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Starmer gets his LAB victory with 56% of the votes on the first round

April 4th, 2020

In the end it was all a bit down beat. The Labour Party announced at 10:45 a.m. that Starmer had become the next leader at having secured 56% of the votes in the first round thus easily beating Rebecca Long Bailey and Lisa Nandy. As expected Angela Rayner has won the deputy race

But instead of making a victory speech to a packed special conference as had been planned the party issued a short video statement from Starmer he had prepared earlier. This was of course, was down to the coronavirus pandemic which meant that the planned conference that Labour had scheduled for today didn’t take place.

The main surprise was the size of his victory securing more than 3% that the best poll for him suggested that he was going to get and second preferences didn’t in the end need to be brought in.

The question now is whether the new leader will be able to take his strong position in this election to reshape the party to be an effective force that will fight the Tories at the next general election. There’s little doubt that much needs to be done in particular dealing with the charges of antisemitism that has so dogged things for the last 3 years.

It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that LAB leaders, other than Blair, have struggled at general elections. Only five times in the party’s entire history has it won a sustainable working majority and three of those were under Blair.

Mike Smithson




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Labour’s new leader now has 2-3 months to prepare. How does he – or she – make use of that time?

April 4th, 2020

For an opposition, when you can’t attack, organise

Not since the Conservatives’ 2001 leadership contest ended on September 11 that year has such an election been so overshadowed by wider events. Whoever succeeds Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader later today will likely find it impossible to take the fight immediately to the Tories. Parliament won’t sit for weeks and when it does return might well be in a muted form, the country as a whole is in a state of suspended animation, and criticising the government in the middle of a crisis – before the full facts or outcome are known – is a politically precarious business.

Not that Labour could have foreseen this; the election has been an extraordinarily convoluted and lengthy affair. When it began, the UK was still a member of the EU, Wuhan was still a city open to Chinese and foreigners to move about it, and the US House of Representatives had yet to send Trump’s impeachment articles to the Senate. It seems an age ago. It is.

So if taking to the offensive is off the table for the first few weeks at least, where then are the places where the new leader can and should make their mark? Here are a few thoughts.

The Shadow Cabinet

Jeremy Corbyn’s cabinet was marked by two features. Firstly, those in it – after the 2016 leadership challenge anyway – were there because they were fully accepting of his leadership. And secondly, it was against his style to sack anyone on performance grounds.

In truth, those two points had quite a lot of overlap. In the 2016 No Confidence vote that Corbyn ignored, he only won the support of 40 MPs, and even fewer openly endorsed him in the subsequent leadership election. Tellingly, a large proportion of those that did ended up in the Shadow Cabinet.

Assuming Starmer does win, his first task will be to reconfigure and strengthen that core parliamentary team. This should not be a difficult task. Some, like Diane Abbott – still Shadow Home Secretary, if you hadn’t noticed – and John McDonnell have already indicated that they will return to the back-benches but several more could join them if the new leader wins a strong enough mandate. There is talent elsewhere in the PLP with which to replace them.

The Party Machine

This is a bit harder. The party leader does not make the most senior appointments to Labour’s professional staff, the NEC does – and the new leader will not necessarily have a majority on that. In truth though, that may not matter. The EHRC report into Labour’s antisemitism problem will land at some point. If that proves critical of Labour’s internal structures, processes and/or personnel – and the prima facie evidence suggests it could well – it would surely be impossible for the NEC to refuse to make changes if the Leader demanded them, though no doubt the Leader would rather they didn’t have to.

I don’t have nearly enough knowledge of Labour’s machine across the country to say whether it’d be advisable to seek to make changes there too, other than that if it is a good idea then it’s a good time too.

Policies

Oppositions nearly always have a long time to develop policies and Labour has an especially long one now. Against a Tory majority of 80, there is no prospect of an early election for which a manifesto will be needed, and with the Covid-19 epidemic raging, there’s no space in which to develop them publicly anyway (and besides, that very crisis could well overtake any policies developed precipitously). The new leadership team – Leader, Shadow Cabinet, and leading advisors – in reality don’t need to come up with anything concrete until at least the Party Conference in September.

Even on Brexit, which is time-constrained and so something on which Labour does need a credible position fairly quickly, by far the easiest line to push is to demand an extension in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic. That will keep Labour Remainers relatively happy and, if the point is made early enough, potentially appear to push the government into something it will almost certainly have to do anyway. After that, by far Labour’s best option is not to advocate any particular line but to pick holes in the government’s actions (or inactions). There will be a debate to be had about Rejoin but that can be put off until about 2023, assuming there is still an EU worth rejoining.

Planning

The natural instinct of an opposition will always be to attack: it’s in the nature of adversarial politics. However, against a popular (for now) government in the middle of a major crisis, this is not the time; not without solid, hard, relevant facts anyway – which may or may not exist. So in the absence of the opportunity to sack it to the government, the next best thing is to prepare for when you can.

To that end, Labour could learn a lot from William Hague’s tenure as Leader of the Opposition, providing it picks the right things. Hague inherited a much worse position than Starmer (or Nandy or Long-Bailey) will: Blair’s popularity in 1997 was deep-rooted, the economy was on the up and the Labour government was a novelty.

After an initial attempt to contest the centre-ground, he rightly recognised that he was engaged in a forlorn task and so had to settle for a core-vote strategy, defend what he had and gain where he could. That isn’t the relevant bit for Labour: ten years into Tory-led governments, the pendulum should be far more ready to swing than it was in the late 1990s. No, the most significant aspect of Hague’s tenure was a major overhaul and modernisation a Tory Party organisation; a reform which significantly streamlined its running, improved its capacity for decision-making and –implementation, and campaigning. Ultimately, that would significantly benefit David Cameron in 2010.

My outsider’s impression of the Labour machine is that its complex organisation and many committees, and its love of meetings, procedures and resolutions are not necessarily an aid to its cause. Again, a review early in a parliament off the back of a leadership election mandate would be the time to do something about that.

The election result today will be a minor news item, the result announced in a very low-key manner. That alone tells a story. Labour might have been indulgent in taking three months to elect a leader but come 2024, that won’t matter. Nor will much of what they say over the next few months, which will be ancient history by then and probably little noticed even at the time given what else is going on – unless it’s a serious gaffe. But that doesn’t mean Labour need let these months when politics as normal is suspended drift by; there is much to do.

David Herdson



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Time to take your seats in the Friday PB NightHawks cafe

April 3rd, 2020

Come in and join the best late night political conversation on the internet.

My impression out on my daily bike ride is that there’s a lot more traffic on the roads with people finding the enforced isolation getting harder to live with. Certainly nerves seem to be getting a bit more frayed.

One of the plus sides is the constant stream of funny jokes, pictures and videos that are appearing on my WhatsApp feed. The gallows humour is really excellent and perhaps we should post a few here.

Mike Smithson



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The positive thing for Starmer about LAB’s polling position is that at least there’s scope for improvement

April 3rd, 2020
Table: David Cowling

Well tomorrow at this time LAB will have its new leader and the suggested negative influence of Corbyn will be no more. The big question is whether the former DPP is able to so present a different proposition to voters that first, the seats lost at GE2019, become prospects again.

In a sense the current voting intention polling likely flatters the Tories given how fighting the virus totally dominates everything. The Johnson team is in charge making extraordinary demands of citizens which is largely being followed. Polling in other countries has shown a similar move to the incumbent government.

My guess is that Starmer’s election will receive a general positive response from the public if only that he is not Corbyn. That should help first get the Tory shares below 50% and then provide a foundation for Labour progress.

Mike Smithson



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It won’t be Brexit that defines Boris but the decisions he made at the start of the coronavirus crisis

April 3rd, 2020

With the UK death toll rising by the day it is perhaps worth reflecting on the two decisions the government made at the start of the crisis. Firstly there was the reluctance to follow other nations to impose lockdowns straight away after the first death and then there was the agreement to allow this year’s Cheltenham Festival to take place as planned.

The argument on the former was the desire to to delay the peak of the outbreak until the spring when it was hoped that the NHS would be in a better position to cope with it. That might or might not have been correct and it’s hard to judge it now.

But one thing that really stands out was in the same week that lockdown was being imposed for the Cheltenham Festival which attracts a quarter of million people over the few days being allowed to go ahead. In the Times this morning under the heading “Cheltenham Festival ‘spread coronavirus across country’ the paper notes:

More than 60,000 fans a day were packed into the stands, bars, toilets and queues for the food vans at the world-famous festival with little protection apart from some hand sanitiser stations dotted around the racetrack. .The roar of the crowd at Cheltenham can send a tingle up the spine but the shouting, cheering and drunken singing by tens of thousands of punters packed cheek by jowl in the terraces and bars is a perfect environment for transmission of infection by airborne droplets from the mouth and nose..More than 250,000 people walked in through the gates across the four days – and hundreds of them have claimed online that they have since developed symptoms.

No doubt this will be an issue that will be argued about for years to come. The interesting thing as we look forward is how Boris will deal with the lifting of restrictions and the timetable that’s followed.

Mike Smithson



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The Thursday PB Nighthawks Cafe after an evening away from coronavirus pandemic developments

April 2nd, 2020

I’ve just spent the last three hours totally away from issues relating to the virus thanks to the remarkable plan by the National Theatre to screen free on ‘YouTube a production from its National Theatre Live programme. One Man Two Guvnors with James Corden has just ended and it has been thoroughly entertaining. I’ve not laughed as much in months.

It is a feature of this whole affair that initiatives like this have emerged. If the shutdown is going on for months we really do need things to take our minds off the issue that dominates everything. The NT screenings are going to be a regular Thursday night fixture.

The only time when we paused the this evening was at 8pm to join the collective clapping in my street.

Apart from that this is the usual nighthawks formula and over to you.

Mike Smithson



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Latest Ipsos-MORI coronavirus tracker finds that one in five still NOT washing hands

April 2nd, 2020


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Voting closes in the LAB leadership contest with Starmer rated as a 99% chance on Betfair

April 2nd, 2020

Just like in September 2011 when Ian Duncan Smith’s victory in the CON leadership race was overshadowed by the 9/11 attacks Starmer’s expected victory in the 2020 LAB leadership race isn’t going to get as much attention as would have been the case without the coronvirus pandemic. On Betfair punters have for nearly a month rated him as a 98%+ certainty.

My guess is that Starmer won’t be phased by this and his first big moves will be in the Labour party itself. When parliament returns to normal Starmer will surely be a more formidable opposition leader than the two time general election loser, Corbyn, was.

Whatever UK politics is going to change from Saturday when the outcome will be announced.

This was from YouGov’s final selectorate poll.

Mike Smithson