Archive for the 'Labour' Category


The coming Battle of Brighton could determine the fate of Brexit

Saturday, August 24th, 2019

If Labour sticks to its current fudge of a policy, No Deal is the likely outcome

Conferences don’t usually matter. These days, they’re mostly occasions when the party can try to sell itself and its policies to the media and the public – a glorified party political broadcast, if you like – while also acting as a bonding exercise for members of that party. It doesn’t always work out like that of course, but those are the primary aims.

For Labour and the Lib Dems, however, there is another purpose: to set policy. The Tories have – wisely, in my opinion – never gone in for allowing members to dictate to MPs what their policies should be: they’re the wrong people in the wrong place to be doing so. Usually, these policy positions don’t matter. Either they endorse what the leadership was going to do anyway, or the leadership can find a way round the inconveniences when there is disagreement, or the policy is a dead duck because the party isn’t in power, no-one’s paying attention and it can be rewritten or quietly dropped come the manifesto. This time however, one particular policy debate really will matter.

That assumes that we’ll get to conference season: there is the possibility that a general election called during the September session of parliament, either at Boris Johnson’s prompting or after a Vote of No Confidence, does away with the conferences. Personally, I doubt there’ll be such a poll, for plenty of reasons, from the risks involved for all sides, to the desire to kick the can where no appealing option presents itself now but might do so later. But while noting the possibility that they might be called off, let’s assume they’re not.

In that case, we can assume that there will be an almighty battle over Labour’s Brexit policy when they meet in Brighton.

By that point, the Lib Dems will have already had their conference, with Jo Swinson making her debut as party leader. Will she – or will Lib Dem activists – seek to go beyond their current policy and move towards an outright Revoke stance? It would certainly be consistent with ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ and be more justifiable in the context of either a new election or a forced choice between that and No Deal, both of which are entirely plausible scenarios for the next three months, never mind the next twelve.

If they do, that puts even more pressure on Labour but either way, the current policy fudge may well not be sustainable. You might argue that the policy isn’t a fudge; that since last year’s conference, Labour has redefined it to a point where it’s in favour of a second referendum at some point in the future after a Brexit renegotiation in pursuit of unicorns of its own, where it might support (or not) what it had agreed. Personally, I’m not sold on the clarity there.

However, what that policy does mean is that Labour remains – in theory at least – a Leave party. It also means that under a Labour government, the second referendum would almost certainly not be for at least another two years, to give time for the talks to succeed or be seen to irrevocably fail, and for the legislation to set up the referendum to pass.

Are Labour members happy to go into the coming election as a notionally Leave party – especially if the Lib Dems have defined themselves as unambiguously Remain? The answer, both from the evidence of last year’s conference and from the breaking ranks of even key leadership figures like John McDonnell (who’s said that he’d back Remain in a second referendum, whatever the other option/s), is ‘no’.

That fudge came about, however, for a reason – and not just because Corbyn and key allies and lieutenants of his see opportunities in Brexit to pursue more socialist and interventionist policies they believe aren’t possible within the EU. The Labour Leave vote was a real part of their coalition in 2017 – close to a third of their total came from Leavers – but that’s declined by at least half since then. Adopting an outright Remain stance probably means writing off any chance of winning those voters back. Cultural resistance might prevent many of them switching to the Tories but other options exist, most obviously Farage’s Brexit Party and simply abstaining.

Looking at the shorter term though, there’s another implication; probably an even more important one. It’s clear from the letters that have been flying about this month that there’s a lot of disagreement among the opposition as to what they strategy should be, never mind the tactics that should come out of that strategy. As long as that division exists, the government stands a very good chance of delivering Brexit – almost certainly a No Deal Brexit, for lack of alternatives – on October 31.

The simple fact is that the government cannot be stopped unless virtually all opposition MPs and some Tory rebels unite either consistently behind a plan, or on one or two one-off but extremely important votes, such as Votes of (No) Confidence. At present, there isn’t that unity – and one big reason that there’s not that unity of action is that there’s not a unity of purpose. How can there be when Labour is in principle a Leave party?

Certainly, there’s a near-consensus on the opposition benches (and a little beyond) to stop No Deal but that’s not something that may be possible in isolation. While there’s undoubtedly a majority in the Commons opposed to No Deal in principle, is there still a majority opposed to it if it comes with Corbyn as PM, or if it means Revoke, for example? That’s far less clear.

As long as Labour is committed to holding its own renegotiation to leave – even if the chances are that most members would then campaign to Remain – that may well of itself be enough to prevent the Commons forces opposed to the government coalescing around a viable strategy. In other words, the fate of Brexit may rest on the machinations of backroom deals in Labour’s compositing committees.

David Herdson


The best test of a pollster is not how they’re currently doing against other firms but what happened last time they were tested

Sunday, June 30th, 2019

I am afraid that I have to disagree with David Herdson on his latest Saturday thread about YouGov understating Labour. Firstly you cannot judge pollsters’ based on their current surveys when less than 5 weeks ago they were tested against a real election involving real voters.

In the two charts above I compare LAB and LD vote shares for the May Euros in their final published polls.  Just two of them can claim to have come out of the election well with the rest trailing some way back.

Just examine some of the exaggerated figures that some pollsters were record reporting for LAB where we had a range from 13% to 25%. The actual GB figures was 14%.

Now look at the second chart showing the final LD shares. These range from 12% to 20%. The actual GB share was 20,4%.

Apart from Ipsos MORI and YouGov the rest really did rather badly.

Because of the low turnout, the 37% that actually happened was broadly anticipated, this was always going to be a challenging election for polling because turnout was everything. If one party’s supporters were less likely to vote  then that presents the pollsters with serious challenges .

The other challenge, of course, was tactical voting generally by remain backing LAB voters to the parties they saw as being most likely to succeed in their region and so the vote could produce the maximum number of MEPs. This helped the LDs and, of course, the Greens to achieve the success that they did. Whatever mechanisms YouGov and Ipsos Mori use they were able to detect better what was the big characteristic of this election.

So when I look at the current polls I regard Survation and Opinium, of the recent ones, as LAB over-staters.

Mike Smithson


The looming fork in the road and the path many MPs will have to make

Sunday, June 30th, 2019

You need to watch politics in split-screen at the moment. In both Labour and the Conservatives, a group of politicians has come to a fork in the road. In both cases, there is no shortage of fellow party supporters telling them to fork off.

Conservative Remainers have had a desperate few years. The referendum result was not the start of it. Well before they lost the referendum, they had lost their party. They have spent the last three years seeking to mitigate the worst effects of Brexit and hunkering down until the delirium has abated.

The delirium is not abating: the fever is getting worse. MPs are being threatened with deselection for opposing Brexit despite having voted for the withdrawal agreement three times. During the early stages of the leadership election campaign, there were dark whispers that Michael Gove was the preferred Remain candidate. That’s Michael Gove, leader of Vote Leave.

Both of the leadership candidates to be presented to the membership have committed to a no deal Brexit if necessary and neither has come up with a remotely plausible plan for avoiding that. When Ruth Davidson optimistically praised Jeremy Hunt for putting the Union first, Julia Hartley-Brewer, one of the high priestesses of the Brexit cult, pronounced that: “Any Tory leadership candidate who puts the Union first has absolutely no intention of delivering Brexit”.

Boris Johnson, the runaway favourite, has committed to leaving the EU deal or no deal on 31 October 2019. It does not seem possible either to enter into negotiations with the EU or to pass the relevant legislation by that date, and the warnings about what it might mean in practice continue to pile up. He is not ruling out either ignoring Parliament or proroguing it: democracy itself might be sacrificed to no deal Brexit.

Any Conservative who regards no deal Brexit as disastrous has to accept that he or she is now fighting against mainstream party thinking on what all sides regard as the central question of the age. The party is about to elect a leader and give whoever wins a mandate to force through Brexit by hook or by crook.

There is going to be no place in the Conservative party for MPs who oppose that mandate. Such Conservatives need to decide whether they are going to take arms against a sea of troubles and if so how. Or they can decide to go quietly and acquiesce with a policy that they consider disastrous. A decision to wait and see is a decision to go quietly.

That dilemma is paralleled within the Labour party. The readmission of Chris Williamson to the party so that he can stand for re-election as a Labour MP, against the recommendation on his case at a time when the Labour party is being investigated in relation to anti-Semitism by the EHRC, gives the lie to the idea that the current leadership has the slightest intention of reining in its outriders. Jeremy Corbyn and his coterie have played grandmother’s footsteps with the rest of the party on the subject, creeping back to their own ways the moment they think that backs are turned.  

To be fair, they are right to be confident. Large numbers of MPs who have condemned anti-Semitism in the party campaigned for the Labour candidate in Peterborough who during the campaign had to apologise for her past actions. As with Republican senators after school shootings, it seems that thoughts and prayers are the preferred policy prescription to avoid repeats.

Any Labour MP who is serious about opposing anti-Semitism in the varieties found on the hard left has to accept that the Labour party under its current leadership will not reform on this subject. Either in essence they accept that getting Labour elected is more important than eliminating this anti-Semitism or they leave Labour. Expressions of outrage on Twitter without further actions are simply a decision that Labour getting elected is the most important thing.  Kvetching is just a smokescreen.

Politics is about priorities and both of these groups need to think what their priorities are. Conservative MPs who think a no deal Brexit is going to be bad, maybe even terrible, for the country, might nevertheless conclude that a Conservative government even under someone as unsuitable as Boris Johnson is better than the alternative. But if they do, they have to accept the compromise that they have made, to accept that they have willed what they see as a looming disaster. If they believe that no deal Brexit must be stopped, they must act now. Later is too late.

Labour MPs appalled by the anti-Semitism permeating through the party might similarly conclude that for all its flaws a Labour party committed to redistribution and improving the lot of the poorest in society is better than the alternative. But if they do, they have to accept that they have by necessary implication downgraded the need to oppose racism. If they believe that is a compromise too far, they must act now. There is nothing to wait for.

In both cases, meaningful action is going to require a break with their party. In both cases, this would mean breaking lifelong allegiances with the high probability of ending their political careers sooner rather than later. All of them will look at the unhappy year the TIGgers will have and shudder. But they have to ask themselves, really ask themselves, what they are in politics for. Better to fail with integrity than to fail without even trying to succeed. On that basis, the TIGgers have so far all done better than those who did not follow their lead.

In life, all of us from time to time are faced with times when there is an easy choice and a difficult choice. In the longer term, the difficult choice is almost always the right one. Time for quite a lot of MPs to start making some difficult choices.

Alastair Meeks


The YouGov discrepancy: just how badly is LAB doing?

Saturday, June 29th, 2019


A clear lead or struggling to be neck-and-neck?

Three parties have dominated the coverage of opinion polling and major elections over the last three months. On one side, the Tories have clearly suffered a catastrophic loss, shedding more than half the support they had at the start of the year, losing more than 1300 councillors and then nearly all their MEPs in May. Against which, the Brexit Party has exploded out of nowhere to win the EP elections and to vie for the lead in Westminster voting intention, while the Lib Dems have dramatically recovered from their near-decade-long slump to gain over 700 councillors, more than double their poll share and win their biggest election since 1910 (London, in the EP vote).

What of the other party in the apparent four-way tie for the lead, Labour? Perhaps because their slump in support began earlier (early March, following the TIG defections), and hasn’t been quite so precipitous, it’s not been so well-observed either.

But just how big has that drop been? Here we arrive at a polling quandary. Present-day polling gives a disproportionate prominence to YouGov, who release far more polls than anyone else. This is unfortunate since their results are quite out of line with other pollsters.

For example, these are the average poll scores from YouGov so far this month:

Brx 24.3
LD 20.5
Lab 19.8
Con 19.3
Grn 9.0

Whereas the average shares from all other pollsters combined (and the relative difference against YouGov) is:

Lab 26.0 (+6.2)
Con 23.8 (+4.5)
Bxt 19.0 (-5.3)
LD 18.0 (-2.5)
Grn 6.2 (-2.8)

These are, clearly, starkly different splits. At the extreme, YouGov shows Labour 4.5% behind the Brexit Party, while other firms have them 7% ahead. Before anyone gets too excited about the implication for seats won implied in any individual poll, let’s remember that someone’s methodology for producing the underlying polling data is very wrong (never mind the methodology for translating the votes into seats – though that’s a discussion for another day).

In as far as we have anything to go on, the chances are that it’s YouGov which is out. At the EP elections, their final poll underreported Con and Lab against the actual results by 2% and 1% respectively, and substantially overstated the Brexit Party (by some 6%), which is very much in line with their Westminster findings compared to other companies (with the possible exception of Opinium).

For Labour, it may be cold comfort that they’re probably polling in first place with a mid-twenties share rather than in third, behind the Lib Dems and perhaps sub-20. After all, for the main opposition party to be in the mid-20s in any circumstance is extremely poor but it’s still not quite the existential crisis that not being the largest left-of-centre party is. Note also the much larger share that YouGov give to the Greens: almost half the Labour share, rather than less than a quarter of it that the other companies find.

Of course, these figures were before Labour casually revived media attention of their antisemitism problem by readmitting an unrepentant Chris Williamson into their party while the EHRC inquiry into it is still ongoing. That, plus the internal Labour criticism to it, might trigger a decline in Labour’s vote share after a month of relative stability, as might well the election of the new Tory and Lib Dem leaders – and goodness knows what might happen after the summer, when the Brexit drama reaches a new climax. Even if Labour is ahead now, there’s no guarantee it’ll last.

David Herdson


The Campbell expulsion from LAB – the ramifications continue

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

The problem is that people’s Brexit position has become more important than party loyalty

Mike Smithson


Alastair Campbell purged from Corbyn’s LAB for backing the LDs in last week’s election

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

So the ramifications of Thursday’s election continue

Almost all parties haw a rule about members publicly backing other parties in elections and LAB is no exception. Already we’ve seen the Tories take action Lord Heseltine for his public support for the anti-Brexit LDs in last week’s elections.

Now Corbyn’s LAB has moved against Campbell who played such a key role in Labour’s three successive general election victories from 1997 to 2005.

A real issue within Labour which undoubtedly depressed turnout for the party last week is that the Corbyn/Milne approach to Brexit is very different from the vast bulk of Labour supporters. On Thursday Labour did far worse than just about all the polls were predicting and came in third place well behind the LDs. That wouldn’t have happened if the leadership had reflected the party support base on the key issue of the day.

The problem with this action is that it drives the narrative of LAB being a party that is totally split on the issue and voters don’t like divided parties.

Campbell himself is taking legal advice. This is not the end of the matter.

Mike Smithson


Whilst the Tories plough on totally divided over Brexit LAB has its worst polling month since GE2017

Tuesday, March 5th, 2019

If ever there was a period when LAB should be making headways in the polls then surely it has to be at the moment well that always continue to be divided on brexit.

The latest David Cowling table above showing the monthly polling averages for each party has LAB at 35%, the worst since the general election. February was also only the second time since then that Corbyn’s party has failed to have at least one polling lead. Generally all published them have been poor for the party.

Of course much attention has been focused on the splits within LAB with the launch of The Independent group and the ongoing divisions over antisemitism that just don’t seem to go away. Quite jow Umunna’s spin off will progress is hard to say but it does need more recruits or something to keep the media momentum going.

As a general rule I pay much more attention to leader ratings than voting intention polls because the former historically have given a better guide to where things stand and electoral outcomes. Hear the same picture as in the polling table is reflected with Corbyn’s numbers, at a low point in the few polls that do asked some form of leader question.

Yet on the betting markets Mr Corbyn is assessed by punters as the main party leader who looks most secure in his job. Theresa May is odds on favourite to go first with Vince Cable not far behind. Both of those, of course, have indicated that they won’t be leading their parties at the next general election.

Meanwhile LAB’s divide has got worse with the new role that the deputy, Tom Watson, appears to have established. A big question is whether the informal grouping of MPs that he is trying to establish will actually lead to something more is hard to say. But there’s little doubt that Corbyn continues not to have the level of backing from his MPs as you’d expect an opposition leader to enjoy.

Mike Smithson


At GE2017 CON voters were SIX TIMES more likely to say Brexit was the key factor in deciding votes than LAB ones

Saturday, March 2nd, 2019

Lord Ashcroft polls

Why Brexit is much less of an issue for the red team

On General Election day in June 2017 the Conservative peer, Lord Ashcroft, carried out a large sample poll to try to find out why voters had decided in the way they had.

A key question was asking what was the main factor in determining the votes and the outcomes for each main group of parties are featured in the chart above.

As can be seen 48% of Conservative voters named Brexit as the prime influencer whereas just 8% of Labour once said the same. That is a huge difference.

From this, I’d suggest, it is possible to deduce that Brexit is much less an issue amongst those who voted for Corbyn’s party than those who backed Theresa May’s. We don’t know whether we would get the same gap 20 months on but my guess is that this continues to be an issue that concerns the blue team much more than voters of the red one.

On top of that of the 8% LAB voters saying Brexit was the key factor then quite a lot were like me, tactical voters.

One thing that we have heard repeatedly since that election is that about two-thirds of Labour MPs represent constituencies that voted Leave in the referendum a year before. The significance of this is put into context by this polling.

If LAB voters, as it appears, are much less inclined to say that this is the issue that affected their vote then the challenges facing remain LAB MPs in seats which voted Leave are that much less.

Mike Smithson