Archive for the 'Corbyn' Category

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Age is not just a number: Corbyn’s greying pals

Saturday, September 1st, 2018

When does he bring the next generation through?

Stalin liked a good purge. Leaving aside his sadistic and psychopathic tendencies, and the fact that they kept population, politicians, military and everyone else in greater or lesser states of constant fear, they also raised him closer to the god-like status he presumably aspired to. Not just because he was ultimately directing events, nor the pseudo-religious worship but the fact that by the late 1930s, he alone remained of the revered revolutionary generation. Everyone else had died naturally, been executed or exiled.

Perhaps surprisingly, the revolution didn’t eat him, despite his own fears. It did, however, eat his methods. After his death, never again would any one man be allowed to become so powerful within the Soviet Union: collectivism was the new order of the day. In future, political infighting would be metaphorical, with those losing out forced into retirement (Khrushchev) or obscurity (Malenkov and Molotov, for example) – though even there, the political divisions after the immediate post-Stalin years were markedly less sharp.

There was a consequence to that mutual protection society though: the ruling generation – men who came of age filling the gaps created by the Great Purge and then the even greater war – all grew old together. By the 1980s, Moscow was a gerontocracy.

That dynamic isn’t unique to dictatorships, though it does tend to be more prevalent in them as the opportunities to challenge are fewer and the ability for a leader to keep his old trusted colleagues around him longer is greater. Even so, it can happen equally in democracies. It might well be happening in Labour, and for similar reasons.

Corbyn is unassailable as Labour leader for the foreseeable future, no matter what political or polling problems might attend him. Given his strong loyalty to people he sees as on his side, his willingness to overlook their faults and failings because of that solidarity, and Labour’s decision under Ed Miliband to do away with Shadow Cabinet elections, this means that the Shadow Cabinet is unlikely to change much at his instigation.

In particular, his two closest associates – John McDonnell and Diane Abbott – are likely to remain in place in two of the most senior jobs. In the case of McDonnell, that’s not too surprising. He is comfortably the most capable of the three and unlike Corbyn – who remains primarily a protest-politician, defined by what he’s against and happiest when speaking passionately in opposition to his grievance of the day – McDonnell is interested in and adept at using the mechanics of politics to deliver his preferred ends. Even so, by the 2022 general election, McDonnell will be 70 and were Labour to win, he’d become the oldest Chancellor since William Gladstone.

Abbott, by contrast, despite a stellar youth (few black girls went to Cambridge in the 1970s, or were accepted onto the civil service fast-track; she achieved both), has proven woefully ineffective as Shadow Home Secretary. Leaving aside her dismal performance in last year’s general election, her invisibility and lack of impact on both the Grenfell Tower fire and the Windrush deportations allowed the government a much easier ride than could have been the case. By 2022, she will be 68 and, were Labour to win, could easily become the oldest Home Secretary in the 240 years of the office’s history. Even so, Corbyn won’t sack her as it’s against his political style, and if she hasn’t stepped back after what’s already gone, neither will further criticism prompt a resignation: quite the opposite, probably.

Nor are these three alone. Barry Gardiner (61), Andy McDonald (60), Valerie Vaz (63), John Trickett (68), Christina Rees (64) and Tony Lloyd (68) are all into their sixties already, two of whom will be top-side of seventy by 2022.

By contrast, only three of the cabinet are currently eligible for their free bus pass, the oldest of whom is 62 (Philip Hammond), and there’s a very good chance that at least two of those three will be gone by the general election.

Some will argue that age is just a number. To some extent, it is – but not entirely. A brief scan of political leaders in this country or abroad who served beyond seventy, or even sixty-five, is generally to see a list of unpopularity, failures and division. Certainly there are exceptions but they’re notable precisely because they are exceptional. Being a senior politician is hard work and requires high levels of mental, physical and often emotional energy.

Being a government minister – with all the depth of detail demanded and with far less capacity to cheery pick pet topics – is harder still. In addition to constituency duties (which don’t go away although might be picked up more by aides), there’s a treadmill of meetings, receptions, duties in the House, and overnight boxes – and a media and an opposition more than ready and willing to publicly trip the minister up and claim a scalp.

This begs the question: will Corbyn allow his shadow cabinet to age, Soviet-style, or will he look to bring a new generation on? And if so, when? Although his leadership was marked by extreme instability in his front bench during the last parliament, it’s settled down since the election. That instability though was almost entirely down to resignations; he didn’t sack many. We have to assume that the combination of his enhanced mandate and his having a team more ideologically aligned to his own beliefs will limit future resignations. If he doesn’t feel inclined to wield the knife, and it seems unlikely, then yes, that generational change may have to wait until after the election, one way or another. Not for the first time in his life, it’s comfort-zone politics.

Perhaps for the election it won’t matter – the 2017 result was built around Corbyn and just about him alone. 2022 may well be similarly centralised, particularly if there are full-on leaders’ debates next time, as is likely. Maybe he can engage as before but it’s rare in the extreme for such an elderly opposition – not just the leader but so many of his team – to win back power. That’s not to say that Corbyn can’t once again overturn received wisdom but he’s not making it easy for himself.

David Herdson



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How the Labour Party would split – and why it won’t

Thursday, August 30th, 2018

A summer of conspiratorial meetings amongst serial rebels has fuelled talk of a split.

Picture the scene. Lord Mandleson hosts a BBQ where “up to” 20 Labour rebels look at their options for a breakaway party. Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson was amongst the group, uniting the remnant Blairite and Brownite camps against Corbyn.

Whether plotting to adopt the IHRA definition against the NEC, or plotting to deliberately lose to spite Corbyn (Stephen Kinnock not being very good at this), there is a clear sense of an internal battle for supremacy coming to a head. MPs vs Members. Let’s consider the options discussed at the Mandy BBQ:

1) Do Nothing. Jeremy Corbyn is an old man. His support claims to be “the membership” yet in practice the majority of members are silent. They do not participate in anything other than leadership elections, do not participate locally in any shape or form, and are already drifting away.

Jeremy Corbyn will retire, and a sizeable chunk of the membership will leave when he goes. When he does the party can change shape, organisation, message. Nothing that has been done – despite shrieking headlines of takeovers at local and NEC levels – cannot be undone.

2) A breakaway group of Labour MPs. Various options are open to them – an independent parliamentary group, the creation of SDP2, leaving to join the Greens, the LibDems, even a takeover of the Co-op was floated. None of these are particularly appealing to Labour rebels. SDP2 means starting from scratch in terms of organising and funding, the Greens and LibDems offer their own aims not the fulment of the rebel’s dreams.

3) A wholesale split in the party. Tom Watson has form plotting to remove unwanted leaders, and his physical shedding of weight has been accompanied by him clearly shedding any pretence at agreeing with Jeremy Corbyn or the Momentum cabal. A Watsonite Labour Party carrying the majority of MPs could try and claim legal title to the party machine, effectively de-merging the hard left into Momentum (“as you already have your own membership structure, branches, executive”)

4) A realignment in British politics. A similar piece could be written about both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, and Brexit has all the potential to create a big enough bang to fracture the fragile coalitions that make up our parties. Vince Cable went AWOL for a key Brexit vote supposedly attending a dinner party discussing the creation of a new centre party.

Emmanuel Macron broke away from the socialists, founded a new centre party and led it to power. A failed Brexit fracturing Labour and the Tories at the same time could make a new party born out of the wreckage look like the sane option. Especially if the alternatives are a Boris-led Tory Party fighting off a Farage UKIP resurgence or a Corbyn-led Labour Party busy denouncing the Momentum traitors.

The only rule in politics is that everything is possible – look at the 2017 General Election campaign. But from a betting perspective where does my money go? I am a Labour councillor, activist and member of nearly 25 years so I am personally caught up in this. I’m also a Co-op Party member.

My expectation is that “do nothing” is most likely. People like me sick to the back teeth of Corbyn and the dross that surround him will wait him out, as happened with Michael Foot. The split will be the hard left slouching off again post-Corbyn to join scab groups aimed at keeping the evil Labour Party out of power. Until that happens, I would be gobsmacked to see anything more than the odd MP aping James “Who” Purnell.

Unless of course Brexit really does fracture the political parties beyond repair. At which point literally anything is possible. Anna Turley and Anna Soubry as colleagues?

Rochdale Pioneers

Rochdale Pioneers is a member of the Labour Party and a long standing contributor to PB.



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Corbyn’s leader ratings have slumped sharply since the start of the year

Wednesday, August 29th, 2018

I’ve just discovered a Wikipedia page which seeks to record all the main leader ratings from the leading pollsters. The page describes itself as being confined to “approval ratings” which it doesn’t. Instead we see a range of four or five different formats.

Unfortunately the page isn’t quite as comprehensive as it suggests and I have had to add to the polls covered in my version of the spreadsheet above of 2018 ratings for Mr Corbyn.

The trend for the year is clear and there has been a marked negative movement for the current Labour leader since January. The latest numbers from YouGov have him at his lowest level since GE17.

Mike Smithson




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Just 19% of LAB voters believe Israel’s more to blame for the lack progress on Middle East peace than the Palestinians

Monday, August 27th, 2018

Sure the Deltapoll for Prospect finds that three times as many LAB voters than CON ones blame Israel but it is the huge “both equally” numbers that are a surprise. Here as the chart shows there’s really not that much difference between supporters of the two main parties and the whole sample.

This does suggest at the very minimum that this is far from the top of most people’s concerns.

Given the polling it is hard to disagree with Martin Boon of Deltapoll who is quoted in the latest edition of Prospect magazine as saying:

“The great irony about Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour Party being consumed by the Jewish question is not only that personal reputations are sinking as a result, but that infinite amounts of emotional and political energy is being drained on a subject that very few Britons know much about, and probably care even less. Exactly what Labour hope to get out constant introspection on Israel and Palestine is an absolute mystery”.

The damage for Labour is that for months the party has appeared to be totally split and we know that voters don’t like parties to be divided.

Of course what has put this on the agenda has been Corbyn’s history- things he said and did before he became leader. This has been driven by what’s available on the record and by the media. The result has been so much energy is being directed at the internal Labour battle and there is also the opportunity cost – the summer could have been better spent by the main opposition fighting the Tories.

The problem, of course, is that the leader himself is so much involved and this is all about him. In those circumstances the party machine has to back the boss. If there is indeed a split within Labour then antisemitism will have made a contribution.

Mike Smithson




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New polling analysis finds that enthusiasm for Brexit amongst working class voters is fading

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

Ammunition for those pressing for a change in LAB’s stance?

The data in this chart above has been extrapolated by the political scientist, Prof Matt Goodwin and shows a pretty clear picture about the view on Brexit amongst the C2DEs – working class voters.

It was this group, of course, that turned most strikingly against staying in the EU during the referendum campaign so any change here could have some political significance.

I congratulate Matt on picking up the trend which is something that I haven’t observed even though I follow the YouGov Brexit tracker very closely. This comes as Labour prepares for its conference next month when there is a big effort likely to take place to commit the party to backing a second referendum.

Maybe the easing off of support for Brexit is down to increasing worries about jobs and general economic security as we get nearer to the day. Those who’ve been able to afford overseas holidays this year will know that their pounds are worth a fair bit less than a few months ago and are down by quite some magnitude on what it was prior to the June 2016 referendum.

Whatever as we get closer to the day polling like this is going to be given much greater scrutiny.

Mike Smithson




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A Labour split would have one chance to succeed – but succeed it could

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

FPTP is not an insuperable barrier in the right conditions

Anyone remember the Pro Euro Conservatives? The Party was formed by two former Tory MEPs opposed to the direction that William Hague was taking the party on Europe. After a good deal more media interest than was due for a tiny splinter party – mainly, presumably, because it allowed a new angle on the never-ending internal Tory conflict on Europe – they polled 1.3% at the 1999 European elections, lost their deposit at the Kensington & Chelsea by-election later that year and was disbanded two years later having failed to break the mould of British politics.

The reason for this trip down a justifiably neglected memory lane is to illustrate the usual fate of splinter parties: they form, they fail, they die or merge. There are several overlapping reasons for this but we can narrow it down to money and organisation, retail offer, and voting inertia. As a rule, the new party will lack a sufficiently distinctive policy stance to attract many voters, will not have the professionalism or campaign machine to take on the established parties, and struggle to overcome the ‘wasted vote’ argument under FPTP, which then proves a self-fulfilling prophesy – and even if they can overcome all those obstacles, the electoral system still provides such a high barrier as to be almost insurmountable, as the SDP found.

Such is received wisdom, except it’s not entirely true. There are examples of parties which have made that breakthrough, either as splinters or as rivals in the same part of the political spectrum, and displaced an incumbent as one of the two main government-forming parties (and under FPTP, there will generally only be two such parties). To take a few examples:

– Most obviously, Labour replaced the Liberals in the early part of the 20th century. This was only marginally down to the expanding franchise. In normal circumstances, the Liberals would have moved left to occupy the new ground and under Lloyd George, they’d have been ideally placed in 1918 to do so. After all, the Tories weren’t harmed by the influx of new working-class voters. Instead, the split in the Liberal ranks let Labour in.
– In Scotland, the SNP barged in to create a new settlement which is still working itself out but where they are without question the major party. True, Holyrood and PR played a part in their rise but it came about all the same.
– In Canada, the Progressive Conservatives never recovered from their disastrous election of 1993 and was supplanted on the right by Reform, before the two later merged.
– In the US, the newly-formed Republicans displaced the catastrophically-split Whigs in the 1850s within five years.

These are, of course, exceptions, and all come with special circumstances though the common theme is the exceptional weakness of the party (or parties) they replaced. Indeed, the oft-cited example of the SDP is not quite so firm as is often made out and their failure was a consequence of contingencies outside their control as much as the oppressive structure they operated in. During the winter of 1981-2, they were regularly polling in the forties; polls backed up by by-election gains. Although those ratings were already slightly on the decline by the time the Falklands War broke out, had Galtieri opted not to invade, the Conservative recovery would have been much slower; had Britain lost the war, the magnitude of that shock could have made anything possible. Alternatively, had Benn defeated Healey for Labour’s deputy leadership, that could have been the trigger to prompt a new wave of defections, which might have proven the tipping point on the left (Peter Mandelson identified Healey’s win as the point at which he and others decided it was worth sticking). Whatever, the meagre Alliance total of 22 MPs in 1983 could have been many more; potentially enough to.

These sort of calculations must now be going through Labour MPs’ minds. Stephen Bush has written for the New Statesman that he believes that a split within is now inevitable. That probably puts it too strongly: the pull of party, friends and history is formidable, and events can intervene to ensure that ‘now’ is always not the right time. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that some – not many perhaps but some – MPs feel strongly alienated by the current leadership and how the party has transformed in the last three years. That they haven’t already left Labour, despite some very vocal criticism, could possibly be indicative of future combined action rather than as of an intention to stay, hunker down and fight (though Bush identifies the ongoing Brexit debate as critical).

If there is to be a split, then realistically, the new party or alliance will only get one shot at breaking through. As history demonstrates, most challenger parties fail and those that succeed tend to break through quickly. Further, the unions will almost certainly stay loyal to Corbyn’s Labour for 2022, which leaves an unresolved tension. Ideally, the social democrats would like the unions back on their side – not least because it would symbolize them as the legitimate inheritor of Labour’s traditions. To get them would have to involve defeating Corbyn at the election and turning Labour into the sort of wreck that the Liberals were after 1918.

Some may say that those thinking of splitting are so determined that for them, it’s primarily about principle and policy, and electoral success is secondary. I very much doubt that. Politicians are rarely inclined to make heavy sacrifices (in reputation as much as in money and office – Labour abhors unsolidarity, however defined by the person abhorring it), unless there is at least some prospect of return on that sacrifice. To give it all up for a gesture is surely asking too much.

Which is why if a split does come, it will need to be sudden and sizable; big enough to regain third place in parliament from the SNP, I’d have thought. Bush puts their number at about a dozen. That, frankly, is nothing like enough. There is the possibility of a drip-drip strategy but I’m sceptical: a damp squib of a launch is more likely to put off those wavering than encourage them.

To all this though we also need to add deselections and the boundary review. So far, Labour’s left has made no organized effort to secure parliamentary nominations or to deselect errant MPs. If that looks like changing, the incentive to jump before being pushed (so that the act looks like one of principle rather than sour grapes), increases dramatically – and that is something which could produce dozens rather than a handful of splitters.

Will it happen? My guess would be not without a lot more provocation. As things stand, MPs opposed to Corbyn have already endured a great deal but each new defeat has tended to be incremental rather than seismic, and that’s not an adequate trigger on which to jump from a movement in which they’ve invested a great deal of time and emotion. You might think that opposition to Brexit and support for a second referendum would provide the opportunity but apparently not: were it so, they’d have already gone – the time to apply pressure to the government is now.

One last point. It’s the Tories who might be at risk as much as Labour from an SDP2. The Con share is almost certainly propped up by a fear of what a Corbyn government might do. If the opposition is from a rather less threatening left-of-centre figure, or if the split on the left makes a Corbyn government much less likely, that could well cause a meltdown in Con support as well as Lab’s as the ties keeping May’s coalition together unravel.

David Herdson



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Be thankful you are not a LAB party press officer having to make excuses for the leader day after day

Friday, August 24th, 2018

Danny Finkelstein hits the nail on the head in the Times article linked to in the Tweet above when he says that never before has Corbyn been accused of saying something so directly and unequivocally antisemitic.

Having once been a PR man for Seamus Milne’s Dad, ex-BBC D-G Alastair Milne, I very much sympathise with those who daily have to deflect criticism of the party leader. It’s hard when you seem to be making the same excuse each time. This time just about the only defence they could come to was that the remarks were taken out of context.

Ex-SDPer, longstanding Times writer and now Tory peer, Finkelstein, writes:

“The best that could be said of Mr Corbyn’s comments is that they were addressed to a specific group of people, not all Zionists and certainly not all Jews. And these people had behaved in an annoying fashion, or at least one that annoyed him. That’s all context can do for him.

Yet what this means is that Mr Corbyn told Jewish individuals with whom he disagreed that they weren’t properly English. The fact that they were specific individuals robs him of any chance to suggest that the remarks were ambiguous. The only thing that could help him is if the individuals came forward and it turned out that they weren’t Jewish after all and that Mr Corbyn knew that. This is vanishingly unlikely…”

It is hard to see what closes this down for Labour. Corbyn’s leader ratings have slumped dramatically since March and that has meant far fewer poll leads for the red team.

Mike Smithson




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YouGov finds that the number of LAB voters thinking Brexit is wrong reaches new high

Thursday, August 23rd, 2018

This could add to the pressure on Corby as we move to conference season

The big issue within LAB that’s going to cause problems for the leadership at next month’s conference is the pressure for another referendum. It’s been quite amazing that Corbyn has been able to sustain a position for long that is so different on leaving Europe than the bulk of who support the party.

So, no doubt, the factions that are demanding a firm conference vote on whether there should be a second referendum will be heartened by these latest figures from YouGov which show that backing for the view of the Brexit was wrong is at a record level amongst supporters.

Will it matter? What the big fear amongst of leadership, we are told, is that there could be a split and the whole Labour movement still has a collective fear of that following what happened in the 1980s when the SDP was formed. They don’t need to be reminded that from that schism winner was for many years Maggie’s Conservatives. The trigger for a split could be Brexit.

Mike Smithson