Archive for the 'Labour' Category

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The search for the answer to Labour’s woes

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

What happens when the focus is on “knocking on doors”

John Prescott’s view that Jeremy Corbyn and his top team are “not up to the f***ing job” which earned him a “potty mouth Prescott” headline  in the Mail on Sunday won’t have come as surprise to the Labour leader.

I understand that the former deputy Prime Minister has said as much to Corbyn’s face. “You’re not a leader and you never will be while you’ve got a hole in your backside” is the former deputy Prime Minister’s (slightly bowdlerised) comment to the leader. This is despite the fact Lord Prescott backed the Corbyn’s re-election last year because he didn’t think he’d been given enough time to prove himself and his journalist son, David, is Corbyn’s speech writer.

Prescott undoubtedly speaks for the vast majority of Labour MPs and peers. What’s interesting, though, is how few are speaking out. More than one MP has said to me “I’m biting my tongue”. The word has gone round that silence is a powerful weapon in undermining the under-performing leader. One of the lessons of the second leadership contest was that criticism by MPs was counter-productive, feeding Momentum efforts to depict Corbyn as a martyr.

It means that Corbynistas have been operating in a vacuum in seeking to excuse the leader for the Copeland disaster. One of the more plausible efforts has come from Kate Osamor, the shadow International Development Secretary in a Huffington Post Interview in which she highlights the “neglect” of many safe Labour seats by long-serving MPs.

Rather than blaming Corbyn, she says, MPs should follow his example and get out on to the doorstep of how to win. “All MPs have to be knocking on doors, at least once a week, for an hour … Jeremy is out in his own constituency. He still knocks on doors”

Incidentally, Theresa May is also a great canvasser according to David Runciman in his LRB review of Rosa Prince’s biography of the Prime Minister. “Canvassing – whether in local or national elections – remains her preferred way of doing politics. Given the chance, she will still knock on doors, even now she is prime minister.”

But there is a flaw in Osamor’s “get knocking” prescription as a remedy for Labour’s woes, says London Assembly member Tom Copley.

    Most MPs are out on the doorstep regularly, which is in part how they know Jeremy is so unpopular with voters.

The point is underlined by Professor Glen O’Hara of Oxford Brookes University. He calculates that on the day Corbyn relaunched his leadership early in the New Year the Tory poll lead “was 11.8% (six-poll average). It now stands at 16.5%.”

The label “bed blocker” has been pinned on the Labour leader by David Cowling, former head of research at the BBC. The subtle point is that people become bed blockers in the NHS through no fault of their own. They are in a place they don’t want to be — but they need help to get out of their predicament. The question is who will help Jeremy escape from a job he never wanted and which is causing misery for him and his Labour “family”? John Prescott has done his bit.

Don Brind



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If Corbyn continues he’ll be remembered as the selfish bed-blocker who put himself ahead of LAB’s survival

Sunday, March 12th, 2017


Front cover of latest edition of Prospect

The polls/leader ratings, by-elections and the locals all pointing in one direction

My heading and the front cover of the latest Prospect might appear harsh but how else can you describe Labour’s predicament? It has a leader who is electorally toxic who is kept in place by a party membership that remains broadly supportive. Certainly if there was another leadership election and Corbyn stood it is hard to see how he could be beaten as this week’s LAB members’ polling has shown.

Prospect Magazine is right to highlight Labour’s plight in the way it does. Parties can totally collapse as we saw what happened to Scottish Labour at GE2015 – down from holding 41 Scottish seats to just one. Maybe we could be edging for something similar south of the border.

Meanwhile polls are becoming even more awful for the party, Corbyn’s personal ratings remain poor and a fortnight ago it suffered the almost unprecedented loss of a Westminster by-election to the governing party. On top of that each week its local election performance gets worse with the Tories now picking up seats in Labour heartlands.

    All this means is that the UK does not have a credible opposition at a most critical time resulting in Mrs May’s government being almost totally unfettered.

The first step for LAB is for its bed-blocking leader to stand aside. If he doesn’t he risks going down in history as the man who destroyed the movement.

Mike Smithson




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Labour’s Achilles heel in Manchester Gorton is its faction-ridden local party

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

The by-election selection battle could be bloody

A few days ago there was an excellent piece in the Manchester Evening News about Gorton constituency Labour party and the ongoing fights within it between the warring factions.

It has been so bad that it has effectively been under special measures for well over a decade and the choice of who’ll take over what appears to be a totally safe seat will bring this out into the open.

Last year a mammoth falling-out between different factions and personalities reached its zenith at a Levenshulme branch meeting. As with all things to do with Gorton CLP it can be difficult to get to the actual facts – but suffice to say the police were called in amid claims of vote-rigging, abuse and intimidation.

A letter from regional office to the CLP at the time said allegations ‘related to the conduct of Labour party members both during and outside of Labour party meetings’, as well as to ‘the conduct of members of the CLP executive committee in administering internal ballots’.

It had received complaints from members fearing for their safety, it added.”

One of the key drivers of the splits has been who should replace Sir Gerald Kaufman who died last week at the age of 86. Seats like this don’t come up that often and the assumption must be that whoever gets it will effectively have a job for life provided they can surmount the hurdle of the by-election itself.

That on the face of it should be a dead certainty but there’s a lot of worry within the LAB camp echoed by local MP and the woman said to be Corbyn’s favoured successor, Rebecca Long-Bailey. She said
MPs couldn’t “ever call a seat a safe seat nowadays” when asked about the upcoming Manchester Gorton by-election.

While LAB has been struggling even to agree the process of how the selection will operate the LDs, who after the Iraq war held 19 of the 21 council seats in the constituency, have chosen their candidate and got their first leaflets out. Their candidate is someone who for 21 years was a councillor in the area and unlike UKIP’s man in Stoke has a PhD. Hers was in nuclear physics.

Whatever Labour’s difficulties which will get a lot of attention it is very hard to conclude that the red team could lose. This is the party’s seventh safest seat and the LDs were a long way back at GE2015.

I’m on them at 14/1 on Betfair and certainly am not tempted by the 11/2 that some bookies now have them at.

I should add that I have a special interest in this constituency because it is the place where I was born and I know it well.

Mike Smithson




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Support for Corbyn is weakening among Labour members. Don’t assume a Corbynite replaces him.

Monday, March 6th, 2017

Corbyn is safe for now argues Keiran Pedley but with his popularity among Labour members falling and Brexit on the horizon he is unlikely to lead Labour into a General Election.

Those of you watching Peston yesterday will know that YouGov has a new poll of Labour members out courtesy of Ian Warren of Election Data. 1,096 Labour members were interviewed last week (27 Feb – 3 Mar) and here are some of the key numbers.

The first notable data finding was the one shared by Allegra Stratton on Peston yesterday, which showed Corbyn’s approval rating among Labour members taking a significant hit. The majority of members (54%) still approve of Corbyn’s leadership but this is down 18 points from February last year and more than one in three now disapprove (23% strongly).

Unsurprisingly, there is a sharp divide in opinion between pre Corbyn members (62% disapprove) and those joining since Corbyn became leader (68% approve). However, it is notable that Corbyn draws strong support from Labour women (61% approve), younger members (56% of 18-39s approve) and perhaps controversially, Labour Leave voters (71% approve). However, I note with interest that opinion in London in split (44% approve and 45% disapprove) and his strongest regional support comes from the Midlands / Wales (61%) which is likely netted together due to low sample size.

So some interesting data showing Corbyn’s support taking a hit and also where it comes from but what does it mean for Corbyn’s future as leader?

One finding that understandably got people a bit excited yesterday was the one above that asked whether or not Jeremy Corbyn should fight the next General Election as Labour leader. For the first time, less than half of Labour members say that he should (44%).  Another question (below) asked Labour members whether they would vote Corbyn again in a hypothetical leadership contest and it showed as many members saying they definitely wouldn’t as definitely would.

These figures will lead some to speculate that Corbyn’s days are numbered but I am not that excited by them. Whilst it is significant that Corbyn’s support has taken a hit there has been no great shift in the number that think he should stand down now (up just one point). What we seem to be seeing is a wavering in support rather than a consolidation against him. I suggest that this nuance is actually quite important.

Any move against Corbyn now would probably harden support again in favour of him. I would expect, for example, that a significant number of the 11% above that say they ‘probably wouldn’t vote for him but might’ would actually do so if he were challenged again. That would take Corbyn’s support to 63% which is pretty much in line with what he got versus Owen Smith last year.

This idea is only reinforced when we look at some hypothetical polling on different candidates. As part of the poll, YouGov asked respondents who they would consider voting for and who they would likely end up voting for with or without Corbyn on the ballot. A long list was put forward but I have chosen to focus on the frontrunners for simplicity. Before we delve too deeply into the numbers, I should acknowledge that this sort of poll question is difficult to interpret. It doesn’t reflect the reality of what a Labour leadership contest would look like but it does give us some sense of the viability of different candidates among Labour members.

So what to make of these results? The first thing to say is that if Corbyn is on the ballot he probably wins again right now for the reasons I mention above. Interestingly though, there does seem to be a pattern emerging of his ‘core’ support among Labour members being around 35-40%. 36% would definitely vote for him and 38% choose him in the above poll. However, the second thing to say is that if he isn’t on the ballot then things are wide open. Corbyn supporters don’t just go to McDonnell or someone else. We see this clearly if we look at the results with Corbyn not on the ballot but cut by levels of support for Corbyn. This helps us understand what a post Corbyn world might look like.

Two things strike me from these numbers. The first is that if we add up the ‘Corbyn candidates’ and ‘non Corbyn candidates’ (crude and subjective I know) the membership is pretty evenly split although the ‘swings’ lean towards ‘Corbyn candidates’. Perhaps the Labour membership is more committed to Jeremy Corbyn the man than ‘Corbynism’ itself? The second is how Clive Lewis, often touted as a successor, doesn’t really have a base in the membership. The ‘swing’ vote likes him a bit but committed supporters and opponents of Corbyn not so much. Factor in his lack of an obvious parliamentary base and you question how viable he really is. Emily Thornberry seems better placed to inherit the Corbyn mantle assuming McDonnell doesn’t stand whilst Chuka Umunna, Yvette Cooper and Keir Starmer all look like viable candidates from the party’s right. Cooper probably wouldn’t run again but her support in the PLP means you cannot discount her.

Don’t assume a Corbynite takes over. Brexit could be ‘Corbyn’s Iraq’

Looking at these numbers overall, Corbyn’s popularity among Labour members has clearly taken a hit but it is also clear that challenging him now would only reinforce his leadership. Whether that will still be true a year from now is less clear. As Brexit gathers pace we might expect his popularity to diminish further. Elsewhere in the poll, we find that 66% think Brexit is the most important issue facing the country, 53% think he has handled it badly so far and 68% of members would back a second referendum on EU membership. If Corbyn’s popularity falls further by next year and a genuine pro-European alternative candidate emerges then he could well be in trouble.

Of course the key questions are ‘who is that alternative’ and ‘in what circumstances does Corbyn go?’ Those are the million dollar questions and we cannot ‘know’ the answers. Nevertheless, my hunch is he won’t lead Labour into 2020 (members increasingly don’t expect him to) and Brexit will open the door for alternative leaders to emerge. Personally, I am still watching Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy but don’t be surprised if at some point in the future we see Chuka Umunna face Emily Thornberry in a leadership contest and Umunna wins. In reality though, Labour’s future will belong to whoever has the guts to seize it. With this weekend’s poll, we can begin to see how that future might not involve Jeremy Corbyn as leader or Corbynism at all.

Keiran Pedley

Keiran Pedley tweets about polling and public opinion at @keiranpedley and presents the PB/Polling Matters podcast. Listen to the latest episode on Copeland, Stoke and what makes a good Prime Minister below.




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POLL ALERT: Labour has a ‘Corbyn problem’ and it’s not going away

Monday, February 27th, 2017

Two-thirds of voters think he’s the wrong person to lead Labour into a General Election

A new Polling Matters / Opinium survey, taken before the Copeland and Stoke by-elections, shows that voters think Corbyn is the wrong person to lead Labour into a General Election, with those considering voting Labour more likely to do so if he is replaced. Keiran Pedley explains.

In the latest of a series of surveys for the Polling Matters podcast, Opinium asked three questions of a nationally representative sample of 2,019 UK adults. The survey asked if people would consider voting Labour, if Jeremy Corbyn was the right person to lead Labour into a General Election and what impact replacing him might have on their likelihood to vote Labour.

The results make clear that voters have made their minds up about Jeremy Corbyn and it isn’t good news for Labour if he plans on leading them into the next General Election.

Our first question asked whether people would consider voting Labour and the results were filtered by likely voters. Political parties will often ask questions like this in their private polling as they seek to understand how they can appeal to voters beyond those currently committed to supporting them. This question serves two purposes in our analysis. Firstly, it gives us an indication of what Labour’s ‘floor’ might be and secondly it enables us to cut our subsequent questions not just by Labour voters but by degrees of support too. (Incidentally, I appreciate the idea that Labour’s ‘floor’ is 25% will be subject to debate but it feels credible. However, that’s for another day).

Our second question asked whether a range of party leaders were the right people to lead their respective parties into a General Election. Before we get into the analysis a few housekeeping things here. The above numbers are a slight variation on a tweet I posted a few days ago related to the same question. That tweet related to the total sample of 2,019 whereas the above focuses on voters only. There is little significant difference in the numbers but I am focusing on voters only here for consistency in this post.

Returning to the numbers themselves they are clearly dreadful for Labour. Two-thirds of likely voters say that Jeremy Corbyn is the wrong person to lead Labour into a General Election. The numbers for Theresa May are almost the opposite with 61% saying that she is the right person (including some 91% of Conservative voters). Perhaps most worrying for Labour on Corbyn’s numbers is that only 9% of voters indicate that they ‘don’t know’. This suggests, unlike for Paul Nuttall and Tim Farron, that voters have made their mind up about Corbyn and they are not impressed.

So these numbers are pretty dire overall but it’s when we cut them further that things get interesting. Here is the same question broken out by Labour voters overall, those definitely voting Labour and those considering doing so regardless of their current voting intention.

These numbers neatly summarise Labour’s problem. Those committed to voting Labour are broadly supportive of Corbyn (though hardly universally so) whereas those that would otherwise consider voting Labour think he is the wrong man for the job. These numbers suggest that Corbyn is a drag on the Labour ticket and that Labour will struggle to grow its voter base from where it is with Corbyn at the helm. Meanwhile, those that would consider voting Labour think that Theresa May is the right person to lead the Conservatives into a General Election by 58% to 35%.

Our final question asks voters to consider the potential impact of Corbyn being replaced on their likelihood to vote Labour. This is never an exact science and should very much be treated as a hypothetical. We shouldn’t start trying to extrapolate what sort of poll boost Labour might get by replacing Corbyn. Several variables would be at play there, not least who actually replaces him.

Nevertheless, there are two important lessons we can learn here. One is that 55% of voters say that Corbyn being replaced would make no difference to whether or not they would vote Labour. To an extent this shows how much trouble Labour is in and backs up Corbyn supporters that say Labour’s problems are bigger than one man. However, the key lesson here is the second one.  Those that would consider voting Labour say that Corbyn being placed would make them more likely to vote Labour by approximately a 3:1 margin. 43% say it would make them more likely and just 37% say no difference. This suggests that there is a body of centre-left opinion in the UK that would look again at Labour under new leadership. It is possibly this finding, more than any other in this post, that Labour supporters should consider most carefully of all when thinking about the party’s future.

Conclusion: Corbyn isn’t Labour’s only problem, but he is a problem

In post Brexit Britain Labour’s problems are bigger than simply who leads the party. It needs to hold together an increasingly fractured electoral coalition whilst dramatically increasing its current levels of support, all versus a popular incumbent Prime Minister. However, following the loss of Copeland last Thursday, it is clear that the party is going in the wrong direction. It is losing support rather than gaining it. Labour is going backwards.

The above numbers clearly show that Jeremy Corbyn is part of the problem. Two-thirds of voters think he is the wrong man to lead Labour into a General Election. Whilst support for Corbyn among committed Labour voters is reasonable (if hardly spectacular) it is clear that he is a liability among those that need to be won over. ‘Labour considerers’ think he is the wrong person for the job and indicate that they would be more likely to vote Labour if he was replaced by quite a margin. The solution is obvious. Labour needs new leadership. Whether it will get it (and when) is anybody’s guess.

Keiran Pedley

Keiran is the presenter of the PB/Polling Matters podcast and tweets about polling and politics at @keiranpedley.


ICYMI Listen to the latest PB/Polling Matters podcast below where Keiran interviews Margaret Thatcher’s authorised biographer Charles Moore about her legacy, whether she would have voted for Brexit and how Theresa May compares.



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The dark cloud on Labour’s horizon: total wipeout

Saturday, February 25th, 2017

Just where is Labour’s floor for 2020?

One of the best political tips of the 2015 general election was to back Labour for 0-5 seats in Scotland. When William Hill first put the market up – after the independence referendum – they marked that outcome at no less than 125/1. (I apologise for not being able to namecheck the PBer who tipped the bet; I forget who it was.)

That price was a testament to the inertia of thinking as much as the inertia of politics but those who snapped up the long odds were handsomely rewarded. Those who didn’t presumably believed that such voting revolutions could not occur so quickly, ignoring that in fact it already had done. After the Scotland experience and the Copeland result, the question has to be ‘could it happen in England and Wales too?’.

The simple answer is ‘yes, it could’, though of course that doesn’t mean it will. Indeed, the crucial supplementary is ‘and if so, what are the chances?’.

Even so, the rate at which Labour is testing the capability of political commentators to find historic precedents for polling or electoral phenomena is a good indicator of the state of the party. Who would have thought that the Worcester by-election of 1878 would achieve such a renewed prominence?

One factor that makes Copeland (and Stoke) particularly significant is that they validate the opinion polls. These have been returning figures out of line with local by-elections, where the Tories have been doing a good deal worse and the Lib Dems a good deal better. We can now say with a little more confidence that for Westminster, the polling seems the more reliable.

And that polling has been dire for Labour. Close to two years after the last election, the Conservatives have a lead in at least the mid-teens, possibly the high-teens. Only the Blair 1997-2001 parliament is remotely comparable (and of course, that ended in a second landslide). Worse, since April last year – when they averaged about 32% – Labour has lost a steady half-point a month.

Projection is not prediction and we can’t assume that trend will continue but if there’s one thing that the local by-elections do prove it’s that the Lib Dems are no longer toxic. With Farron’s party still only on about 10%, there’s plenty more potential for Labour defectors. As it is, Labour is within touching distance of a post-WWII low in opposition and, though there are no polls from before the war, it’s probable that the 1983 low was the party’s worst in opposition since at least 1915*.

But there has to be a natural floor, doesn’t there? All else being equal, yes, there does. Labour has several firewalls: in London, in parts of Greater Manchester / Merseyside and in former mining or other heavy industrial areas of Yorkshire, the North East and Wales.

However, two spectral presences should stalk Labour minds. The first is 1981-3. The prospect of a formal split has receded in recent months as Corbyn’s leadership falters, his activist supporters have proven paper tigers in anything other than leadership elections and worries of mass deselections have diminished as moderates wait for the chance to go on the attack. Even so, if the left could rejuvenate, perhaps under a new leader, the risk of a formal split would once again become real. Similarly, if the Lib Dems started polling at or near Labour levels, some MPs might wonder whether the bigger risk would be to stay or to jump.

And the second, returning to the beginning, is Scotland 2015. As yet, there’s no party which could do an SNP: make wholesale inroads into the Labour vote and win 20%+ swings across the country. But maybe there doesn’t need to be. Even though UKIP fluffed their chance in Stoke on Thursday, their average national share has edged up over the last three months. The Lib Dems too are on the up. The risk is that rather than being swamped in a one-party tsunami, Labour’s coalition might just dissolve slowly but continually at the edges in all directions. There is no reason to assume that the 2020s could not be unlike what the 1920s would have been had Lloyd George and Asquith not behaved like a pair of squabbling children: a large conservative party, a large liberal one and a smaller, marginalised left-wing socialist party.

You would expect the natural checks in the system to prevent such an outcome. There are good incentives for MPs and activists to use the tools at their disposal to deliver the changes necessary to prevent disaster. However, those tools were ineffective when tried last year. Perhaps it will be second time lucky. Or perhaps Corbyn will get his act together and finally strike a chord with the public, or perhaps he’ll stand down voluntarily. If so, the country will gain an opposition again. Or perhaps not.

Inertia is a powerful anti-force in politics (as in life). Labour has huge built-in advantages that should enable it to survive the odd crisis. That said, Rome once had even bigger built-in advantages and look what civil war and self-indulgence did there. Nothing is forever.

David Herdson

p.s. I ought to apologise for anyone misled by my piece on Monday, where I tipped Labour to hold on in Copeland after my visit there last weekend. As was noted in the comments, I didn’t have chance to visit the inland parts of the constituency, which in retrospect were more staunchly Tory than I’d anticipated. Also, the final Labour leaflets on the NHS were so hard-hitting that they may have proven counterproductive; voters have a sense of fair play.

* Despite their cataclysmic result in 1931, when the National government won a majority of almost 500 and Labour was reduced to just 52 MPs, they actually polled reasonably well, winning over 30% of the vote. As they gained by-elections fairly steadily through the 1930s, it’s unlikely they dipped below that level afterwards. Much the same can be said for the 1920s: Labour polled 30%+ from 1922 on, and made gains in opposition, indicating that they would have polled higher in the interim had polls been taken. As Labour supplied ministers during the coalitions from 1915-22, we probably have to go back to at least 1915 for when Labour last polled below 23% in opposition. The one possible exception would be after the formation to the national government in 1931, when MacDonald ratted on his party. In that confused period and with Labour divided and in disarray, it’s not unreasonable to think that some very low scores might have been recorded. Unfortunately, no contested by-election occurred between the formation of the National government and the 1931 election, so we’ll never know.



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Brexit: We wuz robbed but is Tony the one to stop it.

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Don Brind on the Blair intervention

Like many 48 per centers I believe last year’s referendum victory for Leave was built on a mountain of mendacity, epitomised by that bus promising £350 million for the NHS.

So it was good to hear Tony Blair declare, in his speech to Open Britain last week, that Brexit “will not mean more money for the NHS but less; actually it probably means a wholesale rebalancing of our healthcare towards one based on private as much as public provision.”

I don’t trust Theresa May, now the zealous convert to Leave after being a virtually silent a Remain campaigner. So, again, I enjoyed Blair’s withering assault on her. “The Government are not masters of this situation. They’re not driving this bus. They’re being driven.”

So why did the speech leave me feeling uneasy? And why did Jenny Chapman, MP for Darlington and a member of the Shadow Brexit team tweet: “I defend Tony Blair as a great Labour leader who improved lives of my constituents. I do this a lot. His speech today won’t help.”

Blair says he accepts the result of the referendum and that “there is no widespread appetite to re-think.” He asserts that people voted without knowledge of the terms of Brexit. “As these terms become clear, it is their right to change their will. Our mission is to persuade them to do so.”

But the big question is how do we get from here to there? Who is best placed to get them to think again? Is Tony Blair somebody Leave voters will listen to?

They certainly won’t be listening to Ed Vulliamy in the Observer that” Corbyn and his MPs want to appease xenophobia in Labour heartlands, at whatever price of principle, to keep their seats warm at Westminster.

Such patronising tosh is not only unfair to Labour MPs, it part of the Brexit problem. “In politics, firstly, you have to earn the right to be heard” says Labour backbencher Wes Streeting in a wide-ranging New Statesman article that deserves to be as widely read as the Blair speech.

Streeting, a frequent Corbyn critic and a “Blairite” to leadership loyalists, represents Ilford North on the London Essex border which voted narrowly to Remain. He, nonetheless followed Jeremy Corbyn’s lead in voting to trigger Article 50. He explained his reasoning in a joint article with Chuka Umunna

Defying the referendum result, they say, would “deepen Labour and the country’s divisions and undermine our ability to build a coalition uniting the cities with the towns and country, the young with the old, immigrant with settled communities, the north with the south.
“We have to build this coalition in order to win an election to form a Labour government.”

The fact is that if Tony Blair’s dream of beating Brexit is to be realised it will Labour MPs who will do the hard graft of persuading Leave voters to think again.

Don Brind



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How Labour fights back; or dies

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

 

Labour probably has one last chance to return to relevancy, writes Joff Wild. Who members choose as the party’s next leader will make or break it.

The death of social democracy in Europe, it turns out, has been greatly exaggerated. A look at opinion polls in three of the continent’s four G8 economies shows that the centre-left is competitive and could be governing by the end of the year.

That the Democrat party in Italy, the SPD in Germany and Emmanuel Macron in France have a genuine shot at power is especially notable because they are not the only option – all three face credible challenges from other parties and candidates further to the left. The same applies to PSOE in Spain, where opinion polls show that it and Podemos combined get the support of around 40% of the electorate (Podemos, currently and marginally the more popular, is now engaged in the kind of blood-letting the far left does better than anyone else, so it will be interesting to see how its polling does over the coming months).

In fact, the one big western European country where the left seems to be performing catastrophically badly is England. Here, the Labour party – unlike elsewhere in Europe, the only game in town – is polling at historically low levels and is stuck with a leader whose levels of unpopularity are unprecedented. The question now being asked by those who want a viable centre left alternative to the Tories is can that situation be reversed; or are we watching the slow death of Labour as a potential party of government?

It’s the leader, stupid

The lesson to be learned from France, Germany and Italy is that a lot of a party’s success depends on its leader. Of course, we know that applies in England – and the UK, more generally – too, but it is a truth that Labour has chosen to ignore since 2010. Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn, even more so, could have been perfectly designed to put off the kind of floating voters in marginal English constituencies whose support a party needs in order to win elections.

If Labour is ever to come back, the next time members are given the chance to vote for a leader – and that looks likely to be next year, if not this – there are some character traits that they should be looking for.

First and foremost, Labour needs a leader who is not uncomfortable with the kind of harmless patriotism that most English people of all political persuasions are happy to indulge in – wincing in the presence of the Union Jack or the Cross of St George is a disastrous look.

Second, let’s have someone who is not from and based in London – Labour should have a Midlands or a Northern accent.

Third, and crucially, a new leader must be able to call on the most talented MPs in the party to fill the shadow front bench. The current Conservative cabinet is not exactly replete with superstars and a Labour team that includes the likes of Chuka Umunna, Yvette Cooper, Chris Leslie, Caroline Flint, Dan Jarvis, Keir Starmer, Lisa Nandy, Liz Kendall, Jon Ashworth, Stella Creasey, Stephen Kinnock, Angela Eagle and even Ed Miliband would give it a run for its money. As important, of course, is that the voter-repellent likes of John McDonnell, Richard Burgon, Diane Abbott and Corbyn himself would be hidden from view, just as they used to be.

The adage that it is governments which lose elections, rather than oppositions which win them, is an old one; but it has been around for so long because it is largely true. Looking ahead to the next three years, Theresa May and the Tories face a series of very difficult challenges. Up to now, she and they have had a clear run because they have faced no serious scrutiny. A new Labour leader, backed by a credible shadow cabinet, would change that – and probably very quickly.

With a Brexit deal to be done, the prospect of broken referendum promises to come, an unreliable and unpredictable US president installed in the White House, rising prices and further spending cuts on the way, there would be plenty for Labour to get its teeth into. It would be realistic to expect that a competently-led opposition would, at a minimum, be able to deny the Tories an overall majority in 2020. From where Labour is now that would be a significant advance and something on which to build.

Longer term, like all the major parties, Labour faces serious, complex issues around developing a post-Brexit world view which reflects the realities of a globalised economy that will be increasingly automated. Identity, immigration, tax, spending, housing, the NHS and social care, constitutional reform, and our relationship with the rest of the world will all have to come under the spotlight. Difficult questions will have to be asked, the public will have to be listened to, not lectured.

I believe that collectivism, redistribution and solidarity at home and abroad remain principles around which coherent, relevant policy can be built. We are all stronger when we work together to achieve common aims; when the weakest and most vulnerable are fully protected; when there is equality of opportunity for all; when the state stands as the guarantor of best-in-class services and basic living standards. But Labour has to accept that the solutions of the 20th century are not going to work in the 21st. The party will never be relevant while ensconced in its comfort zone.

With the right leader, I am confident that all the huge challenges Labour faces can be met. Whether members choose such a person when given the chance, though, is another question entirely. If they do, a positive future awaits. If they don’t, then the party is probably over.

Joff Wild

Joff Wild posts on Political Betting as SouthamObserver. You can follow him on Twitter at @SpaJW