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The change in Labour’s membership is different to the 1980s, but could be just as dangerous

06/09/2016, 09:31:50 AM

by Trevor Fisher

The Corbyn phenomenon is starting to attract academic attention, and is clearly not understood at any level by the parliamentarians and other observers. It is time to take the phenomenon seriously, as it will not go away. However unlike the 1980s left surge, which was largely activist driven so the approach of the party establishment was to shift to OMOV to outflank the activists with a mass membership, the current surge seems to be a mass membership of Corbynites – though Momentum may not be critically significant –  while the activists are resistant. The recent YouGov poll puts the support for Corbyn highest in new members and  lowest in the older membership.

If the new members are Corbynites the effect will be to undermine the activity base of the party and weaken the attempt to get a Labour government. As set out below, the research throws a grim light on the two theories I have heard in the last week, do nothing and allow JC’s regime to implode, or set up a shadow opposition in the Commons which will match each official pronouncement with an unofficial and critical one.

The research into the post 2015 membership

Professor Tim Bale, using the YouGov data of 2026 members and supporters who joined the Labour Party after May 2015, and comparing with previous data in May 2015 of members ‘when Ed Miliband was leader’, the new members were much the same age as the Miliband era members at just over 51. The youth surge has not translated into member/supportership. Six out of ten have degrees, the same for both groups, but contrasting the pre and post 2015 membership “they are even more middle class, “with 78% of them (compared to 70%) of them being ABC1”.

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The UK, the EU, Labour – all are fragile; all are worth preserving

31/08/2016, 06:21:25 PM

by Will Brett

Nabokov’s incestuous lovers Ada and Van have a scheme for appreciating the good things in life. When something lovely happens, it is known to them as a ‘real thing’. When three ‘real things’ happen at the same time, they call it a ‘tower’ and revere it above all else. One morning on a balcony, Van observes Ada eating honey on bread. “Real thing?” he asks. “Tower,” she replies. He understands that the honey is one real thing; she tells him that a wasp, whose “body was throbbing”, is the second; but what is the third? “She said nothing. She licked her spread fingers, still looking at him. Van, getting no answer, left the balcony. Softly her tower crumbled in the sweet silent sun.”

Political alliances are fragile, beautiful things, made up of several parts. And if one of those parts is removed, the tower will crumble in the sweet silent sun.

The compromises required to form one of these alliances are always vast. Take three of them: the United Kingdom, the European Union and the Labour Party. The UK brought together warring nations locked in mutual antipathy. The EU is a pan-continental response to the largest slaughter in history, requiring eternal enemies to come together at last. And the Labour Party, formed in response to mass industrial hardship, required delicate negotiations between trade unionists (of both the closed-shop and radical kind), intellectual Fabians and radical socialists.

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The Parliamentary Labour Party has displayed dreadful judgement and the situation could yet get worse

19/08/2016, 11:32:23 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Despite the legal issues being resolved, Labour’s political options are becoming more sharp-edged and legalistic. This situation is worsened by the antics of the Parliamentary Labour Party, a group whose political judgement and even grasp of political rules is dire.

I agree with Richard MacKinnon in the comments for my last piece questioning, “How can a party be trusted running a country when they can’t even run themselves?” though his call for a purge is unwise. But the key issue is that the MPs can’t get the most basic political issues right. Certainly the Labour rules and those of the British constitution seem to be beyond them.

The MPs were deeply foolish in acting to pass the vote of no confidence, which has had no effect other than to trigger the current leadership contest. That Corbyn simply ignored the vote is a sign the MPs did not understand the nature of the man, and once he called their bluff they had to challenge him… hoping it must be assumed that the NEC would exclude him from the ballot paper or perhaps the courts would.

Even before they made these foolish moves, which risks Corbyn winning a new and stronger mandate, the MPs had made many stupid decisions. Bob Crossley was right in his comment to me that the big mistake was letting JC onto the ballot paper, but it remains the case that the previous mistake was approving the Miliband reforms which only allowed the MPs to have the limited control of nominating. Which they then bungled as fools like Margaret Beckett and Frank Field nominated JC. He can’t be blamed for saying Thanks Very Much.

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I came to the debate supporting Jeremy Corbyn. I left backing Owen Smith

05/08/2016, 10:03:13 AM

by Brian Back

Passions were running very high in the audience for this debate.

This was particularly apparent when Smith stated he was scared the Party would split and that disunity would lead to electoral failure, which to the many Corbyn supporters in the room, seemed hugely hypocritical, as to them, he was one of the main causes of the disunity.

On the whole, Corbyn seemed more passionate than Smith. There is absolutely no doubting his genuine commitment to the cause and to the socialist program he proposes.

However, although Corbyn had passion, Smith was slicker in his presentation.

Much of the time, their ideas were very similar- except on Trident! On Trident; although Smith put forward a decent argument, Corbyn’s knowledge, understanding and passion seemed to clearly win this round, on which Smith conceded that they would just have to agree to disagree.

Because of the similarity of most of their ideas, it is obvious to see that Corbyn has already achieved his main original aim- of bringing socialist ideas back to the forefront of the Party’s manifesto.

In fact, it would be true to say that Smith is entirely a child of Corbyn’s leadership, as, due to all the new members that Corbyn has attracted, Smith has no choice but to put across a similarly left-wing program, without which he has no chance of winning over Corbyn’s supporters, or of retaining their support as members, if he wins this contest.

So, in this, we can already judge Corbyn a success.

As for the debate; who had more success?

Corbyn had a greater number of supporters, so he naturally received more applause.

However, Smith had a surprisingly large number of supporters on his side too, who reacted equally passionately to his points.

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Labour’s much changed leadership rules are a case study in the law of unintended consequences

29/07/2016, 01:43:19 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Lenin once said that some months only contain a week’s worth of action. While some weeks contain many months of activity. Currently the Labour party is living through years of action in a few weeks, but the last weeks of July saw particularly significant developments.

Firstly, during the 48 hours 18th to 20th June, the NEC devised window for upgrading £3 supporter subs to £25 to buy a place in the leadership ballot passed. Astonishingly, even in the Corbyn era, the Labour party gained 133,000 registered supporters in a matter of hours. One third of the selectorate was now registered supporters. By 28th July the BBC – Shaun Ley – was reporting the figure was 183,500. Where the extra members had come from is part of the current mystery.

We will not know till September who this benefits But it is very clear that a politically savvy cohort of some size now exists, understanding deadlines and able to spend £25 without blinking an eyelid to vote for the leader. And the Labour party has effectively no way of knowing who they might be – even if local parties tried to check the validity of the applications, they do not have enough time to do so. Ley reported that in HQ a mere 15 people are trying to check social media for unacceptable attitudes. But the problems are not about classical entryism.

Labour leadership elections are increasingly randomised, a marked contrast with the Tories who carried out a selection process which secured the choice of the M Ps. Labour’s M Ps have not just lost control of the process – which they did under the Miliband reforms – but have demonstrated this by launching a coup which seems to have relied on Corbyn not being on the ballot paper.

The NEC allowed him on, which lead to Michael Foster, ex- Labour PPC, launching a legal challenge which is the second major development. But before considering this, a few background points on the assumptions going for a dubious revolt, rather than a sensible redrafting of the rules for a mid-term election. This is increasingly necessary as the party fragments and shows the failure of the core theory of New Labour.

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Jeremy Corbyn has turned Labour into a middle class personality cult

20/07/2016, 01:32:12 PM

by George Morris

Jeremy Corbyn has a massive mandate, apparently. The mandate is so big, some of Corbyn’s fans argue, that the current challenge to his leadership is anti-democratic. ‘The People’ have decided that Corbyn is leader, he has a mandate, and everyone else should shut up. But things are more complicated than that.

Christine Shawcroft, a loyalist NEC member running for re-election, recently told the BBC that Corbyn had the biggest mandate in Labour Party history. That isn’t true. What constitutes a mandate is governed by the rules of the game, and up until the mid nineties that meant bloc votes, which invariably delivered enormous mandates to Labour leaders. If you think Corbyn’s 59.5 per cent is impressive, then take a look at Kinnock’s 73.1 per cent in 1983, the first election in which the opinions of people outside the PLP first mattered. When Tony Benn challenged this mandate in 1988, with the backing of Jeremy Corbyn, Kinnock’s mandate got even bigger, at 88.6 per cent. Still, it was nothing compared to John Smith’s 91 per cent in 1992.

Of course, we’re not comparing like with like. Bloc votes awarded candidates with massive chunks of the electorate, and we can expect the numbers to look rather different once selections were opened up. Of the three Labour leaders to have faced the Labour selectorate since the abolition of bloc voting, Corbyn does indeed have the biggest mandate, at 59.5 per cent. Ed Miliband got 50.7 per cent of the vote, in the fourth round, after being behind his brother all the way through, and so it never felt like an impressive victory. But Blair wasn’t far behind Corbyn, with 57 per cent of the vote in 1994.

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Labour has a leadership vacancy but no takers

15/07/2016, 06:53:13 PM

by Robin Thorpe

The Labour party is always at its best when it is seen as a modernising force; a movement that has the capability to tangibly improve the lives of people across the UK. This was true for Prime Ministers Atlee, Wilson and Blair. This is perhaps why the current crop of Labour MPs sees Corbyn, a representative of a historical aspect of Labour, as the problem rather than the solution. But the complete lack of any ideas from the challengers, let alone principles, means that any coup was doomed to fail before it had begun.

The launch of Angela Eagle’s leadership challenge typified the earnest but empty hand-wringing that is all the vast majority of the PLP seemingly have to offer the country. The speech was full of platitudes and expressions of dismay over Corbyn’s lack of leadership, but utterly devoid of any vision for a brighter future or strategy of how to achieve this. Her argument is that she is better than Jeremy because Jeremy failed.

Leadership is a process by which a person influences others to accomplish an objective and directs the organization in a way that makes it more cohesive and coherent. Corbyn has accomplished this to some extent with the Labour membership and the leaders of the trade unions. He clearly hasn’t with the PLP and opinion polls suggest that he has failed to influence the wider electorate. Angela Eagle has set out her challenge for the leadership by offering a more cohesive party. But leadership is not about better management; it is about providing direction. Defining what an organisation is about and where it will take its stakeholders.

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Labour’s leadership plotting is going to end in tears

11/07/2016, 08:50:08 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Last autumn the Labour leadership issues seemed possible to discuss objectively, with a possible clean up of a deeply confused rule book. Perhaps even a sensible mid-term election could be devised while the Fixed Term Parliament Act was in force, a mid term election being discussed in passing during the summer leadership debates. This is no longer possible and even before a rumoured leadership plot is launched, the situation is becoming more confused and dangerously fraught.

The context of what Kevin Meagher rightly described as a ‘putsch‘ is internal disputes in the Whitehall bubble, mirroring tensions over Labour’s direction. There has been little to justify a leadership challenge despite the EU referendum dispute, and as Kevin Meagher pointed out, “The risk is that the current putsch plays straight into the hands of the Corbynites and inflicts lasting, long term damage on the party”. This is clearly true and while I suspect a general election in the autumn is unlikely for Theresa May, if one was called leadership dispute would seriously damage Labour.

However the immediate issues are two-fold, and centre on the nature of the putsch.

The first issue is whether they plotters can keep Corbyn off the ballot paper. If the rules are used to prevent enough supporters to nominate Corbyn, I cannot see how a legal challenge is unavoidable. He is the elected Labour leader. Whether he can be excluded is open to legal challenge but if successfully excluded, this has the effect of making the leadership a PLP matter. The membership is merely rubber stamping the PLP decision.

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Labour needs to take a step back and be clear about our post-Brexit agenda

09/07/2016, 07:15:18 PM

by Tom Clements

It is impossible to overstate the position that our country and our party faces after the most tumultuous of weeks in British politics.

Like so many of us, I have been completely blindsided both by the result of the referendum and the rapidity of the changing news cycle. It would be too easy to continue our Brexit hangover and concentrate purely on the machinations of Labour’s impending leadership contest or shudder at the thought of Andrea Leadsom as our next Prime Minister.

But now it’s time to take a step back.

The people of Britain voted to leave the European Union.

Whilst I believed passionately in the need for Britain to stay in the European Union, I don’t believe that we should dispute the result. The people of Britain made a choice and we should accept it. To fail to do so would reinforce every negative stereotype about politics and politicians.

Economic collapse, our union breaking apart, racial tension, punitive immigration, the most right-wing Conservative Party leader in a generation. The potential negative consequences of leaving the European Union don’t bare thinking about.

So it’s time for us to step up.

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MPs are acting now on Corbyn to escape the cycle of defeat which dominates Labour’s history

29/06/2016, 09:00:54 PM

by Frederick Cowell

“Michael there are people who are going out to fight the election who won’t be coming back….” Gerald Kaufmann said “I implore you stand aside from the leadership.” Michael Foot listened carefully and then somewhat apologetically lent forward in his chair and said, “I’m sorry Gerald I just can’t do that.”

It was February 1983 – four months later went down to its second largest General Election defeat in history. From Attlee in 1954 to Brown in January 2010 the same conversation has been had – ‘we’re going to lose, your leadership is taking us there.’

History creates odd prisms through which to view things. It is hard to remember that there was once a Post-Miliband – Pre-Corbyn period in the Labour party. But that period was an attempt to confront the conversation that has dogged Labour’s history.

Less than 10 days after the 2015 general election the Labour leader in the House of Lords said that party needed a break clause with their new leader in 2018. A day later the Guardian called for a two-year interim leader and suggested Alan Johnson for the role.

Alastair Campbell warned a week later that he would step in and remove any failing leader after three years and although this provoked a scornful reaction from John Prescott, Campbell stood his ground.

“If only the rest of Labour wanted to win as badly as he did” tweeted the FT’s political correspondent Jannan Ganesh.

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