The Referendum Case

Manuel Cortes suggested recently on Labour List (24th September) that the Florence speech by Theresa May “kicked her own Brexit ball into the long grass” , and that “we now know that nothing will change until at least 2021…(with) ….the possibility of a transition deal extended well beyond this date” because “businesses will demand certainty before making investment decisions”.

But business needs a quicker resolution, uncertainty being the one thing business always hates, and the Brexiteers thecmselves will oppose a drawn out process. The Daily Telegraph has already said allowing Brexit to fester till the run up to an election in 2022 is folly. Three and a half years of the current government paralysis is a no-brainer. Brexiteers are preparing for a cliff edge exit after the negotiation period and the Brexit hard line Wetherspoon pub chain freebie publication Autumn edition has a cod debate on whether Britain will suffer from a no deal exit – softening up their 2 million readers.

May’s move seeking a transitional period will sharpen the knives aimed at her back. May and Hammond fear Brexit and want a two year ‘transition’ so they do not have to spend three years after March 29 2019 defending a disaster. Brexiteers want out in March 2019 presumably to call a General Election on the basis of needing a mandate for a post EU Britain. May cannot call another election, but a new Tory leadership could if they secured Brexit in March 2019. At the time of writing – end September 2017 – this is only 18 months away.

For Labour, the prospect of transition is a poisoned chalice. Corbyn has said transition should take as long as it needs to – post 2022 perhaps? The fudge this represents will fester inside the Party. Worse, given the appeal of Leave to many Labour supporters, it leaves the field open to Farage to launch his Patriotic Alliance on a ‘defend Brexit’ basis. Thus Manuel’s central belief that “nothing will change until at least 2021″ is dubious. but his conclusion that a referendum on the final deal or continuing in the EU is a”way out of the bind we find ourselves in” is justified. Paralysis in government can only be broken by a Remain result in a referendum.

But this would have to happen before the March 31st 2019 deadline for ending the Article 50 negotiations. Only a viable strategy for a Third Referendum (the first was in 1975 and must be brought back into focus*) is able to set a Remain agenda. The question is what strategy can be followed in this 18 month period? And this is where the case for a referendum takes centre stage.

The Third Referendum

The Remain agenda is still dominated either by the hope of a soft (ie transitional) Brexit as May is now arguing, for – or the belief that parliament is still able to go back on Article 50. There is no strong campaign for the Third Referendum. The four current Remain organisations were able to organise a big demo in London as on September 9th but as yet show no willingness to address what a Third Referendum would have to do. The rejection of the Lib Dem proposal for a referendum by the House of Lords indicated that opposition is strong. The forthcoming Oxford LSE survey on public attitudes is likely to confirm than public opinion thinks that arguing for a re run is undemocratic and indeed that Remain is a lost cause. However a more recent opinion poll showed at 52-48% in favour of REMAIN, so all is not lost, though the margin is too small to be decisive.

The immediate issue is to embrace the idea of the Third EU referendum through accepting that referenda are here to stay and why. The first was advisory and in 1975 Labour kept parliamentary sovereignty. However the Coalition 2011 Alternative Vote referendum and subsequent referenda – notably the Scots Independence referendum – established they were binding, though crucially no referendum is ever final. A ‘once in a lifetime choice’ is nonsense as the SNP showed by demanding a second independence referendum after the EU vote. Theresa May denied the vote, but did not deny it was a legitimate demand, just premature. Referenda are part of the furniture, but without being properly worked through as a country like Switzerland has done.

As referenda are now established, the case for a third referendum on the EU has to be set out. Firstly, there is no way that any referenda can be taken as final, and the right to call for another is always present.. In 1975 the two thirds majority established a consensus, but when this broke down – within the Tory Right – no one doubted that the anti-Europeans had the right to demand a further referendum. Today, the Brexiteers refuse to accept that the call for a future vote is legitimate, calling it undemocratic.

But the second key point is that the narrow majority – and a minority of those entitled to vote – and the risks to the country justify a third vote. The risk factor is crucial. No country has the right to destroy its future. In the House of Lords debate, which voted against a Lib Dem motion for a rerun referendum, the Archbishop of Canterbury argued that even if severe damage was in prospect, a referendum had to be rejected. He said (Hansard March 7th) “It will deepen the bitterness. It is not democratic, it is unwise. Even if the circumstances change – even if they change drastically – a dangerous and overcomplicated process is the result of a referendum”. Maybe the referendum process is a bad way to discuss complicated issues, but we are stuck with that method, and there is nothing undemocratic about calling for a vote. Indeed the bitterness can only grow if the future is not put to a further vote. The Archbishop wrote in the Daily Mail for a post Brexit reconciliation process. No hope of that if a disaster is unfolding.

Thirdly, the argument that even a drastically worsening situation would not justify a vote is illogical nonsense. The first duty of a parliament is to safeguard the national interest. That is now devolved to a referendum. And how can having a vote be undemocratic? That the Lords voted against a vote at some point in the future shows the second house has failed in its historic role as the Watchdog of the Constitution.

The refusal to agree to a third referendum on the Deal undermines one of the fundamentals of any Referendum, which is to secure the legitimacy of a policy by allowing all those who will be affected by it to have a vote on the outcome. Manuel Cortes underline this aspect by pointing out that the narrow majority for triggering Article 50 was due to the votes of the old – and many of these will have died. The Grim Reaper will take more as we move towards March 29th 2019. I am not sure about his maths- he claims 2.5m will have died by his end date of 2021 and 2.5m will have become eligible to vote – but his point that “allowing the dead to dictate our future is utterly ridiculous” is valid. Those who have reached 18 when the decision has to be made must be allowed to vote. They will face 50 years or more with the consequences. Those who have little time to live must not stand on a vote taken in 2016. I am nearly 71, and will campaign for the rights of the young.

It is a situation fraught with danger, and a generation war added to the current bitterness is the last thing anyone should want. As the Dementia Society have argued in a different context, Baby Boomers and Millenials should stand together. But that is the ideal. What cannot happen is that the Baby Boomers, who have lived through a period of peace and prosperity, should put this at risk. The minimum required to avoid deepening bitterness and division is to put the Brexit negotiations to the vote before a decision is made on membership of the EU. The case for a third referendum is overwhelming and I welcome Manuel Cortes statement on these issues.

The Generation Gap at the June General Election

The 2017 UK election threw up data indicating  that Age is more important than Class in voting in Westminster elections. The big issue was that the older a voter was the more likely to vote Tory*. The youth surge was real, with 2/3 of first time voters voting Labour. Its  not clear if this is a long term shift – in 1979 42% of first time voters went Tory, youth is not always radical. Student debt was a big issue in university towns, but now Labour has clarified it will not automatically wipe it out may not be a motivator. This age  distribution of voters makes appeals on the basis of age the most important factor at elections in England and Wales. How do progressives deal with this?

  The Role of Age and Class in Voting in Britain 

The YouGov poll after the election (fieldwork 9-13th June, sample over 50,000) (TABLE 1) showed that both the turnout to vote and willingness to Vote Tory increased with age, two thirds of first time voters voting Labour in 2017, but only 19% of over seventies. First time voters were least likely to vote, over seventies the most likely to vote – a stable population able to use postal votes which have now become an alternative way to vote.  TABLE 2 emphasises that class is no longer the key determinant of voting. How this is broken down geographically has yet to be established.

Table 1

Age % age per party Turnout
Tory Other Lab
18-19 19 15 66 57
20-24 22 16 62 59
25-29 23 14 63 64
30-39 29 16 55 61
40-49 39 17 44 66
50-59 47 16 37 71
60-69 58 15 27 77
70+ 69 12 19 84

Table 2

Age % age per party Turnout
Tory Other Lab
18-19 19 15 66 57
20-24 22 16 62 59
25-29 23 14 63 64
30-39 29 16 55 61
40-49 39 17 44 66
50-59 47 16 37 71
60-69 58 15 27 77
70+ 69 12 19 84

The Old are voting for the Tories thus there is a bias to the Tories but this has slipped in Labour’s favour in 2017 – the tipping point was age 47 – it had previously been 34 according to YouGove.  A key issue is to maintain and improve the role of youth in future elections which cannot have much to do with the call by Ed Miliband and others for a voting age of 16. There is no reason to think youth will always vote centre left, and the policy agenda is key to this happening. Another key issue is why the over 60s vote Tory.

The Liberals failed to recover from the Coalition, and their future depends in part on whether the Remain position favoured by the young becomes a viable issue. The politics of Brexit was not an issue at the 2017 election but Labour’s de -facto pro Brexit position is likely to become relevant if it becomes better known to the Glastonbury generation.

Who votes – an age related issue – signing up

The voting figures are not the whole picture, as there is a big issue of people not being registered to vote – and this too is age related. With a very mobile young population, many do not register and as we are now being told, students can register twice, though they can only vote once. It is now clear that millions of people do not get to vote – and if some did vote twice, students being the culprit, it is unacceptable and illegal but only part of a bigger problem created by New Labour’s change to individual registration. The figures produced by the pollsters  only show those who were registered. Old people do not move and use postal votes, which can be organised and give a high participation figure. Younger people esp students and renters tend to move.

The Independent  of 22nd May, registration deadline day, said that 7m people had been unregistered, but 2m did so on registrations day leaving 5m unregistered. If there were five million unregistered people and this has to be checked, then the task tracking and registering students and renters, to ensure that they have the chance to vote is crucial to any progressive movement. Assuming that the older people are registered as they are a  more stable population, then there is a built in bias in the system to the Tories (and UKIP which  had an elderly core vote). This is a democratic and political issue. The old appear to be Brexiteers and it was the postal votes that lost the Plebiscite over the EU in 2016.

The issues are not merely students, who are always transient but can be tracked through student unions and university processes, but renters.  The Independent on 22nd May – Registration Day –  suggested 30% of students were not listed but this was almost equalled in the rented sector, 28% of renters  not being registered. Those who live in rented accomodation, often live in hot spots for non-registration. In one ward in Leeds where 80%  are renters, the participation rate almost cost Labour the seat – so few people were eligible to vote. So getting people’s details so if they move house they can come back to vote will be crucial to future results.

After the June election the ability of students to vote is likely to be increasingly controversial, with the ability to vote at home or in the university seat clearly becoming one of the unknown factors in outcomes. Long term, changes in the registration system are needed plus how we vote will be essential. If students have two places to vote at, they will have to make a choice and this has to be checkable. But also there has to be  reconsideration of postal voting. There is a strong suggestion one reason for the Tories getting more elderly voters is the use of postal voting. This is OK where this registers a real preference…. but who checks on the valdity of the voting papers? Multiple voting by students is unacceptable, but it is the tip of the iceberg of manipulation.

This will become increasingly important as the row over students voting more than once develops. It is illegal and cannot be defended. But there can be checks on students voting in two places on the same day, and right so. But how can the carers voting for the elderly – or community activists ‘helping’ fill in forms be checked?

Trevor Fisher

August 2017

Now Is The Time For Labour To Deepen its Policy and to Take the Campaign To a Different Level

So, the deal with the DUP has been done. The deal buys May and Tories time although just how much time will remain to be seen. It seems designed to last for two years by which point Tory optimists hope that a decent Brexit deal has been finalised. However, as always, political events do not aways go to plan and it is quite possible that this government will not last to the end of the negotiation period.

Corbyn is right to continue to make the case that Labour is ready to form a government at any time. At Glastonbury it is reported that he told organiser Michael Eavis that he could be Prime Minister within six months. This is not just a fanciful boast. The conference season will be a major test for May. If she continues to make the wrong choices, continues to appear wooden and inhumane and — critically — continues to be a subject for ridicule then the end could be quick.

In such a climate Labour’s biggest problem may well be the temptation to sit back and rely on its current campaign strategy and manifesto. At the moment both strategy and manifesto look to be effective but time always changes the context in which both must sit. The more that Corbyn is seen as a credible Prime Minister, indeed as the likely next Prime Minister, the bigger the challenge he faces in fleshing out the manifesto and in beginning to address detail.

Take one of the issues that devastated the Tory campaign plan, social care. The electorate was spooked by the Tory manifesto programme and singularly unimpressed by a series of subsequent U-Turns. Everyone in this country knows we face major challenges in this area. If we are not yet thinking personally about our own social care we will have parents and grandparents who, today, face the future with a great deal of uncertainty and fear. As we get closer to becoming a Party of government it will not bee enough for us to simply talk about more cash, we will have to spell out how and where we will make our investments. It might be acceptable — in a political campaign — to simply call for a new Social Care Service but it is clear that we might form the next government the health and social care sectors will look for more detail and will expect to be able to enter into a real dialogue with the opposition about the future.

It would be wrong to expect the Labour Front Bench to have a fully formed solution to the Social Care crisis in its back pocket, but there is much it can do ramp up the intensity of the campaign and to begin to drill down and to nail key policy dilemmas.

It became clear during the campaign that the Tories were to use an autumn Green Paper to accelerate their own plans for the future of social care and, seemingly, to begin to distance itself from Andrew Dilnot’s 2011 report. This Green Paper commitment has survived the cull of Queen’s Speech although he government’s expectations of it may be more modest. For Labour the autumn consultation will be a great opportunity to not only raise the stakes for the government but to cement and build new partnerships both within and beyond Parliament.

Corbyn should build his attack around some key principles, all of which will be uncomfortable for the Tories.

Firstly, Labour should be insisting that this debate be one that searches for a greater degree of political consensus. Dilnot’s report needed to be followed by a genuine attempt to build consensus across the political spectrum. All Party talks did begin but were quickly closed down amidst the policies of austerity. The spirit of cooperation must be revisited. It would be a crime if such a key policy was to be simply determined by a minority government backed-up by a bunch of Northern Ireland political opportunists.

Secondly, this is an issue so important that in this modern age it cannot simply be left to Westminster politicians. If there is to be a consultation process in the autumn it should be the start of a process rather than something definitive. It could map out mechanisms for wider engagement and discussion, perhaps through some form of commission. It should lay down timescales for political decisions, progress and potential systemic change.

For Corbyn, such an attack can further underline his credentials for being a leader of the country rather than simply the Leader of the Labour Party.

There are many reasons for broadening the debate. Much work is being done by academics and by social care commissioners and providers. New models of cooperation between commissioners (local government and health) and the institutional investors who create and maintain services are being mooted. The social care crisis of skill development, workforce development and recruitment are being better understood. Few of those engaged in this world are confident that their input into the debate will be secured and their ideas properly explored.

If Corbyn deepens his campaign in this he way he will also find that there will be a significant impact on Westminster politics, though it will present new challenges as well as new opportunities.

A more open approach to the issue should set out to make the best use of Parliamentary expertise across the Board. In Norman Lamb the Lib Dems have one of the most knowledgeable and respected politicians in the field. Tory Stephen Dorrell, though he stood down as an MP in 2015, has spent much time looking at the issues of social care both through Select Committees and work in the outside world. Cameron’s Minister of Health Alistair Burt is another who has spent much time pondering these issues not only as a Minister but as a Select Committee Chair. And back on Labour’s side on of the key players nationally is Andy Burnham now the Mayor of Greater Manchester who now has the responsibility for bringing health and social care together in one of our major conurbations. These — and many others — will have a major role to play in building a new and last social care system.

Corbyn should one of the biggest issues of our age, and one of the greatest failures of the election campaign, to genuinely illustrate how a new form of politics could work.

One of Corbyn’s problems so far has been a failure to develop a proper policy debate within the Labour Party let alone outside in the wider world. The longer this Tory government manages to survive so the context of debates will change. We should all be aware that unexpected events can challenge ourselves as much as they can derail the government. Deepening to policy content of our campaign will help edge against the unexpected.

Ultimately, a move to a deeper and broader campaign may be critical in securing the success of a Corbyn-led government which may well have to govern without an overall majority or without a comfortable majority. Potential allies across the political spectrum wonder whether Team Corbyn can ever break free of their closed world. Developing a deeper policy dimension to the day-to-day political campaign will build confidence in Corbyn as a potential Leader of a wider progressive left.

Some will, of course, prefer to stay on the current course and to pin their hopes completely on a ‘one last heave’ mentality. It is worth constantly reflecting on the political realities of 2017. Despite running a fine and effective campaign Labour gained only 30 seats. At the next General Election Labour needs to win over 60 new seats simply to have a majority of 1. A comfortable majority of 40 or so seats will require Labour to win 100 seats at the next election.

In preparing for the future Corbyn can only gain by deepening his campaigning in this way. Social Care is but one key issue and, of course, there are others that would benefit from a similar approach.

In today’s world — in 2017 — the big issues cannot simply be left to Westminster. If we deepen our policy making,as a campaign tool, we are more likely to convince an ever-skeptical electorate that Labour is theParty to deal with the big issues. Back in Westminster such an approach is likely to convince others that Corbyn would be a serious partner in power, if indeed it comes to that.

Andy Howell

Some Analysis of the “Labour surge”

There’s been a lot of talk about the “Labour surge” so I’ve had a dig in the numbers to see what I can find. This is just a quick analysis and if I get time I will post more. In the meantime here’s what I’ve found.

Before we look at the Labour surge I want to look at the frequency distribution of the majorities for the two main parties in 2015 and 2017.

The two graphs below compare the 2015 and 2017 majorities. Note, to enable like-for-like comparisons of the trends the graphs only show the seats that were held in 2017 – they do not include the seats that were won or lost by each party in 2017. The graph uses histogram bins of 2,500.

01 lab freq dist

01 con freq dist

Three things strike me:

1. In 2017 Labour increased the majorities of safe seats and made them even safer. This can be seen by the dark red line shifting significantly to the right. Much of the Labour surge means Labour piling up extra votes where they are of little use other than to flatter the MP.

2. In 2017 the number of Labour seats with a majority of 2,500 or less decreased. These are what be classed as classic marginal seats. Form a Labour perspective this is good as they will have fewer marginals to defend.

3. Conversely for the Conservatives in 2017 the number of seats with majorities of of 2,500 or less increased. This means they have more marginals to defend. Again this is good for Labour.

Below is the 2017 comparative frequency distribution of the seats held by each party. You can see Labour has far more ultra safe seats where the votes have piled up.

01 both freq dist

Finally, turning to the biggest part of the surge, the graph below shows the 46 seats where Labour added on more than 10,000 extra votes. The colour coding shows which seats were Labour holds, Conservative holds and Labour gains. It shows quite convincingly that the biggest part of the Labour surge only (where Labour put on 10,000 or more votes) only helped Labour gain four seats out of the 46 seat where the biggest surges happened.

01 lab surge seats

Any future “mass Labour surge” needs to be make a bigger difference to maximise the seats gained rather than making already big majorities bigger. 


Ravi Subramanian is a full-time trade union official for UNISON; amateur maths, physics and technology geek; and now retired soul/funk/jazz/hip-hop DJ. So you can perhaps, unsurprisingly, expect posts on trade unions, politics, maths, science, technology, data and music. And maybe a few other things too.

Ravi blogs at: More Known Than Proven



Labour, The Election and The Polls

There is a tendency on the left to dismiss opinion polls, partly, and fairly, because they have proved to be significantly inaccurate in the two most important votes of the last two years, the 2015 election and the 2016 EU Referendum, and partly, and usually misguidedly, that what they tell us can always be overcome. That is not to say that it can’t, and as Jeremy Corbyn (JC)  has said we should not treat the election as a ‘foregone conclusion’, but polls should be treated seriously as they are normally not too far from the truth.

Labour’s position in the polls now is worse than at any time since 1983 for an opposition party, and JC’s personal rating as leader likewise. How and why did this happen? During his first period as leader Labour averaged about 31/32, only just behind the Tories on 33/34. Although there was much criticism the position pre referendum and coup was not unreasonable, with Labour recouping its six point deficit in the 2015 election by the 2016 elections. However, The gap widened considerably in the post referendum period, with Labour averaging 26 for most of this period, with the Tories averaging 41. Reasons are the coup, with voters being well aware that JC is opposed by three quarters of his MPs, the Brexit vote which inevitably meant that Labour had to adopt a ‘facing both ways’ position, and the continued failure to develop policy and divisions and departures among his staff and within  Momentum. The Lib-Dems increased their vote from about 8 up to December, to about 10 since. The UKIP vote has declined from about 12 to February to about 10 since. 

Labour Remain voters have decamped in large numbers to the Lib-Dems, Leave voters to UKIP and some thence to the Tories, but many directly to the Tories. We cannot be precise about what this would mean, as swings vary between constituencies and regions, but it is reasonable to assume, as Electoral Calculus have done, that Labour could lose up to 50 seats, taking them well below 200, a post war low. It is not likely to fall much beyond this, as many Labour seats still remain relatively safe.

But it could be a much better result than this. There are a number of actual or potential factors that could prove significant. The first is that May, as one journalist memorably put it, has ‘trashed her brand’. She has been transformed from the determined but compassionate vicar’s daughter with an absolute commitment to the country’s interests, to just another two faced politician who is prepared to alter course to suit her own (in particular) and her party’s interests, but is clearly quite happy to continue down a right wing road that completely belies her professed concern for the less well off. 

At least Thatcher never pretended that she was anything other than profoundly reactionary. But she seems to share with Thatcher an authoritarian streak that implies that the normal democratic processes are an unnecessary obstruction. And no, she is not going to lower herself by debating with other party leaders on TV. She is the leader, that should be enough. The ‘unmasking’ of May is  important, and is likely to lose her votes, although how many remains to be seen.

The second is that while Tory support reflects Brexit and corresponding vote transfers from Labour and UKIP, the run-up to the election will see a more widespread reflection on political problems and their possible solutions than is normally the case, and if Labour promotes this with an attractive, coherent and costed manifesto it could win back some of those who have transferred their vote to the Tories over Brexit, as they consider whether Labour is more likely to represent their interests on most other matters, and indeed on Brexit, given their seven year record of abject failure.

The third is  tactical voting. It was right to rule out any formal co-operation with other parties, which would have mainly meant the Lib-Dems, as the degree of mutual antagonism at local level would have ruled out a mass transfer of votes based on one party not standing in favour of the other. However, Compass are right to point out that there are thirty Tory seats that could be susceptible to an agreement, and hopefully some of these will fall on the basis of DIY tactical voting.

The fourth is a very large membership, much more so than for any other party, most of whom are by definition JC supporters, and who constitute a formidable potential campaigning force. However, and any activist will know this, most of them have not shown any inclination to be active, either in the run up to the coming local elections or in last year’s May elections. It has to be spelt out to this largely passive membership that their active involvement in the forthcoming campaign could be crucial not only to Labour’s electoral performance but also to JC’s continuation as leader.

Peter Rowlands

May 2017.

Brexit Economics: The Shadow Chancellor Who Deserted The Ship

Now the by-elections are out of the way it is time to get back to Brexit, the political issue that will dominate not only this Parliament but that may well be a defining issue for a generation.

Diane Abbot is right when she points out that any political party with a foot in both the Remain and the Leave camp would find life difficult. Replace remain and leave with immigration and the economy and you have a more accurate reflection of the political dilemma facing Labour.

Immigration is, of course, an exceptionally difficult issue for any progressive Party to consider not least because the issues raised seem different across the regions of the country. Despite immigration being such a high profile concern Labour has not even started to debate the issue seriously, despite the All Party Group on Social Cohesion calling for a Commission to examine how a devolved immigration system might work. Clear, solid and principled policy will only come from pan-party debate, votes and brave leadership. As none of these factors are in place we can’t expect any clear Labour policy on immigration any time soon.

The economy should be an easier issue for Labour to headline on as ultimately it is should be our core issue. Talk to anyone for more than a few minutes and fears of Brexit quickly surface, even amongst those who voted to leave. Remember, the South Wales steel worker interviewed the day after the referendum? “I voted to leave but I didn’t think it would happen”.

It is very easy for broadcast journalists to find pensioners who simply don’t care about the economic arguments but dig a bit deeper and it is clear that many, if not most, of those of working age feel very insecure about their futures.

Fears for the future are understandable not least as the economic foundations of Brexit seem to change each week. During the referendum campaign Johnson captured headlines by proclaiming that, of course, we could stay in the single market. Other — harder Brexiteers — wanted out from both the single market and the customs union as soon as possible but these more extreme voices were never effectively challenged as the media focussed on the Johnson and Farage roadshows.

Since the referendum the government continues to shift its position, firstly, preparing to abandon the single market and subsequently showing itself willing to abandon the Customs union, preparing to trade if need be on World Trade Organisation rules and tariffs. As this mess unfolds Theresa May’s government becomes increasingly dependent on Donald Trump to seal a quick trade deal with the USA; they will have little choice but to snap up whatever is on offer from Trump. Some are optimistic as Trump opposed the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) as did many progressives did in Europe, but Trump’s objections are on very different grounds. How easy do we think it will for British industry to get tariff free access for high value manufactured goods without us reciprocating by the further opening up our health and public services?

At least 50% of our major businesses feel that Brexit is already having a detrimental effect on the bottom line. Each week we see businesses — from financial services to manufactures — making it clear that they will re-consider their UK bases and future investment programmes if they are left with a ‘hard Brexit’. It is already clear that trading on WTO terms will be a disaster for the UK, making our economy uncompetitive in the global economy. Negotiating trade treaties to replace those we already have access by virtue of EU membership will take years.

So, given the seriousness of these economic concerns is seems extraordinary that John McDonnell is not addressing them. He is failing to articulate a clear commitment to the prioritising of the economy in the Brexit debate.

Many of those Labour MPs who voted to trigger Article 50 argue that there is still time to act as the shape of the final deal becomes clearer, yet in reality they are being lured into fighting on Tory territory. You can’t trust Labour with Brexit will be the continuing rallying call of this government. McDonnell needs to get wise; he can’t campaign for eighteen months on being a better party for Brexit and at the last minute throw up his hands and declare the whole thing is a disaster.

For Labour finding space in the media for an anti or doubtful Brexit message will be hard. This is why Labour’s position needs to be unequivocal and our priorities shouted out long and loud. The Vote on Article 50 was a disaster precisely because it abandoned the one opportunity for Labour to grab serious media time and to make the headlines. It would have allowed McDonnell the become our champion the protection of jobs and living standards from the outset.

Such a stance need not be automatically anti Brexit or against the popular vote. It is possible, we must suppose, that the government may pull off an acceptable deal with Europe even if this seems unlikely. However, there must be a real likelihood that the position we are left with after leaving the European Union is worse than that if we had remained in it. At the end of these negotiations, do we think McDonnell is really brave enough to take on the government, to argue against the very foundations of Brexit if that becomes necessary?

There is another reason why Labour needs to adopt a laser-like focus on the economy and on jobs and trade over time. Many of the electorate seem to have a poor knowledge of basic economic principles. Tim Shipman’s account of the anti European movement and the referendum campaign, _All Out War_, shows how — as the referendum campaign reached its zenith — both campaigns found that their focus groups were un-moved by economic arguments, they simply didn’t understand them. Labour will need to campaign long and hard to effectively inform voters. Education campaigns demand time.

So, whatever the eventual result of the negotiations with the EU Labour must campaign hard now if it is to have any chance of having a serious impact on public opinion. Labour’s ability to take on the Tories in the future will depend on it.

Labour’s position needs to be unequivocal. Labour must be a party prepared to defend jobs and prosperity and prepared to argue against the Brexit deal _if_the deal sells the country short. Labour should be clear now that there must be a second referendum on the final terms of the Brexit deal. May’s ‘take it or leave it vote’ will offer little chance for eleventh hour campaigns or reversals.

Labour’s pitch to voters needs to be blunt. To trade on WTO terms would be to impose a ‘tax’ on each job in the UK. If voters are uncertain about economic arguments they sure as hell understand the notion of tax. Whether you work in manufacturing, hospitality, financial services or technology, trading on WTO terms will make you and your employer less competitive in world markets. The low tax, low protection economy favoured by hard Brexiteers will decimate the public sector.

The policy and campaign positions discussed here are not designed to be anti Brexit, rather they are aimed positioning Labour as the protector of our economy, our jobs and our living standards.

In failing to step up to the mark John McDonnell has effectively gone absent without leave. Until he finds the courage to develop a clear line on Brexit and the economy, Theresa May will continue to dominate and Labour will continue to poll at record lows. Labour’s Leadership is already conceding the future of the post Brexit world to the Tories and the right.

Andy Howell
28th February 2017

A Guide to the Mysteries of Labour’s Policy Processes

The mysterious way Labour makes policy is a constant puzzle for Party Members. A key Jeremy Corbyn promise was to make the policy process more open. Many expected a new and revitalized approach to policy debate, perhaps utilising the power of online technology, but the door remains firmly closed to most members.

So, what official policy process remains and how might it develop? Over the coming months Progressive Politics will explore not only how policy is made but how we might reinvent our policy process, something that we believe is crucial if we are truly to build on the desire for a ‘new politics’.

In this article, Trudie McGuinness, an elected rep from the West Midlands, explains the mechanisms and the membership of the Forum and what she sees as her role on the National processes for policy making. Readers are invited to contribute to an ongoing debate on how well policy is made in the Labour Party to follow up Trudie’s article.



What is the National Policy Forum?

Before I was elected to the National Policy Forum in September 2015, I asked myself this very question. As a long standing Labour Party member I had heard of the Policy Forum but I didn’t really understand what it was. I knew that years ago, when I lived in Leek and was a member of Staffordshire Moorlands CLP, that I used to participate in branch meeting policy discussions which would be fed into the National Policy Forum. But our ideas may as well have gone into a black hole for all I knew. No one ever said what would happen next. Perhaps they didn’t know.

When I heard about the election to the National Policy Forum, I set about finding out more – but I shall be honest and say that most of my learning has been on the job. The NPF is the Labour Party’s official policy-making body. It has around 200 members, which include elected members from CLPs, affiliated union representatives and members of the Parliamentary Labour Party, including Shadow Cabinet members. The breadth and depth of policy-making is huge, so the work of the NPF is divided into a number of areas. In 2016, there were seven policy areas of focus; this year there are eight, which are:

Early Years, Education and Skills
Economy, Business and Trade
Environment, Energy and Culture
Health and Social Care
Housing, Local Government and Transport
Justice and Home Affairs
Work, Pensions and Equality

I myself sit on the International Policy Commission. Last year we met monthly in London from February-June. For those who can’t make the meeting in London there is a dial-in conference call option. The IPC focuses on defence and security, foreign policy and international development and is very ably chaired by Cath Speight, the GMB’s National Political Officer.

Lest the discussions grow so wide-ranging that they become unwieldy, there is some guidance from the leadership as the particular focus that each Policy Commission should have in each cycle. The goal is for each Policy Commission to produce a draft policy update that will then go to the NPF’s Joint Policy Committee for review in the summer. The JPC acts as an adjudicator of sorts regarding the policy detail emerging from the Policy Commissions. Policy with JPC backing goes to the National Executive Committee for approval, after which it then goes to Conference for final debate and ratification by delegates. The expectation remains that the next general election will be in 2020, therefore we are still at the early stages of revising and developing party policy.

No one gave me a job description for the role of NPF representative. In the absence of such, I asked myself how I as a member would have liked to have been engaged within our democratic party in seeking to bring our values to life in policies that will resonate with the electorate. As a member, I would have liked to have known sooner how the policy-making process works. I would have liked to know who my elected regional NPF and union reps were and would have liked to know that if I shared ideas with them that they would find a fair way to feed our discussions into the policy-making process. I then would have liked feedback on how policy was shaping up.

This self-knowledge, as well as feedback from members across the country, has helped to shape the way I carry out my role as an NPF rep. As one of five West Midlands NPF reps elected from CLPs, I work with the others – Cllr Jacqueline Taylor, Cllr Miriam Khan, Cllr Christopher Bloore (who also sits on the Joint Policy Committee) and Jeevan Jones as regional youth representative – to ensure that we visit as many CLPs as possible to hear members’ views and feed those into the Policy Commissions on which we sit as well as the wider annual NPF meeting, which last year took place mid-November (delayed from its usual July scheduling).

As your regional reps, we agreed between us early on that in order to try to do justice to fellow members in our region that we would each be the key link person for a designated group of CLPs. I myself am the contact person for the twelve Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent CLPs. Since elected eighteen months ago, I have remained in regular contact with those CLPs in particular and have already been guest speaker (or guest listener, as I prefer to call it) at all but two of those CLPs, as well as joining Chris Bloore and Jackie Taylor in their respective patches in Worcestershire and West Bromwich. In addition, all of the West Midlands reps have been engaged in member feedback events held at the regional HQ in West Bromwich. This year marks the start of my second round of CLP visits.

The main item on our International Policy Commission agenda from now until June, when our draft policy document goes to the Joint Policy Commission, is Brexit.  No surprises there. But that’s where the predictable ends. How do we as Labour propose that we get the very best deal for Britain post-Brexit? How will we craft a foreign policy that recognises the crucial importance of NATO alongside the challenges posed to geopolitics by a Trump presidency and a resurgent Russia? What role should we play in the Middle East and in dealing with the ensuing refugee crisis? And what price is too high to pay for workers’ rights in order to secure international trade deals?

We have a lot to discuss and a lot to think through. We need as many members as possible engaged in contributing to the big questions of the day, be they on Brexit or education, health, jobs and income, transport, justice, the environment or community affairs. I encourage all Labour members to have their say on the eight policy strands, which are set out for us online at I myself am always happy to hear from members to provide updates on the work of the IPC and the wider National Policy Forum, either in writing or in person at CLP meetings. It’s your party, my party, our party. Together we need to claim the future of British  politics. We all have something to contribute. Do have your say.

Trudie McGuiness 21st February 2017

National Policy Forum Rep for the West Midlands

Twitter: @trudiemc
linkedin: Trudie McGuiness:
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You can contribute online, or email ideas to

The Progressive Alliance – first challenge

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

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

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

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

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

Elections in Copeland

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trevor Fisher
8th January 2017