Labour moderates should stop worrying about strategy, get off their arses and start organising

by Rob Marchant

It’s easy to read the politics pages of national newspapers and think that the real problem of Labour’s moderates is that they’ve got to get a shiny new strategy together that is neither New Labour nor Miliband Labour, but something which will get Labour back in power. That, in short, it doesn’t really know what it stands for and therefore this needs to be its first priority.

While it is a problem, it is certainly not the immediate problem.

The reason for this is simple: the media generally sees politics through the prism of Westminster, not just Parliament but the plethora of think-tanks and lobbying firms that hang around it. Policy and political strategy are the glue which holds that world together, without it we are nothing.

But Labour, we should take pains to remember is first and foremost a party (and a movement, although with the current radical state of the leadership of most major unions, that may not be of much immediate help to the moderates right now). It is a living, breathing thing, made up of hundreds of thousands of activists. Right now, it’s all over the shop.

Which is more important during opposition, particularly during a crucial battle for the soul of the party?

It’s the party, stupid. And that means organisation on the ground, in the CLPs and Labour group meetings across the country.

So, while the different groupings of MPs and activists on the Labour right might want to have a long debate about where the party goes, there should be no doubt that they should be simultaneously pooling their talent and their efforts in a looser grouping dedicated to one thing only: organisation.

How about this as a strategy? A strategy of not obsessing about strategy.

To explain: if there is not a firm stand against, say, deselections, or a coup on NEC places, the right’s MPs will be able to pontificate all they like about the new model for the 21st century, but there will be no party left to lead by the time they finish.

This looser grouping must get its collective feelers out in every CLP in the country, now, because you can bet your bottom dollar that the Corbynites already do. The party’s right has been historically good at doing the highbrow stuff – you know, running the country, that sort of thing – and has then been brutally out-organised in recent years by people on the hard left who wouldn’t have a clue what to do with serious political office.

In short, Westminster-centric politics might need to pipe down for a while, roll up its sleeves and stop faffing around with the next big political thing. The future of the party will be decided in branch meetings, union caucuses or NEC votes, not in Westminster. The work will be little understood, and utterly dull, to the wonks and the journos. And utterly necessary.

But that will turn the country off, the journalists will say. Labour looking inwards just to get its house in order will be seen as infighting. So what? The infighting is there already and it’s only going to get worse. And until its house is in order, Labour’s chances of being an effective opposition or, heaven help us, winning an election remains zero.

This is not a counsel of despair: it is a call to action. Stop worrying about the new Jerusalem and spend time in your constituencies. Worry about getting on committees – as a bunch of sensible MPs did last week – and NEC votes. The strategic stuff can happen in parallel, but this cannot wait.

The signs of realisation of this vital point are starting to be seen. But they need to go further and broad alliances need to be forged. Anyone who still cares which side someone was on in the cursed Blair-Brown wars really needs to question how much they are really bothered about their party’s future.

No, in the current chaos, Labour’s tectonic plates are moving rapidly, and in a year or two they are likely to settle again. When they do, we had better hope that they have ensured that the side of common sense has won the upper hand, because if not, the fat lady may already have sung for the party as a serious electoral force.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left


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49 Responses to “Labour moderates should stop worrying about strategy, get off their arses and start organising”

  1. Robert says:

    This article is just missing the point. “Moderates” need to decide what they stand for, because it is not clear. Quite frankly, voting for Liz Kendall last September would have been like signing a blank cheque!

  2. John P Reid says:

    But for every fundraiser,or leaflet we deliver, the far left in the local newspapers go on about about,running out of spending other people’s money and we go backwards,but they never accept the blame,

  3. Tony says:

    “a bunch of sensible MPs did last week”

    ‘Sensible’ here seems to have the same meaning as when the late Woodrow Wyatt used to use the term.

  4. @Robert: No, it’s not missing the point, I just disagree with you. While we pontificate what we stand for, the hard left is stealing a march.

  5. paul barker says:

    All very sensible but 10 or 15 years too late. The Labour Centrists started on the downward slope when they stopped pushing Reforms, round about the turn of the Century. Reformism without actual Reform is just a poor imitation of Conservatism.
    More activism by Labour Centrists would be just another way of avoiding the truth, you lost, you lost bad & you are not going to get “Your” Party back.

  6. Janice says:

    A lot of people who enter politics, including the labour party, only want the glamorous bit, of debating policies, and coming up with strategies. Though this isn’t restricted to the moderates within Labour, there are a lot of Corbynites who only want to do the policy bit, not the hard work.

    The thing the moderates have in their favour is that there have always been a lot of very down to earth moderate sensible labour party members, and they are usually the ones who are most willing to do the essential things like canvassing, and delivering leaflets, and going to boring meetings.

    But they do need to be organised, and most important, appreciated, as with the greatest of respect, the blairite tendency has always been a bit careerist and possibly taken these members for granted, so they have to build a new and better relationship with them.

    The most important thing, at this stage, is to persuade moderate labour members not to leave, their votes will matter enormously, over the next few years.

    So yes, it is the on the ground organising that needs to be done, maybe a few besuited careerists could start selling newspapers at labour meetings, and spend a bit of time getting to know their more grounded allies. They might well become far better politicians in the process.

  7. anosrep says:

    Stop calling yourself “moderates”. You are not moderates. You are the party’s right-wing fringe. Jeremy Corbyn is no moderate either, but he’s a hell of a lot closer to it than you are, Mr Marchant.

  8. historyintime says:

    “This article is just missing the point. “Moderates” need to decide what they stand for, because it is not clear. Quite frankly, voting for Liz Kendall last September would have been like signing a blank cheque!”

    The one thing we all agree on is that the Hard Left is both mad and dangerous and that’s enough for the time being.

    However, a resolution (synthesis) of the old right/ progress point of view must simultaneously be worked for, preferably with some rocket fuel added.

  9. Mike Stallard says:

    There is a massive challenge which nobody is facing up to at the moment.
    Yes yes I know.
    It is the coming referendum.
    I am for LEAVE, and I note that the figures on Political Betting are slowly rising for REMAIN. We have no leader at all – except for the “toxic” Nigel Farage who, alone, is going round the country speaking very well indeed, but only to the already converted. He has more or less been banned from TV now.
    The Labour movement simply has not bothered with the EU. Apart from mouthing a few platitudes about social justice (from them???!!!???) and TTIP (which will never happen).
    IF someone like Chuka Umunna could be bothered to take up the banner with passion and skill, a lot of demoralised and leaderless people would form up behind him.
    At the moment nobody in the Labour movement has done their homework – and it shows.

  10. Bob Crossley says:

    Now is not the time to abandon the Brown-Blair Wars. That time was August 2007. And the time to give up the Ed-David wars was October 2010. I suppose there’s more joy in heaven when a sinner repenteth but you’ve certainly taken your time reaching a conclusion you could and should have reached 8 long years ago, Mr M.

  11. Dave Roberts. says:

    The problem would seem to be Rob that the moderates have been swamped inside the party.

  12. paul barker says:

    The argument over what Labour Centrists/Moderates/Right Wingers shoud be called reflects a big difference between the 2 “sides” in the Labour debate. The Centrists define themselves by where they stand in The British Political spectrum – on The Centre-Left. The Labour Left on the other hand are talking about where they stand in the current Labour spectrum, which is very different from from what it was even 6 Months ago.
    Liz Kendall, as an example is both to the Left of perhaps 60% of The British Electorate while also on the Right Wing fringe of Labour opinion.

  13. Jose says:

    Here’s how just about every pontificating thin-tank piece goes these days…

    “Issue X is important to people’s lives…

    “The last Labour Government achieved a great deal on issue X… …but more needs to be done…

    “But the solutions back then can’t be the same solutions today… [REFERENCE EITHER TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE, DEVOLUTION, OR BOTH]… ENDS”

    I think the hard left owned us because they *inspired* members (even if they did so by talking garbage about returning to the 1940’s). How can the right inspire members? We can’t just tell them that a loony left Labour can’t ever win, even though its true.

    If a centrist Labour govt. had 30 years of dynastic rule how would WE transform the country???

  14. Richard says:

    I guess this is a political chicken and egg question, agenda or organisation?

    I think the problem you have in terms of stuff that folk vote on within the party is the platform you suggest the right (moderates indeed!) stand on. Through Momentum Corbyn will be able to organise and rally the troops so that they can enter and win key elections and votes will an obviously popular agenda, but what are the demoralised right going to ask a membership tired of the right to vote for?

    This is obviously where the ‘moderate soft left’ will come in, a tired liberal agenda with socialist rhetoric a la Byrne this week or Red Shift neo Blairite offerings. I think that has a problem though. It might get promoted in the press but look at the comments sections of the articles around Byrne’s policy ideas. You’ve been rumbled and the left are organised enough to promote the truth of your agenda, through Momentum and social media. I think we will win the argument in the CLP’s because of this.

    No, your best hope, and plan B, is that the undermining of Corbyn will continue in the press and other media, the presentation of a divided party will grow, the loss of the looming elections in May and the hope that the less active membership are ready to acquiesce to a coup after months of this.

    Best get your predictions better than you did in the leadership election if that’s the strategy though, because if you get it wrong deselections will be the order of the day.

  15. Richard says:

    I nearly forgot, plan C, the split. A rerun of the SDP to divide the vote, make sure labour lose in 2020 should the Tories crash and burn, leaving the field open, and then the ‘moderate soft left’ (neo Blairites) can ride in like knights on their white chargers to save the party from itself. Blair would support this I am sure, he said it when he said he wouldn’t want labour to win on a left wing program, and he has many acolytes and ideological bedfellows in the PLP that would risk their political career for sure fire promised seats on blue chip company boards if they fell on their swords, for the good of the nation of course.

  16. Mike Homfray says:

    The thing missing from this article is any understanding that none.of the other three candidates had anything much to say which excited or motivated party members. They seem to have little to offer other than more of the same.

  17. Labour so-called “moderates” should make the case for their moderation – if that is what they think it is.

    1) If they think the economy is like a household and the government can only spend what it raises in taxes they should explain why.

    2) If they think that the railways, the utilities, the Royal Mail etc are best run under private ownership and should not be renationalised they should explain that too.

    3) If the strongly agree with the UK’s membership of the EU they should talk about the successes of the EU more. They could talk about the successful economies of Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy etc. They could let us know why we are wrong to think that the Troika is essentially undemocratic in nature.

  18. Chris says:

    @Paul Barker

    You do realise the Blairite Tendency are the authoritarians? They were the ones behind 96-detention, ID cards, mass data retention, etc – Corbyn voted with the Lib Dems on these issues.

    Typical Lib Dem though, you’re changing your message to suit the audience – a little while ago on Lib Dem Voice you said:

    “… have gone to the Tories, most have come from the Right fringe of Labour & were always closer to Conservative thinking…”

    I wonder what would really happen if you succeed in cracking the tribal loyalties of the Labour right wing. A big or small group of MPs leaving Labour wouldn’t want to associate themselves with Lib Dem hypocrisies – endlessly explaining they didn’t sign the tuition fee pledge.

  19. James says:

    I think the die was cast when Labour decided to focus on cheap lazy attacks on the Lib Dems (to gain labour facing council seats) from 2010 to 2015. It spared them the task of intellectual heavy lifting to create a centrist narrative with new solutions to problems.

    Psychologically it felt more comfortable – comfort though wasn’t what was needed. Thus, it gave the green light to form a cosy `what if supporters club`. It’s not where the casual voter in Nuneaton or Northampton South actually is.

    Though nevermind – we’ll act like 90s style Lib Dems and try and make these people `see sense` from their own ignoranct and misjudged views.

    The die is cast. It doesn’t matter what you or I think. Most people aren’t into politics day in day out and all they think is `oh, he’s unpatriotic extremist loving weirdo`. His appointment of Seaumus Milne et al is a god send to the Tories.

    The tax credits thing (oddly he couldn’t even bring his lords to vote with the lib dems to stop the cuts) was an open goal as wide as a football pitch. People regard him as a `useful tool` in that regard.

  20. Ex Labour says:

    Rob, sensible stuff but way too late I’m afraid. It will take a massive election loss in 2020 to turn the tide and give the sensible and electable wing of the party a chance to regroup.

    When Militant were around the Labour leadership actually led and forced them out. The difference now is you have a leader who actually shares their views and moreover is appointing people like Milne who is possibly even more leftwing than Corbyn and not forgetting the likes of Yaqoob and gobshite keyboard warrior Fisher.

    A piece of advice from my old boss for the moment…”smile say yes and think bollocks” and then wait for the crash.

  21. TCO says:

    “They seem to have little to offer other than more of the same.”

    On the contrary; Liz Kendall was offering a distinctly Liberal programme (though she seemed blind to the truth of what it was) and Mrs Balls’ was a much more lukewarm and diluted version.

    The tragedy of British politics is that Liberals are dispersed between three parties at present. I sincerely hope that the moderate Labour MPs support proportional representation as then we could all find a home with more like-minded colleagues than FPTP forces us to tolerate.

  22. Seems to me Rob, that you would really need to discover what you did wrong last time before having an idea on how you are going to organize this time. What was wrong with the offer you made to the Labour electorate last time that only gave you 4.5% of the vote. Why did someone from the left who thought he had no chance walk away with 60% of the vote? Answer those questions and you may figure out what you did wrong last time. Problem is you may have to change some of your own ideas or just walk away.

  23. Mr Akira Origami says:

    4) …and education, health, public sector reliance in Wales.

  24. paul barker says:

    @ Chris The thing holding the mass of The PLP together now is anti-Corbynism. Obviously if they decide to form a New Party or defect, the differences would come to the surface. Some would be closer to The tories than The Libdems, a few might be closer to UKIP. MPs who joined The Libdems would have to drop a lot of baggage on the way, of which Authoritarianism would be just a part. Class prejudice would have to go too. Labour MPs dont have a lot of attractive choices open to them.

  25. Mr Akira Origami says:

    ““toxic” Nigel Farage who, alone, is going round the country speaking very well indeed”

    Toxic? 4 million votes, should have been 80 MPs. Did pretty good with only £6 million on campaign as opposed to British Labours £35 million.

    Nigel Farage….now there is a hard working man of principle and sense. A man who will stand up and say what the electorate are thinking.

  26. Hi Rob,

    A good article, and good luck! I’m a Lib Dem, but I’m horrified at what is happening to the Labour party.

    I know I have many soulmates in the Labour party, who believe the best way to fight poverty is to have a razor like focus on two things:
    – creating a stronger economy
    – using limited public funds in the most effective way possible to increase opportunity and reduce poverty

    Somehow, those of us who believe this must find a way of articulating the genuine idealism that underpins our beliefs.

    At present, moderates like us are in a terrible situation. In Labour, your shadow chancellor is now someone who believes in the overthrowing of capitalism. In the Lib Dems, most of our MPs have been wiped out.

    We now have the prospect of 20 years of Tory rule. Little by little, they’ll bring in measures that will make us more like the USA, where the poor and weak are at the bottom of the government’s priorities.

    These past five years we’ve been political enemies. Let’s put more effort in talking to each other. I think we have much more in common than we realize.

  27. Tafia says:

    I think Rob Marchant is failing to recognise reality and thus admit the truth.

    The New Labour project has been firmly and utterly rejected – by the electorate initially and now by the party membership. Remember, Brown was New Labour, Miliband was New Labour, Burnham, Kendall and Cooper are New Labour.

    Until you accept it, then you will not take the party back from Corbyn – and should he be dep[osed he will almost certainly be replaced by someone from the left of the part.

    New Labour.Blairism is not coming back. And even should you manage to resurrect it, the electorate at large will not vote for it.

    And not only England, but many countries in the EU are now moving rightwards because of ‘refugee’ crisis and the Islamist threat. And England (which is tory) is not going to a vote for a party that supports more EU integration, wants more immigrants and is perceived as soft on welfare benefits and asylum/refugees and their removal.

    Probably the next decade is not the best time for Labour to win (they won’t anyway – no matter who the leader is) – because the only way to win at the moment is to out tory the tories in England, a tory government that is more radical and rightist than Thatcher at her peak, and if they tried to out tory that, they would lose Scotland forever and Wales for a generation at lleast

  28. Anne says:

    I just need to say something about Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the recent attacks in France – he was lacking in any sense of emotion – out of step with every other leader who commented – ineffectual and lacking any sense of responsibility of his position. He looks like a person who has got himself into a position but has not got the skills or ability to deliver. Practicing politics of yesteryear he both looks it and sounds it. There is no vision on how to progress.

    Maybe it is time to reconsider – would it be in any way possible to have a vote of no confidence and replace him with Alan Johnson who is an experienced leader and has served in senior positions in government

  29. Chris says:

    @Paul Barker

    Your analysis, rather like your previous polling predictions, isn’t really reality based.

    1. How do you know what is “holding” the PLP together?

    2. Do you really believe that MPs having decided to split would then split in 3 or 4 directions? That really isn’t going to increase their chances of successfully replacing Labour as the centre left party.

    Finally, you admit yourself that any Blairite defectors to the LDs would have to radically change their beliefs on protecting people from terrorism. Or maybe you lot could do a tuition fees on it and become the party of the database state, 96 day detention and ID cards.

  30. @Paul Barker
    Hi Paul,

    I disagree. I think most moderate Labour people are people who are deeply committed to fighting poverty, as well as committed to a strong economy. I think they have a lot in common with many Lib Dems.

    I dislike the word authoritarianism. Some anarchists would probably call you an authoritarian, because you support the police.

    The question of where to find the right balance between security and liberty is difficult. I think we should all be more liberal in our attitudes to those who might find a different balance.

    I am a Lib Dem like you, and I think we should acknowledge that, just as moderate Labour members have suffered a very serious defeat this summer, so have we.

    The centre left are facing the prospect of perhaps 20 years of Tory rule, a populist anti-immigration party, populist nationalism, and a populist far left leadership of the Labour party.

    I’d like us to work harder at understanding each other. It may be we’ll need each other if we are to advance our shared beliefs.

  31. @George Kendall,

    You say you are in favour of “creating a stronger economy” (aren’t we all?) but HOW?

    What’s you’re economic model? Is it Keynesian or Monetarist? I might just remind you that Keynes was a Liberal !

    Have the Liberals forgotten that? Those on the Labour right aren’t interested in discussing economic theory any longer. The think that the Government’s budget is like Mrs Thatcher’s family grocery business and that the Govt is constrained in its spending by what it receives in taxation revenue. They just go quiet when asked to elaborate.

    They don’t like to be called Tories but it does sound like they’ve taken their economic theory from Hayek!

    Are the Liberals any different?

  32. Hi Peter,

    Thanks for the reply.

    Keynes was, indeed, a Liberal. But lots of myths have grown up about what he believed. In fact, he didn’t believe that you can run a structural deficit all the way through the economic cycle.

    Have a read of the following link:
    http://independentreport.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/john-maynard-keynes-was-right-and-not.html

    As for Hayek and Keynes being total opposites, while they disagreed, they also hugely admired each other.

    Read the following quote from Skidelsky:
    “Hayek praised Keynes’s anti-inflationary pamphlet How to Pay for the War: ‘It is reassuring to know’, Hayek wrote to Keynes after reading his anti-inflationary pamphlet How to Pay for the War, ‘that we agree so completely on the economics of scarcity, even if we differ on when it applies’. In turn, Keynes cordially welcomed Hayek’s Road to Serfdom: ‘It is a grand book…Morally and philosophically I find myself in agreement with virtually the whole of it; and not only in agreement, but in deeply moved agreement’.”

    There are some who treat economics as a manichean fight between good and evil, with their model being good, and anyone else’s evil. But most economists cannot be neatly categorised into these neat categories.

    There may be a few Keynesians who appear to argue for ever-increasing debt driven expenditure, except in the most exceptional circumstances.

    But there are many other kinds of Keynesians.

    Vince Cable, for example, is a Keynesian, and he describes himself as a deficit hawk.

    I don’t yet know the moderate folk who write at labour-uncut. But I suspect they are the same, with a range of nuanced views, and hopefully enough intellectual honesty to know that economic theory very much theory, and that while we might have opinions on which economic model to follow, we should always be prepared to accept that we might be wrong.

  33. Chris says:

    @petermartin2001

    Like quite a lot of posters on here, Mr Kendall is a Lib Dem Voice regular and has set out his potted Keynesian economic theory several times on that site. Its the usual stuff that everything would have been fine and dandy if only the tiny deficit in 2007 had been a tiny surplus.

  34. paul barker says:

    Labour is under new management, a new leadership slowly but surely taking control of the Party machiniery. Buts its not just a new head, labour has a partly new body as well – almost half the membership have joined since May. Those new members arent just further to the Left, they have also absorbed lots of Marxist thinking.
    Labour Moderates/Centrists should face up to the reality that Labour is not their Party anymore. In the long run the Centrists have only 3 options : drop out of politics, leave Labour or fight a war of mutual destruction with The Left. I would argue for leaving because it will waste the least time & energy. The simplest route is defection to The Libdems – join us & help us rebuild an effective opposition to The Tories.

  35. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for giving my articles in LDV a plug. If anyone wants to read any of them, follow the link from my name above.

    I’m sorry you got the impression that I was saying that austerity could have been completely avoided if a small surplus had been run before the great recession. Perhaps, in the heat of coalition controversy, I did lash out a bit at Gordon Brown. However, I did repeatedly make the point that there were good people in the Labour party, one of them being Alistair Darling. And I do admire Brown for his financial restraint around the turn of the millenium.

    But let’s not fight the battles of the past. These days, when I switch on the television, more times than not the politicians I most relate to are social democrats from the Labour party like Tristram Hunt.

    I’d be interested, Chris, rather than responding to my articles from a few years ago, what you think of the article from the independentreport that I link to above, and whether it gives a fair overview of Keynes.

    And whether you agree with Lord Skidelsky that Keynes and Hayek sometimes were in strong agreement.

    It’s true that a few of us Lib Dems seem now to be commenting here. Because of the present situation, I’ve increasingly been feeling that I should spend less time talking to Lib Dems, and more time talking to my ideological soulmates in the Labour party. I hope you guys don’t mind if I continue to post comments here.

  36. Anne says:

    No Paul I am afraid you are very wrong – it is now not just about theories about economic policies but about the safety of our country. I would suggest you read Dan Hodges article on Corbyn in today’s Telegraph – found on line.
    It is now tiime to start a partition for the removal of Corbyn for the good of the Labour Party and most certainly for the safety of our country.

  37. steve says:

    Paul Barker: “The simplest route [for Blairites] is defection to The Libdems”

    I’m sure many would like to but there are no career opportunities to be had in the LibDems. The LibDems pushed the self-destruct button when they exchanged principle for ministerial limousines and, appropriately, they are now despised and derided.

    Rather than jump onto a sinking ship the Blairites should follow Rob’s example: get another career.

  38. Mike Homfray says:

    It seems obvious to me – as someone on the left of the Labour party – that its continued existence, and for that matter, the existence of other parties, is down to our electoral system. There are people on the right of the Labour party who have far more in common with people in other parties than some of those in their own. Someone like George Kendall (I think we were at university together in the early 80’s) would probably have more in common with the Tristram Hunts of this world than I do, yet I am in the same party as Tristram

    If we had a proportional system, the drab manifestos aimed at trying to win majorities could be placed by far more honest appeals to the electorate, in the knowledge that the likely government would combine at least two of the parties on offer, and that those parties could then aim to get at least some of their programme into government without trying to pretend they believe things they simply don’t.

    Perhaps we need another hung parliament to move towards this necessary change – because the outcome of continuing the way we are is that politics becomes more and more suspected by a large proportion of the population

  39. @Mike Homfray
    Hi Mike,

    Obviously, despite you being well to the left of me, I completely agree with you.

    I’ve always been very disappointed that moderate progressives in the Labour party haven’t supported PR. It seems to me that, association with the far left has made it very difficult for moderate Labour people to appeal to centrist voters, and this is a major reason why the Tories have won so many elections. Indeed, I think that problem may be why the Blair government became so right wing – they needed to exaggerate their rightwing credentials in order to compensate for the presence of people like Corbyn in their party.

    There are a range of reasons why I never joined the Labour party. One was that at university they didn’t even want me on their mailing list. But, in all the years since then, a key issue has been the failure of Labour to embrace electoral reform.

    I believe electoral reform is vital to solve many of the underlying problems in UK democracy. First past the post doesn’t just distort the Labour party. We also have, on the right, hard rightwingers pretending to be liberal conservatives, using moderate language, and then implementing awful rightwing policies on the quiet.

    If we had, say, five parties, people could be more honest, and we’d more consistently have governments who represented the consensus opinion of UK politics.

    I hope that this crisis over Corbyn will make Labour moderates reflect on whether electoral reform might be a good idea after all. We already have the Jenkins report to look to for a way forward.

    (Mike, your name rings a bell, but I can’t quite place you. If you want to send a private facebook message to me, it’d be great to chat, and confirm whether we know each other.
    https://www.facebook.com/georgetskendall

    And if anyone else wants to message me via facebook, please do. Especially if you want to talk about building better relations between moderate Labour members and the Lib Dems.)

    @Anne
    Hi Anne,

    I agree. Obviously, as a Lib Dem I’d dearly like it if like-minded people from Labour were to join my party. But country is more important than party.

    If you can get rid of Corbyn, clearly it’s important you do so. If he ever became Prime Minister, his policies would be a disaster, but of course that’ll never happen. What is certain, is that his presence as leader of the Labour party makes long-term Tory government extremely likely.

    But if you can’t get rid of him. Please don’t leave politics. The country needs you, and there are other options.

  40. Tafia says:

    PR. Jesus wept. How many more times.

    The ordinary voter doesn’t want it – they want constituency-based because they like identifying with ‘their man’ at local level.

    Possibly the way ahead is eliminating the Lords and having a PR-based second Chamber of 500 seats, divided regionally so that Scotland, Wales and NI are not drowned out and their partoes at that ;level decide who takes their allocated seats, not London party HQs (ie Labour Wales decides who gets the Wales cut of Labours seats, not London).

    Just for a laugh, what such a 500 seat strictly PR based second Chamber would look like, using PR based on the 4 componant countries and how they voted in 2015.

    Firstly, the seats are allocated to each componant country representing it’s total registered voter base whether they voted or not:-

    England 413 seats
    Scotland 46 seats
    Wales 26 seats
    NI 15 seats

    These then re-allocated according to vote within each componant country, using the standard 5% qualifying cut-off.

    England (413 seats)
    Con 177, Lab 138, UKIP 62, LD 36

    Scotland (46 seats)
    SNP 23, SLab 13, SCon 7, SLibDem 3

    Wales (26 seats)
    WLab 9, WCon 7, WUKIP 4, Plaid 4, WLibDem 2

    Northern Ireland (15 seats)
    DUP 5, SF 4, UUP, 3, SDLP 2, APNI 1

    Making a UK second Chamber (needing 249 as an overall, provided SF don’t sit)

    Con 191
    Lab 160
    UKIP 66
    LD 42
    SNP 23
    DUP 5
    SF 4
    Plaid 4
    UUP 3
    SDLP 2
    APNI 1

    As for the fist Chamber, that should remain Constituency, however there are ways of making it more balanced.

    Firstly levelling the size of the Constituencies population-wise.
    Secondly instituting a more realistic result by either second round runoffs, or halving the number of constituencies and first and second place go to Westminster, or numbering the candidates and making the voter number them all in preference or their vote is invalid.

    Other ideas.
    Scrap postal voting except for specific requirement based on need (disabled, overseas etc etc). Expanding it hasn’t worked and it has been corrupted.
    Switch voting to 6pm Friday through to 6pm Saturday. (24 hours, when nearly everyine then has no excuse).
    Connect (at the individual voter’s request) to their bank account so they can vote for their constituency candidates at any cashpoint in the country.
    Give people £10 to register to vote and £10 off their council tax every time they vote.
    Fine people if they don’t attend their Polling Station without reasonable excuse. They don’t have to vote of they don’t want to, but theuy must attend and be crossed off.
    Make people produce acceptable identity. I have seen people dressed in clown suits, a duck fancy dress costume, guy fawkes mask and other things that make them completely non identifiable walk in to a polling station and vote unchallenged. That is a farce.

  41. @George Kendall @ Chris,

    Thanks for your replies.

    I would say I’m generally Keynesian in outlook too, which doesn’t mean BTW that I believe the government can spend without limit. But, having said that, I don’t think Keynes got it quite right on the question of the budget deficit over the cycle.

    He ignored the possibility that a country could be a persistent net importer or a net exporter, IMO. That could have been because the fixed exchange rate regime of his era made the persistent external deficits (trade and other international payments) that we see in the UK of around 5% of GDP currently impossible.

    Whatever the reason, if the country is running an external deficit of N% (of GDP) then the government needs to run a budget deficit of N% too, just to keep things all square in the economy. Conversely if the country runs a surplus of N% in trade….

    The options, as I see it, for Govt are:

    1) Learn to love deficit spending.
    2) Do something to reduce the trade deficit.
    3) Carry on as they are and crash the economy.

    Would appreciate your comments. The question of the budget deficit is high on all parties’ agendas. It would be a pity if we got it wrong and did crash the economy by trying to ‘square the circle’.

  42. @petermartin2001

    I completely agree with you about the trade deficit. In my opinion, enormous trade imbalances are a ticking time bomb, waiting to create another crisis. We and the USA are very large net importers, this can clearly continue for a long time (it has), but eventually there will be a correction, and I fear the correction will be very damaging.

    My problem with allowing a government deficit in response to the trade gap is that this will reduce the short term pain, but in the future steadily make the problem worse. The government stimulus of the deficit creates more demand which sucks in more imports. I believe borrowing is a short term fix which will have to be paid for in the long term. That doesn’t mean, as Keynes believed, that borrowing in a recession is wrong, just that we have to be honest about having to pay for it later (again, as Keynes believed).

    I admit I’m not an expert here, but I know enough to distrust a lot of what some celebrity economists say, and particularly when they claim their model will predict the future perfectly.

    Vince Cable has a great quote on this: “Those who claim to foresee the future are lying even if by chance they are later proved right.”
    http://quotes365.net/quote/25485/10702

    I’m not arguing we deliberately crash the economy. I think we need to try to keep the economy growing, try to keep the deficit and borrowing under control, and do what we can to correct the trade deficit.

    Ultimately, solving the trade deficit may not be something we can do on our own, but will require action by net exporting countries like China and Germany.

    Some economists in the IMF argue that after balancing the budget, economically, it may be best to get rid of debt by growth rather than cuts. They admit they may be wrong, but I’m open to considering these sorts of new ideas, as long as we accept that significant borrowing has serious long term costs (as these IMF economists acknowledge).

  43. @George Kendall,

    I’d agree that we can’t foresee the future but, on the other hand, we do need to have a correct road map otherwise we’ll certainly end up in a place we’d rather not be.

    There are two aspects to consider over the question of the govt deficit. One is the purely economic and the other is the political. Those economists who argue that the deficit ‘doesn’t really matter’ and that we can continue to fund both a govt deficit and a trade deficit indefinitely providing there is enough demand for govt securities are, I believe, technically correct. But politically the situation is not at all straightforward for the reason that the electorate probably won’t go for it. I was going to say that sooner or later the electorate will panic and vote for a party promising exactly the wrong sort of policies but they’ve already done that !

    If we don’t have any economic growth and the deficit carries on as it is, at something like 4% of GDP then every decade we’ll see a 40% rise in the ‘National Debt’. Japan has demonstrated that there’s no real problem with having a ND of 200% of GDP but if the electorate see that as a sign of failure, as they probably will, then we’ve all got big problems.

    The danger is that we’re starting to impose the sort of rules on ourselves that the EU imposes on those countries using the euro. We’re making the mistake of thinking that we can cut the deficit by cutting spending but all we end up doing is cutting our taxation revenue too. So the deficit doesn’t fall as planned and the economy spirals ever downward as deeper cuts follow deep cuts.

    I’m probably well to the left of you politically, but if my road map is right and Cameron’s and Osborne’s is wrong then we’re all, regardless of our position in the political spectrum, heading fast for a very bad place indeed. If you’d like to explore these ideas on LDV then I’d be happy to co-operate with you.

    https://www.facebook.com/peter.martin.3139

  44. Tafia says:

    but will require action by net exporting countries like China and Germany.

    Why should they. If we have a problem with importing to much then that is our problem and our problem only, so reduce the ability of people to consume by reducing their spending power, or manufacture the goods that people want here in oour country opf a quality to match and at a cheaper retail price.

  45. @Tafia,

    “Why should they?”

    Yes, I agree. If we wait for the Germans, who are far more mercantilist that the Chinese BTW we’ll wait forever.

    If we want to balance our trade we need to stop selling gilts and paying out interest. Instead we charge anyone, like the Germans do, who wants to park their exmoney here.

    Alternatively we understand that if we run an external deficit

  46. @Tafia,

    “Why should they?”

    Yes, I agree. If we wait for the Germans, who are far more mercantilist that the Chinese BTW we’ll wait forever.

    If we want to balance our trade we need to stop selling gilts and paying out interest. Instead we charge anyone, like the Germans do, who wants to park their excess money here.

    Alternatively, we understand that if we run an external deficit we have to run an internal deficit too, deficit spending as necessary to keep the money circulating back to where its needed.

    We learn that real ‘economic literacy’, or real ‘fiscal responsibility’ is quite different f

  47. @petermartin2001

    There are very few economists who think the deficit doesn’t matter.

    Even the high priest of deficit spending, Paul Krugman, has said: “give me an economic recovery, I’ll become a fiscal hawk”.

    The reason is obvious. Deficit spending doesn’t come out of nowhere, it comes from lenders. Lenders don’t mind if deficit spending is a temporary measure to soften the effect of a recession. But if they fear the government might cheat them by inflating its way out of a large debt, then they’ll demand very high interest rates. If they thought the UK might default, the interest rates will be so prohibitive that the UK would effectively not be able to borrow.

    About 30% of UK national debt is held by oversees investors. The majority is held by domestic organisations like pension funds. But there’s nothing to stop them investing overseas if they think the government is going to cheat them.

    Even if the UK decided to use inflation to solve it’s problems, there are two other problems. About 25% is index linked, so inflation wouldn’t help. And, while you’ve a deficit, you’ve got to continue to borrow, in order to keep the UK solvent, no matter how high your inflation.

    Japan is in a very unusual situation. From the economist (http://ftalphaville.ft.com/2015/02/23/2119935/is-japan-in-danger-of-a-fiscal-crisis/) here’s a couple of factors:

    – Japan’s public debt is denominated in yen and mostly held by Japanese residents. To the extent that these bonds pay interest, they’re merely a mechanism for transferring wealth from one set of Japanese to another.

    – Japan’s government debt is often overstated. We were surprised that Ito repeatedly cited the gross public debt figure of 245 per cent of GDP. That’s correct, but a bit misleading, since much of the debt is held by other branches of government and because the government owns many valuable assets. Net all this out and the debt burden plunges below 140 per cent of GDP, according to the International Monetary Fund. (Here is a claim that Japan’s Ministry of Finance estimates the net debt figure at just 90 per cent.) And that doesn’t even include the 210 trillion in JGBs held by the Bank of Japan. Cut that out and the actual debt burden is closer to 50 per cent of GDP.

    I could add more. But, the above gives you a taste for why I so disagree so strongly with those who think we can carry on running structural deficits even during the boom years.

    There are differences between a country and a household. The UK has the option of inflating its way out of debt. During the downturn in the economic cycle, many economists believe increasing debt helps growth, so is a good idea.

    But government debt isn’t that different. Ultimately, the debt will have to be repaid by taxes at a later point. If we can guarantee that the UK will be enormously richer in twenty years time than today, maybe that doesn’t matter. But what if we’re not? With an ageing population, many forecasters worry that things will get harder, not easier, in the coming years.

    I fear that by running big deficits today, we’re going to make it far harder to maintain the welfare system as it is in twenty years time.

    I fear that the country in 20 years, faced with increased cuts in the NHS, pensions, and many other public services, will curse us today for making those cuts so much worse.

    And if I’m right, then those pushing for ever more deficit spending aren’t progressives, fighting for a better welfare state. Their approach could end up destroying the welfare state. And destroying the welfare state isn’t leftwing at all.

  48. @Tafia,

    “Why should they?”

    Yes, I agree. If we wait for the Germans, who are far more mercantilist that the Chinese BTW we’ll wait forever.

    If we want to balance our trade we need to stop selling gilts and paying out interest. Instead we charge anyone, like the Germans do, who wants to park their excess money here.

    Alternatively, we understand that if we run an external deficit we have to run an internal deficit too, deficit spending as necessary to keep the money circulating back to where its needed.

    We learn that real ‘economic literacy’, or real ‘fiscal responsibility’ is quite different from simply calling for a ‘balancing of the books’.

  49. George Kendall,

    You say the Government can only get money it needs “from lenders”. But where do they get it from? Where does money come from in the first instance? That’s really the key question which no-one is keen to discuss. Do governments start off a currency by creating a certain amount, and say OK we’ve created N billion. That’s it. We’re finished. We’re never going to create a penny more otherwise we’ll end up like the Weimar Republic?

    How is it that interest rates are ultra low when government borrowing is relatively high? If interest rates are market dependent, as you suggest they are, why don’t those borrowers use their market strength to push them up higher?

    Labour-uncut isn’t the best forum for this kind of discussion. The Labour right are blinkered in their attitude and choose to be ultra neo-liberal in their economic approach as part of their war on the Labour left.

    I’d be slightly more optimistic about the Lib Dems. You are the party of Keynes after all. Keynes was basically right but we do have to modify his ideas slightly to allow for the fact that now, unlike in Keynes’s time, currencies are totally fiat, fully floating and with no links to any precious metals.

    Any chance of accepting an article for LDV to test out these ideas through sensible debate?

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