Posts Tagged ‘Trevor Fisher’

Indyref2 adds another twist to Brexit that Labour cannot handle

21/03/2017, 11:30:33 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Harold Wilson rightly said that a week is a long time in politics. Philip Hammond would agree, but the real shift in emphasis post budget was the SNP decision to go for a second independence referendum if they don’t like the Brexit deal. Or rather before the Brexit deal, as they want a vote before we know what the deal actually is. This adds another twist to the Brexit saga that the Labour leadership cannot handle.

As I noted in my post after the Open Labour meeting on March 11th, Miliband dampened hopes by backing the Corbyn- Starmer line. This is an acceptance of Britexit – without the escape clauses of referring a deal to the electorate agreed by Party conference last year – and an attempt to get a few concessions which they can sell publically as a Soft and so acceptable Brexit. The Tories will not allow this to happen.

May’s strategy is to win over the UKIP vote which if successful in leave constituencies – like Copeland –  would make the Tories invincible. Labour loses two ways backing soft Brexit. Labour can lose to the Lib Dems or SNP in Remain seats, and to Tories in Leave seats. UKIP don’t seem a serious challenge unless they can resist the Tory surge, and this remains possible. But what is clear is that Labour’s strategy cannot work, and the last week provided depressing evidence that this was the case.

The debate and vote on the Article 50 bill (European Union, Notification of Withdrawal) Bill came up for a derisory two hour debate on March 13th. Poor in content and almost contemptuously handed by David Davis, its only notable feature was the defeat of the two Lords amendments which would have provided some safeguards. Given the Tory majority, these could only be passed if Tory MPs rebelled. The significantly titled shadow minister for Brexit, Keir Starmer MP, pointed out these were Labour proposals accepted by the Lords.

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At Open Labour, Ed Miliband backed the Corbyn-Starmer line on Brexit. A line that leaves Theresa May calling the shots

13/03/2017, 10:40:48 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The first Open Labour conference on March 11th was a successful launch of the project. In a school hall, 230 attendees took part for an afternoon of discussion.  Not all were members, but when a tight vote on an amendment led to tellers counting, 104 members had voted. This was a respectable number. I had sympathy with the colleague who asked “have we not decided this?”, not so as this was a first event, but OL was understandably treading a familiar path at this early stage. It will be for the perspectives conference in June to decide what the Unique Selling Point of OL will be.

The attendees seemed to be drawn from the Miliband cadre who had come to hear their leader. The age profile was around half over 50, about the same under 30. Anyone in their 30s or 40s and joined during the New Labour years seem not to warm to Open Labour so both the pre- New Labour and post New Labour cohorts seem to be the people attracted to Open Labour. However whether Open Labour can confront the failures of the Miliband era as well as those of earlier years is an open question – and very much open after Ed Miliband spoke to end the conference,

Miliband rightly focused almost entirely on Brexit in his 15 minute contribution, correctly as this is the defining issue of the current period, and supported the current Corbyn-Starmer line. This is to accept Brexit and the 2016 referendum but to seek a soft Brexit with concessions, none of which are on offer – certainly not EU citizens’ rights and access to the single market, currently dominating the debate. It is a fact that none of the amendments Labour put to the Article 50 bill were accepted, and the Tories did not accept any of the Lords amendments.  Labour is not likely to propose a constitutional crisis by using the Lords to overturn the rights of the Commons as the last thing an unpopular Labour Party can do is use the unelected Lords to block the decisions of the elected chamber. Certainly not to challenge the referendum result, which gave the government the mandate to trigger Article 50.

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The future for Corbyn is grim but Saturday’s Open Labour conference gives cause for hope

09/03/2017, 07:10:40 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The by-elections in Stoke Central and Copeland showed that Brexit remains the dominant fact in British Politics – and while Corbyn’s shift to a pro- Brexit stance while helpful in retaining Stoke did nothing to provide a national UK wide strategy. Paul Mason believes the strategy was purely by election driven. In fact it is not even by election driven, it would not work in strong Remain seats. These two had Leave majorities, which seems to have dictated the shift. In the event, in both seats the majority of those voting on a low turnout voted for real pro-Brexit parties, discounting Labour as its conversion was insubstantial – as UKIP pointed out. And a further conclusion has to be that while the Compass strategy of a progressive alliance could theoretically work in by elections where there is a Remain majority, in Leave seats it does not work.

The share of the vote for the strong Leave parties, Tories and UKIP, discounting Labour’s shift to a Leave position, was virtually identical and greater than the other three parties in both seats. In Copeland, UKIP fell to 7.2% of the vote and Tories rose to 44.2% presumably in consequence, giving the strong Leave parties 51.4%.  As Labour got 37.3%, Libs 7.2% and Greens 1.7%, had the Compass strategy operated and all the Lib Dem and Green votes transferred – a very big assumption – the Labour share plus the others would have been  46.2%. This would have outvoted the Tories on the day had it happened, but would still be less than the strong Leave parties combined.

In Stoke Central the Labour share totalled 37.1%, confirming this was no longer a safe Labour seat. If the Tories, with 24.4%, can do what they did in Copeland and gain UKIP votes, UKIP  gaining 24.7% in Stoke Central, Tories could do well in the successor seat – Stoke central is about to vanish. As for Progressive Alliance, while it was not needed, its worth noting that with Lib Dems getting 9.8% of the vote and the Greens 1.4%, the total of 48.3% would have been less than the 49.1% the two strong Brexit parties totalled.  All academic of course, but no great advert for the progressive alliance which in Leave voting seats is unlikely to deliver the anti- Tory Vote compass thinks is needed.

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Labour might have won in Stoke but long term problems remain

26/02/2017, 08:26:55 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The by-election of February 23rd 2017 brings to the end the history of a seat which has been Labour since its creation in 1950. The seat will disappear under boundary changes, and its history really falls into two stages – a safe Labour seat until Tristram Hunt was parachuted in before the 2010 election, and the collapse of turnout and reduction of the Labour vote to a minority in the era after New Labour took control.

A safe seat I define as a seat where the candidate for one party gets a vote share of 50% plus, in contests with more than one opponent, and Labour did this in all elections before 2010 save 1983 where there was a Social Democrat third candidate. Labour got 48.1% of the poll in 1983. It was still a safe seat under this definition until New Labour took a hand in 2010. It then clung on, but with a minority of the votes cast in the 2010, 2015 and 2017 elections.

However Stoke Central not only declined as a Labour seat but also as a seat where working class people vote, making it a challenge for democrats. In 2015 it had the lowest turnout in the UK at 49.9%. This was however better than 2001 (47.4%) and 2005 (48.4%). Stoke thus had for a decade and a half in its centre, the apathy centre of the UK. In the EU referendum Stoke was the Leave capital city of the UK. The rejection of the EU in the referendum was a striking out at a metropolitan class which had let the city rot.

The two things are linked. Politicians in Stoke have to face the challenge that for most of its citizens, parliamentary politics and especially Labour politics, is largely irrelevant, even if the largest minority of those who still vote have voted Labour in Stoke Central. But at below 40% of the vote in three of the last four elections, winning with a declining mobilisation of actual voters should sound the alarm bells for both Labour and democracy itself.

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Opposing Brexit would unite Labour, rout Corbyn and rob the Lib Dems & SNP of their faux radicalism

20/02/2017, 10:35:28 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The vote on Article 50 underlined Labour’s existential problem. It is clear that a party which makes a case then abandons it is in trouble but this is not a Corbyn problem as it is the story of the party over the last 25 years, since the 1992 election and the abandoning of John Smith’s National Insurance increases. Having lost the “double whammy” election, this was rational, but  Labour then adopted moving to the right  as a policy – ‘triangulation’ – which left Labour without an identity. And as Atul Hatwal argued on 28th January, Labour’s internal politics from 2015 were dominated by a return to ideological purity when the parliamentary tactic of abstaining on the Benefits issue led to the election of Jeremy Corbyn. However Corbyn has taken the MPs into the lobbies in support of Theresa May. You could not make it up.

With Jezza turning into Tony Blair, it’s time to address the root issue. New Labour accepted the Thatcherite view that There Is No Alternative, so appeasement was the answer, and this worked in the 1997 and 2001 elections. But not thereafter. Now Labour faces challenges on all fronts. It has already lost Scotland, and in England and Wales Lib Dems can take the Remain voters and Tories and UKIP the Leave voters. A party can be wobbly on some issues some of the time, but not on the defining issue of an era.

However a week in politics is a long time, and as a by election strategy giving in to the Brexit lobby has some short term advantages. How it plays in Copeland I do not know, but in Stoke accepting Article 50 has made sense though UKIP is still playing the card that Labour will ignore the Referendum. Hardly! In the local paper the Stoke Sentinel, (17th February) Labour candidate Gareth Snell’s statement is “I accept without hesitation the Referendum result. I have said repeatedly that if I had a vote in parliament I would have voted for Britain to leave the EU. My focus now is on winning the best Brexit deal for Stoke on Trent”. This has allowed Snell to avoid the criticism levelled at Paul Farrelly, in neighbouring Newcastle Under Lyme, who was a rebel.

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Labour’s Article 50 rebels are the party’s best hope for challenging a hard Tory Brexit

14/02/2017, 10:09:26 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The vote on Article 50 saw Labour officially support a viciously reactionary Tory proposal, which it had failed to amend in any way. Corbyn’s official order to vote for an unamended Article 50 undercut any future influence Labour may have on the next steps. Given that voting for a Tory measure was the complaint against Harriet Harman and the front bench in the summer of 2015 when Corbyn gained the support needed to win the leadership, this is more than a mistake. It is to repeat the mistakes of the Blairite past.

The official Labour position was to move amendments to improve the bill which would allow it to support the trigger of Article 50. While a concession was made, and this needs examination, it was not to satisfy Labour. It was to keep Tory MPs from rebelling and with the exception of Ken Clarke it succeeded. The overall effect, as the hard left Another Europe Is Possible put it, in an accurate observation

“The vote wasn’t close, because Labour voted for it despite losing all its amendments”.

The actual concession was described by AEIP, accurately but not entirely correctly, as “the government agreed that parliament will get a vote on a Brexit deal before it is concluded. This is meaningless, because when this vote happens MPs will have a gun to their heads. Either they accept the government’s deal or the UK gets no deal and crashes out of the EU anyway.”

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The by-elections in this Parliament are four or five party contests

15/01/2017, 10:46:35 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Late last year I argued on this site that the progressive alliance strategy favoured by Compass might work in by elections, but not in general elections. Afterwards I suggested that Brexit dominates British politics. Poll data is starting to indicate people vote for their Referendum position – and a recent poll suggested only 15% of Leavers were prepared to vote Labour. Put these two factors together with recent by-elections and the run up to the Copeland by election becomes a tale of five parties.

Tim Farron argued after the Witney by election on October 20th  that the Liberals were back, restoring three party politics.

The Richmond by-election seemed to back this but as UKIP stood down and backed the Tory Candidate, Goldsmith only nominally being independent, as the Greens stood down and backed the Lib Dems, this was three party politics by proxy. In the event the progressives backed the Lib Dems, Labour voters also went with the Lib Dems, and the reactionaries showed they could form their own tactical alliances

Witney offered more pointers to the new world of five party politics in England though as turnout dropped from 73.3% to 46.8% there has to be caution. But with the Greens and UKIP doing badly on October 20th – factors which may have helped the Richmond decisions – and losing their deposits, Labour losing half its vote and the Lib Dems having a 23.4% swing, Farron looked to be correct, and to be reinforced by Richmond.

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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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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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