Farage and Brexit Rule

Analysis of the 2017 election will take years to complete, but while some issues are being discussed and conclusions drawn, there is a missing factor. May’s disaster is clear, though she gained the vote share of Thatcher, Corbyn’s success is recognised, though Labour lost and is miles away from even a one seat majority, and the Lib Dems did even worse than in the 2015 disasters, dropping from 8% to 7% of the vote.

However the decisive result of the election – the victory of Nigel Farage and his campaign for Brexit, now no longer opposed by any serious political force – is not on the agenda. When the victory of UKIP is pointed out, commentators refer to the drop in votes, down from 4million to next to nothing, and the fact that they do not have any seats at Westminster. Farage and the forces he leads do not need votes or seats – they have set the agenda and can watch the other parties do their work knowing the others exhaust themselves while all UKIP has to do is run a watching brief against backsliders.

Not that Theresa May will allow backsliding – she is well aware of what the Leave Tories did to John Major, sacrificing position in government and 18 years in the wilderness for the chance of a referendum and a no holds barred campaign for victory. UKIP’s success in winning Tory and Labour voters was key to the 2017 election, where no major English party opposed Brexit and as Tory MP Owen Patterson pointed out in response to Vince Cable arguing on Marr that Brexit might happen, his tendency won the General Election. 85% of Voters voting for Brexit. To be precise, 85% voted for Brexit supporting MPs via Tories, Labour and UKIP.

Cable stood for a party which alone in England stood against Brexit…. but then sold the pass by campaigning against Soft Brexit. There is no such thing. Its In or Out. The Lib Dem poor performance in 2017 rested firmly on failure to win Tory and Labour pro- Remain votes. This was mainly because Brexit dropped off the agenda, media and voters both believing the line that the Referendum is decisive even if disasterous – the line taken by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Lords –  even the local Another Europe is Possible collapsing into this position. There is no future for a political tendency which  is not prepared to challenge the Referendum result, and the Lib Dems have no future because they did not.

Labour survived for the moment by accepting Brexit – albeit a soft Brexit of sorts – and held on in Stoke Central in February with a formula which for the moment unites Leave and Remain voters though the official Party position is firmly Remain. Tories who were mainly Leave anyway held together as the Lib Dems could not make inroads as by elections had suggested they might. The Brexit issue simply dropped off  the agenda of June 8th, and Farron and Co found themselves chasing Shadows.

The same could not be said of UKIP though its performance was dire and its leader Paul Nuttall made so many errors in the Stoke Central by election that as with the Prime Minister they can run a master class in how not to fight an election. However this only enhances the position of the Man Who Matters, Nigel Farage.

Widely believed to have vanished and to be Yesterday’s Man, when he is not alongside the Brexit supporting Trump he is taking a well earned rest while Cable, May and Corbyn exhaust themselves in the day to day battle at Westminster. The Mail reports he has been botoxed and has a new sun tan and he looks good. Well up to the job of tackling backsliders and challenging the older generation of political leaders who operate at Westminster. As he will do when it suits him to do so, and the media need a new plaything to boost on every channel. The analyses of the election which neglect Brexit and UKIP are off  the scale. To understand how Labour and the Tories both abandoned the Remain positions they went for in 2016, and Labour party policy still supports, the result of the 2016 Europe vote is all that is needed. The Future is Bleak. If the Future continues to be Farage.

Trevor Fisher, July 2017.

Can Jeremy Corbyn’s vision of hope be a path to power?

In an open letter to Jeremy Corbyn, Matthew Flinders, professor of politics at the University of Sheffield, challenges the Labour leader to change to build on his party’s election resurgence.

What can I say? Well done! What a joy it has been to watch all your detractors feasting on Corbyn-flavoured humble pie. In the General Election of June 2017, you gained votes, you gained seats and you gained popularity… the trouble is, you didn’t gain power. You nearly did, and the results of June 8 could fairly be described as a “glorious defeat”.

But without wanting to detract from the party’s overall achievement, it does suggest the need to think about the future of Labour. So, in the spirit of good comradeship and positive planning, let me offer you just a couple of ideas which might help you secure a glorious victory instead. For the simple fact remains that you came quite a long way short of the line in terms of forming a government.

The Tories increased their share of the vote – you squeezed the minor parties rather than the big bad wolf. Killing (political) wolves is a tricky business, but you did reconnect with estranged sections of the public. The question now is how you build upon this achievement to construct a social coalition with the breadth and depth necessary to actually win a majority.

The answer is to seize the initiative, show a little political imagination and put a bit of meat on “that vision thing”. What do I mean? Come on, Jezza, you know what I mean… You campaigned in poetry and managed to build a social movement. You offered a positive vision of hope and social value in an age otherwise defined by fear. You demonstrated emotional intelligence when certain other leaders completely flunked out.

But campaigning in poetry and cultivating folk-hero-like status can only take a political party so far. My concern is what happens when the “Good Ship Jeremy” hits the procrustean rocks of political reality?

But before you set the internet trolls upon me, or accuse me of being just another cynical Daily Mail reader, let me explain. Asking this question is not a slight, it is a positive invitation. A call-to-arms to develop the governing capacity and credibility of Labour. This is where the political imagination matters.

Your detractors have generally painted a picture of you as a campaign politician of a fairly traditional, bumbling, amateurish type (no offence). So now is the time not to come out fighting, but to come out thinking. For it is in the marketplace of ideas that a rejuvenated Labour has the opportunity to control the political agenda.

In the election, you won over younger voters, Remainers and a large chunk of the white working class. But now is the time to drive forwards, head on, with a broader social vision. Whether you like it or not, you need to expand your electoral base and you can only do that by taking control of how we see the challenges facing the United Kingdom.

Take the subject of anti-austerity, for example. This was an issue that you held up like a lightning rod, and through it channelled frustration and anger into the ballot boxes. But how will you redefine anti-austerity into a topic that still has such resonance, such motivating energy, in five years’ time? How will you outsmart a Conservative Party that is already readjusting its position on austerity and is likely to have a different leader quite soon?

You offered a lifeline to large sections of the white working classes that feel unloved and left behind. You promised to keep the wolf from their door but what are your plans in terms of mitigating the consequences of artificial intelligence or digital technology upon their already precarious economic existence? What are your plans to counterbalance global economic and social forces while, at the same time, being honest about your inability to reverse globalisation?

After an election defined by terrorist attacks, how do you intend to offer a credible position on anti-terrorism, security and intelligence?

You promised an end to student debt and tuition fees for the young, and a statutory triple-lock on pensions for the old – lollipops for babies and apple pie all round, not to mention the re-nationalisation of almost everything. But given the Labour Party’s reputation for economic illiteracy – whether deserved or not – why not confound your critics, re-energise your supporters and win new friends by better targeting or phasing your plans in a more detailed and strategic manner?

Above all, the critical insight you really need to harness from the recent election is that the political game has altered. It is now a generation game in which age has overtaken class as the defining element of political behaviour. Think about setting the terms of this new “generation game” – for this is where your natural advantage now lies. In policy terms, do the opposite of what your political opponents expect you to do.

Outmanoeuvre them, outflank them. Trespass across traditional political and professional boundaries. Build a broader parliamentary base, be less populist and slightly more political. But most of all, control the ideas. Set the rules of the new generation game, and seize the political imagination.

All the best,
Matt.

Matthew Flinders is Professor of Politics and Founding Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics at the University of Sheffield.

Election 2017 – The Boy Done Good, The Girl Done Bad.

The 2017 election rewrote the rules, and though the opinion polls did well in tracking the Corbyn rise and the stagnant Tory vote, the experts largely missed the increasing popularity of Corbyn though by the time Paul Mason wrote in the FT on June 3rd that “the UK is not a left wing country, but it is a fair one that has had enough of austerity” – he captured something of the shifts taking place, and the shifts are not all to Labour. We have to understand that despite an appalling Tory campaign the Tories still gained more votes and since the election their council by elections have shown their vote holding though May is a leader in trouble. For Labour, two weeks after the election, two things stand out – the shift away from class politics, and Jezza’s personal popularity especially with the young, underlined by his appearance at Glastonbury on June 24th. The first is likely to be a constant, the second cannot be.

Working class areas were particularly vulnerable and there is a need to analyse almost on a seat by seat basis – especially with small majorities like the Labour gain in Crewe by 48, and holding on to  Newcastle Under  Lyme by 30 and Dudley North by 23. In Stoke Central, where Labour was in a minority, the UKIP vote collapsed but Labour increased, no doubt a result of the by Election where at the peak three months ago 500 Labour canvassers were out. Unlike Stoke South, which the Tories gained. Local campaigns played an important part, especially in Wales. 

Nevertheless though May had achieved her target of hoovering up the UKIP vote most of us – me included – once the campaign started failed to understand  the Corbyn phenomenon. By the last week of the campaign it was clear that a hung parliament was possible and I wrote this on 4th June, though Labour did not achieve largest party status. But it gained votes and support. The question we all have to answer is why. Starting with Corbyn’s remarkable personal success.

The ability of Jeremy Corbyn to appeal to a popular audience was clear from the start of his leadership campaign in 2015 and no one has begun to understand it, though the attraction has more to do with personality than policies, though the manifesto was supremely important. But Corbyn first. Though telephone canvassers reported that voters were turned off by Corbyn, the crowds at his rallies were and are impressive and as Jackie Lukes reported from Hull, this visibly gave Corbyn confidence and improved his credibility.

Not I think in reaction to what he was saying. At Stoke in September I could not hear his speech as the public address was abysmal – and when he spoke at a Libertine’s concert just before the Manchester bombings, reports say the crowd cheered to you could not hear him speak. It was not important – but the lack of impact of the tabloid smear campaign linking him with terrorists had something to do with his personal image, like Mandela after Robbins Island he was simply a grandfather figure.

He also played the immediate issues very well, so an apology is due for thinking he was wrong to accept the Brexit vote and to vote for Article 50. These moves defused Brexit and May should have realised this was not going to be a crucial issue in a General Election, which will  always be about many issues. While I still think Labour was wrong to vote for the election, that is what the Fixed Term Parliament Act forces the opposition parties to do as rejecting the challenge invites the charge of cowardice, but that was not a charge that could be levelled against Labour. The avoidance of Brexit was tactically sound, but strategically stores up a battle yet to be fought.

The manifesto was a model centre ground document, even on Trident, and placed Labour in a very good position to attack the disasterous Tory document. On the day before the election, the local paper had a front page Labour ad attacking police cuts, and inside were ads from Labour highlighting five popular pledges and four devastating attacks on the Tories – axing fuel winter payments, the dementia tax, cutting public services and…. ‘threatening tax rises’. The latter may be a problem in the long term, but the others hit the Tories where it hurt. The paper carried whole page Labour ads attacking the Tories on police cuts and Tory threats to pensioners. There is no doubt that Labour had the Tories on the run, winning over centre support if not eating into the Tory overall vote. Except in Wales, which needs separate analysis. The Tory upsurge in Wales never happened. 

The opposite is the case for the Tories, on nearly every front save Scotland. In Scotland, the local leadership of Ruth Davidson won back support for the Tories just as they were losing it south of the border. The Tory manifesto was a disaster, and May made this clear by not turning up on TV to defend it. I rarely feel sorry for Tories, but Amber Rudd on TV stonewalling for her leader against the other party leaders was a moment to savour.  From the continuance of Austerity with more cuts – in the context of not being able to balance the budget till 2025, for a supporter of the People’s Assembly like myself clear proof the cuts have no economic rationale – to hitting specific groups of people normally wooed by the Tories, notably pensioners, the Tory campaign was almost designed to drive undecided voters into Labour’s arms. The Tories did succeed in capturing many Brexit voters, and many of these are working class voters from Labour via UKIP. Contrarywise, many middle class voters plumped for Labour including students and swing voters in seats like Canterbury and remarkably Kensington and Chelsea, admittedly with the help of the Lib Dems taking votes off the Tories,. Indeed, analysis has everywhere to look at the results in particular seats, and the way local campaigns and factors made a difference. There is no national swingometer anymore. Paul Mason is wrong to argue the UK is “a divided country looking for a story it can unify around”. It is certainly a divided country. The divisions after the election look more than ever like a two party split, with trimmings.

But while the analysis will be complicated two things stand out without question. Corbyn did well and appealed to the centre ground and youth, with the Tory smear campaign failing to dent the man’s image of decency and willingness to help the disadvantaged. And the Tory campaign was stunningly inept once the contrast between the claimed appeal to the centre was matched against right wing policies. Was there ever an election like this? Perhaps 1945, where Churchill thought he would win by 80 seats after winning the war, and the Tory manifesto refused to back social reform, while Labour did. The comparison can be taken too far. Modest and uncharismatic Clem Attlee had been deputy PM during the war, while Corbyn has never occupied a cabinet position. And the opinion polls were consistently pro Labour from 1942 onward.

But if Theresa May is not Churchill, Corbyn has some elements of Attlee in his approach. Above all, Labour won in 1945 with solid working class support and that picture is different today. But Corbyn deserves the comparison, for this was his campaign, he led from the front, and like Attlee the gains were down to his leadership. Whatever happened in the election, this was his triumph and he deserves to be recognised as having come through with honours.

Trevor Fisher         

And So, Back to Brexit!

I want to try to understand Brexit. Don’t we all? What follows is to some extent “thinking aloud” – me trying to help myself to understand and accurately to document what I do understand about this momentous political decision. So, the Tories are determined that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union on 29 March 2019, come what may.

What may come, in the meantime, depends on the outcome of formal talks and negotiations between Theresa May (or her successor) and her Minister for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, and our erstwhile 27 other European partner states, represented by M. Jean-Michel Barnier.

May has signalled an intent for the UK not only to end its membership of the EU, but also explicitly to discontinue the UK’s participation in the EU’s Single Market – an immensely beneficial arrangement for UK industry that minimises the regulation of goods and services within all 28 EU member states and makes the movement of such goods and services, essential to the UK’s prosperity, vastly easier than it might otherwise be.  In simple terms, the Single Market is the reason why there are only sometimes 5 mile queues of trucks up the M2 from ports like Dover and Folkestone rather than permanent 15 mile long queues.

May has also signalled that the UK also intends to cease membership of another hugely important pillar of the EU, the Customs Union.  The Customs Union – again another immensely beneficial arrangement for the UK-  guarantees minimum uniform tariff rates to be levied for all categories of goods traded within the 28 EU member states (because they are agreed and defined in advance by those states).  Outside the Customs Union, the UK’s exports would not benefit from the agreed tariff rates in operation for Customs Union members, and would probably have to pay substantially higher tariffs.

The shorthand for the above has become known as “Hard Brexit”, and you might reasonably look at it and ask why anybody in their right mind would want to walk away from such beneficial arrangements, that actively contribute towards the UK’s prosperity.

The short answer is this : immigration.  Over the past 20 years or so, an apparent majority of the English and Welsh electorate (though not the Scots or Irish) has been conditioned by the likes of Nigel Farage, Iain Duncan Smith, Paul Nuttall, and others to become absolutely obsessed by immigration.  In particular, Farage and his ilk in UKIP, because of their stated opposition to British membership of the EU, decided that the best way to persuade people that the EU was A Very Bad Thing was to convince them that Britain’s membership of the EU was a prime source of immigration to the UK, that was wholly detrimental to many aspects of UK society.  That they whipped up and deliberately engendered racial hatred and prejudice in doing so was of no concern to them.

In order to be a member state in the EU, a country must agree to the central principles espoused by the Treaty of Rome that established the EU, one of which is the free movement of goods, services, and people, within all member states of the EU. It’s what makes the Single Market and the Customs Union possible, but it’s also what makes it possible for Polish electricians, or Latvian chambermaids, or French production managers, to choose to come to live and work in the UK, and, reciprocally, for Scottish mining engineers to go to the Czech Republic to work on major projects, or for English software developers to live and work in, say, Italy or Slovakia, or for British pensioners to stay toasty in southern Spain.   Again, this is (in my view) unquestionably a fantastic arrangement. It affords younger people, in particular, fantastic opportunities to travel, learn and grow in different countries, and provides significant, tangible benefits to the British economy – not least to the staffing of our health service.

UKIP and others have chosen (because it suits their purpose) to characterise the free movement of people within EU member states as immigration, when technically, the free movement of EU citizens is not immigration at all. It is what it is –a mutually agreed, mutually beneficial arrangement between states in which most of the movement of people is not actually permanent in the way that the notion of “immigration” implies.

It should be noted here that any responsible government, mindful of the UK’s status as an EU member state and the responsibilities entailed by that, would and should take practical action to address the possible concentration of pressures on services and infrastructure that can result from particularly intense movements of some EU citizens into a particular locale. This is precisely what Labour’s Regional Impact Fund, established by Gordon Brown, was established to do.  The Regional Impact Fund was immediately scrapped by the Tories when they assumed power in 2010.

This false characterisation of the free movement of EU citizens, and the associated encouragement of racism and xenophobia, are therefore what has enabled first the “victory” in the EU referendum of 2016, and now, the determined rush towards Brexit, on the wholly bogus basis that it represents “the will of the people”.  Everything, it seems, must be subordinated to the Holy Grail of freeing us from the cursed burden of EU “immigration”. And because retaining access to both the Single Market and the Customs Union is possible without being an EU member – but absolutely conditional on continued acceptance of the free movement of people, here is the reason for the drive towards “Hard Brexit”, which can therefore include neither.

In their approach to the Brexit negotiations, Theresa May and David Davis have encouraged the fantastical notion that the UK can leave behind our membership of the EU, the Single Market, and the Customs Union, and somehow be better off and more prosperous than our remaining part of these institutions would afford. How this might be possible is unexplained, other than a nebulous notion of achieving international trade deals signed with distant nations other than with the largest trading bloc in the world, situated right on our doorstep.

It is difficult to envisage what we will be left with when we eventually reach 29 March 2019.  I think that leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union represents economic hara-kiri for the UK, and that it therefore will not happen. We will do a deal to retain access that inevitably requires the inclusion of the free movement of people.  “Hard Brexit” is doomed, and the utterly specious notion that “No deal is better than a bad deal” must surely be shot down in flames – no deal is the worst possible of any sort of deal.

Looking further ahead, it is possible optimistically to foresee a date when the UK re-applies, post-Brexit, for EU membership, as it becomes brutally apparent that the decision to leave was a mistake of gargantuan proportions.

But as we contemplate Brexit of whatever complexion, consider this heart-breaking reality :  The UK currently has the best terms of membership of the EU of any of the member states : We are not part of the Eurozone and are exempted from contributing to bailing out Eurozone member countries such as Greece. We are not part of Schengen, and will not be. The soft border between Northern Ireland and Eire, integral to the continued success of peace in Northern Ireland, is made possible by our EU membership (and endangered by Brexit). We retain the annual contribution rebate established by Margaret Thatcher’s government.  And we are explicitly exempted from the aspiration of “ever closer union” espoused by the rest of our erstwhile EU partners.

All of these benefits would disappear on Brexit, and it is highly unlikely that we would be able to have any of them reinstated should we in future seek to re-join the EU.  In my view, this compounds the enormity of the decision to leave.

Technically, it is still conceivably possible for the UK to decide before March 2019 that we don’t want Brexit after all, and we’ve decided to stay as a member. It might take a further referendum – not currently on the cards – or a general election – currently still very likely to be on the cards while May’s minority government stumbles on – to enable such a decision to be taken.  It may be that such a decision is no longer possible in terms of Realpolitik, but I sincerely hope not. Many in the Labour party must surely be thinking along these lines.

Triumphalism and the Politics of the Surge

The 2017 election result has led to an upsurge One More Heavism aka triumphalism, on the Labour Left, taking the unexpected but welcome surge in the last month of the election and its results as the basis for a Labour victory at some point soon. The Wish is however Father to the Thought and a different set of factors are likely to apply in the next six months. What is clear is that we are now living in a period of surge politics, as experienced across Europe and the USA, and the Scottish example even more than the rest of the UK shows that winners two years ago are losers today. The Tories gained against both the SNP and UKIP on June 8th but ten days later…. who would bet on them?

Labour is set to gain in the short term, as the opinion polls are showing, but Triumphalism is showing both an over confidence in the Labour Left’s electoral appeal, and a failure to read the signs of the surges – there were more than one – which happened to produce the result on June 8th.  As Christian Wolmar argued on Labour List and ProgPol, Corbyn won the election and it is his prerogative to make the decisions. But only internally for Labour. The Tories decide the election, so the Left Futures Editor James Elliott was premature with his blog of 13th August. After the election Labour had a poll lead – 6% when he wrote, and probably more following the Grenfell fire. This he argued “would give Labour a clear majority were there to be another election”.  Sadly this is in the gift of the Tories, who will have to be forced out by a vote of no confidence or similar. Which means Labour having to form a parliamentary alliance plus the DUP failing to support the Tories if it is to happen.

While it is very unlikely that the Prime Minister can survive five years the Tories don’t need to. The only  show in town is Brexit, and if they can do a deal within two years, then that is the optimum point for an election. Opinion polls at the moment are irrelevant.

This calculation has so far escaped both hard and  soft left. Figures close to Corbyn – Joshua Simon on the New Statesman website on 16th June, and Cat Smith MP on Labour List on 15th June, both thought the Party was on the brink of government. Simon thought “a host of seats across Britain have become marginals that Labour can target” especially with UKIP voters returning to Labour, which was helped by “Labour’s opaque stance on Brexit”. UKIP voters largely voted Tory, while Labour’s Brexit evasions are unlikely to be a basis for anything.

Cat Smith, however, endorsed a reliance on Tory Marginals.  “When the next General Election is called, a 1.6% swing will do. 34 seats are needed”. But this is only for a majority of one. And its not simply a matter of winning more seats, since in places like Newcastle Under Lyme (30 majority) and Crewe (48 majority) the election put Labour M Ps on a knife edge.

The message of winning marginals is the key was also put by Jade Azim of Open Labour on the Labour List site on 16th June, arguing like Cat Smith that “the spectacular election has opened up a lot of key marginals for us that were previously safe Tory seats.” She cites Chipping Barnet with a Tory majority of 353, Chingford at 2438, and – looking at the Progressive Alliance territory – seats like Caborne and Redruth with second place only 1577 behind, with 2979 Liberal and 1052 Green votes to woo. No doubt Compass will be telling us more about these seats.

However Jade then talks about having a huge opportunity to win back UKIP voters “and liberal Tories in the south….” However this is starting to enter the realms of how to win the National Lottery. Liberal Tories mostly favour Remain. UKIP voters want Leave. They are not in the same ball park.  It is welcome, and true, that voters in a seat like Stoke Central were prepared to vote UKIP but not Tory, but in the next constituency of Stoke South they did just that. While the Labour vote went up in Stoke South as the Lib Dems, Greens and TUSC votes moved to Labour, the vast majority of the 8298 UKIP votes – UKIP did not stand – went Tory to make 12,780 in 2015 into 20, 451 Tory votes in 2017. While the Labour vote went up, the Tories won. In Stoke Central, the by election momentum carried on and while UKIP, who did stand, dropped 3625 votes and the Tories rose 8032, Labour had an increase of 9230 partly with the Lib Dems dropping 1400 votes. The working class in this wholly working class seat came back to Labour in numbers to build on the majority secured in the by election.

I am encouraged by this, for a strategy of relying on Tory liberals is not good enough. In 1945 Labour had a working class and middle class vote with the workers being the key to the next three or four decades. This was basis for the Attlee Government and was replicated in 1997 and more dubiously in 2001, but not since. I don’t believe Labour can win unless this alliance is reconstructed. Today the workers are the ones Labour is losing unlike the 1950s when Labour lost the middle class voters of 1945. The big question is going to be – What About the Workers?

Trevor Fisher

17 6 17

Much Rests on Corbyn’s Shoulders

Vince Simonet’s thoughts yesterday on where Labour now finds itself following what was, to put things mildly, a very surprising election campaign and result, were interesting, but quite contentious in many ways. I’m going to try to offer a few reactions to Vince’s thoughts, in particular where I’ve found that my view diverges from Vince’s.

First, I think that continuing to talk about “Blairites” is, while perhaps for many a useful shorthand, rather unhelpful in terms of Labour advancing as a united party. As someone who has lately been very sceptical of the merits and benefits to the party of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, I have never described myself, and have in fact never been (as far as I understand the term) a “Blairite”. I’m old enough to have voted in the leadership election that saw Tony Blair installed as Labour’s leader in 1994, and I did not vote for Blair. I rather mistrusted him, agreeing with one commentator’s assessment of him as a “pot-bound politician” – someone who had no roots in the Labour Party. My vote went to Margaret Beckett, on the basis that she had done a fine job as acting leader after John Smith had suddenly died. More particularly, “Blairite” (almost always contemptuously spat out rather than spoken) has become a totem of certain supporters of the faction of the party that cleaves enthusiastically to Corbyn in such a way as to perpetuate Blair as the personification of where Labour went wrong. In fact, the Iraq debacle aside, the opposite is true, and a return to the winning ways that Blair’s 3 terms embodied would in my view be very welcome.

Vince wrote : ” JC and his allies can justifiably claim that if the parliamentary party had shown unity towards the leader for the last two years then we might now be in government. ”

Really? I don’t think that they can justifiably claim any such thing. Corbyn’s performance in 2016, particularly in respect of his appalling showing in the EU referendum campaign and his immediate call for article 50 to be triggered, was failing on every level, from strategy, to performance at PMQs, communications, message discipline, accessibility, and to day to day management of the parliamentary party. There was an egregious failure to provide any effective opposition to the government, and the challenge to Corbyn’s leadership was both fully justified and in fact rendered inevitable by Corbyn’s own recalcitrance. Had everybody simply collectively bitten their tongues and pretended everything was going swimmingly it would never have worked.

I note that Len McCluskey made a similar observation the other day, but I’m afraid that it is simply not credible. The challenge to Corbyn in 2016 was not made lightly or frivolously, and the concerns and forces within the PLP and the wider party that drove it could not simply be suppressed.

I also find myself in disagreement with Vince’s view that the proposition that only a centrist political project can succeed has been “skewered” as Vince puts it.

It has not. Tony Blair’s achievements in government were certainly not exclusively centrist in character (record NHS funding, tax credits, Sure Start, real progress on LGBT rights through civil partnerships, peace in Northern Ireland), but the trick that he was able to pull off was to get the huge, flexible chunk of the electorate that can be characterised as “the centre” – and whose support to winning an election is key – substantially to back Labour’s programme and to vote for it in the required numbers. Arguably, although our 2017 manifesto was rightly anti-austerity and recognised the desperate need to re-invest in public services, it was as “centrist” as anything put forward by the Blair-led governments elected in 1997, 2001, and 2005. Labour members right across the party could find plenty in it with which to agree, and it caught the mood of much of an electorate that seven years of austerity has failed and a change in direction is required. It was the late Phillip Gould who most tellingly put forward the proposition that elections are won from the centre. In my view, Gould’s assessment still holds good.

But it needs to be re-stated that we did NOT win this election. We made progress, and deprived May of her majority, but we still lost by 60 odd seats. Although Labour’s vote share increased by 10%, it achieved a swing from Tory to Labour of just 2%, when what was required to win was a swing of the order of 9.5% (as estimated by the Fabian Society) – twice the swing we needed, and did not get, in 2015. There may well be another general election within months in which Labour can finish the job and elect the first Labour government since 2010 with Jeremy Corbyn as PM, but I’d argue that that is not nailed on. With a minority Tory government supported by a distastefully nasty sectarian Northern Ireland based minor party, the role of Labour as the official opposition in parliament becomes more critically important than it has ever been.

Jeremy Corbyn’s performance in this aspect of his job, one (crucial) element of the concerns that prompted the vote of no confidence by the PLP and subsequent leadership challenge in 2016, has hitherto been lamentably sub-standard.

It’s not unreasonable to observe that Mr Corbyn’s parliamentary leadership game will need to be raised at the very least to the same extent to which he managed to raise his campaigning game during the election if Labour is successfully to work towards the defeat of Theresa May’s government. However, the rapid development of the parliamentary skill set needed to maximise the advantage of opposing an enfeebled and vulnerable Tory minority government is not the sole challenge facing Mr Corbyn.

Following the better than expected (which is to say annihilation avoiding) general election performance , there have been expressions of contrition from erstwhile trenchant Corbyn critics such as Chuka Umunna, Owen Smith, Harriet Harman, and even John Mann. But in spite of speculation that Corbyn would strengthen his hitherto somewhat talent-depleted front bench team by bringing in, say, Yvette Cooper and Ed Miliband, only Owen Smith, Corbyn’s leadership challenger, has so far been given a front bench brief. Corbyn may have missed a chance here, by dint of faint action in bringing in only Smith, genuinely to unify the party for the battles to come.

I’d certainly agree with both Len McCluskey, and with Vince, that that unity in the party, previously absent, is very much what is now required, but it is dependent to a great extent on how the party is led forward from now on. As ever, there is a great deal riding on the leader’s shoulders.

Some Thoughts on Last Week

1. The Blairite position that only a centrist political project can achieve any sort of popular mandate is skewered. 

2. JC is now totally unassailable for some time to come. I think most people expected his poll position to improve as voters would get to see the candidate for themselves as opposed to the one defined by others, (and by others I include the Right of the Party). However, the improvement in his rating and the same time of the Party is astonishing. I cannot think of any equivalent in the UK, (after all it is only 2 years since the last election and only a month since the local government elections).

3. While May was exposed as particularly flawed campaigner, I don’t recall Cameron being master of political strategy. The difference clearly this time surely was that against a background of austerity the Labour Party offered a clear set of alternative policies that have exposed the choices that the Conservative Government has made as explicitly political choices.

4. I can think of very little I can object to in the manifesto that JC ran on. Crucially, he accepted the primacy of the Party. I have a fond memory of Ed Miliband initiating a policy review that all members could contribute to and then he announced the results the day before the review was completed!

5. It is clear that JC’s strengths now outweigh his weaknesses. Certainly the sneering tone of so many of his critics inside the Party has served to undermine them not JC. Chris Leslie’s statement was patently ridiculous considering where we started this campaign, and more importantly where we were 2 years ago. JC and his allies can justifiably claim that if the parliamentary party had shown unity towards the leader for the last two years then we might now be in government. It is no use saying the Left has criticized Right Wing leaders of the Party in the past, as they generally didn’t get the opportunity to do it on Newsnight, (as for instance Charles Clarke did as recently as last week). 

6. Of course there will be calls on Hard Left websites for punitive action against Blairite MPs and there will be lots of ill-informed speculation. (Just as last year there were attempts to link Corbyn with all sorts of events that had nothing to do with him). The notion of betrayal is very strong on the Left, and of course there is some evidence to support their case. It does not seem that the leadership around JC intend to pursue the road of revenge and purge. However, it has to be said that mandatory reselection should be part of the processes of any democratic party. The main argument against it seems to be that anybody deselected immediately claims intimidation/corrupt practice or both as the reason for their deselection. 

7. We need to be clear about what we want in terms of a democratic party structure; otherwise we will have nothing to contribute as these structures get remodelled.

8. It is not likely that all these new members and all those who have voted for Corbyn in the past two years will align themselves to a series of Hard Left positions over the long term. I am still firmly of the view that if any of other candidates for the leadership two years ago (Andy Burnham for instance) had voted against the benefit cuts that Harriet Harman committed the party to, then JC would still be on the backbenches. 

9. Letting those who have opposed JC back in the cabinet is for the long term. But do we really want to see the return of the likes of Caroline Flint for example. 

10. However, instead right now we have a genuinely popular Left Wing leader, promoting the sort of policies and ideas we could only dream of a few years ago. 

11. And to repeat the Blairite position that only a centrist political project can achieve any sort of popular mandate is skewered. 

12. All this has opened up a political space that should make the sensible/soft left very happy this week. I know that’s how I feel.

Vince Simonet, June 13th 2017.

None of the other leadership contenders could have delivered this result – and now we must come together behind Corbyn

Like many people, I was wrong about Jeremy Corbyn. I voted for him in the first leadership ballot, supported him for the first few months but then felt he didn’t come up with the goods or show the right leadership qualities. I then voted for Owen Smith because I had become completely disillusioned with the Labour leadership owing to its chaotic office, the failure to set out any domestic policies and Jeremy’s poor media performances.

Once he had won that second ballot, however, there was no turning back and, as the parliamentary candidate in the Richmond Park by-election in December last year, I was unfailingly loyal because – put simply – unity is crucial to electoral success. I have remained loyal since, campaigning in several London seats (the wrong ones as it turned out, because they all ended up with 10,000-plus majorities!) to help Labour win.

Jeremy’s victory in the second leadership election meant it was incumbent on everyone in the party to give him the opportunity to show what he could do. Not being one of his inner circle, I don’t know how he did it but he ran a stunning election campaign, as we all now have to recognise. His team sorted itself out, played on his strengths and inspired the electorate. It belied the convention that nothing much changes during the hustings period.

The key point is that none of the other leadership contenders in either leadership ballot would have succeeded in getting 40 per cent of the vote. Labour was on a downward slide, having lost seats in all four elections since 1997. That trend has been reversed and we are now just 2.5 per cent behind (which is made to look far larger by the 56-seat difference).

Corbyn said right from the beginning that he would inspire non-voters and that is precisely what he did. This is what happened in both the US election – where Donald Trump inspired the previous non-voting white working classes to come out for him – and in the Brexit referendum, where turnout was high thanks to normally apathetic voters coming out. Barack Obama, too, inspired new voters, blacks and Latinos who had previously not registered to vote, feeling that politics was somehow nothing to do with them.

This is why the – thankfully few – people now saying that we just missed out on winning the election, and that with another leader we would have done better, are misrepresenting what has happened. Remember that for the past few years, the “death of the Labour Party” has been taken as a given. The prognosis was that we would wither and die from natural causes, losing seats because our working-class base was being eroded. The Corbyn revolution has changed all that and we must acknowledge this. It is, in fact, the Conservative Party, which, remember, has not won a majority of more than 21 seats since the days of Thatcher, which faces an existential crisis. Their core support is slowly dying off while every day new potential Labour voters are coming of age. You only have to look at the break-down of voters by age to see this.

This, therefore, is a call to all sides in the Labour party to come together. We must not let this opportunity to capitalise on the election result slip through our hands by reverting to party division and dissent. The Corbynistas must not be too triumphalist in victory while the right must be gracious in defeat and, like me and so many others are already doing, admit they got it wrong. Jeremy must reach out to all wings of the party to ensure there is a shadow cabinet of all the talents, but, just as important, his former opponents in the party must respond positively. This is not a time for showboating or concerns about policy differences. Politics is the art of compromise and all politicians know that.

We need the best people to respond to the government on the Today programme and elsewhere in the media. Of course, differences remain but the manifesto, with, for example, its commitment to Trident, was a unifying document. One of the reasons we did so well at the election was the discipline shown by MPs – we did not start arguing in public and we must not start doing so now.

Christian Wolmar is a former Labour parliamentary candidate as well as a transport expert and writer.

This article first appeared on Labour List.

Well, I Clearly Know Nothing …

Early Thursday morning, Election Day. I made my way into Birmingham Labour’s Phone Bank with long time, fellow traveller, Bill Lees. As we approached that final push we wondered whether this might be the last time we could run a simple and conventional Get Out The Vote Operation (GOTV). Despite all of the computers and the clever pieces of software GOTV remains based on brute strength. It worked in Stoke on Trent with the backup of hundreds and thousands of volunteers. But could it still work in basic elections?

Bill and I seemed to have been locked in that phone bank for most of the previous four weeks. Bill — who was running the operation — seemed to have moved into the Birmingham office for the duration of the campaign. We survived on a poor diet of caffeine, sandwiches and very bad jokes.

For a month and more a dedicated team spoke to literally thousands of voters, initially to all and then latterly to those who had more closely identified with Labour over the last few years. It was hard going. We experienced little of the Labour ‘surge’. The last few days were positively depressing. In all honesty, we didn’t see Labour’s 40% vote coming, even as we ran wave after wave of phone knock-ups on polling day. Maybe our work did help? Maybe our work had made a difference? Maybe it didn’t? But our input into Labour’s Contact Creator seemingly hadn’t lied. The polls seemed to be right. We missed Labour’s rise completely. So, what were we missing?

[Read more…]

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.