Archive for December, 2019

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Labour’s Delusions

Sunday, December 15th, 2019

It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it.” Buffet’s saying has been one which many in finance have had cause to ponder in recent years. Turned round, it applies to political parties: “a toxic reputation takes 5 minutes to develop, 20 years to shake off.” Consider how long it’s taken the Tories to get past (if they have) the “nasty party” tag. From its development in the 1980s, it was 18 years before the Tories won a majority. Labour’s infiltration by Militant started in the mid-1970s. 1985: Kinnock’s Conference speech; 1997: Blair’s New Dawn.

Those bad reputations are used by opponents long past their sell-by date: the Tories made 18 glorious summers of Labour’s Winter of Discontent. 29 years after she resigned, Thatcher is still Labour’s convenient bogey-woman. After defeat, the longer a party postpones the hard thinking about why it lost and what needs to change, the longer and harder it will be to regain power. 8 years, 3 leaders for the Tories before they finally understood that they could no longer blame the voters for falling for Blair. He was not a Pied Piper; the voters were not stupid children. They looked at the Tories; they disliked what they saw.

With the election barely over, Labour is already embracing comforting delusions rather than taking a long cool hard look at itself, warts and all.

Change the leader and all will be well

Leadership is critical, yes, but a leader is not simply the person taking the centre spot in group photos. They set the tone, values and direction of the party. A party and its leader are always, whether explicitly or implicitly, telling voters the following:

  • This is who we are (who we seek to represent).
  • This is what we do (how we fight for you).
  • This is how we do it (our values).
  • This is where we are going (the sort of country we want).
  • This is how we’re going to get there (the practical steps we’ll take).

Changing the leader but keeping the rest unchanged/unchallenged is not enough. Labour voters rejected Corbyn and what he stood for because the latter was an essential part of his leadership and why it was rejected. Putting a pretty blonde in his place – without more – will not address voters’ concerns. For a party fond of ideology, Labour has in recent times seemed obsessed to the point of madness with personalities: any criticism seen as a personal attack on the leader, who must be protected at all costs, even if that meant closing one’s eyes and ears to what was happening.

Striking that in his speech after winning his constituency, Corbyn first launched into an attack on those journalists who tried to speak to him outside his home. His inconvenience was apparently of more importance than MPs losing their jobs or apologising for what had happened on his watch.

Wannabe leaders might usefully think how they would answer the above questions. Heretical as this may seem, the answers are not simply going to be found in their past, their jobs or their genetic inheritance.

The policies were popular

Would it be bad taste to say that after the worst defeat in 84 years, a defeat in which it went backwards in 98% of seats contested, it takes industrial quantities of chutzpah to claim this as evidence of popularity? Yes, it would. But it is entirely accurate.

Yes – individual policies are popular; that does not make the entire package so. Nor is popularity the only measure. Credibility as to execution and cost and whether these are the voters’ most important priorities matter too. Did the manifesto consist of (somewhat nostalgic) policies which mattered to the party (and its union backers) – nationalisation / reversing trade union legislation – rather than the voters it was seeking to attract?

Is a lack of free broadband what has been keeping voters up at night? When asking questions, the single most important thing to do is to really listen to the answers. Has Labour stopped listening because it has taken voters for granted? Or has it only been listening to those saying what it wants to hear?

It was all about Brexit

No it wasn’t. Not least because Labour was quite successful in talking about other issues, the NHS, for instance, which became by the end of the campaign as important as Brexit. An end to austerity was promised: but there was no analysis of where austerity had happened, how it was going to be addressed and paid for.  The money was apparently going to come from a few wicked tax-avoiding billionaires and other rich people. In reality, many of the cuts have been to local government budgets affecting areas like social care, topics Labour spoke little about.

It also finally admitted that pretty much everyone would have to pay more tax but got no credit for this admission, dragged out of it as from a recalcitrant witness. It then managed to find £58 billion from thin air to give to a small group of voters. (“For the few, paid for by the many“, as the manifesto did not say.) Curious that a party claiming to care about the poor thinks that those who have to watch every penny don’t care how governments finance their promises.

All the fault of the press

A well-worn delusion this. Politicians whining about the media are like sailors complaining about the sea, as someone once said. Yes – much of the MSM is not enamoured of Labour. Yes – newspaper owners tend to be very rich. So what? This is the age of social media, when newspaper circulation and readership is on the decline, when there are myriad ways of communicating ideas and plans. Self-pitying moans about smears, being attacked, being asked questions and challenged are the reactions of narcissistic cry-babies.

Being able to explain clearly and crisply what you are about; being able and willing to debate and argue and persuade (not simply assert) is basic political tradecraft. (The sheer inability of many quite experienced politicians to answer even a vaguely difficult question is astonishing. They would not survive even one mealtime in our household. What do they do all day?)

Closely allied to this is the belief that voters have been misled, whether by the press or by other parties, as if voters are too stupid to think for themselves. It does not take a degree to know when someone is sneering at or patronising you. For all the talk about wanting to help “their” voters, some Labour politicians give the impression that they do not much like the actual people they want to represent, that they are simply there to be the object of the politician’s virtue. (Those taking practical steps to help – Stella Creasy, for instance, over loan sharks – have been sidelined.)

A new leader won’t have Corbyn’s baggage

Well, that’s a low bar. But this won’t be enough, now. First, there is the EHRC report to get past. Second, there will need to be good answers as to why blind eyes were turned. Most important, getting rid of the mindset, the fertile swamp in which the Manichaean, conspiracist, “virtuous us” vs “wicked them“, anti-Semitic virus grew and flourished will need lots of hard work, not just speeches. It will need disciplinaries and expulsions. It will need the leader to reset the party’s moral compass, to teach its membership what is right – and wrong – and demonstrate it in all they do. It will need to be visible, focused, determined and prolonged. It will take a lot of the leader’s energy. It will be painful. And oh so necessary.

The one thing which all good leaders have is courage. Thatcher had it; so did Kinnock. Blair – at times. Cameron, too – over gay marriage. The courage to think the unthinkable; to apologise when necessary; to listen with humility when being given a difficult message; to ask tough questions; to speak hard truths – to oneself, to the party (Kinnock: “I’m telling you and you’ll listen” is all too pertinent today), to voters. It is not the same as rage and protest, however eloquently done.

Rather than tell itself comforting stories, Labour needs to have the courage to look at itself honestly if it wants to choose its next leader wisely.

CycleFree




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Tomas Forsey puts Thursday’s result into context

Sunday, December 15th, 2019

Tomas Forsey

Tomas Forsey is a longstanding PBer who posts on PB as Corporeal and tweets as PBcorporeal




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Swinson’s successor may have only become an MP yesterday

Saturday, December 14th, 2019

It is a sign of the sheer carnage that the LDs suffered at the general election that one of the names being actively floated as a leader is one of those who have just been elected to the House of Commons.

The reason is clear. Even though the party increased its vote share by 4% it saw a reduction in its seat numbers and there is a very small pool from which the new leader can emerge.

The current fourth favourite in the betting is the new St Albans MP, Daisy Cooper, who has seen her odds move in sharply from 60/1 yesterday morning to 16/1 now. My guess is that she is more likely to be a runner than at least two of those ahead of her in the betting.

She is relatively well known within the party having been runner-up in an election for the party president in 2014. She is also very much without the baggage of having served within the Coalition.

The fact that there is a large Conservative majority and a smaller contingent of Lib Dem MPs is going to make the role of the leader that much less. No longer are there going to be a key Commons votes taking place when what the LDs are doing mattered.

Mike Smithson




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Labour’s last chance?

Saturday, December 14th, 2019

You can only play with fire for so long before being burned

Labour is rather fortunate. Rather than looking on at a mere disaster, its members and supporters could have been witness to the electorate having smote the ruin of a once-great party unto the dust.

Despite Boris Johnson having led the Tories to their highest vote share since 1979 – and their sixth successive increase in share, the last three in government – there was surely the potential to have polled even more strongly had the Tory leader had the confidence and ability to face media and public scrutiny. Margaret Thatcher would not have ducked an Andrew Neil interview, never mind hidden in a fridge. Perhaps for Boris, those manoeuvres were the right tactical choices but sceptical voters can’t have been impressed.

But the Tories can only ever be rivals to the Labour Party; existential threats must come from the left-of-centre. Outside of Scotland and Wales, that means primarily the Lib Dems. Over the course of the election campaign, the Lib Dems lost more than a third of their support, mostly to Labour. The last five polls before the vote for the early election all put the Lib Dems in the 18-20% range and Labour between 21-26%. Had that campaign-period swing not taken place then not only would Labour’s losses would have been far, far worse but the Lib Dems would themselves have made solid gains – and that swing was not guaranteed.

In the event, Labour ran a sufficiently dynamic campaign, while avoiding public infighting, to be able to claim the mantle of being best-placed to oppose the Tories and Brexit. They also ended up being the more moderate Remain option, despite the logical difficulties of their policy and Corbyn’s own position. The Lib Dems would have been better, in retrospect, to have maintained their Second Referendum policy, putting – and backing – Remain against Johnson’s deal. But without a stronger, more heavyweight leader, the Lib Dems would probably have suffered whatever their policies.

What the election did show was just how weak the bonds between voters and their party now are, outside a few ultra-safe areas, and how rapidly they’ve dissolved. This problem isn’t unique to Labour of course – the Tories’ EP election result shows a similar breakdown on the right – but it was they who suffered the worse this time. And the Tory Party in 2019 once again showed its willingness and ability to dump a failing leader; Labour demonstrated their inclination to protect theirs.

Where does this leave Labour going into the next parliament? Well, on the one hand, it has a field of opportunity. Johnson’s ratings took a hit during the campaign but he was given the votes both to complete a task and to keep Corbyn out. Both tasks are likely to be complete within a year at most. Unless Labour elects a similarly extreme and incapable leader (which given the membership and current Labour front bench has to be a possibility), he will not find votes so easy to come by in 2024 – if indeed he is still Tory leader by then.

Indeed, the Tories, having undermined their own voting coalition of generations in order to build a new one round the transient issue of Brexit will find their own base decidedly wobbly unless they can firm up Brexit into a wider values-based alliance.

However, oppositions will only be given so long to challenge a government, especially one that hits trouble. The 2017-19 parliament showed the strains within Labour but memories of the 2017 election must have stayed some hands that now wish they’d acted. If Labour does elect a new leader in the old one’s image, they will be playing with fire.

David Herdson



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What Next for the Parties?

Friday, December 13th, 2019

The Tories

It is quite a victory. 3 years after a humiliating withdrawal from his first attempt at the Tory leadership, Boris has the largest Tory majority since Thatcher, the sort May so wanted and far larger than Cameron ever managed. How sweet must he be feeling today. It also raises the very real possibility of the Tories winning the next GE; a 78-seat deficit is hard for an opposition party to overcome in one bound.

So Boris now has an immense amount of political credit, both with his party, the country and the EU. He will need to use it well and early in this Parliament when all the hard decisions need making. His victory speech seemed to recognise that with its reference to being lent Labour votes and not letting those voters down. Will the Tories really govern as One Nation Tories? What does One Nation even mean in a post-referendum Britain? Will they – when they come to implement the post-Brexit agreements with the EU and others – remember the interests of the places that voted for them? One example: Grimsby has a Tory MP. The Danish PM today said that the question of access to UK fishing waters for fishermen will be an issue in trade talks. The French too. Who gets what they want?

There is more: he has made lots of promises beyond getting Brexit done. How to balance the competing interests of his new Tory coalition of voters, the demands posed by a post-Brexit world, the need to make the economy work, to share its benefits fairly, how he prioritises between all the various manifesto promises and the need to really deliver on them will be key to whether his Tory party will succeed and have a long-term stable future.

When he became leader Boris was pretty brutal in casting out those who opposed him; similarly with Tory MPs voting against him. The desire for revenge – to make it harder to oppose or scrutinise him or his government – will be one which, if he is sensible, he ought to resist. Whether he does so will be another measure of this government’s success.

And what about its moral compass? Easy to dismiss Labour accusations of racism given Corbyn’s difficulties. But he cannot forever rely on pointing the finger at Labour. Anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim prejudice has crept into the Tory party and some of its candidates. Big problems always start out small. Were he wise, Boris would take the strongest possible action now to ensure that racist, hateful, xenophobic behaviour, speech and attitudes are rooted out of his party, however uncomfortable this may be for him and the party. Not only is this electorally sensible but it is also the right thing to do. Rarely in politics is this the case.

Labour

Oh dear! The worst defeat since 1935. A party going backwards in seats. Seats which have never elected a Tory MP electing them with large margins. Labour ones turning into much less safe or marginal seats. A leadership which lashes out enemies preventing its victory rather than realising that it was voters who rejected it, which seems incapable of saying sorry, of owning the defeat, of taking responsibility for it – as it would undoubtedly have done had Labour gained seats or stopped a Tory majority. And now a leadership which thinks that, despite such a heavy defeat, its policies were popular.

The one mistake which Labour ought not to make – but looks as if it will – is to assume that simply removing Corbyn as leader will solve its problems. It was the leadership, yes, but it was also the direction in which the leadership took the party.

Bluntly, it had an impossible programme, that nobody believed, put forward by people who were not credible.  All three aspects need to be addressed. As Aneurin Bevan put it: “The language of priorities is the religion of Socialism.” If everything is important, nothing is. It is no use talking about fairness and presenting policies favouring the well off (WASPI women) at the expense of the young or no tax increases on MPs on £70K but tax increases of 30% or more on the self-employed earning the same amount. If the NHS was so important, why was giving free broadband/nationalising all internet providers the policy the leadership focused on at the start of the campaign?

Now Corbyn says he wants to stay on to allow discussion about who should take over. Is he really doing what Michael Howard did when he allowed younger MPs to put themselves forward, to show what they stood for and were capable of? Or is this really about his strand of the Left seeking to cement its control of the party and the succession? If Corbyn goes quickly, the risk is that Labour will rush to appoint a new leader without doing any hard thinking. If he stays, the Far Left could tighten its grip and Labour’s voice – on Brexit, on FTAs, on the Tories’ policies – will be absent. That is sub-optimal for good government. Or Labour. And who is there to do what Kinnock did? Given the Tories’ majority it could take 2 elections to put Labour back in play. New leadership will need to be thinking about and preparing for the world as it will be 5/10 years hence. By then the GFC, the Iraq War will be 20 years in the past (the miners’s strike – still being used in Labour PPBs for the North – even more so). Labour will need to speak to a generation born long after these events.

One thing it needs to do above all is to realise that it is not enough to call yourself moral. You have to act morally too. Anti-semitism damaged Labour’s image, its credibility, its competence. It hurt because there was truth in what its critics said. If Labour wants to be taken seriously, it needs to stop shooting the messengers and listen to the messages.

The Lib Dems

11 MPs, most of them women, only 2 even vaguely well-known, 1 probably for the wrong reasons, the leader gone. Some good second places in a number of Tory seats. What is the point of the Lib Dems now? Well, the Remain cause is dead (and, in truth, has been for a while). But the nature of Britain’s future relationship with the EU is not. Nor are liberal values: free speech, the rule of law, holding governments to account, proper scrutiny, not demonising non-citizens or the precarious, all of them areas where the Tories, particularly if they become arrogant and hubristic, are vulnerable. The Lib Dems could stand for these, try and ensure that they have a voice, that other parties are kept honest on these issues. It’s a start, anyway.

Scotland and Ireland

The DUP has learnt the hard way the folly of overplaying its hand. We may look back to the year when Nationalist MPs won a majority of seats in NI as the year when reunification with Ireland became inevitable. Now we have the Scottish question: how will the UK’s PM govern a kingdom where Scotland has taken such a very different view from England on the issues of the day?

During the Falklands debate, Enoch Powell told Mrs Thatcher that, having been called ‘the Iron Lady‘, in her response to the Argentine invasion “the nation and the Right Hon. Lady herself will learn of what metal she is made“.  Boris has been called many things, not all of them flattering. There is much suspicion of his character, his principles and whether he is in politics for anything more than personal ambition. He now has the chance to show of what metal he is made, whether he can prove his critics wrong and rise to the occasion that this victory gives him. For the sake of the country, we must hope that he will.

CycleFree




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Swinson’s successor needs to be someone untainted by the coalition and that can only be Layla Moran

Friday, December 13th, 2019

Ladbrokes have her at 7/1

The first post General Election next leader betting market has now opened and that is on, of course, who should succeed Jo Swinson as the next Lib Dem leader.

The big problem that Jo faced during the campaign was that almost whenever she appeared on the big TV set pieces such as the Question Time special or Andrew Neil she was questioned about her time as a minister in the coalition. Inevitably she was always put on the defensive and although she generally handled this well it came over as a big negative.

That is why, I believe, that in choosing their next leader the Lib Dems will be looking to someone who is completely untainted by that period in government from 2010 to 2015. The one name that stands out and fits the bill is, of course, the Oxford West and Abingdon MP Layla Moran.

She went into the election yesterday defending a majority of just 816 votes. That’s jumped more than tenfold and stand just a handful of votes short of nine thousand

During the campaign itself she played a big role and demonstrated that she’s up to it and of course, entering the Commons at the 2017 general election means there was a clear gap between her becoming an MP and the coalition years.

Last summer when at one point she was favourite to succeed Vince Cable Layla withdrew from the race on the grounds that she was a relatively new MP. She was also concerned with defending her then very small majority. That doesn’t apply now the question is whether she will decide that this time she will go for it.

Mike Smithson




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GE2019 – the result with two seats to be declared

Friday, December 13th, 2019


BBC



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Corbyn’s quitting but not quite yet as Blair’s old seat goes to the Blues

Friday, December 13th, 2019

TSE

UPDATE