Blair’s Legacy is Toxic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trevor Fisher

August 2018. First published by Labour List.

People’s Vote Petition Makes Headway

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

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

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

 

The Peoples Vote (Open Britain)

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

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

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

Best For Britain

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

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

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

Not A Clear Cut Choice

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

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

Trevor Fisher, August 2018.


A Party for the Many or the Few?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trevor Fisher, July 2018

Ann Black for the NEC — Fighting Against The Polarisation of the Party

We live in unprecedented political times. Never in my lifetime, have both major parties been so internal divided. We all know that the Tories have had long term problems with the Euro ‘bastards’ but back in John Major’s time Labour had re-grouped and was re-building towards the 1997 election. Earlier Labour’s last dramatic Civil War  was conducted while the Tories were strong. But where both parties are being torn apart where does that lead us?

There is little point worrying about the Tories but we should all be very worried about Labour. A few weeks ago I went out to eat with a friend who no longer lives permanently in the UK. He is a great supporter of Corbyn and spent much of the evening banging on about ‘Blairites’ as some of these folks tend to do. But at one point he suddenly realised I was serious in my concerns and worries. He simply hadn’t appreciated how polarised I now fund the Party. Divided parties — or leaderships in schism — simply don’t succeed in their ambitions.

Labour’s NEC elections look to be dominated by two competing slates, that supported by Momentum and the other being supported by Labour First. Both slates see to envisage a fight to the death. Many Momentum activists seem convinced that ‘dealing with the Blairites’ will solve many their problems. Many of their opponents cut their teeth fighting Militants some years ago now and they are up for the fight again. Yet, in reality, the tim ‘Blaire’ means virtually not in today and Momentum are simply not Militant.

Successful political parties are always coalitions. These internal coalitions create a broad front which can then attract others in the wider electorate. If our party continues to polarise then I’m not saying we can’t win a General Election, certainly this shambles of a government can be defeated. However, it is looking very likely that the next election —like the last two — may not lead to a decisive Parliamentary majority. In such  circumstance we might see this as a victory but how would a Leadership that struggled to work across the range of its own members and activists deal with other progressive parties?

In this context the importance of the NEC might be lost but this elections seem critical in the rarified atmosphere of the Leader’s Office. Ann Black’s record on NEC is there for all to see and I’ve written about this before:

In Praise of Ann Black — The Mythology of the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance

Trevor Fisher — in these pages — has taken a focussed look as Labour’s current status as a ‘broad church’:

Is the Labour Party a Broad Church Any More?

It is the view of Progressive Politics that a strong centre in the Party will be critical as we move forward. Centrist views will be those that glue the Party together. Important centre left voices will also provide the agency for discussion across the polarised wings of the Party.

So, our view here on Progressive Politics is that a vote for Ann Black is a positive vote for the future of a healthy party, one that is inclusive and respectful of all opinion within it. We believe that Ann can win this election and retain the seat that she has held for many years. But regardless of whether she makes the cut or not a healthy vote for Ann’s candidature will make the slates think and will re-enforce the nature that there are many in the Party who do not share the polarised views of the two wings.

There will be many — and I include myself in this number — who can never get too excited about NEC elections but on this occasion it is important to make sure you cast your vote. And if you are inclined to support one slate or the other consider giving one of your votes to Ann.

Vote for Ann Black. Vote for an experienced candidate with a track record of working with all in the Party. The future success for our Party at the ballot box will be built on supporting diversity and acknowledging the on-going truth that Labour succeeds as a broad church.

Ann will be touring the country over the next few weeks, to meet members and to stress the importance of the Party’s diversity.

Friday 27th June — Birmingham

Monday 30th June — London

Friday 3rd August — Manchester

Saturday 11th August — Leeds

 

Ann Black for the NEC Facebook Page

Is the Labour Party a Broad Church Any More?

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

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

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

There are 6 other candidates with 5-15 nominations.

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

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

Affiliates versus the individual member party.

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

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

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

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

*by his Epping constituency, for opposing appeasement

Trevor Fisher, July 2018.

Birmingham Meeting with Ann Black NEC Candidate

Progressive Politics will be holding a special meeting on July 27th with Ann Black who is restanding for her position on the NEC. Ann will be talking about the need for clear and independent voice on Labour’s ruling body and reflecting back on her 20 year involvement in the NEC. It will also be your chance to ask Ann about the work of the NEC and about issues it is currently grappling with.
 
The meeting will be held on Friday 27th July at 7.00 pm, at the 1000 Trades bar in Frederick Street Birmingham. The venue location is here: https://goo.gl/maps/cjPFtMjFZiA2
 
The meeting is free and open to all but it would helpful if those attending filled in our booking form here
 

Ann Black – Independent and Left

Ann Black is seeking re-election to the NEC,Ann has served on the NEC since 2000 and the national policy forum since 1998. She was elected on the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance at every previous election. Ann has been a voice for commonsense left politics throughout. She is accountable and transparent, and has reported after every meeting for 20 years.

Ann’s politics remain on the left after 20 years serving our party, and she believes that it’s great to have a leader who shares them. Ann has voted consistently against austerity, selective education, the Iraq war and Trident, and for public services, fair taxation, decent pensions and social security benefits, restoring council funds, and large-scale social housing. 

Ann has worked consistently for party democracy. Together with the unions Ann achieved one-member-one-vote elections for national policy forum CLP representatives, against the wishes of the then leadership, and its extension to the conference arrangements committee. Ann steered the women’s conference towards formal debate in 2017, with votes on motions this year and a free-standing women’s conference next spring.

Ann has consistently stood up for ordinary members and has been the friend of constituency party secretaries who haven’t been able to get help or information from the National Party. Ann doesn’t just believe in openness and transparency but shown bravery to achieve it for members and local parties across the country.

If you don’t want more of the same old slates winning all the seats on the constituency section of the NEC. If you want an independent voice for the NEC then come and hear Ann at the 1000 Trades, Frederick Street in the Jewellery Quarter.

The event is free entry but it would help you you registered your attendance using our booking link:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/progressive-politics-ann-black-for-the-nec-tickets-48056415031

 

Another Europe is Possible — Manchester: work in progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trevor Fisher, July 2018.

Brexit, Labour & the Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trevor Fisher, June 2018.

Anti Brexit or a New Party?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trevor Fisher

May 2018

SPIKED & The People’s Votes Phoney War

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

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

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

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

Democracy, Sovereignty & the Third Vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trevor Fisher

April 2018

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