Posts Tagged ‘Trevor Fisher’

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 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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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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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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Jeremy Corbyn’s Syria consultation was flawed and undemocratic

11/12/2015, 01:59:38 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The Syria vote debate has been dominated by events inside the Westminster bubble, but an important development in the Labour Party has so far flown under the radar. This was the attempt at a ‘consultation’ launched by the leader on Friday 27th November – five days before the vote on December 2nd. Part of the ‘new politics’ which are now developing, the exercise needs close scrutiny.

Although consultation of members is not part of the rules of the party, nothing precludes it. However on this case, as Corbyn had already said he would vote NO to the proposal, he had prejudged the outcome. Given that M Ps were to be given a free vote on the issue, correctly in my view, there could be no question that this would set party policy on the topic – and it is doubtful whether this could ever be legitimate as this form of exercise is not one that appears in the rules as part of the policy making process as far as I can see.

However even as a straw poll, the process had serious flaws. It had not been announced in advance and most members would be unaware of its launch. There was no deadline, members merely being asked to respond “by the start of the week”. More seriously, the survey form – which seems to have vanished from the Labour Party website – did not pose a clear choice to voters, which is standard practice in polling. While it is rare that there is a simple Yes No choice in politics, on this issue the issue was stark. Why there was no choice posed that could be answered by a vote, either yes-no or a range of options makes the exercise unscientific.

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The soft left will not fall for factionalism

25/11/2015, 10:32:32 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The idea of a ‘soft left’ is currently popular, with commentators seeing it as crucial to Labour’s future. I agree, but its not an easy option. Spencer Livermore, in calling for the publication of the Labour report into his former bosses’ election defeat referred to Miliband’s ‘soft left policies’; clearly incorrect – Miliband rose through the Brown machine. More sensibly, Jonathan Rutherford wrote on Labour List in October that “only the soft left can build a winning coalition”, accepting that the ‘soft left’ had given Corbyn his victory as the hard left did not have enough support. Others have made the same point. The soft left dominates the membership.

However the soft left majority is unorganised and has no leadership or structure. While the hard left and the hard right have websites and organisations, the soft left do not. In the leadership election, soft left votes went to the hard left candidate precisely because they did not have a candidate, though I myself, firmly soft left, voted for Burnham and Cooper as unity candidates. Though they were certainly not soft left, no soft leader leadership figure has existed since the death of Robin Cook.

Now we read Atul Hatwal seeking to co-opt the soft left as “getting rid of Comrade Corbyn will take time”, despite the fact that most soft left voted for Corbyn. He outlines a strategy which will produce a civil war which will aid no one but the Tories and SNP. So a few thoughts from a veteran soft leftist who spent most of the 1980s fighting militant (in the Labour Co-ordinating Committee), and most of the 1990s through to 2007 fighting the Hard Right, aka, New Labour (in Labour Reform and then the sadly prescient but largely unknown Save the Labour Party).

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Lord Adonis is typical of the technocrat class that serves any master

12/10/2015, 10:40:30 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The move by Andrew Adonis in resigning the Labour whip to take up a post working for George Osborne’s Tory project was a significant political moment. For Labour, it removed a key element of New Labour’s drive to turn Labour into a faux-Thatcherite party. But Adonis’s career has a wider significance in the development of what Colin Crouch has called Post Democracy*.

Crouch’s thesis revolves around the emergence of a one dimensional political class, preserving the forms of political democracy and rival parties but removing significant political differences. Politics become behind closed doors decision-making, patronage and back stage intrigue. This is, de facto, what has emerged in the post-Thatcher period and Andrew Adonis is prime example of the phenomenon.

Adonis is best known as a Labour politician, rising without trace under Blair, who promoted him from his backroom staff to be Schools minister. Adonis has never troubled the electorate for their votes, but was so essential to the New Labour project that Gordon Brown ennobled him and appointed him transport minister. In both posts Adonis projected grandiose mega spending initiatives with little debate and limited or non-existent proof of value. For HS2, the super-fast train, no value has ever been demonstrated. His other major project, academisation of state schools, is even more curious.

Academisation has been seen as a miracle cure for the alleged failings of comprehensive schools, ie secondaries, though the failure was patchy and non-systemic. The cure has been worse and report after report on the key indicators, GCSE results, has failed to find consistent evidence that academies do better. With over half secondaries academised, when the Education select committee investigated at the end of 2014 they were loath to draw the conclusion that academisation of secondary schools had failed, but warned against the rapid academisation of primary schools, which remain largely under Local Authority control and are mostly successful The MPs concluded,

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Labour desperately needs a soft left revival

23/09/2015, 10:05:24 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The Labour leadership campaign was a traditional selection process, despite extraordinary features.

While the Corbyn surge and the tripling of numbers entitled to vote flowed from changes made in the procedure, the thinking behind the leadership selection has lapsed behind the constitutional changes made and being made by the coalition government and its Tory successor, most importantly the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

This meant that the new leader has to spend the best part of five years in opposition. By the time the conference season is over, by October 7th, the leaders of all the opposition parties will be facing four years and seven months in opposition. Pledges to do this and that in government are marginal at best. As Fiona Millar has said, the duty of an opposition is to oppose.

The Labour leadership election was thus de facto not about electing a possible future prime minister. It was about leadership in opposition. This reality vanished from the selection process, which produced a series of policy initiatives for a manifesto which is in the remote future.

If there is no successful opposition, then the policies to renationalise rail, bring schools back under local authority control, or whatever are irrelevant. Labour remains, as it has been since it was set up in 1900, a vehicle for representing Labour at Westminster, but there is no strategy for doing this in a way which derails the government and build support in the country.

A key lesson set out by Professor David Runciman in the London Review of Books immediately after the election (10th-21st May 2015) has been missed. Runciman argued “For Labour it is finally time to abandon the idea that its primary purpose is to secure majorities in the House of Commons and that it should do nothing to put that prize at risk. It needs to become more like a typical European social democratic party, which recognises that nothing can be achieved without forging alliances with others.”

Runciman accepts that this will be difficult, but is himself behind the curve of European social democracy and other centre currents which are clearly in trouble.

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What the Labour leadership election rules say about removing a leader

12/09/2015, 07:00:23 AM

by Trevor Fisher

The Labour party system of electing a leader for an indefinite period makes sensible recall procedures impossible. The logical reason for an open ended term was ended once the Fixed Parliament Act was passed in 2010, as the need to have a leader ready in opposition to fight an election was ended. Up to then, the government could call an election at any time so Labour had to be ready. Now the government is able to replace the Prime Minister within a five year term, Labour also gained this freedom while in opposition.

Previously the Labour party could be caught out by a snap election with no leader in place, as it was in 1935.

The fact that there is no fixed term of office, allows mechanisms for challenging and replacing the leader while in opposition, which are indeed part of the rule book. However the rules are vague and certainly do not provide a mandatory system. Instead they either allow a leader to go on for the full term – currently 4 years and 8 months once the NEC had decreed a four month campaign, which is not within the rules*. Alternatively, members of the PLP are allowed to challenge the leader and indeed apparently can do so on a yearly basis if they wish.

The rules decree the currently operative three section system of full members, registered supporter and affiliated members (mainly unions), but I have not been able to find a definition of their rights and responsibilities, but it is clear this is not One Member One Vote (OMOV) and the phrase ‘One Person One Vote’ is used.(Chapter 4, Clause 2, Section C clause viii). This is not the only ambiguity in the rules, but there is no ambiguity that the rules allow a challenge to the leader by forcing a ballot.

How the ballot would be carried out is not in the rule book as far as I can see, but the current postal-electronic ballot and complex vetting procedures, which are inefficient and not actually specified in the rules as far as I can see, could not be repeated easily. The resources involved are considerable, potentially ruinous and could not be operated especially if the challenges became annual, which appears to be currently possible and hardly desirable.

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Labour’s in a mess because the soft left has disappeared

20/08/2015, 06:03:58 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The Labour leadership election is becoming a gift to the Tories, because of the Corbyn surge. The politics of Corbyn now dominating the agenda has revived talk of the soft left, which commentators including Luke Akehurst think is capable of intervening. Dan Hodges in The Daily Telegraph, rightly bemoaning the disastrous new electoral system, commented that “pragmods” wanted the current individualised membership plus “many elements on the soft left of Labour.” Pragmods may be right, but where the elements of the soft left are, is another matter.

As someone active in the Labour Coordinating Committee (LCC), the main soft left group in the 1980s, I can endorse what Luke Akehurst says about its grassroots effectiveness in tackling the hard left and shifting the national agenda. But the successor organisations are now dead, except for Compass which is now outside the Labour Party orbit.  Luke Akehurst wants to bring the remnants of the soft left into action, Dan Hodges believes they already are. So something needs to be said about the soft left and whether it has any role to play in the current drama.

As Akehurst has said, the soft left of the eighties had much policy agreement with the hard left. But there were at least two major differences.

Firstly, the soft left did not believe the barrier to political progress was the party establishment. Though there were sharp differences with the leadership through to 1983, the real problems to advance were seen as the Tory party and the deep roots in popular culture the Tories had and still have. From this, the second big difference was the soft left wanted to work with the leadership, the hard left to replace it.

It is sometimes said the hard left do not want power. They certainly do. In the eighties they controlled a number of local councils. But they did not want compromise. They shared with the far left the desire for purity, but unlike the far left Trotskyists’ sects, the hard left did want elected position.

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