Archive for the 'Labour' Category

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In defence of John McDonnell. Don Brind denounces the “interview as humiliation”

Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

“If only we Germans had a word for it”.

The BBC’s comedy news programme The Now Show came up with an imagined quote from Chancellor Angela Merkel reflecting on how her failure to form a new German coalition government was being relished by her detractors.

Two alleged car crash interviews by the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell also inspired Schadenfreude and it was probably not confined to Tories. Over the years McDonnell has rubbed up against plenty of his PLP colleagues who would no doubt have felt that joy at the humiliation of another.

The Shadow Chancellor’s first encounter with Andrew Neil on the BBC Budget programme had them salivating . The second, with Mishal Hussein on the Today programme produced a splash for the Standard (remind me, who is the editor?). It claimed McDonnell was “ridiculed today when he repeatedly failed to put a figure on Labour’s borrowing plans”

McDonnell is one of Team Corbyn’s best communicators but he was below par on his early morning outing. He nonetheless made a perfectly sound case for investment in infrastructure “Every infrastructure project you put out there immediately starts employing people, they start paying their taxes and as a result of that you cover your costs.

But he threw in a complaint about “the type of journalism where you go into an interview and someone asks you a question of a particular figure, is to be honest, a trite form of journalism.”

It came across as a whinge but whenever I hear an interviewer ask repeat a simple question and then complain the politician hasn’t answered it I hear echoes of the Jeremy Paxman’s signature Newsnight interview in which he directed the same question to the then Home secretary Michael Howard twelve times.

That 1997 interrogation was widely admired and emulated but it became increasingly clear that Paxman’s journalism stemmed from deep cynicism and contempt for politics and politicians. This was confirmed five years later when he authored The Political Animal. It was reviewed in the New Statesman by John Lloyd . I made his powerful critique required reading for my students when I turned my hand to teaching politics and journalism.

Paxman, argued Lloyd, sees politicians as “demented, empty, lickspittle bunch; indeed, many may be psychologically flawed.” and Parliament as a “pantomime”.

According to Paxman, MPs see the fact politics has moved away from the Commons to the studios as a “Bad Thing, since it deprives them of the opportunity to hold the government to account in the cockpit of democracy. They have yet to explain why this process can be done only in a converted chapel under rules of conduct, some of which date back to the 16th century.”

Lloyd concluded gloomily “Paxman – as an approach rather than an individual – has won. His style of journalism – the interview as humiliation, or personality clash – is now the preferred type

“Broadcast news and current affairs, for all its many splendours, is now an anti-democratic conspiracy. No one, it seems, can do anything about it.”

That’s undoubtedly an overstatement – I certainly don’t believe that McDonnell’s interrogators, Andrew Neil and Mishal Hussein, share Paxman’s cynicism and contempt. But when you hear a question repeated over and over it’s worth asking whether that question is aimed at enhancing understanding of a complex issue or whether it’s about making the journalist look good and showing the politician is a fool.

Don Brind



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Letter to Laura. Does Momentum want to help Jeremy control the party or run the country?

Monday, November 20th, 2017

“When are we going to convert you?” I was frankly rather flattered to be asked that question by Laura Parker, then political secretary to Jeremy Corbyn and now national director of Momentum.

Her question was whether, in effect, I had abandoned my Corbo-scepticism following the General Election in which her boss had led Labour to a better than expected result. I pointed her to my PB verdict on that result. I said I was wrong – and right — about Jeremy: that he had been both a vote winner and a vote loser.

That judgement probably still stands. There is a Marmite quality to Corbyn that, despite the government’s multiple mishaps, helps explain why Labour and the Tories are level pegging in the polls as are Corbyn and Theresa May in the personal ratings.

That’s not to deny that Labour have been making a strong showing since the election, winning arguments, especially on the economy and public services, and votes in the Commons, all spearheaded by Corbyn’s confident performances at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Nonetheless, the successes haven’t been reflected in the polls. The party does need to do better, even if Tony Blair’s suggestion that it ought to be 15-20% ahead is, to my mind, rather fatuous. Matt Singh offers a more granular analysis of why the chaotic goings on in the Tory Cabinet are not moving the polls.

My focus here is on what role Momentum, under its new leadership, will play in boosting Labour’s fortunes.

The divisions in the Tory party highlighted by the infamous Telegraph “Mutineers” splash  are both an opportunity and an awful warning for Labour. My question to comrade Parker – of whom I’m a big fan — obviously focuses on the awful warning bit.

Momentum boasts more than 30,000 members and as many as 200,000 supporters among a total Labour membership of 550,000. – more than all the other parties put together.

Wise heads at Westminster see Momentum as a hard core of ideologues plus a much larger army of idealists but who can be driven together by ham-fisted opposition by irreconcilable Corbyn opponents. They note that loyalists figure strongly among front benchers there are more than two dozen Tribune group members among them. This is a good basis for keeping Labour MPs working together.

The big worry is about Momentum’s capacity to foment debilitating divisions in local parties. The political editor of the Manchester Evening News Jennifer Williams provides an interesting case study. The city council’s business friendly economic policies – “which have regularly seen Manchester feted nationally as a northern urban success story” is being challenged by Momentum. She reports that Momentum has had very limited success in council selections but quotes one  local MP talking of  “a decade-long fight for the soul of the Labour party.”

Council selections are in full spate for next year’s May elections in other big cities, including the 32 London Boroughs, as well as more than 200 shire districts. My own experience in Wandsworth makes me fairly sanguine. In elections for party officers in Tooting the Momentum slate was comfortably defeated but , more significantly, party members from all sides were out campaigning the next day in a council by-election. Local eyes are set on a big prize – seizing control next of Wandsworth council which has been in Tory hands for 40 years.

Victory in a General Election is an even bigger prize and the Guardian’s Zoe Williams hits the nail on the head. She says Labour is looking more purposeful and coherent, “But what would really distinguish it, ahead of an election that cannot be far off, would be to foster an atmosphere of generosity and trust.”

I agree. I hope Laura does too.

Don Brind



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LAB’s most successful election winner the latest to question why Corbyn’s party isn’t further ahead

Saturday, November 11th, 2017

The record suggests that when LAB’s ahead the Tories are being understated

Tony Blair is the person of course, that people like Team Corbyn never like even to acknowledge even though he’s the one living LAB leader who has been an election winner. In fact he’s the only leader never to have lost a general election.

One of the points I like to highlight with red team supporters is that the last time a non-Blair led LAB won a sustainable working majority was Harold Wilson in 1966 – that’s more than half a century ago.

Before the last election there was a strong narrative from leading commentators that the polls just about ALWAYS overstate LAB thus even the substantial leads that many of the pollsters were showing for Team Theresa were an understatement.

That was rather dashed when the exit poll came out and supported the earlier Nate Silver analysis that the Tory understatement generally happened when they were behind in the polls.

Thus even Tony Blair went into the 1997 and 2001 elections with poll leads far in excess of what was achieved. That didn’t matter because he still won by big vote margins and was helped by the hugely efficient way the election system worked for the party.

Things have changed. Over the past two general election the Tories have been the prime beneficiaries of electoral bias thus reinforcing the main point of Blair’s latest observations. LAB leads needs now substantially higher then 2 or 3 points.

Remember in the run up to GE2015 EdM had many double digit leads but ended up with Cameron gaining a surprise majority.

Mike Smithson




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Labour joy and Tory gloom

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

Don Brind reflects on the conference season

A few weeks ago I was helping a front bencher prepare for a TV appearance and we guessed that one of the questions might be “Do you agree with Laura Pidcock?” She is the newbie MP who declared she wouldn’t hang out with Tory women because she regards them as “enemy”.

The more emollient reply we came up with was: “There are some Tories I like. I just don’t want them running the country.”

For me a perfect example of this approach is former MP and whip, Michael Brown who I lunched with recently. He is great company but the Tory government he was part of – John Major’s – made a bit of a hash of ruling Britain.

With the help of some great talent spotting by veteran lobby correspondent Colin Brown, the ex-MP reinvented himself as the Independent’s parliamentary sketch writer. He still dines in Tory circles – with among others David Davis and Patrick McLoughlin– but he sounds like a journalist.

“I told the party chairman, the longer Theresa May hangs on in Downing Street the bigger Jeremy Corbyn’s majority will be.”

“Jeremy Corbyn will save the Tory party. Young people need to find out that Labour governments always make a mess of things.”

This familiar Tory belief that they are better than Labour at running the economy doesn’t square with the facts — as the public finance expert Professor Richard Murphy of City University, has shown.

Labour government’s are more prudent than Tory governments — Tories have been the biggest borrowers since the war  and that picture holds good if you run the numbers from 1979.

The Big Lie in British politics is the one peddled by George Osborne, with support from Nick Clegg, that the Labour government – rather than American banks — caused the crash of 2007/8. Equally mendacious is the Tory claim to have created a “strong and stable” economy. The claim rests solely only on the jobs numbers, which were subjected to a searching analysis  by Alastair Meeks of this parish a couple of weeks ago.

A genuinely strong economy would be producing rising livings standards and be capable of properly funding vital public services including health and education. That is manifestly not true after seven years under a Tory Chancellor.

The economy is shaky because there are fundamental weaknesses which the Conservatives have neglected including the productivity gap of around 30% with key competitors, a failure to invest enough in infrastructure and skills where the jobs of the future come from, a persistent deficit of around £100 billion a year in trade with the rest of the world and dangerously high household debt.

The question of how a Labour government will deal with the dismal inheritance from the Tories lurked behind the rapture of fans of Jeremy Corbyn in Brighton. They understandably took the chance to celebrate after standing by their man against sceptics like me.

The mood was extraordinary. I’ve seen nothing quite like it before and I’ve been conference-going since 1972.

Despite the buzz my judgement is that Corbyn’s “government in waiting” is not ready yet. I am, however, more sanguine than some other Corbyn sceptics inside and outside the party. I offer three bits of evidence for believing the party is moving in the right direction.
Firstly, I believe that Labour is developing an industrial strategy that will deal with both the opportunities and threats created by the digital revolution. An interesting meeting organised by Labour Business and Fujitsu was addressed by two of the smartest people on Corbyn’s front bench, Chi Onwurah and Liam Byrne. They are people to watch.

Digital is already pervasive across most industries and services and the impact on the future employment market will be huge. I was, therefore, encouraged that Corbyn and his Shadow Health Education Secretary cast their “cradle to the grave” national education service as a part of economic policy – vital to reskilling workers as new jobs are developed.

My third reason for optimism was a line in John McDonnell’s speech.

“And, yes, in 1997, after 18 years of Thatcherism, when whole industries and communities across our country had been destroyed by the Tories and our public services were on their knees, it was the Blair/Brown Government that recognised and delivered the scale of public investment that a 21st century society needed.

“We should never forget that we are part of that great Labour tradition and we should be so proud of it.”

Wow. Praise for New Labour from a Corbynista.

What I take from this is that McDonnell is rightly desperate to become Chancellor and to realise that ambition he’s willing to take lessons from wherever they come.

Don Brind



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Looking at conference rhetoric – the politics of fear and the politics of hope

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

A guest slot by CycleFree

It has become a truism that political campaigns based on fear are doomed to fail. Positive visions, hope and excitement are what we want, apparently. And there is some evidence to support this: Corbyn’s genuinely inspiring campaigning for what he has said and believed these last four (five?) decades, the increasingly desperate Remain campaign and, of course, May’s abysmal GE campaign, which wholly failed to explain why Corbyn’s choices and what they say about his character, judgment and, therefore, how he would govern would affect voters and in ways which resonated with them.

But is this entirely true? Labour’s campaigns have always stoked fears that the NHS will be destroyed if the Tories are in power. Leave’s campaign last year was based in very large part on fear of foreigners, specifically fear of Turks and young male migrants/refugees from unsavoury parts of the world. Corbyn would likely never have won as many middle class/middle aged voters as he did were it not for the latter’s fear that the Tories would take their homes and savings in old age if they fell ill, a fear skilfully exploited by Labour with the “dementia tax label. In both the latter cases, the campaign which won (the referendum or argument) was the one which best exploited people’s fears as well as presenting an appealing vision of a better way (No University Fees! Keep Your Home! Freedom from the EU!) however unachievable, superficial or lacking in detail that vision may have been or, in the case of Brexit, is now being shown as being.

And so to this week’s Labour conference. Forget the now inevitable argument about whether Labour is tackling anti-Semitism within its ranks (it isn’t and it won’t). Forget the ignorant insults aimed at a 96 year old man and his grandson (take a bow Emma Dent-Coad, MP for Kensington. That’s just what your Grenfell Towers constituents elected you for). Forget Shami making a fool of herself yet again suggesting laws one doesn’t like can be ignored. After all she is only following an earlier Baroness and Attorney-General who thought laws were only for others. Forget even Corbyn’s speech: undoubtedly well received in the hall and elsewhere.

No. The most significant thing said this week was McDonnell’s statement that the next Labour government would not be a traditional” Labour one. We would be well advised to take this statement seriously. Traditionally, Labour governments have all sought to reassure as well as be radical: reassure voters that the economy would be safe, if more fairly run, that taxes would only be on the rich, that public services would be nurtured and valued, reassure business that Labour would invest, reassure the markets that Labour would be a sensible custodian of the nation’s finances.

McDonnell’s and Corbyn’s primary aim is not to reassure, other than as a tactic. It is to change very radically Britain’s economic and political settlement. And the “run on the pound” and “war gaming” remarks are not an error. They are an indication that they intend seeing their measures through and taking whatever steps may be necessary to do so. The fact that these may be unprecedented or harmful or have unintended consequences or hurt those who have voted for them may count for little or nothing. So what might these measures be if, say, money starts flowing out of Britain the day after McDonnell gets made Chancellor? Capital controls? Temporary bank closures? Limits on how much people are allowed to take out? A tax on all savings held in banks in the UK above a certain limit? Conversion of savings into bonds or shares? Seizure of savings above a certain limit?

Alarmist? Improbable? Why? All these things happened to ordinary people in Cyprus a mere 5 years ago. Sure they happened as part of a bank bailout and were blessed by the EU and there were special circumstances: the fact that so much Russian and other “dirty” money was in Cyprus made it easier for some to justify. Still, if it happened there, it could happen here and justifications would be easy for Labour to construct. No-one loves the rich or the markets or bankers, especially if they are seen as obstructing an elected government. For the past 30 years or so, the assumption everywhere has been that you can’t or shouldn’t even try to buck the markets. But bucking the markets is exactly what Corbyn and McDonnell want to do. The Tories would do well not to underestimate both the breadth of Corbyn and McDonnell’s vision nor their determination.

If those opposed to this want to make the case for why it will be harmful, they need to start some war gaming of their own. They need to explain how such measures will affect ordinary voters now, not by reference to the 1970’s: not “the markets won’t wear it” or “remember Callaghan and the IMF” but “you won’t be able to pay for that foreign holiday or buy stuff from Amazon in Luxembourg” or 20% of the money Mum had put by for her care has been taken or “the money saved/to be given to us as a deposit for a home will be in shares you won’t be able to sell for years” or “Dad has to pay a wealth tax on his house out of his pension and can’t”. They need to start demolishing, forensically, item by item, those Labour proposals which won’t work – and only those – and they need to start making the case now.

Fear of losing what you have is a powerful motivator, as the reaction to the dementia tax showed. Fear of being made worse off is equally powerful, as the reaction to university fees and interest rates on the loans also showed. It is a key part of any effective campaign. It is not the only one, of course. It won’t necessarily win on its own. So we will have to wait and see for the Tory Conference whether the Tories are capable of attacking Labour intelligently or only each other and, more critically, whether they have any positive story to tell the country.

CycleFree



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It is a mistake to assume that LAB leave voters feel as strongly about Brexit as CON ones

Monday, August 28th, 2017

If it comes to the crunch LAB leavers see jobs as more important

With Labour apparently shifting its position on Brexit a notch or two there’s been a lot of interest about what Labour voters think particularly those who supported Leave at the referendum.

There is not that much polling about where we can see specifically how LAB Leavers view an issue compared with CON ones and those of other parties. One of surveys that had this split and is publicly available is from YouGov last month and is featured in the chart. Those who had voted for Leave were asked if they or one of their family losing their was a price worth paying for leaving the EU.

As can be seen by 47% to 31% CON leave voters told the pollster that this was a price worth paying. LAB voters, meanwhile, split 52% to 23% that it was not a price worth paying. This was the precise question wording:-

“Regardless of whether you think such an occurrence is likely, would you consider Brexit causing you or members of your family to lose their job to be a price worth paying for bringing Britain out of the European Union?”

The CON voter figure is quite striking. That getting on for half feel so strongly about leaving the EU that they are prepared to countenance they or members of their family losing their jobs says a lot about their strength of feeling.

All this is important because in the weeks ahead TMay’s government is going to face the huge challenge of getting the “Great” Repeal Act through the Commons and the Lords and will require very skilled party management. Labour appears to be preparing the ground for a tough parliamentary battle.

Mike Smithson




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Well red, Alastair Meeks on Labour’s new MPs

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

One in five of Labour’s current MPs did not serve in the last Parliament.  With more than 50 new MPs, the new crop is going to make a big difference to Labour’s political balance.  So what does it look like?

As with the new Conservatives, many of the new Labour MPs have been assiduous in tidying up their online presence.  It’s only human to wonder what indiscretions lurk among the deleted tweets.  I expect we’ll find out in due course.  I expect that some of the new MPs on both sides of the house will find that it isn’t the crime but the cover-up that really causes damage.  Part of the damage that’s caused is that these MPs don’t stand out from the crowd.  If they’ve expressed forthright views in the past, it would be good to hear them.  Who knows, those views might find a ready audience.

There are five returning MPs: John Grogan, Chris Ruane, Tony Lloyd, David Drew and Chris Williamson.  Four out of these five are on the left of the party (John Grogan is the exception), and two are strong supporters of the Corbynite wing of the party.  Four out of these five have immediately been given jobs by Jeremy Corbyn (John Grogan is again the exception).

The new Labour MPs include plenty who come from the traditional routes of Labour power: Parliamentary and union apparatchiki, charity executives, public sector officialdom and a sprinkling of lawyers, teachers and health workers.  But this time there are several new MPs who have significant experience of running small businesses.  This is a departure for Labour and one that might provide an infusion of fresh thinking.  What’s missing?  As with the Conservatives, I can see no significant experience of science, nor any of engineering.  It seems like Britain is going to have to wing it when it comes to really technical stuff.

Nearly half the new intake are women, and it also includes the first turbanned Sikh MP, the first MP of fully Cypriot origin, at least two disabled MPs and at least four gay MPs.  For all the discussion about anti-Semitism in the Labour party, one of the new MPs is in the Jewish Labour movement.  At least two are very committed Christians.

There are two obvious tests for incoming Labour MPs: their attitudes to Brexit and their attitudes to Jeremy Corbyn.  For different reasons, quite a few seem reticent about expressing their views on both fronts.

The new Conservative MPs spanned a wide range of opinion on Brexit.  Not so for the new Labour MPs.  Only David Drew looks like a likely Leave voter.  A couple more seem pretty uninterested in the subject.  The rest were Remain supporters of varying degrees of intensity.  Many Leavers had hoped that Parliament would become much more evenly balanced between Leavers and Remainers after the election.  With no more than a quarter of the new intake originally supporting Leave, that hope has been dashed.

For now, most of the new Labour MPs look set to be quiescent on the subject.  They had their opportunity to make their feelings known when they were given the opportunity to vote on the Queen’s Speech amendment to seek to stay in the Single Market.  Only three took that opportunity.

Almost all the new Labour MPs seem enthusiastic about Jeremy Corbyn for now.  That was not always the case.  Some, like Paul Sweeney, called for him to stand down last year, but are now enthusiastically extolling his virtues – since he has immediately been appointed a shadow Scotland minister it seems that Jeremy Corbyn has a forgiving nature.  On my reading, just 9 or 10 could be called Corbynites and a further two or three seem to be Core Group Plus.  However, when you consider that only 40 of the Parliamentary Labour party supported Jeremy Corbyn last year and only 36 pledged their nomination for him in 2015 (with quite a few of those being loaned), that represents a considerable proportionate increase in his support as compared with the older part of the Parliamentary Labour party. 

I was surprised to see just how strongly many of the newbies had supported the outrageously-named Women Against State Pension Inequality.  This grouping of 50-something women, who contrary to their name wish to retain the preferential state pension terms (relative to men) that they were originally in line to receive, have succeeded in bagging the very active support of more than a fifth of the newcomers.  This should be an inspiration to any group with a grievance, no matter how misplaced – if such a ropey cause can enlist so much Parliamentary support, there’s hope for anyone.

Who should we watch out for?  Jeremy Corbyn is not afraid to promote new talent – in part this has been a necessity for him given the past refusal by old hands to serve under him.  And he has already promoted some brand new MPs into shadow positions.  The most senior is Lesley Laird, his shadow Secretary of State for Scotland.  He looks to have chosen well in this case.  She comes across as a highly capable pragmatist who hasn’t forgotten why she’s in politics.

He has also immediately promoted Afzal Khan, who has a long political pedigree in local and European politics.  Some of his past (and regretted) comments on Israel will not allay concerns among some about the direction the Labour party is taking on that subject but again he comes across as a pragmatist.

Anneliese Dodds has a special interest in tax justice which she has already pursued as an MEP.  It is no surprise to see her already appointed as a shadow treasury minister.

Ellie Reeves (sister of Rachel, wife of John Cryer) is already a very well-known figure on the Labour right.  She is immediately going to be the focus of attention, both friendly and unfriendly.

Laura Smith looks like a doer. She expresses herself clearly and simply, and seems like the type to roll her sleeves up and get on with things.  Ged Killen looks cut from the same cloth.  In a just world, they would be given the opportunity to show what they can do.

You can view a document on the Labour’s new intake by clicking here

Alastair Meeks




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The scale of LAB’s lead in the parliament’s first polls is unprecedented

Monday, June 26th, 2017


Wikipedia

Never before has main opposition party had such margins after an election

We have now had three voting polls since the general election and all of them, as can be seen in the table above, have shown clear leads for Labour.

This is highly unusual and almost unprecedented. Almost always the first polls after a general election see the winner doing better than it did in the voting on the day.

Thanks to Mark Pack’s excellent Pollbase place we can ascertain that there has only ever been one case before of the main opposition party beating the election winner in the early polls of a new parliament.

The exception could bring some cheer to the Tories because Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives struggled in the early days of her Parliament after her 1979 General Election win. Then Gallup and NOP recorded LAB leads of up to 1.5% in the first surveys and we all know that Mrs T went on to win a landslide four years later.

But 1.5% is nothing like the scale of the first three voting intention polls of this parliament which have seen gaps of 3-6%.

My reading is that Corbyn is still benefiting from the sheer shock of the June 8th result partly because most of the pollsters got it so wrong. If all of them had been producing numbers like Survation then my guess that the impact could have been less.

We move on this week to the vital vote on TMay’s Queen’s speech and what has actually been agreed with the DUP.

Mike Smithson