Archive for the 'Labour' Category

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

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

FPTP is not an insuperable barrier in the right conditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Herdson



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LAB MP in ultra-marginal seat charged with perverting the course of justice

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018



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While the Tories tear themselves apart on Brexit LAB’s new antisemitism policy threatens a divide between the NEC and the party at Westminster

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

There’s a new poll from YouGov out this morning which has Labour’s lead down to just 1% if BoJo was CON leader.

This coincides with the renewed row within Corbyn’s Labour over anti-semitism following the decision of the party’s national executive committee to trim down the widely regarded definition of what anti-semitism is.

This was brought to a head a couple of days ago in the Commons in a widely reported spat between the long-standing Labour MP, Margaret Hodge, and the leader in which four letter words were said to have been used. Mrs Hodge has been threatened with disciplinary action as a result.

Now this has taken on a new dimension according to reports in this mornings Observer which suggest that Labour MPs and Labour peers are planning to change the rules of their bodies at Westminster to specifically incorporate the wider definition of anti-Semitism.

If this went through it would mean a very formal and public split between the official party and the parliamentary parties which would very much be one in the eye for Mr Corbyn.

    It is hard to see how the NEC could stand by and allow such an act of public defiance from the party’s MPs and peers.

All this means is that this row is going to rumble on and the longer it is making the headlines the more it is going to hurt the party. As has been widely observed over the years voters do not like parties that are split.

At least the Conservative splits appear to have an end date – March 29 next year when the article 50 process terminates and Britain should officially be out of the EU.

While all of this is going on the Sunday Times is reporting this morning that the reason Lib Dem leader Vince Cable missed a crucial vote earlier in the week was because he was attending a meeting about setting up another centre party.

Watch this space.

Mike Smithson




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At GE2017 six times as many CON voters said Brexit was the deciding issue than LAB ones

Friday, July 20th, 2018


Lord Ashcroft GE2017 on the day poll

Why LAB should worry less about supporters who backed leave

On general election day last year the Conservative peer, Lord Ashcroft, carried out a huge 14,000 sample poll to find out amongst other things why people had voted as they did and to tryto understand better what had happened. The survey was similar to US exit polls where much more than voting data is collected. The BBC/Sky/ITV UK exit poll is solely about predicting seats numbers and the election outcome.

One question to respondents was askingthem to state what was the main reason they had voted as they did. A summary of the key CON and LAB voter responses is in the graphic above.

    As can be seen the most striking feature is the huge gap between Conservative voters’ views of the importance of Brexit and those of Labour voters

A total of 48% of those who had voted CON said Brexit compared with just 8% of LAB ones. We also cannot assume that the 8% were pro-Brexiteers. LAB picked up 30% of the GE2015 LD vote the vast majority of whom were opposed to Brexit

    Perhaps it was the fact that Brexit was much less of a priority for LAB supporters that the majority of party’s gains from the Tories were in constituencies that had voted Leave a year beforehand at the referendum.

The poll asked people had voted and this was very close to the actual general election result which underlines the robustness of the findings.

Mike Smithson




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A sign of LAB confidence in Lewisham East: Local party chief gets sacked days before the postals go out

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

Given that the outgoing MP, Heidi Alexander, secured 69% of the vote at GE2017 it has been very hard to predict anything other than a Labour hold. That was why, in the eyes of many, the party’s selection battle was the real fight.

That was completed on Saturday when the local party chose Lewisham’s, deputy mayor ahead of the Momentum backed candidate as well as the one supported by Unite – an outcome that’s been seen as a bit of a slap in the face for the Labour leader.

A key part in that outcome was played by Ian McKenzie, chairman of the Lewisham East constituency party, who, it turned out, had made a couple of sexist Tweets about Emily Thornberry two years ago.

McKenzie’s supporters say the Tweets had been dug out in a move to discredit him. He’s now been suspended.

Whatever the truth this is not the sort of publicity a party wants to attract at a crucial stage in a by-election. The LDs are throwing everything at getting a good result here and anything they can use to discredit Labour will be seen as helpful.

Ladbrokes make LAB a 1/50 favourite with the LDs t 20/1 and 100/1 on the Tories – betting odds, know doubt, that will be used by the yellows to make the case that only they can best Labour in he seat.

The Lib Dem effort has been focused on the LAB stance on Brexit suggesting that Team Corbyn is ignoring Remainers.

Mike Smithson




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Hard to see how insulting key groups of voters helps LAB’s cause – but hey, the Gammon insulters don’t seem to care

Monday, May 14th, 2018

Mike Smithson




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Motivating Labour’s huge volunteer army can be at odds with managing election expectations

Friday, May 4th, 2018

How losing seats can be presented as a victory

I have just got off the phone from someone who was working for the Conservative campaign yesterday in a key ward in Wandsworth which was eventually held by the party by margin of 36 votes.

One of his observations was that Labour had dozens of activists on the ground with apparently very little to do. He said that they seemed to be without direction and they would go mob handed from one street to another in a manner which in many ways did not help their cause – rather the reverse. Seeing large groups of apparently hard-left activists outside your front door might just have helped turnout in a tightly contested ward.

One of the big challenges for party organisers on election days is managing the influx of volunteers and finding things for them to do. Normally they are deployed “knocking up” which means going round to those who are identified as not having voted yet to encourage them to cast their ballots. My friend observed that perhaps you need maybe 8 people on the ground in a ward the size of the one in Wandsworth. Labour simply had too many people willing to help who wanted to be doing something who could not be deployed effectively.

it struck me this that this raises a bigger question about the huge number of people who are ready to support Labour at elections. A key strategy of the party under Corbyn has been to generate enthusiasm amongst the half million party members who have mostly been attracted to the party because of the leader. Generating that level of interest requires getting over the message that seats and councils are winnable when in fact that many of them are at the very least extreme marginal hopes.

There is little doubt that the expectation game ahead of these elections has been won by the Conservatives who’ve managed to create a narrative that they were in for a hiding so that anything less than that appears like a victory.

The Tories lost eight seats yesterday in Wandsworth yet they are able to present it as a victory.

Mike Smithson




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Corbyn’s Ipsos MORI satisfaction ratings drop to lowest point since GE2017

Monday, April 30th, 2018

Just three out of five LAB voters give him positive rating

Meanwhile there’s some voting intention cheer for the LDs

The big story from the April Ipsos MORI poll in the Standard is a further deterioration in Mr corbyn’s satisfaction ratings. These, from the pollster, have been asking the same format for well over 40 years and is the longest UK leader rating series in the UK.

The numbers are the first to come from the pollster since emergence of the mural that sparked off Labour’s latest antantisemitism row and moved it into new territory.

The voting figures, seen above, see little change except for the Lib Dems who jumped a whopping 4 points 10% which is the highest figure recorded in any poll since the last general election.

This is probably the last national public poll that will see before Thursdays local elections and it will be interesting to see if the trends here are seen in the results as they come in on Thursday evening and Friday.

Mike Smithson