Archive for the 'Labour' Category

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In the 40 year since the Tories selected a woman LAB has had 8 male leaders and looks set to choose a 9th

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

What is it about the red team and women?

It was in February 1975 that Tory MPs (there was no party member involvement in those days) made the momentous decision to choose a woman, Mrs Thatcher, as their leader to succeed Edward Heath.

I was working a fair bit at parliament during that period and right until election day in 1979 there was a consistent view from many within Labour that Callaghan was safe because they believed that when it came to the crunch the British public would not elect a female PM.

Since Maggie’s selection as leader LAB has been led by Wilson, Callaghan, Foot, Kinnock, Smith, Blair, Brown and Miliband and in all that time it has been a totally male preserve with no woman really every getting close. In 2010 there was Diane Abbott who was, in Corbyn style, given an assisted place on the ballot because it was deemed important to have a left winger on the list.

    I think that the New Statesman’s Stephen Bush is onto something in his assertion in the latest PB/Polling Matters podcast that the female contenders for the LAB leadership have struggled because parts of the party are sexist

Remember how back in June there was an effort to find extra MP nominees to get Corbyn in the ballot but no such assistance was forthcoming for Mary Creagh who appeared to many to be a viable candidate.

My guess is that the Tories will have elected at least one more woman leader before the climate is right with Labour. Another 40 years?

Mike Smithson





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Is Corbyn inevitable, unelectable and what happens next for Labour? The latest PB/Polling Matters podcast

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

In this week’s PB/Polling Matters podcasts, Keiran discusses the Labour leadership with Stephen Bush of the New Statesman and Laurence Janta-Lipinski of YouGov. We ask whether Jeremy Corbyn is inevitable, where Labour goes from here and whether Corbyn could surprise people if he wins. Also, can a non-left Labour candidate win the leadership again and what does the next Labour PM look like..



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How do you solve a problem like Jeremy?

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

If Labour MPs want to remove Corbyn, they need to stop Corbyn having a honeymoon or polling bounce.

If as expected Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader, then those inside the Labour party looking to depose Corbyn as leader before the  next general election might want to have a word with the Barrow & Furness MP, John Woodcock, who also is Liz Kendall’s campaign manager and remind him of his pre-election pledge.

As the above clip shows, during the election when the Tories were playing up the prospect of a Labour/SNP coalition that would not replace the Trident submarine nuclear deterrent, he made this promise to his constituents

“We know that people have been worried about the lies the Tories have been saying about the shipyard. So I’m making clear today that I am so confident of a future Labour Government building four boats here in Barrow, that I’m saying I’d resign if that didn’t happen. Now it’s an easy pledge for me to make, because we will build four.”

With Corbyn recently reaffirming his plans for the United Kingdom to engage in nuclear disarmament, any Corbyn led government, with or without the SNP will not be building any replacement submarines for Trident. This may provide John Woodcock with an opportunity to trigger a by-election because of the election of Corbyn without looking like a sore loser, Woodcock is after all honouring a pre-election pledge.

The replacement of Trident has a major impact in the Barrow & Furness constituency because it is the site of the BAE Systems nuclear submarine and shipbuilding operation, thus the replacement for Trident will be a boost for the local economy. It was said that the reason Labour lost the seat in 1983 was because of Labour’s then policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament.

In the constituency itself, Labour have a majority of only 795 over the Tories, so a Labour hold in a by-election might be very difficult in these circumstances. 2015 was Labour’s worst electoral performance, in terms of seats, since the 1980s, if Labour start losing seats they held in May to the Tories, Independent Labour or other parties, that might focus the minds of the Labour party and make removing Corbyn easier a lot easier.

Some Labour MPs may have to sacrifice their seats and careers for the greater good, especially if there is a fear among moderate Labour MPs that they will be purged by ‘aggressive factional nutters’ on the left (although that has been denied.)

It should be remembered, the likes of Michael Foot, Iain Duncan Smith, William Hague and Ed Miliband all led in the opinion polls at one stage or another, who is to say Corbyn won’t join them? If the first few days and weeks of Corbyn’s leadership is dominated by MPs resigning, Labour losing those seats and Corbyn not being able to fill shadow ministerial positions then it is unlikely he nor Labour will get a polling boost, which is good for those who want an early end to Corbyn’s reign as it becomes it difficult to remove a leader who is leading in the polls.

TSE



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The practical guide to centre-left schisms

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

SDP

The Labour party leadership election has left the Blairites looking isolated.  Some of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters have described them as viruses and cancers, and have suggested that they look for the exit.  Every Blairite from Tony Blair and Liz Kendall downwards has disavowed the idea of leaving the Labour party, but vows are spoken to be broken, and given the bitterness and the ideological divide they might in due course consider their options.

Before doing so, they should look at historical precedents.  In the last 150 years, the centre left has split on five occasions.  Past experience is no guide to the future, but as we shall see, there are some consistent themes.  Here are those five instances:

The Adullamites (1866-67)

Cause

The Adullamites are almost forgotten nowadays, but for a year their actions convulsed British politics.  By 1865, the Liberals had been in almost unbroken power for a generation.  Following the death of Lord Palmerston (who had been strongly opposed), the new Liberal leadership decided to tackle the subject of electoral reform.  More traditional Liberals, under the leadership of Robert Lowe, resisted this strongly and the group in opposition that they formed was known as the Adullamites (after an obscure Biblical reference).  They worked with the Conservatives to defeat Gladstone’s proposed Reform Bill, leading to the collapse of the Liberal government.

Disraeli became the guiding spirit behind a minority Conservative government that then proposed a Reform Bill that was far more radical than the one that Gladstone had put forward.  The Adullamites had been abandoned by their previous partners in opposition.

Consequence

Following the passage of the 1867 Reform Act, the Adullamites rejoined the Liberal fold.  No lasting harm seems to have been done to the Liberal party, who were re-elected in 1868 on the new franchise with an increased majority.

Fate of prominent dissidents

Despite being outmanoeuvred, Robert Lowe did not suffer for his disloyalty.  On the resumption of a Liberal government at the end of 1868, he became Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Liberal Unionists (1886-1912)

Cause

Like the Adullamites, the Liberal Unionists broke from the Liberal party initially on a point of principle: on this occasion, Home Rule for the Irish. Following Gladstone’s defeat over Home Rule in 1886 and the subsequent general election, the Liberal Unionists (who numbered 77 MPs) propped up a minority Conservative government.

Consequence

The Liberal party moved from being a natural party of government to being relative outsiders overnight.  In the 54 years from the Great Reform Act to 1886 the Whigs and Liberals had been in power for nearly 40 years.  In the next 20 years they would be in power for only three years.

Many on both sides thought at first that there would be a reconciliation at some point, as there had been with the Adullamites.  Reconciliation discussions with the Liberals broke down again over Home Rule for Ireland and as a result most Liberal Unionists moved closer to the Conservatives.  By 1895 they were ready to join the Conservatives in government.  By this stage the two were already seen as part of a wider movement of unionists and boundaries were already breaking down.  The government split over the question of free trade in the early years of the twentieth century, with Joseph Chamberlain (one of the leading Liberal Unionists) fiercely advocating a protectionist policy.

In the wake of the crushing Liberal victory of 1906, the Liberal Unionists were reduced to 25 MPs.  In 1912 the Liberal Unionists formally merged with the Conservative party.

Fate of prominent dissidents

The Liberal Unionists included many political stars who prospered in their new home.  George Goschen became Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Conservative minority government in 1887.  In the 1895 government, five Liberal Unionists featured in the Cabinet.  Joseph Chamberlain, who led the Liberal Unionists, might well have led the unionists in the wake of the 1906 defeat had he not suffered a stroke at the critical moment.

Alumni

Through the Chamberlain family, the Liberal Unionists exerted a powerful influence over Conservative party politics in its afterlife.  Both Austen and Neville Chamberlain rose to become that party’s leader.

Neither Neville nor Austen Chamberlain actually stood for Parliament as a Conservative candidate because their local political association in Birmingham preferred to call themselves Unionist rather than Conservative during this time.  Neither actually fought a general election as leader, a dubious distinction which they share only with Iain Duncan Smith.

Lloyd George National Liberals (1916-1922)

Cause

Of all the splits on the centre left, this was the most personalised.  Following the fiasco at Gallipoli in 1915, Asquith had brought the Conservatives and parts of the Labour party into a coalition government.  But over the next 18 months, senior figures across all parties grew concerned at Asquith’s handling of the war and Lloyd George sought (with newspaper support) to get responsibility for the conduct of the war into his own hands.  Asquith refused to meet his terms and was confronted with the withdrawal of support both of Lloyd George and of the Conservatives.  He resigned, to be replaced by Lloyd George.  The bulk of the Liberal party remained loyal to Asquith but sufficient numbers stayed with Lloyd George to enable him to form a coalition government with the Conservatives and, initially, parts of the Labour party.

Consequence

The beginning of the end of the Liberal party as a significant force in politics for three generations.  Lloyd George was the last Liberal Prime Minister.  By the 1923 general election the two wings of the Liberal party had reunited under Asquith but could manage only 158 seats and third place behind both the Conservatives and Labour.  Its decline from that point was rapid as its vote polarised in subsequent elections between those two parties.

Fate of prominent dissidents

Lloyd George got to be Prime Minister and retained that position after 1918, even when the Conservatives far outnumbered his own party.  While his Cabinet was Conservative-dominated, many prominent Liberals including Sir Winston Churchill also held office during his tenure in office (Sir Winston managed to effect a mini-schism of his own in 1924, standing under the Constitutionalist banner in the general election of that year before re-ratting to the Conservatives).

Liberal Nationals / National Liberals (1931-1968)

Cause

The relative importance of the policy of free trade and of forming a national government.  The leadership of the Liberal party were opposed to any weakening of a commitment to free trade and made their support for the national government conditional on that being retained.  Those Liberals who saw the necessity of free trade as secondary to the formation of a national government broke away to form the Liberal Nationals (those few Liberals, led by Lloyd George, who opposed the national government, also broke away to form the independent Liberals).

Consequence

The Liberal party’s destruction was more or less complete.  The official Liberal party was reduced to 33 seats in 1931 and to 21 seats in 1935.  The Liberal party organisational structure was also wrecked by the different factions all claiming to be Liberals.

The Liberal National party continued in separate existence, migrating slowly from a Liberal orbit into a Conservative orbit over the next fifteen years.  In 1947 the Liberal National party merged with the Conservative party at a constituency level but retained its separate identity at a national level, changing its name to the National Liberal party.

Fate of prominent dissidents

The Liberal Nationals initially prospered in government.  In Ramsay Macdonald’s second national government they had three Cabinet ministers including the Foreign Secretary, rising to four Cabinet ministers in Stanley Baldwin’s government and five in Neville Chamberlain’s government.  They only waned in significance once Sir Winston Churchill took over in 1940 and Labour joined the government.

Following the merger with the Conservatives, three National Liberals sat in the Cabinet in the 1950s and early 1960s.

The National Liberal party was folded into the Conservatives completely in 1968.  The final leader of the National Liberals was Sir John Major’s predecessor as MP for Huntingdon.

Alumni

Lord Heseltine stood as a National Liberal in 1959 (though was not elected under that banner).  Sir John Nott, Defence Secretary during the Falklands war, began his Parliamentary career as a National Liberal. They remain living links to what otherwise seems like a distant historical period.

The SDP (1981-88/2015)

Cause

The SDP was born out of factional infighting within the Labour party.  Taken for granted by the centre of the Labour party in its battles against the left, 28 Labour MPs left the party in 1981 to found the SDP under the leadership of the “Gang of Four”, seeking to find a middle way between Thatcherism and the leftward direction that the Labour party was then taking.  Aside from the Gang of Four, few were well-known and many were at risk of deselection.  The SDP also attracted some support from wet Conservatives, including one MP.

It formed an alliance with the Liberal party and initially recorded enormous popularity in polls, backed up by spectacular by-election results.  The wind was taken out of the Alliance’s sails by the Falklands war, however, which gave a boost to the popularity of the Conservatives largely at their expense.

Consequence

While the Alliance ultimately took 26% in the 1983 election, it took only 23 MPs, of which only six were SDP MPs.  The Conservatives were elected in a landslide.  Labour were kept out of power until 1997, but the Alliance was unable to profit by this.  The two parties of the Alliance eventually merged in 1988 to form what became the Liberal Democrats (with some dissenting SDP members under the leadership of David Owen then founding a successor independent party).

The Liberal Democrats, after a shaky start, gained a secure Parliamentary foothold, building on local successes in successive elections until finally joining the Conservative party as the junior partner in a coalition government in 2010.  That experience, however, resulted in the party being nearly wiped out in the 2015 election.  They look unlikely to be significant political players again any time soon.

Fate of prominent dissidents

In sharp contrast to all the other splits, none of the initial senior founders of the SDP ever achieved high office again.   From a personal viewpoint, the decision to leave the Labour party was a disaster.

Alumni

Power and pelf proved hard to come by for the SDPers.  By seeking and failing to break the mould, they found the route to power much harder.  Vince Cable and Chris Huhne eventually became Cabinet ministers under the Liberal Democrat banner.  More SDP supporters, however, attained that rank as Conservatives: Greg Clark, Chris Grayling, Andrew Lansley and David Mundell managed that feat, and Anna Soubry, while not in the Cabinet, attends its meetings.

Conclusions

None of the splits resulted in the mould of politics being broken (with the unintended exception of the coup by the Lloyd George Liberals, which resulted in the Liberal party being displaced as one of the two main political parties).  So if the aim of any breakaway is to build up a new political party, forget the idea.

You can argue about cause and effect, but on each occasion a split took place, progressive politics suffered at least temporarily and more usually it ushered in a lengthy period in which the Conservatives did substantially better than they had done in the preceding period.  So anyone participating in a breakaway has to be prepared for the Conservatives to benefit in the short term.

Rather surprisingly, this damage is visible only at a macro level.  Many individual politicians who broke away achieved major rank either immediately or shortly afterwards.  Two dissidents became Prime Minister.  Many more achieved Cabinet rank.  All of these, however, did so by reaching an accommodation with one of the existing major parties – usually the Conservatives.  The one occasion on which the centre left breakaway party sought to go it alone was a failure.

So if the Blairites do decide that life in the Labour party is unendurable but they wish to see their political careers prosper, they need to be prepared to reach an accommodation with the Conservatives sooner rather than later.  By retaining a separate identity but operating a non-aggression pact, much as the Liberal Unionists did, they may be able to influence government policy far more than either standing aloof or by remaining in the Labour party.

Such an outcome would probably be bad for leftwing politics but probably personally good for the Blairites.  Are they sufficiently ruthless?  I guess we’re going to find out.

Antifrank



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What Corbyn’s constituencies tell us about the class of 2020

Friday, August 7th, 2015

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Never mind the leadership, the PLP could be transformed

One of the odder features of the Labour leadership election is that the nominations of constituency parties are firstly made and secondly reported. It’s odd because these are almost entirely meaningless given that they play no role in the process. They may be useful to observers if they represent the genuine view of the membership (which isn’t something to be taken for granted), and may help a candidate to build momentum – as, in the case of Corbyn, they have – but it seems like a lot of effort in an election where everyone’s vote is of equal value and cast independently.

However, where they may be a good deal more significant is at parliamentary level. All else being equal, Labour will need 400 candidates to fight seats they didn’t win in May and probably around another 40-50 for seats they did where the MP retires next time. Of the 400 they lost, about 100 would need to be gained in order to win a small overall majority. Put another way, if Labour is to retake power, they’ll do so with half their MPs being newly elected, and – significantly in this context – newly selected.

Not all is equal though. Between now and 2020, the constituency boundaries will be redrawn across the country. That’s going to mean both that Labour needs to gain an even higher number of seats to win a majority, and that many seats that did return a Labour MP this last election will be so affected as to need to select from first principles.

Which is where the constituency nominations may become meaningful. Even though Corbyn’s lead in nominations wasn’t as big as his reported lead in the polls, it was a lead all the same. There has clearly been a leftwards swing in the thinking of Labour members (or perhaps in the priority they give to ideology as against electability). Furthermore, if ideology does matter to a party member, it’s likely to be more relevant at a constituency level where it’s not as important to voters than at a national one.

There are of course many other reasons why people will select candidates beyond their political stance: local sons and daughters, past record, speaking ability, networking ability and many other factors come into play. Even so, a candidate’s responses to key questions on public services funding and provision, tax and the deficit, or foreign and defence policy, will matter at least as much as their willingness to stuff paper through letterboxes or man street stalls. Put simply, it may not just be the leadership that takes a marked jump to the left but the whole parliamentary Labour party.

And this is the big risk for those who think that it’ll be safe to elect Corbyn because he can always be dumped in three of four years, allowing a fresh face to take on the Tories: the party then may be quite different from the party now. Not only that but there’s a feedback effect. A Corbyn-led Labour would encourage those non-members who voted for him to join, while those on the opposite wing lapse their membership. By the time it comes to select candidates for parliament, or to select a new leader, the left may have taken an even firmer grip.

Or not. I’ve not cross-checked the constituency nominations against who holds those seats and by how much. As mentioned earlier, given the boundary review, such an exercise is of limited value. Even so, there can be a tendency for constituency associations in heavily Tory areas to be very left-wing, as social democrat types join the local Lib Dems who often have a stronger presence, leaving the hardliners to debate the relevance of dialectical materialism to the Surrey stockbroker belt in glorious irrelevance.

Even so, whether or not Corbyn wins, the fact that so many activists (not just members, never mind supporters) were willing to back him has to be a sign as to the nature of the cohort of candidates who’ll be selected for 2020: candidates who if Labour is successful will probably make up more than half the PLP.

David Herdson



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The Temperate Desert

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

YouGov Left Right

Antifrank asks who will appeal best to centrist voters?

The centre ground of politics used to be very crowded.  And with good reason.  Roughly half the electorate sit in the middle stratum of electoral geology.  In a YouGov poll taken just after the election, 13% described themselves as slightly left of centre, 19% described themselves as centre, 14% described themselves as slightly right of centre and a further 23% didn’t know where to place themselves (presumably they would regard themselves as having mixed left and right views).  Elections will continue to be won and lost among these voters.  Either they will be met on their ground or they will be persuaded to move onto different ground.

Public perception

YouGov regularly asks the public to place parties on a left-right spectrum.  The results up to July last year are shown in the graphic above.

The public in aggregate, incidentally, see themselves as pretty much in the dead centre.  Up to now, the public in aggregate haven’t regarded the Labour party as being as leftwing as they have seen the Conservatives as being rightwing.

The empty centre

7 May 2015 has left the centre ground looking like a wasteland.  The Lib Dems were reduced from 57 to 8 MPs, with relatively few seats even looking like plausible targets for 2020.  The Conservatives long ago ditched the green crap.  And despite Ed Miliband having aimed to engineer a move in the political centre ground towards the left, the reaction of the Labour party membership in the Labour leadership campaign has been to canter further leftwards in pursuit of a real alternative to austerity.  For a group of voters who are supposedly assiduously and obsessively courted, centrist voters are lacking obvious representation right now, particularly those on the centre left.

In the post-election opinion poll referred to above, 31% of the public thought that Labour was slightly left of centre or centre (exactly the same percentage that thought Labour was fairly leftwing or very leftwing), but 44% of the public thought that Labour should aim to be slightly left of centre or centre.  Among those who expressed an opinion, by a margin of nearly 2:1, the public thought that the next Labour leader should try to take the Labour party towards the centre politically rather than take it towards the left (more recent polling has been more equivocal on this last point, however).  There is nothing obvious in any of the polling that suggests that the public wants Labour to turn to the left.  Labour party members seem to believe that they know better.

That said, winning over these voters is not as simple as just plonking yourself as closely as possible to them.  At the last election the Conservatives gathered a greater share of the vote than it had managed since 1992, yet they were the furthest distant from the average member of the public of Labour, the Lib Dems and themselves.  The voters take many things into account other than how much they identify with policy.

This may sound like good news for a Labour party that is exiting stage left.  It is not.  In May, those other things led to the voters decisively preferring the Conservatives despite their greater ideological distance from the public in aggregate.  That decisive preference in favour of the Conservatives will get still stronger, all other things being equal, if Labour withdraw further from the bulk of the voters.

This time around, the other relevant considerations may well have included the quality of the main party leaders, economic credibility and the wish to have a stable government.  We may also have seen some voters deciding to stick with known quantities.

The relevant considerations in 2020 may be different.  Right now it seems entirely possible that all of those will continue to weigh heavily on voters’ minds.  Becoming more ideologically distant from the voters would only make Labour’s challenge harder.

The hopefuls

Nature abhors a vacuum.  Who is going to fill that gap?  The answer isn’t obvious.

The Lib Dems are ideologically close to the average voter.  They will hope to profit from any move to the fringes by Labour while being able to attack the Conservatives in government.  But the Lib Dems’ closeness to the public’s views did not result in the public giving them their support in May.  And the hammering they received will make it harder to get that support back where it counts.  Voters who are motivated by choosing a government will not linger over the possibility of voting for them, new leader and new direction notwithstanding.  The Lib Dems will only gain votes either by persuading voters that it is a costfree choice or by getting voters to conclude that both of the two main parties have drifted too far from the centre.  Even then, such voters might well just decide to abstain.

After their experiences of government, the Lib Dems may wish to pitch themselves as a party of opposition.  Indeed, they have already taunted Labour after the Welfare Bill fiasco with the tagline “Be part of the real Opposition”.  This may be effective at picking up protest votes (though there is heavy competition for these now) and the votes of those who live in safe constituencies.  Centrist voters in marginals who want to choose the next government will, however, be looking for something more constructive.

Can Labour offer them something more constructive?  If Labour move leftwards, they will need to persuade a sizeable section of voters – from opposition – that their more hardline critique is worthy of trust in government and they will need to do so without frightening a similar sized section of voters into the arms of the Conservative party.  Labour seem likely to embark on this strategy.  I don’t fancy their chances if they do.

A different strategy might have been to offer a broad tent based around themes that all strands of left and centrist opinion could rally under.  None of the three mainstream candidates for Labour leader have been able to articulate such themes and the opportunity is going begging.  It seems unlikely now that the Labour party will take that chance in the next few years.

If the Labour party is not going to appeal to centrist and centre-left voters, preferring to broadcast a hard left message, might a breakaway party take up the slack?  All things are possible but the prospect looks unlikely and past precedent is offputting.  Establishing a new national party needs a clear message, big names, organisation, nerve and luck.  Labour moderates do not seem to have any of these right now.  The SDP was stronger on almost all of these counts in the early 1980s and still it ultimately failed to break the mould.  Only two of the eight Lib Dem MPs were in the SDP.  They are outnumbered by Conservative MPs with an SDP past.

Speaking of which, can the Conservatives extend their advantage with centrist voters?  Unlike Labour, they certainly want to try.  The summer budget showed George Osborne gleefully trying on progressive clothes for size.

The Conservatives face a different problem, which is that they have long been seen as further from the centre than either Labour or the Lib Dems, as can be seen from the diagram above.  Changing longterm perceptions takes a lot of doing.  At a time when the government is undertaking extensive spending cuts, are they really going to be able to achieve this?  Also, this Parliament is going to be dominated by the referendum on EU membership.  It would be highly surprising if traditional Conservative rightwingers are not heard at great length in this process, undermining any Tory attempts to colonise the middle ground further.

So far as the Conservatives are concerned, in the short term the question is a bit of a red herring.  They don’t need centrist voters to identify with them.  They only need them to continue voting for them in preference to other parties.  Enough of these voters gave them their support on 7 May, however unenthusiastically.  They would settle for that in 2020 as well.

In the longer term, however, we are looking at an unstable political landscape where the voters must choose between parties with prospectuses that do not enthuse them and a party with a prospectus that they do not believe will stand a chance of being implemented.  This cannot last indefinitely.  Sooner or later, the gap will be filled.

Antifrank



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ORB/Indy poll finds that 76% think that LAB less electable now than it was on May 7th

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

But does this poll really tell us anything?

An ORB poll for the Independent carried out over the weekend finds that 76% of those who had a view believe that LAB is less electable now than it was at the general election.

We’ve not yet seen the dataset or the precise question wording but the overall picture looks gloomy for the red team and sets out very clearly the challenge facing the new leader when he/she takes over the party on September 12th.

    Aren’t we just seeing what happens to most political parties less than three months after a devastating election defeat?

I can’t recall a similar post general election poll on a party that has lost power and is going through the process of finding a new leader.

How, for instance would the Tories have performed in a similar survey eleven weeks after their 1997 election defeat by Tony Blair’s new Labour or in the aftermath of GE2001 when IDS, Ken Clarke and Michael Portillo were slugging it out. In the latter the blue team ended up with the leader who was the most unelectable – something that was blindingly obvious to many inside and outside the party

Inevitably leadership contests highlight divisions because that’s their very nature and we know that voters are more reluctant to give their support to split parties.

The big question is how LAB will be seen when the new leader is in place.

Mike Smithson





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Antifrank considers what the Blairites could do if Liz Kendall comes last

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Blair Faith

Go fourth and multiply

The Labour leadership election hasn’t gone according to the Blairites’ plan, to put it mildly.  Dan Jarvis declined to run and Chuka Umunna launched an in-and-out campaign that prefigured the performance of England’s top order in the last Test, leaving Liz Kendall as the sole standard bearer of the right of the Labour party in the contest.

She has chosen, probably unwisely, to drop some truth bombs on her electorate.  This has not gone down well.  Social media amplifies the voice of the left wing, which has freely characterised her as a Tory.  Many have suggested that with her views she ought to decamp to the Conservative party, often with an invitation of sex and travel thrown in.

For whatever reason, her campaign has not ignited.  Right now it seems probable that she will finish last: Paddy Power are quoting 1/6 on this and given the one published opinion poll has placed her a distant fourth, that price is hard to argue with.

Let’s assume that Liz Kendall indeed comes a poor fourth and that Jeremy Corbyn does well.  (Those assumptions are consistent with all the evidence we have, so we should plan on that basis).  How should the Blairites react to such a comprehensive rejection of everything they stand for?

They effectively have five choices.

1) Knuckle down quietly

The Blairites could accept office under a new leader taking a more leftwing direction, hoping to influence policy direction rightwards in whatever ways they can.  This is what most Blairites did under Ed Miliband, hoping by their loyalty to secure a more favourable candidate on the other side of the general election.  But far from deciding that the party had swung too far to the left, the membership appears to have concluded that the party was too right wing or was simply led too ineffectually.

Even before the leadership election is over, there is talk of a second leadership election in 2018 or even sooner.  Some Blairites will hold out for that hope.  There is no evidence at present that the party will then take a more Blairite view of the world at that point.  Nor, given the way in which British politics focuses on the party leader, is there much hope of dragging policy rightwards in any very significant way.

2) Sulk

The Blairites may feel that the new leadership direction is too leftwing for them and decline to serve in the shadow Cabinet, but remain quietly on the backbenches, occasionally giving coded speeches.    This would again be on the premise that at a later date the party would swing back in their direction.  As noted above, there is no particular reason to assume that this will happen any time soon.

3) Noisily oppose within the party

The Blairites may decide to fight, fight and fight again to save the party they love.  Tony Blair obviously thinks this would be the way forward.  In his conversation with Progress on 22 July, he said that ” ‘Unity’ does not work if you’re all together in the bus going over the edge of the cliff”.

If the Blairites are going to fight, they need to decide what victory looks like.  Right now, it’s not at all clear that they know the answer to that question.  It’s still less clear that they can win any battle that they pick.  They may do better fighting a guerrilla war, ambushing the leadership on specific topics where they can more easily command popular support.

This type of action would need sustained co-ordination among the Blairites.  To date they have not shown any organisational skills in opposition.  If this is their option, they need to caucus.

4) Leave the Labour party

If the Blairites decide to caucus, might they do so in a different party where their aims might be achieved more effectively?  That again begs the question what their aims are.  I identify the guiding thread of Blairites as the pursuit of power to implement social justice by pragmatic means and by building broader public confidence in the means of implementation.  Given the parlous state of the Lib Dems, they are not going to offer power any time soon.  The Conservatives do not focus on the plight of the poor to the extent that most Blairites believe necessary.

Might the Blairites found a new party?  Any defectors will be doing so without the blessing of Tony Blair, who has said that he would not leave the Labour party if Jeremy Corbyn wins, declaring himself Labour through and through.

The SDP was founded by a similar breakaway group, but the circumstances were more conducive to success.  Three of the four founding members of the SDP were more considerable than any of the current Blairites active in politics (the same is not true of the eminences grises, of course).  Secondly, the SDP was founded at a time when the Labour party were heading left and the Conservative party were heading right simultaneously.  Right now, the Conservatives at least are trying to look as if they are occupying the centre ground.  Nor have the current generation of Blairites exhibited organisational prowess.  And even in much more favourable circumstances, the SDP fizzled in seat numbers at the 1983 election.

The odds are firmly stacked against those seeking to found new parties and none of the current crop of Blairites looks to have the appetite for such a challenge.  While individual MPs may defect to other parties, I do not expect them to do so en masse.  In point of fact, I suspect that defections to the Lib Dems by disillusioned MPs not traditionally identified as Blairites are more likely.

5) Retire

Being a politician is not compulsory.  The Blairites aren’t obliged to keep staking out a position without wider support.  Many of them are young and ambitious.  If politics is not going to help them achieve their ambitions, they may choose to look at new opportunities in the private sector or in senior NGO positions.  Rather than do anything dramatic, they may simply fade away.

If they follow this course of action, the left of centre of British politics will hollow out.  Nature abhors a vacuum and the question will be whether their voters get co-opted by the Lib Dems or by the left of the Conservative party or whether the new left Labour can hang onto them.  None of those three options will look attractive to Blairites.

Which way will they jump?

All the options right now will look invidious to the Blairites.  On the most optimistic outlook, their star is going to be occulted for some years.  They are not a homogeneous group and they may well take different options.  But my best guess is that the greater portion of them will seek to oppose the new leadership from within.  If that is correct, the Labour party is going to look divided for some years to come.  Plan your long term betting accordingly.

Antifrank