is split between UKIP and Tory. I take it as read that Labour must seek to win the seat. Anti Corbyn sentiment is ludicrous, revolutionary defeatism does not work – for New Labour or the hard left.. Labour needs to lose the seat like it needs a hole in the head. And it can win, with difficulty, though the stats show the voters are moving to the right.

Elections in Copeland

2010 2015
Lab 19,699 Lab 16,750
Tory 14,186 Tory 14,186
Lib Dem 4,365 UKIP 6,148
BNP 1,474 Lib Dem 1,368
UKIP 994 Green 1,179
Green 389
Turnout % 67.6 63.8

With the BNP collapsed, the result in 2015 mirrored the Referendum vote with a slight majority of the voters in the General Election voting for Leave Parties – as the Tories must now be seen as Leave. Totals on the Big Issue of Britexit are as follows:

Leave Votes Remain Votes
Tory 15,866 Labour 16,750
UKIP 6,148 Lib Dem 1,368
Green 1,179
TOTAL 20,334 19,297

If the Tories can persuade UKIP to stand down and get their voters, with two thirds of the voters on June 23rd voting Leave, the seat is theirs. But UKIP needs to keep the pressure up on May, and the fear of a right wing victory should be worrying Greens and Lib Dems. For the Greens, there is no point in another Lost Deposit.

For Tim Fallon, life is more difficult. If the Lib Dems are serious about opposing Brexit, his party can’t afford a Brexit Victory in Copeland. Yet he is a Cumbria MP. He is trapped between supporting Labour as the Progressive candidate and his Party loyalties. This will be a test case for the Compass supported Progressive Alliance theory.

Only one thing is clear. No one on the Progressive Centre Left gains from UKIP or the Tories winning the Copeland By Election. There is no revolutionary defeatist position, whatever the New Labour Right or Hard Left may think. In Copeland, anything but a Labour win, however narrow the margin, is a major setback.

Trevor Fisher
8th January 2017