Letting Farron and Sturgeon lead the pro-European camp is a road to ruin for Labour

02/01/2017, 10:20:09 PM

by Trevor Fisher

2017 will be a more challenging year than 2016, a year when progressives lost on all fronts.  In the USA the Democrats lost the Presidency to Trump and in Congressional elections. At home, Labour and pro Europeans lost the popular vote to Remain, and the far right advanced all over the European Union. The trends are ominous.

There is growing evidence that Brexit is now the defining issue in British politics, gridlocking all debates at Westminster and shaping voting attitudes. As commentators have noted, notably the UK in a Changing Europe report, Labour is in danger of slipping into a black hole with pro-Remain Labour voters going Lib Dem, and Leave inclined voters supporting UKIP. Labour could face challenges in England and Wales mirroring those in Scotland, where the political option is now Tory vs SNP on the dominant issue independence.

Some Labour MPs, having noticed a significant number of working class voters opted for Leave, seek an accommodation with Brexit. But there is no political advantage in accepting Brexit. Principled politics already demand rejecting the reactionary Brexit position, but practical politics indicate there is no mileage in betraying the majority of Labour voters who supported its position.

The concerns of those who voted to Leave have to be addressed, but not by accepting Brexit. Keir Starmer and John McDonnell are showing welcome signs that Remain to Reform policy is more than a slogan. But this will be irrelevant unless Labour can hold the line on the key issue – opposition to Brexit.

Political reality is that the vote on June 23rd, while massive, was effectively suicidal for UK politics and Brexit cannot be delivered without severe damage to the UK in general, and working class people in particular. This will become increasingly clear as Article 50 is triggered.

There will be a second independence referendum in Scotland unless Brexit can be defeated, although a Brexit which does not apply to Scotland is an illusion. Britain will be faced with chaos as its internal politics collapses and the chill winds of political reality bite.

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A progressive alliance makes sense for by-elections, not the general election

06/12/2016, 06:05:01 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The Richmond by-election on November 30th was a welcome victory despite the poor Labour showing. In Richmond I would have voted Lib Dem, to defeat a Tory-UKIP backed candidate. Tim Farron claimed the Lib Dems are back, but there are a string of Liberal by election victories back to Orpington (1962) which proved false. Richmond does however put support for the Compass advocated progressive alliance strategy back on the agenda. Labour ignores this at its peril though beyond by-elections the strategy is questionable.

Richmond demonstrates that Brexit now dominates UK politics. Given that Richmond was heavily for Remain, and the allegedly independent Zac Goldsmith was Brexit, he was headed for a fall.

However there are seats in which the electorate are heavily pro Brexit, and there UKIP may do well. Labour is vulnerable, UKIP being second in 41 Labour seats. It is as possible that a UKIP surge can happen in Labour heartlands, and also in Tory seats where a hard Brexit appeal may grow as the failure of May to deliver has an impact. The longer the negotiations take the more political culture will be poisoned.

Labour failed to have by-election strategy in Richmond, linked to its lack of clarity over Brexit.

Corbyn’s strategy of not opposing Brexit but calling for scrutiny of a deal is too close to Blairite triangulation for comfort. Owen Smith’s call for a second referendum is principled, but the challenge of a second referendum would be considerable. However it is less risky than an election which could devastate Labour for years to come.

While May is unlikely to call a general election immediately, a parliamentary blocking approach can trigger an election rather than a second referendum. If this were to happen the Progressive Alliance needs to be scrutinised. As a by-election tactic it is relevant. But a general election is a different matter.
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Brexit and Trump: A disaster for liberalism caused by liberal elites

21/11/2016, 08:02:27 AM

by Robert Wragg

2016 has borne witness to perhaps the biggest rise in anti-establishment anger in a generation, but it hasn’t come from the usual suspects. No longer is it the radical left protesting the political elite, but rather it is regular working class voters, and they’re looking to the right. Culminating in the British public’s vote to leave the European Union, and the election of Donald Trump in the USA, liberal left parties are struggling to gather enough support from the electorate. The same is true on both sides of the pond, as in many others countries. So why is this happening?

In both the EU referendum and US presidential election, socially democratic and liberal parties failed to recognise that they had lost the support of the working-class voters, or where they did accept this, proclaimed those people to be simply ‘wrong’ in their growing dissatisfaction with liberal ideas, framing them as racists or bigots with neither the numbers nor the power to influence the vote. Proponents of liberalism refused to engage with them. Instead, they continued to provide more of the same moral superiority and neo-liberal economic, socially liberal package, with an ‘end of history’ style arrogance. In doing so they appealed only to those whose vote they had already won, their ideas bouncing around the echo chamber that is social media, reinforcing their feelings of righteousness.

Alienation of working class voters from the establishment in the UK, and alienation of white non-college educated individuals from the establishment in the USA – the story is the same; a political elite pushing a hegemonic ideology of social liberalism with such hubris that it either doesn’t notice, or chooses to ignore, the fact that huge swathes of the population simply no longer agree with the dominant position, largely because it hasn’t offered them anything. It is no surprise that the same individuals look elsewhere for opportunities to hit back at the establishment.

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The Left needs to regroup, rethink, and reorganise

12/11/2016, 05:22:07 PM

by Nick McDonald

It does feel like we’ve entered a new Dark Ages doesn’t it? It’s sobering (and I use that term loosely) to conclude that, as 2016 draws to a close, we live in a world dominated by racists and bigots who want to spend their time hating each other and driving each other off their land. Snarling & sneering, rather than embracing each other.

That in the 21st century a person can be elected President of the United States of America on the back of policies that include preventing people entering the country because of their religion, and building a great wall across the border with Mexico like some ancient dynasty is truly terrifying.

More terrifying still is that these are the only two substantive Trump policies most of us can name. His website barely describes his economic ‘positions’ (a more accurate description than ‘policies’). He never really knew what he wanted to do, other than win big.

And win big he did. Hate triumphed over hope this time, for sure. But we shouldn’t accept that it’s forever, or that it’s truly who we are. The narrow majority of people who voted for division and hate this year in both the US and UK (actually, in the US, a narrow minority) did so because they are frightened, not because they are intrinsically bad people.

After the crash of 2007, across the world we’ve seen our standards of living plummet, and for many the world they thought they understood and were part of has moved on and left them behind. And no one has explained it to them, and it doesn’t feel like anyone is fighting for them.

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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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