Archive for the 'Guest Contribution' Category


The robots are coming

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

A guest slot from CycleFree on globalisation

In her Mansion House speech, May said this about those who viewed the forces of globalization (“this agenda as the answer to all our ills””) in a different light to those who promoted it – “These people – often those on modest to low incomes living in rich countries like our own – see their jobs being outsourced and wages undercut.”  She went on: “When you refuse to accept that globalization in its current form has left too many people behind, you‘re not sowing the seeds for its growth but for its ruin.” 

Callaghan said much the same thing in 1979 when the last political/economic consensus started being torn up – “You know there are times, perhaps once every thirty years, when there is a sea-change in politics.  It then does not matter what you say or what you do.  There is a shift in what the public wants and what it approves of.”

 It has been implicit in the acres of comments on Brexit and Trump’s election that there is some divide between urban and rural, between the rich middle classes and the working classes, between professionals and others, between those educated to graduate and post-graduate level and others and that, depending on which side of the divide a person falls, this will to a large extent determine their views on whether Brexit and/or Trump are or are not a good thing.

More widely, globalization is seen as having benefited some groups and not others and that the former are learning that they are not – for the time being – the majority.  It is also assumed that if only those who benefit from globalization share their riches with those who don’t then all will be well again or, at least, better than now.

But is this latter point true?  Will the rich middle class professionals continue to benefit from globalization and other changes that are as likely as anything the politicians do to determine our futures?  Outsourcing, robotics and artificial intelligence are happening and are going to affect middle class professionals at least as much as the working classes have been hit by the transfer of industrial jobs to lower wage economies.

Take two sectors I know something about: law and banking.  Both will be profoundly affected by these developments.  We have seen the start of this in banking.  We are seeing the start in law.  Many of the jobs done by junior lawyers – the review and analysis of vast amounts of material to extract the relevant documents, the preparation of and changes to contracts and other standard documents, the changes needed as a result of legal/regulatory changes, for instance, are ripe for replacement by clever programmes which can do these jobs far more quickly, probably more accurately and certainly much cheaper than even the cheapest lawyer.

The pressure on lawyers (whether external or in-house) to make the necessary cost savings will force lawyers to adapt.  And not just them: all professionals will be asked what value do they add to what can be provided by non-human providers.  This is likely to be as seismic a change for these groups as the abandonment of industrial production has been for the rust belts of the West.

What are the likely social, economic and political consequences of these changes?  Well, for one, people will need to revisit the cosy middle class assumption that if you only get the right degree from the right university, the right internship, the right job, you will be able to earn well and, in some cases, very well indeed and, to a significant extent, be shielded from the forces which have affected others.

These changes bring opportunities, certainly.  But they will require a change in mindset in those who are doing this work already (and some of the proposed changes will make work easier or more interesting, removing much of the drudgery).  They will also likely mean that fewer lawyers or bankers or auditors or consultants or whatever are needed.  And for those starting out in such careers: how will they learn the skills and get the experience to gain the judgment needed to provide the added value?

The opportunities for the middle classes may be fewer and they are likely to face far more competition than previously.  They too may start feeling left behind, facing unfair competition, jobs outsourced or vanished, salaries undercut.  They too may start thinking of the forces of globalization and automation in a different light.

What the economic and political consequences of these changes are likely to be is uncertain.  What will they do to tax revenues?  And without the necessary tax revenues – think how much harder it is to tax companies based abroad providing automated services to companies and people here – how will May help those struggling and barely making do.

Can one tax robots?  An EU functionary recently made just this suggestion.  What will this do to our attitudes to the welfare state?  Will it make more people more protectionist or more willing to take the opportunities which change brings?  Will it make the country feel the need to be part of something bigger – even if this seems unlikely now?

May’s speech may have been good at diagnosing the cry of pain of those who were behind the Brexit vote.  But we may all (or rather more of us than we’d like to think) find ourselves uttering cries of pain in the future.  It is not at all clear that May has any sort of cure for the pain or any real idea how best to position Britain to take advantages of the opportunities that undoubtedly exist.

But working out a way of making the changes that are happening work for Britain is at least as important a task and, arguably, a more important task in the long run than negotiating Brexit.  The last time Britain’s economy and society went through significant structural changes was in the 1980’s shortly after Callaghan said the quote above.  We had three advantages then: oil revenues, a feeling that change needed to happen and a leader with a clear idea of where she wanted to go and the determination to stick at it.  

What advantages do we have now?  Over to you.



Cyclefree on the perils of hubris

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

Dave Quit

“It’s the economy, stupid” has been the default position for electoral campaigns for seemingly forever. It was fundamentally the basis on which Remain campaigned. It appears to be the reason why the Tories are confident that a Corbyn-led Labour party cannot win, not just because of Corbyn himself but because it will be easy to point at how Labour will ruin the economy. But is this truism always true? During our post-referendum summer languor, it may be worth looking at what the Remain campaign did or did not do to see if there are some lessons for future electoral campaigns.

My list of five things which went wrong with the Remain case.

1. Show. Don’t Tell.

That the EU and Britain’s membership of it was a good thing was taken as a given. But if you want to win an argument you can’t simply assert what you need to prove. In its understandable desire to set out the possible/likely negative consequences of departure, the Remain side never really appeared to argue confidently for a pro-EU case. It moved between saying that the EU wasn’t working and needed reform (the Bloomberg speech) to saying that all depended on the renegotiation (but not involving anyone outside a very small group into what such a renegotiation should seek to achieve) to overselling the result to ignoring it completely to arguing that the EU as is was better than the alternative but only by focusing on the ghastliness of the alternatives. This incoherence fatally undermined the Remain case. No wonder London was the only part of England and Wales to vote convincingly for Remain. It already knew the case. It was the rest of the country which needed convincing. But you can’t convince if you don’t really know or believe your own case.

2. Know your weaknesses. Address them.

It was obvious that immigration was going to be a concern for a significant group of voters. Remain should have thought long and hard long before the campaign started about how they were going to answer their critics and make a positive case for free movement (and there is one – beyond saying that it is necessary for membership of the single market). They didn’t. And when they did accept that free movement was necessary, it was presented as a bitter pill which had to be swallowed. Not an obviously winning argument. Describing free movement as “a price to be paid” without considering who paid the price, who got the benefits and whether both costs and benefits were fairly distributed is an odd position for politicians, particularly Labour politicians, to be in. If the fairness of a policy’s outcome is not Labour’s raison d’être then, what, really is Labour for? Remain were blind-sided by immigration. They should not have been.

3. Treat your voters as intelligent adults.

Basic stuff really in a democracy. But too often forgotten. People may be ignorant, stupid, perverse, chippy, bitter, deluded, selfish, self-interested, smug, silly or as wise as Solomon. But they can tell when they’re being patronised or ignored. Too many on the Remain side said that each vote – and, therefore, each voter – counted and then proceeded to treat too many of them as morons. The gap between the two was where the Leave vote came from.

4. Tone is everything.

How you say something matters as much as what you say. You can make people listen to and even accept a difficult decision or an unpleasant truth if you do so honestly and intelligently, if you treat your audience as adults. The tone of the Remain campaign seemed to show a tin ear for Britain. Hectoring voters rarely works.

5. The “pull” factor needs to be more attractive than the “push” one.

The result was a vote against the EU, against the elite which it seemed to represent, against the apparent consequences of globalisation, against an internationalism which, despite its good intentions, seemed to ignore the ordinary person (and much else besides). The fact that the alternative may be unclear – what does Brexit mean? – or incoherent or that it may/will make things worse for voters, including the most ardent Leavers, is not necessarily enough. Anger and resentment can be powerful drivers for action, more powerful even than fear.

Does any of this matter? After all, Remain lost. Yes, it does.

All of the above criticisms can be made in reverse and, in some cases, with even more force, of the Leave side. And since the government is now in favour of Brexit, it will need to think intelligently about and explain to us:
(1) what Britain’s future strategy for the EU and the rest of the world is to be – something which has not really been done in the last few decades;
(2) how we get from here to there;
(3) how the government is going to address the gap between the overall desire of the majority and the needs and desires of the Remain minority, who – though this should not need saying – are a key part of the country and its future;
(4) how to present all of this and the trade-offs which will be needed (not least between being open for business and people and having a sensible immigration policy) honestly and intelligently to the voters; and,
(5) finally and most importantly, that they will do so in a tone and style which shows a Britain outside the EU at its best, both to all of those in Britain, whether citizens or not, and to the world. This is something which has not – shamefully – always been done on the Leave side. Dishonest scapegoating of the other needs to stop. The manner of one’s departure – and how one behaves after it – matter just as much as the fact of it, something which has too often been forgotten by some.

More importantly, the Tories should not assume that the next election is in the bag, whatever the polls may now say.

If voters feel that the status quo in 2020 (whatever that status turns out to be) is still working against them or not for them, if voters see a Tory party which is not presenting a positive case for election, if voters see a party which is not addressing its concerns, if they do not see a party explaining honestly why the voters cannot have their cake and eat it, then the anger and resentment (whether at the terms of Brexit or at how the ordinary people are still ignored) may be enough to propel voters to vote against the Tories, no matter how competent they may be on the economy and no matter how useless Corbyn/Labour may be.

All the aspects of Corbyn which repel some may be irrelevant to voters if they hear someone talking about a country where the ordinary person is ignored or patronised by Westminster, ripped off by privatised railway companies putting up fares and providing no trains, or by banks still gouging customers, by those at the top claiming to be worth sums beyond the dreams of avarice, by property prices in the stratosphere, by long waits for operations etc.

Maybe the most important lesson of the referendum is this: if enough people are annoyed with the status quo, they will vote against it even if that means voting for something pretty rubbish. The “push” factor can overwhelm any consideration of the “pull” factor. Having done it once in the referendum, it would be wise to assume that voters might get a taste for it. Just because the official Opposition appears to be missing in action doesn’t mean that voters won’t make their own minds up. If Project Fear did not work in the referendum, why assume that it will work in an election campaign against Labour? Something for the Tories to ponder as they look at the polls.



What are Remain doing wrong, part. II.

Monday, June 6th, 2016

Guest slot by Mortimer

A few weeks ago I asserted here that focusing on the economy was a strategy that might not be working for Remain because a doubtful public no longer trust economic forecasts, and even amongst those who do, some – especially better off pensioners – might decide that a small economic correction was a price worth paying for greater sovereignty and reduced immigration.

The supplementary questions published alongside polls published last week showing Leave leading or at least matching Remain suggest there might be something in both of those arguments. So, for this week’s hostage to fortune, I’m going to suggest another reason why Remain are not walking this referendum: the fragmented political state of the UK, and especially the two major parties, has led to a level of beggar thy leaders and beggar the establishment sentiment not seen in the UK since the 1920s.

Much has been made of the fragmentation of the Labour GE vote since the giddy heights of electoral landslides in 1997 and 2001. Evidence from the Scottish elections suggest it has further to fall in Scotland, switching those more local and pro-independence parties (the SNP) and, on the other side, to the more fervently unionist Conservatives. From the Welsh assembly results I’m seeing a similar pattern; with Plaid replacing the SNP and UKIP replacing the Conservatives.

Add to this the increasing levels of detachment witnessed between the Islingtonite leadership and the historically Labour voting northern/midland working class who, I suggest, would be happier if the party was talking more like Gisella Stuart and Frank Field than Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn over Europe, and one might wonder what election-winning coalition the Labour party are looking to form in the short- and medium term.

Perhaps more pertinently for this referendum, it is little wonder that so few Labour voters know the party line is for Remain when the leader has spent most of his career positioning against the EU and now seems to be spending a good deal of his leadership shying away from the subject.

The Conservative party have never returned to the heights of electoral support lent to John Major in 1992. Yes, a shaky and often comprising coalition government in 2010-15 led to our first majority victory for 23 years last May, but mostly through remarkably accurate targeted campaigning in just a few dozen seats. The mainstream Conservative party membership recognise, I hope, that we are not a popular party and have not been since the early 90s.

The leadership, however, seems not to have realised – or perhaps does not want to realise – that the slim majority which has replaced a stronger governing party vote in the coalition actually leaves the Conservative party far more exposed to failure in the Commons and Lords, but also much more likely to lose popular support in the country.

Messrs Cameron and Osborne have also apparently failed to understand the impact of the last year on the Tory brand, and especially the Prime Minister’s personal reputation. Strategic mistakes, tactical missteps (the last budget, NHS strikes) and u-turns (academisation) have not helped. Ministerial displays of overwhelming strength are best demonstrated with overwhelming margins of parliamentary votes, not slender majorities and defeats. Would so many backbench MPs and party members be so vehemently against the current leadership if the Conservative party was stronger in the commons and the country? I’d say no. How would Conservative party leadership be looking presently if Mr Cameron had done a Harold Wilson in this campaign? I’d so almost certainly in a far stronger position.

With electoral weakness, divided parties and ‘interesting’ or ‘brave’ leadership decisions blighting both parties, is it any wonder that the public’s investment in both is ebbing away? When the people begin to feel underrepresented by even those they have recently voted for, it is little surprise that the people begin to question the judgement of our political leaders and look for ways to bring about change.

I previously tipped a 2016 election as a potentially good value proxy bet on Leave winning. In the short term, I’m now backing Remain to achieve less than 45% of the vote on June 23rd. Looking ahead, positioning my book to cope with this current political fragmentation – let alone the fallout of a Leave vote – is far, far more difficult.



Mortimer with a tip for the more adventurous gamblers

Monday, May 16th, 2016

2016 General Election Betting

A few days ago during the inevitable Political Betting dissection of the too-ings and fro-ings of another day in the EU referendum campaign the fact that this race really might be a close one began to sink in.

I am a moderate Leaver – the sort who accepts that there are weaknesses in some of the arguments put forward by the Leave campaign, but for various reasons sees that our future and Europe’s might be better apart. I can therefore also be realistic over problems that having several competing Leave camps has created – not least the apparent fall-out between Vote Leave and Nigel Farage this week over TV debates. And realistic too about the prospect of asking people to vote on what often amounts to a hunch, a gut instinct, a pride, a hope and a trust in the ingenuity of an independent British future.

Remain, meanwhile, are not arguing amongst themselves, they have the Prime Minister and HM Government on their side, with the vast supplies of resources and patronage that has brought in the run up to the campaign proper. The leaderships of many supranational bodies, respected captains of industry and well thought of celebrities are also for In. Even the President of the United States visited to suggest we should stay. They also have the benefit of trying to sell the status quo, which is generally seen in the UK as the easiest position to explain in a referendum. And yet the polling averages suggest that the two campaigns are almost tied. Stepping back from the daily bunfights, the name calling and the last media cycle, one has to wonder: why are Remain not walking this referendum?

The Remain campaign are leading with what they think is the strongest message, but one which might prove to be the wrong message for the referendum. Economics, the pounds in people’s pockets and in their pay packets, might trump almost everything else in general elections, when increasingly we’re choosing the people who will be deciding often difficult tax and spending plans. All the more so when the country is struggling to fund it’s commitments – winning 2015 was therefore about framing Conservative economic competence and ‘finishing the job’.

But, for two reasons it might not work this time; firstly, figures can be disputed, and Leave, for all their faults, have done a great job of casting doubt on the figures released in the past 3 weeks. Economics is no science, and the inclusion of longer-term forecasts is also dangerous when the public are a little bit too used to a Chancellor not meeting his deficit reduction targets. Economic forecasts two or three years ahead can rarely be relied upon for important decisions, and the public, probably quite rightly, seem to consider estimates for 2030 with a healthy degree of scepticism.

Secondly, leading so strongly with an economics-based argument almost looks like Remain are avoiding discussions of sovereignty and immigration. Again, to give credit where it is due, the Leave campaign have very successfully focused their campaign on these issues. And for many people, especially the C1, D and E demographic groups, the daily reality of immigration is more likely to be witnessed as a form of real or (sometimes media driven) perceived economic competition in the job market and real or perceived competition for access to public services.

Remain might struggle to win over voters if they are overplay economics not only because people don’t believe the economic arguments and figures, but also because some of us might consider from experience that the gains of improved sovereignty or a reduction in the immigration figures could be more personally significant.

Perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, the relative positioning and lead messages of the two campaigns also allows for an entirely divergent group of people to tend towards Leave: those willing to accept there might be an economic cost, and even buy into the figures and forecasts provided by the Treasury, Bank of England and IMF, but consider this to be a “price worth paying”. When Arron Banks suggests similar he is laughed at, but as easy as it might seem to dismiss this argument out of hand when it comes from a wealthy individual and prominent donor to UKIP, personal experience suggests that this concept might resonate with a group who will worry the Remain campaign far, far more: pensioners. Many of whom will remember a Britain before EU membership.

So if long-term economic forecasts are not trusted by a large proportion of the public, if some consider the economic implications of immigration and sovereignty more personally significant to their pocket, and if some groups, like pensioners, are even happy to accept that there might be a real economic cost but that it is worth leaving the EU anyway, how is the savvy punter to get the best odds?

The obvious position to take is an outright bet on Leave – which is still only a little over an implied 30% likelihood on Betfair. The 9/4 odds offered by Ladbrokes on Leave are matched by their odds for David Cameron ceasing to be Prime Minister in 2016; and as I hazard that a Leave vote would be followed by a resignation, this makes sense. The 16/1 odds from Ladbrokes on a UK general election in 2016, surely a possibility in the event of a Leave vote, might however be attractive to those of us willing to take a bit more of a risk.



Cyclefree’s analysis of the Remain campaign

Sunday, March 6th, 2016


Picture credit: Britain Stronger In Facebook page

While there has rightly been analysis of an often incoherent Leave campaign, perhaps some scrutiny is needed of some common Remain tropes – those focusing on why we should stay rather than why we should not Leave – and what they might mean for the referendum result and the UK’s longer term relationship with its European neighbours.

1. We will be in a reformed EU and can continue with further reform.

This is the Remain campaign’s equivalent of whistling to keep one’s spirits up, even when there’s no reason to. No-one believes you’re really happy but they admire your determination. The EU is not reformed in any sense the UK would understand and, to the extent that it has made some changes to accommodate the UK, it has no real desire to do any more, will do so only unwillingly and certainly sees no need to reform itself into something the UK might feel comfortable with. Any change in the EU will be towards further integration, a more centralized EU, a more political EU not the a la carte EU principally concerned with trade the UK might prefer.

2. We will have influence.

Setting aside the initial and unworthy thought that this is no more than politicians and FCO-wallahs wanting a stage to strut on, there are two types of influence being confused here: (a) how much actual power we can wield – through votes, reliable alliances or groupings; and (b) “soft power” influence which comes from being thought of as worth listening to, moral authority, someone whose views cannot be ignored. The UK has relatively little of the former, partly because of QMV and partly because it has failed over the years to build effective and long-lasting alliances (and may never have succeeded even if it had really tried). It also has relatively little of the latter. Much of its approach to both the political and legal issues arising within the EU is so at variance with how the majority of other countries approach matters that is hard to see how such influence could succeed or, indeed, where it has succeeded in the past. Ironically, the one basis on which it could claim “influence” – the level of its contributions – is not deployed. Remain are deluding themselves if they think the UK will have any meaningful influence while it remains determined to stay out of the EU’s primary purpose of political and economic union. This is in the EU’s DNA; it is not in the UK’s.

3. The “Javid” argument – or “I wouldn’t have joined but now we’re in we’d better stay”.

Why this should be so is never really explained. It is not so much an argument for staying but rather a justification for why it would be too much effort to leave. Likely to be effective since laziness is much more widespread than courage. But an essentially fearful and passive argument.

4. A new deal for Britain.

Not now heard much of since the announcement of the deal. While this may have been the best that could be obtained (arguable but let’s given Remain the benefit of the doubt on that) overselling a package which amounted to not very much has harmed the PM’s credibility with his party, may have done so with the public and has wasted such credit as the UK has within the EU for very little. Not so much Paris being worth a Mass as London being worth, well, what? The right to pay Bulgarian children a bit less benefit. Perfidious Albion indeed.

5. We would be turning our backs on Europe.

Possibly the most dishonest trope of all. Europe is not the EU. Conflating the two is to assume that a particular statist, centralist, bureaucratic and essentially French political model is what Europe is and should be about. France has given much to European civilization but stable, democratic, liberal and long-standing polities are not among French strengths. Many who love Europe and the idea of a free, liberal, democratic, peaceful Europe are aghast at how the EU has sought to appropriate that idea to itself, to leave no space for any other idea of Europe, any better idea of Europe. They are even more aghast at how doing so has woken some of the nastier dragons which are also part of European history. Turning our back on the EU is not the same as turning away from Europe, any more than not voting Tory is not the same as turning away from Britain.

There are many other tropes which other PB’ers will doubtless be quick to identify. Underlying all of the above is an assumption that a vote for Remain is a vote for the status quo, a mistaken assumption as far as the EU is concerned and even more so for the UK, given that it will become even more marginal as the EU integrates further.

Will this work? The likely answer is yes. Those who are infuriated by such arguments are likely to be Leavers in any case. Many others may discount these arguments and vote Remain out of concern about the alternatives.

What will this do for the longer-term relationship between Britain and the rest of the EU, if Remain wins? This merits a whole thread of its own. But, in essence the failure over the last 40 years of membership to set out clearly what the EU project is about and what this means for Britain has been at the heart of the disconnect between the establishment and voters about EU matters and the disconnect between Britain and the rest of the EU. Nothing in the way the Remain campaign is being run has addressed these issues and may indeed exacerbate them.


CycleFree is a long standing poster on PB


Pulpstar on the Republican Nomination

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

The GOP race for the White House is utterly fascinating, and represents a proper betting contest rather than the 1-10 shot Hilary Clinton is in the Democrat race.

I look on as an outsider, with no particular knowledge of US politics outside of resources available to anyone else – Wikipedia, 538 and real clear politics. How should we start to analyse such an interesting contest – well past performance is no guarantee to the future, but there are quite a lot of known unknowns that may be able to point us in the right direction:

We have the Iowa caucus on the 1st February and the New Hampshire primary on the 9th February, and South Carolina shortly after. Super Tuesday allocates a lot of delegates, but the betting will surely have shifted by the time that comes around and if we genuinely believe one of the candidates can win who has not taken any of the first three states then surely their price will reflect this, and we can back accordingly. (Rubio is most likely to be this man in the betting, my guess is he will be longer than his current 2-1 if he takes none of the first 3 states, though).

Anyway looking to the first 3 states :



*2004;1992;1984;1970 excluded due to incumbent president, all other challengers won 0 states.

** Wisconsin 1968 1st; Pennsylvania 3rd

** Wisconsin 1964/60 2nd; Illinois 3rd

[1] Ron Paul did a bit of an Iowa coup winning 22 delegates, leaving Santorum with 0 even though he won the popular vote ! (Romney was a close 2nd on votes, and got 6 delegates).

So, we can see that in every election since 1952 the winner of either the first or 2nd state has gone onto gain the nomination. In recent times this is Iowa/New Hampshire. In particular New Hampshire looks to be a slightly stronger steer than Iowa.

Looking to this race, Trump remains dominant in New Hampshire as Romney was most recently in 2012.

Here is the RCP New Hampshire chart:


The national polling is also not massively dissimilar to this, so there is no indication that NH this time round should prove to be an anomaly.

Bush’s performance is staggeringly bad for by far the biggest spending candidate of the race, if he drops out then I can think that Marco Rubio benefits the most, but Chris Christie may also and it won’t be the 100% transfer the betting markets appear to be assuming…

Anyway onto current prices:

Rubio 2.88/2.94;               Cruz 3.75/4.0;                    Trump 4.5/4.6;                  Bush 9.6/10.5;   Christie 15/16; the field 100-1 or longer

If I was starting from here, I’d back Trump (Should be favourite), Cruz (Could win Iowa and come in) & lay Rubio (Too short), Bush (Won’t win and heading backwards) leaving Christie and the field perhaps at a nice even zero. Be prepared to change your mind if the facts change. AND WATCH NEW HAMPSHIRE LIKE A HAWK !



Why Corbyn represents something more than just Corbynmania

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015


A guest post by Professor Glen O’Hara

It’d be easy to laugh at Jeremy Corbyn’s unsteady progress over the last few days. The shambolic late night appointment of the Shadow Cabinet; the outrage over his treatment of Labour women; the long walk of shame when he refused to answer any questions about it, and then tried to get a policeman to help him out; the forgotten bits of the TUC speech; the furore over the national anthem; the Whips’ Office debacle on the tax credits vote; the fact that Shadow Cabinet Minister’s won’t even agree with him in public. It’s quite a list.

But all this is just noise: if Corbyn does get a chance to gain a hearing, he could be around much longer than people think. If he rides out this initial crisis, the very reasons for his elevation to Labour’s top job may take a hold and keep him there for quite some time. It seems less likely that he’ll contest a General Election than it did when his landslide win was announced on Saturday. Can you imagine this farrago of blunders in a full-on short campaign? But betting on years, rather than months, still seems the most prudent course.

This isn’t just because of the pusillanimity of Labour’s MPs. They’ve already shown, at their meeting with Corbyn, that they’re not prepared to give him an easy ride. Having along with Ed Miliband, they’re determined not to go down with the ship again. Nor is it due to Labour’s arcane rule book. That’ll just get torn up if there is a real move against Labour’s ever-more-interim ‘leader’.

No. It’s because Corbyn speaks for, and to, a great big slice of Britain – who just happen to include the audience and selectorate that, for now, dominate Labour thinking and discussion. Consider the many reasons he’s made it there in the first place, obscured by the clown car mashup of his first few days. The first reason is disillusion with mainstream politics itself. Politicians have never been that popular: but, following a brief burst of faith and interest in the early Blair years, Parliament and Parliamentarians’ ratings have slid and slid.

The disaster of the second Iraq War of course makes up a great deal of that: the expenses scandal was in some respects a last straw. Taken with airbrushed front rank politicians’ inability to say anything at all that isn’t qualified and nuanced to the nth degree, in case it comes back and trips them up later, and you now have a public that loathes the way it’s spoken to.

Hence the appeal of Corbyn’s apparently home-spun rhetoric: he just doesn’t sound like a politician. Every time Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper or Liz Kendall opened their mouths, everyone, a little unfairly, just heard the same old platitudes. Corbyn might be able to make a virtue out of allowing his followers to disagree, and of musing out loud, just saying ‘well, it’s all very interesting’ every time there’s a controversy. It’s a long shot– this week’s low key and restrained Prime Minister’s Questions being the first example. And it might appeal to voters who are sick of being talked down to.

The second reason Corbyn appeals is just the sheer amount of rage and anger there is out there in the country. Hence, in their different ways, the rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party and the Scottish National Party; hence the rejection of Labour’s business-as-usual options. The young people who flock to Corbyn’s rallies, who will never be able to buy a house if they live in the South of England. The older people who have such low rates of interest on their savings. Low paid workers who just feel that they’re slipping backwards all the time. A good old-fashioned blast of state socialism might appeal to many of them. Nationalisation of the railways and energy companies is fairly popular, taken in and of itself.

The third reason for his election was the rise of the ‘new politics’ his adherents keep talking about. The Mirror, that traditional voice of Labour, endorsed Andy Burnham; The Guardian, Yvette Cooper. They got nowhere. Why? Partly because of the influence of new social media, in which tens of thousands of clicktivists keep circulating the same blogs and talking points until they convince themselves that they are exclusively right – part of the reason behind Corbynism’s messianic sense of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ politics. Such activists roam from party to party (many of them came from the Greens to vote in Labour’s £3 ‘supporter’ category), looking for an inspiring moral cause to get their teeth into – and to signal their virtue.

They found it in an obscure MP who had already served his constituency for over thirty years, but they might just as easily have latched onto another cause. It was partly happenstance. They think little of the traditional party structures and loyalties of yesteryear, as we saw when so many of them were confused about why they had been excluded from Labour’s vote – for supporting, or even paying for, Green or other candidates.

They think that they should be able to fight for what they believe in using any of the increasingly shell-like structures that post-war British politics has left behind. And, you have to wonder: why shouldn’t they? Their enthusiasm, drive and energy has been something to behold, as it was in Scotland’s ‘Yes’ camp during the independence referendum there: if Corbyn can use that energy to launch a really massive registration and canvassing drive, he might be on to something.

Now let’s not get carried away. We’re talking about hanging on as Leader of the Opposition here, and of making a mark. Every single piece of data we have says that the wider electorate, especially centrist voters in smaller English towns, will probably hate all this. But we have to take the reasons for Corbyn’s victory seriously and think about why this has happened.

Otherwise, it might happen to the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, or even the SNP – doing lasting damage to our democracy. And these are powerful forces that are reshaping British politics. They won’t go away just because their representative is seen to fail. Disengagement, disillusionment, fury and clicktivism are powerful forces. They mean that Corbyn might last much longer than looks likely right now.

Politicalbetting contributors are laughing (or crying) at the moment. Labour’s new leader appears set on slipping on every banana skin he can find. But the deeper forces Corbyn represents – and to some extent, will unleash – are not going to go away. That’s something you should consider carefully when you’re betting about Brexit, a second Scottish independence referendum, the post-David Cameron Conservative leadership, and the 2020 General Election. They might all throw up entirely unexpected results.

Glen O’Hara is Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Oxford Brookes University. He is the author of a series of books about modern Britain, including The Paradoxes of Progress: Governing Post-War Britain, 1951-1973 (2011). He is currently working on A History of Water in Modern Britain (forthcoming, 2016). He blogs, in a personal capacity, at Public Policy and the Past and can be followed on Twitter at @gsoh31.


Should Labour move swiftly to depose Corbyn?

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015


If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well 

It were done quickly.

Trading as short as 1/6, let us assume that Jeremy Corbyn wins. Let us also assume that the electoral cause of Labour will be better served by getting rid of him. Elections are won on the centre ground, and Stephen Bush has pretty conclusively shown that non-voters are not, collectively, an alternative viable route to victory. Even if Corbyn does manage to turn out a bunch of new voters, they’ll be disproportionately in safe Labour seats, just as Ed Miliband found to his cost in May.

Most Labour MPs know all of the above. Less than 10% of the PLP actively want him to win: 14 of his nominators are intending to vote for someone else.

So, he’s got to go at some point. The conventional wisdom is seemingly to give him enough rope to hang himself. But why wait? I would suggest that waiting carries more risk than striking as soon as possible.

Delay might let the left take control of the party more generally

Michael Crick has reported on alleged plans for deselections, though these are denied by the Corbyn campaign. However, with a boundary review coming, outright deselections may not even be necessary. The impact of the squeeze from 650 down to 600 will fall most heavily on Labour seats in Wales and the North. In many cases neighbouring MPs may have to go head-to-head with each other.

There are also selections for winnable seats (marginals and retirements) to think about. The Labour right has already been outmanoeuvred on 2010-15 selections as antifrank showed in his analysis of the Labour intake. A Corbyn-led party would make it all but impossible for moderates to win such selections.

Beyond parliamentary selections there’s the Shadow Cabinet (if not elected) and the NEC to worry about. The former in terms of media presentation and policy, and the latter – which is currently finely balanced – re amending the party rulebook.

Delay breeds inertia, and Corbyn might be superficially popular

Labour MPs may never be more angry about Corbyn’s leadership than on Saturday morning. Some will succumb to shadow posts, some will dedicate themselves to constituency work, and some will involve themselves in think tanks or single-issue campaigns.

Others will set Corbyn electoral tests – such as winning London, winning Wales, or depriving the SNP of a majority in Scotland. But if – and it is an if – he fails to meet them, excuses will be made: the wrong candidate; local factors; media bias.

In any case, there’s no guarantee that Corbyn will fail these tests. Governments routinely lose popularity mid-term and this current government is already ceding ground and losing votes in the Commons. Pretty much any bad economic news could be portrayed by the opposition as a failure of austerity. “People’s QE” could look appealing, no matter how economically illiterate it may be.


The most common reason given for not moving against Corbyn straight away is that it would “look awful and undemocratic”.  But one could equally make the same complaint about the leadership election itself. Letting all and sundry sign up for the not-so-princely sum of £3 is, as William Hague put it, grounds for failing an “NVQ Level 1 in How To Run a Party”.

The exact nature of JC’s victory will be important here: if he doesn’t carry the full members then he will be much more vulnerable. It might be helpful for the party if the leadership contest went the distance so that a final head-to-head comparison in the various parts of the college is available: my guess is that the “purge” is more about keeping him under 50% in the first round than any faint hope he might not win. And by adding in declared votes from MPs it will probably be possible to prove that he would have lost under the old system.

A coup could be a Clause IV moment, on steroids

It might look awful. But it could also look decisive. If the PLP can swiftly assert themselves and eject Corbyn they would be making a big, bold statement about the future Labour Party. Blair’s Clause IV reform was essentially cosmetic: this would be a facelift.

Labour’s brand has been horribly tarnished by this leadership election; they are already being seen as heading back to the worst excesses of the 1980s. Every month of Corbyn’s leadership risks damaging the brand further. But, much as the Tories were partly detoxified in Opposition by some of their more hardline supporters heading off to UKIP, Labour could be deloonified by an exodus of Corbynistas to the Greens or other left-wing parties.

Finally, rejecting Corbyn would probably finally break the trade union link. This would be both emotionally and financially difficult for the party. But the finances are already under threat from Tory reforms, and the party needs to move beyond the public sector as a base, both out of electoral necessity and to better reflect the modern world of work.

Can it be done?

So could a coup be organised? It would need both an imminent pretext and a single replacement leader. Labour can’t afford – in either sense – another contest. But any would-be Macbeth would do well to remember Heseltine’s maxim that “he who wields the knife never wears the crown”. However a Michael Howard-style leader could be ideal: someone who doesn’t aspire to be Prime Minister but would be willing to do the party a huge favour and allow them to regroup behind them, change the leadership rules back to something more coherent, and then stand aside for a new leader (possibly even after the Tories have chosen theirs).

There are very few greybeards left in the PLP thanks mostly to the extraordinary attrition of the Blair-Brown era. Alan Johnson has already refused too many times to be credible. Tom Watson has the organisational clout, and will be very close to the action assuming he is elected Deputy, but he probably has too much baggage. However Harriet Harman could be a decent option; she may have presided over a shambles of a leadership contest but that is hardly her fault.

As for a pretext, David Cameron and George Osborne will surely be lining up a succession of litmus tests in the Commons. Syria is probably the topic most likely to divide Corbyn from his party, and the nation more generally.

There is of course risk in toppling any leader, no matter how contentious their mandate. But if the last 7 years have taught Labour anything, it should surely be that there can be more risk in not doing so.

Tissue Price