Friday, 16 June 2017

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

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.

Friday, 9 June 2017

How on earth did Labour get this FEW seats?

Yes, yes, I know I was predicting that Labour would do much worse than they actually did. And it seems Corbyn did enthuse the young and get them to the polling station. 

But it's not so simple as that. And since they are not forming a government, any sense of achievement is relative; relative to the terrible expectations most people - including myself - had.

Thing is this: they still lost, despite having the biggest upswing in voteshare since Clem Attlee in 1945. How?

Simple. They didn't target seats where they needed to convert Tory voters. They got people (such as young people) to vote who normally stayed at home, but in areas which were mostly already Labour. 


I am sure that if we graphed changes in no. of seats to changes in voteshare for the last n elections, this would be an outlier. It's really hard to have such a poor campaign strategy that you end up pissing away a massive increase in votes, one that could have put you in power.

UPDATE 13JUN: Tomorrow I will post that graph at Labour Uncut. It is an outlier, the biggest of the post-war period.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Self-indulgence has led Britain to this dismal point

I have voted Labour (actually about 10 days ago, by post) and, for the first time in my life, with no enthusiasm whatsoever. I voted for the party under Ed Miliband, knowing he was unlikely to win but at least thinking he was a vaguely decent human being, who might just be able to learn on the job and deliver something for Britain if elected.

I am afraid I cannot do so with Jeremy Corbyn. I have been in this party too long to leave it, clinically, to the dogs and believe it is not dead yet. But it is clearly drinking in the last chance saloon.

What led us here? Two different cases of self-indulgence, of making a poor decision on a whim. People being bored and longing for “inspiration”, “excitement” about politics. Well, look back on your handiwork now and glow with pride.

Exhibit A: the self-indulgence of 52% the electorate – because it ought to be called out as that – in falling for the snake-oil salesmen who sold them Brexit and then ran away. Who genuinely believed they would “take back control”. Instead they have pointlessly given a seismic shock to economic confidence from which it will surely take years to recover.

Nationalism is invariably about emotion, not logic. Ask non-nationalist Scots, or Catalans. It has no “reason”. It just is. But like religion, or any other political ideology, it can be powerful.

Britain has had such a disastrously weak opposition since September 2015, that it not only failed dismally to argue the case for Remain but has been unable to provide a pro-European opposition in this general election, which has by default confirmed Theresa May’s mandate to implement a Brexit as hard as she likes.

Exhibit B: the self-indulgence of many of the Labour Party’s activists and supporters (although there are also many honourable exceptions) in thinking it can defy political gravity and get elected the only truly far-left leader in the party’s century-long history.

And if you genuinely think that Jeremy Corbyn does not qualify as “far left”, it’s because you haven’t been listening for about the last forty years. In fact, he is one of only a handful of British politicans not to change their views over that time (most of the rest are his Shadow Cabinet allies).

There is a surfeit of information out there, as the Centre Left has observed numerous times and many well before he was ever party leader. You cannot just stick your fingers in your ears and mutter “fake news”. He is a sympathiser with Islamist and IRA terrorists. He does indulge anti-Semites.

And of course a special prize for self-indulgence goes to the 35 idiot MPs (there is no other word for them) who decided they would break with the common sense rules of the PLP deciding the leadership shortlist, in favour nominating of someone who they actually didn’t even vote for “so all sides of the party were represented”. As a result, an unexpected win for Corbyn has coming close to actually choking the life out of their beloved party.

No, it is self-indulgence which has led us here. We chide the Americans over Trump, but we are exactly the same. We have indulged our fantasies over the serious business of who runs the country and are now paying the price via the awful, lose-lose choice we are faced with today.

And if you want to know what happens to countries which don’t take seriously the business of who runs the country, you need only look as far as recent events in Turkey. Or Russia. Or even little Hungary, vying within the EU for the dubious distinction of being its first dictatorship. We Europeans sure have short memories of the history of our continent, to have got so frivolous, so quickly, about who governs us.

“Eternal vigilance”, Aldous Huxley wrote in a variation on the old saw, “is not only the price of liberty; eternal vigilance is the price of human decency.”

We might reflect on that, as our party lies in pieces. We not only failed to be vigilant, we self-indulgently, complacently let them in. We invited them in.

Friday, 2 June 2017

The final straight of two terrible campaigns

A week left of campaigning, and Britain’s political race to the bottom is in full flight. Polls all over the shop; but narrowing at the end, as they invariably do.

In different ways, the Tory and Labour campaigns are spectacularly failing to enthuse the electorate.

The Tories, for whom the election has always been theirs to lose, seem intent on torpedoing their own campaign. Uncosted pledges – almost unheard of for usually-meticulous Tories – and their fiasco on the “dementia tax”, resulting in a mid-campaign U-turn by May.

Then there is the air campaign. First she is front and centre: then the party panics and sees her wooden, unengaging and largely absent. John Prescott reports a senior Tory viewing the campaign as “a disaster”, and that opinion is surely not a one-off among the grandees, let alone the commentariat.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Two rays of hope for Labour in the electoral post-apocalypse

Even for these unusual times, we might note that this is a highly unusual election.

First, it is a snap election, the first in over four decades. Labour is even more woefully unprepared than it would have been in 2020.

Second, it has local elections in the middle of the short campaign, for which there is no recent precedent (in 2001, when the general election was in June, the locals were too). It gives a highly unusual pre-poll to the general election.

Third, it has had the critical-for-Europe-and-the-world, French election in the middle of the short campaign as well. We’ll come on to that.

A recap of the glaringly obvious: It is difficult to see those local election results as anything but disastrous. Vote-share down to an appalling 27%. Governing party up rather than down in mid-term. In Scotland, SNP seats swinging away from them going to the Tories, not Labour.

The general election prognosis, then: the Tory lead likely to be between 12% and whatever that lead is currently polling (currently around 18%), as I have argued here. Around 16% gap would be a conservative estimate, which would give a Tory majority of 100. But taking YouGov’s regional polls – which one would expect to be more accurate – and extrapolating using the Electoral Calculus predictor, you can see the possibility of it being well over 200 seats.

If all this were not enough, Corbyn this week selected Stalin apologist, Andrew Murray, from the Stop the War Coalition, to lead Labour’s campaign. Imagine the reaction if the Tories appointed joined up a Nazi apologist from the BNP and then appointed them campaign chief. As one Labour insider commented to HuffPo’s Paul Waugh, Murray is to Corbyn as Steve Bannon is to Trump. An unapologetic extremist.

It is clear, then, that all eyes are on the election after the election. The Labour leadership. It is notable that some of Labour’s few recent success stories – Burnham in Manchester, Khan in London – are visibly distancing themselves from Corbyn, as they foresee that any connection to him is tomorrow’s political poison.

Is it bad form to be discussing the aftermath of the party’s inevitable defeat in the middle of the short campaign? Probably. But these are not normal times: no MP, apart from perhaps one or two inside Corbyn’s Kool-Aid-drinking inner circle, seriously believes that Labour can win. They are going through the motions, as is their duty.

But there are two small glints of silver in the cloud currently covering the party.

The first is that it is clear that days of the hard left’s tenure at the highest echelons of the Labour Party are numbered. The question is how long it takes to dislodge them (and the dislodging of their acolytes further down the tree is likely to take a much longer time, if the party’s experience with Militant is anything to go by). Critically, whether they hang on long enough to deal the party a mortal blow in the meantime, meaning that the only way forward is through some new political grouping.

The possibilities are as follows.

One: Corbyn bows out.
He takes it on the chin, accepts responsibility for the defeat and acquiesces. This, while under normal political conditions being the most likely option for a leader, seems the least likely. And it is because of the parliamentary arithmetic. As the good John Rentoul points out, it would be almost impossible for a hard-left successor to garner the nominations necessary to qualify. Result: win for common sense, unless of course the party is reduced to so few MPs that the proportion of Corbynites is high enough to nominate after all. In which case the party is toast.

Sadly, the fact that it would likely spell conclusive defeat for the hard left makes it the least likely. It seems unlikely that, no matter how tired the man himself might be, the group around him would accept their immolation as a political force and could therefore press him to stay in one way or another. In short, he is the only one who can get them onto a leadership shortlist.

Two: Corbyn stands and loses. And we end up back at point one, albeit with a more conclusive defeat for the hard left, because it is seen to be defeated in a democratic vote.

Three: Corbyn clings on without a vote. Theoretically possible but it would make Labour utterly dysfunctional, with the remaining PLP in open revolt. There would undoubtedly be a challenger at some point, if only to get an attack in before the McDonnell amendment changed the leadership election rules and locked the hard left into the mainstream. Not sustainable, although more damaging to the party with each month that passed.

Four: Corbyn stands and wins. This is certainly possible. It has been established that as leader he can stand in a leadership battle, whatever. And he still has a significant following among members, many of whom seem oblivious to Labour’s existential crisis. But this option is disastrous for Labour. The public would not forgive us a renewed Corbyn mandate. And even many of his fans would find it difficult to justify continued support after an electoral meltdown.

All in all, it looks highly likely that Corbyn will either jump or be pushed, and that someone relatively sensible will be able to take over. Good.

And now the second ray of hope. Emmanuel Macron, in the middle of the campaign, has become French president from nowhere. It seems that, contrary to current received wisdom, Europeans have not turned against centrist pro-Europeans at all; rather, they have turned against traditional parties.

This is good news in itself for the Labour succession: a sensible centrist could potentially recover electorally relatively quickly, provided he or she were ruthless enough to clean up the party firmly and rapidly. But furthermore, in the unhappy event that the party turned out to have been fatally damaged by the Corbynite incursion – which is certainly not impossible – it shows that the founding of a new, centre-left party could have traction in these turbulent times.

In the event that it came to that, all of us would have to examine our consciences to see if our desire to help the many, not the few, outweighed our sentimental attachment to our membership cards.

This post first published at Labour Uncut
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