Posts Tagged ‘Atul Hatwal’

What if Labour was level pegging with the Tories in the polls? Adjust for the vaccine bounce and its all a lot closer than today’s headlines

19/05/2021, 10:33:16 PM

by Atul Hatwal

It sounds absurd, how can Labour be level pegging with the Tories? The government has just smashed Labour at the May elections and regularly registers double digit leads in opinion polls. All true but we are also emerging from the long dark tunnel of the pandemic and if we look at the bounce in polling that governments have received in the past, as the country exits’ crises, there are reasonable grounds to believe Labour’s underlying position is a lot stronger than the current polls.

Rewind to the financial crash of 2008; in the year preceding the crisis the Labour government’s polling was abysmal – for the three months before the collapse of Lehman Brothers in mid-September 2008, the average Tory lead was 19.5%.

By December, as the various global bailouts and interventions appeared to be working with the prospect of normality, or at least stability, beckoning, the average deficit for the Labour government through the month was 4.6%, an improvement of almost 15% on their pre-crash performance. In terms of a parallel, the country is in a similar phase at the moment – optimism and relief that whatever the government has done is having an impact with Britain on a path out of the darkness.

As we know, Labour’s poll improvement at the end of 2008 was not sustained, in the first six months of 2009, the average Tory poll lead was 14.2%, a rise of 9.6% on the position in December.

When trying to quantify the vaccine bounce, this is the key figure. This increase in opposition polling, a rise in the Tory lead over the government of 9.6% quantifies the shift in public opinion from the optimism of seeing the back of the crisis, from focusing so heavily on what the government is doing, to returning to everyday life.

Applied to today, depending on your pollster of choice, a 9.6% boost for the opposition would see Labour either narrowly ahead or narrowly behind the government. This probably better represents the underlying state of play than a snapshot of polls in a phase when the crisis bounce is at its highest for the government.

Not convinced?

Let’s wind the clock further back, almost 40 years to the Falklands war. From a contemporary perspective, a faraway dispute with Argentina over some small rocks in the South Atlantic might not seem comparable to the financial crash or the pandemic, but in the context of the time, it was a huge, all-consuming crisis which cut to the core of Britain’s identity and Mrs.Thatcher’s leadership.

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Labour centrists can be optimistic. The hard left is going to turn Keir Starmer into a Blairite

30/07/2020, 10:38:55 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Keir Starmer is not a Blairite. His closest political ally is Ed Miliband and like the younger Miliband, his politics are those of the soft left.  But if the hard left continue to oppose his leadership in their current manner, they’re going to change him. The result will be the mirror image of what they seek; rather than bind him to the 2019 manifesto or constrain him to a more left-wing position, they’re going to Blairform him.

The response of the Corbynites to Labour’s apology to the whistle-blowers over anti-Semitism has been typical. Look no further than J Corbyn himself, who called the decision “political” not ” legal” and has opened himself up to being sued by John Ware from Panorama.

But it’s not just on anti-Semitism that they react in this way, it’s everything. Here’s Matt Zarb Cousin, following the release of the parliamentary Intelligence committee’s Russia report,

Ahead of the impending Unite leadership election, in the contest to be the candidate for the United Left – Unite’s hard left faction which has dominated the leadership in the past decade – Keir Starmer was used as a wedge issue, an enemy to take on as a demonstration of left wing bona fides. Howard Beckett had this tweet pinned to the top of is Twitter timeline.

A politician’s ideological heading at the start of their career is often quite different by the end.  The process of politics, their experience on the journey, changes them. When looking for portents of the future for a new soft left leader who is picking up the pieces following a shattering defeat, compare and contrast the Neil Kinnock of 1983 with that of 1992.

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Labour’s congenital fatalism means it’s in danger of learning the wrong lessons from 2019

20/06/2020, 10:57:30 PM

by Atul Hatwal

There’s much that’s salient in the Labour Together report. The problems of Jeremy Corbyn on the doorstep, an economic prospectus that few believed, a chaotic campaign and, of course, Brexit. This is hardly breaking news, but credit is due for calling this out.

But then there’s also a recurrence of a peculiarly Labour fatalism.

The report states “The roots of our 2019 loss stretch back over the last two decades.” It cites a panoply of long term trends including deindustrialisation, demographic change and declining trade union membership, to explain the steady rise in the Conservative vote in Labour seats, since 2001.

The framing in the report paints a picture of an ineluctable growth of Tory support in Labour strongholds as a function of these deep-seated changes.

To anyone who remembers the late 1980s and early 1990s, this is pretty familiar stuff.

Much the same was written then. Structural factors. Population movement. Shifting values. All were used to explain a decade on decade decline in Labour support, a downward slope starting in 1945 that pointed to final obsolescence sometime in the early 2000s.

Labour Together’s report has a particularly striking line that epitomises the pessimism inherent in this ‘historical forces’ type of explanation.

“Many of these trends are global and have had similar and negative impacts on social democratic and centre-left parties around the world”

Unsurprisingly, Corbynites such as Jon Trickett and Ian Lavery have chimed in with support for this perspective. It’s a crime without a culprit – the politicians in charge are at the mercy of larger forces. It was the system, events dear boy, events, not individual leaders like Jeremy Corbyn or, Ed Miliband (coincidentally a commissioner of the Labour Together report).

In the early 1990s it was Labour’s challenges in the South that were insurmountable. Today, it’s the North and Midlands, exemplified in the notion of the recently crumbled Red Wall.

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Unison’s backing of Keir Starmer signals wider trouble for Len McCluskey’s United Left faction in Unite

08/01/2020, 10:13:15 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Unison’s backing of Keir Starmer is an undoubted coup for his leadership campaign but it is also a signal of a growing set of problems facing Len McCluskey’s United Left faction in Unite.

Solidarity and unity might permeate the public statements of the unions about their movement but the reality is that unions are competitors – rivals in shaping Labour party policy and in chasing after the same diminishing pool of potential members. The days of unions that specialised in discernable sectors or niches are long gone, most are now generic, public sector focused recruiting machines, facing dire pension liabilities and in desperate need of increasing revenue.

Since 2010, Unite has been in the ascendant on all fronts. Growing in political influence and attracting members off the back of its strident posturing and some real victories in labour disputes. Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure as Labour leader has represented the zenith of power for Unite and the hard left cabal that run it.

But now, the tide has stated to flow out for Unite and the United Left.

The union faces two challenges – within Unite, the hard left’s prospects of holding onto the General Secretary’s office are under serious pressure and without, Unison and the GMB are reasserting their more moderate position, dislodging Unite from it’s primus inter pares role amongst the big unions.

The hope within Unite’s hard left leadership was that a successful general election campaign, which bolstered Jeremy Corbyn and maybe even saw him enter Number 10, would enable them to ride out the growing challenges.

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The Labour Together election review showcases everything that’s wrong with the Milibandite approach to politics

27/12/2019, 05:20:32 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Since it was announced, the Labour Together review has had a strangely unifying impact on the party: voices from across the ideological spectrum, hard left through to the old right, have panned it. Earlier this week on Tuesday, Lisa Nandy, one of the people leading the review, was on the Today programme, giving the opposite of a ringing endorsement,

“I have to be honest though, I didn’t know anything about this review until two days ago.

And if the lesson is drawn from this election is, a review can be drawn up in a meeting room in Westminster without any reference to the two parts of the Labour movement – our councillor base and trade union base, that were probably the reason we didn’t have a worse result, I just don’t think that people are drawing the right lessons at all.

We need to be out in places like Ashfield, listening to people like the ex-miner I met yesterday, not sitting in meeting rooms in Westminster trying to debate this out amongst ourselves with the help of a few think-tanks.

I just think the approach is wrong.”

The reason the review has brought together so many disparate strands of the Labour movement in eye-rolling frustration is twofold.

Problem number one: The review dodges the tough questions.

To inform the review’s analysis is a survey. An OK idea. Less OK is the manner in which it completely ignores the obvious. Options for Labour’s terrible showing are offered but these focus on campaign organisation and individual policies. In all of the possible reasons that Labour did badly, nowhere is any mention of the leader and his vote-repelling impact on the doorstep. Nor is there any acknowledgement of the public’s incredulity at the wish-list manifesto and its role in dissuading the the electorate that Labour was a serious choice for government.

Needless to say, the term “anti-Semitism” does not appear anywhere in the survey.

As with all these types of party commissions, there’s an onus on doing some original research. Hence the survey and interviews with defeated candidates. But in the terms of reference, there seems to be no acknowledgement of the vaults of existing quantitative and qualitative analysis. There’s so much that it is near pointless doing the sort of partial effort proposed by Labour Together.

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The narrow path to another Labour surprise on election day

05/12/2019, 07:35:47 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Most polls point to a big Tory victory and each media appearance by Jeremy Corbyn seems almost focus-grouped to boost their majority. But despite the sea of data and commentary, there has been relatively little consideration of the factors which made 2017 the thunderbolt result that it was. These haven’t gone away and could yet mean 2019 turns up another surprise Labour result.

Four were particularly relevant in 2017: the revolt of the under 44s, Corbyn’s ability to turn out non-voters, demographic change in Southern constituencies and the propensity for Remainer tactical voting.

In 2015, the Conservative victory was built on fighting Labour to a draw among 25-44 years olds and then winning well among over 55s. In 2017, Labour built huge leads in age groups up to 44 but then lost even more heavily among voters aged 55 and older. Here are Ipsos Mori’s figures from their 2015 and 2017 exit polls:


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The headlines missed the real Bercow story. He’s de facto implementing last week’s Benn amendment: the Commons now has the lead in deciding what get’s voted on for Brexit

19/03/2019, 10:35:15 PM

by Atul Hatwal

The headlines from John Bercow’s intervention yesterday might have been about his refusal to countenance another Meaningful Vote on an unchanged deal, but the real story, was elsewhere. Two words, one number: Standing Order 24.

In his response to a question from Labour MP Helen Goodman, the Speaker virtually set out how he would support the Commons in seizing control of the parliamentary agenda, allowing binding votes on different Brexit options such as a referendum or Norway+.

Here’s the key exchange from Hansard.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab)

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You are obviously right that the House does not wish to vote on the same proposition over and again. Equally, I am sure that you will be aware of the fact that some hon. Members were interested in meaningful votes because at that time, they would be able to vote on amendments on matters that we have not yet considered. If the Government are unable to make any changes to their proposition, I seek your guidance on how we might secure opportunities for voting on those alternative propositions. I heard you talk about urgent questions, but of course, there is no vote on an urgent question or a statement, and a Standing Order No. 24 motion is in neutral terms. The Government have not been very generous recently in offering Opposition day debates either, so I seek your advice on how hon. Members might proceed.

Mr Speaker

Obviously, it would be helpful to the Opposition if Opposition days were supplied. That has not happened recently and I have no way of knowing whether the Leader of the House has it in mind to provide for Opposition days. I think that colleagues would think that it was a democratic and seemly thing to do to ensure that the principal Opposition party had the requisite allocation of days. So far as other business is concerned, the hon. Lady should look closely at the Standing Order No. 24 procedure. What she says about it is true, but I think that she should reflect upon the opportunities that the Standing Order No. 24 procedure presents, because the opportunities are fuller than has traditionally been acknowledged or taken advantage of by Members of the House of Commons.

The Speaker bends over backwards to needle Andrea Leadsom, the Leader of the House and highlight Standing Order (SO) 24. This is the SO that enables emergency debates to be requested by MPs.

Traditionally, emergency debates are phrased neutrally. They always use the formulation, “That this House has considered…” This is because the purpose of SO24 is to enable debate, to consider a motion, not direct action following the debate.

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Devolve immigration policy to the nations and regions to answer the demands of Brexit

16/10/2018, 05:45:47 PM

This piece by Atul Hatwal is an updated version of his chapter in the Compass report, Causes and Cures of Brexit

“It’s like this mad riddle.” Thus spake Danny Dyer, the sage of Brexit. Our modern day Zarathustra wasn’t wrong and nowhere are the contradictions thrown up by Brexit more evident than on immigration.

How to ‘take back control’ of migration while not cutting numbers so precipitately that skills gaps cripple public services and drive businesses to the wall? Or that the EU’s red line on freedom of movement is so egregiously breached that the broader Brexit deal is derailed?

At the heart of the riddle is an impossible question on the right number of migrants to be allowed into the UK.

The most significant area of migration is people coming to the UK to work (as opposed to study, family reunion or asylum) and on this, whether Tory or Labour, the government has a choice of two policy options, both a wrong answer.

Option A: Set a numbers target that is so low as to be either unattainable or disastrous for the economy. The past eight years have tested this approach to the point of political destruction. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario more corrosive to trust in politicians on migration than the way the government has stuck to its target of cutting migration to the tens of thousands, while continually missing it by huge margins. It raises migration as an issue and then casts the government as incompetents or liars, not prepared to do what’s required.

Option B: Set a target high enough not to buckle public services or hit economic growth but one that then opens the government to charges of allowing uncontrolled immigration.

Labour’s proposals for an integrated work visa, where the current tiering system with its caps is scrapped, suggest the party is headed towards Option B.

The detail is yet to be fleshed out but this represents a positive move from Labour. However, it’s one that will not be without cost.

It’s inevitable the Conservatives would use this as a dividing line in any election and in the event of a narrow Labour election victory, there is a question as to whether this policy could be carried through the Commons given a significant minority of Labour MPs would likely rebel on the basis that this would not, in their view, honour the Referendum result.

Over the past few months, there’s been some recourse on all sides to try to focus on skilled migration while advocating for restrictions on low skilled migration, as an alternative approach. But this just leads back to the same underlying choices.

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Uh oh Jeremy Corbyn. Three lessons from Labour’s below par locals result

04/05/2018, 10:24:17 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Leaders own their party’s results. Labour’s surprise tally in last year’s general election was Jeremy Corbyn’s triumph. He deserved the bouquets. Following this year’s below par showing for Labour in the local elections, he will similarly merit the brickbats.

In one sense, it seems unfair to cast this as a poor night for Labour – seats were won, the overall number of councillors went up. Expectations might have been over-inflated in terms of taking councils such as Kensington and Westminster, but progress was made and Labour was starting from a very high base.

But in politics you’re either going forward or falling back and to have a chance of forming a government at the next election, Labour needed a lot more from these results.

First, some context – last year, Labour over-performed expectations in the general election but still fell 61 seats short of a majority. To have any semblance of stability a government needs a majority of at least 30 (John Major’s 1992 administration soon fell apart despite starting the parliament with a majority of 21), probably nearer 40. This means Labour is roughly 100 seats short of what’s required to govern.

Yesterday’s local election results demonstrated nothing like the breakthrough Labour requires to call itself a government-in-waiting. Three lessons are evident: Labour’s badly needs Tory switchers, ground organisation alone isn’t enough and Brexit dangers now lurk with the party so reliant on Remainers to buttress its vote.

Given the deadlock between Labour and the Tories at 40%-ish each in the polls, for the past year, there seems to be limited scope to boost Labour’s vote share by further attracting non-voters or squeezing minor parties. Certainly not enough votes in the right places to secure an extra 100 seats.

The only route through for Labour is to win the support of people who are currently Tory voters.

However, there is a disconnect in the leadership’s psyche as to why anyone could countenance an act as egregious as voting Tory. The notion of actively trying to attract Tory voters is an alien concept within today’s party.

The result has been a shrill Labour message cast in moral absolutes. The top line of Jeremy Corbyn’s eve of poll op-ed in the Mirror was, “Tory austerity has almost certainly increased the death rate.

Calling Tory voters, the people Labour needs to win an election, accomplices to murder is quite a way to open a conversation about switching.

Over the past weeks, the party has had an army of footsoldiers knocking doors but the evidence of yesterday’s vote is that organisation without a message that resonates with switchers, will not win Labour power. The party has to have a better offer than singing ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ repeatedly at this group.

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Authorising a single bombing raid is not the same as war. It was right there wasn’t a vote on Syria

17/04/2018, 12:43:48 PM

by Atul Hatwal

To listen to Labour’s frontbench yesterday would be to think parliamentary democracy lay in ruins because the government had not called a vote on Syria before intervention.

A frequent refrain in the House is that there is no more serious issue than that of war or peace. Few would disagree that Parliament should be central in these matters, but the unasked question yesterday (certainly by Jeremy Corbyn) was whether the Syrian mission constituted war.

Labour’s leader drew the parallel with Iraq, where there was a vote before deployment. But is Labour really saying that a single bombing raid is the same as a war?

Iraq entailed an air, sea and ground operation involving thousands of armed personnel on a mission that was planned to go on for months into years. Syria involved four planes on a sortie that took minutes.

One of the worst aspects of parliamentary practice is the way precedent is so rapidly ossified into hallowed practice and wreathed in constitutional piety.

After the precedent of the Iraq vote in 2003, now every action, no matter big or small, is subject to the same threshold for assent.

It was right that there was a vote on Iraq just as it was right that there was a vote on the operation in Libya, but not the interventions in Kosovo, Sierra Leone or the bombing of Iraq in 1998 in operation Desert Fox. These latter three were much nearer to Syria and in no way comparable to the Iraq war or even Libya.

The one anomaly in recent times has been the response to 9/11 with the invasion of Afghanistan – there wasn’t a vote but should have been for the same reasons there was a vote before Iraq and in 2011 before Libya.

Jeremy Corbyn was right in his speech yesterday – the Convention which was articulated by the Tories in 2011 and accepts the need for a Commons vote before military action on the basis of the 2003 Iraq precedent, is broken.

But not because it needs to be hardened from what is effectively an accepted guideline, into a fully-fledged War Powers Act as Labour will propose in the debate today. Instead the parliamentary process should reflect the reality that a raid is not a war and not every action merits a full vote in the Commons, complete with fevered build-up, publicity, vote wrangling and contentious discourse.

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