Archive for the 'Labour' Category


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


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


Corbyn is more in touch on Europe with the voters Labour needs to win back than his MPs or members

Saturday, February 4th, 2017

Most of Labour’s lost voters are Leavers

This has not been the best week for Jeremy Corbyn. He lost another Shadow Cabinet member and two other frontbench spokesmen, suffered a sizable rebellion on Europe (whereas, unlike one upon a time, the Tories presented an almost united front), prompting several thousand members to resign; yesterday’s YouGov poll confirmed that the Conservatives’ lead remains in the mid-teens, and Labour suffered a devastating local by-election loss in Rotherham, which the Lib Dems took on a 38% swing.

That last item, which ought really to be the most trivial – all sorts of odd things can happen in local by-elections, particularly where there are peculiar local issues – might all the same have a particularly bitter taste.

Rotherham was a strongly Leave area in the EU referendum, voting more than 2:1 for Brexit. That Labour should lose the seat not to UKIP, who started a clear second and whose own share was more than halved, but to the arch-Remain Lib Dems is testament to the fact that Brexit is not all-consuming as a divide (in fact, in a simultaneous by-election in a different Rotherham ward, Labour gained the seat from UKIP).

That’s unfortunate for Corbyn because his position on Brexit is a good deal closer to the sort of voter that Labour’s lost since 2015, not just in Rotherham and Sunderland but across the country.

The ICM poll taken on 20-22 Jan gives good evidence of this. 37% of Labour’s 2015 vote supported Leave, as against only 32% of their current voters. We can’t calculate a precise figure because there’s churn so it’s not possible to assume that simply subtracting the current base from that at the election will give us the deserters. Even so, if we take that as representative of the net change, it implies that the lost voters split 58/42 for Leave.

Yesterday’s YouGov paints much the same picture. Unlike ICM, YouGov don’t release the raw figures for each question and answer, nor is there a specific question on how people voted at the referendum but they do ask if people think the decision to leave was right, and the headline figures there mirror the referendum closely (albeit that there’s a small amount of churn). 34% of their 2015 support think it was right to leave but only 29% of their current voters do – the same 5% difference ICM report, which again implies that the lost voters are Leave-heavy and very probably in a Leave majority.

Corbyn ought to be ideally placed to attract these voters back. He’s certainly more in tune with them than his parliamentary party is, or than his members are. His strategy of respecting the public’s Leave vote while trying to score tactical victories in parliament is exactly the one that an opposition should be following. It will only work, however, if he can bridge the gap between the parliamentary and London Remain wing and the Leavers in the country. The risk is that he fails to satisfy either and that the voters, who probably left over other issues, remain detached from their former party.

David Herdson


Corbyn’s corrosion is to Labour’s habits as much as to its polling

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

How long will it take to restore internal discipline in the post-Corbyn era?

“Damn your principles; stick to your party!” With such lofty dismissiveness did Disraeli once berate a colleague thinking of rebelling. It is not just hard but impossible to think of Jeremy Corbyn using like words, yet they are the currency of every successful parliamentary leader, if not always put so bluntly.

Not just the leader either. For all the myths of party whips terrorising and bribing MPs into voting for their party line, the reality is rather more mundane: whips’ offices exist not only because leaders need them but because MPs do so too. (Which isn’t to say that the more extreme stories of whips’ tactics are not true; just that they aren’t common).

Parties exist for a purpose and that purpose is only delivered if the sense of collective endeavour is sufficient to generate high levels of collective discipline and self-discipline. Put another way, sufficient for MPs to accept that their principles are best served by following the whip even when they disagree with it because they know that on a matter they’ve championed and have won party backing on, other MPs in the party will return the favour.

Self-discipline to the whip is of course is something that Corbyn is singularly poorly placed to demand. Somewhat contradictorily, as well as well-disciplined party units, parliament also needs a few mavericks willing to say ‘no’ when everyone else says ‘yes’. They’re usually wrong but occasionally they’re not and on such occasions they can spark change. At the least, their presence should ensure that the consensus has its arguments properly thought out. Corbyn was – and to a large extent still is – one such.

However, they also need to know their place, and their place is on the backbenches. They have given themselves, and have been given, latitude to breach the whip but having done so, such a record will forever prevent them from demanding loyalty from others simply on the basis of party unity. Iain Duncan Smith found this out as Conservative leader and Corbyn’s history (famously, when elected, he had voted against the Labour whip more times than David Cameron) means he’d be even less credible doing so.

That record of dissent may explain his extraordinary tolerance for rebellion against him. Before these last two years, it would have been a major media story for a whip to resign on a point of principle and unthinkable that one could vote against his or her own party and keep their job: an action that undermines every concept of what parliamentary parties are and how they work. Yet on the Article 50 bill – one of the most important pieces of legislation this parliament – not just one but two whips seem ready to do just that.

That it’s not a major media story is a measure of how normal Labour’s dysfunction has become as a parliamentary party. For some, including Corbyn, this is a feature not a bug. The Whips’ Office is in essence an elitist entity, cutting off the MPs from the membership, whether by imposition or voluntary surrender. It is what gives MPs their special status. We know, from his rejection of the overwhelming vote of no confidence against him, that he doesn’t view the MPs as having any particularly special status and so there’s a degree of philosophical consistency in him not being too rigorous about discipline in return (though this may be making a virtue of a necessity). All the same, it mitigates against his party speaking to the public with a unified and confident voice.

So much for the present but the Corbyn era will end. It might end after the next election; more probably it will be before it. The question, which falls into two parts, is what can be salvaged from the wreckage.

The first part is the more simple question of physical politics. How many MPs, MSPs, AMs, councillors and so on will he have and to what extent will lost ground be recoverable? On that score, Labour shouldn’t fare too badly, though there is a small but real risk that it might.

For all the talk of a quadruple-pincer – with the Lib Dems, SNP, UKIP and Tories all simultaneously attacking different parts of Labour’s electoral coalition – the fact is that the Lib Dems remain distrusted by many on the left, UKIP is even less organised as an effective party than Corbyn’s Labour, the SNP are close to maxed out in Scotland and there is a similar limit to how many Con-Lab swing voters can be peeled off. With no immediate existential threat – no party capable of replacing Labour in England and Wales – Labour ought to survive, and if it survives then at some point it will prosper. So far, it’s held its Westminster defences comfortably and did better than expected in the May elections. Scotland remains a disaster-zone but otherwise, it’s broadly held what it has, so far.

But there’s a more insidious nature to second part, which is what damage is the Corbyn era doing to Labour’s internal culture? Once the Conservatives got into the habit of rowing over Europe and deposing leaders it took fifteen years, two landslide defeats and six leadership elections before it managed to restore self-discipline. When even whips think that they can rebel and carry on, what hope is there for members, councillors and MPs? How hard will it be for a future leader, whether the next or a subsequent one, to re-establish a sensible level of self-control? (One not insubstantial risk is an overreaction into control-freakery).

That’s the longer term risk and, on balance, the greater one. As the Tories showed from the late-80s though to 2003, bad habits are hard to eradicate and have a price: the Tories lost well over half their seats in that time. While no party is currently able to replace Labour as one of the Big Two – as the SNP and Tories have in Scotland – they can’t rely on that being the case indefinitely. The country needs a reserve government and at the moment there isn’t one. If Labour can’t or won’t provide it, sooner or later, someone else will.

David Herdson


Viewpoint: Tribal Tim Farron attacks Corbyn and lets TMay off the hook.

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

Labour’s Don Brind says the LD leader has a soft spot for the PM.

The Lib Dem leader told Politics Home In a really peculiar way I felt slightly proud of her when she became prime minister.”  A very odd thing to say, isn’t it?

Since you’re asking, Tim – Yes it is a bit odd. Not only is she a Tory. She is the Remainer who failed to campaign in the EU referendum and now, with all the zeal of a convert, is determined to drag the country into a hard Brexit regardless of the economic carnage that could ensue.

Farron explained that his link with May dates back to 1992 when they were candidates in the safe Labour seat of North West Durham. “I remember thinking she was a very straight person. I enjoyed being on the campaign trail with her.”

Today, the Lib Dem leader does, of course, criticise the Prime Minister for choosing “the most extreme interpretation of the referendum result … which is not only going to be massively damaging to the livelihoods of every family and business in the country but will rob the public purse of – on the government’s own figures £220bn. But Farron lets May off the hook by claiming there is no difference between her approach and Labour’s. “You have the Labour party basically hugging Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party – and we’ve heard it from Keir Starmer and Hilary Benn too – they’ve just given up.”

Farron has a tough task in reviving the Lib Dems after the 2015 massacre. He clearly hopes to boost their current poll shares by siphoning off Labour votes from amongst the 48% who voted Leave.

But let’s be clear that putting Corbyn and May in the same boat is divisive claptrap which has nothing to with fighting Brexit and everything to do with Lib Dem tribalism.

After chiding Labour for not standing aside in Richmond by election the Lib Dems – and the Greens — will be fighting Copeland where they both lost deposits in 2015 with around 3% of the vote. Although I expect Labour to win it’s possible that Lib Dems and Green can take votes from Labour. If that leads to a Labour defeat the result would strengthen the Tories and/or Ukip and with it the forces of Brexit.

The fact is that it will be Labour parliamentarians who do the heavy lifting in countering the worst extremes of Brexit. They are at the core of the cross party group reported by the Observer to be drawing up plans to “halt hard Brexit “

I sat in on a meeting last week of Labour parliamentarians brought together by the Labour Movement for Europe , Everyone there was as at least as passionate Europeans as Farron but with a much more intelligent view of the challenges facing the anti-Brexit cause.
One wise old bird said “Labour MPs face a choice between being a hawk, a dove or an ostrich – and all have their good points.” There is no sure-fire way of fighting Brexit and keeping quiet while watching how things develop is at least as valid an approach as launching a frontal assualt.Three key priorities emerged from the discussion.

First is the need for unity in confronting Theresa May’s version of Brexit. Let’s hope Tim Farron hears the message.

The second is the need to organise effectively in Parliament where the main battle will not be over triggering Article 50 but over the Great Reform Bill. There are lots of smart people in the Commons and the Lords who will make parliamentary sovereignty.

The third priority is, as one former minister put it, a need “to change the tone of the conversation in the country.” That is partly a matter of better communications but it is also a question of being listened to by Labour voters who supported Leave. That is why Jeremy Corbyn’s shift on the issue of immigration is regarded by many as a vital first step.

As is well known a majority of Labour MPs supported Remain but represent areas that back Leave. It is that very fact that which makes how Labour wrestles with the issue crucial. There may be frustration at the performance of Jeremy Corbyn but many will agree with the MP who said; “Any Labour leader would struggle with the issue.”

Don Brind


Corbyn and his party’s biggest challenge is making headway amongst his own age group – the oldies

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

With the youngsters LAB’s just fine: pity they’re less likely to vote

Watching the TV news it’s clear that Corbyn Mark 2 hasn’t quite had the impact that his team would have liked. There’s a terrible lack of consistency and no real clear plan about what the message was going to be.

A problem is that the audience for TV news bulletins tend to be the very people that Corbyn and LAB are most struggling with – the oldies. Today’s less than impactful events are just going to reinforce attitudes rather than change the narrative.

The ICM data above shows the huge age split in views of Labour with very good numbers coming from the young.

I’ve long regarded one quality as being the most important one in resonating with voters and that is the appearance of competence. Corbyn and team have yet to exude that.

Mike Smithson


Why I’ve backed Diane Abbott to be next Labour leader

Sunday, January 8th, 2017

I can’t quite believe I placed this bet

Two of my underlying assumptions about politics in this country are 1) Jeremy Corbyn will be Labour leader at the next general election and 2) Were a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour party to lose a general election (especially if it is a comprehensive defeat) Labour will return to political sanity and appoint someone more centrist and electable, but what if those assumptions are wrong, cui bono?

I’ve decided it is Diane Abbott. Were Corbyn to stand down before the general election he’ll want to try and and hand over to someone who espouses the kind of politics and policies he does, so that benefits Diane Abbott, (to achieve this Corbyn will need to change the nomination process, so a candidate needs far fewer nominations than now.) Abbott is his long standing friend over several decades, political soulmate, and ally, which would be an advantage for her. She also has some other talents and advantages listed below.

  • She’s a polished television performer, honed after appearing on This Week alongside Andrew Neil, who I consider to be the finest political interviewer at the moment. Corbyn is a poor media performer, see this as an example of Corbyn’s poor handling of the media, Abbott will be an improvement on Corbyn.
  • She’s an educated lady, she read History under Professor Simon Schama at the finest university in the world, The University of Cambridge. I don’t think Corbyn has the nous or intellectual self confidence to deal with things outside his comfort zone, Ms Abbott has those qualities in abundance, regardless of whether you agree with her policies or not.
  • Unlike Jeremy Corbyn she will have experience of shadowing front bench roles were she to become leader, which is one of the reasons I think Jeremy Corbyn struggles in Parliament, he had no front bench experience prior to becoming leader, which I believe is unprecedented in recent times.
  • She doesn’t appear to have the more controversial back stories and comments that Jeremy Corbyn (and John McDonnell) have with organisations such as Sinn Fein,the IRA, and Hamas that should be so destabilising for Labour during a general election campaign.

The other assumption I mentioned above was that after a defeat/shellacking at a general election Labour would return to political sanity, but what if they don’t and decide to go someone with a similar political outlook to Corbyn. Again that benefits Diane Abbott.

As an opinion pollster, speaking exclusively in an entirely personal capacity and in no way representative of his employer put it about Corbynites ‘these days anybody who doesn’t get visibly aroused by the sound of an Enver Hoxha speech is a Blairite,’ whilst that view remains in the ascendancy amongst the Labour membership someone on the left of the Labour party will appeal to them as Leader, not a centrist nor someone on the right wing of Labour. The fact that Diane Abbott might be Labour’s first female leader and the first BAME leader of a major party might also appeal to the Labour electorate.

Less than 24 hours ago I placed some bets between 99/1 and 119/1 on Diane Abbott as next Labour leader, at the time of writing this thread, late on Saturday night, the bests odds on Diane Abbott being next Labour leader were 66/1 with Paddy Power, which implies a sub 1.5% chance of Diane Abbott being next Labour leader, I think the chances are higher, that’s why I’ve staked money on it.

Hat-tip to PBer RochdalePioneers for providing the inspiration for this bet and thread.


PS – In alternate universe Diane Abbott is Labour leader, in 2010 Jeremy Corbyn, not Diane Abbott, was the far left Labour candidate in the Labour leadership contest and received 7.42% of the vote, whilst in 2015 Diane Abbott was the far left Labour leadership candidate nominated to widen the debate in the leadership contest, and won.


Labour: The party that’s too weak to win but too strong to die

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

More good news for Theresa in Fabian society report

The first working day of 2017 opens with a gloomy report on Labour’s prospects from the Fabian Society covered in the Guardian.

The overall conclusion is that the party could drop to fewer than 150 MPs, driven by difficulties articulating a BREXIT policy, the ongoing Scottish disaster and Jeremy Corbyn’s unpopularity. Labour, it declares, has virtually no chance of an outright majority. Based on current polling and performance in by-elections that must be right. The Guardian goes on:

“.The Fabians’ report identifies a coherent response to Brexit as one of the main obstacles facing Labour. Using YouGov data, it calculates that the party has lost a net 400,000 votes since the last election among pro-leave electors, and 100,000 among those who backed remain, making its backing more strongly pro-remain than before.

This poses a “Brexit dilemma”, the study says, pointing out that Labour needs to somehow appeal more to leave voters without alienating existing supporters who opposed Brexit.

In such a landscape, the report stresses the need for Labour to accept the impossibility of outright victory in the next election and prepare instead for an era of “quasi-federal, multi-party politics”, where it relies on the assistance of other parties…”

My main caveat is that we are in such a period of uncertainty that we really have no idea what the world is be like. How is BREXIT going to be viewed once the extraction process begins and we get a clearer idea what is involved. How will global politics evolve in the Trump era? How is Europe going to look after this year’s big elections in several major countries?

Mike Smithson