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

The battle for Labour’s soul has now moved firmly into the arena of Labour’s National Executive Committee. Not content with winning all of three of the new NEC constituency seats, Momentum’s Leadership have not their sights on un-seating Ann Black — a founding member of the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance — in the forthcoming NEC elections. Momentum’s actions under the leadership of Jon Lansman seem to be not only unnecessarily aggressive but designed to heighten the current state of factionalism within the Party. If there has been anyone, over the last twenty years, who has championed the role of the ordinary Party member it is Ann Black. Throughout her twenty years Ann has tried to work on a non tribal basis and Labour’s members have much to be grateful for.

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Momentum Watch

From the Huffington Post, 9 2 18. report Paul Waugh


Momentum ‘Slate’ For Labour’s NEC Axes Veteran Ann Black

“The grassroots group Momentum is set to extend it influence within Labour with a ‘new generation’ of candidates for the party’s NEC, HuffPost has learned. Ahead of a fresh election for the ruling body this summer, the organisation has finalised its ‘slate’ for the nine constituency party places* on the NEC with some key changes in personnel.

“Momentum has withdrawn its backing for veteran activist Ann Black in protest at her vote to exclude 125,000 new members from Jeremy Corbyn’s second leadership election in 2016. But Black, who was replaced as head of the party’s main disciplinary panel last month, has told HuffPost she wants to remain on the 39 strong ruling body….

” Another key omission from the ‘slate’ is Christine Shawcroft, a controversial leftwinger who  replaced Black only last month as chair of the NEC Disputes Sub Committee… She told HuffPost “I’ve done it for 19 years and I think we need to ‘open up’ the NEC to new people…

 “…According to a Labour source Rhea Wolfson has also decided not to stand for election again. Momentum swept the board in elections last month for three new local members, easily defeating ‘centrist’ candidates that included comedian Eddie Izzard..

” …The new Momentum list, which followed invites for applications from its 36,000 members, …. includes new candidates Huda Elmi, Nav Mishra and Anne Henderson. Existing NEC members Claudia Webbe, Jon Lansman, Rachel Graham, Yasmine Dar, Pete Willsman and Darren Williams are also on the slate.

“…Momentum’s fellow leftwing groups, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) and Centre

Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA) are yet to decide their own slate. But given Momentum’s dominance, particularly in mobilising its huge numbers** in online elections, it looks likely to get its candidates in place.”

*the extra three places were agreed by the 2017 conference and elections were held at the end of 2017, results announced January 2018. Why when the party is short of money these three places have to be re-balloted is a puzzle. TF

** The numbers are bigger than other factions but given the LP has 560,000 members they have far less than 10%. Momentum’s asset is the poor organisational state of other groupings, TF

Scotland Watch … SNP Revival?

New Statesman, Chris Deerline, 19th November 2017

“Richard Leonard (new Scots Leader TF)… ran on a Corbynite prospectus that comfortably saw off his centre-left challenger Anas Sarwar… Its still not clear where Scottish Labour stands on the EU or or the Union…. Perhaps Corbyn’s relative success in June’s General Election made this inevitable… Little wonder his campaign was supported by Momentum and its Scottish sister the Campaign for Socialism….  Leonard was backed by 51.8% of the 17,664 individual members who voted in the contest, compared to 48.2% who supported Sarwar. Among the unions – the affiliated supporters section – Leonard secured 77.3% of the 4,242 votes cast, while Sarwar got 22.7%. Sarwar edged the ‘registered supporters’ section with 51.9%, while Leonard got 48.1%!


Labour List 1st February 2018


“Richard Leonard suffered a disappointment today when new polling showed Scottish Labour slipping back in the race against the SNP. A Survation survey showed Labour 12 points behind when people in Scottish constituencies were asked about their  Westminster voting intention. The results showed Labour dipping 2 points to 27% and Nicola Sturgeon’s party rising by the same margin…. Leonard was widely seen as having the backing of Jeremy Corbyn’s office…..

….”If the Survation poll is correct it would mean the SNP winning back 9 of the 21 seats they lost in last year’s general election… The Tories were trailing in third place (24%) and the Lib Dems showed no sign of a recovery (7%).”


History Must Not Be Repeated

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

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

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

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

The Grassroots Must Be The Focus

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

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

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

Shifting The Focus

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

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

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

The Soft Left

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

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

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

Trevor Fisher

December 2017



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