Archive for the 'Labour' Category


Tuesday is the 54th anniversary the last time a Labour leader other than Tony Blair won a working majority

Sunday, March 29th, 2020

As we approach the end of the Corbyn era I thought it would be look at what winning the argument actually looks like. This is not meant as an attack on Corbyn or Labour per se because winning a working majority is bloody hard.

Prior to Boris Johnson’s victory last December in the last 49 years no Tory had won a working majority other than Margaret Thatcher. It shows the difficulty of Corbyn’s successor, whoever that may be, winning a working majority. Although I wouldn’t rule out Labour taking power at the next election if the result is a hung parliament.

But whilst we’re on lockdown it has been fun to rewatch election night coverage.



The exit door. The state of Labour as Jeremy Corbyn departs

Sunday, March 29th, 2020

What of Labour?  This is a question that almost no one is thinking about as, almost unnoticed, Jeremy Corbyn slips out of the limelight.  Like the Magnificent Ambersons, Labour have got their comeuppance. They’d got it three times filled and running over. But those who had longed for it were not there to see it. And they never knew it, those who were still living had forgotten all about it, and all about them.

That irrelevance bodes ill for Labour.  Just how bad is the electoral landscape and what does the new leader, expected to be Sir Keir Starmer, need to be thinking about?

The post-election analysis has concentrated on two main possible causes of Labour’s problems: Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn.  One simple way of testing the importance of either of these is to look at the before and after position. What were Labour’s challenges after the 2015 election (before Brexit, before Jeremy Corbyn) and what are they now?

In 2015, Labour won 232 seats.  In 2019 it won 203. So it has gone backwards by 29 seats over the course of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.  Obviously, that is not good.

I had a look at Labour’s performance then here.  I did not have a crystal ball.  Brexit was just a twinkle in some evil fairy godmother’s eye.  Jeremy Corbyn was still an obscure MP. What did I think had been happening then?

“Where do Labour retain strength?… London, the English Core Cities, Hull, Leicester, Coventry, Stoke, south Wales, the north east as a whole and the wider north west surrounding Liverpool, including north east Wales.  Or, to put it more briefly, by and large, big cities.  With worryingly few exceptions, Labour have become an almost exclusively metropolitan party.  They have lost Scotland and they have lost smaller town England.”

“Labour made ten gains from the Conservatives.  Only two of these seats fell clearly outside the Labour fiefdoms listed above: Hove and Lancaster & Fleetwood.  Meanwhile, the Conservatives took Plymouth Moor View, Telford, Southampton Itchen, Derby North, Vale of Clwyd and Gower.  Labour are getting close to maxing out in the metropolitan areas, but all the time are being edged out of smaller towns and cities – and Southampton, Derby and Plymouth are not really that small.

Many of the exceptions to the general picture – Norwich South, Cambridge, Oxford East, Exeter, Lancaster & Fleetwood – are constituencies with a large university presence. They may be smaller places, but they have much in common with the metropolitan areas. They are places where the words “urban professional” would not produce a curl of the lip.”

“If the Conservatives can broaden their appeal, they will be circling around seats like Barrow & Furness, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Derbyshire North East and Wrexham.  In all of these seats the Conservatives closed the gap on Labour from 2010.  There are others on the Labour defence list that are becoming increasingly marginal.  However the boundaries are drawn for 2020, there will be constituencies like these that are trending away from Labour.  Unless Labour changes course significantly.

More generally, if Labour does not start to broaden its appeal, it may even find that other apparent heartlands that are outside its current metropolitan focus are vulnerable to attack if other parties get their acts together. South Wales and the north east, for example, don’t fit particularly well with the rest of Labour’s current heartlands.  Fortunately for Labour, its opponents in those areas are UKIP and Plaid Cymru, and neither has so far demonstrated much seat-winning prowess.  But things can change.  Labour needs to recognise the danger fast.”

I was not blessed with second sight but 2019 is highly consistent with all of that.  I listed four seats that the Conservatives might be circling around. All four are now Conservative-held.  I noted that the north east did not fit particularly well with the rest of Labour’s then heartlands. The north east swung massively to the Conservatives.

It’s always nice to be right, of course, but that’s not my main point (it is a subsidiary point, I admit).  My main point is that neither Jeremy Corbyn nor Brexit seem particularly to have altered the axis between Labour and the Conservatives.  If anything, it is striking how little that has happened. The pendulum seems simply to have swung more in the Conservatives’ favour.

So the first thing that the new Labour leader needs to realise is that Labour’s problems are very deep-rooted indeed.  Jeremy Corbyn and Brexit may well not have helped. A successful Labour leader, however, is not just going to remedy the damage they might have caused but also tackle the pre-existing difficulty that Labour had in talking to those who live outside Britain’s biggest cities.

Having looked back to how things have changed (or not changed) since 2015, what new electoral trends should the next Labour leader be thinking about?  That will be for my next post.

Alastair Meeks


The current big UK betting market: Who’ll be next Shadow Chancellor?

Saturday, March 21st, 2020

This market from Ladbrokes about who will succeed John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor is an intriguing market.

I’m working on the assumption that Sir Keir Starmer wins the Labour leadership quite comfortably which gives him plenty of latitude in who to choose. I’m ruling out anyone who is in the Deputy Leader race as I think they’ll end up focussing on that role exclusively.

I’m ruling out Rebecca Long Bailey because I have a hunch that Starmer wants to move on from the Corbyn era, even though Boris Johnson’s government is enacting the most socialist agenda the UK has experienced if not in history but certainly living memory.

I think the 10/1 on Lisa Nandy looks good, she’s had a very good campaign, and would go in some way into closing down the line that Labour has never had a female leader. She’s been a decent performer in the media and she’s not tainted by association with the Corbyn sect.


PS – It seems downright surreal to be writing a thread about betting on domestic politics whilst Covid-19 rages all over the country, like the band playing on whilst the Titanic was sinking. Apart from the US Presidential election I suspect betting on politics, particularly the outcome of the next UK general election will be pointless until the Covid-19 crisis is over.


Labour must get over its myth of 2017 if it is to win again

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

A well-timed aberration is still an aberration

Keir Starmer looks well set to win Labour’s leadership election in April. After securing comfortable leads among MPs, CLPs and affiliate organisations in the previous rounds, YouGov reported this week that he holds a 22% lead over Rebecca Long-Bailey, and is more likely than not to win on the first round.

If he does, it will be in no small part down to the last set of rule changes which at the time were thought to favour the left. YouGov puts him on 53%; under the old rules, Jess Philips and Emily Thornberry would probably have taken enough to deny him a symbolic outright win.

Quite where he will lead Labour is a different matter. Starmer has been remarkably adept at remaining a blankish sheet of paper; appearing at once to be both a continuity and change candidate. While that duality is possible to pull off – you can maintain many of the policies while clothing the party in a quite different style – in reality there will come a point where the Corbyn legacy must be appeased or confronted.

Some of that is about dropping Corbyn’s more ridiculous policies: the free broadband or what might as well be a Kremlin-approved foreign policy. Some of it is also about renewing and refreshing both the personnel and the culture of Labour’s HQ. But before winning the future, first Starmer must win the past.

Even now, many Labour activists will cite 2017 as something akin to a great victory. If it’s not the great recovery in the campaign (leave aside who dug the hole Corbyn climbed out of, and who supplied the opportunity for him to do so), then it’s that Labour won a tremendous number of votes – over 2m more than Labour won in any other election this century.

Such arguments have the tremendous advantage of being true. They might well ignore the important point that Labour still lost but for many Corbyn-supporters, that doesn’t matter: they show that his policies were popular or at least, that they can’t have been all that unpopular if they outpolled Blair, Brown and Miliband.

The trap here is that it’s easy to try to critique that analysis – to point out the other reasons Labour did relatively well and recovered during the campaign which didn’t happen because of Corbyn and sometimes despite him – but that to do so would be a mistake.

The right argument is that even if 2017 was a glorious defeat, it was also the one ray of false dawn in what was otherwise a four-year long record of failure, and that the consistency of the rest of the record represents the public’s genuine verdict on the out-going leader.

To remind ourselves of just how badly Corbyn did, here are a few of the low-lights:

  • A net loss in Westminster by-elections during 2015-20, including the first loss by an opposition party to the government in over 30 years
  • Finished third, losing to the Lib Dems, in the 2019 European Parliament elections
  • Lost a third of Labour’s MSPs in the 2016 Holyrood election, to finish behind the Tories
  • Lost around 400 councillors and 13 councils in net terms across the 2016-19 May rounds of local government elections
  • Worst ever net satisfaction rating by a Leader of the opposition
  • Failed to prevent Brexit, either at the referendum or afterwards
  • The smallest Labour PLP since 1935 (2019GE)

No opposition has ever endured such a lengthy and wide-ranging record of failure. Even the likes of Hague and Duncan Smith racked up decent local government gains and an EP election win. Put simply, the 2017 general election was not representative of some underlying truth; it was the aberration outside a truth that was all too obvious everywhere else.

And that is the point Labour needs to accept if it is going to move on and up. Certainly, there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater – but there is a need to throw out the bathwater.

Can Starmer do that? Can he change the culture and tone of the party, and perhaps the policy direction, while also staying true to his desire to unify Labour and not pick internal fights? I don’t think so; it’s one or the other – or if he plays it right, it’s one after the other, with a necessary fight and then unity around a new consensus. But to get there, first the Myth of 2017 must be debunked.

David Herdson

p.s. Last week I tipped Bernie Sanders at 10/11 for the Democrat nomination and 7/2 for the White House. Those odds have barely shifted (he’s now 100/30 for the presidency but still 10/11 for the nomination). These odds are nuts and huge value.

Sanders has built up a big national lead, and an even bigger one in California with its huge number of delegates. Even if he loses badly in South Carolina (which is possible), I don’t see that doing anything other than trimming his Super Tuesday lead, not least because of so much early voting in the bag. I think he’s now about an 80% shot for the nomination and, given Trump’s typically self-centred and quite possibly grossly inadequate reaction to the coronavirus outbreak, should now be favourite in a head-to-head with Trump, the president’s skill at negative campaigning notwithstanding. The polls already give Sanders a healthy lead and while they gave Hillary a healthy lead much later in 2016, I think it’s different this time. It will be a lot harder to campaign negatively effectively if Trump’s own ratings tank, which is now entirely possible if the economy takes a downturn, never mind if he’s perceived to have seriously mismanaged the health crisis – both of which are now big risks.


Ladbrokes make it 2/1 that RLB will finish third behind Starmer and Nandy in its leadership finishing order betting

Monday, February 24th, 2020

Ladbrokes have this market on the correct finishing order in the Labour leadership market after the final round.

The tweets by Matt Singh indicate that Rebecca Long Bailey is going to finish last but I’m always dubious when people talk about private polls and do not publish the polling tables.

At 2/1, Starmer first, Nandy second, and Long Bailey third, it’s not exactly stellar odds when you remember the last public poll had Long Bailey in second place 25% ahead of Lisa Nandy.

I’m not confident in playing this 3-2-1 market, any prediction I make will likely end up in the dusty bin of bad tips. With Labour leadership elections conducted under the alternative vote system makes it harder to predict this market than a straight forward, but hugely flawed, first past the post election.

So I will not be playing this market, perhaps PBers can spot some value in this market, if you can, let me know.



A reminder of the last July’s YouGov LAB members’ polling on the leadership

Saturday, December 28th, 2019

We have not had a poll of LAB members since last July so the YouGov chart above is based on the latest data available. Since then, of course, three of those senior party figures tested by the firm are no longer possible runners. Tom Watson has quit being an MP, Laura Pidcock lost her seat at on December 12th while John McDonnell has made his intentions clear.

Note that in the polling each potential leader was tested separately but it does give a feel for the left-right split that is likely to exist.  If it comes down to Starmer versus Long-Bailey then you would assume that the former would get the backing of Watson and Thornberry with Pidcock and McDonnell supporters going to Long-Bailey.

We also don’t know what impact the campaign will have with the big unions most likely putting their weight behind Long-Bailey.

Another finding from the July poll that might be a pointer is that when the sample was asked “Do you think that Jeremy Corbyn is doing well or badly as leader of the Labour Party?”  56% said Well and 43% said badly.

To another question “How likely or unlikely do you think it is that Labour would win the next General Election if the party leaders were Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson?”  56% responded likely and 32% unlikely.

That was six months ago and since then the party has experienced its worst general election outcome since 1935. Maybe the experience of that terrible defeat will make perceived electability the key quality members will be looking for?

I’m hoping that we will see some new YouGov LAB members’ polling in the near future.

I am refraining from betting on this election until after January 6th when the party’s NEC will decide on the rules for the election. This could rule out Starmer.

  • Note. PB’s server has been updated overnight thanks again to my son Robert who keeps PB going.

Mike Smithson


Labour’s GE2019 post mortem

Thursday, December 19th, 2019

Proverbial wisdom tells us that success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan. It’s a saying that appears to have by-passed the Labour party at least, since their general response to the election has been to hurl fistfuls of paternity tests at each other in a way that would send Jeremy Kyle off for a cold shower and a lie down.

It’s been an analytically productive grand bun fight at least. While the pollsters are still nursing their hangovers, tidying away champagne corks, and finishing off their victory lap of single-finger salutes to anyone who doubted them, various factions of the Labour party have already answered all the major questions about the election.

We now know that this election was a testament to Corbyn’s unpopularity, extreme policies, and his refusal to get the EU stars tattooed across his knuckles. Supporting Brexit would have but resulted in a Lib Dem resurgence and mass losses in more remain-heavy seats.  We’ve also learned that Jeremy Corbyn was an amazing leader with popular policies (they won the argument!) backed up by an incredible party organization spearheaded by Momentum. Which makes you wonder what they think would’ve happened if Labour hadn’t been quite so brilliant. This was the Brexit election so you can’t blame the Labour party’s policies for failure, but the low Lib Dem result proves centrism is failed.

No doubt the researchers over at the British Election Study will feel a bit embarrassed that it was all solved within 48 hours and be hunting for something to do to pass the time. Since all the serious analysis has been done, I will wade in with some purely number-less opinions. But just before I do so I would like to drop in one bit of analysis from an expert number cruncher. Working class support of Labour has been sliding for decades.

If Labour are relying on winning through reviving class-based voting, then they are going to have to reverse many years of change.

Now on to some wild, baseless speculation and a little theorizing. 

Labour need to find their joy and their discipline again.

The Conservative party that nailed itself to one clear Brexit message and repeated it to absurdity, then kept going beyond parody. In the face of this the Labour party presented prevarication, and division over Brexit.

It took a couple of Corbyn’s great strengths, his aura sincerity and principle, and minimised them. After moving from backing a ‘Labour Brexit’ to a second referendum, and then a month or so out from the election declared that on the crucial issue of the election he would remain neutral. It took his campaigning weaknesses, a tendency to respond to short challenging questions with long irritated answers, and highlighted it.

The left of the Labour party has made much of Corbyn’s policies polling well, and policies form the foundation and backbone of a campaign. But few people find inspiration in a concrete footing or attraction in a picture of a spine. They need to be used to tell a story.

The policy of free broadband could have been used to tell a story of social justice and regional empowerment. Taking super-fast broadband to the shires as a way of connecting the country, a new nationalized network that could bring opportunities for employment or entrepreneurship to deprived areas. To stop a brain-drain to London and reduce emissions through telecommuting. But released as it was in the run-up to the election it became one more election freebie thrown at increasingly cynical voters. It was a slogan instead of a story.

Before it had time to breathe there were more promises coming along as both sides piled them high and fast beyond public belief. Two fantasy bidders at a monopoly auction meant it all felt a little too easy to be real. It meant they both felt very similar.

John McDonnell made much of his grey book outlining the fiscal rectitude of a Labour manifesto that was fully costed down to the last penny, then promptly threw out an extra 58 billion for the WASPI campaign group.

Labour clearly knew what they didn’t want to talk about (Brexit), but seemed to have very little idea what it did want to talk about. It was the NHS, and the police, and the Green New Deal, and a dozen other things until it began to feel like lucky dip socialism. If everything is important then nothing is.

Mid-campaign the Labour party leaked to the press that it was going to change campaign strategy de-emphasise the leading Remain figures and push Leave figures like Ian Lavery to the forefront. It took party disunity and for some bizarre reason, publicised it.

No UK Prime Minister has ever lost their seat at an election, they’re usually in safe seats and benefit from the recognition, and prestige that comes with the job. That the Labour party went through this election talking up the chance of taking Johnson’s seat and left it with its lowest number of seats since 1935. speaks to either a complete ignorance of the facts on the ground, or a complete refusal to accept them. It seems impossible that the Labour high command didn’t have plenty of data from public and internal sources. It seems impossible they wouldn’t understand the data.

It suggests a problem which is not unknown in politics, the mixing of ideology and strategy. If you believe in the ideology strongly enough you believe in its ability to succeed. The only way to prove the project can succeed is for it to succeed. So, to prove you believe in the project you must believe that the project not just can succeed but is succeeding.

It is impossible to separate Corbyn’s leadership from the issue of Brexit, because his tenure was defined by it. Few politicians get the luxury of picking their battlegrounds, Brexit finished off David Cameron, crushed Theresa May, and ultimately Corbyn could not escape it. He faced a mostly hostile media, but so have other Labour leaders and his ratings were worse than any of them in the last forty years.

He lacked nimbleness to defend against attacks on him, from Salisbury to Tunis. He lacked the ruthlessness to take the fight to Boris Johnson. He couldn’t provide the kind of leadership his party needed. He was set an incredibly difficult test and maybe one he was uniquely unsuited to face, but ultimately, he failed it.

Corbyn’s failure was symptomatic of deeper problems within the Labour party. Whomever the next leader is, they are likely to face similar challenges. A party that’s not just divided but openly so. A generally hostile media. An EHRC report that will bring anti-semitism back around on the agenda. A need to establish a new Brexit position. A crucial need to re-connect with a single, coherent, story of Labour that stretches out across the country and connects Stroud to Sedgefield and Kirkcaldy to Kensington. But most of all a need to tell that story in a way that inspires joy and hope.

The next leader of the Labour party is likely to have a blanker slate and much less baggage than Corbyn. They’re likely to have an easier set of circumstances but also some nettles that need to be grasped (an uncomfortable conversation on immigration is looming). Great crops grow from fertile ground and destruction breeds creation. There is great opportunity there, if someone is able to take it.

Tomas Forsey

Tomas Forsey is a longstanding PBer who posts on PB as Corporeal and tweets as PBcorporeal


Long-Bailey back as next LAB leader favourite in very edgy betting market

Wednesday, December 18th, 2019

There’s been a lot more movement on the Corbyn’s successor betting market on Betfair as the chart with Starmer now losing his lead and Long-Bailey moving again into the top slot in the betting.

What’s going to shake this up is new polling both of LAB members and votes generally. It will be recalled that back in June Johnson’s leadership chances soared following polling that indicted that we would do better against LAB.

Of course it is members of the party’s selectorate who will decide and my reading is that after a fourth successive defeat finding a leader with the potential to win back power might be paramount. That I use the term “might” here speaks volumes.

Mike Smithson