Progress has been a force for good and the party needs it

03/07/2017, 10:15:14 PM

by Rob Marchant

Ten days ago it was announced that Progress, the centre-left pressure group within the Labour party, would cease to be funded by its patron for over a decade, Lord Sainsbury.

Progress has always been the part of the party most in tune with the British public, rather than Labour members or supporters, and has been unafraid to challenge Labour to engage with new voters, rather than preach to the converted.

It has therefore, as one might imagine, had a somewhat tough time since the party’s return to opposition and its gradual move to the left since that point. During the Miliband era, it continued to push quietly but firmly towards the centre, providing a useful ballast creeping “hullo clouds, hullo sky” impossiblism of the party’s then leadership.

However, even during that era, it was under attack: Miliband’s appeasement of the increasingly militant Unite union required the organisation in 2012 to take measures to defend itself against those, like Unite’s leader Len McCluskey, who accused it of “manipulations” and who would happily see it severed from the party body politic.

Eventually, even Miliband stood up to Len McCluskey after the Falkirk selection debacle; but by mis-specifying the solution, he lost. Unite saw its chance, in Miliband’s adoption of a US-style primary to select its leader, to push the party in its direction. The result was the election of an outside candidate which the PLP did not want and a resulting influx of new, Corbyn-supporting members who have by now displaced many of the old-timers.

The resulting onset of the Corbyn years saw, rightly, an even more robust defence of centrist politics from Progress, presumably on the grounds that, faced with a hard-left leadership, attack was the best form of defence.

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Expectations for Labour are high. Policy is the way for Jeremy Corbyn to meet them

28/06/2017, 10:36:47 PM

by Andy Howell

So, the deal with the DUP is well and truly in place. Tonight its MPs dutifully trooped through the lobbies with the Tories, blocking a Labour amendment to scrap the public sector pay cap. The deal buys May and Tories time although just how much will remain to be seen. It seems designed to last for two years by which point Tory optimists hope that a decent Brexit deal has been finalised. However, as always, political events do not aways go to plan and it is quite possible that this government will not last to the end of the negotiation period.

Corbyn is right to continue to make the case that Labour is ready to form a government at any time. At Glastonbury it is reported that he told organiser Michael Eavis that he could be Prime Minister within six months. This is not just a fanciful boast. The conference season will be a major test for May. If she continues to make the wrong choices, continues to appear wooden and inhumane and — critically — continues to be a subject for ridicule then the end could be quick.

In such a climate Labour’s biggest problem may well be the temptation to sit back and rely on its current campaign strategy and manifesto. At the moment both strategy and manifesto look to be effective but time always changes the context in which both must sit. The more that Corbyn is seen as a credible Prime Minister, indeed as the likely next Prime Minister, the bigger the challenge he faces in fleshing out the manifesto and in beginning to address detail.

Take one of the issues that devastated the Tory campaign plan, social care. The electorate was spooked by the Tory manifesto programme and singularly unimpressed by a series of subsequent U-Turns. Everyone in this country knows we face major challenges in this area. If we are not yet thinking personally about our own social care we will have parents and grandparents who, today, face the future with a great deal of uncertainty and fear. As we get closer to becoming a Party of government it will not bee enough for us to simply talk about more cash, we will have to spell out how and where we will make our investments. It might be acceptable — in a political campaign — to simply call for a new Social Care Service but it is clear that we might form the next government the health and social care sectors will look for more detail and will expect to be able to enter into a real dialogue with the opposition about the future.

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Weeks after the result, the 2017 general election has left us with many more questions than answers

27/06/2017, 10:56:41 PM

by Trevor Fisher

As life in the Westminster bubble is now obsessed by the date of the next general election, the last one is slipping away without due care and attention, leaving many more questions than answers.  If the 2017 general election was a horse race, there would have been a steward’s inquiry. The bookies would have demanded to know why the favourite lost – but remained in the winners enclosure – the outsider came up strongly on the rails but still remained several lengths off the winning post, and the winners of 2015 were the losers in 2017 as the SNP fell back in its own hurdle race and UKIP lost most of the 4 million votes it gained in 2015.

The only consistent pattern was poor performance by the Greens and the weakness of the Lib Dems who having been destroyed in 2015 could not convert their opposition to Brexit into votes though 48% of those who voted in the 2016 Referendum voted to Remain. Even the one clear trend that was established on June 8th – the return of 2 party politics as the two main parties hoovered up votes from the small parties,  UKIP mainly going to the Tory Party – is not certain to be a long run trend.

The over-riding problem for analysts of political trends is that we are now in a politics of Surge. It has long been true that opinion polls don’t provide an accurate guide, partly because the old national swings rooted in class politics began to collapse with the rise of fringe parties from the 1960s. But this has come full circle recently with fringe parties rising and falling like a yoyo, while the two main parties rise and fall, with Labour rarely breaking 40% – June 8th was unusual – and the Tories normally ahead.

For example, it was predicted (in the Telegraph) that the Tories were heading for a Landslide, based on marginal seats, which backed up an Independent report by Andrew Grice that the Tories were “heading for a 90 strong majority”.

However the dates on these articles are (for the DT) November 28th 2009 and the Independent 10th November 2009, both 6 months before the election of 2010. The actual election was a hung parliament and as we all know, the Lib Dems went into coalition and were destroyed in the 2015 election, a development which no one saw coming.

Paddy Ashdown said he would eat his hat if the exit polls were correct, and later ate a confectionery hat on TV. In 2015 the SNP wiped out Labour in Scotland and the EU referendum in 2016 took Labour voters in numbers into the UKIP camp, with modest gains from both groups of exiles in 2017. Making the move back to two party politics more effective was the poor performance of  the Lib Dems, as on the one issue they can take a lead on, rejection of Brexit, they managed to fail to take a lead at all. Thus while instability has been a core fact of life for some time, the surges in the election as party performance kicked in were sufficient to mean  the early polling was not worth the paper it is printed on.

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Brexit means austerity and the death of Corbyn’s hope

26/06/2017, 07:05:23 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The Mandibles – Lionel Shriver’s latest – is a gripping and darkly hilarious story of a family and an America, over the years 2029 to 2047, in spectacular decline.

In our imploding chimney of a country, collapsing in on itself, we, too, feel precipitous descent. The appalling suffering and injustice of Grenfell. The banality of Islamic and right-wing evil. The biggest governmental challenge since World War II, with the least convincing prime minister since the last one.

Oddly enough, as everything that could go wrong goes wrong, The Mandibles reveals an optimistic core. This hope doesn’t come from institutions, abstractions, or politics. It is created by the visceral self-sacrifice and resilience of individuals, driven by love for those around them.

Oh, Jeremy Corbyn.

Like the Mandible family, Britain yearns to hope. Unlike them, we haven’t given up on politics as its source.

I was too young for Blair and am too old for Corbyn. Still up for Portillo but too wide-eyed to really absorb its historic significance. Not wide-eyed enough to have any anticipation of Kensington and Chelsea turning red.

Hope is what unites Corbyn with the Blair of 97. Much of the country looks into their eyes and sees a better tomorrow. Others scoff and are certain of disaster. My A-Level Economics teacher won £10 on a pub bet that there would be a recession within six-months of PM Blair.

New Labourites are misremembering if they think that Blair did not suffer doubters, as Corbyn does now. They would be lacking in generosity to not concede that Corbyn, as Blair did then, has, for those who have suspended any disbelief, become a canvass for disparate, even contradictory, hopes.

I’m not the first to draw comparisons between Corbyn and Blair. The left’s instinctive trust in Corbyn allows him, according to Matt Bolton, to successfully triangulate, that most Blairite of things. But Brexit is a triangulation too far.

“While Corbyn’s much derided ‘0% strategy’ on Brexit proved to a be a short-term electoral masterstroke,” Bolton observes, “assuring Red Kippers that he was committed to pulling out of the single market and clamping down on immigration, while allowing Remainers to project their hopes for a softer landing onto him, at some point a decision has to be made.”

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This was Corbyn’s campaign. He led from the front. He deserves the credit

16/06/2017, 05:37:19 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The 2017 election rewrote the rules, and though the opinion polls did well in tracking the Corbyn rise and the stagnant Tory vote, the experts largely missed the increasing popularity of Corbyn though by the time Paul Mason wrote in the FT on June 3rd that “the UK is not a left wing country, but it is a fair one that has had enough of austerity” – he captured something of the shifts taking place, and the shifts are not all to Labour. Working class areas were particularly vulnerable and there is a need to analyse almost on a seat by seat basis – especially with small majorities like the Labour gain in Crewe by 48, and holding on to Newcastle Under  Lyme by 30 and Dudley North by 23. In Stoke Central, where Labour was in a minority, the UKIP vote collapsed but Labour increased, no doubt a result of the by-election where at the peak three months ago 500 Labour canvassers were out. Unlike Stoke South, which the Tories gained. Local campaigns played an important part, especially in Wales.

Nevertheless though May had achieved her target of hoovering up the UKIP vote most of us – me included – once the campaign started failed to understand the Corbyn phenomenon. By the last week of the campaign it was clear that a hung parliament was possible and I wrote this on 4th June, though Labour did not achieve largest party status. But it gained votes and support. The question we all have to answer is why. Starting with Corbyn’s remarkable personal success.

The ability of Jeremy Corbyn to appeal to a popular audience was clear from the start of his leadership campaign in 2015 and no one has begun to understand it, though the attraction has more to do with personality than policies, though the manifesto was supremely important. But Corbyn first. Though telephone canvassers reported that voters were turned off by Corbyn, the crowds at his rallies were and are impressive and as Jackie Lukes reported from Hull, this visibly gave Corbyn confidence and improved his credibility.

Not I think in reaction to what he was saying. At Stoke in September I could not hear his speech as the public address was abysmal – and when he spoke at a Libertines concert just before the Manchester bombings, reports say the crowd cheered so you could not hear him speak. It was not important – but the lack of impact of the tabloid smear campaign linking him with terrorists had something to do with his personal image, like Mandela after Robbins Island he was simply a grandfather figure.

He also played the immediate issues very well, so an apology is due for thinking he was wrong to accept the Brexit vote and to vote for Article 50. These moves defused Brexit and May should have realised this was not going to be a crucial issue in a general election, which will  always be about many issues. While I still think Labour was wrong to vote for the election, that is what the Fixed Term Parliament Act forces the opposition parties to do as rejecting the challenge invites the charge of cowardice, but that was not a charge that could be levelled against Labour. The avoidance of Brexit was tactically sound, but strategically stores up a battle yet to be fought.

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Beware. Labour’s grief may well be post-dated

15/06/2017, 04:23:30 PM

by Kevin Meagher

As cushions go, the ten seats the Democratic Unionists are likely to put at Theresa May’s disposal still only gives her a working majority of two. It’s a cushion cover, not a cushion.

The obvious threat of potential by-election losses (as well as the awful prospect of ISIS attacking MPs in order to collapse the government), means Theresa May’s control of events is time-limited.

She has weeks to restore equilibrium to her government’s authority and will presumably use the forthcoming Queen’s Speech, the summer recess and the party conference season to get back on the front foot.

But then what? She can’t run the risk of seeing her government collapse due to a defection, a death or because of the duplicity of the DUP. She needs to actively plan for a second general election.

Imagine this scenario.

March 2018. Philip Hammond gets up to deliver the Budget. Austerity is cold in its grave as a political priority. He could kick the whole issue of funding adult social care into the long grass by announcing a Royal Commission. He might put up corporation tax a bit in order to offer a basic rate income tax cut and a reprieve for cash-starved councils and the NHS. He might relent a bit on public sector pay too. And then his big reveal: The Tories are scrapping tuition fees.

‘We recognise,’ he intones gravely ‘that saddling young people with debt at the start of their working lives makes it impossible for them to buy a home. As Conservatives we believe in a home-owning democracy so we want to extend that promise to all young people.’

He might even throw in a big, eye-catching measure like a special ISA to help first-time buyers save for a deposit, with the Government putting in half the cash, or similar.

Then Theresa May calls a general election.

Will that enormous surge in support among young people fall neatly into Labour’s column once more? How many will now break for the Tories? How many, in fact, will turn out at all? Was last Thursday’s surge a blip or a paradigm shift, as political scientists would put it? Did that record number of young voters back Labour for socialism or self-interest?

The jury’s surely out on all counts.

The delirium Labour people felt at 10pm last Thursday was precisely because expectations were so appallingly low. That extends to the leadership, which was as surprised as anyone at how things panned out.

But was it merely a reprieve? Has the party postponed the nutting contest with a wrecking ball until next year – or, perhaps, even sooner?

Labour has not earned the right to breathe easy. You can take it as read the Tories will learn from their mistakes. If it came to it, co-opting the popular parts of Labour’s platform would be, for them, preferable to losing.

The big existential threat may still be in front of Labour.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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Reality check: a winning party needs to win, you know, seats

14/06/2017, 11:21:42 AM

by Rob Marchant

For some MPs and commentators, suddenly everything has changed about Labour’s situation. But what, exactly? Did we win, as Emily Thornberry thought we did? Has Jeremy Corbyn now become the nation’s best choice for prime minister? Is it just “one more heave”?

Hmm. Not really. In fact, dig a bit deeper and we might observe the opposite: that in fact, very little has changed at all.

Yes, Corbyn confounded expectations of the votes he could poll nationally. As did Theresa May. However, the mere fact that his impressive upswing in vote-share did not actually win him the election should give us pause, for three reasons.

One: an increase in vote-share (in this case, the largest since 1945) is, self-evidently, not just down to the party and its leader in a given moment. Logic dictates that it is down to three other things as well: the opposition, the leader and state of the party last time, and the opposition last time.

In this case we are talking about May, a leader almost universally derided at time of writing, and who may yet turn out to be the shortest-serving prime minister not to resign through ill-health in nearly two centuries; Cameron, who was felt by the public not to be a bad leader (at least at the time of the 2015 election) and increased his vote; and Miliband, who brought Labour’s number of parliamentary seats close to its 1980s post-war nadir.

In this context, Corbyn’s achievement looks somewhat less impressive: he has done better, set against the terrible May, than the terrible Miliband did against the half-decent Cameron. A low bar indeed.

Indeed if, instead of looking at the swing, we look at his vote-share compared with that of other Labour leaders (perhaps a better measure), we can see that he is around the middle of the table. The real news is the confounded expectations, not the absolute result.

Two: the maths. There is also one thing which really stands out about the big upswing in vote-share compared with other general elections: Labour’s abject failure in translating it into seats. In fact, if we map swings against seats for elections since 1945, we can see that it is a marked outlier.

Fig. 1: Swing vs. seats since 1950. Source data: http://www.ukpolitical.info/ConvLab.htm

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Labour should unite around the possibilities offered by a Corbyn government

11/06/2017, 08:00:30 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Jeremy Corbyn has changed politics. Many – not least at Uncut – doubted whether he could. But he has. And it would be churlish to pretend otherwise.

Corbyn has illuminated a pathway to a transformative Labour government and the salvaging of the UK’s relationship with our European neighbours.

This is a future that everyone in Labour should fight for. Chuka Umunna should be congratulated for making himself available to serve on our frontbench, while the unwillingness of Chris Leslie is disappointing.

Much increased turnout among younger voters has produced a general election result broadly in line with those polls that took people at their word on their intention to vote. The youngsters said they would vote, they did, and Corbyn was key to this. If younger people continue to vote in these numbers, future elections will be different contests from previously.

As encouraging as this change is, the big vote among younger people for Labour was not sufficient to prevent a Tory government. At least for now.

Where coalition with the Liberal Democrats helped modernise the Tory brand, and provided a solid parliamentary majority, working with the DUP – pre-modern in their attitude to women and climate change – deepens the re-toxification of the already UKIP-esque Tories, in exchange for a puny majority.

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I was wrong about Corbyn. Now, after this result, Labour has the space to make the case for investment

09/06/2017, 10:48:19 PM

by Ian Moss

I was wrong, Corbyn did not drive Labour off a cliff, he won seats and he dramatically increased vote share. He comes out of the election stronger but that is partially because expectations were so low. His leadership was a galvanising force for youth and his language a refreshing change from wooden managerialism; authentic and without the timid terror of trained lines to take.

The challenge is still enormous for Labour. It has lost three elections in a row and is in no better a position, in seats, than it was in 2010 and the Conservatives no worse. Yes vote share has surged, but so too has it for the Conservative party. It’s possible we are back to the two player game for good. However, for the first time in a decade there is an obvious path, one which can galvanise Labour’s coalition of support and put an offer to the country that can bind older voters with the young.

Labour’s moderates can start to be much more confident on the economy and on public spending and move on from the paralysis they have faced since 1992 on it. The Conservatives have absented themselves from the issue of fiscal credibility, as the deficit still looms large, and the public are beginning to see the cracks in their local services. Labour can make the case for investment again, in return for modest increases on the taxes of those that can bear it most and a continuing commitment on efficiency and reform.

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I phone banked for four weeks but picked up no Labour surge. And then, on polling day, there it was

09/06/2017, 06:00:53 PM

by Andy Howell

Early Thursday morning, election day. I made my way into Birmingham Labour’s phone bank with long time, fellow traveller, Bill Lees. As we approached that final push we wondered whether this might be the last time we could run a simple and conventional Get Out The Vote Operation (GOTV). Despite all of the computers and the clever pieces of software GOTV remains based on brute strength. It worked in Stoke on Trent with the backup of hundreds and thousands of volunteers. But could it still work in basic elections?

Bill and I seemed to have been locked in that phone bank for most of the previous four weeks. Bill — who was running the operation — seemed to have moved into the Birmingham office for the duration of the campaign. We survived on a poor diet of caffeine, sandwiches and very bad jokes.

For a month and more a dedicated team spoke to literally thousands of voters, initially to all and then latterly to those who had more closely identified with Labour over the last few years. It was hard going. We experienced little of the Labour ‘surge’. The last few days were positively depressing. In all honesty, we didn’t see Labour’s 40% vote coming, even as we ran wave after wave of phone knock-ups on polling day. Maybe our work did help? Maybe our work had made a difference? Maybe it didn’t? But our input into Labour’s Contact Creator seemingly hadn’t lied. The polls seemed to be right. We missed Labour’s rise completely. So, what were we missing?

Turnout was up significantly in our target seats. In some parts of Jack Dromey’s Erdington seat we were shocked at past voting records. We used Labour’s software to do some fundamental analysis. In one key area — Castle Vale — 42% of voters had not voted once in eight years. Two-thirds of voters had only voted twice across an eight year period and that voting pattern was heavily weighted to the beginning of that eight year period. It seemed these were elder voters simply getting too old to vote.

Voting turnout on ‘The Vale’ is dismally poor and yet residents came out in their droves for the EU referendum, to vote Brexit of course. Anecdotes from Party workers and polling officials suggested that in the referendum many had voted for the first time. These voters had no voting record. Phone numbers and accounts are regularly switched. From our phone banks we had no way of properly engaging with many of these voters; maybe if we had have been we would have not been caught so unaware.

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